I’ve been trying to find the right metaphor to describe the 8 Bridges as an operation in all its logistical complexity. I started off with ‘circus’, but that implies something chaotic; then I was thinking about those Health Robinson contraptions with lots of eccentrically cobbled together moving parts combining to form an impossibly complex device to perform the simplest of functions. But while they make a simple act complex, the 8 Bridges makes something very complex appear simple and coherent, so that doesn’t work either. And then I thought about the clock at the heart of my local shopping centre when I was growing up in the early 1980’s – a huge sculpture of brass petals, vines, leaves and feathers that would spring to life on the hour, water cascading, flowers spinning, birds flapping before retreating back into itself. But even though the 8 Bridges runs like clockwork and shares that element of unfolding, it not only lacks the unnecessary flambouyance of the shopping centre clock, but it also transcends its mechanical inflexibility. Instead, as an operation, it moves and adapts, accommodating different paces and capacities, folding around a constantly shifting cohort of swimmers and reaching out to individual swimmers to meet particular needs or grant new opportunities – warmed feeds for those feeling the cold; a different start location for those who came up short the day before. It’s more organic than mechanical; an organism rather than an object.
The shifting nature of the cohort is one of the greatest pleasures of the swim. There is a core of swimmers who are attempting every or most stages, either as solo swimmers or in relays, and then a fluctuating band of people flowing in and out of the week – some are adding one or two stages to an already growing 8 Bridges collection, accumulated over several years, while others are attempting a single stage, venturing into previously untried distances. And then there is the team of volunteers who join and depart, keeping us safe and cheering us on. The tone and texture of the event, then, is simultaneously sustained and yet constantly changing in response to this heady mix of people, ambitions and accomplishments, gently but determinedly co-ordinated and facilitated by Rondi and Dave.
And today, a hiatus in the action while we rested (although not Rondi, who has been emailing instructions and advice, or Dave and Mo, who have been back out on the river, banking some extra miles in Mo’s attempt to swim the distance over the week, rather than the stages). We slept, ate, and took inventory on the state of our bodies, stretching out taut muscles and tendons, tending to sunburned or chafed skin, laundering clothes and washing out feed bottles. And now it’s evening, and feeds are being mixed and dinner prepared, ready for the next episode in our adventure. The river and the intimidating challenge of stage 5 await.