A couple of days after my team's successful relay swim across the English Channel in 2011, I attempted a solo crossing. A newcomer to the sport, without any formal training or coaching, many people thought I was absolutely crazy and foolhardy to attempt a solo swim. But I didn’t care. My decision to try something I had never tried before was motivated purely by a personal desire for adventure and self-exploration. My goal wasn’t necessarily to get to France. I wanted to throw my mind and body into the Channel and see how far it would carry me. Just over one third across the Channel, my solo attempt was aborted. Fueled by disappointment and the realization that I was without question ill prepared, I left Dover with a promise to myself: I would return to swim the English Channel, and I would be ready.
As boarding for the flight concludes and the door hatch closes on the Boeing 747 plane in preparation for takeoff, I buckle my seatbelt as instructed by the flight attendants. Interlocking my fingers, and clasping my fists nervously to my lips, I close my eyes for a brief moment. Inhaling deeply, I fill my lungs with a calming cocktail of hope, excitement and belief. Exhaling seconds later, I attempt to void my mind and my body of doubt, nerves and fear. Not exactly successful, I reassure myself it was certainly worth the try.
Soon the airplane barrels purposely along the runway, shaking the cabin and it’s contents. My heightened senses note the labored movement across the tarmac that feels rough under the wheels. Seconds later we are airborne and seemingly weightless as the wheels tuck under the aircraft.
The 11 hour flight passes swiftly and without incident, except for my lack of sleep. Landing at Heathrow Airport and focused on a mental "To Do" list, I snap into action. Clearing passport control in less than a minute, thanks to my dual citizenship, I march towards baggage pick up. A considerable delay for my luggage convinces me the baggage handlers had a “field day” with the contents of my bags: glow sticks, rope, duct tape, an EpiPen®, lanolin, goggles, swimsuits and Tupperware® filled with pre-cooked rice. I pray that each of the carefully selected and necessary items arrive. The baggage carousel seems to loop endlessly without my bags until they appear almost an hour after my flight arrived.
I navigate to the Avis rental car location, wondering if I can indeed remember how to drive the manual car I booked. Soon I am in control of the car, albeit poorly though with an enormous smile, despite the visible horror of the parking lot attendant who watches me struggle with the clutch and gears. Hopefully I don’t have to perform a hill start.
A two hour drive to Dover, and I have already mastered the British driving system, including speed cameras. Catching my first glimpse of the Channel in 2 years, I marvel at its expanse. It looks much bigger than I remember. Despite an inner monologue reminding myself of all my hard work, training and experience since 2011, I am terrified.