A “short dip”

By Diego Lopez

I am thrilled to have just completed Stage 3 of 8 Bridges. With 13.1 miles, it was my longest swim to date, and one that I considered key in preparing my attempt to swim around Manhattan Island next August. I had recently taken the plunge into the Hudson for the 2 Bridges and I knew what to expect (sort of), so I was very keen throughout the week leading to the event.

More importantly, I was excited to meet the amazing group of swimmers that were tackling not only Stage 3 but the 120 miles separating Rip Van Winkle Bridge and Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Moments before the splash, I met with Graco who quickly asked me if this was the only stage I was going to do. I replied positively, saying that my goal was the round-of-Manhattan (like if I needed an excuse to swim “only” 13 miles), to what he responded: “oh, how many rounds will you be doing? Cos’ I’m doing two in July.” So there I was, about to swim over 20 kilometers down the river with a bunch of (delightful) crazies.

The Mighty Hudson could not look better that Saturday morning. Very little wind, no rain, and water temperature at a chilly-but-bearable 67 degrees. More importantly, I had one of my best friends kayaking for me, which was a huge reassurance and support. I had had some bad recent experiences with random kayakers, and I was very happy to count with Mark by my side, besides all the awesome support of NYOW.

Swimming a marathon over 10K requires a different strategy and mindset than any other race. I focused my energies on swimming efficiently and on stopping for the hourly feeding, which I tend to be very forgetful about. I breathed bilaterally throughout the race and tried to enjoy the river as much as I could, for which I had to change my shaded goggles for some yellow Swedish – yes, I am one of those old-school, pool swimmers.

Three hours down, and I am enjoying some banana and having a lively chat with Mark during my third feed. “Are you going for the course record? I don’t think so, not enough current.”  This is when I look back and realize I am not as alone as I thought I was, and Stephen – the winner of Stages 1 and 2 – is approaching me at a fast pace. “Shit Mark, let’s go, no more feeds for me till the end!”

Before the start, some other swimmer had warned me not to look too much at the finish line – the bridge, as it usually looks closer to what it really is. But after 3h40’ of race, and some serious competition next to me, I only had two thoughts – this Stephen is coming up very strongly and this goddamn bridge is further away every time I look at it. We all have that competition instinct inside us, and I was slightly disappointed to give up in the last 10 minutes a race I had led throughout, but this did not undermine even a bit the feeling of satisfaction I had for completing my longest race ever with very good sensations.

In its seventh edition, 8 Bridges has become a highlight of the Open Water Swimming international calendar, and one that hooks you into badly. My family and friends back home, who were tracking my little red circle during the race, are already asking me if I will sign up for the whole thing next year. “We shall see, there is a beautiful island I need to circumnavigate before that.”

A Love Affair

By Janine Serell

I’m a romantic about swimming, anyone who knows me knows that the Hudson is my favorite water to swim in.   Earlier this week there was a blog about the people who make this event special which we all do in so many different ways, but I think the river is really the star of the show.  The Hudson is the pin-up of rivers; she’s fast and sexy, moody and angry and goes from glass to white caps in the blink of an eye.  I’ve been lucky enough to travel a bit in life and so often when i see one of the ‘great’ rivers of the world i’ve been a tad disappointed, they have all lacked the grandeur of the Hudson.  This is a river that inspired an entire school of painters who were so blown away by her beauty that they sought to immortalize it and share it with those not fortunate enough to visit her, and we get to swim, paddle, cruise and frolic in her, lucky us!

