Friday, November 4-- We picked up a red Kia at Hertz after a long wait in the Customs line. We were making the turn by the Dover Leisure Center and I saw a lot of red lights so I told Noah. Turns out, we had green lights too, but it was too late. We slammed on our brakes and were rear-ended at noon. After that was sorted out, we made it to Deal around 12:30 p.m. and knocked on the house we were renting. The owner welcomed us, told us about Guy Fawkes Night and the upcoming firework displays and said, "Brilliant, then. Enjoy your celebration." We were so excited to be back in Deal, that we quickly left our bags in the house and walked into town. An employee at Greencades card shop recognized us and asked whether or not I had ever left, or if I came back. It was nice to recognize friendly faces from our first trip to Deal. We shared tea for two, and sandwiches at Kings Coffee at the end of High Street for a late lunch. Of course, we stopped at Al's Bakery and ordered one grasshopper brownie for 80p, to save for dessert. We figured we'd come back tomorrow to get our baked goodies for our friends back home. We walked back home to move the car and check e-mail. We had made plans to meet pilot Andy for dinner. We walked back up North Street, along Deal Beach to feel the water. I expected it to be much colder and was surprised to find the water in the low 50s. We stopped for a lot of chocolate at Poundland and walked home. For dinner, we met pilot Andy at Cullins Yard Pub in Dover (11 Cambridge Rd, Dover www.cullinsyard.co.uk). I enjoyed a seabass dinner with seasoned potatoes while Noah raved about his kingfish and crab risotto; and a few pints of cider. Andy said he expected about 150 people at the CSA's Dinner/Banquet the following night, at Dover Town Hall. After dinner, Andy drove us down High Street to point out where the town hall was located. We returned to a chilly house in Deal and had to figure out how to turn on the heater.
Saturday, November 5-- We woke up to a chilly, drizzly, overcast morning and walked into town for coffee. We picked up coffee at Costa and one chelsea bun from Al's Bakery. We mozied down to Kings Coffee for breakfast. We shopped for a while and then walked to the Royal Lifeboat Station so I could buy the Deal cards I liked the last visit. The rain began falling harder, which was just like the weather we experienced when all seven of us walked to Walmer Castle along the same path in August. Later we picked up the car and drove to Ramsgate so we could go to SportsDirect.com, where I brought a London 2012 shirt. By lunchtime it was pouring and chilly, so we ran into a fish & chips place and shared cod and onion rings. On the drive back to Deal, we did see some bonfires, being Guy Fawkes Night, but the rain really dampened the day. When we returned to the house, we got ready for the Channel Swimming Association's 61st Annual Dinner & Presentation evening. Hosted by the Dover Town Hall, attendees were dressed in ballgowns, sparkles and most men wore bowties and suits. Dinner included pate maison, salmon and veggie lasagna, carbonnade of beef with carrots, potatoes and peas and rolls. For dessert, they served creme brule. Each table held several bottles of wine. The Town Hall foyer featured CSA displays with facts and photos of Channel swims. Around 7 p.m. we ventured into the dining hall were round tables were decorated with red, white, and blue balloons. Seated at our table was CSA swimmer, Alister Stocks, his mom, three friends, and our skipper, Andy. Alister, from the UK, swam the Channel in 15 hours on 20 August 2011 and departed the Dover Marina about an hour before us. It was his mom who said to us "Be Well" before we pushed off for my swim on 20 August. It was nice to share their table and stories. Shortly after dinner, there were speeches by the Mayor of Dover, and Chairman of the CSA. But first, we toasted the Queen. Clive Burbage, Master of Ceremonies, announced the awards on stage. CSA President, Michael Read, and a Channel swimmer celebrating her 50th anniversary since her swim presented awards, along with the Dover Mayor.
Each of us received a "trophies and awards" program. When we first sat down and looked at the program, I saw my name listed as a winner. I was so surprised that I won the CSA's Robert Lyle Memorial Trophy, awarded to the fastest American swimmer of the year. I was honored to jointly share the title with fellow American Paul Robinson in 11h 31 min. I walked up the stairs to the stage where I shook hands with the Mayor and Mr. Read and accepted the sterling silver cup (1.5 feet tall). I located my engraved name on the back, beneath other brilliant American swimmers. Award winners were asked to return their trophies/plaques by night's end, so I proudly walked the trophy back to table #10 to share it with Noah, Andy and our dinner mates. Each award winner was given a shield plaque which had the CSA logo and said "award winner" to take home. My name will forever be on the Lyle Trophy, housed in the Dover Museum on the 2nd floor.
After the conclusion of the awards, swimmers in attendance were presented their certificates on stage. The certificate is 8.5 by 14 inches and is on vellum paper, with hand calligraphy, stamped with the CSA logo, packaged in a hard cover folder, resembling a restaurant menu. The gala ended shortly after 11 p.m. and people mingled and snapped photos. We said goodbye to Andy and Alister's family, and walked into the drizzling darkness to the car park.
Swimming has given me friends and acquaintences around the US, but Channel Swimming has given me friends around the world.
Sunday, November 6-- We walked into town in Deal for breakfast. Our plans to return home with creme puffs and blondies for Karen and Cheryl were thwarted, as our beloved bakery was closed on Sunday. We walked by the water and saw bibbed runners passing us and turning around at the Deal Pier by the fish statue. A race marshall wore a neon yellow bib saying "Deal Tri." She said the Deal Tri Club hosts this annual 5 mile run from Walmer Castle to Deal Castle and as she said, "It's always this windy and rainy." Most male runners wore shorts and tank tops, not bothered by the weather. Some, more dressed for the conditions, wore wind jackets and long pants. We watched the huge waves pound the rocky shore and I pronounced, "It's definitely NOT a swimming day." After packing the car, we stopped in Dover and walked to the White Horse Pub for lunch. They had karaoke and a nice crowd. I took photos by my old English D signature on the ceiling where the steps lead towards the restroom and second eating area. I noticed that 60-year-old Pat Gallant-Charette signed next to my name. Pat had set the record for the oldest successful swimmer, at age 60, in 15h 57 minutes. Noah ordered a beef roast with veggies and I had a salad and burger. We sat next to swimmer Brian Tate, 34, and his parents, girlfriend, and sister. Originally from Zimbabwe, they now live in Plymouth, Devon, England. Brian's swim, in late-September, lasted over 19 hours. His mom, who taught him to swim joked, "I should have taught him better." We swapped stories and looked at each other's signatures on the wall. Brian's dad, a retired physics and science teacher said Brian swam six to eight hours parallel to shore, past Calais, before the changing tide took him back to Sangatte. As a fellow educator, I agreed as his father spoke of the mental attitude required and how no one really knows what the swimmers go through until you witness it firsthand. He said he can't teach the mental focus and drive until his students try something for the first time and experience success. He said both kids have run half or full marathons, and his daughter climbed to base camp at Everest and climbed around K2. But swimming the Channel, he argued, was much more demanding. "No one can touch you or help you," he said, "but people can help push you up the mountain." It was wonderful to exchange stories and handshakes.
We left Dover by 4 p.m. and drove towards Samphire Hoe, stopping at Shakespeare Beach for a moment to pinpoint where I started my swim on 20 August. The drive to London was dark, congested and rainy. We missed one turn towards Heathrow and since there are very few "exits," we added an hour to our drive. After returning our rental car, we checked into the Yotel at Terminal 4, which was compact, for short stays.
Monday, November 7-- 9:25 a.m. Flew home to Detroit.