This has been among the most intense, relentless three days of my life. I knew it was going to be hard, and I welcomed that, but I hadn’t really comprehended the relentlessness of the task at hand. I don’t mean that as a bad thing – there is something compelling about doing something so utterly consuming and bounded by time. But it’s really tough, and I feel that I am nosing up tightly to the edges of what I am capable of.
Stage 1 was tough, but I learned the valuable lesson that a watched bridge refuses to slide into the foreground; I’ve taken a vow of discipline – head down, swim on.
Stage 2 was tougher….wind and waves made for slow going, and all but two of the field got fished out as the tide stopped our progress. First off, it’s worth noting that the two who made it – Anna DeLozier and Lori King – are fabulous swimmers, and watching them is a sight to behold. I cannot imagine the training that has gone into producing such performances. But secondly, even where DNFs prevailed, the atmosphere was as relentlessly upbeat as it is tough, and full of encouragement at the end of a day where everyone had pushed themselves hard. In the nicest possible way, I think that a swim as hard as the 8 Bridges has a lot to teach us about how to fail well, not least because to push yourself to your very limits, you have to have the confidence to discover that your limits are not where you’d like them to be.
In my mind, stage 3 was going to be easier – a much shorter stretch of river. I can hear the gods laughing as I write that. Rather than starting at the bridge as usual, Bridgette Hobart and I were dropped a couple of miles back, where we had been pulled out the day before, so we could have the chance to finish the distance. I really appreciated this opportunity, not least because as an operation with so many moving parts, this kind of flexibility is extremely generous. But unfortunately, later on in the swim, the wind licked up again and the waves rolled down the river into our faces, slowing our progress. It was touch and go as I crawled painfully towards the bridge (where I broke my bridge vow, but exercised more restraint); and by the time I finally pushed my way through to the tall stanchions, I was moving so slowly against the turning tide that I think I saw every individual brick as I crept incrementally forwards. It was painful and stressful in the uncertainty of the outcome, but finally passing the last stanchion is the highlight of my trip so far. A good moment. All the stage swimmers made it successfully – a rewarding outcome after yesterday’s battering.
And then there’s the river….the quiet lead player in this saga. It’s broad and thickly lined with trees, punctuated by various smatterings of habitation and industry. The water is brown-green and slightly peaty in taste (most of us have accidentally swallowed more than our share on the rougher days). The bridges punctuate the river, but in itself it is an edifice, an oblivious host to our paddling. It is capricious in mood; subject to tide, wind and weather; and beautiful. Relentlessly beautiful.