On the practical side the river supports commerce as we swim in her.  There’s something so cool about swimming with giant barges gliding by.  When you volunteer you get to hear the astonishment of the boat captains as someone explains that there’s 19 swimmers in the river going down the west side some of who will swim 120 miles over the course of a week, and if you’re lucky  they’ll even toot their horns in celebration when they see you.   Long freight trains and short passenger  trains snake along the river banks passing you as you swim.  I loved when i lived in the city taking the train to the start of a stage….the early morning sun shining on this bucolic setting would always put me in the right frame of mind to enjoy the river.  She’s not something to be conquered, but rather to be respected and enjoyed.  You can swim with her and in her, but not at her, she will not be bullied.  You need to find her rhythm that morning and match your breath to her’s.
This is my home water, the place i feel the most comfortable swimming.  I swam my 1st mile here in 2010 and have been lucky enough to jump in every year since.  I’m swimming the stages of 8 Bridges easiest to hardest as I’m optimistic that i will continue to improve that little bit I need to make the next bridge each year.    But no matter how my day in the river ends whether beyond the bridge or in a rib I will be eternally grateful that I got to jump in and swim happy in the Hudson again this year.   XOXO

The time has come

By Devon Clifford

The time has come. It’s that time of year again when a group of proclaimed “crazies” strip down to their swim suits, lather up with sticky white pastes of zinc, and press their goggles tightly into their eye sockets as they prepare to take the infamous jump off the bow of Launch 5 and begin their journey down the mighty Hudson River. As the years have gone by, I have fallen more and more in love with 8 Bridges; the people, the guidance, the connectedness to one of nature’s most beautiful elements, and the bridges.

I remember my nerves the first time I jumped in the river to ride the push in Stage 3. It’s a beautiful stage, and the shortest of the week totaling just about 13 miles, so for me at the time it was a perfect starting point. I remember wearing a flamingo printed swim suit as I swam with my father guiding me in his kayak at my side. The water temperature was perfect, I’m sure (at least that’s how I remember it because that is what Kent – SCAR race director – has instilled in my brain as the temperature always, no matter location, time of year, or weather conditions… it is always “perfect!”). I didn’t know enough about nutrition in distance events at the time so I only fed on water and Gatorade, and I probably didn’t get enough sleep that week because I had friends in town from Ireland. None of that mattered in the end though because as much as it was a learning experience, swimming stage 3, albeit slightly under prepared, was one of my first stepping stones into teaching me gratitude for a sport that has become my world.

In the years since my first stage swim of 8 Bridges, I’ve experienced and accomplished swims all over the world but June in the Hudson is by far one of my favorite times and places. I’ve come back to be a part of this event every year since that first stage and hope to be a part of the event for as many years to come as possible. I’ve participated as a swimmer doing one or two bridges, as well as striving for the whole chalupa (is that what Dave was calling 8B for the 7 stagers last year??) and I’ve come back as a volunteer, too. To be a part of 8 Bridges is not just to swim, but to be a part of a family. It truly is a magical time when you allow yourself to embrace not just your swim but the experience of others’ swims, as well. There is so much excitement, so many nerves, so much spirit, and so much love.

You’ll hear constant chatter though out the week about the water temperature (which, like I mentioned, is always “perfect” according to Kent – you’ll want to remember this and maybe allow it to become your mantra) and about things you feel or felt along the way, about the weather, about who is swimming what day, etc. “What is the temperature this morning?” “Do you think it will warm up?” “How are you getting back in the water day in and day out?” My favorite bits of chatter, though… that would be the positivity and the way we lift one another up for what we are about to or have accomplished. There is a spirit you’ll encounter during the week that may be unlike any you’ve been a part of before – a support system more giving than any I’ve experienced outside of swimming. This is after all, as far as I know, the most team oriented solo sport around!

The positivity doesn’t just come from one swimmer congratulating another, it comes from the non-swimmer perspectives as well. It starts at the top as Rondi and Dave have created this glorious river swim for us and you can tell how much they care without words even being a part of the equation. If you pay close attention, their actions will comfort you more than warm water and a sunny day. The passionate guidance from Greg and his crew as he guides us all on Launch 5 goes just the same. Let’s be honest though, what fun would swimming down a river be if you didn’t have someone with whom to share the experience? This is where the positivity of kayak support comes into play. Personally, I know I am the luckiest swimmer in the water when I have Lizzy by my side guiding my way, supporting my needs, and cheering me on… sorry, everyone else! Lizzy, you’re the best.

