Back with a bang. Blurry from the weekend. Jez was up at 2am to get us back to Hartland Quay to dump the ginger in the water and start the crossing to Lundy. This was going to be a week in the open ocean, where we wouldn’t be able to anchor; so that means constant sailing through the night. We had barely started and I was already falling asleep in the kayak. I actually started sleep talking. I know. Worrying.
We were being pushed in every single direction. This was one of my most irritating days on the expedition. I was navigating using a compass but we were almost going round in circles. There was nothing I could do. Nothing I could aim for. I just had to follow Jez but we were being drifted so far away from him. The tide then changed and we hadn’t made the point we needed to so that we could use it. We finally called it a day and head for Lundy. An island with only 28 residents, filled with puffins and seals, that has been owned by Kings and pirates, costs £5 to step onto, with a little local tavern that we settled into.
The next few days were filled with tankers, odd tides, the open ocean, boiling hot weather, seals, sailing the boat through the night, lots of custard creams, puffins, calm seas and the sighting of Wales. On day 21 of the expedition, we were finally whizzing along the Welsh headland. And after a day of headlands we were suddenly crossing Milford Haven shipping channel. At this moment, 100’s of birds flew around Sean and me as we paddled across. Previously before that, Sean and I got uncontrollable hysterics. And previously before that we had put my paddle in the sky for a feed. Jez was livid. The one moment on the whole trip we just needed to keep going, Sean was being slow. Luckily Jez has immaculately timed it and while Owain peered through a set of binoculars, we missed two tankers with perfect timing.
We celebrated the Welsh arrival with cake and bubbly. The following days saw caves, ship wrecks and rumours of a Maco shark in the area. And then Jack Sound. A perilous channel with strong currents and rocky obstacles. This was our final task before steak in St. David’s. Bring on two days of rest. Rare meat. Onion rings. Beers. Interviews with Simply Swim. Cathedrals. Ice cream. Errands. Shopping. And Haribo re-stock.
And a major route change. We would now be leaving the Welsh coast and heading for… Ireland. Bring on the Lucky Charms, leprechauns and four leaf clovers. So we are now sitting above ‘Friday While’, waiting to board and to venture back to Jack Sound. And the next leg of our journey.
We will be in the open ocean for the next five days. And will report back on the other end.
Let the journey continue.
Everyone in the world loves kittens, cookies and dolphins. Well actually everyone but me. Kittens kind of freak me out. And dolphins terrify me. Yup they actually terrify me. I know. I guess it’s the fin like presence that reminds me of a shark. It’s the sudden appearance on the water that scares the shit out of me. So I am still getting used to their presence in the water. Anyway back to the point.
From Newquay, the expedition changed. We were all getting into a routine and actually eating a normal amount. When you are supporting someone, their needs are first. You forget to eat and drink and the team were starting to actually look after themselves as well.
From this point on, we were on an endurance adventure. The perfect balance between endurance and adventure with an early and late tide. We moored in idyllic coves, cooked marshmallows on campfires, filmed, swam, photographed, kayaked, visited King Arthur’s castle, caught fish, built campfires, fixed the rib, played crazy golf, swam more, explored secret coves, collected items for the hoarder, swam in private pools.
On day 12, we reached Hartland Quay from Welcome Mouth (yes it is actually called that?!). After some cider and pork scratchings in a very cool fisherman’s pub, we headed to the beach to cook our fish and marshmallows on a fire. After we were full and ready for bed, we got ready to leave and realised, we were going nowhere. Camping on a beach sounds idyllic and it is when you have more than some netting to use as a blanket. Owain’s shoes melted underneath. My jacket was covered in burn holes as we practically slept in the fire. But while I was freezing, I loved it. How often do city slickers get to eat their freshly caught fish on the fire, washed down with some wine and marshmallows and then curl up in front of the fire with Medusa’s hair for a blanket? Not often. And that’s exactly what we did.
After our beach antics, we reached Clovelly. A pedestrian only village. The perfect location for a cult. Privately owned, this little cobbled place is perched on a hill and can only be reached by foot or boat. And it was the perfect end point before a weekend off. What we were going to do without each other for three days, was a scary thought. But off we went. Filled with cream teas and cider.
