There was nothing else I wanted to do more. But after 16 hours and 48 mins of hell, I LOVED every moment of it!!! Hard to believe, I know. Attempting this swim was 20% mental, 30% physical, another 20% mental, and 30% insanity.
I want to apologize for not posting on the blog earlier. I have been so overwhelmed with everyone's messages of congratulation. And rather than giving a blow by blow account of the 17 hr swim, I want to express my thanks to everyone who have helped me on this journey and give some highlights. The observer notes will be posted on the Sea Leopard website (www.sealeopardcharter.com). I will then put up another post on this blog that adds my thoughts and details if I feel it necessary.
So, first, as I have told some of you already, actually getting the opportunity to swim the English Channel is the cherry, the whipped cream, and the chocolate frosting of an amazing journey. This was a journey that allowed me learn and grow so much. However, despite the individual nature of swimming, I could not have imagined accomplishing this feat without the help of so many amazing people!! From big things (or for me, some huge things) such as the mental components to little details such as
footwear, I got great advice and words of encouragement from all over the world. It was the experience of a lifetime and a journey that I do not have words to even start to begin to describe.
Also, special thanks to my amazing crew. My captain Stuart, crewman, Stuart, and observer, Keith were amazing. They catered to all my needs, quite literally. Never having experienced such rough seas, my family and I put all faith in Stuart, Stuart, and Keith.
So, finally, in slightly non-sequential order, here are the highlights of my 2011 English Channel Crossing:
I want to begin and end with the finish because I believe this should be the part that is of greatest importance and should be, if all else is forgotten, remembered. I could not have imagined a better ending to the swim.
Just touching land before noon Friday August 26, the clouds and rain of the night before clears to reveal the red cliffs of Cape Gris Nez. I did not see the cliffs and light house until 2 hours before I landed. "Keep your head down, and get to france," Elaine had always said. So I did. As I strayed from the boat and headed into shallow waters, I closed my eyes, as I could see land on both sides by then. 20 paces, "ok I am in sheltered waters." Another 20 paces, "almost to the light house!" Land was just within arm's reach. As restaurant-goes wandered out to greet me and a seal willing joined me, the only thought on my mind was: solid ground never felt better.
Aside from the amazing landing, I probably saw the most amazing sunset of my life (this was unfortunately right before the weather took a turn for the worst, as if nature was mocking us). As the boat passed me slightly on my right, I saw the sunset behind the boat. The vividness of the red against the white cliffs of Dover was just as if I stepped into a National Geographic photo. I stopped to admire only for a few seconds, however, and turned my attention to the more pressing matter of getting across.
As many people know already, I have a terrible track record for swimming straight; this is mostly due to the fact that I swim with my eyes closed, or semi-closed. Well, unfortunately, in the middle of the English Channel, there are no lane lines to stop me from wondering away. Shortly after the sun dropped behind Dover, I got "a bit" confused. I took no less than 30 strokes in a circle and started to head back to Dover. I hypothesize that this was probably because of my predisposition to follow bright lights, like bugs. As I saw land off in the distance and my boat far away, I thought to myself, "where the hell am I?" and immediately following that, "oh...crap." Oops. I suppose it would not have been like me to not get lost at least one time during the swim. After this little incident, I switched to the right of the boat, so that the tide pushed me into the boat instead of away from the boat, and Stuart put a spotlight on me, so the crew could better see me.
The spotlight, perhaps, saved my life. Although I wore clear goggles from the beginning of the swim, because I have a tendency to swim with my eyes closed and the waves were so large, I had difficulty judging my distance from the boat, especially as the thunder clouds rolled in to create swells that made me, at times, think the boat might flip over on top of me. By shinning the light on me, I directed my focus and energy solely on trying to stay in the light. The pitch darkness of the water outside the light was Cold. Unfriendly. Fathomless. With the light, I washed away my thoughts of land, I forgot the bellowing wind, and I numbed my pain.
Throughout the swim, I was counting trees. "Treeing," a great piece of advice given by Coach Bill of MIT Master's swimming, is the idea triathletes use to forget about small things that go wrong during their race, and to channel all the negative thoughts into a tree. After passing that tree, they will forget about those thoughts and focus instead on what comes ahead. I can say that I counted a whole forest within those 17 hours. Not feeling well from the very beginning, I began to doubt my abilities to finish just one hour in. However, knowing what these negative thought could do to me mentally, I counted my strokes. "One, two, three, breath." "Ok, take a deep breath." "Tree, tree, tree." Whenever I started to again ask myself, "what if I don't finish," another tree went past.
While treeing was enough to calm my mind, nothing could calm my stomach. Sea-sickness afflicted my whole family. My mom was gone after an hour and as night fell, I began to take food orders from Stuart, Stuart, and Keith as my dad was down as well. While I did joke around a bit and tried to always bring a positive light to the terrible position that everyone was in, with a quick nod, smile, and thumbs up at the very least, my stomach turned and churned and I grimaced every time I took food. Three hours in, I finally could not hold it in. Ten minutes before the half hour tea break, I stopped short to "relieve" the pain. Vomiting did in fact, temporarily, relieve the pain. I suppose, as the second wave of sickness came about an hour later, I began to create a mind game out of these vomit attacks. Every time as I started to feel sick, I told myself, "No. Not until the next feed. No. Not yet."
Aside from the nausea, I have never been so cold for so long. Using a similar technique as I had with my vomit attacks, I told myself "I am getting hot tea next feed. Just go a little longer." The shivering was to the bone and did the tea actually work? I don't know. I estimate that I spent about a third of the swim shivering and another 2 hours after the swim to warm up. Tingling sensations ran up and down my limps; though I was not kicking much, my legs sent pulsations into the water as they seized up and shook uncontrollably. I knew day break would give me strength though. From hours 6 to 11, approximately 1am to 6am, when the water, air, and rain were the coldest, nothing more kept me going except that next cup of tea and the possibility of feeling the warm sensations of the sun.
After battling the sea-sickness, cold, lighting storm, and rocky shore, the most challenging part of the swim was the last five miles, as I already fully knew it would from my talks with the vice-chairman of the CSA, Clive. With my spirit bruised and my head spinning, as we headed towards the eleventh hour and light appeared, I began to see sea-birds, though still no land. I must be close!! However, as I swam on, the swells grew and fatigue set in. It became more difficult to stay at a good distance away from the boat and I struggled to to take my feed. I finally decided to ask where I was at. The answer I got: "Three and a half mile away. How long do you think it will take you?" Ha!! Three and a half miles? 6000 meters? That's just a two hour practice!! "Two hours. The waves are big!" I replied. "The swells will die down soon," I heard back. Well, long story short, the swells continued for quite a while and it took me five hours instead of the two I had hoped.
Hearing I was so close, however, gave me hope and renewed energy. I thought of everyone's support and the journey I had taken during this past year. I knew I could not have even actually tried to attempt the swim, forget about 3.5 miles from shore, without so many supporters. My goggles filled to the brim with tears (and it wasn't because my face got thrown into the edge of the boat). Though my shoulders hurt, my stomach churned, and the waves sloshed over me, it was the support of everyone that allowed me to find the courage and energy to continue to swim.
So as I finally come to the end again, I can't stress enough how thankful I am. Accomplishing such a feat surprises even me. My outlook on life has completely changed and I look forward to my next project, whether it involves swimming or not. So World, watch out, here I come!