Grace’s thoughts on 8 Bridges

By Grace Van Der Byl

Life is funny, as soon as you think you’ve got it all figured out and you have done all you can do with what you’ve been given; life throws you an opportunity to do more. You can take on the challenge or you can let it pass you by.

When I decided to take on all of the 8 Bridges, I had no idea that it would be such a defining moment in my life. The experience was everything I had imagined and so much more!

Stage 1, I showed up to the dock with no idea what to expect. I kept to myself while I got ready away from the group. In typical So-Cal fashion, I had on my board shorts, flip flops, surf shirt, and a trucker hat. It was obvious to everyone that I was from out of town.  My anxiety was nearly a 10 when I jumped into foreign waters, racing a distance further than I had ever gone before. Once into the swim, I settled down and started to enjoy the river.

Stage 2, like stage 1 was also uncharted territory for me in distance but I found myself so focused on the sights that I forgot about the how far I was swimming.

Stage 3 seemed to go by so fast that before I got my head around the swim; we were already at the bridge.

Stage 4 was one of my two favorites. There were beautiful cliffs, an island with a castle, Monistaries, trains, and when Rondi and I swam past West Point, they shot their cannons for us!

Stage 5 was a beast!! Rondi and I swam together for half of the swim. It was really nice to have company while we were swimming against the current in warm water. On this stage the river widens and it is massive!!! I was so focused on my kayaker that I didn’t notice until I stopped for a feed and peeked around us. I was gobsmacked by the size and the amount of traffic on the water. Captain Greg of Launch 5, David Barra on Agent Orange, and Buddy on the rib kept us all so safe that  I never considered what was out there a threat.

Stage 6 was supposed to be a super fast stage but Mother Nature decided otherwise. Even with the crazy conditions it was a blast!

Stage 7 was unimaginable! The conditions had smoothed out from the day before, so that definitely helped make it fun. However, the feeling I got when I swam past the Statue of Liberty made any hardship I had faced totally worth it.

The 8 Bridges Hudson River Race is the most awesome marathon event that I have ever had the privilege to participate in to date. Swimming in the river that built America, racing in conditions that are unpredictable and challenging, the opportunity to see a stunningly beautiful part of the country from a unique perspective, and most importantly meeting new friends that will last a lifetime!! Thank you so much Dave, Rondi, Margrethe, Captain Greg, Lisa, Clare, Riverkeeper, Bridge Authority, Scenic Hudson, and everyone else that I didn’t mention but was there, for the experience of a lifetime!

GP

We finished! 7 days, 7 stages, 120 miles

Today it’s hard to believe it’s all over. It’s certainly going to take a few days to digest the events of the past seven days. Right now I’m feeling somewhat stunned about all that just unfolded in the past week, and a mix of bliss and indebted gratitude to the amazing group of people that came together to make 8 Bridges happen. From the boaters, particularly Greg Porteus and his daughter Amanda and son Buddy on Launch 5; to the kayakers, particularly Pat, Terry, Margrethe, Steve, Gary, Rosanna and Suzie; the 24 swimmers who worked so hard, were so focused, and also jazzed about their swims; Lisa Neidrauer for coordinating the kayakers, feeds, swim logs and finisher videos day after day; Janet Harris for coordinating boat loading for Stage 7, swimmer escort support, and all the ginger cookies; William Miller for all the help with Agent Orange; Tara Sullivan and the NYS Bridge Authority for transporting us all over the Hudson Valley; sponsors Blueseventy, Keen Footwear, and Gu Energy Labs. It was an incredible team effort. Thank you everyone!

Lisa Neidrauer coordinating kayakers and swimmers on Launch 5

For yesterday’s Stage 7 the weather gods were overly generous and completely made up for the harsh head-wind conditions of Stage 6. We motored to the George Washington Bridge in calm waters under sunny skies with a gentle tail wind from the northwest. A last minute discussion between the boaters and race directors had the swimmers splashing on the New Jersey side of the river. Here swimmers could be also be protected from the flood while waiting for the tide to turn. In addition, we found that the flood was weaker here than the Manhattan side of the river. It also meant we didn’t need to cross the shipping lane once the ebb kicked in — a win-win-win situation.

