After a tumultuous 10days recovery that saw 3 days immediately after the swim driving for over 6hrs a day…. not sleeping well and not stopping. Not great. But I stopped aching after 48hrs, and didn’t feel desperately hungry. A week later, I felt a little tired but starting to fill again. I figured I would bonk at 6-8hrs instead of my usual 12hr slump, but that we could fuel my way through that. I wanted this one done.
It wasn’t a grudge match, I hadn’t been beaten last time. I don’t think it’s me versus the oceans. I make peace with the water, try to find a way to coexist and pass peaceably through. I prefer to ask permission than demand passage or assert dominance. It is myself I conquer each and every time I set foot in the water.
It was immediately obvious it was going to be flatter than last time- the ride over to perano head was smoother. But the pilot also wanted to hedge his bets and start further north. We had looked at tide times and reckoned on starting an hour before low tide to give us use of the slack water before being take north…. but as we arrived near the coast we came across a wash rock- a little atol jutting out of the water which allowed us to see there was about 3knots of current heading south still….. so starting up near some rocks named the brothers seemed sensible. And drawn south we were.
So deep, we had ferries and container ships dominating the vista within an hour or so. This was not the plan! I knew there were plenty of cases of swimmers getting cheers from ferries but what if we were unable to get north again? I felt I was going backwards. I could feel the current working against me, sapping my energy. My stroke rate was up from the start and stayed there for the duration. I knew it, I knew it was a gamble to try and power through- when what I actually wanted to do was tell them to pull me out NOW, get me to the other side and start from there! I was frustrated and struggling, barely 3hrs into the swim.
But plough on I did. At 5hrs I felt adrift. I felt flat emotionally and wondered why my crew had let me continue since I surely couldn’t be making progress. I felt i was floundering around. And because my head space was tired, the niggle in my elbow that arose from last time was distracting me- and my left knee that has dislocated 3 times felt loose, which tracked down to my ankle- it felt like my foot was not my own. My ankle was sharply painful, my elbow was intermittently screaming at me. I know that these niggles happen, and on an ordinary swim I simply adjust my stroke, focussing on efficiency and relax…..
But when your head is shattered and you don’t feel settled, these niggles scream in your ear.
At 6hrs i knew why the crew had let me swim on. I knew i was getting there. Don’t get me wrong, there was much to enjoy out there. Where last time the water had barely hit 15’c, the water mid channel felt closer to 19’c. Coastal waters at the start being 17’c meant that I didn’t feel the tightness, the cold stress on my body. At that temperature I could swim forever. I still enjoyed warm feeds, though. Treats. Ovaltine. Mmmmm
I needed so much more positive affirmation from the crew on this swim- more than i have ever needed. I normally don’t need a lot of verbal encouragement, but around 6hrs the water got very loppy and I was in the washing machine. I also knew this was about the place i got pulled. I recognised the view. Those wind turbines. I was south of Ohau…. would i be able to land? My stomach started to tighten. I was dreading getting sick, but knew it was ore nerves than anything.
About 5miles out, I made another decision. Power. If i got caught in that current again, I needed power. I wasn’t sure how long i could do it, but i went from feed to 30min feed thinking only of adding power to each stroke. Every doubt became buried in my search for strength. And all of a sudden, I couldn’t make the 30min feed. I was gasping. My arm was screaming. My body knew i had dome this all too recently. My head space felt fractured. But i said to my friend prior to the swim that i was looking forward to finding out i had it in me to swim this channel.
I am not sure what happened for the next 4 miles, but i asked Ella if i was getting there and she asked if i felt like it to which i replied if i thought i was getting there I wouldn’t ask! She said she reckoned i had 5km to go. At the next feed i asked martin again to give me the truth. He said 1mile. I wept. I have never been so relieved at poor distance guessing! But i also knew the last mile is where the current gets stronger. We had about an hour of slack water and I wasn’t sure i could make it before we were carried south again. Could i find it in my arms? Every time i stopped to feed my ankle was on fire with stabbing pain. I couldnt breast stroke- my ankle was locked now. My elbow close to losing it.
I put my head down and told myself i can, i will, i am. I can i will i am. Over and over as my tired arms pummelled the water, conscious of using each movement to move me forward- only ever forward. When Martin switched onto the kayak, and told me 1km, i asked him to point a finger skywards every 100m. I threw myself into making each 100m before i came up gasping and wretched. Sometimes i made 150m. And suddenly i could see a beach. 500m……. countdown on one hand as the 100m tick by. It seemed to take an eternity to clock the next one. Head down, battle.
Honesty time- the ridge had turned and we were starting to head south. No time to wail in despair. Head down…. I WILL NOT GIVE UP.
100m….. the beach we had been aiming at now off to our left and getting further all the time. Then 50m……. and i felt myself thrown sideways. Suddenly, like a rag doll. With the kelp in sight below me. I could see the sea grass laying flat from left to right. Sobbing, wretching, desperation. Merton tried to guide me to a beach to my right but i was closer straight ahead. He tried to reason but i was beyond reason. I took the rocky road in. In tucking behind the first big rock, i was out of the current and suddenly…… calm water, warm water. The kind of place to snorkel in. A forest of kelp with fish darting in and out. I was racked with sobs, unsure if they were relief or despair. I clambered onto a rock, signalled the boat then sat and sobbed it out. When relief hurts, when completing is more painful than a hopeful DNF, it is disorientating and confusing. I was flat and spent. And so glad it was done.