With the sun and clouds playing a relentless game of hide and seek, I lose my focus. Up until this point I have been happily motoring along with a chorus of “WOO!” Now – 9 or 10 hours into my journey - I am tempted to stop briefly and look behind to determine how far I have traveled. But I don't. And I am very proud for not having done so. Earlier I promised myself that I wouldn't dare look for land, because I didn't want to set myself up for disappointment. I didn't want to risk the chance of worrying that I'm not actually making progress. Typically this concern ignites an endless and detrimental loop of stopping swimming, looking for land, panicking that I haven’t swum far enough, and continuing swimming. Rinse and repeat.
Unfortunately my mantra to "swim until I run out of water" wasn't to last. Hours pass by, when ultimately curiosity wins. I cave. Taking a quick peek ahead as I swim, I see France. Finally! Well, a distant, bluish and indistinct mass of land, but land nonetheless. And, predictably, it's not as close as I had hoped. The perspective from the water is quite different from 6-8 feet above the water on a boat, but still, I worry that I am not close enough. As if on cue, I begin my trend of stopping and starting. Much to the exasperation of my crew, my efforts to surreptitiously peek at land don’t go unnoticed. Knowing how detrimental this loop of stopping and starting can be – especially when the current is against the swimmer – when my crew catch me looking up for land, they shake their heads and wave their fingers at me disapprovingly. The next day I have a sore neck. Lesson learned.
With the distinctive landmarks I recall from reading tales of other Channel swimmers now coming into view, I can easily identify Cap Gris Nez. This tiny piece of land juts out from France with a smattering of houses, and is a common landing spot for Channel swimmers. Because tides switch every six hours, most swimmers end up encountering an ebb current that pushes the swimmer away from land. If a swimmer is not strong enough to break through the ebb and continue swimming towards land, he or she risks being pushed away from France entirely. It is then impossible for a swimmer to hit land. Knowing this, and fearing this very real possibility, I dig in and continue swimming towards increasingly elusive land. Stopping for a moment, I notice how quickly I am pushed back beyond the boat by the current. I know I simply cannot afford to stop because any headway I make will be ruined. Yet the strong current feels insurmountable. I imagine someone grabbing my ankles and pulling me forcefully away from France.
Andy steps away briefly from the helm and gestures for me to kick up my speed. I obediently follow. Reinvigorated by a few marshmallow treats from my crew and aware that my leg muscles store a lot of untapped energy, I kick hard. Digging my hands in the water with each stroke I pull the water past my hips. My coaches would be very proud. Head down, too, I remind myself. And my body responds marvelously.
From the time I swim out of the North East shipping lane into French inshore waters, it takes me an additional 2 hours of fighting the current. With my shoulders and right wrist throbbing with a painful ache, and my mind consumed with worry that I am not making any progress, I complain for the first time. I simply don’t feel very welcome by these French waters. “God, the French are an unfriendly lot!” I exclaim to my crew during a feeding.
I discover later that the French inshore waters weren’t that unfriendly after all; my boat pilot Andy was blessed with an unusual dolphin sighting. Twice.
Details of France are coming into view and I’m rewarded with a colorful landscape filled with houses, trees, a sandy beach, and people!! I know I’m close. Andy stops the boat and smiles. Melissa and Emma are grinning ear to ear. "Ok Kim, I can't take the boat any further. It's too shallow. Phil is going to escort you into shore with the dingy." Overwhelmed with emotion that I am nearing the final part of my swim, I start to cry. Careful not to assume my swim will be completed, Andy waves his finger at me and says "no, not yet… save that Kim."