Martin and Amanda splashed at 8:30 am followed by John at 9 am, and Patty, Grace, and myself at 9:30 am. The tide was scheduled to turn after 10 am but we felt the push of the ebb almost immediately and made good headway down the Hudson. I reached lower Manhattan after about 2.5-hours of swimming and the Statue of Liberty around 3-hours. With the staggered start swimmers converged on the harbor about the same time which made it easier for the boaters to protect us.

Grace swimming past the Statue of Liberty. Photo credit Greg Porteus.

I’ve never swum past the Battery in such calm conditions; at times the water was glassy flat. With Gary and the Osprey at my side I felt safe and protected from the mayhem of water taxi’s, ferries, yachts, boats, and helicopters. I learned later that as I swam blissfully through the harbor, our boaters and two ribs were aggressively directing boats and ferries out of our way.

I visited Amanda and Martin during the swim, sadly this was the only time I saw Amanda yesterday as we were on different boats. Martin, having just become a US citizen, was stoked to swim by Lady Liberty.

We flew through the upper harbor toward the Verrazano-Narrows at over three knots. I was sad the swim was coming to a rapid close and was disappointed when feed times arrived because it meant another half hour had passed.

The Riverkeeper boat paid a call south of Bay Ridge. As I was swept by I heard Captain John Lipscombe, my hero, call out his appreciation for what we are doing for the rivers. This brought an unexpected rush of emotions, more so than finishing the swim. The Riverkeeper folks then motored off to test the waters of the Gowanus Canal at low tide. We got to catch up again with Capt. John last night as we grouped for a celebratory dinner in Ossining and saw photos of the Gowanus’s disgusting pollution.

The Riverkeeper boat visiting us en route to the Verrazano Narrows.

Meeting up with Captain John Lipscomb of Riverkeeper with David, Grace, John, myself. Photo credit Greg Porteus.

Arriving within 30 minutes of each other, the six of us finished the swim on the Brooklyn side of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, moving out of the best current to keep clear of the large tugs and tankers arriving and departing the harbor through the shipping lane.

Me under the Verrazano Narrows, the most spectacular bridge of them all. Photo credit Greg Porteus.

Grace and I are the first to finish the 120-mile swim, the longest stage swim and marathon swim in the world! It was a complete honor to share this experience with Grace. Not only is she a fantastic athlete, she is grounded, warm, real, courageous, and inspirational. Swimming with her kept me focused on the task and brought out the best in me. Thank you Grace. Grace has set the bar high for future 8 Bridges swimmers. Also a big thank you to David for making this all happen. Dave and I each did our separate thing to organize the event, but David is the one that holds it on his shoulders; he’s incredibly flexible, generous, and stoic in the face of adversity.

Grace and Rondi – all finished! Photo credit Greg Porteus.

It’s a thrill that this years event was such a success. May there be many more 8 Bridges in the years to come.

Stage 7 is here

The final day of 8 Bridges is here and we have a great line up of swimmers:
Martin Turecky from Delmar, NY
John Reagan from Slingerlands, NY
Amanda Hunt from Napperville, IL
Patty Maysent from Solana Beach, CA
Grace van der Byl from Solana Beach, CA
Rondi Davies from New York, NY

This is Martin, John and Patty’s second stage. It is also the final of seven stages for Grace and Rondi!

Swimmers will splash at 8:30 am on the eastern side of the Hudson River and hug the shore for the first two hours to protect themselves from the flooding tide. When the ebb begins, swimmers will cross to the western, or New Jersey, side of the river passing close to Ellis Island and Liberty Island, and will swim under the shadow of Lady Liberty. Swimmers will also have great views of Governer’s Island and the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges of the East River.  The current assist with draw the weary swimmers to the Verazzano-Narrows bridge with a maximum speed 2.7 knots which is significantly faster than we’ve experienced in previous stages. In addition, the Atlantic Ocean mixing with the Hudson’s waters will create cooler (70˚F),  saltier conditions.

Weather conditions include a high of 86˚F and winds from the WNW at 12 mph. This is a tail wind – woo hoo!