The emotions and banter all come together and nothing is better than finishing the end of each day with a smile, so don’t forget to bring that with you. As you approach the bridge (don’t sight too soon or that bridge may feel forever away for a very long time) at the end of your first and maybe only stage, or your second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, or final stage just remember to enjoy what you’ve just accomplished. Turn over onto your back and take a minute to look up at the beautiful structure you just swam to, and appreciate where you started. We will all have a different experience despite sharing the same water, and somethings may be harder or easier for you during that stage, but the smiles at the end are the best part. Stay strong, swim smart, and enjoy yourself. Don’t get too upset if things don’t go exactly as planned though because no matter what you do in this river, you’ll only be as good as the Mighty Hudson allows!

See you in the water soon. Swim happy, my friends!

How do swimmers train and prepare for 8 Bridges?

By Liz Morrish

The 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim is certainly an event for the experienced marathon swimmer. I was curious about what level of preparation and training the participants were undertaking. I received some very detailed training diaries which gave me a picture of just what it takes to approach a very testing swim series like this. Remember, some swimmers are entering all stages of the swim, others are swimming one, two or three stages.

The average training distance seems to be 30,000-40,000 meters per week. A lead-in of 12-15 weeks seemed usual, with distance gradually increasing from 3-6k per day. On the longer side was 50,000 meters per week for 12 weeks, including an 8 or 9 miler on the weekends. Another swimmer is reaching 45,000 meters per week and will build up to 60,000. A week of 100km in end of April will be part of this individual’s preparation. In the pool, there will be interval training as well as long training swims of up to 5 hours before the event. The experienced swimmer will also focus on technique and efficiency as well as speed and endurance.

While working out 3-4 times a week in a pool, some prefer to swim alone, others enjoy the company and support of doing masters workouts. Surprisingly few swimmers mention coaching as part of their preparation. This was typical “I swim 2 days a week on a Masters team and 2 days a week on my own to train for this event.”

Actual open water preparation has largely been dependent on geographical location. Not everyone is as fortunate as this person, “I swim around 5K every morning with the Bearcat Masters of New York, and I take part in a 10K race every month in the Caribbean.” One swimmer in Massachusetts was itching to get back into open water, but in April it was still in the 40s F (4.5-9.5C). Others alluded to more improvised solutions such as cold showers and baths to aid acclimatisation.

As well as spending long hours in the water, most swimmers will turn to other forms of exercise – cross training is a common feature of preparation. Alongside 3-4 days per week swimming, we see incorporation of roller skiing, running, cycling/spinning, yoga and of course weights into training regimes. Some will have injuries to rehabilitate: “cross training: running, biking, weight training for shoulders to increase stability and avoid injury.” Only one respondent mentioned taking regular advice from a nutritionist.

In terms of previous marathon swims, the SCAR events in Arizona have been a popular foundation for 8 Bridges. http://www.scarswim.com/ These are a series of four, consecutive-day, ‘visually spectacular’ lake swims of between 9-17 miles. However, many of the participants are also veterans of the English Channel, the Catalina Channel, Key West and several other classic long-distance swims.

Due to the tidal nature of the Hudson, each of the 8 Bridges stages demands an early splash time. The early starts will not hinder this enthusiast: “Swim many hours on the weekends. Get up at 4am to swim 2 hours before work 2 days/week, swim less on some other days”.

Although it is more of an individual challenge than a competition, this swimmer has thrown down the gauntlet and has huge expectations of themselves and the experience: “Well, first of all, I’ve been studying the competition. I think knowing the rules and the place can really help me to prepare physically myself. And then I’m picturing the whole thing so I can prepare myself mentally. Testing my limits and knowing my boundaries through the process can make me not only a better swimmer but a better person in this challenge and every other one”. Another view sees this, not as a new and exceptional departure, but almost as a lifetime’s project “I believe your preparation/training starts with your 1st swim lesson when you were a toddler and, in the course of the 7 days, you will call upon each and every day of those many years of training to successfully complete all 7 stages”. Both of these visions are equally valid, and the swimmers will all encounter new and unpredictable challenges and draw on old, practised resources. The week will provide some compelling stories which I, and the swimmers, will be documenting on this blog.

