Finding "Vissaaaaaant" Bay (Part II) A Windy Little Wedding

Right down the lane from the roadhouse was a path that opened up to Wissant Bay, the most expansive and beautiful beach I had ever seen. That any of us had ever seen. The colors, the clouds, the cliffs. The night we landed on the beach it was so dark and dreary and lifeless. I dare not think of what his landing would have been like under this sky. The pictures say it better than words.

The journey was finished but not yet complete. Having just been married for 25 years, we all gathered under the sun and had ourselves a windy, little wedding. The officiant was my brother, Robert, who was only qualifed by his love for us. He was going to ad lib, but when the time came the solemnness took over and he stuck to the script.

The vows went like this:

Fate brought you together.
And love keeps you together.
Two people make a team.
And their team grows.
Around them.
With them.
Douglas and Susan, 25 years ago you decided to start something.
And here we are on a beach in France.
Do you love each other?
Will you stay together?
Will you finish what you started?
By the power vested in me, by you, we all look forward to the future.

Afterwards, we threw our flowers into the English Channel, collected some beach rocks and waved goodbye to beautiful Wissant Bay. Then we went back to that charming roadhouse to finish what we had started.

Here are some outtakes:

Finding "Vissaaaaaant" Bay (Part I)

We boarded one of those ferry boats that passed Doug on his English Channel swim and together with our crew, as well as my two brothers and their wives, who had flown in, we set out to find the spot in France where Doug landed on that cold, dark night. The pilot of our support boat had given us a map where X marked the spot. It was so dark that night that not one picture exists, so we were going to need to use our memories, and everyone had a different one of those.

It was bright and sunny out and Doug and I decided to sit on the top deck where you could just about see the whole channel from the bird’s eye view. The white cliffs of Dover were spectacular against the multiple layers and colors of clouds that seem only unto England. The water was still that special shade of blue that I’ve never seen in person before. And the whole picture was plain and simple BIG.

After taking it all in we narrowed in on the particulars and we spotted five English Channel support boats, one being ours. They were not close together but rather spread out and each definable as every one had little tiny arms swimming by their sides. It looked like the kind of day that if someone could actually swim that far they could make it.

I was quietly jealous that we didn’t have any of that weather.

The whole time Doug was either extremely quiet or extremely talkative. Some of the things we had already discussed and some of them were new to me. He’s interesting. He’s kind of different now.

On the other side we rented three French cars, each complete with a GPS that did not have that special X, and headed toward the fishing town of Wissant Bay. (Don’t let the French hear you say “Wiss Ant.” They call it “Vissaaaaaant” and they will correct you post haste.

Wissant Bay is a fishing town just south of Calais; Calais being where most English Channel swimmers usually land. The scenery was dotted with cows and haystacks and little houses that looked ancient. We saw a tiny church with a tiny graveyard where old, old, old parisioners were burried above ground.

We stopped at a charming roadhouse for a sandwich, where we were welcomed by people who spoke only French and told us that they couldn’t remember the last time they saw Americans. They loved us right away and they especially loved Mack, who speaks fluent French and is easy to be with, as well as Kathryn, who immediately ordered a round of champagne.

When the French woman, who was the chef, saw that we were 12 strong she quickly told us that she would make us 12 identical sandiwches for all kinds of reasons. I could tell that one of her reasons was so that she could spend more time talking with us rather than waiting on us.

We told them why we were there and up went the champagne glasses. They were impressed but more so enchanted to have Americans in their midst. The next hour whipped by as they talked and talked and laughed and laughed and scolded Obama and Szarkosy but said that ultimately they really didn’t care. They lived in the French countryside, after all, and had everything they needed.

Stay tuned for Finding “Vissaaaaaant” Bay (Part II)

The Things We Do For Love

The few times I’ve slept since it’s all I’ve dreamt about. I knew he could do it but when it was happening I had my doubts. 7 of the 14 hours were in the dark. The waves were up to 5 feet. The water temperature was 64 and the air was that most of the time. The wind was over 20 knots. On the beaufort scale it was 5 to 6.

Being part of the crew on the support boat for someone swimming the English Channel was the most strenuous, complicated and exciting adventure I have ever experienced. Then, considering the person in the water was someone I love, the whole thing was magnified by a million. The enormity was overwhelming.

And then how interesting that we left the world to swim the dark and cold English Channel only to return to the world and learn the news from the Les Turner ALS Foundation, the group that our project raised almost $150,000 for, is responsible for discovering information about the cause of ALS. Yes, the enormity was overwhelming.

It all happened so fast upon our arrival. We assumed we would have time to become adjusted and prepared and I remember when the word came and we were scrambling to pack up in something of a daze and Doug told the kids, “We have practiced and prepared for this and we could do this in our sleep if need be.” That was the boost of confidence that we needed and off we went.

The actual swim was HORRIBLY difficult. The waves were huge and the majority of the crew got sick. Some for the entire trip. Those of us who were not down for the count were tossed around. I took three pretty good falls and hit my head so hard one time that I threw up. The sun did come out for a awhile before it went down again and that made for beautiful photographs. Once it was down the high seas eventually ended. It was pitch dark and no more photographs. I was able to put a few dimly lit videos on facebook and, although they didn’t bring comfort to anyone, when I took them things were quite calm and quite beautiful.

Through it all he swam a steady pace. His strokes were 60 to 62 per minute and by the end they were about 54. We gave him his nutrition every 30 minutes and the only time that we had good news was when we were close to the end, and that was the good news. He had been used to practicing 5 mile swims so that felt comfortable, to our crew at least. And when we were 1 mile away we knew that it was comparable to swimming to Buck Island and back. And when he was l/2 mile away the captain told us that it was basically over, he could float into shore.

