Will You Try Again?

Sunday 10/10/10

The piercing sting of disappointment has faded to a dull, periodic twinge. I was incredibly fortunate to be able to swim on the first day of my window. That gave us six days of touring in England before our scheduled flight back. Each morning, the dreary realization that I hadn’t made it to France would leak out in diminishing squirts of anguish. By the time we reached Lands End on the extreme southwest tip of England, I was almost dry. That was a good thing. Otherwise, I’d have found myself in the middle of the Dolphin Club locker room, gushing out an uncontrollable and embarrassing puddle.

I still would not trade this year-long experience for anything (except maybe a successful swim.) Every milestone was fresh and exciting. Writing about the quest accentuated and deepened each aspect. And that’s one of the problems with giving it another go. I worry that a second attempt would feel less like an adventurous lark and more like a tedious chore.

And then there’s the cost. With pilot fees, registration costs, and kennel charges for the critters; $5,500 is out the door before even thinking about travel and lodging. Circumstances smiled on us this year, but the state of the economy doesn’t promise continued good fortune.

Probably the biggest deterrent to another try is psychological. I had a good deal of confidence going into the swim. I felt extremely well prepared and had regularly visualized success. The possibility of not making it a second time raises the prospect of dread and what fun is that? One man faltered on his third attempt this year and the short note he offered the Channel swimming community was redolent of heartache.

But, if I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s that some things are unpredictable. I maintained adamantly that a solo English Channel attempt was not in my future right up until the time that it was. So, the best I can say is that I currently have absolutely no plans whatsoever for a redux assault. On the other hand, I am going to start a strengthening program for my gluteal muscles. It certainly can’t hurt.

Surfing to France

Tuesday 09/28/10

We form a two-car convoy in the dark, scrupulously obeying the speed limit on the A20 to Dover. Jackie Merovich and her fiancé, Larry Heine, are in the trailing car. Darcy W, Lindsay, and I occupy the lead car. Lindsay and I trained our GPS to recognize the location of the Dover Marina on Sunday. Given the female voice, we’ve named the device “Roxanne.” She is cooing directions in the background. For once, we know how to get where we’re going in England and we ignore her. Just another slightly embarrassing example of our “belt and suspenders” mentality when it comes to this expedition.

We roll through two roundabouts and take the three o’clock exit at the third, turning immediately into the Marina parking lot. The harbor office is ominously dark and quiet and the guest dock is empty except for the semi-permanently moored harbor pilot boat. Not for the last time, I have spasms of doubt and anxiety that I’ve misunderstood the rendezvous instructions and we’re actually meeting at 1:30pm on Tuesday instead of 1:30am.

The crew unloads the supplies from the cars as Lindsay and I climb the stairs to the harbor office. No glimmer of light shows through the window and the door is locked. I suppress a surge of panic as Lindsay knocks lightly. After a pause, she knocks a little louder. It’s now 1:00am and the guest dock is still empty. Finally, Lindsay says, “OK, here comes somebody.”

Clearly grumpy, the night harbormaster opens the door in his stocking feet and unceremoniously shuffles to the reception desk. When we tell him we’re here to board a pilot boat for an English Channel swim, he says that all of the other boats have already left. He asks for our pilot’s name and boat name. When we tell him Reg Brickell and Viking Princess, he gives a brief nod of ascent indicating that he believes we are not trying to scam him for long term parking privileges.

We pay for two blue parking passes. He tells us to place them on the dash of our cars and that they’re good for twenty-four hours. His frosty countenance repels levity so I resist telling him that I hope that twenty-four hours is long enough. It’s a shame. This made Reg and Ray laugh on Sunday and I’m loathe to give up on a good joke until it’s slightly tattered.

When we get back to the cars, I call Reg on his cell phone to make sure we have the time right and to tell him about the harbormaster’s comments about the other groups. Reg assures me that all is well and that the other boats will be taking a scenic tour of the Channel. He tells me that we will take a more direct route and he will meet us at the guest dock shortly.

Feeling better, we trundle our supplies down to the pontoon. The water is high, so the descent is easy. We’re set to go and watching the harbor debris stream past at 1:15. At 1:30, I resist the urge to call Reg again. I know that I’m nervous and don’t want to act like a panicked groom any more than necessary.

At 1:45am, the Viking Princess steams around the corner and pulls into our location. Crew, crew supplies, swimmer, and swimmer supplies are loaded and aboard in five minutes. Reg expertly spins the trawler around and we head for Shakespeare beach, stowing and organizing gear as we go.