 

 

 

Introducing the 2017 8 Bridges Swimmers

Liz Morrish

We are in the last few weeks of preparation for the swimmers taking part in the 2017 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim. 27 participants responded to a questionnaire, so here is a brief introduction to some of those who are doing multiple stages of the swim.  I hope to introduce the others during the week of the swim. I will also be asking them questions about training, nutrition and staying motivated for this marathon event. As you will see, they are an experienced and well-prepared group of swimmers.

Doing each stage of the swim:

Abby Fairman is 40 and from Turbotville, PA. She works as a marketing director. Previous marathon swims include 8 Bridges Stage 6 (2016, 2015), Catalina Channel (2016) and Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (MIMS) (2014).

Harry Finger is 59 and from São Paulo, Brazil. He is an architect, and also owns a soup shop! He has completed an English Channel swim and the 14 Bis in Brazil. The 8 Bridges has given him motivation to continue marathon swimming after knee surgery in 2016.

Marta Mitsui Izo is 47 and from São Paulo, Brazil where she works as a swim teacher. She already has an English Channel swim under her belt, as well as taking part in a Channel Relay England-France-England relay in world-record time.

Edward Riley is 58 and from New York, NY. He has already completed several stages of the 8 Bridges in previous years. What keeps him coming back to 8 Bridges? “It’s the gold standard for marathon swimming. It not only measures your endurance but also speed and uniquely your recovery”.

Flávio Toi is 51 and from Campinas, Brazil where he works as an electrical engineer. He has completed the swim round Key West and also the 40km Tietê river In Brazil. He will be accompanied by his wife and 12 year old son.

Jamie Tout is 64 and from Austin, Texas. He is a retired revenue agent for IRS. Previously completed swims include the English Channel, Catalina Channel, MIMS, Saguro Lake and Canyon Lake of SCAR 2016, and various stages of 8 Bridges. He has also run marathons and completed the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon in 1981, the same year as his English Channel swim.

Katrin Walter is 39, originally from Germany but now living in Buttikon, Switzerland, where she is a project manager in the financial industries. She has already completed the Lake Zurich Marathon Swim, the 2015 Tampa Bay swim and the Swim around Key West. Her partner will be accompanying her on the 8 Bridges.

Swimming three stages:

Ali Hall is 55 and from San Francisco, CA. She is a trainer and behavior change consultant for helping professionals in life coaching and health coaching. She is a seasoned marathon swimmer, having competed in various locations across the USA. She has had a serious spinal injury, so swimming in the 8 Bridges stages 1, 3 and 4 will definitely be a challenge.

Spencer Schneider is 57 and from New York, NY. He is a lawyer who has completed Sections of 8 Bridges, 20 Bridges and Around Montauk swims. This year he is swimming stages 1, 3 and 5. He is also a triathlete and trail runner.

Swimming two stages:

Erica Flickinger is 38 and lives in Phoenixville, PA where she is an office manager for the Healing Arts Center. This year she is doing stages 2 and 3, and hopes to complete all the stages, in turn, in the future. She has completed two SCAR swims and is now looking forward to a challenge. She will be accompanied by her boyfriend who will be kayaking for her.

Joshua Gordon is 21. He was born in Welwyn, UK but now lives in Phoenixville, PA where he works as a swim instructor. He has previously completed swims around Key West, and the Kingdom 15 mile Border Buster. He is doing stages 4 and 7, and is aiming to gain experience for an attempt at the English Channel.

Stephen Rouch is 36 and from Indianapolis, IN. He is a software developer. Stephen is registered for stages 2 and 3. Since he went to college in Poughkeepsie, he is keen to start and finish there.  He has previously been a SCAR participant.

Eric Schall is 56 and from Kingston, PA where he manages a Ready Mixed Concrete company.  He is coached by Mary Stabinsky (below). He has previously done a number of 10k and 10 mile swims including Lake George, the Potomac River Swim and the Lake Memphemagog 10 Mile. Swimming stages 1 and 5 of 8 Bridges will be a way of stepping up towards his planned 20 Bridges swim round Manhattan in August 2017.

