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Swimming by Starlight

When I last signed off on this blog my thoughts were on the biggest ocean swim I was yet to attempt. I was comforted by the knowledge it was only 5 km further then the last one; my friends were coming with me; and nothing to date had really put me mentally in a place I couldn’t handle. Was I in for a shock! So - what is it really like to attempt your first 15km swim? Kinda like taking an over energetic Kelpie puppy - or a 3 year old on their first mustering trip.

Forget about sleep. After laying out 4 different swim suits, 2 types of sunscreen and 15 water bottles I spent the night considering statistics on bull sharks, crocodiles and jelly fish. Then like the proverbial toddler at the zoo – made sure everyone was awake at 4am, got changed 3 times and then nearly missed the boat. By the time I hit the water I felt like a 3 year old who had fruit-loops drenched in a double shot expresso for breakfast. The three mad (but very experienced) mates who had embarked on this swim to keep me company easily kept pace with my hobbit dimensioned stroke as they waited for the sugar to wear off. At about the 12 km mark – with a change in course, shifting currents and no beach in sight I, like a kelpie puppy some-time around smoko, wanted to throw a tantrum, lie down under a tree and let someone else chase all the cows. Endurance athletes often talk about hitting the wall or the pain barrier; however, this was the first time I’ve ever found it.

This was the moment the real training point of the day happened. With the swell getting up, the sun getting warmer and the time in the water ticking on I found myself in a world of discomfort and doubt. In the 550 odd kilometres I have swum in training for this challenge I had never pushed myself to the point I have wanted to stop, get out or give up. So in all the comparable moments I could draw just let me say this – It isn’t like horse riding; you cannot just throw the reins away, climb off and stomp home. Lucky for me I have some amazing friends and a hell of a team mate in my paddler Alice. She is like that favourite Aunt who has the right words in the right moment, and at that moment, she gave me “that” look, reminded me to swim my own race and pointed the way home. 5 hrs and 20min in the water is a hell of a morning, and for those who were wondering – we were all pretty hungry when we got out.

The 15km Maggie swim was the learning curve I had needed. Sometimes we get so set on the end goal, we forget to focus on each footstep of the journey. Each week has been about getting through the bulk miles involved, with quantity taking precedence over quality. With my confidence taking a hit, a pain barrier been found and a sudden realisation that it is a really really long way across Argyle I have found the incentive to focus on a whole new level.

The weeks following the Horseshoe bay experience have been a great reminder of how important the individualism of this journey is to me. That if its going to be successful it’s up to me to focus on every stroke, every km of the way to the start line. So - to answer the question about what it is we think about when swimming for so many hours I would respond with this. The aim is to not think, but to focus – focus on exactly what it is you are doing, from the tip of your fingers to your toes, how it feels, how the water feels and how you are moving through it as easily and quickly as possible. To not be present to this is to invite yourself to slow down and given how tight the completion time for Argyle is, slowing down is to risk not finishing what I set out to do.

Half this adventure has been the rabbit warren of thoughts that distract you from focusing; however, the other half has been finding creative ways to build muscle, eat 3000 calories a day and still make out like you deserve to be gainfully employed. In the last week, it has looked something like this: “Dear Graham, sorry I didn’t swim today, I lifted the 30 kg calf cradle for 280 reps, castrated 134 bull calves, rode 3km bareback and put 2 shoes on a horse”.

Life can really be exciting with our mustering crew consisting of a teenager on work experience, a German backpacker on an adventure and a senior policy analyst for Agriculture on a holiday. As risk mitigation at branding time, we invited one very capable neighbour to provide the experience. What the rest of us lacked in skill we made up for in enthusiasm and humour. There are very few things you can’t overcome on a cattle station if you approach them with light feet and a smile. With the clock really ticking and the Horseshoe bay experience so fresh, fitting in training around branding muster has required more creativity than usual. At this point, no substitute for getting in the water. This has meant that in the last week I have again found myself in a very new space and stepping outside of my comfort zone. Headlamps – great torches that they may be – are not waterproof.

Unlike the Tobruk pool with its glowing streetlights and pale tiled bottom, the Basalt River at 4am is a pale silver strip tucked between a towering rock face and the long shadows of ironbark and gumtrees. I expected to be terrified to climb into the inky water, however once you are standing on the bank covered in Goosebumps and shivering from head to toe you really cannot use “I slept in” as an excuse. There are no words to describe what it is to swim by starlight and use the setting moon as a sighting point. It is an experience that I am unlikely to ever forget. It is in that pre-dawn and mist filled canyon, with nothing but the rush of water in my own ears that I have been able to find the focus and easy speed I have been training so hard to get. With just 13 Sleeps till splash, this journey continues to be everything I believed it could be and much, much more.

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