Reader, I married him I’m swimming it.
In just short 11 weeks, I am going to attempt to swim from England to France, and if you choose to read on, you can join me on this crazy adventure.
This isn’t the start of the adventure, though, I’ve been open water swimming for years. Mostly because it’s a coping mechanism – the waltzing rhythm of stroke, stroke, breathe, stroke, stroke, brea- WAVE IN MY FACE *RETCHES DUE TO SEA WATER INGESTION* *QUICKLY BREATHES ON THE OTHER SIDE TO AVOID DROWNING*, stroke, stroke… is hypnotic. It’s calming, and as of yet scientists haven’t invented a decent enough waterproof phone case, which means that all of life’s stresses get left on the poolside. I will personally fight any scientists trying to invent a decent waterproof phone case to keep it that way, that is a sincere promise.
This sport isn’t without its own stresses though, for example an alarm that goes off at 5.45am on a Saturday is also, I have found, moderately stressful.
To my grim surprise, the sun was already up at this ungodly hour. Minutes later I’m on the tube to Kings Cross. My enormous waterproof rucksack (thank you, waterproof rucksack scientists, shante you stay) looks somewhat conspicuous, contrasted with the sequinned clutch purses nestled safely into the armpits of the dregs of the night tube.
I catch the 6.37am train and it takes just an hour for me to be transported from the glass skyscrapers to the white cliffs. On the train I am sat behind a group at a table. They are clearly swimmers too, as they are on a train to Dover at bloody 6.37am on a weekend. Also they are talking about pilots, water temperatures and feeding on jellybabies. I turn the volume up on my podcast. I don’t think I am ready for this jelly, baby.
As the train draws near to the coast, the land gives way to the sea, and there it is! My nemesis, looking calm, blue, inviting, huge. This moment felt very profound and I took a picture (left) but it’s shit and I really don’t feel it captures the gravitas of the situation.
I disembark the train in Dover and walk down to the sea front, drinking in the sights of this historic town.
Over the next hour, more and more swimmers assemble on the beach. We are welcomed by the organiser of the Dover Channel Training group, Emma France. That’s not even a joke, Emma France is genuinely her real name.
Emma gives a brief briefing, in which we are warned about staying in for too long and making the beach crew worried we’d gotten lost or worse. We slide down the steep, stony beach to the shore, wincing as the pebbles sneak between our shoes and feet, like stepping on Lego again and again and again. The water temperature is 11 degrees, which on the scale from “I’m so cold I think I’m dead RIP me” to “I’m in a swimming pool and I’m actually enjoying this” is about a 3. We are instructed to swim for just 20 minutes.
Not one to wait around, I wade in and start swimming. I’m doing it! I’m swimming in the Channel! This is how it’s going to be on the big day! Oh god I’m at the front of the group.
We swim in a mile loop, anti-clockwise around the designated swimming area. I deliberately swim wide so that I am overtaken by some people who look like they know where they’re going. I follow them all the way down to the far end of the harbour and look at my watch – it says 17 and a half minutes. Shit.
I sprint back to the home beach, and get there with 30 minutes on my watch. Oops.
I get out, fingers stiff and skin tingling from the cold and quickly dress. I meet with swimming friends old and new and we exchange plans, fears and lemon drizzle cake.
All too soon it’s time to get back in for a second swim. Slide down the beach, ouch, bugger, bloody pebbles. I wade in, and although it’s a blisteringly hot day, my body is shaking with the cold. It’s screaming at me to turn around and drink tea on the warm stones back at base camp with the nice new friends and the lemon drizzle cake. But a big part of this sport is, through experience, learning to over-ride such extremely strong impulses.
I push off, making the sound of a cow giving birth and grinning/grimacing at my fellow nutters. Face in, start swimming and within seconds my body has stopped complaining and settled into its usual groove. I knew this would happen, and yet every time I have to battle with myself to take the plunge. Every. Time.
This time I’m supposed to swim for 30 minutes. I know the route by now so I stretch out and enjoy it. I look up each stroke and see the water glistening on my arm against the perfect blue sky. I look down and see nothing but my hands disappearing into murky, opaque water. On the way back to shore I look past my right shoulder and see the white cliffs looming high, but over my left is something much more ominous; the gap in the harbour wall and the unknown beyond.
On my walk back to the station people were looking at me weirdly, I’m not sure why.
Sunday was the same schedule. Eat, Swim, Eat, Swim, Eat, Repeat. Another swimmer kindly gave me a lift today because trains don’t think anybody would be nuts enough to want to get to Dover so early on a Sunday. Clever trains.
We build up the swims, adding minutes each time we go in the water. The morning passed quickly in a blur of splashing, chatting, shivering, hysterically laughing because of how cold you are and how hard it is to get pants on when your hands don’t work, swimming, grinning.
So that’s it, one week down, 10 to go. Thanks for reading to the end – get in touch if you have questions about this crazy endeavour. I’m happy to answer any apart from “do you cover yourself in goose fat?” (the answer’s no) and apart from “why are you doing this?”, because I think the answer will become clear.