Mary Stabinsky is 40 and from Plains, GA where she is a Financial Analyst/Internal Auditor for an AutoMall. Together with Eric Schall, she is swimming stages 1 and 5 in preparation for a 20 Bridges attempt in August 2017. Mary has previously completed Lake George 10k and Spuyten Duyvil 10k swims.

Mark Spratt is 61 and from Indianapolis, IN where he is a Controller for the Indiana Department of Corrections. He has completed several marathon swims including MIMS, Catalina Channel and SCAR. His most memorable swim, though was the 2013 Ederle Swim, in particular swimming under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Mark is swimming stages 3 and 4, having swum stage 6 last year. His goal is to do all 7 stages over time.

Paula Yankauskas is 62 and from Hyde Park, Vermont. She is a veterinarian who is a seasoned marathon swimmer with an English Channel swim and a Lake Champlain swim under her belt, as well as many others. She is swimming stages 3 and 4.

LET’S SWIM! ENDLESS SWIMS! DENSE SWIRLS

by Janet Harris

Friday shortly after 4am I met up with other NYC-based swimmers to travel upstate to swim in Stage 5 of 8 Bridges.  It was a morning with some complicated event logistics.  Swimmers, kayakers, and the smaller support vessels launched from three different locations before converging under Bear Mountain Bridge at splash time, and cars were parked at yet a fourth place near the finish. Rondi’s shuttle van plan to get everyone where we needed to go worked to perfection, and is just one example of the ways the organizers tweak this event to make it better every year.  My kayaker for the day was Terry, who has worked with 8 Bridges from the beginning, and I was looking forward to enjoying her experience and easy camaraderie on the river.

The swimmers rode the main support boat, Launch 5, upriver from Ossining, and we were treated to a reverse preview of nearly the entire 19+ mile course.  It was a beautiful morning, and I enjoyed the view from the bow of the boat while chilling out with friends.  I felt peaceful, confident, and ready to take on the challenges the day would bring. 

Once Launch 5 was under the bridge, Dave pulled alongside on Agent Orange and boarded the boat for a brief safety briefing and course preview.  He had just come from doing the same for the kayakers, who were entering the river from the west and paddling downstream towards the bridge.  Soon we were in the water and off.  Under the bridge away from shore the current was still flooding—I was one of the first off the boat and had floated back a bit during the brief interval before the start—but once underway we moved to the far western shore, hugging the shoreline and enjoying an eddying current that took us swiftly downstream.

It was fun swimming so close to shore—seeing wooded areas, rocky outcroppings, and houses passing by so quickly made it feel like we were making good progress.  Once or twice I had to scull along because of rocks under me, but that was ok.  I used to get creeped out by underwater outcroppings and the possibility of touching things underneath me, but the lake swimming I’ve done the past few seasons has made me braver.  Now I think it’s interesting to swim in depths where you can see the bottom.  That close to shore, I could also feel the vibrations of approaching freight trains, whose tracks ran right by the water—it was really cool to see and hear them zoom by at such speed

I was feeling good, the water was a little warm but still comfortable, and the sun was occasionally peeking out from the clouds.  The river seemed busy, with boats zipping by out in the channel and a big barge floating slowly upriver.  At one of my first feeds, my kayaker explained to me that a passing boat had been on fire, and that Launch 5 had taken on its passengers until help arrived.  We watched a fire boat racing up to the scene while I stopped to feed.

I was loving the day, feeling exuberant, and playing games by making anagrams from the branding on the side of Terry’s kayak (WILDERNESS SYSTEMS).  LET’S SWIM!  ENDLESS SWIMS!  DENSE SWIRLS in the water?  Are those YEW TREES or MYRTLES on shore?  I hoped to avoid any MESSY WRENS or SLIMY NEWTS.

