Monday, December 28, 2009

School in Waku Kungo - Update #1 by Luis Samacumbi

"So raise up your tired hands! Strengthen your weak knees! (Hebrews 12: 12)

The plan!

It was 3:30 AM on December 16, 2009 when I woke up at Hotel Nino where I overnight after the hard work in Bunjei Mission Station- Huila Province. No water in the tap for the needed shower! Then I took the small bottle of mineral water left the day before just to wash the mouth at least. Everything was quiet, all sleeping including the guards at the Hotel who did not notice my departure. It was raining strongly; a hat protected my head from heavy drops of rain.

I went to my car a Toyota Land cruiser, green plate LBA 44-55, the companion of long trips and moments of solitude on the roads of Angola. The American music animated the fighter for peace and social justice leaving for the city of Waku Kungo in the fulfillment of another noble mission.

Yes, the future of Angola depends on good education that frees the minds of children and youth from the recent past, which was not the good one forced to live for more than three decades. In fact education is peace, peace is democracy, and democracy is social and economic justice.

Children in Waku Kungo have been waiting for the school without getting tired since September 2003 when a team led by Luis Samacumbi did the baseline survey that indicated education as a top priority in that particular area.

What is new?

In my recent monitoring visit on the ground December 16, 2009, I was able to see the progress in the implementation of the project. So, I am pleased to report to all of you the following occurred developments:

• The building of the school started with the opening of the specific Bank Account in Waku Kungo to ensure transparent use of funds;

• Three people are subscribers of that account, their signatures are compulsory for any bank account transaction;

• A team of four persons was created and trained in financial management by the Director General of DASEP [Department of Social Programs] to ensure transparency and expenditures control;

• Three builders were hired to build the school. They will have the support of volunteer members of the community;

• Construction materials including: stone, sand, bricks, cement, etc. were purchased;

• The plan of the school with six classrooms is in place and approved by the Waku Kungo Municipal Section of Education, which will pay the teachers when school starts;

• The foundations are already being dug and lifted.

The photos attached show some of the advances mentioned above:

Photo #1 - U shaped School Plan with 8 classrooms and offices, but we are going to build only 6 classrooms with the amount of money that will be available;

Photos # 2, 3 – Tractor and men transporting stones for the foundations;

Photos # 4, 5 – Workers unloading the stones;

Photo # 6, 7, 8 – Kids already smiling for the school construction starting;

Photo #9 – Stones unloaded ready to be used;

Photo # 10 – Luís Samacumbi providing financial instructions for good records and transparency;

Photo # 11 – Team of builders.


There is no internet available in Waku Kungo and the Project team doesn’t know how to operate if there were access;

Digital photos will available only when Luis Samacumbi or other DASEP Central colleague pass by;

The digital camera purchased by Rev. Mike is being used and photos are being printed. So, DASEP in Luanda will then scan.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Your BIC(Brother in Christ)
Luís Samacumbi

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Following the Money

A few people have asked me recently about the finances for the school building in Angola. Specifically, I think people need to know more about how the money is being accounted for, and what controls there are to make sure the money goes to the right place. The increase in need, from $50,000 to $70,000, has probably (and understandably) raised a few eye brows. So here is a fairly full description of the situation with regard to the financing of the school in Waku Kungo.

First, while my swim of the English Channel was the event that created this school building project, this is by no means something I have put together on my own. Soon after I proposed the project, the Waku Kungo school became an official project of the Global Ministries division of the United Church of Christ, the denomination of my church. Here is a link to official information on the UCC website about the denominational side of the project. Global Ministries and the United Church of Christ has had a 50 year partnership with the Evangelical Congregational Church of Angola (I.E.C.A. - pronounced "YAY-kah"), and through the various collections of Congregational churches through the years, the relationship with the Congregationalists in Angola goes back over 120 years. Global Ministries has been directly involved in hundreds of projects with I.E.C.A through the years. Global Ministries has significant financial controls in place, because it is absolutely critical for both our side (Global Ministries) and their side (I.E.C.A.) that donor wishes are strictly followed and that money given is used only as intended.

Second, I visited Angola in 2005 and personally met many people who are now involved in the school building project. The primary point person in Angola is Luis Samacumbi, the Director of D.A.S.E.P. (which somehow stands for the Department of Social Mission and Education and Special Projects of I.E.C.A.). He has been the Director of D.A.S.E.P. for many years, and has an impeccable record of responsible financial stewardship. He is responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars given to support social mission projects for I.E.C.A. and has strong internal financial controls. I have also personally met with the leader of the one million member I.E.C.A. denomination, Rev. Augusto Chipesse. Rev. Chipesse was recently re-elected to a five year term as the leader of the denomination, and again, has an impeccable record of responsible stewardship of donated funds. Luis Samacumbi was here in the U.S. this past summer and we hosted him part of that time in Rockford. We thoroughly discussed the school project, his plans for use of the money, and those plans have been confirmed through Global Ministries.

Third, while corruption and financial mismanagement are sadly common in many places in the world, including Angola, I.E.C.A. has proved again and again that it is a reliable partner in social mission projects. I have personally been involved in two previous social mission projects through I.E.C.A. involving thousands of dollars (distribution of Bibles, and purchase of motorcycles for transportation for pastors) and have personally seen and confirmed the follow-through on those projects.

Finally, it is probably worth mentioning that Luis Samacumbi first informed me about the change in government policy (the change from four classrooms to six classrooms) back in June, when I had raised less than $5000. He was not able to give me an adjusted cost estimate at that time. Because I had widely publicized the $50,000 figure, and because even $50,000 was a far away dream at that time, it didn't make much sense to publicly raise the number. But as we approached the $50,000 figure, and the full needed amount of $70,000 looked possible (with some more determination and patience), it made sense to make the new goal public. The increase to $70,000 was not a late attempt to simply get more money, but absolutely needed to complete the project. Our Angolan partners, in fact, never asked me to increase the amount, but knowing of the need, I decided to continue to try to fully fund the school.

Thus, I have strong historical, organizational, and personal assurance that the money is being used 100% for the intended purpose of building a school in Waku Kungo. This is one of the advantages of working within the parameters of a long-standing partnership between two church organizations that are committed to embodying the good news of God's love, through promotion of education, and in a thousand other ways.

This is not the most fascinating post, I know, but hopefully you appreciate this little look "behind the curtain" of the school building project. This sort of reminds me of what legendary baseball manager Tony LaRussa said one time when he was trying to describe the apparently simple task of stealing a base. After beginning to explain the managerial thinking involved in base stealing, and apparently feeling like he had only scratched the surface, he leaned back and summarized: "There's a lot of stuff goes on." Well, I try to keep the details out of the public eye, since they are rather boring really, but when it comes to swimming the English Channel and building a school in Angola, "There's a lot of stuff goes on."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Happy Day - $51,385

Yesterday was a great day. In the mail I received an anonymous gift for $2000 from a woman who had read about my swim in a national weekly newspaper (a.k.a. tabloid), the National Examiner. I don't know who she is, but it sure was wonderful! That brings the total to $51,385. And thus we have passed the original goal of $50,000. I'm doing a little happy dance.

