Start Location: Stourport-On-Severn
End Location: Worcester
Distance travelled: 25km
Exercise Duration: 9hr:0mins
GPS Track: //connect.garmin.com/modern/profile/RossSwims
I’m getting quite sick of starting every post with “it was 5:30am when I woke and I was wrecked”. But the reality is, every morning I have been feeling tired and sore. The feeling of tiredness is simply terrible. Your mind suffers when it knows it has 20km+ to endure in the coming hours. How do I deal with it? “JPO!!!” Just Plough On! This has been the mantra for the trip and it’s been working. This is what I love about wild endurance swimming. Everybody, it doesn’t matter how fit or good of a swimmer you are, will be confronted with an opportunity to use JPO moment. Don’t underestimate the power of the JPO mantra!
So I am moving around the campsite at 5:30am in JPO mood. Ceri, a Welshman, who helped me prepare for this adventure, really wanted to come to join me for a day. Ceri got up at 3am that morning to be up at Stourport-on-Severn at 7am. He arrived late as there was a diversion on the way up. He was then told that he couldn’t park with van in the caravan park. He drove the van out onto the road and Caitriona dropped him back to our start point, which was just next to where our tents were pitched in Lickhill caravan park. Patch and I were waiting on the riverbank rearing to go.
Ceri finally arrived and off we went. It was lashing rain quite quickly into the swim. Fine for me, but terribly unenjoyable for the support crew. The river at this point had come into full swing. It was very deep and from here on in it was navigable. There was loads of rowing boats and barges and normal boats motoring up and down the river, it was Sunday after all. This was our next obstacle that the River Severn was throwing at us. Prior to this, the obstacles were getting through shallow and fast flowing water safely. Now it was the opposite, there was loads of depth, which brought river crafts into the equation. These weren’t my biggest concern though.
Submerged trees will be my biggest worry for the remainder of this trip. You have to see it first hand, but the River Severn has massive dead trees pinned up against the riverbank and bridges, which can be about 2-4m above the river level at the moment. These trees are everywhere on this river. I have seen first hand the size and amount of trees barrelling out the River Severn by the estuary. All I can do is be on alert and have confidence in my safety crew.
We were ploughing ahead making good time, until we saw a line of massive orange buoys ahead blocking the river. This indicated a weir ahead, so we had to go around using the lock. We arrived at the first lock and clambered our way onto the pontoon in an effort to carry the paddle board and kayak around the lock. This was a big ordeal and slowed us right down. The lock keeper came up to us and asked what the hell we were doing. I said, “I’m swimming the River Severn”. He said “did you inform us”? “Of course I did”, I said, even though I didn’t. I played the whole thing dumb (as my dad used to always tell me to do in a situation like this). He wasn’t happy with what we were doing and proceeded to tell me about all the dangers of the River Severn. I turned to him and said “we have come along way down this river, over 200km, we know the story”. He finished by saying that there were two more of these lochs before we finish in Worceter tonight.
On we went and the mileage on the GPS watch was ticking away. We had reached another lock a couple of hours later. This one was the friendly lock and he came out and asked us if we wanted tea. I said “hell to he ya I want tea”. Tea was becoming my best friend when I was in the water. The water was fine while swimming, but the second I got out, I would start to shiver uncontrollably. The only was to solve this was to drink tea, run around or stop swimming, and I certainly wasn’t doing the last one.
He gave Patch and I a cup of tea and it was like heaven. Simple things like this, I will hopefully never take for granted again after this adventure. We walked around this lock also and jumped I once again.
A couple of hours later we reached the 16.5km mark, and pulled over for a break on what can only be described as a perfect resting spot. Ceri was adamant to try the SUP (standup paddle board) that Patch was on. He looked wobbly from the get go. You know the saying people use “my knees were like jelly”. I got a full appreciation for what that saying actually meant after watching Ceri on the SUP. He hadn’t found his balance. I knew he was going to fall in, and couldn’t help myself but to film him and smile at the same time. Ceri is a person that simply says “yes to life”. He probably knew he was going to fall in, but he wanted to try it anyway. Inevitably he did fall in, and certainly put a smile on my face.
We decided to set off once again after a nice 20-minute break. Ceri wanted to join me for a swim, so he decided that now was the best time, as he was soaked from falling into the water a couple of minutes prior. He forgot his goggles, but JPO’d nevertheless. He was the second person to join me for a swim on this trip, and after a few minutes he turned to me and said “I have even more respect for what you are doing now”. I loved hearing this. I’m any seeking approval by undertaking this swim. I’m just a normal person, working a 9-5 job, and just wanted to take life by the scruff of the neck and embark on a wicked adventure. So far I’ve accomplished all that and much more. But hearing people say nice things about me doing this swim, really hits me deep within.
People won’t realise how tough this adventure had been, because I probably won’t mention it. I was warned by Charlie, who I had as a support paddler for six days, that I need to complain more on camera, as people buy into it and at that point it becomes an adventure. It’s frustrating, but she was 100% right. I always convinced myself growing up, that nobody wants to listen to anyone complain. As an example, I used to do a a lot of hiking on Irelands tallest mountain, Carrauntoohill. We used to play a game, where the first person to complain going up the mountain would have to sing a song. It was our way of training ourselves not to complain when things got tough. So it’s not in my nature to complain.
But in an effort to sell the difficulties of this adventure I now had to let go and share how tough this has been:
- I’ve spend on average seven hours a day with my head in the water
- I’ve been turning my shoulders over 25,200 times a day
- I’ve been swimming in cold water, with very little fat on my body
- I’ve tackled rapids with £6 cheap neoprene shoes from China that have a rubber sole as thick as toilet paper
- I’ve been sleeping on hard ground for the last nearly two weeks
- I’ve been only getting about 6 hours sleep every night
- I’ve had breakdowns mentally, where I questioned whether I could carry on with this trip
- Ive been trashing out about 20km a day of swimming on average
- I’ve even waking up every morning as if I have a hangover.
It’s been tough to say the least. But the team are all going through the same thing, and so far we have pulled together and are Just Ploughing On.
Were was I? Oh ya, Ceri swimming with me. He was loving it. But we had our final lock ahead. There was fishing platforms where Patch and I got out just before the lock. Ceri decided to try to go up a tall 4m ladder. He put his foot on the ladder and lost his footing, he cut his feet, which was far from ideal in this environment.
We carried our river crafts around the lock to the pontoon. Then we heard it! The distinct noise of thunder. Patch quickly told us to away from the boards and the river and that we have to wait out the storm. This was very frustrating, we were only about 5km from the end and we were held up, by what was one of the worst looking clouds I’ve ever seen. The thunder was rolling and was directly above our head at one point. We saw a few flickers of lighting also.
We must have been waiting about one hour for this to pass, all the time I was getting cold, and my body was thinking that it was in recovery mode, which it wasn’t, it still had 5km to do. So I had to run around, to avoid seizing up.
The storm passed and back into the water we went for our final stretch. My body was very tired, we were 8 hours in and still had a bit to go. My GPS watch even died for the first time, reminding us how long we were out on the river.
I really just wanted this day of swimming to be over with. It was turning out to be a real slog. About 90-minutes later we reached Worcester. That sight of the bridge was great. We saw Caitriona on the river bank. We had travelled about 25km in about nine and a half hours. It was ridiculous.
Back to camp we went and finished off the evening with a lovely barbecue. It had been a tiring day, but something we were all getting used to at this stage.
I have travelled 248km in twelve days and we are really making a run to the finish line now. If people would like to donate, you can do so by visiting my Just Giving page, it’s really simple to do. All monies will go directly to Motor Neurone Disease Association.
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