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Re: 55,680 strokes across the Channel.

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  • cosmos_aruna
    Hello Karteek, congratulations on your amazing achievement. You sure are a great instrument of the Supreme! A Channel-swim makes the Marathon seem like a
    Message 1 of 13 , Aug 3, 2004
      Hello Karteek,

      congratulations on your amazing achievement. You sure are a great
      instrument of the Supreme! A Channel-swim makes the Marathon seem
      like a relaxing bath in the jacuzzi.

      I hope I will remember it when my muscles start aching a few weeks
      from now!

      Usually I don't really read postings as long as yours because I'm
      just too lazy, but I did read your inspiring and thrilling story
      about your experiences. My father said I should, and since I always
      do what he says(!!!), I did. And he was right, it was totally worth
      it.

      Thank you for the inspiration.

      Greetings Aruna




      --- In Sri_Chinmoy_Inspiration@yahoogroups.com, karteekclarke
      <no_reply@y...> wrote:
      > 55,680 strokes across the Channel.
      >
      > This year's Channel swimming odyssey can be traced to various
      > starting points, like the pool training in early Spring or the start
      > of the open water work in the cold North Sea on June the 23rd.
      > Instead here I shall focus on my arrival in Dover two weeks before
      > my successful swim and ten days before the first possible date for
      > swimming (24th of July).
      >
      > The longest swim I had done up to that point had been the Lake
      > Windermere swim, which was just under six hours in time but was done
      > at race pace. At the beach (about twenty miles from Edinburgh) I had
      > done plenty of one to two hour sessions, and towards the end two
      > back to back three hour swims. The water temperature was around 12
      > degrees, which is extremely cold, so I felt that these counted for a
      > little bit more. My plan for the start in Dover was to do an eight
      > hour swim and then follow it the next day with four hours. That
      > would give me a good double swim and about a week to recover. My
      > preferred preparation is always to do a minimum of three double six
      > hour swims (six hour swims two days in a row and repeated three
      > times usually on three consecutive weekends). The water was just too
      > cold in Scotland to do that, and I hadn't been able to get down to
      > Dover for weekends as I had in previous years.
      >
      > I managed only four hours that first day as conditions were cold and
      > stormy. After two hours I had the strange experience of being
      > attacked by a cormorant (a big black sea bird). It flew at me and
      > then dived down grabbing my hand in its beak. Often sea birds fly
      > down low overhead thinking you might be something edible, and then
      > disappear when they realise that you are a bit too big for them. It
      > wasn't until I got out of the water about ten minutes later that I
      > noticed its razor sharp beak had drawn blood and there was quite a
      > cut on my finger. These birds are quite rare in the harbour and the
      > way it all happened had a hostile feel to it. No one else had ever
      > heard of it happening to a swimmer.
      >
      > The following day I managed to do another four hour swim. During
      > this swim there was the most unbelievable thunder and lightning
      > storm. All the street lamps came on as the skies darkened. The
      > torrential rain pelted down on the water, creating a loud roaring
      > sound as forked lightning appeared all around on the horizon. At one
      > point the water literally started bubbling around me, and it was
      > only when I noticed big bits of ice floating in the water that I
      > realised it was hail stones. I have never seen hailstones the size
      > of marbles before, and have never had them beating down on my bare
      > skin. Far from being frightening, it was a special moment as it took
      > away the worry and tension of having to swim for a long time up and
      > down in the cold harbour water. It made me laugh aloud as I imagined
      > how hard the Channel already was without having thick pieces of ice
      > stinging your back and hitting your head. There were some other
      > swimmers around too, and I felt that the lightning would only be
      > dangerous if you were near metal objects. It turned out to be the
      > worst storm Dover had experienced for twenty five years, causing
      > major flooding and knocking out the power and transport systems.
      >
      > It was good to have two four hour swims under my belt, but I felt as
      > if I was not prepared enough and knew that it is not a good sign to
      > have these feelings one week before the proposed swim. I toyed with
      > the idea of switching to the August tide three weeks later, but I
      > also knew that there were three other swimmers on this tide and the
      > chances were I would not get to swim. The tide I was booked on was
      > completely free, which meant I would be able to choose the best day
      > out of the whole week.
      >
      > I awoke from a very peaceful dream on Sunday night. I dreamt that I
      > had successfully swum and was being congratulated by lots of people.