Wow. $50,000. Where I come from, that's a lot of money. The most amazing thing is almost all of it has come from small donations. The average donation was $145.82. The median was fifty bucks! (Those numbers don't include the very important $10,000 gift from the Tuthill Fund.)

If you read my previous post, however, you know that I, and we!, are not done yet. Because of changes in government policy, our Angolan church partners need to build a bigger school than originally planned. The new six classroom school will cost $70,000. So that is the new (and final, I promise!) goal.

I am very open to new ideas of how to bring more people in on the fun of helping to build a school in Waku Kungo, Angola - a school that will serve 630 people who otherwise would have little or no access to education. With an average donation of $145.82, we need 134 people to discover the joy of giving to such a wonderful project. Can you recruit one or two or ten of them? With our help, about 630 kids like this...

...can face the challenges of their lives, through education.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

You Can't Fight City Hall...

...especially when that "City Hall" is in Luanda, Angola.

So, for a very long time now I have been trying to raise $50,000 to build a school in Waku Kungo, Angola. If you are reading this, you probably already know that. As of today, we are at $49,250. Thanks be to God, and to the hundreds of people who have made donations to the school building project because of my English Channel swim.

I arrived at that goal of $50,000 based on the cost estimates of our church partners in Angola. They arrived at that cost estimate by figuring out how much it would cost to build a FOUR room school building. It was a FOUR room school building because that was the minimum size required by the government for the government to be willing to provide a permanent teacher for the school.

However - and I have feared this for a while, after hearing from the Angolans, but have waited to tell others until things were more clear - the government has changed the rules, and now a school must have SIX classrooms for the government to be willing to provide a teacher. Apparently, the rule change cannot be "got around." They have to build a SIX room school. Ugh.

The good part of this is that the school will be able to serve 50% more students (the need is still far greater). The bad part, of course, is that it will cost more. I am working on getting a new cost estimate for the school building.

I want to be clear that I have great trust and confidence in our Angolan partners. They are talented, conscientious people. This is not a situation of "bait and switch." They are frustrated by the rule change, just as I am.

Situations like this seem almost ridiculous to most of us in the U.S. We are used to cost overruns on projects like this, of course, but we really aren't used to people "changing the rules in the middle of the game." But Angola is truly a "developing" country. That doesn't just mean that it is developing economically, it also means it is developing in its social and governmental structures. Seven years after the civil war ended, things are still shaking out. Working in the midst of some uncertainty is part of what it means to try to give Angolans the tools they need to rebuild their country.

I will, of course, post additional information on costs as it becomes available. I'll also write again before long about what the plan is for the fundraising, whether and how I'll keep it going.

In any case, we will very soon be celebrating hitting the $50,000 goal!

Peace everyone!


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Looks like fun, no?

Here's me, a very few minutes after the swim. Obviously, I was filled with joy!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Closer, closer

Fundraising progress. $45,050. This is wonderful! $50,000, here we come.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Angola Visit Update

As previously announced, I was unable to make my planned trip to Angola to have a ground-breaking ceremony for the school in Waku Kungo. When I first scheduled my trip to Angola many months ago, the calendar looked clear for them. But in time, some unavoidable scheduling conflicts arose. The Angolans tried to work around the conflicts, but in the end, and very understandably, the key people needed to make my visit a success just weren't available. Not speaking Portuguese, no less Kimbundu, Umbundu, or Kicongo, Angola is not a place I could go and "wing it." So, no trip.

Our partners in Angola are still very interested in having me come to visit Waku Kungu when construction gets underway, or soon thereafter. We don't know the timing yet of the beginning of construction, but it should be fairly soon after we are able to send them the full $50,000. As I have mentioned before, they wisely want to wait until all the money is in hand before they begin construction, as this will significantly reduce construction costs.

As of today, the fund raising total is $43,237 (wahoo!), including the $10,000 from the Tuthill Fund of the Illinois Conference. A few weeks ago, we sent the first $20,000 to Waku Kungo, and today we sent another $10,000. The Tuthill money should be sent after final approval is given around the middle of November. So, by the end of November, we will have sent $40,000. If we can bring in the final $6,763 in the next few weeks, we should be able to have the full $50,000 for them by Christmas!

A great deal needs to be worked out, including finances and finding the best time for the Angolans and for my schedule next year, but hopefully sometime in the first half of 2010 I'll be able to go and celebrate with the folks of Waku Kungo at some point in the construction process.

So, although the swimming part of my adventure is over, the task is not yet fully complete - and I'll keep working on it, one "stroke" at a time, until that school becomes a reality, serving hundreds of children and helping them face the challenges of their lives, through education!

Thanks for your support!

P.S. If by some strange occurrence you have not yet donated to the school project in Angola, by all means, I encourage you to do so! Just click here, and contribute to "Mike's English Channel Swim" - 100% of donations go to build the school (not pay for my swim!). You can also write a check to "SwimMikeSwim," and send it to Second Congregational Church, 318 N. Church St., Rockford, IL, 61101.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Getting Closer!

The fund raising total is now up to $40,867!

I am so thrilled that we have come this far. I have been reading a fascinating book by economist Jeffrey Sachs called "The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time." The basic argument is that it is entirely possible to end life-threatening poverty everywhere on this planet by 2025. At one point he says that those who care about ending poverty, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa (which, sadly, is the only place where poverty has actually become worse over the last few decades, largely because of AIDS), should focus on the "Big Five" development interventions (obviously piggy backing on the "Big Five" animals of Africa): Agricultural inputs; Investments in basic health; Investments in Education; Power, transport, and communications services; Safe drinking water and sanitation. Education is one of the keys to ending poverty - there is no doubt about it. Our church partners in Angola chose wisely when they said that they would like our "SwimMikeSwim" funds to go to a school building!

Now shooting for $50,000!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Best Laid Plans...

The ability to recover from set backs is a key component in accomplishing a goal like swimming the English Channel. It’s useful in other parts of life, too, of course - like when you are working to help build a school in Angola. And now we have a big set back from which to recover. I will not be going to Angola tomorrow to get the building project underway as planned. On Sunday, just after arriving in South Africa (where I am briefly visiting my niece, who is in law school here this semester), I received an email from our partners in Angola telling me that they are unable to receive me at this time. The reasons are complicated, but the long and short of it is that we will have to reschedule my visit to Waku Kungo.

This has no impact on the progress of the school building. The first $20,000 is on the way there (working its way through church administration and finance systems), and the local leaders in Waku Kungo are eager to get started. Perhaps instead of being there for a ceremonial ground breaking, I can be there for a ceremonial ribbon cutting!

The total of donations so far is up to just about $39,000, so now we just have that last $10,000 or so to go. I’ll be home in a week or so, and will be in a little better position to pursue some of the fundraising to make that last $10,000 a reality.

