The Lynne Cox autobiography Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer (2004) is fun and fast, sincere and heartwarming—but like Dean Karnazes' Ultramarathon Man, often amateurish in execution. Cox tells a series of exciting stories of extraordinary courage and accomplishment. She delicately yet with good humor describes some of the biomedical experiments she took part in (e.g., core body temperature measurements with scary probes and long wires). But in spite of her attempts to clothe various extreme aquatic adventures in the garb of world peace, too many of her record-setting swims come across as mere risky stunts.
On occasion, however, Cox's prose rises to the challenge of matching her physical achievements. Some examples:
from Chapter 1, "Beginnings", during a training swim in an abrupt Californian storm:
My world was reduced to the blur of my arms stroking as a cold, driving rain began. The raindrops that hit my lips tasted sweet and cold, and I enjoyed the sensations of every new moment. The pool was no longer a flat, boring rectangle of blue; it was now a place of constant change, a place that I had to continually adjust to as I swam or I'd get big gulps of water instead of air. That day, I realized that nature was strong, beautiful, dramatic, and wonderful, and being out in the water during that storm made me feel somewhat a part of it, somehow connected to it.
When the hail began, the connection diminished considerably. ...
from Chapter 6, "White Cliffs of Dover", while crossing the English Channel:
Maybe around four in the morning I started running into round balls. It was too dark to see anything, and it was strange to feel them rolling off my body. I had never felt kelp like that before; I couldn't imagine what it was. Finally, the curiosity overwhelmed me, and I shouted, "Mr. Brickell, what's in the water?"
"Lettuce. Someone dumped a shipload of old lettuce," he said, and laughed.
Somehow I'd never expected to be swimming through a sea of lettuce.
from Chapter 12, "The Strait of Magellan", in the frigid waters near Tierra del Fuego:
... Inside I laughed a little: I can do this; I really can do this, without a wet suit or anything to warm me. It is amazing how incredible the human body is that it can do so much, that it can go beyond the everydayness of life; that it can be extraordinary and powerful, and harbor a spirit of hope and pure will. ...
from Chapter 14, "Around the World in Eighty Days", in Iceland's Lake Myvatn:
... It was a spectacular morning, and we moved quickly across the glassy water, past two tiny lush green islands. Here the water, incredibly, changed from cold forty-three-degree water to hot ninety-degree water, as I cut across icy streams of water fed by mountain brooks and geothermal rivers from deep below the lake. It was like swimming across the face of a guitar, each string or stream a different temperature, and I never knew what to expect until my body played it.
Alas, Swimming to Antarctica lacks an index or a timeline of events. Its maps are only marginally adequate. It could have been a much better book with those additions, plus just a bit more helpful editing. As it is, Swimming is hazardous to read before a long run, but not nearly so threatening to the judgment as Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air or Joe Simpson's Touching the Void ...
(many thanks to kind colleague MI for lending me this book; cf. IntoWetAir (20 Apr 2004), LongWalk (31 May 2004), TouchingTheVoid (2 Jun 2004), AndThenTheVultureEatsYou (9 Dec 2004), RunningThroughTheWall (23 Jan 2005), UltramarathonMan (14 Apr 2005), ...)