Aqua men

September 20, 2018

DEADWOOD — Jim Phillips and Mike Runge set out to do, likely what no two swimmers in the state have attempted to do — to swim all the lakes in the Black Hills.

They started in May, finished in September, and their list included 25, only 23 of which were open to them. So, 23 lakes were conquered.

Larive Lake in Hot Springs was off-limits and stricken from the list.

“The other one we couldn’t do was Mud Lake,” Runge said. “It didn’t even have public access.”

Onward and upward, as they say.

“We started in May and our first one was Bear Butte,” Runge said.

“That kind of set a bar,” he said, chuckling. “It’s not really even a lake. It’s more like an inland basin that’s really, really mucky. When we walked up, all I can remember is there were two bullheads dead and floating and I’m going, ‘If bullheads can’t survive in here, how the hell am I going to survive in here?’ But we just kept walking down toward the water in our wet suits. From there, we just worked our way south. We completed five (lakes) in Custer Park one Sunday morning.”

Phillips said his favorite swim was at Cold Brook in Hot Springs.

“We got down there at 6 in the morning and the water was just so clear, so calm,” Phillips recalled. It was just a beautiful day. None of them were warm, but the water there was one of the warmest of the 23 we swam. It was just calm, quiet, the water was nice and clear. It was a little over a mile swim.”

Runge said each lake presented its own kind of unique conditions.

“With Jim, there, he was just kind of a trooper,” Runge recalled. “Nothing bothered him. Swimming in a swimming pool, as opposed to open water and put in the murky, muddy, sea weed and such, as you can kind of imagine, but he was totally awesome about it. Jim was like, ‘Oh, that’s fine. We’ll keep going.’ Both of us fed off of each other.”

Water clarity was a challenge at times, where visibility ranged from six inches to 20 feet.

And then, there was the water temperature to contend with.

“When we got over to Roubaix Lake, the water was 54 degrees,” Runge said. “I had on a wet suit plus skin on, two swim caps on, and it still felt like a thousand pins and needles. Then you hit these coldwater pockets and you’re like ‘ahhhhhh.’ … But the pristine beauty we enjoyed was pretty much on a level like no other. Swimming in the Black Hills, you can see the mountains all around you,” he added. “Even in those conditions, it’s really, really amazing.”

An integral person in the 23-lake challenge was Deb Siemonsma, who tagged along with the two swimmers all summer and documented each accomplishment.

“She just recorded this like nobody’s business and really helped on that. She took photographs of everything,” Runge said, also thanking a wide assortment of folks who did everything from boat chasing to dropping rescue buoys. “I can’t really say enough about Deb.”

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