07 May 2009

My First Dover Day - I Can’t Feel My Face Part One

It seems like just yesterday I was planning for the weekend Dover training sessions that would start the first weekend in May. That “yesterday” was late November. Now here I am, May 5th, wondering how on earth I am going to survive this.

I had been given little information [read: no information at all] about these practice sessions, as getting information from my pilot has felt like pulling teeth. For some reason it feels like everyone but me is in the know and I’m sort-of bouncing around on the outside of the huddle screaming “come on guys, let me in!” I did get an email Friday afternoon telling me what to bring with me. The list included an old bath mat to avoid skin tearing on your feet post-swim, vaseline to lubricate areas of the body that chafe and a wool coat to help fend off the violent post-swim shakes. Super.

What time was I supposed to arrive? No clue, as no one told me. Thinking to myself, “hey, it’s England and it’s cold, so I’ll aim to arrive around noon,” I got a 10am train direct from across the street to Dover Priory. Brilliant. A short walk and “boom,” I was standing on the “beach.” This beach, however, had no sand. Just rocks. Lots and lots of big rocks.

There were about forty swimmers in suits, caps and goggles smearing vaseline all over themselves, which meant they were heading in and not out. “Great,” I thought. “Right on time.” Wrong. They were prepping for their SECOND swim of the day. Me being me, I walked up to the woman who appeared to be in charge, asked if she was “Ali’s Mom” (that’s what I was told to say) and said point blank, “I am one of Ali’s swimmers. I have no idea what’s going on. All she said was to come to the beach the first Saturday of May. No time, no details, that’s all. “Well see,” she started, “we begin the first swim at 10am and the second at half 12. We swim every Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday. When is your crossing,” she asked. “The first week in July,” I told her, “but I don’t know the exact date.” She seemed a bit shocked. “Well then, we’ve got to get you going. Get changed then find me and I’ll tell you what to do.”

By now I’m feeling a bit flustered and anxious, tearing off my clothes, blotting on some sunscreen and reporting back to this woman in charge. She handed me a cap, directed someone else to put vaseline on “key locations” (armpits, back of neck, collar bones and inner thighs) and pointed to another woman near the beach. “Give her your name and cap number then just swim out to the breaker wall and back.”

Still slightly overwhelmed and just going with the flow, I did exactly as she said, stopping just short of the water to drop off my flip-flops. I decided to sort-of wade in to my knees, splash around a bit then “go for it.”

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