Tuesday, 26 September 2017

My summer holiday - the one where i swam to France with my mates.

Water is my therapy. 
Being in it, near it, on it. 

But mainly in it.
In the outside. 

For me, swimming is not just a competitive sport, although that has its place. 

It is about being contained and held. 
Supported by the water - not having to support myself. 
About letting my troubles wash away. 

I often feel very small.
Especially when I am in a lake, with my peripheral vision filled with mountains. 

It is where I go to find my peace. 
Not necessarily in a lake with mountains. 
Urban swimming is just as effective. 
It is mainly about the water. 

Salford Quays holds its own beauty. 
In fact, for me, any body of swimmable water has magical properties. 

Often I find that my best day dreams happen in water. 
I can set off swimming and hours pass in the blink of an eye, such is my dissociation. 

I can switch off, lost in the left right rhythm. The alternate breathing adding to the tempo. 

On the flip side, swimming makes me come back to myself when i have disconnected. 
It makes me feel alive.

When I am in cold water, properly cold water, having finally found the courage to immerse myself, I feel euphoric. 

Blood racing from skin to organs, back to cold skin back to vulnerable organs, creates a fizzy burning sensation.
It demands staying in the moment and being aware of self. 

The chattering of teeth in a car park is so much more than stupidity. 
It is a shared moment with friends that make memories for a lifetime. 
It is steaming coffee from flasks.
It is woolly hats and baked goods, occasionally missing your mouth due to shivering. 

And then of course there is sea swimming. 
This has always been something that I have decreed as stupid and something that I don't want to do. 
Every time I swim in the sea, I say never again.
Yet somehow I find myself swimming in it, time and time again.

Last year when I said I was never swimming in it again, a few short days later, I found myself agreeing to be part of a channel relay. 

Fast forward 12 months and I am on the south coast with a bunch of good friends, waiting (not so patiently) for a text to say it was time for us to swim to France. 

The sea is big and scary, deep and unknown. 
It is unpredictable and behaves like a maniac.

I had boxed the channel relay swim into 1 hour blocks.

I just had to swim for an hour. 
Then rest and eat, cheer my mates on while they swam for an hour, swim again.
Lather, rinse, repeat. 

It was as easy as that. 

Except it wasn't. 
It was nothing like that.
Nor was it easy. 

Nothing can prepare you for the emotional roller-coaster of waiting.... or the sleep deprivation 
Or the impact of seasickness.

The experience of the channel was so much bigger than I had allowed myself to believe - I had been detached from the whole thing from the start. 
And here it was, kicking my arse.

I had been sick while Jayne was kicking the swim off.
Everyone had said that swimming would make any sickness more bearable.
When it was my turn to swim, the nausea was exacerbated by being rolled by the waves, my own rotation while swimming, when i turned to breathe, watching the motion of the boat - both rolling towards me as well as the up and down motion of the swell.   

I fed the fish.
On more than one occasion. 
While swimming.
Our observer had told us that the pilot wouldn't be impressed if we were dicking about - so I did breaststroke while vomming. 
Go me.

I was genuinely scared that I would get pulled and blow it for the team - that we wouldn't be able to continue if I couldn't take control of my bodily functions. 

I wanted my swim to be over - desperately.
But oh my gawd, I didn't want to get back on that boat.....and we were only in hour 2.

Cathy got in the water and my hour was finished. 
I was sad that I hadn't enjoyed my first hour in the sea.
It was going to be a loooooong day. 

Back on the boat, I found Jayne, who by now was also stupendously seasick. 

Cathy swam.
Patrick swam. 
Jayne and I took a different anti-seasickness drug which seemed to work like magic. 

We were making good progress, the swell calmed, the sea flattened, the drugs kicked in, the sun came out.

It was becoming glorious.
I needed to be careful.
I was starting to enjoy myself.

It was soon my turn to swim again. 
Once in the water, I allowed my mind to wonder, my sense of time was waaaaay off, I felt like I had been swimming for ages, the reality was, I'd only been swimming 20 minutes - but even though I was enjoying myself, I hadn't gone to my happy place.
I still couldn't relax. 

I had seen jelly fish below me and done my best not to flinch or squeak, but when the lighthouse boat appeared behind Suva, I felt myself jump. I didn't expect another vessel to be so close.  

I got back into a rhythm and found myself drifting off to a place where a solo attempt may not be *that* horrific. 

Other than the sea sickness, a humongous rumble of thunder and the sky becoming utterly black and full of grumpy weather, some good giggles, some bizarre conversation and a floating orange laundry basket, the first 12 hours were fairly uneventful. 

Swimgo (swimming bingo) was going well, although nobody had a full house, 4 corners or a line.

Caroline was OUTSTANDING in her crewing duties.
She worked relentlessly and continuously. 
Our experience would've been very different without her presence.

We were told that Jayne was likely to land us on her 4th swim - when she didn't, I expected to on mine.
I was told to go in wearing my lights.

The sunset was beautiful from the water. 
I can close my eyes and see it. 
The pink of the boat, vivid against the vast sea and light of the sunset.
Twinkles of light bouncing everywhere. 

By the end of my hour, it was almost completely dark and the temperature had dropped CONSIDERABLY. Or maybe it just felt like that due to the tired starting to creep. 

Cathy got in and had been told that when the boat stopped, she had to swim as hard as she could. 
Simple as that.

So that's what she did. 

Trouble was, she was only breathing towards the boat - so every breath, the light on the back of her goggles vanished from sight. 
Add a wave to the mix and she vanished for longer. 

She was mulling away from the boat and starting to swim in the wrong direction - she was no longer going forward, she was swimming at an angle.

We were convinced she was being 'dragged out to sea' and was frantically trying to get back and couldn't due to the current. 

We shouted.
We hollered.
We sounded the vuvuzela.
The boat sounded the horn. 

Cathy kept on swimming. 

There were mutterings from the pilot that our swim would be extended by between 5 and 7 hours if he changed his course. 

Go get our friend. 
Go get her now please. 

The boat changed course, Cathy came closer, then all of a sudden, she was swimming in the light and we were so relieved she was OK, that there may have been an eye leak or two. 

Cathy wasn't going to make land.

Patrick got changed, got in the water and left us having the chat among ourselves as to whether we were calling it, whether we were carrying on and how we all felt about the prospect of possibly another 7 hours at sea.

We made sure we had eyes on Patrick and asked him to stay in the light - he assured us he would - until of course, the boat pulled away and left him behind (due to a lobster pot).
Then it suddenly stopped. Patrick assumed we had called it.
The reality was, he was about to make land. 
The spotlight appeared and before we knew it, he was wiggling his legs in the air while perched on a rock at a jaunty angle.  

15 hours, 23 minutes later we were done. 

We had swum the English channel.

Nobody tells you about how surreal it is, losing 24 hours or more to the sea.

The French pebble sitting above the fire, proves to me that it happened though. 

It is such a big deal, and equally, was 'just' a relay. 
I 'only' swam for 4 hours and they weren't consecutive hours.

It leaves some very big questions.
And I'm a bit frightened of what the answers might be......
As a little side note, if you have read this far and wanted to sponsor me, I'm hoping to raise a couple of quid for Alzheimer's Society. Thank you for your support.