      > The positive feeling was only slightly dampened by the fact that I
      > hadn't actually completed it yet in real life! I walked along the
      > quay that Sunday night feeling somewhat depressed about the swim,
      > and aware that there was some spark missing. I used to love walking
      > around watching the ferries come in with their different coloured
      > navigation lights and the loom of the lighthouses from the French
      > coast. It would always be very peaceful at that time of the evening,
      > with the small waves lapping at the bottom of the promenade and
      > sometimes the glint of moonlight on the water in the bay. This time
      > I looked out and only felt the harshness of the sea and imagined the
      > cold in my bones. I told myself I had completed the swim before, but
      > somehow I felt more alienated from it than ever - perhaps from
      > remembering the difficulties on previous swims and perhaps from not
      > having done so many long six hour swims in preparation. The
      > following day I went in with the aim of trying to complete two
      > hours, which I thought would be manageable and would at least keep
      > up the momentum of the training. It was a beautiful, calm, sunny day
      > and I felt light and in good spirits. I decided to make it four
      > hours, which when added to the first two days, would mean I had done
      > twelve hours over four days. As it happened, I was able to do six
      > hours and still felt good.
      >
      > My plans changed very quickly, and I decided that I was ready after
      > all for the following weekend. Everything was full steam ahead for
      > that Saturday. I was staying in the Youth Hostel with Jozef, who had
      > just arrived from Prague and who is currently preparing to swim on
      > the August tide. Things were complicated at the Hostel, in that we
      > had to keep moving our bags, and sometimes would end up in the
      > dormitory accommodation with five or six strangers. This wasn't the
      > best arrangement, and contributed to a slight sense of being tired
      > and unready. The Saturday came around all too quickly.
      >
      > It was a 1:30 am wake-up call for a four o'clock start from the
      > beach. As we got down to the boat, the weather forecast printout
      > looked good - although there was a light northerly breeze blowing
      > down over the cliffs that hadn't been mentioned in the forecast.
      > After a good start to the swim, the water very soon became quite
      > rough and choppy, making swimming extremely uncomfortable. Luckily,
      > the dreaded seasickness didn't bother me the way it did last year. I
      > was trying out some homeopathic pills mixed in with the hourly feed,
      > and they seemed to be working.
      >
      > As the conditions became more and more unbearable, I was sure that
      > my helpers would stop me or at least suggest stopping and going
      > another day. I was managing all right, and even laughing at the
      > hilarity of the waves crashing over my head and twisting my whole
      > body around as I tried to swim. I knew that unless the conditions
      > changed fairly soon, I would not be able to deal with it for the
      > whole swim. I was desperate to stop and escape from the hellish
      > prospect of having to continue like this for many hours. All I
      > wanted to do was get warm and be back on the boat, regardless of any
      > idea of 'not giving up' or 'persevering through it.' After two and a
      > half hours, I suggested postponing but they didn't really pick up on
      > it; in fact the official observer appeared and said he thought it
      > wasn't too bad. I had the same horrible pangs as I had early on in
      > the previous year's swim when I found it overwhelming and just
      > wanted to give up.
      >
      > At moments, I would just try to completely surrender my being and
      > almost feel that I didn't exist. This would immediately grant
      > moments of peace and the feeling that the swim could just happen
      > automatically. At the same time, I was extremely frightened of
      > pushing it in that way. It was too close to an annihilation of all
      > the things I wanted to hold onto – my life and thoughts and personal
      > ways of doing things. Perhaps this was the call to try to surrender
      > the ego - something I wasn't ready to do. Finally I managed to
      > persuade them that it was really rather nasty, and made an agreement
      > with Dave, the pilot, to take me again on a better day. I would just
      > pay him to cover expenses. Generally if you stop the swim in bad
      > conditions before the three or four hour point, the pilot will take
      > you again without charging you the full amount of hiring a boat and
      > crew for the day. It was great to be out of the torment; but far
      > from being a joyful feeling, it was a feeling of muted
      > dissatisfaction and the worry that maybe I had just given in to
      > something.