The response to my swim has been amazing, by the way. A brief account of it was picked up by the Associated Press and the United Press International, and the story has appeared in hundreds of outlets online, and in at least a few print editions. I even got word that the story was mentioned in a paper in Iraq (I presume one for U.S. personnel there). It was on the USA Today website (under “odd news”!), the online version of “Guideposts,” and on a website I look at once in a while called “Happy News.” Glad to spread so much cheer. It looks like I am going to make the “tabloids” too – sorry if that term is offensive to the folks involved! The National Examiner is going to print the story in an upcoming edition. Now if someone could just get me on Oprah!

I confess that I have begun to think about what my next adventure will be. I am not even close to deciding, but I know it will not involve cold water – unless I’m drinking it!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Longer Version

I guess I'll leave the last post the way it is, and just write anew. Okay, the longer version...the very longer really, it's long!

First, thank you very much to everyone who has taken an interest in my swim and the school building project. In the last few days I have received hundreds of messages from people, and have loved getting each one. Thinking of the interest and support of so many was definitely one of the things that kept me going through the tough hours of my swim. It sort of turned Channel swimming into a "team sport" rather than an individual one, with all the motivational benefits that come with that - like not wanting to let your teammates down! So thank you very much.

Second, before it gets lost at the bottom of this very long entry, if you haven't donated to the school building project yet (although I know most of you have!), have at it! I took on this challenge of my life, so the kids of Waku Kungo can take on the challenges of their lives, through education. Just go to, and click on "donate" (directions there for donating on-line and through the mail). Off with you now...brilliant!

Okay, the swim. The wait for good weather was long, but I guess I am pretty good at sitting around doing nothing, because I was fine with it. It was nice that there were not really any "close calls" on whether to swim or not - it was clearly too rough until the Saturday window opened up. And Saturday turned out to be a great day for a Channel swim. The sea turned out to be "smooth," or "slight" at the worst (those are actually official levels of sea conditions on the Beaufort Scale). That makes everything much more manageable than it is in rougher water, from rhythm and focus, to feeding, to the steady position of the boat, and more.

I was a little concerned about starting in the daytime and finishing at night. I knew I would get colder at night (more about that later), and I had done some night training but not a whole lot, so it was a concern. But your start time is dictated by the tides and the weather, not the clock, and when the pilot says "go" you "go," especially when you have been waiting for ten days. As with many other things, it was important to remind myself that just over 1000 people had done this before, the vast majority swimming at least some at night, so it was doable. Then I just put it into the mental box of "something I'll deal with when it happens," and didn't worry about it. I'm a big fan of worrying only about actual problems, not possible problems (at least when it comes to athletic endeavors)..."sufficient unto the day are the troubles thereof," somebody once said.

On Friday evening (the 17th) about 7:00 p.m. I called Eddie Spelling, the pilot, for word on my start time (Friday night at 11:00 p.m. was possible at that point), and he said "Not tonight, but tomorrow at 11:00 a.m., or more likely, 11:00 p.m." So as I went to bed on Friday, I knew Saturday was almost surely the day - and I slept just fine anyway! I couldn't believe it. I never slept well before my Ironman triathlons, my 50 mile run, nor even my ("little" - ha!) marathons. But I was glad of it. Saturday morning I called Eddie about 8:30, and he said "It looks good down here on the water, so I'll see you at the dock at 10:30." So the final "yes," ended up being only two hours before leaving the dock. I was ready, so I just had to take care of a few details, and get the word out that it was time to go. Then Henry and I walked down to the dock (about a mile), with him nicely carrying most of the load.

In the parking lot, we met Duncan Philips, who was the second crew member along with Henry. We had emailed and talked on the phone a few times, but this was the first time I met Duncan. He was fabulous the whole time! He is a serious athlete whose next big goal is to do an event called the Enduroman "Arch 2 Arc" triathlon. (In case you skipped over that link, listen to this - that's running 84 miles from London to Dover, swimming 21 1/2 miles across the English Channel, and biking 184 miles from Calais to Paris - one right after the other - and you think I'm crazy!). He put a note on a Channel swimmers' message board volunteering to help with a swim, to see first hand what was involved in swimming the Channel. I took him up on it, and it turned out great. Duncan was responsible for my feedings (i.e. giving me my energy drink), during the whole swim.

We walked onto the boat at 10:34 and within one minute shoved off. It was about a half hour trip to the jump point at Samphire Hoe, and I pretty much used the whole time to get ready, applying sun-screen, a little Bag Balm for chaffing (great stuff for this purpose! - most Channel swimmers don't use old fashioned Channel grease all over anymore - it doesn't help keep you warm and makes a horrible mess!), and otherwise doing the last minute fiddling around that counts as "dotting your i's and crossing your t's."

The boat got us as close as possible to the beach (which was pretty close given it was high tide), and it was time to jump, so I thanked the crew (both boat crew, see picture previous post, and swim crew, Henry and Duncan), received their good wishes, and jumped. I swam to shore, cleared the water - on the painful rocks (see video in previous post), and was ready to go.

So what was I thinking standing there ready to begin this adventure? Well, I reminded myself that this swim was "just" the next part of a long journey. I had done a lot to get this point and this was simply the next step in the whole process. It wasn't some great, "impossible" thing, just the next step. I had done good training (although you always wish you had done more!), and I was as well prepared as I could be. I had arrived at the "starting line" healthy and feeling good, so now all I had to do was take the next step. I wasn't nervous - I was too focused for that. I guess the way I thought about it was that I had a lot of preparation built up inside me, and all I had to do was let it out slowly over the next 13 hours or so. Then I said to myself, "Okay, I can do this." And off I went.

To my great relief the water did not feel cold. The way you react to the water temperature varies a little bit day to day, depending on who knows what? Amount of sleep, what you ate, the wind, the Tokyo stock market? I've never figured that one out. But on Saturday as I began the water felt fine. Now mind you, not once in all my training or my actual crossing did I like the cold water. I am always vaguely aware that it is there, and don't really like it. For me, the cold water is like an ice monster locked in a closet (like in a kid's bedroom closet in the dark). I can put it "out of sight, out of mind," as it were, but the ice monster never goes away. It is always threatening to come out and get inside me and make me miserable and freeze to death, and I have to mentally make sure that door stays locked (I think a big part of dealing with the cold water is mental). For some people who train in cold water more frequently than I, there is no monster. Sixty-three, even sixty, degree water is no problem for them at all. But, as I said, for me the ice monster never goes away completely. The "funny" thing is that not once in all my training or this Channel swim did I ever get "core cold." I never got to the point of shivering, turning grey/pale, losing focus, or having slurred speech (some of the classic signs of hypothermia). And, thankfully, Saturday was a good day for how the water felt, so it wasn't too terribly difficult to keep the ice monster in the closet.

I came up to the boat and headed toward France, sort of. Those of you who followed the GPS tracker know that you don't swim straight across the English Channel, no one ever has. The accepted best route is to leave shore just before or just after high tide in Dover. Then you are pushed by the ebb tide (moving from high to low) almost directly east for six hours, toward the North Sea. You are not actually swimming toward France, so much as the Netherlands. But while the tide is pushing you east, you are swimming forward, across the tidal current, and you and the boat are always aimed at France. After six hours, when the tide changes (i.e. when the flood tide begins, moving from low to high), you are pushed south, or a little southwest, toward France.

