I was there at the first training session in Dover on May Day, getting the cold shock of my life with a hundred other swimmers in nine degree depths. And I was there at the last. Just me and the Channel General, the indomitable Freda Streeter on a Sunday in October, facing a three hour swim in a force six wind.
And here I am still, on dry ground. This week the sands of time have run dry on my Channel attempt. Due to a combination of bad weather and bad luck, it is now too cold to swim. The temperature has dropped so much you’d get hypothermia in a swimsuit without going anywhere near the water.
I haven’t thrown in the towel, but reluctantly I have to hang it up for now. But I’ll be back, armed with more experience and a greater respect for the Channel.
Going the distance
Even to get this far, I am indebted to everyone who has supported and sponsored me along the way. I may not have gone the distance, but I’ve certainly done the distance. On top of months of training, I’ve swum the equivalent of three Channels in Dover, since my swim date came and went.
After the initial disappointment, I feel strangely buoyant. In an earlier blog, I mentioned success or failure would be due in only a small part to my effort on the day. The destination is just part of the story.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way:
• The sea is more unpredictable than betting on the stock market. Not that I do that, I work for a charity, remember.
• The sea is your friend. It is particularly useful to repeat this mantra when it is slapping you around the face and threatening to drown you.
• Leave your hang ups at home. In the event of hypothermia, being stripped off and dressed by volunteers is a lifesaver not embarrassing.
• Good technique will make you a stronger swimmer, but ‘the catch’ is pretty ineffective when your hands are frozen into a claw.
• Jellyfish stings help to remind you that you can still feel something.
• People you’ve just met are more generous than you can ever imagine.
Out of this world
Conducting my training sustainably has thrown up some surprising benefits and not just for saving money.
What I’ve traded in sleep, swapping my car for the long bus journey to Dover, I’ve gained in time. So much time, I’ve finished writing a novel, and started another. And gone through more books in six months, than I’ve read in the last two years, from trashy novels to theoretical physics.
And reading about parallel universes, I found it strangely comforting to think that in a different world I tried and failed to swim the Channel, and in another I succeeded. And in a further one still, I did the sensible thing and went on holiday instead.
And by the same measure, there’s a planet where we succeed in living in balance with nature. It’s just not this one, yet.