What they couldn’t see in the dot on the computer screen was that Solberg was losing to the elements. Back home, he had completed eight marathons, two Ironman Triathlons and a 50-mile run. But swimming from England to France felt like a goal too far.
Six hours in, the sun had faded. The sea grew black but for the few yards ahead illuminated by a spotlight held on the boat by his son Henry, 18. The chill of the 63-degree water began to seep deeper inside him. His body ached. He was only half way.
At one point, Solberg caught a view of the back of the boat, where the ladder was stowed. That ladder, he knew, was the first step toward a hot shower and sleep. He felt sick of swimming. It was no longer fun.
But fatigue seemed a lame reason to quit. Of course he was tiring! “You’re swimming the English Channel, mate!” he told himself.
There was also what he later described in his blog as “a bit of good old fear of shame. I didn’t want to have raised all that money for the school in Angola, and then not make it. I didn’t want to appear (to be) someone who would set off on a cool sounding challenge, but then not accomplish it for no good reason.”
He remembered a line from long distance runner Dean Karnazes’s book Ultramarathon Man, something like, “There are good times and there are bad times …. This is not one of the good times.”
“I just kept telling myself that this was not one of the good times,” Solberg says, “but that it would pass.”
It did, in great part thanks to reports from Henry that e-mails offering support were coming in from thousands of miles away.
“It was a nice bright spot in that tough time,” Solberg recalls.
He stopped thinking of the miles of black water ahead. He concentrated on the “feedings,” when the boat would extend a bottle full of energy drink every 20 minutes or so.
“You learn, don’t look up. Swim feed to feed,” he says. “Go 400 to 500 strokes and stop. When you break it down into small parts like that, it makes it a lot easier.”