Wind against current

Wind Against Current is the name of an excellent blog by kayaker Vladimir Brezina and Johna Till Johnson. Today these words played over and over in my head as we battled 15 mph head winds with gusts of 30 mph, against a 2.6 knot ebb tide.

There are so many times when I have looked at the Hudson north of the George Washington Bridge and marveled at how flat and inviting it looked. Then there have been times when the wind and chop are up and I have thought that I would never want to experience swimming in those conditions. Today I did swim in that chop. It was a washing machine of chaotic, unorganized waves and strong winds. And, as much as it was tough, I was comfortable and fine and I even had a good time — a small personal achievement for me.

We actually had seven chicks in the water today as Louise Twining-Ward was a late entrant. Louise, Caitlin, Capri and Kathleen headed off from the Tappan Zee Bridge with their boats and kayakers at 10:30 am. Grace, Patty and I followed an hour later. As soon as we got started the southwest wind picked up and the Palisades channeled the wind like a wind tunnel. As the current picked up we started bouncing around.

Kathleen and Capri under the Tappan Zee Bridge

Caitlin and Louise, who stayed together for the most part, had a great swim and thoroughly enjoyed the choppy conditions. Capri and Kathleen swam strongly and were looking to finish, but were both afflicted by burning eyes due to a reaction with some anti-fog goggle spray they used. Kathleen ended up at the emergency room, while Capri, swimming with eyes closed the whole way, got within a quarter mile of the George Washington Bridge when the flood pushed her back. Patty, Grace and myself all finished within 15 minutes of each other under the record time from last year. Patty took home the Scenic Hudson prize for her longest swim to date, and for swimming an extra few miles to support Capri. It was another day of amazing efforts by all.

Capri approaching the George Washington Bridge

Stage 6 has 6 chicks

Today’s Stage 6, a 15.7 mile straight shot from the Tappan Zee to the George Washington Bridge, is full of awesome chicks!
Starting in the first wave at 10 am is:
Capri Djatiasmoro* from Brooklyn, NY
Kathleen Romano* (aka as the Lavender Menace) from New York, NY
Caitlin Rosen from Brooklyn, NY
[* Note that Capris and Kathleen are in their 60s!]

Starting in the second wave at 11:30 am is:
Grace van der Byl from Solana Beach, CA
Patty Maysent from Solana Beach, CA
Rondi Davies from New York, NY

Swimmers will should have a fantastic current assist from the ebbing tide, and spectacular views of the Pallisades.

The weather forecast is for sunny conditions with WSW winds from 10-15 mph. This will create a head wind/side chop scenario much like we have been having all week. Hopefully the Pallisades will shield us from the wind.

Although the salt front for the Hudson is near the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, yesterday the water started to taste salty. Today it will be even saltier and more buoyant which makes swimming feel faster and easier.

 

Over the hump

Stage 5 has to be the toughest swim of 8 Bridges. I am excited to say that we all finished well within the ebb time. This brings us over the hump of 8 Bridges; 5 down, 2 stages or 33 miles to go.

I went into today with a lot of trepidation. Stage 5 really is an epic beast, and of all the stages this is the one that could stop Grace and myself from completing the 120 mile swim. But with great conditions and a great team helping to find the best currents and keep us safe, the four of us pulled it off with time to spare.

We met at Shatemuc Yacht Club in Ossining just after six this morning. There was some excitement when David found his boat full of water. As the boats motored to Bear Mt Bridge, Dave, Lisa, and Willie were bailing  water out of Agent Orange with water bottles. Hopefully the leaking boat issue will get resolved tonight.

Eli splashed at 8:15 am, followed by David, myself, and Grace in five-minute intervals. The tide was still flooding weakly and for the first three hours we didn’t feel much of a push. In retrospect we could have waited another 30 minutes to start, but it’s a learning process. Also, today we were blessed with good currents and weather. These things are so changeable on the Hudson, so I am glad we were conservative in our early start even if the times could have been faster.

