PROMONTORY POINT -- Mike Stephens shucked off his clothes, tightened the string of his swim trunks, ignored repeated expressions of concern from a friend, and waded into the chilly waters of Great Salt Lake Friday afternoon to swim to Fremont Island.
"Be safe," Justin Barrow told him several times. "If you had been through what I have been through on this lake, you'd want to be safe."
"Now I think you're trying to scare me," Stephens replied.
"I'm saying it's a challenge," Barrow said. "I want you to respect it.," and then told Stephens he'd arrange for a rescue boat, just in case.
We won't keep you in suspense: Stephens made the swim safely, completing the crossing in an hour and 15 minutes, more quickly than he thought he would.
He also vowed never to try a stunt like this again.
Stephens, who lives in Roy, started swimming at 5 p.m. at Promontory Point. The dock area is cluttered with equipment from the Trestlewood Company and brine shrimpers. His goal was to celebrate his birthday by swimming from the southernmost tip of the Promontory Mountains to Fremont Island, a tantalizingly close two-and-a-half miles away.
His reasons were several: Friday, Sept. 10, was his 48th birthday, but Sept. 10 is also the anniversary of the first visit to the island, in 1843, by surveyor John C. Fremont. Stephens is fascinated with Fremont Island and has visited it on his birthday for the past four years. His previous visits were by plane or boat, however.
"I've been fascinated with Fremont Island ever since I was a young kid," he said before the swim. "Then I found out about the history. I made one attempt to get to it (as a kid) and my raft sprang a leak."
Interestingly, that's nearly the same thing that happened to Fremont. In his first crossing in 1843 he discovered his inflatable rafts had been built poorly and leaked air. His men had to constantly inflate them to get across.
One of the people with Fremont was famed trapper and guide Kit Carson, who said of the Island: "We found nothing of any great importance. There were no (freshwater) springs and the island was perfectly barren."
Carson carved a cross on a rock on the island. The cross is the island's main attraction.
Stephens said the history of the island gave him hope the swim was possible. In early pioneer days a grave robber from Salt Lake City was stranded on the island.
"They went back two months later and he was gone," so he must have swam ashore, and Stephens figured what a grave robber can do, he can do.
Barrow and his father, Glenn, run a wildlife hunting operation on Fremont, which is privately owned but which they lease. He goes out to the island regularly and has a permit from Union Pacific to drive across the causeway to Promontory Point. He takes Stephens on his annual trips and agreed to help with this one.
Before the swim. Barrow said he was seriously concerned about Stephens. Great Salt Lake can be treacherous, he said.
The water is heavy because of all the salt, so even seemingly small waves can cause trouble. A sudden squall can easily overturn a boat. Distances are deceiving and the salt water extremely caustic to swim in for long.
"You all got life jackets?" he asked Stephens' family. They did. Even so, he muttered to himself several times, "I've got a bad feeling about this."
Stephens was not deterred.
"My wife says I'm crazy," Stephens said, but admitted he hadn't done a lot of preparation for his swim.
He was on the swim team in high school, and worked as a lifeguard, but has only done long-distance swimming in a lake with Boy Scouts he was leading.
He said he felt fit. "My legs are pretty good, my lungs are great. My arms? I haven't been swimming in three years."
His wife Jamie and three children -- Megan, 14, Makenzie, 9 and Jacoby, 16 -- rowed a canoe alongside him. Barrow reminded Stephens that the salt water of Great Salt Lake is a lot denser so it would be more work pushing his way through it.
Barrow tried to rent a boat to go alongside him at the last minute, but couldn't find one, and told Stephens that he'd be notifying a rescue boat to be on standby in case they had to call for help.
"Don't be afraid to stay overnight" on the island, he said as Stephens picked his way over rocks to the water. "There's plenty of wood. If you have a problem getting back, we can have the plane pick you up."
Stephens waved off the concerns and, at 5 p.m. sharp, waded into the lake, his family rowing alongside in the canoe. Distances on the lake are deceiving, so within 15 minutes he looked to be halfway there, but Barrow said it was only 400 yards or so.
Shortly after that he was out of cell phone range. Barrow had to leave, but at 8 p.m. the Standard-Examiner reached Stephens' cell phone, just as he and his family were loading up their car.
"It was great, but that salt was a killer on my throat," Stephens said. "My nose, my throat just burned. Every swallow stung."
He took an hour and 15 minutes to cross over and another hour to paddle back. When he landed on Fremont Island his family pulled out a cupcake with candles, "and they sang happy birthday to me on the island."
It was a great conquering moment, he said, and a great memory, "and I won't do this again. The salt, I can't even describe it. My throat is just burnt."