Though depleted and dazed, I am once again behind the wheel of the little red Peugeot, driving Melissa and myself back to our accommodations at Varne Ridge. As we turn into the driveway of the holiday park, the owners David and Evelyn can be seen in the front room of their home dining with friends. I'm so excited to share the news with them. Parking the car, Melissa selflessly hauls all my swim gear back to our cabin. A huge white banner hangs across the window "Congratulations on swimming the channel" and sitting on the doorstep are two bottles of wine. This is all so strangely wonderful.
Realizing that neither one of us have had anything to eat since we arrived back in England, it’s clear we got a little carried away with the celebrations at the White Horse pub. Not to worry, Evelyn comes to the rescue. Walking excitedly out into the brisk cold to greet Melissa and me, Evelyn is elated with the news. She hugs us both and insists we join her and friends for dinner. Homemade spaghetti Bolognese never tasted so good!
The next morning, I am struck by how much energy I have. Waking without an alarm, I am wide-awake at 7am. Sitting up in my bed, a cold plume of air leaves my mouth. It is freezing but I couldn’t be more grateful for having completed the swim. Conversations with my family back home in New Zealand are the first order of business. I’m still pretty dazed and frankly in a state of disbelief that my English Channel swim was a success. It’s a very surreal feeling and I am literally floating.
While Melissa sleeps, I snap into action and do some housekeeping: drink bottles from the swim are washed and dried. Bags are re-ordered and sorted. Swimsuit, towel and other clothes are hand-washed and hung to dry. Lacking control over this surge of energy, I am propelled irrepressibly through these activities, and feel strangely out of body.
A short while later, eager to get on a WIFI network to check email and eat breakfast, Melissa and I leave Varne Ridge bound for the Lighthouse pub down the road. Walking out of the property my heart skips a beat: flying high and billowing in the gentle cool breeze is the New Zealand flag!!!! In keeping with their tradition, Evelyn and David thoughtfully fly the flag of each successful Channel swimmer who is a resident of their holiday park. My new friend Mandy also completed the Channel yesterday, and I know it’s simply a matter of time before the Guernsey flag joins mine. Seeing the New Zealand flag fly here in Dover is, without question, one of the most proud moments of my life. I gleefully pose for photos as Melissa snaps away. This officially begins my very own victory lap of Dover and beyond.
We walk cross the road and gaze out over the English Channel. Awe-struck at the massive expanse, I pinch myself. I swam that. Yesterday!! Next we stop at the Lighthouse pub a short walk down the country road. To my delight, the resident canine Dexter reluctantly allows me to indulge in a brief celebratory cuddle. Emails and messages from Facebook flood my computer with love and support, bringing me to tears.
Next stop on the victory lap is downtown Dover. A champagne toast at the hotel overlooking the English Channel is made even more memorable with astonished congratulatory praises from complete strangers. All the while, I am struck by the fact that the amount of energy I am experiencing contrasts markedly with yesterday's event. Shouldn't I be exhausted? I ask myself.
Just as the sun is beginning to set, I am propelled by this unexpected energy into yet another activity, and the final stop on today's victory lap. Eager to locate the beach where I began my swim at 3:30am yesterday morning, we navigate to Samphire Hoe, a public park that includes a massive artificial sea wall created by the Eurotunnel during construction of the Chunnel. Still riding the high of post-swim endorphins, Melissa and I find the mere mention of Samphire HOE, hilarious. Providing excellent comedic material, silliness ensues and, unfortunately for others, is everlasting through the remainder of our visit in England.
The size of the sea wall is impressive, as is the now turbulent sea swirling alongside the wall. The storm-filled clouds are closing in, denying us a peek at France 21 miles away. After a long walk, we happen upon the beach where I began my swim, 26 hours prior. The stench of seaweed hangs in the air as we trudge across the surface of the beach covered in hand-sized and smaller rocks. With the waves crashing rhythmically against the shore, I treasure these few moments of triumphant reflection. I pick the nearest rock and slip it into my jacket.