Man Starts Swimming Length of Columbiaby Associated Press
The Spokesman Review, June 5, 2002
Six-month trip exposes him to `everything from arsenic to zinc'
CANAL FLATS, British Columbia _ Christopher Swain stepped into the Columbia River on Tuesday and began a 1,250-mile journey that will eventually spill him out, 180 days later, into the Pacific Ocean.
Swain is swimming the entire length of the Columbia River to raise awareness of its pollution levels and to encourage a cleanup.
"That river called to me," the Portland man said. "I've got a relationship with that river that I feel I need to honor by going into that river as an act of respect.
"If I'm going to try to catalyze an effort to clean up this whole river, I need to get in there and develop the credibility that you can only get by tasting every mile."
Swain, 24, began his watery trek at Columbia Lake, near the British Columbia-Alberta border.
He faces considerable hazards. There are rapids to navigate and tricky currents where the Columbia meets other rivers such as the Pend d'Oreille or the Snake on the U.S. side.
Nearer the mouth of the river there are container ships to dodge, as well as sharks where the river meets the sea. And there are personal watercraft, barges and pleasure boats.
There are also the 14 dams. That means Swain will be swimming his way through a long series of still-water reservoirs.
"They've effectively taken the river out of the Columbia," Swain said of the dams. "It's become a long necklace of overheated lakes, and more than 900-plus miles of slack water."
Swain also has to contend with poisons and toxins from industrial sites, which he said make the Columbia one of the most polluted rivers in North America.
"I'm going to be swimming through water that runs with everything from arsenic to zinc," Swain said.
"It's just a matter of picking your poison. Heavy metals we've got, radioactive isotopes, human sewage we've got."
Swain admits to some apprehension about the health risks of six months of six- to eight-hour days in the water.
"What's in my favor is that I'm not a fish, I don't live in the water," he said. "I can create a barrier between myself and the water, but stuff can come in my mouth and nose.
"I'm looking at a situation where I have to get out of the water and gargle with hydrogen peroxide, for example."
Swain said he's been doing endurance athletics in some form or other since he was 12. He has been training for this swim since October 2000.
Swain plans to break each day at lunch and take every third or fourth day off. A support team, including an inflatable boat, will accompany him.
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs