Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
By now, you will have realised that I made it across to France. Yay!!! On the communications front, the high risk strategy of allowing my husband access to the blog without me being in a position to vet his comments worked out alright. Now it's the time for my version of the story...this will be a looonnngg post!
On Wednesday 18th I went to meet Steve and Geoff to swim in the harbour at 10am. I was expecting Steve to take the Thursday opening, but he said that he was not ready so it would be open for me. I wasn't sure then if two of my support crew - husband Matt and close friend Laura - could make it down in time, but I cut my morning swim short just in case. When I got out Dave was there and he offered me the slot. I rang Matt, and he said he could make it, and we should take it...so I told Dave yes, and preparations began!
Swims are never confirmed until a few hours before. Dave said he would confirm at 6 or 7pm, and we would have to be at the boat at 1am for a 2am start from Abbott's Cliffs. It was a mildly hectic day - more so for mum and dad, as I basically ate a huge bowl of spag bol and went to bed for a couple of hours (didn't really sleep though). Mum and dad had to get Bug to Matt's mum, which involved complicated manouvers at Clackett Lane services, and they also had friends Pat and Maurice (and their grandson George) visiting. By now it was apparent Laura couldn't make it, which was disappointing but we all understood. I got everything prepared and left dad with instructions on how to mix the maxim and went to bed at 6.30pm. At 7, dad phoned Dave. It was a go.
Mum woke me at midnight, and I climbed out of bed to have a big bowl of porridge whilst putting on suncream (slightly strange thing to do at midnight). Matt turned up shortly after and quickly appropriated the video camera - he sees himself as Jacques Cousteau, or Alan Wicker, I'm not sure which. We were at the boat by 1am. I was kind of nervous, but it also didn't feel that real. By 1.30 we were chugging out of the marina. Out by the mouth of the harbour it was pretty choppy, and I was starting to feel more nervous. Shortly after I had greased up, I found myself hurling over the side - more nerves than sea-sickness I think. I felt better afterwards, but there wasn't much time to enjoy it, as it was time to climb in.
The boat trained a spotlight on the beach, and I had to swim to it - it was maybe 20m from the boat. I remember really clearly seeing the pebbles thrown into sharp relief by the light. I stumbled out, and got myself well clear, then heard the horn of the boat so I raised my arm and in I went. I knew the water was 16degrees, and it felt ok, just the same as in the week's training swims.
The boat was lit with red and green lights so it was easy to see but not harsh on the eyes. I had been worried I wouldn't much enjoy swimming in the dark but it was actually really fun. It was a beautiful night, with stars out, and the lightstick in my goggle strap gave off a glow that just entered my peripheral vision so the water didn't seem pitch black. It was pretty cool to be swimming in the english channel when most people were tucked up in bed. I saw a few boats, including a beautiful cruise liner decked out like a christmas tree. For the first hour, my main concern was the boat - I breathe both sides, and since it was quite rough it seemed that the boat could shift quite a lot within the timespan of 6 strokes (the boat was on my right side). I was worried about drifting too far from it or getting banged by it. The first feed at one hour came quite quickly (though it was tough - you try catching a bottle on the end of a fishing line in the pitch dark...) and then after that the water got calmer and I got more comfortable with the boat.
The second hour was a good one. The third hour it got a bit rough again, but I had a beautiful sunrise to distract me. I could also see that dad was in a fairly fixed position, and Matt was missing - sea-sickness? I asked at the three hour feed if everyone was ok, and if there was any sea sickness. Matt and mum exchanged wry glances and said "All fine!", which didn't fool me at all. After my third hour, we dropped to feeding every 30mins. I was feeling ok, and by four hours my toes had come back to life. My hands didn't seem to be clawing at all, which I was thankful for.
At four hours Matt pointed out some boats we had overtaken which started an hour before us, which was a nice boost. By six hours my hips were really starting to hurt, so I had some ibuprofen which took care of that. At this point I was starting to wonder how far I had got. I had asked Matt to tell me when I was half way, but not if I was doing really badly and it took me ages to get there. I told myself I couldn't ask. I could see all the boats in front of me were going left-to-right, and I knew the NE shipping lane was the lane closest to France - but then I started wondering if it was like the wind, and the NE bit referred to where the boats came from and not where they were going...in which case it would mean I was still in the UK-side shipping lane. It was an enormous boost when Matt told me at 7 hours that we were "well past" half way. I spent a little while after that trying to figure out what time that might mean I would finish in - in the end I thought I just had to keep on thinking that I had to swim for at least 14hours, and then we'd see where I was.
I was going well at this point, I felt like I was almost surfing across, like the tide was with me and I was flying (it was, and I was - 7km/h!!). Mentally it was getting tough, though: the novelty had worn off I guess. I kept counting up how many feeds til 14 hours. I had a different song in my head to earlier - earlier it had been Bowie's "modern love", a song that I've sung in training a lot, so I was pleased with that as it suggested I was on a good rhythym. Now I had a new one: Police "walking on the moon". I wasn't sure if that meant I had dropped my work rate at all. We had seen patches of sea weed, and I had seen a lot of jelly fish, but only one stung me - they were mostly a couple of metres below the surface.
Around 9 hours I started coughing in the water, and my shoulder was beginning to trouble me a little, but I was heartened by Dave telling me I'd be out of the shipping lane within an hour. I had ibuprofen again at the ten hour mark for the shoulder. The cough was still persisting, and I had to work hard to stop it; I knew I only had energy for swimming or coughing, not both. I was also feeling pretty cold. Unbeknown to me the temperature had dropped below 15 degrees a couple of hours back. Around 10.5 hours I asked how far to go (bad girl! This is a no-no!). I was told "three miles, about an hour and a half". I thought to myself that it would take me a lot longer than 90mins to swim 3 miles, given what I had heard of the last section. I told myself to expect at least 2 and a half hours.
The timings get a little confused for me from then on. On every feed I was finding myself slipping a long way behind the boat. I had a feed and was told it had to be short. I could see land quite clearly. Suddenly I could make out the lighthouse at Cap Gris Nez but it was in silhouette with no detail so I knew it was still a fair bit away. I had a feed and was told it was my last one. Voices were getting urgent. The lighthouse wasn't getting any nearer. The water was confused and I was getting thrown around. I was trying to kick but there wasn't much in the tank. I didn't feel like I was making any progress at all. (I wasn't - the tide had turned against me, and if anything, I was going sideways). I kept looking up, and eventually I put my head up to ask if I was going forward, and got shouts of encouragement back, but everyone was sounding very tense. I put my head up again a few times, and eventually crewman Brian said "shut up and swim!". So I did, though there wasn't much power in the swimming.
Suddenly they were calling me in for another feed - hot chocolate. Dad said I was in calm waters now, though I didn't much believe him. The lighthouse was away on my right now so I knew we were heading for the beach now. I could see some patches of golden sand. I still wasn't convinced I was making headway, but then I realised I could see more detail on the beach. After a while I could see people! I was nearly there! I swam and swam until my hands hit sand, then I stood up and walked. And fell over. Then got up again and walked in.
There was a small crowd of french people on the beach. I knew I had to get clear of the water and I was afraid one of them would touch me before I did, and void the swim, but they parted to let me through. Then I turned round and saw Matt coming in! I hadn't even realised he was in the water. The french people crowded round and congratulated me - Matt spoke to them a bit, but I couldn't remember any of my french then, I just smiled a lot. A very nice lady started massaging my shoulders - I did remember how to say "merci". I felt pretty dreadful and cold, and just wanted to get back on the boat, so Matt and I got back in the water. I tried to swim, but it was just too hard, so I had to get Matt to tow me - I held his foot and did breastroke kick whilst he swam with all his might.
Back on the boat, all I could think of was how tough the last bit had been. We got me dry and dressed and wrapped up in a sleeping bag, and then I started to cough in earnest. Lots of nasty coloured fluid was coming up. I tried to sleep but it was impossible with the coughing and not yet being warm. Matt cuddled into me and read me text messages and emails of support which had come in during the day. I was astonished by how many people had been following the drama.
We were back at the marina by 5, and I was still coughing. I couldn't get up the marina ramp without stopping, my breath was coming in shallow pants. With thoughts of Jessica and her aspiration pneumonia in my head, we decided to head to A&E. The Buckland in Dover only has a minor injuries clinic, but they looked me over (during which time I obligingly coughed up more bloody fluid) and sent me on to the William Harvey in Ashford. There they gave me a bed to collapse in whilst I waited, and I promptly dozed off. When I woke up I felt much better and wanted to leave but was persuaded to stay for the chest X-ray. When the results came back from that, around 9.30, they showed pulmonary edema - my lungs were filled with fluid (sea water). I would have to stay in overnight on IV antibiotic drugs and an oxygen mask (my oxygen levels were low - surprise!). The danger was that I might have aspiration pneumonia, which would be masked by the pulmonary edema, or that I might get an infection from the none-too-clean water that had got into me.
As it turned out, none of those things came to pass and I got discharged the next morning, with a raft of antibiotics to take. By then I was starting to see the event more in context, rather than just thinking about the horrific last mile or so. There were bits that had been almost enjoyable that I started to remember.
It's now 5 days later. I have recovered a lot, though I am sleeping as much as Bug and have no intention of doing anything which elevates my breathing yet. We are still in the holiday cottage - thank heavens I didn't have to work on Monday, I'm not sure I'd have made it in. I am so thrilled and relieved to have made it across. The time - 12h 31mins - was great, but it doesn't mean that much really: it could have been 11hours, Dave said, had we hung on to the tide for a little longer (ie if I had been a smidgen faster) but equally I feel like it could have been a couple of hours slower...it all depends on the conditions on the day. (By the way, Dave and his crew were terrific and I highly recommend them. I also highly recommend my own support crew, who were fantastic despite sea sickness, but I don't think they'd do it again for anyone except blood relatives.)
People ask what next. The answer is some family time and relaxation! I think I will never do a swim as cold or as long as the channel again - for a start, I can't think of one that interests me. The only swim I'm really keen to do is Manhattan Island (warmer and shorter) but there's years and years to do that in, no rush. The channel has taken so much time and commitment - not just from me, but also Matt, my parents and Matt's parents, all of whom I thank whole-heartedly for their support - that I really just want to chill out for a while. I'd quite like my weekend sport to be a 30min jog rather than 6 hours in Dover Harbour. For now, though, I plan to rest on my laurels and every once in a while say to myself "I swam to France!".
Thursday, July 19, 2007
And so to the final instalment. Lex finished in a fantastic time of 12 hrs 31 mins. The last mile was punishing and I think we all wondered at one point whether it was going to happen. Once we got round the headland however and into slack water Lex made steady progress to France.
Emotions are mixed. Obviously hugely happy but perhaps a little too exhausted to let it all sink in. Have saved all of your messages to share with her later (except some of the ruder ones that levelled abuse at me, with respect to which I will be seeking legal representation to pursue my claim for slander - anyone know a good lawyer ?). At the moment she is intermitently sleeping and being sick (there is some justice in the world after all). May do little trip to A+E this evening to do a quick MOT. She will be in touch once back on her feet.
Right, am going in to accompany her to shore. If I die, remember that I love all of you (especially that red head I met in the bar in Puerto Rico when I was flying fighter planes for the Chilean navy).
I have one genuine concern............ that she might beat me. Will take a running dive head start or maybe I will bomb her.
I am so very very proud. She is getting cross though. She sticks her head up to ask how long every 10 mins or so. It doesn't help the cause when we keep saying 20 mins. She may withold conjugal rights.
Hope that my next missive will be the final one. It has been emotional
1.5 miles to go. Fighting tide and fatigue. Needs to work hard now to avoid being swept round headland and having to cover extra distance.
Arm stroke dropped to just under 60. Now debating whether we can take the time out from her swimming to allow her to feed. On balance will cut down the feeds so that she does not lose too much ground as she treads water. Total ellapsed swim time - 11 hours
3 miles to go. We are out of the shipping lane and the tide has turned against her. Is the first time that she has asked how far to go (suspect she can smell the garlic - also suspect she is beginning to fatigue a bit (arm stroke dropped to 60/min).
Can see the sand on the French beaches which will help I am sure with the last hour or two. Take my hat off to anyone that even considers this type of thing. To give the layman some idea of what is involved (appologies for those readers for whom this is just part of their daily routine), Lex has been cold water acclimatising since early November last year. Has involved heading up to the Serpentine come rain, hail or shine every Sat (and sometimes Sunday) morning to test their cold water limits with a whole load of other lunatics who form this fantastic subculture of London life.
This contined until April whereupon Lex headed down to Dover (again on Sat and sun) to swim open water for an increasing amount of time starting at the 1 hour mark and peaking at the 8 hour mark. This particular gathering is organised by an incredible lady callesd Fred Streeter who basicaly whips all concerned into shape (am sure Lex will have more to say about her anon). This is all on top of her 20 or so km pool swim regime during the week.
So all in all the time and effort that people put into attempting all this is astounding. Imnvariably, it is not the athletic condition of individuals that stops them making it but more a function of the conditions (cold etc) which is why the success rate is so low (more people have climbed Everest) and why the sense of achievement is and should be so high.
Anyway have to go. Lex needs some shouting as we need her to push through the tide.
Less than 10 k to go. Still 64 stokes a minute. France now fills the horizon but not sure if Lex can take herself out of the zone enough to see it. Will leave her to bash on.
Support from those reading this blog (and others has been overwhelming). Really does make a massive difference. Have been writing messages on a board for Lex to see and you can just see the lift she gets from them. Made some up about be - like what a great bloke I am etc etc. Feel free to send me platitudes as you like (no compliment is too small).
Keith and sybil doing fab job at motivating and sorting out the feeds. Really is a fab feeling seeing it all hang together - fingers firmly crossed that it lasts.
Mum , Dad and co also playing huge part in this endeavour by looking after bug. I hope for his sake that he has his mothers swimming genes.
Got to go now for next feed session. Hot chocolate and Jaffa cake dangled on fishing rod into sea. Might try at home in the future - Bug would love it.