For almost this whole first six hour period I felt good in the water. For about the first two hours (between 3-4 miles) I could see the white cliffs of the Dover area behind me, and that was a good reminder that just because you can see something doesn't mean you are anywhere near it, as far as swimming is concerned. It can take forever to get to something that looks just ahead of you, especially at night. I don't remember much about the first five hours, other than feeling good. I just focused on swimming smoothly. I was glad the feedings were going well and glad I wasn't cold, and that's about all I remember. Except my goggle trouble. I realized about two or three hours in that my goggles were too tight and were hurting my eye sockets. So, I had to stop swimming (something much to be avoided - due to the ice monster), and I had the crew throw me a back-up pair, and asked them to loosen the strap on the first one. But the back-up pair got foggy right away because I neglected to tell the crew to use the absolutely fabulous miracle product known as goggle anti-fog spray before they gave me the back-up pair. I hate it when my goggles fog up, as they always do in cold water - I refuse to swim for two minutes with foggy goggles - and the anti-fog stuff works wonders. So then I had to stop again, to switch back to the first pair, now loosened. I started swimming with the first pair again, but then they were foggy too, so I had to stop for a third time - yikes, the ice monster might get out! - to have the crew spray the first pair. Then as I was sending in the first pair via a water bottle, I didn't stick them in the bottle far enough and they went bye-bye, lost at sea - with my required safety beacon still attached. So, back to the back-up pair. I had the crew send me the anti-fog bottle (via a pole they have on the ship with a big cup at the end) and I sprayed the back-up pair myself. The back-up pair was fog free and very comfortable for the rest of the swim, and I managed not to get cold, even through all that stopping - maybe five minutes total. That goggle problem was the only minor technical glitch in the whole swim, thank goodness.

I don't know why, other than "these things happen," but sometime between hours five and six I started feeling worse. At some point I must have been feeling bad enough to want an honest estimate of how far I had to go, and I asked the boat crew something about the time or distance. Dave (the first mate) said "About half-way there, mate, just keep swimming." I realized that I had gotten a little overly-confident during those first five good hours, thinking I was cruising right along, and would have a sweet, short (i.e. fast) swim. That "about half-way" point was 6 hours 45 minutes into the swim, which put me at a 13:30 crossing. That was a little depressing, given what I had been thinking, but then I told myself that 13 hours was what I had been telling myself and everyone else for a long time, and that was just fine. (Of course, as it turned out, Dave was spot on, as I finished in 13:31).

I continued to feel pretty bad for about three hours. Before the end of that time, I thought about stopping and being done with it. I felt tired and unmotivated and just sick of swimming. It wasn't fun. I remember one time in particular I happened to get a good view of the back of the boat where the ladder was. Oh, that ladder looked good! It was the first step toward a hot shower and sleep.

I guess three things kept me going. First, I just couldn't think of a good enough reason to quit - a reason that I could rest comfortably with. I thought about it, and my arms/shoulders didn't really hurt that much, the sea conditions were not bad, I wasn't cold, I hadn't been stung by a jelly-fish, nothing. There was no good reason to quit. It was just plain old fatigue, and DUH!, you're swimming the English Channel, mate!

Second, there was certainly a bit of good, old fear of shame involved. I didn't want to have raised all that money for the school in Angola, and then not make it. I didn't want to appear like a fool, someone who would set off on a cool sounding challenge, but then not accomplish it for no good reason. I didn't want to have to eat my words for all the times I said to people "Don't worry, I'll make it." And probably lots of other thoughts that had to do with what other people would think of me if I quit. "What other people will think of me if I quit," is not a healthy motivator for endurance events, but it does usually have an effect. Ultimately, though, it's really not that strong of a motivator, and if you are not internally motivated in what you are doing, you're toast.

Third, I kept thinking about something I read in Dean Karnazes great book "Ultramarathon Man." During one unbelievable run he did (I think it was like 150 miles), somebody asked him how he felt, and he said during his long runs "There are good times and there are bad times...this is not one of the good times" (** see note at end **). I just kept telling myself that this was not one of the good times, but that it would pass. And eventually it did.

At sometime during that hard time, Henry told me that he had received about 50 emails wishing me good luck, etc. It was a nice bright spot in that tough time. It was great to know that so many people were following the GPS tracker and the Twitter messages, and gave me that "team sport" feeling I mentioned back at the beginning of this post. Thanks everyone!

Sometime around hour nine I started feeling good again. Around hour eight night had fallen, the air temperature dropped, and I started to feel colder. That was probably the worst moment really. I was scared I was going just going to start getting colder and colder, and I knew I was still at least five hours away. But a little time passed and although I was a bit colder, it was just a bit, and the decline did not continue. There was no downward spiral of cold. I realized I could deal with the cold still, even at night, and maybe the relief of that thought is what led me to feeling better around nine hours. I remember looking at my watch at 8:15 p.m. (almost exactly nine hours in) and that is the turning point in my mind.

This is probably the right time to talk about my feedings. For the first few, good, hours I was feeding every 25-30 minutes, taking 15-20 seconds per feed. I kept track of the time myself, which I like to do because it keeps me focused and in control. "Feeding" basically means swimming near the side of the boat for a drink of Maxim, lowered in a water bottle on a rope. Maxim is an energy drink that is legendary among long distance swimmers. It is nothing but water and maltodextrin, a type of sugar that is absorbed quickly by the stomach (it has better calorie uptake rates than fructose or sucrose, for example). It also has no electrolytes, because when swimming in cold water you are not really sweating much, if at all, and you are swallowing some salt water naturally, which apparently gives you the sodium you need. It is important to feed quickly and feed often. Quickly because of the cold, and because those are just "wasted" seconds in your swim. You might feed forty or fifty times during your swim, and at just thirty seconds a feeding, that could be at least twenty extra minutes in the water - and every extra minute is a minute that might end your swim. And you have to feed often because you have to get a relatively constant flow of calories in your body. Calories are energy, and the more energy you get in (and keep in!), the more glycogen you can make and burn, and the more glycogen you burn (instead of fat), the less fatigued you feel. (This summer a guy made a world record attempt for a Channel swim and he was feeding every eight minutes, at about three seconds each! He missed the world record by about twenty minutes, by the way. The record stands at six hours fifty-seven minutes.) The science of feeding for endurance performance is a lot more complicated than that, and fascinating to me, but that's for another time! Anyway, sometime during the difficult middle hours I started feeding every twenty minutes, which might have helped me get down more calories, which might have eventually led to me feeling better.

Hours 9 to 11 1/2 were great. I felt good and confident, and I was able to pick up the pace. I was working hard and really enjoying it again. I actually don't remember much about this time either, just cruising along, thinking about my stroke, thinking about how amazing it was that I was out here in the middle of the English Channel on a pitch black night, just me and the water and the boat and the dark, and I felt good! Henry, the fabulous crew member, had the job of shining a spot-light on me in the dark - actually just in front of me, and it was great. I could just focus on that one little spot, not think about France, and get on with it. At some point, Eddie, the pilot, spoke up and said, "You have to work hard here now, mate." I responded: "Like I wasn't working hard before?" "Work harder," he said. So I did, picking up the pace even more. I think that doubly increased pace lasted about an hour.

