The Great Unicycle vs. Swimmer Race

See this article.

Re: The Great Unicycle vs. Swimmer Race

Lars has his own account of that race on his web page for his West Coast Author Tour (from Canada to Mexico). His account is here: One if by Land - Two if by Sea: The Great Race, Saturday, July 3

I’ll quote Lars’ daily update for that day here:

One if by Land - Two if by Sea: The Great Race, Saturday, July 3

(Forward Freely, e-mail us to get ON or OFF our update list. Enjoy!)

“I took a little test run the other day,” Darrel Berg (83) told me on the phone on Friday (If you’ve read ONE WHEEL - MANY SPOKES you may remember his story in Chapter 6 of wanting to bicycle for Congress.) “I swam across from Jack Island to North Beach in an hour and fifty-five minutes. I was weaving back and forth a lot, and the tide pulled me for a ways.” He and I have been planning and anticipating this little race for months, me on one wheel around Guemes Island, him on two flippers in the Puget Sound. I was expecting to do my riding in about an hour-so as Darrel shared his swim time, I was thinking perhaps I could ride an extra loop to even out our times. He continued his report, telling me how thankful he was for the dry suit that had been loaned to him. He joked that friends were saying I had an unfair advantage and they would take care of letting some of the air out of my tire, or throwing some tacks along the roadway.

At least, I thought we were joking. I continued the banter Saturday morning when we got off the 11:00 a.m. ferry and arrived on Guemes Island. (The time will be important. Note that Darrel’s instructions advised us to be on this 11:00 a.m. ferry.) A table was set up near the landing, collecting money to support the Summit Assistance Dog Training program that provides helper dogs for people with disabilities. Folks could contribute either in my name, or Darrel’s depending on who they expected to win.

“Darrel’s already up on the north end,” I was told. We got sandwiches at Anderson’s store and started the four-mile drive north.

“Look,” I told the kids. “There’s Jack Island. See that little rowboat out there. That’s Darrel. And here’s the beach he’s swimming to.” We parked the car, pulled out the sandwiches and soda and began to eat, at the same time talking with the people already gathered. We were early, but I was looking for Mike Jackets. Mike was going to set off the flare that would start the race at 12:30 p.m. “And if he doesn’t find a flare,” Darrel assured me, “he’ll have a starter’s gun to get us going. 12:30 will be slack tide so I can swim straight across.”

I looked out towards Jack Island again. “That boats moving,” I said to Anne. “Isn’t that boat headed across?” I repeated.

“That boat’s moving. You’re right.” The little rowboat was actually well out into the channel by this time.

I asked the woman who was coordinating the Great Race why the boat was moving. “Oh, Darrel started swimming at 11:30.” She said this calmly, without any surprise in her voice.

“Darrel’s swimming right now?” I asked.

“Oh, yes.”

“No flare? No starting gun? No 12:30 p.m.? No one thought I needed to know he’s swimming RIGHT NOW?!?”

“Oh, it will take him a long time,” she answered, still calm.

It is 11:50 a.m. The boat appears to be nearly halfway across the channel. “So, um, should I perhaps START?” I ask.

“Oh, it will take Darrel a long time,” she answers again.

The boat keeps making progress towards shore. I put on my kneepads, armpads, riding gloves, helmet, and cellphone, hurriedly eating the rest of the sandwich. Anne promises to call me with the progress of the race. “You’d better hurry,” she said, “Darrel is not taking a long time.”

Up then, onto the unicycle, and into this lovely day on this lovely island. Cars poke along slowly. Most of them know of the race, and shout out whether they’ve got money on Darrel or me. Darrel, pastor here for eight years, is the clear favorite. I’m thankful to be doing an event together with him, this mentor-friend of mine, but while I ride I wonder…

How sly is this Darrel who’s been preaching since he was 19 years old?

“Did he purposely go on his test swim during a strong tide, trying to throw me off the victory trail?”

"Did he know that he was going to be swimming during such a low tide that clammers were out digging the beaches, and the shoreline was hundreds of feet out from normal, which would allow him to walk the last stretch, rather than swim?

“Did he purposely joke about those tacks on the roadway to hide even more intentional efforts to win?”

I think about these things as I pedal, and I wonder whether Mike has shown up with the starting flare by now? Was there ever a flare, a starting gun, a real starting time?

I pedal on, but Anne calls me, laughing, only five miles into my ride. “He’s on shore, he’s pulling off his dry suit He wins.”

Darrel takes the phone from Anne, and he advises that I take the quickest route back. I agree. There are questions to be asked of this man almost twice my age. How, for one thing, can he go from his practice swim time of an hour fifty-five, to his race time of only forty-five minutes? Pedaling by the Guemes Community Church, I wonder again at the schemes of this beloved pastor. Just in case, I slow and offer a prayer for his salvation as I pass the front entrance.

On arrival there are claps and cheers, and the now familiar gapes of those who are surprised at the size of my unicycle wheel. There’s a big hug from Darrel, too, he’s beaming ear to ear. No time for questions. The Skagit Valley Herald takes our picture. Vince comes over to interview me, having long since finished with Darrel. Total time for him was three-fourths of an hour. My time was the full hour.

“Well,” I tell Vince at the close of the interview, “When you love a guy as much as I love Darrel, what’s a half-hour head start? I’m just glad we saw the boat moving or he’d have finished before I ever started.”

Whenever I wind up in the pulpit preaching, the themes of mystery, grace, compassion, and the general unpredictability of life are never far away. Darrel, consummate poet and preacher, made this race into a memory filled with grace and surprise, and love and care. I will long remember this day as a highlight. And who knows, we might even reach the thousand dollar goal for helping Summit Assistance to train dogs for people with disabilities.

Great start to our 4th of July weekend. Blessings to you and yours.

Lars and Anne, KariAnna and Kai