CORRECTION: This story originally reported Boulder's Matthew Moseley was the first to swim across Lake Pontchartrain, but should have stated that he was the first to do so in the modern era. Ernest Hunt completed the feat in 1923, though his route was three miles shorter than Moseley's.
Boulder's Matthew Moseley is most comfortable in open water.
He describes the feeling of zen he achieves on long swims, and grins cheekily as he confesses to having a spirit fish — which, by the way, he's not prepared to reveal publicly.
"You take away the lane lines, you take away the clock," says Moseley, 47. "It's very free. I find it just very ancient and spiritual. We are creatures of the water. We are the water."
If it's possible to achieve water status, Moseley might just have done it last week. For 25 miles, and over a period of 14 hours and 55 minutes, Moseley swam across Louisiana's Lake Pontchartrain.
He got in the water on the night of June 11 at the New Canal Lighthouse in New Orleans. By the time he crawled ashore in nearby Mandeville the next day, Moseley had become the first person on record to complete a solo swim across Pontchartrain.
It was his fifth swim on the lake, but he'd never gone more than halfway across.
"I had it in my mind that I wanted to go back and conquer this and do it, because no one had ever done it," Moseley says .
It's true that Moseley is the first in the modern era, but, until recently, swimming in Pontchartrain was considered highly unsafe.
Once a vibrant resource and the centerpiece of New Orleans, it grew toxically polluted, and became a fixture on the Environmental Protection Agency's Impaired Waters list.
But thanks in large part to the work of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, the EPA rescinded the no-swim status in 2006.
Moseley did the swim for the challenge, but also to celebrate the foundation's 25-year anniversary.
"I wanted to celebrate the work," he says. "They're lean, they're scrappy and they're very effective in what they do."
Pontchartrain is clean now, but not forgiving. Now more than a week removed from the swim, Moseley is just beginning to regain comfort in his shoulder, and it took him several days to get back into a normal routine of eating and sleeping.
The adventure was trying, though it began smoothly.
Moseley and an entourage of about 20 — including musicians, friends and film crews — took off around 9 p.m, he in the water, they in two boats.
He was loose for the first three hours, with arms feeling like "marionette strings."
The period between midnight and 6 a.m., Moseley recalls with eyes welling, "was absolutely transcendent."
"It was the magical moment of my life," he says. "The moon was setting down, the sun starting to barely come up. It was a feeling of, 'Wow, I've worked for so long. My dreams are really coming true. This is it. This is life.'"
The swim quickly turned from sublime to grueling, though, as the sun rose and beat hot on his face.
"That's when the suffering started," Moseley says.
'Total survival mode'
Over the final few hours of the swim, his underarms began to chafe severely, and he was suddenly unable to keep food down.
"I didn't want to tell my team that, because they probably would've pulled me out of the water," Moseley says. "My body just went into total survival mode."
He bullied through the final push, and around noon on June 12, he came ashore in Mandeville, where more than 100 people greeted him.
"I thought he might just collapse on the pavement," says John Lopez, executive director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. "But he threw his arms up and so we knew he was all right."
Now, Moseley — a communications specialist and author — is back in Boulder, unsure what to do with himself without any superhuman feat to train for. He says he's not quite ready to get back in the water, and is still on a natural high from his 25-miler.
"It's kind of like a classic hero's cycle," he says. "You leave home, you encounter a challenge, you meet friends, you have trials and tribulations, and you have to slay the dragon.
"But you come home a changed person."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Alex Burness at 303-473-1389 or firstname.lastname@example.org.