In case you missed it…
Sometime between 2 and 3 in the morning, I had decided to spare everyone another (potentially) 10 hours of needless unpleasantness, and end my swim. I was just waiting for the right time; a convenient excuse. If Mark or Cathy or Rob or Dave had said at some point that night, “Evan, it’s pretty rough out here. Maybe you want to get on the boat and go home?”, I can’t say I’d have insisted on continuing.
It’s a testament to the loyalty and intestinal fortitude of my crew and observer that I never got that chance. Three hours later, I was still swimming.
At 5:30am, we were halfway across the channel – 8.3 nautical (9.6 statute) miles to go. At 5:45, the first hint of grey appeared on the horizon: nautical twilight. And it changed everything.
As any Catalina swimmer knows: The dark thoughts, the “witches,” are inseparable from the literal darkness of the night. Even the slightest hint of light changes everything. Instead of resolving to quit, I resolved to grind it out – however long it took. Instead of feeling that the Channel was punishing me, it now seemed that the Channel was testing me.
If you want this, you’re gonna have to work for it.
It was a test – and it had nothing to do with time or records. It was about confronting the darkness and vastness of the ocean, my own physical vulnerability and mental weakness – and finding a way to the other side.
When the sun rose on September 15th, I was more than halfway across the channel, and – despite all – still on pace to break Ned’s record (10 hours, 27 minutes). At that moment, I honestly couldn’t care less about the record.
Cathy replaced Mark in the kayak. It had been a stressful, physically demanding night for Mark, but he handled it like the Olympian he is. I think he felt responsible for keeping his old friend safe in a situation that often seemed anything but. He commented a few days later to Presidio Sports:
It was a humbling admission when I eventually told Evan that I needed to go rest on the boat, and it’s a true testament to his determination and conditioning that he didn’t quit along with me.
Everyone from the boat captain to Evan and definitely everyone in between hoped that the conditions would get just a little worse, so we’d have a good excuse to stop. Unfortunately, the conditions were just barely good enough for us to keep trudging along.
After the sun rose, the filming kicked into gear again. I occasionally noticed Ben – decked out in full Frogman attire – cruise past me underwater with his GoPro. It was startling at first, but actually kind of fun. I can’t wait to see the footage. A preview frame:
Cathy paddled for the next three hours, until around 9am. A more patient, nurturing presence… and a comforting change of pace from Mark’s more verbal, taskmaster style (he is, after all, a swim coach – and a very good one).
At 9am I had about 2.5 nautical miles remaining – less than an hour and a half of swimming at my current pace. Cathy sensed I had hit another rough patch, and she was right. My shoulders throbbed painfully, and I was resorting to increasingly long stretches of backstroke. It was clear now I would finish the swim, but the record was in the balance.
Cathy and Rob made the call to wake up Mark and put him back in the kayak. His Olympian strength, his ability to motivate, was now needed.
Evan, we’re less than three miles out. You’re still under record pace, but there’s a good chance, if you pick it up, that you can break 10 hours. The choice is yours.
Those were Mark’s words shortly after he re-joined me. It was exactly what I needed to hear.
Almost simultaneously, the wind shifted… the chop settled down… and the swells were at my back. For the first time on this swim, the ocean let me find a rhythm. There was nothing left in my shoulders… but at the same time, there was nothing left to lose. I could see the beach.
9 hours, 47 minutes, 39 seconds after pushing off a vaguely menacing rock near San Pedro Point, my feet found dry sand on the shores of Oxnard.
I collapsed. Not because I lost consciousness, but because the weight of the past 10 hours was just a little too much to bear standing up.
The sun was high in a cloudless sky. A nice day at the beach.
What just happened.
I still am not quite sure.