We are getting into the swing of things. Getting the ‘child’ ready at every moment of the day is a full-time job. I feel like a mother in training. He bleets when he wants something. I pick up after him. I wash his urine covered clothes. I’m joking. (sort of) He’s a very well behaved child but I am in training. And I kept the baby monitor with me at all times over the weekend.
If you’re scared of snakes, you don’t ask for one for your birthday and call it Bob. If you’re scared of the dark, you probably sleep with the light on. And if you’re scared of hugging, you probably dodge that bullet wherever you can. Well I’m scared of the water. And again this summer, I have decided to support a ginger nutter as he attempts to swim a ridiculous distance. Last summer, I stand-up paddle boarded 1001 miles down the Missouri River supporting Dave Cornthwaite as he swam the distance for CoppaFeel breast cancer awareness charity. A year later, I am sitting on a little yacht called Friday While, as I kayak Lands End to John O’Groats supporting Sean Conway as he attempts to become the first person to swim the distance for WarChild UK.
Sean Conway (middle). Ginger. Swimmer. Cries like a baby for food, drinks and massages. Penchant for wearing very little pants.
Owain Wyn –Jones (left). PR god. Dab hand at photography, filming and running the in-house café. Very good at bumping his head on the boat and carrying heavy things.
Jez Fielden (right). Skipper. King of the ship, lord of all beach explorations and the man who finishes everything, especially coffee and Haribo.
Now let’s get back to the beginning. Sunday 30th June. Our start date. Despite a cloudy sky, a delayed skipper and inconvenient tides, Sean swam and I kayaked, with the tide, from Sennen Cove back to Lands End to start the epic adventure. This took 30 minutes. And the return journey took 2 ½ hours. With our friends and family on the rocks. Dolphins jumping around us. We made it back. Speedo kit intact. And a realisation of how immense this challenge was going to be.
Day two is blurred with two words. Sea. Sickness. I have no words to explain how I felt this day. When you are sea sick on holiday, you can lie in a pool of your own vomit and feel sorry for yourself. But when you’re on expedition, as crew captain, you need to man up. Which is hard when you are completely and utterly unable to move. So in between vomits and with sick in my hair, I attempted to prepare protein shakes, get into a wetsuit and kayak alongside Sean. With Owain and Sean puking next to me (Jez is an ocean man) and tides working against us, we decided to pack it in and find our sea legs.
Day three brought us a new start. And a drugged up haze of sea sickness tablets and ginger biscuits. With black clouds in the sky, Sean and I headed back to Sennen for the last time. A BBC Radio interview kicked off the toughest day of the whole expedition. By which point I had already vomited flapjack out of my nose. The wind blew. The rain fell. And we spent six hours in the water with close to no water or food. The tide changed and we were unable to get round Pendeen Lighthouse headland. Finally Sean clambered out over the rocks and I beached a little further down where we buried the kayak and bumped into a very sweaty BBC cameraman who did a segment on us in which I sound very posh, state how lovely it is to see the coastline from this angle and talk about niggles. I have still not lived this down.
Day four put us on two countryside buses to get to the start line and another big session in the water for Sean and me. We made it to St Ives. With huge thanks to Simon and Innes. Without their food and support, these days would have been a lot harder.
I must note at this point, that I suddenly realised (thanks to Jez and Owain for allowing me to attempt it) that I would be kayaking Lands End to John O’Groats, which compared to Conway’s feat is nought. But it looks like I will be the first chick to do it. And while my sea kayaking was getting quite good, my beach landings were close to horrendous. My wipe-outs were slowly and impressively becoming known up the coast. But my muscles were starting to rival the lads.
St Ives to Newquay was a blur of team logistics going wrong, big beaches, massive swells, hitch hiking, amazing people like Beth, the chocolate cake family and Kate and Steve Robarts .
The Robarts took us under their wing. Gave us food and beds for two nights. And a world of wisdom. From this point forward, the expedition was set to change. ‘Niggles’ had been ironed out. We were one unit again. And ready to prove everyone wrong and take this expedition the whole way to bonnie Scotland. My kayaking skills were improving, I had seen dolphins, seals, incredible hidden beaches, nudist hangouts and given a lot of hugs. And while I spend almost 90% of my time terrified of the water that I hate and love all at the same time, let the expedition continue.
One year ago. Almost to the day. I realised I was about to stand-up paddle board 1001 miles down the Missouri River having never paddle boarded before, supporting Dave Cornthwaite who was swimming the distance.