      >
      > The rest of the day was spent relaxing out in the Youth Hostel
      > garden. I had more or less resigned myself at this stage to giving
      > up the whole Channel swimming project – it had just become too
      > arduous. I must add at this stage that perhaps with the exception of
      > the second swim, when the weather turned very windy after seven
      > hours, all the swims have been joyful experiences and the idea of
      > giving up has never entered into my head. People have always told me
      > what a nightmare it must be to have to swim the Channel, but I have
      > always had very positive feelings about it and have always looked
      > forward to each summer. Admittedly (and of course you tend to forget
      > the painful parts), there are always times when it's a real hard
      > push, and the training can certainly be quite gruelling. It seemed
      > as if a whole new force of doubt had crept in, and along with it a
      > part of me that felt strong enough to give up on it all and leave it
      > for good.
      >
      > Last year's swim was very difficult, and I had made up my mind to
      > give up at least three times. I still don't know how I got there. I
      > think I was like an angry screaming child being woken up and carried
      > somewhere it didn't like - but by caring hands that knew what was
      > best.
      >
      > Everything changed that evening when I got a call from Annam Brahma,
      > the vegetarian restaurant in New York. They called with a short
      > message from Sri Chinmoy. He sent his love and blessings. He had
      > heard that I had to stop due to the weather changing, but he was
      > very happy that I was going again later in the week.
      >
      > In reporting what had happened that morning, I think I just said in
      > a matter of fact way that it was a problem with the weather, and I
      > would of course go again soon. I hadn't communicated the thoughts
      > that this was now enough for me, hadn't perhaps wanted to admit
      > defeat. When Annam Brahma relayed Sri Chinmoy's message, they also
      > stressed how Guru had 'the sweetest smile.' Something about this
      > message and imagining his smile stirred something deep within me,
      > and I realised I could do it.
      >
      > All I had to do was conquer that moment of wanting to give up, and
      > the feeling of going through unnecessary suffering that had started
      > to hit me after about three hours. I had the feeling that Guru had
      > known exactly what I had been going through earlier that morning,
      > and that these were difficulties in life that probably hadn't
      > changed much for thousands of years. I started to imagine that this
      > new feeling of wanting to give up was like a nasty monster that
      > tried to attack me at a certain distance out from the beach. All I
      > had to do was slay this beast and then everything would flow
      > according to plan. I started to imagine the various myths and
      > stories about people having to conquer monsters and beasts to get to
      > their goal. I don't know if I can say that I was sure I was going to
      > succeed at this point, but I know that I was determined to give it
      > my all.
      >
      > The day of the swim was set for the following Wednesday, when there
      > looked to be a particularly clear spell of weather. Far from
      > dreading the prospect, part or me was actually looking forward to
      > getting out there and chopping the monster's head off! Of course,
      > there were the nerves and the times when you just wanted to be free
      > from the upcoming challenge.
      >
      > A final idea came the day before the swim. The idea was to imagine I
      > was the lead swimmer amongst an army of very powerful swimmers who
      > would be accompanying me. Our combined energy I felt would be able
      > to get us through anything, and with this army to help fight the
      > monster it wouldn't stand a chance.
      >
      > Wednesday was beautifully sunny, very calm, and it was also the best
      > day for the tide. I couldn't believe my luck and started to think
      > that although it was going to be a hard push, maybe the expected
      > fight wouldn't take place. For the first hour as you twist your head
      > back to breathe you can look back and see the white cliffs receding
      > behind you.
      >
      > I have always sung lots of songs whilst swimming, and as I started
      > singing I felt that the army of swimmers were singing in unison with
      > me. I felt a strong sense that we were swimming in a 'v' shape -
      > rather like a flock of geese. Then came the feeling that we were
      > carrying an important message from one country to another. This was
      > concealed deep inside the pack of swimmers.
      >
      > Once you start swimming, you really need a reason to be doing it.
      > You cannot just be out there purely for the sake of swimming and
      > getting to the other side. It's as if you are quickly transported
      > out of the realm of being an independent individual. You rely on
      > strength that is outside you, whether that is coming from thinking
      > about and intensely identifying with people close to you, or from
      > something more spiritual. Besides this, there is always the feeling
      > of a tearing of bonds between you and those you are close to,
      > whether they be family or friends. You feel as if you are going
      > further away from them. Sometimes you can try to imagine that you
      > are producing tremendous positive energy for them, but this is a bit
      > too unsure. In the face of the immensity of it all, you can no
      > longer be just yourself, but must be there for an unselfish reason.
