This is the third of a three-part series on Doug’s swim across the English Channel. If you missed them, you can still check out part 1 and part 2.
Say “Oui” to the Beach
The finish was not pretty. Susan had been telling me that we were getting close with these little pep talks, like “five miles – you do that in practice every day,” and “three miles – just a big loop around Lake Zurich,” and “a mile and a half – back and forth to Buck Island.” Her perspective was appreciated, but I had a problem; I could see lights off in the distance (which I now know was Cap Gris Nez, the prime landing spot) and I could tell that it was a lot more than a mile and a half away. Then, Lance poked his head out and said, “Mate, you’re there. I am going to shine the spotlight at a beach, and all you have to do is follow the light. The tide is low and I can’t take the boat any shallower than here, but you are about a hundred yards from the beach.”
I was stunned. I had no idea I was that close to shore, though I had appreciated the flatter water that came with it. I looked in the direction that Lance was pointing, and I couldn’t even see the shore. After 14 hours of following this guy’s instructions, I wasn’t about to stop, so I swam for the light. I finally felt the sand under my left hand, and I knew I could stand. I had made it to France. Walking out of the water after a long swim can be difficult, and walking out of the English Channel was almost impossible. My legs had been cramping for about eight or ten miles, so when I pulled my legs up and stood, I promptly fell down. Twice. I staggered onto the beach and kept walking. The Channel rule is that you have to finish on dry land, and it is a little hard to know what constitutes “dry land” on a sand beach at low tide. So, I figured I would keep walking until Lance blew the air horn. Then I would know I was done. The air horn sounded, the clock stopped and I was the latest member of a pretty select club.
Immediately, I started to get cold. I was in a wet Speedo, on an empty beach, and it was as dark as a cavern. I wanted to pick up a rock from the beach to give to Susan, but I couldn’t find one with my hands feeling around in the sand. I was getting colder by the second. So, I walked back off the beach, rockless, swam back to the boat and climbed aboard. I would guess that was in France for two or three minutes, max.
The Team Celebrates by Getting Some Sleep
There were hugs all around, a couple of warm towels and some dry clothes that I immediately put on. We started the ride back to Dover as Lance and Chris wrapped up the paperwork and details. Susan and I had some quiet time over a cup of hot tea and compared stories about what we had just been through. I made a couple of phone calls, but mostly just wanted to share that time with her. The kids found places on the boat to conk out after an exhausting night and slept most of the way back to port.
I was overwhelmed with the feeling of how lucky I am to have my family, to have them play such critical roles on the A Long Swim team, and the opportunity to be able to undertake this crazy swim at all.
There will be lots more to discuss after this sinks in a bit. I will report back.