13 May 2009

Dover Practice Weekend Two: Still Freezing

Without warning it's Saturday again and I'm up at 6am to take the tube to Cockfosters, where my Rotary Dad is picking me up to drive down to Dover. Arguably living Saints, John and Lois have been more than a host family - they've been like legal guardians of my health, well-being and appetite. John has offered to drive me down three of the next six weekends, saving money on the train and ensuring that I have some much-needed support post-swim. Last week I sort-of stumbled to a cafe to warm up and get my bearings. I later realized my shoes were on the wrong foot and I had put my shirt on backwards.

This week, I had a "support team." The father of two, John knew what he was doing. "I've got hot chocolate, coffee, bottled water, bananas, apples, chocolate digestives and chocolate biscuits. I know how you don't like coffee, which is why I packed the cocoa. I've also got two extra towels, a mat you can stand on to change and an extra thermos you can take with you for next weekend." AMAZING.

We arrived a solid thirty minutes before my first swim. Apparently most people were equally eager, as there were at least 20 people on the beach before I decided to make my appearance. "Ok, let's get going," yelled Freda, mother of Ali (my boat pilot who has swam the channel 43 times) and queen of English Channel swimming. What Freda says, goes. "First swim is 50 minutes. Let's get going people. Come on!" I changed, greased, gave John a look of despair and headed down to the water. It was still freezing!

I did the usual and just went for it, acknowledging that the "slow wade" technique only leads to delayed shock, as your head always goes through a thawing phase no matter how long you piddle paddle around on the beach. My head still felt like it was going to explode. The difference, however, was that I knew this time that the pain would subside. That fact alone made this swim - only my second - that much easier to bear.

The 50 minutes went by in no time and I emerged barely alive, teeth chattering. "Cap number," she asked. I had been planning the entire swim how I would answer this question with a frozen jaw, using my fingers to indicate first a one then a three. "Thirteen," she repeated back, giving me a thumbs up. I stumbled toward my sandals, unable to figure out how they actually slide onto my feet. It must have been a good 45 seconds (which felt like an eternity) before one of the guys came over and helped me out. "You a little cold there, junior?" he said, laughing. HA. HA. HA?

By now John realized I was out and was b-lining it down to the water, towel and cocoa in hand. He half-carried me back to my "zone," where I manically tried to change before the shaking started. "Sip this," he told me. I took a gulp of cocoa. It tasted cold. "Is it actually warm," I asked. "It's piping hot! he told me." Oops?

The shakes came as usual and lasted for jsut under 45 minutes, a decrease by 9 minutes from last weekend. John was blown away by how intense they were, noting that the inside of the car - which I scurried to in an effort to escape the "cold weather" (it was about 70 degrees out) - was STIFLING inside.

Ten minutes later we're being called back for the second swim of the day. "Alright, 1 hour. Now get!" Back I went, borderline depressed at the thought of getting back in the water. As I dabbled my toes, however, I realized that my body hadn't actually heated back up completely, which meant the water felt nearly reasonable (such an odd phenomenon). I just sort-of went for it! An hour later, shaking, teeth clattering, slightly dillusional, I dragged myself out, reported my number, got dressed and headed immediately for the car. The shakes lasted 41 minutes this time. Improvement!

We headed back to his place, where he and Lois fed me, hydrated me and allowed me to get a solid night of sleep. On Sunday we drove back down for two one-hour swims. It was a near repeat of Saturday (I even got the same cap number). The only big difference was that this time, they pulled two people out of the water for hypothermia. Needless to say, as John would put it, "this is still an incredibly difficult undertaking, you're just incredibly positive and optimistic about the whole thing." Alas, that's probably the best way to view it. Still not easy, I'm just staying positive. For instance, I only shook for 37 minutes post-swim on Sunday. Now that's progress!

Here are some shots of my "process." Undress, get greased, walk down the big slope, dabble my toes, fiddle with my goggles to put off swimming for just another minute, take the first step in and gasp then just GO FOR IT. If you think my pain and sufffering is worth supporting, please click here and donate to the cause. Thank you thank you thank you!


Kyle Taylor

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