In came Active360 to the rescue. Paul Hyman who had trained the rest of the team, took me out for an hour taster class with my brother. And I was set.
One year on. I am about to kayak 1000 miles supporting Sean Conway (yes another ginger) as he attempts to become the first person to swim Lands End to John O’Groats. All for War Child UK. And guess what. I have never kayaked before.
So off to Kew Bridge I went. For an hour session of basic paddle strokes and emergency recoveries.
And hopefully I will be set.
Watch this space.
Last Saturday, a group of us decided to cycle to Brighton.
First piece of advice: Do it with someone that has been in the army.
Second piece of advice: If you can’t find someone in the army, then go with someone that has an incredible sense of direction, planning and preparation.
Saturday morning. 8am. We met on a corner in Battersea. Ready to go.
Our team leader (who satisfies both the first and second pieces of advice) had mapped a route that perfectly avoided any motorways or big roads. So while we wished we were on mountain bikes at times, we spent the entire day on small paths, roads and woods.
Third piece of advice: Wear shorts with padded bottoms.
Fourth piece of advice: Bring fruit pastilles. They have never tasted so good.
With various little stops and a big pub lunch we pulled into Brighton at 7pm with sore bottoms, funny backs and no sweets left.
Proud of ourselves. Very proud.
Bikes locked up at the station, we waddled in our smelly kit to Riddle and Finns for some Guinness tankards and scallops. But it was full. Very full. And we didn’t quite fit in.
So we headed just around the corner to Yum Yum Ninja, with the same owners. Wine. Dim sum. Utterly superb food. Not just because we felt we deserved it.
When you say yes more… alot, you can run into problems.
One being that I suddenly realised I had signed up to spend 2-4 months on a tiny boat with three guys I’d never met before.
But then again, last year I ended up saying yes to flying to America and spending two months with 7 people I had never met before. Stand-up paddle boarding 1001 miles, which I had never tried before. And supporting a ginger swimmer without my glasses, which I had left at home.
So finding myself in an odd situation was nothing new.
And last week, Basic Bushcraft run by an absolute dude called Anthony and side kick Ant (it is confusing), offered us a two day course in the woods of the north to teach us basic survival while bonding at the same time.
After a pretty big weekend, I set my alarm for 4am and whizzed up to Bolton. Somehow I managed to go onto the M6 toll road the wrong way. I turned around. Paid twice. And finally made it. A worrying start for the crew captain.
In the car park of the Blackdog Pub in Belmont Village, near Bolton, we all embraced. How romantic. The first meeting. I felt like I was going on a blind date. With three lads. Which is even scarier after 5 hours of driving first thing on a Monday morning. And while on a date you can walk out and never see them again, we were about to spend 2-4 months together. In the British ocean. On a tiny boat.
We then got our packs on and were led by tattoo-covered hero Anthony into the woods. Never to be seen again. Ok that’s a bit dramatic.
So in the words of Bushcraft. They offer survival and bushcraft training from one day to week-long courses. You can make one to one, group or corporate bookings. The courses are all about learning to live with nature and understanding what the wilderness can offer you. They attempt to get you away from the city and back to basics, while providing essential versatile skills that can be used in times of crisis and need or on a weekend camping trip.
After some tea and chats, we got to work. And boy was there a lot to learn. To start we learnt to make fire with wood and flints. Jez was very determined to nail the fire making. And he did. Of course he did. Haven’t you heard, he’s got hands like sails.
What else did we do?
Gutted trout. Bones and all in one swoop. Made proper cooking utensils out of wood. Cooked trout on the fire we had made and ate it off logs.
Ate nettles, clovers, roots. Sean was a bit obsessed with the clovers. Oh and the roots. Set traps for rabbits and squirrels. Built our home for the night.
Learnt how to make an oven out of bowls on a fire. Baked bread in the wood. Ate stew, bread and oat pudding for supper. Slept outside. With the fire burning.
I shared the information that I sleep talk and sleep walk. Not ideal for sharing confined spaces. But in the morning, Owen said everyone was snoring except me. I think he was being polite.
The next day we collected water, boiled water, made smoke signals, handmade the tools for building fires, took down our home and asked all the questions we thought we might need to ask.