Around 2h30 into the swim I started feeling sick to my stomach.  For some reason I didn’t want to tell my kayaker, but she cottoned on when I started requesting just water for some feeds and telling her I didn’t want to eat any more solid foods.  The nausea, which persisted during the rest of my swim, was a new experience for me, and a surprising one, since I have always used quite a variety of feeds and never before had a problem.  One of my goals for the day was to be proactive at solving problem on the water, working to fix things that could be fixed instead of simply trying to endure them.  I started thinking about what I could do to improve matters.  I drank more water for the next few feeds, thinking that maybe my carbs-to-water ratio was off, and dropped the more substantial feeds (milk, sticky rice concoctions) from my rotation.

The current was beginning to change, and we soon headed out into the channel to take advantage of the increasing ebb.  Here our progress was faster, but less apparent because onshore landmarks were further away.  I liked being in the cooler water away from shore with a bit more movement in it.  At one feed Terry asked me if I could feel the south wind picking up—I couldn’t feel the wind per se, but knew that the sort of wind-against current chop we were experiencing meant that it was blowing stronger.  (The fact that she was having to paddle a little harder, and that the front of her kayak was occasionally out of the water, also clued me in).

Meanwhile I was still having stomach issues, and they were getting worse.  I was feeling weak and little chilled, and my stroke count had decreased.  I needed more calories, but was simply unable to take in much at each feed. Somewhere between 5 and 6 hours I discussed getting out with Terry and she asked me if I wanted to get out right now, or a little later.  I decided that I could swim a bit more.  At this point I was feeling such an aversion to putting anything else in my stomach that I wanted to swim away from the kayak whenever she held up a feed bottle.  I decided to force the issue by gulping down as much of my gatorade/water mixture as I could.  That had the expected result, and I felt a little better for about a half-hour. 

Although I knew I wasn’t swimming very strong at this point, I was still enjoying being in the water.  Large hawks were soaring overhead, and I wondered if some of them were bald eagles.  As a volunteer on Launch 5 during the previous stage, I had seen lots of fish jumping out of the water.  I saw splashes around and imagined they were made by curious fish leaping up for a closer look at us.  During one feed, Terry told me that one jumped right behind me, but I missed it.  Occasionally I saw movements under the water, and wondered what the creatures might be below me.  I was hoping to see a big sturgeon.

We passed Ossining marina, where we had started our day, on the left, and the Tappen Zee was looming far ahead.  We continued making progress, and at one point Terry told me we had an hour until the flood current started, and that if I stroked hard she thought I could make it.  I imagined myself consisting of just arms and legs, with no queasy stomach in between, and tried to move my limbs as strongly and deliberately as I could.  Tobey on the jet ski came by and hovered close for a while, and I saw a boatload of other swimmers who had called it a day being ferried up to Launch 5.  They cheered me on as they passed, and I waved back.

At this point I knew it was becoming more and more unlikely that I would make the bridge by the time the current turned.  Unlike previous stages, where swimmers can creep along shore after the flood starts, construction zones for the new Tappen Zee bridge mean that Stage 5 swimmers must finish near the shipping channel, where the current is strongest.  The south wind would probably hasten the onset of the flood, and although I was still plodding along I was far from my best swimming self at the moment.  All this passed through my mind, but in truth I wasn’t much concerned at this point with whether I finished or not.  All I wanted was to feel better.  I reasoned that if I was feeling this bad, I might as well feel bad in the water (where there was plenty of room to puke) as on a crowded boat, so I just kept stroking along.

At about 8h45 in, we were still a little less than two miles from the bridge when Sean’s RHIB motored up beside us.  Janine told us that lightning had been spotted and that the field was being evacuated.  I think I was too out of it at this point to feel either disappointment or relief.  My kayaker and I climbed aboard, and we picked up a few more swimmers and another kayaker before going ashore.  We were reunited with the rest of the swimmers and our bags at Tarrytown marina.  Once out of the water, I slowly did start to feel better, and eventually was able to eat some of the food I’d packed for after the swim, which perked me up even more.  Some scary weather followed our exit from the river.  Kudos to Dave and Rondi for making the call to pull us, and to them and the boaters and volunteers for getting all the swimmers and kayakers off the river and out of harm’s way.

