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 version...no 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 www.SwimMikeSwim.com, 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 www.SwimMikeSwim.com 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 www.twitter.com/swimmikeswim. 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: http://www.ais-doverstraits.co.uk/, 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'...