Lindsay uses a safety pin to attach an orange glow stick to the back of my suit. Ray asks her to add another green one as a backup. I advise her to be sure to pin the green stick on the starboard side. I’ve now gotten Ray to laugh twice at my jokes. That’s not bad for a man whose jokes are often not funny.

Fifteen minutes later and fifty yards offshore, I eschew a ladder entry. My inclination is to dive headfirst but better sense prevails and I jump. I remember the story of Bill Burgess jumping onto some large fish over a century ago on one of his Channel tries and it just seems silly to court disaster so early in the attempt.

The water is very high and the beach rocks hardly hurt my feet. I’m sure adrenaline is disguising the pain. I trot well clear of the water and raise both arms in triumph in the glare of the high-powered spotlight beam from the boat. The time is 2:10am, the horn blows, and I charge back into the sea. I’m thrilled to get my shot to become a Channel swimmer.

The first few minutes in the water, I try to heed the advice of other successful crossers. “Smooth your stroke out and enjoy the experience.” I’m definitely enjoying the experience. Smoothing my stroke is a work in progress.

I reach the pilot boat and we begin our pas de deux across the Channel. The Viking Princess is a full-fledged fishing trawler and has a brilliant array of marine floodlights all blazing away. There will be no problem spotting my feeding bottle.

Shortly, I get into a rhythm and settle in for a long night and day. At the first feeding, I chug everything down in less than twenty seconds and strike out again. A couple of hours into the swim, true to Reg’s prediction, the north wind is pushing the waves in my direction. The surfing feeling is exhilarating and I have the euphoric certainty that I WILL REACH FRANCE! The waves are large enough to rock the pilot boat dramatically from side to side. It doesn’t look like good news for the crew. But the surface of the water is smooth and I feel like I’m zooming.

By the sixth feeding, I’m hoping for dawn to break. The crew spike my feed with instant coffee. It tastes a little weird, but the caffeine jolt comes at a good time. I look over my right shoulder from time to time and the Dover lights don’t seem to be receding. The first ache makes its debut in the front of my left shoulder. After a while, the left shoulder ache dies away and a right shoulder ache replaces it. The doubts creep back.

Dawn doesn’t exactly break. Rather, a lumpy, leaden grey slowly infuses a cloud-laden sky. The shoulder aches have disappeared and now it is the quadriceps turn to bark. What is this? I haven’t had these aches before. In a while, the quad ache dissipates and I’ve found a new tool: Aches come and aches go. I christen it the “Marcelli Tool.” Some years ago, I was commenting to the Dolphin Club Commodore, Lou Marcelli on the high turnover rate at the club. He replied in his trademark gravelly voice, “They come and they go, Larry. They come and they go.” Seems to be the same way with aches.

Four hours into the swim, the crew adds a dose of liquid ibuprofen to my feed. It tastes just awful. Immediately, my stomach feels bloated and uncomfortable. That’s it. I’m going cold turkey on anti-inflammatory medicine.

About eight hours into the swim, Lindsay appears at the rail and gives me the “GO! GO! GO!” sign. This is the only sign we use other than the air horn for feeding. I don’t want to know how long, or how far, or where I am, or what time it is, so we have no signs for that. My job is to shut up and swim. The hurry up signal is to take advantage of favorable current conditions or to combat unfavorable conditions. This appears to be the “take advantage of the slack” condition.

When I try to speed up, I start kicking harder and suddenly, the hip flexor pain goes away. I visited a physical therapist a couple of weeks ago to try and understand this pain and see if I could do something about it. She said my glute muscles were not doing their job and the hip flexors were having to take up the slack. Unfortunately, I’d waited too long to embark on a strengthening program without jeopardizing the Channel attempt, so I’m swimming with a weak butt. Apparently, kicking harder forces the glute muscles into action and gives the hip flexors a break. Shortly, Lindsay gives me the slow down sign.

By now, I’ve used the Cliff Golding trapdoor tool multiple times. Then, unbidden, a slide show of faces and names of the many people who have offered support and encouragement begins playing in my mind. As I swim, the slide show gets longer and longer as new names and faces appear. I dig deeper.