The goal with that "work harder" was to get me in position to come ashore at "the Cape," Cap Griz Nez. That's the goal of every Channel swimmer because it is the shortest possible route across the Channel. Hitting Cap Gris Nez can make a two or three hour difference in your time. (Not that time matters, but like I said earlier, every extra minute you are in the water is a minute that might end your swim). The problem with hitting Cap Griz Nez is that the approach is surrounded by an unbelievably strong current - four knots, actually (five MPH) - moving generally west to east. Not even Michael Phelps can make progress against that current. You have to get in a position way to the west of the point of the Cape, and then make the approach, hoping you are strong enough to get to shore before you are swept past the point - adding a minimum of an hour to your swim. (I just watched a woman make the point by about five yards - she was five yards away from adding 1-2 hours to her swim, but she made it!)

At about 11 1/2 hours that time of feeling great, alas, came to end. The last two hours were just a long, hard slog. But this tough time period wasn't like the tough time in the middle. It was hard physically, but not too bad mentally. I increased my feeds to every 15 minutes, not so much for the calories, but because the way I was getting through it was by counting my strokes between feeds - swimming feed to feed, rather than swimming to France. "Four hundred strokes to the next feed. I can do four hundred strokes." (VERY, VERY, VERY important for long distance swimming - just swim feed to feed!) I pretty much knew I was going to make it and just had to gut it out. I ended up not really getting anywhere near far west enough to make a go at the Cape, and when the tide changed and started pushing me east again, I just came around the Cape into the adjacent bay. On the GPS tracker you could see that very clearly. It must have been about the time I was missing the Cape that I asked for a time estimate to finish, and Dave, the first mate, said "You've got about two hours to go, mate, okay?" (Yes, they always say "mate!") And I said, "No, that's not okay." But I just got right back to slogging it out.

Because it was night, I had been able to see lights on the French shore for hours, but couldn't really make sense of them, and had no real sense of how far away anything was. I knew I was making progress, but didn't know how long it would take, even with Dave's estimate. I just kept looking for the little dingy to be lowered off the back of the boat, because that little dingy would follow me into the shallow water where the boat couldn't go. Swim feed to feed. Four hundred strokes. "Are they moving to the dingy yet?" The lights of the little town of Wissant, France where right ahead of me, but I still couldn't tell how far away it was, or how long it would take to get there.

Finally, finally, I noticed they started fiddling with the dingy! I remembered to remind Henry to give Dave the camera so Dave could take pictures of me on the beach. Most people don't get pictures when they land at night! I just kept swimming ahead, and the dingy must have followed me in for about 400 yards. Even when we were 10 yards off the shore I couldn't tell how far it was - it was really dark! Only when Dave said I could probably touch bottom (I couldn't) did I realize how close it was. I ended up landing on the giant rocks that must serve as erosion control for Wissant. Because of the rocks, I didn't really have to clear the water completely, but I did anyway, carefully climbing up. I got Dave to take a picture and then went to find a rock to take home. It was hard finding one, because of the giant boulders. I ended up climbing all the way over the rocks and found myself along a little street in Wissant, looking for a little stone in the middle of the night. I don't think anybody saw me, as it was 12:45 a.m., but I must have looked pretty funny. I finally found the stone and headed back to the dingy, which took me back to the boat, which took me back to England.

Thus I swam the English Channel.

** I slightly "misremembered" the quote. The exact line is "There have been high points and there have been low points. This is not a high point." (Ultramarathon Man, p. 236)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Swam, Mike Swam

I think I'll start with some pictures and then intersperse narrative. So...

A journey of 21 1/2 miles begins with getting in the water. Samphire Hoe, England, 11:14 a.m. local time, Saturday, September 19.

The beginning on video.

The crew: from left to right, Nathan, the official observer from the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation, Dave, the first mate, and Eddie, the pilot extraordinaire.

The white cliffs: looking back while swimming I could see them for about the first two hours.

Swimming along. Yes, it was uphill the whole way!

A typical feeding. I drank "Maxim" the whole way - a great energy drink for when you do not need electrolyte replacement.

I thought this boat was a lot bigger and a lot further away. No wonder Eddie had the sirens blasting. Apparently we had the right of way. He wasn't too happy.

Swimming at night. That green dot (if you can even see it) is me. Actually, it wasn't like that. Most of the time Henry was shining a spot light just in front of me, and the boat was a little closer than this picture implies.

I made it. Wissant, France, 12:45 a.m. local time, Sunday, September 20.

More narrative later.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A great experience

Well, I made it. It's 5:00 a.m. and we just got back to the hotel. Just a quick update and thanks with more to follow after I sleep.

I actually enjoyed the majority of the swim. Hours 1-5 were good. Sometime between hour 5-6 it transitioned in a not good time that lasted until 9 hours. Hours 9-11.5 were pretty enjoyable actually. Then the last two hours were pretty tough. Official time of 13:31.21.

There were definitely times especially between hours 6-9 when I doubted I would finish, but overall, it was a great experience.

Thank you everyone for many kinds of support! The emails were wonderful!


Alright, here we go

Just got off the phone with the pilot, and the sea is lovely and calm this morning, so here we go. I should be getting in the water about 11:30 a.m. my time (5:30 a.m. CDT).

Remember, you can follow my progress by going here, and then clicking on the "satellite tracker - Anastasia" link. And, if my phone works as we hope, Henry will send some Twitter updates while I'm out there.

Thanks for all your support and good wishes everyone!

Click here to donate to help build a school in Waku Kungo, Angola!

"And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." (Genesis 1:2)

"It's kind of fun to do the impossible." (Walt Disney)


Friday, September 18, 2009

Then again, maybe not

I just got off the phone with the pilot, Eddie, and he says it really is still too rough out there, and we should wait another 12 hours, or, more likely, 24 hours. So, no go tonight. Where's that Jesus guy when you need him? ("He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm" Mark 4:39.)

That's the nature of the beast here. But the next four days all look quite good, and he's certain I'll get out soon, almost surely tomorrow.

I still feel good, and can easily wait for the right time.

Thanks for all the good wishes! I'll get out there soon!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Really Good News

If you read all the way to the end of yesterday's post, you saw that I have some really good news. No, I didn't secretly already swim the Channel in record time. But just as good, or better.

I got word a couple of days ago that the Tuthill Fund is making a $10,000 donation to the school building project in Angola! The Tuthill Fund is an endowment fund committed exclusively to international mission projects associated with the Illinois Conference of the United Church of Christ (the regional grouping of churches my church is part of). The donation must be approved by another governing board, but that's pretty assured.

So we now have $32,358 toward the building of the school in Waku Kungo, Angola!

Of course, the goal here is $50,000. That is how much it will take to build a wonderful new school building where hundreds of children (and some adults) can get the education they need and deserve. Many of you who are reading this blog have helped get us up to the $32,358. Thank you!

