Mike Humphreys isn’t the first to fall for her siren call, nor will he be the last, but he has written particularly well about his unrequited love for the English Channel. Books of this type usually recount stories of glorious triumph against overwhelming adversity. There are plenty of examples of this between the pages of H2Open, but Humphreys’s story isn’t one of those. Instead it is one of multiple unsuccessful crossings, and the book is all the better for it.
Humphreys is a 50-something, financially stable, west-coast US citizen with a Porsche, a good job, a loving and supportive partner, a strong group of friends and a dodgy shoulder. Compared to some of his heroes, and the challenges they have overcome to swim from England to France, Humphreys’s problems are modest, yet the Channel has defeated him four times.
His preparation is exemplary. He trains and cross-trains, he consults the experts, recruits the best pilots and consumes vast quantities of food to keep his body-weight up. His 10-year infatuation clearly costs him dearly. Before his fourth attempt it fears it will cost him his relationship and friends, so he keeps his ambition quiet and trains in secret.
The dodgy shoulder causes intense pain and chronic discomfort that he manages through a combination of medication, massage and stubborn-mindedness. He must have incredible mental reserves to draw upon in order to leave his warm bed repeatedly at three in the morning and jump into chilly water instead, but that mental strength deserts him in the Channel.
He’s been pulled out with hypothermia and been blown out by the weather but sometimes he just stops putting one arm in front of the other. He knows it’s a mental thing but he doesn’t know how to overcome it. Towards the end he appears to come to terms with the fact he may never swim from England to France. In the global context, he realises the insignificance of this and comes to peace with it.
This book is a timely reminder that swimming the English Channel is not a trivial challenge and that, perhaps, it’s not the end result that’s important but the journey to get there.