Just before the twelve hour mark, I can see France clearly in the haze. Lindsay calls me to the side of the boat and tells me that Reg says a tide race is just ahead and I’ll need to sprint for about an hour to break through. She asks if I can do that and I reply, “I have to swim fast?” She nods her head and I put my head back down. I try to think of this as a series of 400 yard intervals that Coach Val regularly assigned me. I kick harder and pull harder. In about 15 minutes, my legs give out. The glutes have called it a day and the hip flexors are toasted. I’m trying to keep my torso level and “swim downhill.” Lindsay told me later that it was more like I was imitating a submarine. I’m swimming six inches lower in the water and rotating dramatically to breathe. I’m still pulling for all I’m worth and grunting into the water on every stroke.

Lindsay calls me to the side of the boat once more. She tells me that Reg says that I’ll never break through the tide race at this speed in which case I’ll be pushed along until the current switches and then be pushed right back to the same place about six hours later. She said that Reg was willing to keep going if I was, but finishing was extremely unlikely. I knew that she would not have relayed this information to me if she didn’t agree. By this time, I was in automaton mode and could barely think. I did get a picture of a young dog trying to get through his critter door when it’s blocked on the other side by a piece of lawn furniture. The dog just keeps bumping into the flap and going nowhere. I can imagine that will be my predicament. I’ll be going nowhere, only sideways.

I decide to come out. A flitting notion passes through my head that I should shout, “Then give me the crystal methadrine! We’ll beat this tide race by hook or by crook!” But drug humor stopped being funny twenty-five years ago and I’m too addled and depressed to pull it off properly.

I gingerly and painfully climb the stern ladder. On deck, I dry my head, pull on my fleece beanie, dry my torso, pull on a cashmere sweater/shirt, and don the bulky, warm Dolphin Club swim parka. I climb down the ladder into the forepeak where I take off my wet swimsuit and pull on some warm-up pants and thick socks. I lay down on the bench and cover up with whatever warm detritus is lying around. Lindsay brings me a big hunk of Gouda cheese and an apple. Without the whey and ibuprofen, I am not bloated at all. Instead, I’m ravenous. Within seconds of quenching the hunger pangs, I’m fast asleep and don’t wake up until we return to the Dover guest dock.

We give Reg and Ray the pilot presents of small-batch bourbon that we’ve toted over from the U.S. I shake hands with the Brickells and offer my thanks. Reg asks me how long we’ll be in England and tells me he’ll make up a chart for me showing my swim track. Lindsay drives the car back to the hotel.

The disappointment is crushing. I had dearly hoped for a fairy tale ending, but this is not a Disney movie. This is the Channel. Still, the consolation prize is not insignificant. The outpouring of support and well-wishes has been utterly heartwarming and makes me treasure the friends that I have. The experiences and knowledge that I’ve gained along the way will enrich my memories for as long as I have a memory. All in all, I have to say, “This has definitely been worth the effort!”

Meeting the Pilots

Sunday 09/26/10

The tide is just starting to flood from its lowest point and the boats are stranded on the mud in Folkestone Harbor. Directly across the street, people are milling in a small throng outside the Ship Inn. Sunday at noon is visiting hours in Folkestone and a few pints lubricate the conversational gears.

Lindsay and I thread through the crowd at the entrance to the bar. This is clearly a very local watering hole but the individuals make way with a smile and small nod. The requisite ancient mahogany bar runs the length of a side wall. A trio of servers behind the bar engage in a cheery bustle with the clientele; greeting, gossiping, and drawing pint glasses from a broad selection of porters, stouts, lagers, and ales. We are here to meet our pilot, Reg Brickell, and are not sure what he looks like. I stroll through to the empty back room thinking that my sheer Americaness will provide adequate identity, but no one intercepts me.

At the far end on the serving side of the bar stands a genial and substantial gentleman in a flowered Hawaiian shirt. I ask him if he might be acquainted with Reg Brickell. He gives me a bemused look and waves his arm in a flourish to the person seated on the bar stool in front of me. We’ve found Reg and his brother Ray.

Lindsay had been apprehensive that I was wearing an earring to the first pilot meeting. Not to worry. Reg and Ray both sport gold hoops twice as large as mine. Once they’ve arranged to supply Lindsay and me with Sunday refreshment, we have a chat. Reg and Ray live in Folkestone. Six years older than Ray, Reg has been piloting Channel swimmers for about forty years by his estimate.