If you have not donated yet, this would be a fabulous time to do so - practically as I am swimming! To donate online with a secure credit card transaction, all you have to do is go to and click on the "donate" link. You can also just write a check to "SwimMikeSwim" and send it to Second Congregational Church, 318 N. Church St., Rockford, IL 61101. Every cent of your donation goes directly to help build the school in Waku Kungo.

One more thing, in case any of you are looking for a nice way to use several thousand dollars at your disposal. Our Angolan partners wisely want to wait until all the money ($50,000) is in hand before they start construction on the school. This gives them considerable cost savings in construction. I am confident that we will soon get to $40,000 in donations, but it sure would be nice to be able to give our partners the full $50,000. So, anybody want to loan us, unsecured at no interest, another $10,000 as we work to bring in the remaining donations after the swim? If you have the means and the interest to do so, just send me an email (jmichaelsolberg at gmail dot com), and we can discuss it.

Thank you everyone for your support as I face (tomorrow!) the challenge of my life, so that the kids of Waku Kungo can face the challenges of their lives through education.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Friday, Sept. 18, 11:00 p.m. BST - 5:00 p.m. CDT

Okay, here we go. IF the wind does what it is supposed to (well, at least what it is forecasted to do), right about 11:00 p.m. local time this Friday, September 18 (5:00 p.m. CDT), I will be standing on the beach of Samphire Hoe about to wade into the 63.5 degree water of the English Channel and swim to Cap Gris Nez, or Wissant, France. Wahoo. Finally.

When the time comes you can track me across the Channel by clicking on this link and then clicking on SATELLITE TRACKER - ANASTASIA. See the entry below from September 5 for a full description of what to expect from this GPS tracker. The tracker should be active by about 5:00 p.m. CDT, if we are on schedule.

Also, if my cell phone service works as it should, then Henry will be sending out "Twitter" messages during my swim, which (I think) you can read at You can also arrange to receive those Twitter updates (I refuse to call them "tweets") on your cell phone as a text message if your prefer, but you'll have to figure out how to set that up yourself. Just ask someone under 30.

Okay, now for some information about the swim. First, yes, I will be doing the first seven hours of my swim in the dark. I always knew swimming at night was a possibility, although I guess everybody hopes to avoid it, if possible. This time, avoiding it wasn't possible. Because of the timing of the tides, it was either seven hours of dark, followed by six or seven (hopefully) hours of daylight - or seven hours of daylight, followed by six or seven hours of night. The later would not be fun, so an 11:00 p.m. start it is. This way at least I get to arrive on a lovely French beach in the daytime. I have trained at night, and it is a little "spooky" at first, but really I don't mind it at all, so it shouldn't be a problem. Oh, I should add that this will be the night of a new moon, so it will be really, really dark out in the middle of the Channel. Just me, the water, the black sky, and the boat - how relaxing, no distractions.

Second, as I mentioned a few days ago, this will be a very strong spring tide. Because we are just a few days off the autumnal equinox, that invisible moon is aligned to pull a lot of water up the Channel. That will make the last mile or so of the swim very hard, but it could actually give me a little help if I time it right, that is, if I finish in twelve hours or less (possible with calm water, but unlikely really).

Third, don't get too confident of my success just because I am getting close to France. That last mile or two is the toughest, and lots of people can't make it to shore, even though they have come so far. You'll know I've made it when that little GPS dot is right along the French coast, or you get a message by Twitter, or email, or whatever.

That's all I can think to write right now. Any questions?

I feel great. Not nervous at all right now, but we'll see how well I sleep the next couple of nights.

Oh, and I have some fabulous news on the fund raising front, but this post is already long enough. Soon.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tuesday in Dover

Not much new to write, really. Saturday still looks like a possibility, but it's still four days out, so we'll just have to wait and see. I'm hopeful.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Ray of Hope?

It's Monday in Dover, and I will not be swimming any time soon, but there is a ray of hope for next Saturday (the 19th). The current forecasts show the winds finally settling down on Friday night and into Saturday. IF (that's a big IF at this point) that forecast holds, then Saturday could be the day. I'll keep the updates going as we go along, and hopefully that forecast will continue. For fun, you can keep track yourself here.

If it is Saturday (or Sunday), it will be a slightly challenging day to swim. It will be during a "spring tide," the stronger tidal period when it can be more difficult to cross. And just coincidentally, this will be the strongest spring tide of the whole year (they vary by a few feet depending on the position of the moon and earth). It is something of a mixed bag, actually. You can get a little extra boost from the spring tide as you head toward France from the middle of the Channel, but getting into shore, i.e. the last mile or so, can be tough. Still, lots of people are successful on spring tides, and if it is my only shot (which it may well be) I'll take it!

My Mom arrived today, and it just happens to be her 70th birthday, so Happy Birthday, Mum!

I'm still doing quite well with the wait - still just good, positive energy, and no nervousness really at all. I still feel great in the water, and certainly have a few more days wait in me.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

No news is not good news

Well, I have nothing new to report, which means I won't be swimming anytime soon. Winds look strong at least through Thursday, according to current forecasts (and Thursday is as far as the forecast goes). Oh well, I had a 2 1/2 hour swim this morning and felt great in the water, and I'm still feeling nothing but positive and patient. So, on with the waiting.

So far, I've met lots of extraordinary people on the beach here in Dover. Loads of Channel swimmers, of course - wannabees like me, and successful crossers. There are at least two women here waiting who are aiming for double crossings - yes, that means swimming over to France, and then swimming right back. (A few people have done triple crossings, but no one has ever done a quad - I think the swelling of the tongue and throat from the salt water has been the limiting factor there, just so you know.) I met Terry Laughlin, of Total Immersion. He made a video that I watched over a year ago, and it taught me a lot about open water swimming. Cool to meet him in person. I met John Van Wisse, an amazing Australian swimmer who has won the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim a few times (that's 26 or so miles around the whole island of Manhattan), in addition to other stuff. I swam with him in the Harbor - man, he's fast. And then I met Dan Martin. He's planning on doing a triathlon - around the world. Swim from New York to France - eight hours of swimming a day, boat at night, boat let's him off in exactly the same spot next day - should take four months. Bike from France to the tip of Russia - something like 10,000 miles - will take a long time. Run (or walk) from Alaska to New York - long time. He's supposed to start in May, 2010, and finish in late 2011. I didn't believe it at first, but he has a website that chronicles a bike trip from Korea to Cape Town, so I guess it's legit. No website for the world-wide triathlon yet. He says it will be up next month. Wow.

Now, back to waiting...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

"Jeopardy" music, please

Nothing new to report today. It doesn't look like there is any chance of me swimming before Wednesday, and as I think I said before, that's not because Wednesday looks promising, but because the pilot doesn't trust the forecast any further out. So, cue the "Jeopardy" music...for the next three days at least.

The good news is that I still feel nothing but good and positive. I knew this depended on the weather, so it's nothing unexpected. I've been swimming about an hour a day, and I feel great in the water, so my taper is having the desired effect (ugh, I wrote that before, didn't I? "Groundhog Day" syndrome).