I was very happy to hear that the two swimmers who have made all the previous stages, Paige and Cheryl, were able to make it to the bridge before the bad weather set in.  They were the only two of the fifteen of us who started who were able to finish the stage.  Another swimmer, Steve Gruenwald, was closer to the bridge than I and seemingly had a good chance of finishing—I had seen his kayaker pass by me about a half hour before we were pulled, and he was looking really strong.  Others hung tough for hours in some challenging conditions and met their personal goals or found new confidence for future events.  Jim Braddock, for one, told me after the swim that it was his longest to date.  Despite the abrupt end, there was lots of good to take home from the day on the river. 

Once I felt better physically, I was able to look back on my day and feel pleased with my efforts.  I took away plenty of positives, learned some things that I can put to use in future swim adventures, and once again got to enjoy the glorious experience of swimming in the Hudson—a win-win-win day after all!

you can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water

By Louise Hyder-Darlington

Beyond swimming, I love to write. I was happy Rondi took up my offer to write up a few words for Stage 6. While training leaves little time for writing, it provides endless hours for swimmers immersed in watery contemplation. Time to contemplate breathing, stroke, technique, fatigue, aging, motivation, fear, friendships, futures, pasts. All jumbled together. This will be my second year swimming stage 6. I swam stages 3 and 6 in 2015. I was dead last for both stages and would not have changed it for the world. I overcame challenges and pushed myself farther than I had thought possible. I guess that is why we love 8 Bridges. The memories I have from last year bring smiles, not fear, to my face, even now. The joy of hearing David coaxing me to the shadow of the second span of the Beacon-Newburgh Bridge, surprised that passing under the first shadow was not sufficient. “Just a little further Louise.” The hearty handshakes from everyone on the boat after finally clearing the Agent Orange ladder … worst part of the swim. Hearing Rondi cheering me on as I finally approached the towering George Washington Bridge. Hearing her call from far off “….you can do it Louise.” Indeed, I did it.

I return to Stage 6 this year because my husband of 32 years wanted to give it a try. As did one of my best and dearest friends as well. They have worked hard. Nailing training swim after training swim. Endless hours immersed in their own contemplation about 15.7 miles down the Hudson River. Why we do it is different for each and every swimmer. I believe this is especially true of those wonderful heroes in the arena who know they won’t be in the front of the pack. Those in the rear swimming their hearts out, terrified of that tide that will turn before they finish. I had those very same shared fears last year and I will have them again on Saturday. It is guaranteed that the river will always give us what we need, not necessarily what we want.

So I guess that is what I wanted to say about Stage 6. It is a long, long swim in one of the most beautiful rivers in one of the most gorgeous places on earth organized and populated with some of the greatest souls in the world. It is never the same swim. Each year the river presents the precious lesson that man is not in control. It is fun and it is frightening and yet we do it every year. And here is a sweet little gem of a quote by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore. If you are reading this and have run out reasons; run out of dreams … cut this out and tape it to your mirror. Find that sea you have been wanting to cross, grab a friend and jump in. I promise it will be the most terrifyingly wonderful feeling in the world!

“You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.” Rabindranath Tagore, 1861-1941

Grace breaks the Catalina Chanel Record

2012 8 Bridges winner and record holder Grace Van Der Byl broke  Karen Burton’s 18 year old record when she swam across the Catalina Chanel in 7 hours and 21 minutes in October. Congratulations Grace!

Grace has been nominated for open water swimmer of the year for 2012. You can vote for her here.

Bannerman’s Return Tour (Test 2)

Last Saturday we did a second test swim of the Cold Spring – Bannerman’s Island 10.5K Return.