The elder Mr. Brickell first set foot on a fishing boat when he was three years old. His mother handed him across to his dad, making him the first crew to board the newly purchased Bristol trawler. By Reg’s account, he has been there ever since. A newspaper article with a photograph of a younger, buffer Reg graces a prominent position on the wall of the Ship Inn. He and his dad are straining to hoist a twelve foot shark off the trawler and onto the dock. Neither Lindsay nor I can guess the species of the shark, but it’s certainly not a leopard or a nurse. We decide not to ask Reg where they caught it.

Reg tells us that the weather looks promising for Tuesday. He says that the wind is forecast from the north at 6-8 km per hour which makes for favorable swimming conditions. One of his swimmers described the experience as akin to surfing to France. We will jump on a high tide which means the probable starting time will be midnight on Monday. He says he’ll wait until jump time to study the current conditions and decide whether to start from Shakespeare Beach or Samphire Hoe.

Ray Brickell insists on paying for the next round. The brothers refuse to immediately accept the remainder of the piloting fee. I start to get the impression that they consider it bad luck to do any business beyond the deposit until the customer boards the boat for the expedition.

We leave the bar in a euphoric state not entirely attributable to the superb Irish stout. Once again, we have had an experience that mere money can’t buy.

How Old Are You?

Tuesday 09/21/10

Today is my birthday and we're flying to England.  If I succeed in the attempt to swim the English Channel, I will be fifty-eight years old and the oldest member of the Dolphin Club to do so.  When I was in my twenty’s, fifty-eight seemed inconceivably ancient for a human being.  Fittingly, my sense of scale was stunted in the other direction as well.  World War II was a distant conflict and the Revolutionary War was nearly prehistoric.

My cognizance of time is much expanded now.  Roman history is relatively fresh compared to the days in 9000 BCE when England was still attached to the European land mass and the “English Channel/La Manche” was simply a large, watery indentation north of the Bay of Biscay.  And, thanks to the Dolphin and South End clubs, I know many vibrant and active people in their 70’s, 80's, and even 90’s.

John Selmer successfully swam the English Channel when he was fifty years old.  Duke Dahlin advanced that mark when he was fifty-five.  Sunny McKee just completed the Ironman Zurich Switzerland triathlon at the age of sixty-one.  Margaret Curtis ran the Pikes Peak Marathon last August in the time of 9:34:00 at the age of seventy.  This is just a smattering of age-defying athletic accomplishments of Dolphins selected from a potpourri of triathlons, double-century bike rides, and marathon swims.  The South End club has its own, commensurate list.

This is not to diminish achievements of the mind.  David Perlman of the San Francisco Chronicle is still writing incredibly lucid and fascinating science articles at the age of ninety.  But, swimming the English Channel is an athletic endeavour and the physical context dominates.  Somehow, the age-awareness deepens and enriches my perspective on “this mortal coil.”  And it makes me doubly determined to make every effort to reach France.

Last Pool Training Swim

Thursday 09/16/10

Coach Valeriy Boreyko handed me a personalized pool workout schedule for the last time before I leave for England. Except when occasional business travel has interfered, I’ve swum at the USF pool every Tuesday and Thursday at 6 am since last November when Duke Dahlin first shepherded me into the masters program. Today’s workout was relatively light. A year ago, swimming 3,200 yards in a pool would have counted as a monumental occasion. Today, it was barely a blip on the training radar screen.

At this point, my new stroke is thoroughly ingrained and Coach Val is all smiles and thumbs-up. He regularly gives me a wry look after a workout and says in his Russian accent, “I want complain.” Then he breaks into a grin, shakes his head and says, “But can’t complain.” Today, he advised me once again regarding the importance of taking measures to stay well. He wished me good luck; we shook hands; and I walked to the parking lot with a strange sense of leave-taking. The feeling was not like I’m going to England for a two week vacation. It was more like I’m relocating permanently to South Africa or India or the back side of the moon.

From USF, I drove the few blocks to Ralph Wenzel’s bakery. He came out from the back in his white chef’s coat grinning widely. I told him how much I appreciated all of his support in helping me prepare for the Channel attempt. I also wanted him to know how much I enjoyed his company in the process. Ralph was his usual gracious self and agreed that it has been a profound experience and one that he will treasure for years. We talked a bit about how well the remodelling project is going at his bakery. We shook hands multiple times and he offered several forms of encouragement. Once again, the leave-taking bore an aura of momentousness and finality.

