by David Barra
Since I had planned to have little feedback and conversation while swimming, I was completely in the dark as to how much longer I might be in the water. I had read many accounts of English Channel swimmers spending three/four/five/six hours fighting the last half mile only to surrender unsuccessfully... close enough to smell the croissants baking, but this isn't the EC. It isn't supposed to be like this! With no visual reference, I didn't know if I was gaining toward the mainland at all, and I wondered if I would be pulled for lack of progress. No matter, I was going to swim until I hit land, got pulled, or my arms fell off.
As it turns out, I was making progress. The Outrider was on auto-pilot and we were creeping slowly toward my rocky exit. As the current swept northwest, we turned southeast to face it, and so, inched sideways toward the California coast which was mostly blocked from my view by the boat on my left.
I tried to keep my pace steady and my stroke rate held in the mid 60's throughout. My neck was getting sore. I tweeked it a bit the day before my swim in a sneezing fit (of all things) and though I managed to keep it loose for a good 12 hours, it was time to quit alternate breathing and go to my old standby left only for the home stretch. I hoped my kayakers, paddling on my right side, would not be offended. I could see the hull of the kayak under water and follow easily.
Tobey jumped in again, and sensing that I was in need of some encouraging words said the perfect thing: "Hey, lets just go for a swim." We did. I felt a surge of energy and picked my stroke rate up a bit. The end didn't matter to me now and I was able to enjoy just moving through the water.... finally the Zen moment! I felt briefly that the coast would get in the way of my finding out just how long I could keep going and started to feel sorry for all those poor bastards whose swim is over after nine or ten hours.
A strange thing happens when one is engaged in a singular activity for hours on end, and its the exact opposite of what one would expect; time accelerates. The time between feeds passed so quickly now and loud cheering now accompanied each chug-a-lug like a frat party drinking contest. I can only assume we are getting closer to the beach and try to keep up the pace. Jim gives me a two fists in the air salute and holds it until I respond with a thumbs up. It feels good to have the officials so solidly in my corner.
I deliberately avoid looking forward but hope to see some kelp soon.... No kelp, but the end is near. John, Tobey and Harris were all in the water to escort me the last 200 yards to the rocky beach. The surf was slight, but I lacked the balance to deal with it, so I crawled slowly on all fours until I could find some footing. There were a few people sitting nearby in some beach chairs; they looked pretty relaxed.
After a very brief respite, we swim back to the Outrider.
Back aboard the Outrider, hot chocolate, mini snickers, degrease, and a hot shower... yes a hot shower! Everyone was exhausted and I'm sure looking forward to terra firma followed by a soft bed... as was I. The boat ride back to the dock wasn't long enough to fully express my appreciation to everyone on board. Before the swim, I had thought it would be fun to buy everyone a few rounds at some dockside bar and grill, but we were deep into double overtime, and I could sense that everyone was anxious to get on with the rest of their lives. Feet dragging but spirits high, we cleared our gear from the deck of the Outrider and made our way to our vehicles that waited patiently for us, parked across the road in a newly paved lot. It is unlikely that we, as a group, will ever find ourselves in the same place at the same time again, though John, Ian and Roz will be in Dover with me shortly.
I know that I'll be back to Catalina sometime soon to swim or crew with some friends......