Bannerman’s with Caitlin, Ethan and Terry. Photo credit Capri

This time it wasn’t just me and a kayaker, it was a party of people: David and his RIB Agent Orange, three paddlers, and nine swimmers. The idea was to start swimmers of different speeds on the flood tide at different times so we all converged at the island when the tide was slack. Then we’d return to Cold Spring on the ebb. The swim was calculated to take between 2.75 and 4 hours depending on swimmer speed.

As we motored down the river in AO, I was surprised how rough the water was in the Hudson Highlands where we would be swimming. Flags on poles were barely being lifted by the wind, but the river was full of white caps. The forecast was for winds out of the north at 12 mph; nothing serious but enough to churn the water as it was pushed against the flood current.

Because of the head wind we started the four waves of swimmers 10 minutes earlier than planned. As soon as we got out of the seclusion of Cold Spring and into chop it was clear we should have all started at least 30 minutes earlier. The head wind negated any tidal push. In fact we were crawling along while getting pushed backwards.

John who was paddle boarding beside me had a pretty rough time in the bounce and retired after a few miles. I wish at that time we had tied the board to one of us and swam together as we had planned to do after we got to the island.  I joined another group of swimmers: Janet, Hannah, Eli, and Willie with Andy kayaking. It was great fun swimming with so many friends, taking feed stops together and having a chat while doing so – feeding is slow with four swimmers and one kayaker. It helped that the water temps were in the mid-70s.

We reached the Island after two hours and had to push hard to make our way around it as the ebb current had started 30 minutes earlier. Once around, the water calmed down and we leisurely swam back to Cold Spring with some more chatting and scenery stops. Capri, beaten down by swimming against the ebb current below Breakneck ridge, had gotten out, so Gary, her kayaker, joined our group and Eli, Willie, and I went on ahead. We finished in 3 hours 20 minutes.

Gary. Photo credit Capri

I was happy that Caitlin and Ethan also made it around the island. They had to battle a stronger ebb as they were about 45 minutes behind us. They completed the swim in 4 hours 20 minutes.

The swim certainly didn’t pan out as planned, but there were some good things we learned in the process.

  •  It’s really fun to do this swim with a group of friends, with ample chatting and scenery breaks. This has to be one of the most scenic parts of the Hudson. So why not make this swim a tour rather than a race. Swimming for speed is permissible of course. On the other hand you can take stops, say at little Stony Point, an inviting sandy beach half way to the island, and at the island itself where there is a great ruin that looks like an ancient castle.
  • The flood tide between Cold Spring and the island is weak and unreliable in moderate winds. This requires more investigation but probably means getting swimmers to the island with plenty of time before the ebb begins.

In light of all that we plan to offer the inaugural Bannerman’s Island Return (Tour) on September 1, 2013 or Labor Day weekend Sunday. So mark your calendars!

John and Agent Orange at Cold Spring. Photo credit Capri

Some links from the swim:

Janets blog write up

Flickr photos and videos (below) from Capri:

Ethan and Caitlin – heading to Bannerman Island
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyROfcTow2U

yes! Caitlin and Ethan – make it to the north side of Bannerman Island
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4O5ZdOmtEo

Caitlin and Ethan pass Breakneck
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gotcgkjsWH8

Bannerman’s Island 10K

Inspired by the pioneering efforts of my swim buddies who ventured the 20 miles across Cape Cod Bay this week, today I tested a new swim in the Hudson: Cold Spring to Bannerman’s Island return, a super scenic 10.5K trip timed with the changing current, so you swim north to the island on the waning flood and south on the ebb. This is a destination well known to kayakers, but I am not sure it has been swum before.

Swimming  through the Hudson Highlands toward Bannerman’s Island.

Neither direction offers a lot of tidal assistance since the swim is timed around the slack tide. However, I was about 30 minutes late to start this morning so the tide was turning when I was only half way to the island. The island generously offered a tidal shadow, with the tell-tale debris patches, which I hid behind until I had to venture out into the current to get around the island. At a leisurely pace it took a 1hr 40 mins out and 1 hr back. The conditions were calm and great for those of us with cold blood — water temp was 82˚F!

The ruins of Bannerman’s Island arsenal

Heading back to Cold Spring