I guess this is the way it’s going to be. Until we head for the airport, most everything related to swimming is going to seem like a final big deal. Perhaps that’s fitting. Regardless of how it turns out, this experience has already been extraordinary.

What Are You Packing?

Wednesday 09/15/10

The most cumbersome piece of equipment we are packing is a three gallon, insulated water cooler. We discovered several training swims ago that constantly heating, mixing, and pouring a nutritional dose every thirty minutes was burdensome and error-prone. Premixing the maltodextrin powder with hot water and storing it in the water cooler affords push-button ease and nearly eliminates a potential source of frenzy and panic at feeding time. Conditions aboard a pilot boat in the English Channel are notorious for decimating a non-professional crew with seasickness. Operating a galley stove and managing a steaming tea kettle is a herculean challenge in this circumstance. Push-button convenience could possibly save a swim.

Stuffed inside the water cooler is a full tin of maltodextrin powder. If the swim takes twenty hours to complete, we will have complex carbohydrate fuel left over. Four, swim-tested, BPA-free water bottles and two twenty-foot lengths of Dacron line with marline-whipped ends are stuffed around the tin. We also have a dozen sachets of GU in the “chocolate outrage” flavor. I’ve found that the chocolate taste and a few slugs of plain water provide a dessert-like intermezzo when occasionally interspersed with the regular feedings.

Tearing open a GU sachet with shivering, sea-slick hands can be irksome, though. To address this, we included a roll of duct tape in the gear. Tough, flexible, and water-proof, the tape wraps around the water bottle at the top of the sachet. The swimmer simply tears the sachet off the bottle, ripping the neck open in the process and making the contents slurp-able. Darcy W discovered this trick when piloting a marathon swim in Florida a few years ago. It’s really diabolically clever.

For the boat, Lindsay is bringing foul-weather gear including calf-high sailing boots. A surprising amount of water can wash over the decks of a fishing trawler. Cold, sloshy shoes are no fun after a few hours. And sometimes the skies over the Channel can open a gushing spigot. The swimmer may barely notice, but the crew endures a dreadful downpour. Murphy’s Law dictates that if this happens, it will happen during a feeding when the crew is most exposed.

Both Lindsay and I enjoy a morning cup of coffee. Perhaps that is an understatement. We both require a morning cup of coffee. Neither of us drinks caffeinated beverages later in the day, but our bodies demand that initial jolt. In the best of circumstances, we have not discovered England to provide reliable sources of brewed coffee. In our case, we may be rising at 2 am to catch the favorable tide and the chances of finding a 24-hour coffee shop are dismal. So, we are packing sachets of Starbucks instant coffee. We plan to buy a hot plate and tea kettle in England. Hopefully, biorhythm assistance at the fateful time will be assured.

Also in England, we will buy a hard-sided case to hold swimmer feeding supplies and crew food and drink. We found that soft duffels involved too much scragging around. Cliff Golding defines the verb scrag as “to look utterly clueless in the pursuit of something you can’t find—in the dark!” Speaking of dark, Lindsay is packing three flashlights—one for each member of the crew. These are small, waterproof, LED torches with brand-new batteries.

I will have a small bag containing only swim gear. It will hold two pairs of dark goggles and two pairs of clear goggles with a waterproof LED light pre-threaded through the back of each strap. All straps are pre-adjusted and all goggles have been tested for at least four hours in the Bay. Battery-operated and chemical light sticks with safety pins will round out the swimmer illumination gear. The bag will hold two swim hats in case one rips apart mid-swim. Fortunately, I have very little problem with chafing, but do sometimes rub a spot on my right shoulder raw on my jaw line. The bag will have a stick of Body Glide to help protect the shoulder and a razor for scraping away beard stubble at the last minute before jumping off the boat. Other than this dab of Body Glide, I will use no grease. For one thing it’s a goopy mess and gets all over everything. For another, no evidence exists that it provides any protection from the cold other than psychological.

I won’t be using sunscreen. I tan rather easily and my skin has turned nut-brown from all of the open water swimming this summer. We had a very bright sky the day of the ten-hour swim and my back and shoulders didn’t burn at all. Oddly enough, the only sunburn I’ve gotten during long swims is on my face between the swim cap and the goggles. The water must reflect and amplify the sun’s rays on the face.