Bushcraft can prepare you for anything. They do courses where a bag is put over your head and they play white noise in your ear for hours. They make you strip down and take everything off you except a knife and some rice and leave you to survive. You can learn to build rafts.
These are real-life Bear Grylls. And whether you are looking to escape the city or learn some important skills, this is the perfect getaway. Back to basics. And boy do you appreciate that first burger and comfy pillow once you are back. I know it was only 24 hours. But the smell of the five of us after that was enough. I practically turned into the hobbit I am likened to.
We definitely bonded. And we feel one step more prepared for the immense challenge we are going on in two weeks TODAY. Bring on Swimming Britain. And thank you Basic Bushcraft. You are the gods of the woods.
Wow. We did it. 1000 miles plus a ten mile victory lap. We have carried the boobie love all the way from South Dakota to St Louis. And boy am I proud of the team and myself.
After leaving university, I went into headhunting and after two years of the city slicker life, I woke up on New Years Day morning and realised I wasn’t happy. I went into the office the next day and resigned. Two weeks later I was pursuing the world of tv presenting. Here came four years of absolutely cracking experiences and stories. Everything from representing the UK on a gameshow, being a stand in contestant for Ant and Dec, presenting a festival in Cape Town, organising Bat Mitzvahs, travelling the world to try and become the next Besr Grylls, working on a McFly documentary, becoming a wedding planner to landing my dream job at a magazine.
I slept on a mattress next to my parents bed. With a train covered sheet and duvet. And I was chasing my dreams. But something was still missing. I would say “I want to be a doctor, a war zone reporter or a North Pole/ space researcher.” But I didn’t have the skills for any of those and didn’t really know why I wanted those. Until I realised I still wanted something more. I wanted something that would take over your life, be tough, mean something and you would work your ass off because you were passionate.
Queue, Dave Corntwaite turning up at my office to load magazines for £50 for a piece in his next book. On this day he mentioned the blogger position on an upcoming expedition that was starting in three weeks – swim 1000. Now this opportunity ticked several boxes –
Away from a desk
In the wilderness
Say yes more
Don’t wait for an illness or disaster to make you turn your life around. Do it now
I was in.
Look where I am now. On the plane home.
So this trip was not only an incredible adventure, challenge, writing experience. But it also gives you the chance to meet and bond with a like minded team who i will know forever. And obviously you have plenty of time to chat on these trips and my career was a topic I discussed. But it was a 15 minute conversation with Vanessa Knight that I will never forget.
After many career conversations with Ness where we would get each other excited about life? It was in 15 minutes that I realised what had happened over the past four years. Tv presenting. Writing. Travel.
I want to become a full time adventurer.
I can see the business cards now. Em Bell – Adventurer. Ok. Eager but the river gives you a lot of time to think.
Everything I love, am interested in, have worked on, comes together in the adventure world. All this could happen without the creative boundaries. This could be mine. In my own style. Embodying everything I had been working on but in a world of adventure. Fighting against breast cancer. And getting chicks on the map of adventure. This is it. The female version of Bear Grylls. You could say Bear Grylls with boobies. It’s taken four years. But if I were a cartoon character, there would have been a lightbulb above my head. Ting. The Missouri River took me on a cracking journey and showed me where to go next.
A life of adventure is just a life of roses and rainbows isn’t it? Emily Bell, get out of the clouds and get back to reality and live a normal life. The Missouri bubble isn’t real. I say no. Why shouldn’t you do something you love? What’s easy is following the mainstream, following the path you are expected to follow and doing what everyone else is doing. What’s hard is turning that down, running away from routine and stability and instead opting for a nomadic lifestyle of adventure, travel, creativity, sights you will never see from your desk, a Monday to Friday filled with hours you are living and a list of friends that you meet along the way. How can you say no to that. And yes, there will be hardships. Physically in the challenges. Mentally as you spend time away from home without stability in that, friends or a job. Difficulty in finding sponsorship and constantly fundraising. Living on minimum money. But why spend your money on a house filled with stuff that might make you miserable. I’m not saying I don’t understand. I’m just saying I need more than that. At the moment. As soon as I’m off round the world with a tiny rucksack, living in a tent, using human power for transport, I’m at my most happy. So why not do this every day. And when the time comes to settle, I might have discovered a whole different path through this.
