At 10 p.m. under the moonlight on Monday, Natalie Mooney Lang, a 1995 graduate of Durango High School, set off from Santa Catalina Island with a goal of swimming to the California mainland about 21 miles away.
She made it to a rocky beach outside Los Angeles 13 hours and 13 minutes later, but had quite the adventure to get there.
She said she started the journey at night because the water and weather are calmer then.
“The water wasn’t super-choppy,” she said. “The boat was tipping a lot, but it wasn’t killing me.”
Swimming in the night, however, presented other challenges.
“Being in the dark was really hard,” Lang said. “Stuff touches you, and you don’t know what it is.”
Swarms of pyrosomes – bio-luminescent sea creatures – accompanied her for a part of her journey.
“If you hit them, they glow up,” Lang said. “At first, it was creepy and uncomfortable, but then I was fascinated and trying to hit them.”
On a long swim like that, she said, you have to keep yourself entertained, which is why she was interacting with the pyrosomes. She got so caught up in trying to get the pyrosomes to light up, however, that she swam head first into a kayak on her crew.
Normally, she said, she just sings to herself.
She had two kayaks for support and a boat from the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation observing and documenting the swim. Lang, however, wasn’t allowed to lean on the kayaks or wear a wetsuit because the objective is to complete the challenge unassisted. Her crew on the boat, however, could throw food down to her. Her crew included her husband, Gordon Lang, Eric and Kelly Dearing, and Dave Sundius.
“They encourage you to keep going, and they keep you fed,” Lang said.
She also had some aquatic company on her swim: Two different pods of dolphins came and swam underneath her.
“It was just magical to have that dolphin moment,” she said.
Mostly, however, she said she just sang to herself to stay in the moment while trying to keep a steady pace.
One thing that helped her was the warm water, which she said might have dipped to a low of 69 degrees.
“It was a really warm swim,” she said. “It never got cold.”
To get ready for the Catalina Channel, she swam six days a week, swimming in a pool, swimming in Walden Pond near her house at 4 a.m. to get used to swimming in the dark, and swimming in the ocean on the weekends.
In July, she completed a 15-mile open-water swim in Vermont. She even swam in Lake Nighthorse with the local adult masters to prepare. “It was cold, but so pretty,” she said. “It was a lot of fun.“
All of the preparation paid off when she completed swimming across the Catalina Channel.
“The adrenaline rush when you finish it is why I can do it,” Lang said. “It feels so amazing to accomplish it. The whole time I was not 100% sure I was going to make it; there’s so many failed attempts.”
Lang also swam 25 miles across Vermont’s Lake Mempremagog in 2019, but said, “This was harder.”
Her next big open water swim, however, will likely be even tougher than the Catalina Channel.
Next August, Lang will attempt the second leg of the open water triple crown and swim the cold, choppy water in the English Channel 21 miles from England to France.
The Catalina Channel and Manhattan Island marathon swim are the other two legs of the triple crown.
“The idea is absolutely terrifying,” she said. “To do something I’m terrified of calms me for everything else. Training like this teaches you that you can rely on yourself and do anything and that small goals accumulate.”