08 May 2009

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

My first reaction being just knee-deep was “oh, this isn’t so bad. Not as biting cold as I thought it was going to be.” With that sense of confidence building inside, I leaned back and lunged forward, diving head first into the water. My face went immediately numb and the onset of a “brain freeze” headache took just minutes. I had to bring my head above water. It felt like it was going to explode. I pulled at the front of the cap to relieve the pressure. This, of course, did nothing. Fortunately my legs were still moving. I did not know this by feeling but by sight. That is, I looked down at my legs and I saw that they were moving. “Good sign,” I thought. I dunked my head back under in an attempt to “get used to” the water temperature. I could only manage three stroked before the pounding sensation in my head swept over me yet again. I looked at my watch. It had been all of three minutes.

The next nine minutes proceeded exactly the same. I know it was exactly nine more minutes because I was looking at my watch every 30 seconds to gauge how many seconds I thought I might have left to live. “I can’t do this,” I kept thinking. “I’ll give all the money back. I’ll explain it all to everyone and they’ll understand. This is unhuman. This can’t be done.” Regardless, I was determined to at least swim to the wall and back. Exactly 12 minutes in I was able to keep my head in the water for 10 strokes at a time. Another 8 minutes and I had gained a sort-of normal stroke, minus the inability to feel my limps or face. Fortunately, I was at the wall and able to turn around and head back in.

Now that I was able to put my head in the water without wanting to die my confidence levels were soaring. Since my primary fear was no longer drowning I was able to notice the next big hurdle - the most disgusting, unhealthy, toxic-looking water I have ever been in. The scum was sticking to my goggles and even the smallest dribble that made it into my mouth was making feel nauseous. And then the dry-heaving started...and kept going for a solid five minutes. “I can’t swallow water. I can’t swallow water. Close your mouth Kyle. Just close your freaking mouth!”

My other conern was a fear of swimming out to sea and not toward the beach, which left me re-aiming myself every three or four strokes, as if I was going to veer wildly off course in a matter of seconds. This led to a new “rule.” Only look after every 100 strokes. This also gave me something to do - count strokes. At this point it has been 35 minutes and just as the lovely woman in charge had estimated, I was roughly five minutes from shore. Naturally, a new problem was emerging. The tips of my fingers and toes were beginning to feel like they were burning, a common sensation when absolute cold sets in. I could feel every nerve in my body as if it was a rope pulled taut between two points. “Just stroke and it will be over,” I say to myself. “100 more strokes. 50 more strokes. 20 more strikes. BOOM!!!” My hand touches sand. I can stand up. Thank goodness, I made it back alive.

“Cap number please,” the keeper asks. I open my mouth and attempt to say “28” but words do not come out - just an inaudible groaning sound. I can’t move my mouth AT ALL. Since I am me I just start to laugh at how insane this entire situation is. Here I am standing in 51-degree water wearing a speedo and a bright orange cap crawling toward land afer having just survived forty minutes of torture attempting to say the number 28 with zero luck. The keeper is looking at me like I am insane. “Are you alright darling? Fran, I’m not sure if this one is alright. Might want to come have a look.” Another woman approaches and helps me to my sandals, asking me questions to determine if I am comatose. “What day is it?” I reply incoherently, saying the correct day in my head but totally unable to transmit that message to my mouth. She can tell that I know but am struggling and half-laughs with me. “Go get dressed before the shaking sets in.” WHAT?

I dart to my bag feeling oddly fine. Not cold, not warm, not tired, just existing. “You better hurry and dress,” the old wise woman tells me. “You won’t be able to coordinate yourself once the shaking starts. Still weary, I do as they say since - as I said earlier - I have NO IDEA what’s going on. Sure enough, just as I had pulled up my boxers and put on my sweatshirt, the shaking begins. Now, I’ve been trying to think of ways to describe the shaking, and this is the best I can come up with: imagine riding a jackhammer non-stop for an hour while trying to do regular things like put on your pants or drink a cup of hot chocolate. That was the next 60 minutes for me - uncontrollable shaking that was - as they say - a “good sign” because it means I didn’t get hypothermia. Brilliant.

A few of us (there were 40 or so folks down on the beach) went for a cocoa and some lunch before I dragged my now normalized body back to the train station, feeling oddly inspired. As silly as it sounds, I felt like I had really accomplished something and all I wanted to do was get back down to the beach, dive back in and give it another go. Am I mad? I think yes.

All in all, I swam just over a mile in that first session - not too shabby.

After further reading it seems it’s not the distance that stops people but the water temperature. The only recommendation they seem to have is to practice in the ocean more, which means I’ll now be spending the weekends in Dover swimming twice on Saturday and twice on Sunday all in the midst of exam season. Am I crazy? Absolutely. Is it worth it? Hey, if Harvey has a fighting chance, absolutely.

As for photos, I had planned to take heaps but got caught up in trying not to die. Needless to say, the best I could do was a shot of the inside of the train. John Thorpe (the Rotary Dad) is coming with me this weekend, so he’ll take lots of snaps of the entire process from undressing to greasing up to fighting off hypothermia to the brilliant shakes. Get excited!

Also, if you can, please support my swim for Harvey by donating online at http://www.kyletaylor.com. Every dollar makes a difference!