We had seen lights on the Frace side but where the computer took the boat was a beach that was sandy and dark. We had only seen footage of landing on rocks so landing on a sandy beach was confusing to us. The rules say that he needed to touch dry land and in so doing he fell over and over again. We could only see by a spot light that the captain was shining. The l/2 moon and the abundant stars proved worthless. I didn’t dare try to photograph it. Ashley had the video camera running the whole time but we have not shown him yet. He hasn’t asked to see it.

When he returned to the boat he could barely speak. We wrapped him up and told him that we loved him, just as we had done every time we gave him his nutrition every 30 minutes for the last 14 hours. He was cold and could hardly move. I took good care of him. It didn’t seem appropriate to use my camera. The boat headed back on the 2-l/2 hour trip to Dover and we watched the sun that seemed to have just set rise again. He tried but he didn’t sleep. And he hasn’t slept much since. I think he doesn’t want to miss a moment of this.

His friend, Don Macdonald, is here to make the swim too and his time is not up yet. Doug has offered to be part of the crew on his support boat. I will go, if they need me, but I honestly look forward to never having to have this experience again.

Here are some photographs. I’ll post some video soon.

Arrived, Exhausted, Ready

The flight was perfect but using multiple modes of foreign transportation after that was quite an accomplishment. More than that, we each rented a car and drove on the left side of the road which gave new meaning to grace under fire. Ashley and I got lost in the country and thank God we visually mapped it all out on Google Earth a million times back home over the days before we left. Note the capitalization of the words God and Google Earth.

Upon arrival at our flat we set out for adventures and found food and churches and castles and foreign dogs.

We drove to the ancient town of Ramsgate for fish & chips and were all sitting at a lovely table by the ocean when I decided to pull up the weather. “Whoever gets to swim tomorrow is the lucky one. Sunny and 73.” That is unheard of here. Doug decided to check in with his boat captain. I have the whole thing on tape as he was told that this window of wonderful weather means that things have been moved up and he just may be in line to go today at 3:00.

We raced back to our flat and the car driving on the left side of the road that was filled with laughter and teasing on the way to Ramsgate was still on the left side of the road but full of quiet. We packed up and went to bed and I write this early in the morning while everyone is still asleep.

I will attempt to report on the facebook pages for A Long Swim and My Bionic Boyfriend as well as our personal pages. Wish us luck.

Doug and Ashley gathering food in our town of Deal, Kent.

Bye. Stay Tuned.

Different people have been saying goodbye in different ways. Amy Bash brought over a donation for A Long Swim as well as a book about resilience. Bob and Anne Lee said goodbye earlier in the week and told us to stay home for the rest of the time and not burn the candle at both ends. Kathleen sent a bunch of messages. LeeAnn said goodbye about three or four times. Mosie too. Our brothers and sisters won’t stop calling. We accidentally had a lovely dinner with Kate and Patrick. Coach Vicki handed him a check at the pool this morning. Sharon texted tonight before she went to bed. There are more messages on Doug’s Facebook page than people usually get for a milestone birthday.

Tonight we thanked Jennifer Scarpelli in person for all of the fundraising she has done for A Long Swim. We visited the Oatman’s and had a glass of wine on their back porch while they gave us their wise advice. We stopped at Doug’s Mom’s and hugged and kissed her in her jammies. I wanted to take a picture but it just didn’t seem right.

Earlier in the day Doug’s cousin, who is much more like a brother, drove over all the way from Dixon to see him in person. Doug showed him all of the things he needs to bring for his swim, including the basket from which we deliver things in the water as well as his suitcase.

Our kids are nervous yet seem up to the challenge. They are all packed and fighting a little.

Doug is excited and confident and prepared yet you can tell he has a lot on his mind and he’s only l/2 listening. He loves tapering and he had a dinner for about three people tonight. He’s telling me stories about all that has happened to him over the last few days. I’m more than l/2 listening. This is his time.

Bye. Stay tuned.

On Behalf Of All ALS Patients … To Take Across The English Channel

An ALS patient whom Doug has met along the way, Denise, from Steger, Illinois, wrote this note on his facebook page. Along with a few other very special items, Denise’s note will cross the English Channel with him. She writes on behalf of all ALS patients … and here it is …

Dear Doug,

You only know me through our email correspondence but WE, the ALS afflicted, are in your mind and heart. You personally know of OUR daily struggles and challenges and that has become a part of who you are.

You are swimming for Us. I want you to know that WE will be with you on your journey as a source of strength and will.

From all of us, Thank You and best wishes!

You have to learn to do everything, even to die. -Gertrude Stein

Love Is Like Water

While Doug and I are working with our kids toward this gigantic goal of his English Channel swim, we never take our eye off our #1 project … loving them. Things aren’t always easy through the ups and downs of life, and believe me our waves are pretty rolling. I can, however, put it in perspective through this analogy … love is like water.

You want to give them enough to nourish them so that they’re not thirsty. Because what the nutritionists tell us is that once we feel thirsty it’s kind of late in the game. We should be handing out little sips all along.

And you don’t want to over water them. Because that means you’re hovering and run the risk of smothering and drowing them.

As our kids get older the line we walk becomes more fine and the decision about how much love to offer becomes unclear. Sometimes I give them too much independence and by the time they come around they’re a little needy. Sometimes I give them too much attention and by the time I realize that I’ve over watered them things get a little squishy.

One thing is for sure … they’ll all come back from this experience having changed a bit.