First woman to swim the length of Lake Tahoe recalls 1962 adventure
Some people, when they first see Lake Tahoe, think how it'd be nice to boat on top of the glass like water. Others imagine fishing on the lake stocked with big fish, while yet others think about how nice it would be to sit at the quiet and scenic shore and enjoy the sun and the view.
To nine year old Erline Christopherson, all she thought when first saw the crystal blue waters was how she'd like to swim across it. The dream was born that day in 1955.
Visiting their family friends, the Thurmans, in Cascade Properties placed the young Erline close to her home away from home, the water. There weren't many boats on the lake at that time, and certainly no jet skis or wakeboarding, so Erline said she could swim out as far as she wanted and not be worried about vehicles with engines.
She began training for her long distance swim years before there was google or books on how to do it, especially for a girl or woman. Her mom and dad helped her plan her training schedule which involved racing back home in Lodi and little swims from Pope Beach to Bijou. As time progressed and an inevitable record attempt was approaching, the family needed to work on what she'd wear and eat during the long swim.
Without a book on how to feed your body while swimming 18 miles across Lake Tahoe, Erline's mother Betty cooked a roast and used the broth as her protein source. She also created a brown sugar water to help keep Erline's energy levels up. Those two liquids were put into a plastic ketchup bottle and a honey bear bottle. Her dad Maurice would put those bottles into a tin can at the end of his fishing pole and put it out to her during the swim (no touching could happen during a record attempt).
Part of the preparation was figuring out how to keep the skin warm as wetsuits are not allowed during record attempts. Erline's father used a grease that he used while creating bailing wires. She and friend Mary DeMartini would practice swimming in Lake Tahoe with the grease applied.
Swimming the width
Erline took a practice swim across the width of Lake Tahoe from Emerald Bay to Zephyr Cove. She learned later that the man who shook her hand when she got out was none other than Joe DiMaggio.
The First Attempt
Erline Christopherson was just 15 years old when she first tried to swim across the lake. The Coast Guard made her quite the swim just 3/4 miles from her destination because of thunder, lightning and five foot tall waves. Her dad in the support boat would only see her when she was at the top of a wave, then lose sight as she went down. Her route on that 1961 swim was from Bijou to the Cal Neva Lodge and she had been in the water 18 hours when pulled out.
The Second Attempt
One year later, Erline tried swimming the opposite direction, from the North shore to the South shore at Tahoe Keys. By this time there was more advertisement about the swim with more spectators on boat. She spent much of the time swimming in the wakes of those boats that she wore out after 15 hours in the water.
The Record Third Attempt
The Christopherson family packed up and went home to Lodi after the second attempt. Dad Maurice told Erline that she needed to get back in the water and try that summer or he felt she'd never try again, so they went back to Tahoe just three weeks later. Late one night, at 2 a.m., Maurice woke up Erline and told her it was time. They'd never plan what day the swim would be as he wanted her to get a good night's sleep.
Boyfriend Stan Kromfols hitchhiked to the lake to be a part of the event. Sister Francine, 17, got on Maurice's support boat with friend Mary DeMartini.
It was very dark outside and Mary and Erline still both wonder how Maurice knew where they were going since there was no GPS and their trusted landmark on the North shore wasn't visible in dark.
As the swim went on, local sea plane pilot Wes Stetson went over them, helping them stay on course. At one point, his guidance prompted Mary to jump in and tell her to follow the boat as they were off course. He called in reports to local paper and radio station owner Walt Little, who's office became the media hub after word was released on the last part of her swim (they didn't want a repeat of the second attempt and too many boats in the area).
She consumed just 1.5 cups of the liquid nourishment her mom prepared and father sent overboard on the fishing pole.
As Erline swam, her sister Francine sang from the support boat. She and Mary recalled how beautiful her voice sounded, especially during the dark morning when nothing else could be heard or seen.
During the swim the waves were picking up ...