Henry, of course, is along with me, and he's doing great, waiting with complete patience and good cheer.

By the way, neither Henry nor I got colds or otherwise sick after the eight hour flight here. A miracle!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Still Fast

It's Friday afternoon in Dover, and there hasn't been much change in the wind. Which means I will not likely be swimming anytime soon. Based on the wind forecast I had some hopes for Sunday, but the most recent forecast makes that look unlikely. That darn anti-cyclone centered off the west coast of Ireland! How dare it make me wait to swim the Channel?!

The title of this post is a quote from the book I am reading, "Endurance." As I mentioned before it is about Shackleton's attempt to cross Antarctica in 1915. It didn't go well. They got caught in pack ice before they even reached the continent, and spent a very long time, in very bad weather, held fast by the ice. Day after day, their diary entries say "still fast," with their lives at risk everyday, sometimes every moment. Certainly puts my swim, and my wait, in perspective.

I do have some wonderful news: the fund raising for the school in Angola just went over $20,000! My goal is $50,000 (because that is what it will actually take to build the school), so we have a ways to go still, but I am fabulously pleased to reach $20,000. There have now been hundreds of people who have contributed, and I am most grateful to all of you! On behalf of the kids of Waku Kungo, thank you!

Hmmm...I think I buried the lede!


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thursday in Dover

Not much change today. I'm still waiting for the wind to die down. Sunday looks like the next possible day to swim, but that's very iffy at this point.

Saw District 9 last night: good, disturbing, and imperfect film - and pretty violent. I guess I have a little more positive view of humanity than some.

Reading "Endurance" - the classic story of Ernest Shackleton's 1915 (or so) attempt to cross the Antarctic continent. They didn't even get started on the crossing, but the result is a great adventure story. Great read while waiting to swim the English Channel. Makes my little swim look like a day at the beach!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Long Wait?

I'm pretty well settled in Dover. Got a good night's sleep after traveling and seem to be adjusting well to the time change (we are six hours ahead of CDT). I swam this morning and the water temp felt fine and I felt good, so that means my taper is having the desired effect.

Now we wait for the winds over the English Channel to die down a little. I talked to my pilot this morning, and he said the earliest I could swim is Saturday, although I think that is just because he doesn't trust the weather forecast more than three days out, not because Saturday looks promising. I read one wind forecast that indicated things could get a little better on Sunday, but I don't think that's very reliable four days out.

For Channel swimming, most around here seem to trust the government weather office most of all (the Met Office, similar to NOAA). If you are fascinated by weather forecasts, below are the sites I'm looking at while patiently waiting in Dover. I pretty much need the wind to be below 13 mph, or 15 mph tops, before my pilot will say "let's go." These sites often use the "Beaufort Scale" (scroll down at that link for a nice chart) for wind speed, on which 1 and 2 are great for swimming the Channel (and rare in the English Channel), 3 is good, 4 is questionable, and 5 and above are certainly a "no go."

Wind forecast.

Inshore marine forecast.

Marine shipping forecast.

Extended marine forecast. On this last one, we are right between Cullercoats and Niton, so read them both and see if they refer to the Dover area or the eastern English Channel.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

In Dover

We arrived in Dover today ("we" is Henry and me). I have a couple days to get settled and adjusted, and will then probably be waiting on the weather, as the wind doesn't look too great for swimming the next few days. Good for sailing? Yes. Good for swimming? No. Falling asleep...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Cool. Thanks.

Thanks to whoever left the inspirational jellyfish for me! I hope that's the only one I see until I finish my swim!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Real Time Tracking of My Swim

We are making final plans for how to communicate back to everyone information about my swim. Things are still a little up in the air because I am not sure what form of communication will work out in the middle of the Channel.

The one sure thing, though, at this point, is that you will be able to follow the course of my swim live, by following this link:, and clicking on "Satellite Tracker - Anastasia" (Anastasia is the name of the boat.)

That will give you a blip on a map every now and then (ten to thirty minutes apart usually), giving you my position. You will notice that you can zoom in and out on the map for the view that works best for you. Remember that I will not swim straight across, but will be pushed east (to the right on the map) for six hours, and then back to the south-southwest for six hours. Ideally, I'll walk onto the French beach (or rocks) at Cap Gris Nez at the end of that twelve hours. More realistically though, I'll probably start getting pushed back east again before I hit the beach around Wissant.

Any questions?

I'll post this again before I swim.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Pictures from Dover

At last, a little picture of what Dover is like.

First, the legendary white cliffs of Dover. They are made of chalk basically. The stuff just crumbles in your hands.

Dover Harbor, where I swam many hours. My swim will actually begin on a beach outside the Harbor call "Samphire Hoe," it looks much like the second photo below.

The woman in the light blue t-shirt is Freda Streeter, the Queen of the Beach. Just because she loves Channel swimming, and pretty much knows more about training for a Channel swim than anyone else in the world, she (and a few other wonderful people) helps swimmers out every Saturday and Sunday from May - September. Sometimes she is on the beach for eight hours, giving assistance and advice. Her daughter Alison, MBE, is the Queen of the Channel, having swum the Channel more times than anybody else - 43 times! (The male record by the way is 34 times.)

Dover Castle, built in the 1100s.


We had a great time in Europe. As I have said before, Norway was the most beautiful place I have ever seen. It is sort of like the Colorado Rockies, but with ocean interspersed with mountains. The pictures don't do it justice, but you can get the idea. We went a few other places too, as you can see.

I'll make a separate post for Dover.

Bergen, Norway

The place where we all began. Just kidding. It's a furniture store in Bergen.

The obligatory Norwegian troll picture (the troll is the one in the middle).

Muriel overlooking Bergen.

One of the places marked "Solberg" on the map, although the locals had never heard of it.

Everyday scenery in Norway.

The autobahn (don't be silly, that's kph, not mph - I promise I never went over 125 mph!)

Wittenberg Castle Church - where Martin Luther finally managed to upset the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church and start the Protestant Reformation.

Luxembourg - a beautiful city (sort of like Paris, but smaller and cleaner).

Near our Paris apartment.

The Louvre was crowded!

Notre Dame.

And a good time was had by all.


Okay, I'm just saying: I know there is no point in worrying about it, and it is 100% out of my control, but I have been observing the weather in the English Channel the last few days - and it has not been good for swimming. Today is the last day of a neap tide (the weaker tides on which Channel attempts are normally made) which went from August 26 to September 3. There are probably 20 people who hoped to make their swim during this tide, and not one of them got the opportunity. The wind was too strong the whole time. I am not exactly sure what happens to them now. Based on current forecasts (with very sketchy reliability), it looks like Sunday is the first day someone could swim, but even if that forecast holds, they would be swimming on a stronger "spring" tide, which is harder (although can actually be faster for some swimmers). No fun either way.