As Corn would say, it’s too easy to tap your alarm clock. But it’s also too hard to turn down a life of adventure and a life of meeting people like Corn, Ness, Stiffy, Dizzy, Hancock, Morts, Lou and all the other people I’ve mentioned along the way. It’s never been easy for me to tap my alarm, wait for the train, wish away the day, plan for the weekends and get stuck in a world of mediocrity. I never want to settle and whatever people say, I have found my future. And I have never felt so sure and ready to conquer the world of adventure, fight against breast cancer and share my stories with whoever will listen.
Just before I sign off for the last time, I just wanted to give the team a little bit of river love. And then I’m done. I will leave you alone. Until next time…
Dave Cornthwaite (Corn, Ginge, D*ckhead)
Even though you are ginger, I will be forever indebted to you for coming to load magazines at my office and persuading me to come on the trip. You crack me up, have a readable face, never say no and can do anything in the entire world.
Vanessa Knight (Nessy Monster, Douche bag, Ten Tonne Tessy)
So many adventures to come for us. We will join the chicks on the circuit. You are just as disgusting as me, have very long legs, you can eat like a bloke, you are terrifying competitive and are a damn fine person.
Ben Stiff (Stiffy, D*ckhead, Brother)
I am so glad you were on the trip until the end. You are a giant teddy bear, who looks cracking with hair, has the oddest mind, has a brain linked to mine and knows something about everything.
David Zaple (Dizzy Rascal, Medic, Scout Boy)
You now have long hair, you like lists, have a talent for accents, find it hard to grow a beard, hate dramas, have a pocket for everything and save lives for a living.
Annabel Hancock (Hancock, Annie Pants, Love)
You are a little chick with some big ideas. You can’t eat without spilling on your clothes, take longer than everyone, wear your heart on your sleeve, have an addictive laugh, pulled off the river chic and find it hard to tell your rights and lefts.
Louisa Currie (Currie Pants, Slug, Kn*bhead)
Your visit was brief but unforgotten. You have an amazing news voice, a cracking northern accent, an impressive dessert stomach, a false sense of confidence in beating me in an eating competition and some incredible slug moves.
Sarah Mortiboys (Morts, D*ckhead, Boob Queen)
The first to leave. The last to be forgotten. You are one mouthy, boozy, hardcore chick who made ME laugh until I weed myself several times. And I cannot wait to see you again.
The closest you will get to understanding this trip will be through the videos, photos and stories for the team. But nothing can explain the intensity, the bond, the beauty and the utter bubble of an adventure that was out of this world and changed my life.
The final day. This was it. 1000 miles already done. We just had to make it to the Gateway Arch of St Louis for 10am and then the ginger would not have to get into a freezing cold wetsuit for a long time. All the alarms went off early and we were out of bed pretty quickly. The post expedition depression was already dawning on us and so we all had watery eyes. I blamed hay fever.
We were going to be hardcore and wear the little shorts, tops and bare feet from the whole journey but then Mike’s kit was so cosy and we just couldn’t turn it down. So we suited up and headed to the cars. Out jumped Jess Giard from Chamberlain and Rod Wellington, another uber adventurer who had paddled almost 2000 miles of the Missouri and had just reached our starting point. They had road tripped 12 hours through the night to join us for the last day and we couldn’t have been more excited. What a treat. Yes. This was the final day and we had amazing people there for us.
We drove in Mike’s car with minimal gear and after packing up the boards, staring in awe at the Chain of Rocks and beating each other up in the sand, we were ready. For the last time. Dale was alongside us in his canoe. And we just headed for the big arch. Of course they got me about four times with made up stories along the way. One being that the story of Rapunzel was actually based on something that happened on the water and the castle she was locked in was this little tower where we put in. Annoyingly I believed it because it was a perfect castle for the story. Grrrrr. Gullible Gimli done again.
We kept going. And the arch got bigger. We were filming. Tweeting. Facebooking. And keeping everyone posted. The coastguard came out. Barge dudes were screaming “are you kidding me?!” The sun was shining. And finally we started to pull in.
