I was making little progress, and my finish at Sandy Beach – a beautiful and relatively safe beach lined with gloriously golden sand, safely attended by lifeguards - was becoming more and more elusive. The relentless ebb tide was pushing me further and further back into the Channel. Looking at the disappearing shore, I put my head in the water and cried. Again.
“We’re going to have you land at China Walls” Steve shouted through the afternoon wind. “This is your only chance of finishing.” A stonewall that I would somehow need to climb after being in the water for almost 20 hours.
Joe swam up beside me and urged me to keep going. “I don’t think I can make it!” I shouted with anguish and desperation. A few words of tough love from Joe, and I was back in the game.
Out came the “bag of tricks,” a collection of junk-food-sugar-rush-goodies that functioned as my defibrillators, springing my depleted body back into action for the final “lap.”
I relished the culinary experience of my critical supply of junk food. And as I paused to drink from a bottle of Coca Cola, I watched helplessly as a massive wave crashed down upon me, filling the coke bottle with seawater. A scene so surreal that I was certain it would have made for a good advertisement. “Coca Cola. It does a body good. Even on the high seas.” I drank it anyway.
Sheila passed me some bite-sized Milky Way chocolates. I can’t even begin to describe the literal shot in the arm those tasty morsels provided my depleted body. I felt my entire being tingle with delight.
I have little recollection of the next hour. Soon, though I was following the kayak parallel to the shore – a mere 50 yards away. Glancing at the cliffs to my right I wanted to exit the water anywhere. “Why can’t I just get out over there?!” I exclaimed pointing to a treacherous and jagged cliff. My mind was loopy but I recall Joe stating the obvious. “That's because it’s a cliff. Keep swimming!!”
As I stopped I noticed we were moving in the other direction. Now the flood had kicked-in and was pushing me towards Sandy Beach. I had about half a mile left through the current until I could turn into a little bay outside the current and attempt to clear the water. I hurt everywhere. I later found out that Joe was horrified at the extent of my chaffing around my neck and shoulders, which were at this time essentially open wounds.
I don’t know how I did it but I put my head down and the next thing I knew I was in front of the China Walls. Steve, Sheila, and our photographer Hawkins were all in the water with me and in front of me on the shore was Linda Kaiser and my very good friend from college, Rachel Ross! My goggles had filled completely with tears. It was an emotional sight.
Still the cliffs were daunting, steep, slippery, peppered with prickly sea urchins and pounded by surf. As I struggled to find hand and footholds on the sheer vertical wall I was climbing, I reflected on how much this felt like climbing out of a grave. Perhaps that was appropriate since I had just swum the waterway that the locals call “channel of the bones.” 19 hours 27 minutes and 48 seconds (but who's counting)....