      > On dry land before the swim (and maybe even retrospectively), you
      > may think that it is just a question of the individual getting from
      > one side to the other - but no one has the mental strength for that
      > to be sufficient. The great ocean is always such a reminder of how
      > small and insignificant we are as individuals in comparison to the
      > vastness of what is not us. The idea of being entrusted with some
      > very important secret inner mission was a powerful inspiration.
      >
      > The large ferries started to appear as the route of the swim took us
      > directly out in front of Dover port. After about three and a half to
      > four hours, I started to see the big tankers and cargo ships
      > coasting effortlessly down the northwest shipping lane. This point
      > is about five miles out, so you know you are at least a quarter of
      > the way across. It is also at this point for some reason that there
      > is a lot of seaweed, and of course the jellyfish that seem to excite
      > the imagination so much in the retelling. Two years ago I had swum
      > through a thick morass of tiny jellyfish that extended for over a
      > mile, so I wasn't too put out to see them again. This time the small
      > ones were out in their hundreds and I had to swim through them, but
      > the patches were relatively isolated. In amongst them there were
      > some bigger ones, some of which have beautiful blue bulbous tops
      > that are picked up by the slanting rays of sunshine penetrating down
      > into the murky depths below you. I remember one sting, but it was
      > not too serious and only ached for a few minutes. You can liken the
      > jellyfish to walking through stinging nettles. There were moments
      > when I would swim into a huge bit of seaweed and it would coil
      > itself around my neck. The initial feeling was that it was the
      > tentacles of a jellyfish, but luckily it was not.
      >
      > I had started very well in the first hour, but then really felt as
      > if I was slowing down in the second. I wasn't unduly worried as I
      > assumed it was probably necessary to save energy, but was a bit
      > concerned when I had a curious feeling that my arms had turned into
      > massive concrete pillars that I couldn't move. It reminded me of a
      > strange nightmare I had when I was younger in which my limbs would
      > become huge and heavy and I would be unable to move them. However,
      > these feelings again passed and just recurred once more very briefly
      > later in the day.
      >
      > At the six hour point Dave, the pilot, signalled 'ten' to me with
      > his hands, and my first reaction was that we were on target for a
      > ten hour swim. I immediately felt a surge of inspiration as I
      > thought that meant we could be finished soon. Four hours certainly
      > seemed like a manageable amount, and I could think of the many times
      > I had done that in the pool. Then it occurred to me that maybe he
      > meant we had done ten miles. That would mean that we were just under
      > halfway and, with the toughest part of the swim still to come, was
      > not such good news. Sometimes this ambiguity is good. One part of me
      > was thinking we were less than halfway, whilst another part of me
      > was able to argue that we would be finishing in four hours time. For
      > the time being there was equal evidence for both, though it
      > certainly seemed that we were more than halfway.
      >
      > It was at about this point that the situation slowly started to
      > deteriorate, as the waves got bigger and started throwing me around
      > a bit. Not that I have ever done it, but I have always likened this
      > to swimming in a washing machine which is spinning back and forth
      > from side to side. At first I thought it might be just isolated wash
      > from shipping, or a small patch of turbulence; but it continued and
      > got slightly stronger right up to the end of the swim. The effects
      > of wind and tide, even though I was swimming fairly strongly, now
      > worked to completely change the curve of the predicted 'ten hour
      > swim' (which Dave later confirmed was what he had been signalling).
      >
      > By hour eleven I was told we were two and a half miles away from
      > France. I worked out in my head that at that pace it would be about
      > one and a quarter hours, but allowed myself two hours. Two hours
      > later, I asked how far to go and was told one more hour. After this
      > hour again I asked and was told that this was the final hour. After
      > that hour, it was another hour and a quarter. So it was three and a
      > quarter more hours from when I had been told one hour, and five and
      > a quarter from when I had been told we were two and a half miles
      > distant.
      >
      > This experience with the time at the end of the swim always seems to
      > be the same. Adhiratha, who was the first man in the Sri Chinmoy
      > Centre to swim the Channel (1987), has dubbed it the 'eternal hour.'
      >
      > The darkness set in quite quickly, and with it a beautiful yellow
      > moon. I knew we were probably relatively safe from the strong tide
      > outside the bay, but I was feeling extremely cold and although the
      > lights seemed clear up ahead on the French coast, I was unsure how
      > long I would be able to continue.
