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We Went Swimming in Five Great Lakes in 24 Hours

Five lakes, 24 hours. Sounds crazy, right?

I read about the Five Great Lakes in 24 Hours Challenge on the Pure Michigan blog and immediately knew it was something I had to try.

On July 20, my friends Jordan, Billy, and I packed up Billy’s Ford Fusion, swung by Battle Creek to pick up our friend Aly, and headed up north to camp. We conquered all five Great Lakes the next day.

Our trip started off a little rocky. We got to our campsite in Empire, Mich., around 2 a.m. and, after spending more than an hour fighting with our tents, we gave up and slept on the ground. My alarm went off just an hour later and I pressed snooze once or twice—until I heard a coyote howl. I leapt out of my makeshift bed, woke up my friends and we began our adventure.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2012.

Photo courtesy of Alison Dregne

Lake Michigan, 5:30 a.m.

I checked the temperatures for each lake the day before, and according to my results, Lake Michigan was supposed to be the warmest. It wasn’t.

It could’ve been because it was 5:30 in the morning and no sane person should be swimming in Lake Michigan at that hour, but it was absolutely freezing. We jumped in (I might’ve screamed when I dove under), splashed around and ran right out.

Photo courtesy of Alison Dregne

Lake Superior, 9:30 a.m.

We got to Brimley State Park and saw what no swimmer likes to see: the red flag telling us to stay out of the water. We were on a strict schedule and didn’t have time to look for another beach on Lake Superior, so we got in anyway.

Luckily, someone came down after we got out and told us the red flag was up because they had seen lightning earlier that morning—which was good, because I thought we might be covered in some terrible bacteria and was about to desperately comb the campsite for the nearest shower.

Fun fact: Lake Superior, which I was expecting to be so cold it turned my toes bright blue, was the warmest lake.

Photo courtesy of Alison Dregne

Lake Huron, 1:00 p.m.

We took a few inadvertent detours on our way to Lake Huron (one involved almost driving down a snowmobile trail), but still managed to get there on schedule.

Lake Huron was the most interesting lake because we had to wade in for a while before it was deep enough to dive under. Even then, it wasn’t that deep, so my swimsuit was full of sand when I got back to the car.

Photo courtesy of Alison Dregne

Lake Ontario, 8:30 p.m.

The sun was setting as we pulled into Hamilton, Ontario. Lake Ontario was the rockiest beach and my least favorite lake (despite the beautiful sunset), but that was probably because my damp towel didn’t warm me up when I got out of the water, so I stood there shivering as we took our pictures.

I’m looking forward to going back during the day with a dry towel.

Photo courtesy of Alison Dregne

Lake Erie, 11:30 p.m.

Our last stop was at my parents’ cottage at Rondeau Provincial Park in Ontario. As I ran down to the beach and dove in, there were two thoughts racing through my head: I can’t believe we finished in 18 hours. And I am so, so, so excited to take this stupid bathing suit off.

The best part about Lake Erie? My parents gave us dry towels.

5 Great Lakes in 24 Hours

Eighteen hours, about 900 miles, one incredible adventure. I already have a plan for next year: Try again on the summer solstice, starting on Lake Ontario and ending on Lake Michigan. I’ll watch the sun rise on Ontario and set on Michigan. Who’s with me?

~ Annie Perry, Guest Columnist