Miles, Miguel, Jess, Rod, Dale, Gary, Marsha, Patrick Albert (a blogger who had been following us), some other people and press were all running down and clapping. Lots of friendly faces and a huge arch behind them. Shining in the sun. We had done it. We pulled in. Cameras in our faces. We hugged. Held back tears. And then stood together for the interviews before racing each other up the stairs to the base of the arch. We had done it. Together. The ginger had swum 1000 miles and we had completed the Swim 1000 expedition. I’m not one for getting deep but the its choking me up writing about it now. Boy does it feel good/ sad/ overwhelming/ reflective. This experience has changed my life and I loved every second of it (more of that in the post to follow).
After hugs and all, we piled back to Mikes pad to sort the canoe, send all the kit back to Memphis with Dale, shower and get ready for the evening entertainment. While we emptied the entire expedition onto the grass, Gary and Marsha brought us mini burgers, chips and onion rings. As if they hadn’t done enough?! And we realised that an expedition that takes so much organising and mental and physical strength to do, can be packed up in a couple of hours.
Showered and shiny, we put ourselves in the hands of Miles who drove us all the way to Columbia for his very own college football game. 70,000 people were piled into the stadium of the University of Columbia. Mizzou vs Vandy. What an atmosphere.
We were in a special section and we screamed our heads off. We made lots of friends, felt like we were in ‘One Tree Hill’, danced when the full band marched around, laughed as the helmet car whizzed around, tried to high five the tiger mascot, checked out the cheerleaders and just loved it. Miles is an absolute gem. He treated us to the whole evening and really is an absolute dude.
Now that’s a proper Yankee end to the expedition. All of us passed out within five seconds on the drive home and went straight to bed (party animals) with so much love for everyone we met along the way.
This Sunday was different from the ones before, with no alarm, no boards to pack and no swimmer to tend too. Instead we packed up, said goodbyes, missed the river and ate a delicious breakfast whipped up by Muddy Mike. I even peed outside as the bathroom freaked me out. Skyped my parents and headed to the airport. I write this from the plane. With a blanket over my lap as I flick through the photos of the past 60 days. I’ve already sobbed my way through two films that weren’t even sad. Now its back to reality. But only for a little bit. And to be honest my brain is so strange, it’s never really understood reality. So I’m going to be on the river and on a sandbar in my head. Which is exactly where I want to stay. For a while anyway.
What a pity we barely had time to do anything other than sleep in the Ameristar in St Charles. But boy did we sleep. Deeply and beautifully. Until our alarm reminded us that we had to get up (oh and it was Ben’s birthday). Sleeping in a bed makes you forget about the elements. And the Missouri River, our home for the past 56 days wasn’t going to let us leave quietly. Queue the worst weather we had on the whole trip.
Miles was waiting at the hotel like a star. Grant, a photographer who dresses like a Londoner who we met in Coopers landing jumped on a board in jeans just as we were leaving and Miguel was in the canoe with Ben. Not the best day for guests?! We had to get on the water as quickly as possible as Fox TV were sending a helicopter out to film us from above. So despite the lighting and thunder crashing around us we decided that if a helicopter was coming out, then we would be fine?! Well as the storm got closer, we realised there was no way the helicopter was coming. Which was annoying as it would have really shown people what we were doing. The beautiful views and happy photos cover the Facebook pages, but it’s the weather, the vomit and all that makes it an expedition not a holiday and the helicopter would have shown this.
Until Friday, day 57 of the trip, the penultimate day, I didn’t realise it was possible to vomit in your mouth and temporarily black out from the cold. Well that’s exactly what happened to me. And I wasn’t even in the water. At this point, we postponed Bens birthday until Saturday.
We got to the stage, after attempting to light a few fires, where we went to knock on some houses and ask for temporary shelter. But we had such time constraints and no one was home. This meant we had no choice but to carry on. Water was pouring off the bridges. We tried to eat calorie filled energy bars to keep us going (but could barely open the packet with our fingers). We had to make the 3.7 mile marker and despite the tiny pair of shorts, vest and waterproof jacket that wasn’t waterproof we ploughed on. And we made it. We all went ahead of Ness and Dave. And paddled in silence (not including chattering teeth). And as we approached the marker, we spotted Dales car. Boy I have never been so happy to see someone. He helped us load everything up to the van. Then Muddy Mile appeared. Told us to stop talking, put on proper clothes and he was taking over. I wanted to hug them at that point.
By the time Ness and Dave came we had just finished loading and got them up and into the van. The cold had made us all delirious and we just worked to get everything packed up and us back to Mikes canoe house.