      >
      > Two luminous light sticks were handed down to me, to be lodged
      > between cap and goggles to enable the crew to see me in the dark. I
      > remember streams of bright phosphorescence every time I moved my
      > hands through the water and thinking how beautiful it was. I was
      > just too tired to appreciate it. The coldness seemed to get more and
      > more intense as the lights, if anything, seemed to fade away into
      > the distance. France didn't seem to want to yield itself.
      >
      > I had lost track of the time by this stage, as it was dark and I
      > couldn't even see my watch. The white boat was lit up with all the
      > nighttime navigation lights, and each time I looked over at it in
      > the dark blue-black water, the coloured lights seemed to take on
      > different shapes. At times it almost looked like a spacecraft. I
      > don't think this is a hallucination, but rather the effect of
      > staring at the same object for so long while tired that everything
      > seems to merge into one. As a swimmer at sea, your senses are so
      > muted anyway. You look out through misty goggles under a cap that
      > blocks virtually all sound. Since you are breathing from side to
      > side, your head is continually moving so you cannot look directly at
      > an object. Instead it is like a series of camera shots taken at
      > different angles. Each time you look up to breathe, you take in some
      > aspect of the scene - and of course that may be from the trough or
      > the crest of the wave. Sometimes you have strange feelings,
      > imagining that you might have started tagging along with another
      > boat altogether. Sometimes there are feelings of detachment: you
      > feel you are out there doing one thing, and the boat and crew are
      > out there doing their own thing. At that point, the boat and you
      > just happen to be together. It's as if you are part of the group and
      > the little expedition, but they have forgotten about you and you
      > have forgotten about them. As you look at the waves out of the
      > corner of your eyes, you always think you have seen bits of
      > coastline or even walls. One year for hours I thought I was swimming
      > into a bay, as there seemed to be land on either side of me - but it
      > was just the tops of the waves.
      >
      > As we progressed, I wondered if there was a chance that the beach
      > was much closer than the lights, as often with a town the buildings
      > are set well back from the shore. The crew told me later that they
      > didn't know where the beach was because it was so dark. In fact, the
      > observer thought that we had maybe started swimming up a river on
      > the French side. Finally I saw something in the water next to me. It
      > was quite a bizarre sight, but turned out to be Jozef with his
      > multicoloured swimming cap with a light stick on it. Shortly
      > afterwards, I felt that wonderful feeling that you dream about of
      > the sand under my hands. I shouted to him and stood up. I waded and
      > waded only to find that the beach was still quite a way away, so I
      > even started swimming again.
      >
      > Finally we were standing on a bit of beach out of the water - which
      > is the stipulation for successfully crossing the Channel. It is the
      > moment you dream of, but when you are there you are so tired that
      > all you want to do is get back to the boat and warm up and
      > contemplate it the next day. Normally on the way back I feel
      > reasonably sprightly and sit up at the back watching the lights and
      > the shipping; but this time I was exhausted and very cold. I wrapped
      > up warm and fell asleep for most of the return journey. It had taken
      > a lot longer than expected, but I had finally made it in 16 hours
      > and 13 minutes, to make a total of six successful Channel swims.
      >
      > Ashrita got back very soon afterwards with a congratulatory message
      > from Sri Chinmoy. One of the things he said was not to worry about
      > the time, that the weather was the hostile forces. It's strange
      > because every time I went to the beach in Scotland to train, the
      > waves were quite big and choppy and I always had to swim through
      > them. Last year it was calm and the water was always clear with
      > views down to the sand and the crabs. When I did my training swims
      > in Dover this year, the water was also generally quite disturbed.
      > During the aborted Saturday swim, I had to fight against these waves
      > and declined the contest in the hope I would get a good calm day. I
      > have had such calm days on two prior swims, the one when I did my
      > best time (10hrs 53 mins) and my very first one (11hrs 57mins).
      > Perhaps there was no point in going through that experience again. I
      > felt that Sri Chinmoy had taken away ninety five percent of the
      > power of the weather in the second half, but left just enough for me
      > to fight against to learn the lesson. Of course, then you realise
      > that the five percent is also all Grace.
      >
      > I have made very little mention of my two helpers, Dave and Jozef,
      > who were fearless, inspirational and devoted to the cause from start
      > to finish. More than anything else the Channel is a team effort, and
      > they were perfect team members. Jozef (Slovakia) will be joined by
      > Henrik (Finland) to swim an upcoming tide in August. Vijoya from New
      > York will also swim. Watch this space for more news.
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