We have decided to each give everyone a brief (or not so brief) synopsis of how the swims went, including all the highs and lows. Here’s my story:
We got to the harbor around 11:30 on Friday, and boarded our boats, Emma on the Gallivant with Mike, and I on the Sea Satin with Lance. I met my crew, whose names escape me, and they began asking me questions about all the things we had prepared. What food was I going to eat? Was I going to use grease? Where were my light sticks and clear goggles? After that, we discovered that we were a little less prepared than anticipated. I had planned on eating oatmeal, but they quickly nixed that idea and replaced my food with a carbohydrate drink. I was not going to use grease, and I had not brought light sticks (for swimming in the dark). Once they finished making fun of me, we sorted out all the things I would need, and found my spare goggles.
Around 10 till noon, my official observer arrived and we departed for Shakespeare Beach. Once we arrived just off the coast, I climbed down the back of the boat and dove in, swimming to the beach. Once I demonstrated that I was on dry ground, they sounded the horn, and we were off! Thirty minutes in, I was stung by a jelly fish. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had thought; it’s really just like getting stung by several bees at once, and it mostly faded within the next twenty minutes.
During the early hours of the swim, the plan was to stop every hour and “eat”. That went fine, and I was doing well, up until around hour three and a half. I had been doing the math in my head, and I had realized that even if we finished the swim in a miraculous 10 hours, I would still have to swim in the dark. I’m terrified of the dark, and of open water for that matter, so things were looking grim. I also had been feeling a little sick from the waves and from the carbohydrate drink mix, which, combined with my fear of the dark, was not helping matters. At the next feeding break, I told my captain and crew that I wanted to stop. Needless to say, they didn’t let me. Mrs. Reim (Emma’s mother) was also on my boat, and she was very effective at reminding me all of the time, effort, and money I and many others had put into the swim. I tried swimming for another fifteen minutes or so, but I still was not sure of it all. The distance wasn’t the issue, and neither was the amount of time. I knew I could handle that part. But the dark was more than I could deal with. They once again persuaded me to continue, and from that point on I didn’t try to stop. I spent the next several hours singing to myself, and thinking of all the people who were invested in this. I couldn’t stop, because so many more people than myself were part of my swim. Emma and I had dozens of people praying for us, and many more were stalking our progress across the Channel, willing us to finish. It really wasn’t possible to stop. Also, I made a deal with myself: If I finished, I would try to get home to Oregon. Otherwise, I was stuck in Massachusetts until Christmas 🙂
The next ten hours went by relatively uneventfully. People have been asking what I thought about during that time, and it was really a lot of things. I sang to myself in my head (the same three songs over and over, though I can’t remember the titles). I prayed when things started to hurt. And I thought of how many hours ago the Indian swimmer would have finished had he been swimming that day (that probably wasn’t helpful). All in all, I think the hardest part of the swim was boredom. It’s hard being stuck in your own head for hours at a time! I had to take it by half hours, or the enormity of our undertaking became too much. In thinking about the swim in such small increments, I think I was better able to handle the length of it.
Around hour 12, my captain told me we were getting very close, and that he was just looking for “the closest piece of terra firma” for me to land on. At that point, I know I slowed down, because I really had no idea where I was. I had been able to see the French coast for several hours, and the lights were deceptive because they never looked close. I wanted to know where my captain was taking me, but all I could do was stick closer to my boat and hope he took me to a warm, well-lit, sandy beach. Instead, the next thing he told me: “We’re about 1.3 miles from land. It’s a bit rocky, so be careful”. From the water, I could see the crew setting up a spotlight, and I knew we were basically just off shore.
At about 13 hours, they stopped me, and pointed the spotlight on a rock face about 50 meters away. I didn’t have a very good sense of what I would be landing on, but in my mind, “rocky” meant something like Dover Harbor, which is covered in small pebbles. As I approached the place where the light was shining (with goggles off, doing head-up breaststroke), I saw several large boulders and realized this is where they intended me to land. I thought of Lynn Cox, on her first crossing of the Channel all those years ago. She too had landed on the rocks, and I remember her saying how badly she had been cut up by the barnacles. Nearly 40 years later, the rocks were as painful as ever as I cut myself trying to find one that was far enough back. I landed on the first rock, but the crew shouted at me to keep going since there was water behind it. I half swam/half fell away from the first rock and on to the second. The boat sounded their siren horn, and I had finished. I sat on that rock for a few seconds, thinking how surreal that moment was, and also how anticlimactic the whole finish had been (it was 1 am). I couldn’t believe it was over. Then I fell back into the water, scraped over a few more rocks underneath the surface and meandered back to my waiting boat.
While I dried off and cleaned up, we circled back around to find Emma, who was just a couple miles behind us. She was doing really well, and was aiming for a beach a bit north of where I had landed. We convinced my captain to follow Emma along as she finished, and thank goodness we did too! But that’s part of Emma’s story, which she will tell you about herself.
Once Emma and I had both finished, we settled in for the three hour boat ride back to England. My crew decided it was the perfect time for a midnight snack, and promptly made a pizza to eat on the way back. They had already been eating the ENTIRE time I had been swimming, including something with garlic that I had been able to smell for quite some time. Once we arrived back on dry ground, Emma and I hugged, and Kim congratulated both of us, then we began the trek back to our hotel. We tried to sleep for a couple of hours, but woke up around 9:30 and went swimming in the harbor, just to loosen up. It was cold and painful since we were covered in cuts and rub marks. On the flip side, it was nice to just float a bit and relax. We spent the rest of that day sleeping, showering, eating, and repeating. The next day, Kim and I left to go back to the US, while Emma and her family stayed to tour London some more.
And now I’m home, recovering, sleeping, and yes, swimming. Looking forward to the next season as always 🙂