Wow was it nice to get there. Four walls. Yummy food. Hot drinks. Big fleeces. An orange and green hat that Mike gave me. A hat from Mike found on the Big Muddy (which I’ve already decided will make every journey with me).
After a break which seemed to go way too quickly, Mike had us dressed up in wetsuits, boots and all and we were back on the river with the sun going down. We had to reach the confluence where the Mississippi and the Missouri meet. And Dave knew this. He was sheet white and teeth were chattering and he just kept kicking. We were just shouting “you’re so close” etc and just kept going.
At the moment we passed the Mississippi and the Missouri confluence, we all jumped up and down. This was huge. And the following bridge marked the 1000 mile mark. There would be a victory lap to the arch but Dave had swum 1000 miles. And seeing the Mississippi flowing in was a big moment. With all the barges and clear water. It meets the big muddy. And the year before, Dave had seen it when he paddled the Mississippi. This is where the idea for the swim began. And now he had swum the 1000 miles.
This was it. We had reached the chain of rocks. In the pitch black. Piled the delirious ginger into the van and took him back to Mikes for supper and cupcakes for Bens birthday, bed and a mental preparation for the final 9 miles. He had already done something that everyone thought was impossible. And all for boobies.
It’s the final countdown. We’re set to reach the Gateway Arch on Saturday 6th October. And it’s the Thursday before. In London time, when you’re wishing away the days, that’s basically the weekend. So we needed to nail quite a few miles to make sure we made it. Up at 5am, in the pitch black we packed up from the anonymous sand-coloured-rock-bar, which we never saw in the light, and cracked on. A ginger in the water. In the utterly freezing water. And we were off.
First stop was Washington. Miguel, the superb film and photography king, who had started with us all the way back in Chamberlain, was coming to capture the end of the trip. Hopefully with all of us in a bit more control of our boards, with a bit of a tan and the ginge moving through the water swimmingly (Sorry. I couldn’t help myself).
He was hitting the water with the infamous Big Muddy Mike. A legend on the river. The kind of dude you would want to stumble across if you were in trouble. He knows his stuff. And he’s an absolute hero on top of that with a passion for food as well as adventure. I think I’m in love?!
While we waited, a chick came running down from the local radio to interview us and with no sign of the others, Dave and I carried on. Finally, we saw them approaching in the distance. I say finally, because I was bored of Corn (Joking… but feel like I need to bully him as much as I can before I leave). So we pulled over at the next boat ramp. Mike lived up to his name by whipping out a knife and chopping up fresh avocados right then and there and making fresh guacamole. Miguel and Big Muddy joining us marked the end of the journey and it was fast approaching. The sun was out. It was day 56 and we had 42 miles to do. What a treat to have Mike and his canoe of goodies. So on day 56 instead of dreaming about proper food, we were made fresh bagels with cheese, turkey and salad with a side of tortilla chips. And humous and bagels for tea. All with cold juice. How luxurious.
The sun started to go. We were determined to reach St Charles to make sure we were on track. But the amazing food/ 56 days of swimming meant Dave kept throwing up as he was swimming and intense cramps started to become a permanent fixture. But he’s one hardcore adventurer.
Finally, as we passed a bridge close to our end spot, we saw a guy screaming at us. Being practically blind, I thought it was a crazy person but it was Miles from the Isle of Capri hotel in Boonville. He was the dude that thought we were rock stars and once he heard about the swim, said he would help and walked off. Miles offering to help was an understatement. He screamed at us to stop at the Ameristar under the next bridge. And after we shot past him screaming there, we pulled in at the Lewis and Clark museum and unloaded.
And guess who we found there… Dale Sanders. Oh yes. One of the top notch people in the world was back. Daves old friend who had joined us in Chamberlain wasn’t going to miss the end. What a hero.
Miles, Dale and Mike helped us out, packed us up and carted us to the Ameristar hotel on the river in St Charles. It’s utterly enormous. Think Vegas. Think of a land for giants. With so many bright lights. Ceilings for twenty people high. Miles treated us to two rooms with giant beds, beautiful bathrooms and three televisions for one room. Just in case you don’t want to miss anything when you’re in the hot tub! If anything was going to strengthen the ginger and the team for their final big day on the water, it was going to be Dale, Muddy, Miles and a giant bed. And we had all of the above.