We will have a separate “post-swim” bag with the gear I need when I get back on the boat. It will have a flashlight attached to the strap to avoid scragging around in the dark. I wanted to pack a pistol to use on myself in case I don’t reach France, but Lindsay vetoed that idea. She said it would be better to wait until we returned to the U.S. where the firearm laws are more lenient. Instead, the bag will have a towel and a wool beanie packed at the top. This way, I can immediately dry my head and get something warm to cover it. Fleece pants, warm shirt, fluffy socks, slip-on shoes, and a very warm swim parka round out the contents of the post-swim bag.

Assembling this gear has emphasized the expedition aspect of this undertaking. It’s sobering to contemplate. The test swims have proven invaluable for physical, logistical and psychological preparedness. The blog postings of other swimmers have been immensely helpful. Arguably the most comprehensive and detailed information source has been the Channel Swimmers Google Group. The accumulated facts, wisdom, and opinions stored in its archives comprise a treasure trove for the English Channel aspirant. And the periodic rants and raves can be exceptionally entertaining. In any event, my motto since embarking on this adventure is, “I’m determined to be prepared.” Thanks to the support and encouragement of Lindsay and so many others, I feel I’m as prepared as I possibly can be.

Don't You Get Bored?

Monday, 09/13/10

A man with an impossible name has studied and written extensively on the subject of happiness and creativity. Mihály Csikszentmihály is probably best known for coining the word “flow” to describe a psychological state of peak performance. He created a dual axis chart which has skill level plotted on one axis from low to high. The other axis plots challenge level from low to high. As one might expect, when the skill level is high and the challenge level is high, a person can experience a “flow state,” being fully engaged and energized.

On this chart, Mr. Csikszentmihály adds apathy, worry, anxiety, arousal, control, relaxation, and boredom. This is a pretty good list. I’ve experienced all these emotional states while swimming. But I’d add fear and anger even knowing it would disturb the symmetry of a beautiful chart. While fear and anger might not belong on a chart of emotional states related to happiness and creativity, they definitely belong on a list of feelings experienced during cold, open water swimming.

All Bay swimmers experience fear. This is a generalization based on extensive private study over more than twenty years. Even the toughest, most stoic swimmers have admitted being scared occasionally. Close encounters with seals and sea lions provoke a fear response. When the pinnipeds start biting and scratching, the fear factor increases. Swimming in contaminated water, colliding with stinging nettle jellyfish, jamming a hand into a submerged plastic garbage sack, dive-bombing brown pelicans, and getting swept into a barnacle-encrusted piling are dependable fear-inducers. Just getting into the cold water in mid-winter can scare swimmers with the prospect of hypothermic catalepsy.

I experience fear and anger in rapid succession when faced with a narrow racing shell streaking through Aquatic Park at ten miles an hour. The anger really ratchets up when the rower shouts out “watch where you’re going, ***hole!” as the oar dips inches from my head and the shell zips past. This is a sure cure for boredom.

Boredom most often strikes on relatively short, one and two mile swims around Aquatic Park. On a clockwise loop around the cove, it usually kicks in just past the Goalposts. I start thinking, “how much longer?” “Am I really up to a second loop?” A year ago, this oft-recurring ennui made me seriously question how anyone could possibly swim steadily for hours on end without succumbing to terminal boredom.

Now I savor the vast irony of not having once been bored on the long training swims. Each one has represented a new milestone in my swimming career, generating doubt about its potential success. Each one began with worry and anxiety which typically lasted for about ten to fifteen minutes. Then, I’d get into a rhythm and begin to relax, concentrating fully on my stroke mechanics. Sometimes, when the exquisite light, the clear water, and the soaring scenery conspired, I’d experience the state of arousal that accompanies the aesthetics of a wilderness experience in an urban setting. At times like this, I’ve enjoyed a relaxed and peaceful meditative state that a Buddhist might describe as “no-mind.” This alone has made the whole project worthwhile.

Of course, the good times don’t last. Usually, especially after five or six hours, the predominant emotions return to worry, anxiety, and fear. I worry about which ache, which twinge, or which cramp might become so overwhelming as to cause me to quit. I fear the self-condemnation that would ensue. This fear is such a useful tool to keep me going that I've named it “la muerta pequeña." Cliff Golding’s mental technique of clearing debris away from the metaphorical “trap door” is another handy invention to deal with the anxiety.

Lindsay and I leave for England a week from tomorrow. The first day of my window is a week after that. The last thing I’m worried about in the attempt to swim the English Channel is boredom. I’m just too worried and anxious for boredom to stand a chance.