My swim window begins with the next neap tide on September 11. If I understand right, these people who didn't get any decent weather do not get pushed back to my window. On the 11th, I still get the first shot. September is supposed to be a good month for weather - a little cooler air temps than the end of July and August, but more settled weather patterns. We'll just have to wait and see what happens in the next week or so. I have a retreat scheduled at Iona (an ancient retreat center on an island off the west coast of Scotland) beginning on the 19th. If I haven't swum by the 18th, I'll have a tough decision to make.

Again, there is no point in worrying about it, but I'm just sayin'...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

How Time Flies

Yikes, time flies when you are in final prep for the English Channel. The first day of my swim window is just two weeks from yesterday. Wahoo! It's almost here. Since I got back from Europe I have been getting back up to full strength and putting in some good hours, and it has gone well.

My arm (actually, my right triceps injury) is pain free, although maybe a little "tender" after a few hours of swimming - but at that point everything is "tender" so it's hard to tell. Anyway, it is not affecting my swimming at all. I went to the doc and am getting some physical therapy, just to make sure everything is healed as much as possible before my swim.

I did my long swim last Tuesday in Lake Geneva, and ended up going 8 1/2 hours. I had a couple of rough hours in the middle, but for the last two or so I felt good and finished strong, so it was pretty encouraging. If my rough estimate based on a look at Google Maps is anywhere near accurate I only covered about 13 miles, which is not great, but even that is on pace for a 13-14 hour Channel swim, which is pretty much what I have said all along, so all is good. Dave Tanaglia accompanied me in his kayak pretty much the whole 8 1/2 hours, and Roger (last name?) and Gary (last name?) swam with me some of the time. Dave's help was invaluable, so thanks Dave! And thanks to Roger and Linda for their very kind hospitality as a base for the day.

More soon, with pictures of Dover and Europe, I promise!

Monday, August 17, 2009

And now back home

I'm back home now until September 7, when I leave for Dover for my swim (finally!). Nothing much fascinating to report. I'm just doing some final training. I will do a long swim this week (six hours?), and then, if I can find proper accompaniment, I hope to do an eight hour swim in Lake Geneva next week. Then it will be shorter stuff (nothing over three hours) until I leave for Dover. I wish I was swimming tomorrow. I am mentally and physically ready. Now I just have to keep the edge for three more weeks.

The fund raising has been a bit slow lately - received $16,212 to date. I'm hoping there is a nice bump as we get into the final weeks here, but clearly we won't get to $50,000 before I swim. But we'll keep working on it until we raise the full $50,000. The kids of Waku Kungo need it! The Angolans would like to get building, but will understand. They are very used to waiting, as nothing construction related seems to happen very fast in Angola. We will send them what we have so far, and I will still go there in October, and have a ceremonial ground breaking.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Back in Dover

Arrived back in Dover yesterday for some more training, following a few days in Paris. Paris was great, of course. It remains a mystery why the recipe and technique of great pastries can't make it across the Atlantic. Wow, that stuff is good. The tourist sights were very crowded but fun to see, and we had fun playing games and working on a puzzle (which we failed to finish sadly - too much to do in Paris!).

I swam six hours yesterday, which I was happy with after swimming only once for the past three weeks. The first two hours were very tough, perhaps just because it was early (I started a little after six), and I don't normally swim that early. But then things fell into place and it was good. My right tricep (or is it still triceps even when singular?) is still a bit tender, but not painful. I have stopped even thinking about the water temperature. Dover Harbor is 64 or so now, and other than the slightly unpleasant moment of first getting in, it is no problem. As long as I can keep working during my Channel swim, the water temp won't be a problem.

I almost got to go out on the boat for another swimmer's Channel swim last night. I reported to the boat at midnight as arranged, and then the guy didn't show. He had a mix up with the pilot about the departure time. Now he missed his shot, at least for a few days. Note to self: show up when the pilot says!

After my first visit and this visit to Dover, I feel like I have a pretty good picture in my mind of what to expect - as much as one can at least, as the Channel always surprises. My swim window begins one month from tomorrow. I'll do two or three more long swims at home - hopefully getting up to eight hours for one of them (but where and how to do that is an issue), with shorter swims in between. Then back off for about a week, and I'll be good to go. Can one be hesitantly confident? I guess that's how I feel.

Home on Wednesday. Cheers.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Bonjour from Luxembourg

Hmmm...keeping this up to date: Norway was amazing. I'd love to go back there for an "adventure" trip sometime - hiking, rafting, kayaking - something. It's by far the most beautiful country I've ever seen. Since Norway we have driven through Sweden, Denmark, and Belgium, and spent a couple of nights each in Germany and France. It's been great fun. Then we got lucky yesterday: we picked a lovely looking hotel in France, drove a coule of hours to get there, but it looked pretty sketchy. Then we did the same thing again, one hour away. Then we did the same thing again, another hour away. Then we drove another hour to Luxembourg, and found an amazingly gorgeous city, with a nice hotel thrown in. So we are in Luxembourg for a couple of days, before two nights in rural France, and then on to Paris for five nights.

I've not been able to do any swimming (which was good for the first week, letting my arm recover fully), but have been running regularly. It's probably not ideal, but when this is done I'll have a full month of uninterupted training before my swim and I'm sure I can get back to full strength quickly before tapering for ten days or so (I know from past experience that I do best on a short taper).

That's all the time I have for now. Au revoir!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

From Bergen, Norway

I have made it to Bergen and the family should be here in about an hour. It is beautiful here, and I have barely left th airport. Very northwoodsy. Typing on my phone is slow so I'll just say that I think I really do look like the people here.

And I should also say that my recovery from ny seven hour/six hour back to back days went well - except for my mouth! The salt water killed my tongue and eating was painful for three days. Thank goodness for ibuprofen!


Monday, July 20, 2009

Report from Dover

Greetings from Dover, England. I am here for a week of training, and it has gone very well. I swam seven hours in the harbor on Saturday, and then six hours on Sunday. This was very close to Channel conditions, probably a bit rougher actually, so it was excellent training.

There is an amazing group of people who train here each weekend, with Freda Streeter as the de facto coach of them all. Freda is the mother of Alison Streeter, the Queen of the Channel. Alison has swum the Channel 43 times, so her mom knows quite a bit about what makes for adequate training. The 7 hour/6 hour combo I just did is the maximum distance they go here in training, and I finished without too much trouble, so I feel good about my training with seven weeks to go - although, trust me, I'm not getting overly confident! They say the physical training is about 20% of the task, and the other 80% is in your mind. I did have a pretty sore right tricep, but I think that was from the need to lift my head up to see where I was going frequently - which is something I will not have to in the Channel, when you just site off the boat to your side while breathing. The water temp was not bad at all, so my acclimation has really worked well. Thank goodness for my backyard pool!

Other than swimming I haven't done much other than spend one day in London, where the highlight was seeing the new Harry Potter movie in the same theatre - although 10 days later - as Daniel Radcliffe (Emma Watson and Rupert Grint were across the way, as the world premier was on two screens to make more room).

I probably won't get a chance to write again before I leave Dover (and meet the family in Norway), so "cheers!"

Oh, and if you have donated yet to build the school in Angola, go to and take care of that!