Conditions were beautifully flat for the first three hours, and Grace and I swam this section together. Grace, with her powerful stroke, went on ahead about the time we reached Haverstraw Bay. Here the wind, chop, and current picked up and we started to make progress. About 3.5 hours into the swim we were 10 miles in and I started to feel some relief and excitement that we would make it before the flood tide.

Captain Greg on Launch 5 and his son Buddy in the small rib worked hard to find the best currents, even enlisting the help of the Coast Guard who was helping us today. We stayed with the peaking current by taking a wide s-bend from west to east on the Tappan Zee approach; the second 10 or more miles of the swim took about 2.5 hours.

It was another fantastic day on the water. Eli had a great swim completing the 20 miles in just over seven hours. David finished his “unfinished business” with Stage 5 and took the Scenic Hudson prize. Grace keeps getting stronger with every stage. I felt good today and am happy with how the swim went. I am excited to enjoy the last two stages as much as I possibly can and make the most of this epic adventure.

David approaching the Tappan Zee Bridge

The fabulous kayakers Pat, Margrethe, Terry, Steve

A big shout out to our kayakers for the full seven stages: Margarethe, Steve, Pat and Terry. These guys are absolutely fantastic in every way. M & S disappear after each stage to camp under a bridge, appearing bright and early the next morning ready to go. P & T are full of laughter and keep things upbeat. On their day off they made these bright t-shirts.

Terry and Pat with their homemade 8 Bridges ts.

Preview to Stage 5

Today four swimmers will tackle the most difficult stage, the 20 mile swim from the Bear Mountain Bridge to the Tappan Zee Bridge. They are:
Grace van der Byl from Solana Beach, CA
Rondi Davies from New York, NY
David Barra from High Falls, NY
Eli Falcon from Brooklyn, NY

This will be Eli and Davids second stage, and Grace and Rondi’s fifth. The swim begins with a narrow windy passage near Stony Point and then opens up into the widest section of the Hudson, Havestraw Bay. Due to the length of the swim, swimmers will start in a flooding tide. And due to the wideness of the river, the current assist will be minimal. Other challenges include significantly hotter water from discharge at the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, chop from wind and boat traffic, and bountiful sail boats as this is a summer yachting destination for New Yorkers.

The weather forecast looks good. There will be light winds from the southwest all day and temps are expected to reach 92˚F, so it will be a hot day for everyone out there.

Yesterday was a much needed day off. It was actually built into the schedule as a bad weather delay day so we didn’t need to shift all the stages a day ahead if we had a delay early in the event.

Stage 5

Stage 4 recap

We had a wonderful day on the river yesterday. We splashed at the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge just after 9 am. A breeze from the west created an annoying chop for the first hour, but thankfully things calmed down after that and everyone settled into an enjoyable pace. After 1.5 hours we passed on the inside of Bannerman’s Island with spectacular views of the castle. Last year we found a good current here, but this time there wasn’t a lot. However, the views were worth the detour. Passing through the Hudson Highlands with it’s towering rounded peaks was truly majestic and definitely my favorite part of the swim. We were protected from a southerly breeze here too. As we rounded the sharp bend toward West Point there were some strong back eddies that took some time to get through. A police boat that happened to come across the swim accompanied me through here as there was a bit of boat traffic. He stayed with us for much of the day. The close up views of West Point were fantastic, and overall the Hudson really put on a spectacular day for us. A small head wind and plenty of boat wake made the last hour somewhat choppy, but after three hours of swimming the current finally picked up which made the final approach to the Bear Mountain Bridge swift and exhilarating.

Everyone had a great swim today. Grace powered through in a super fast swim, even though she was stopping to take in the scenery. She also jumped in with Suzanne later in the day. She took home the Scenic Hudson Prize for her swim.

Willie and Eli were strong to the finish. This was Mary’s first swim over three miles and she’ll be back next year with her sister in tow. Martin stroked butterfly for his last 25 meters of the swim, just because. Suzanne showed her tenacity as she battled the flooding current on her bridge approach, flanked by Grace and Janet.

Pat, Terry and Dave on Agent Orange

Grace, Suzanne and Janet approaching the Bear Mt. Bridge

Commuter train passing the swimmers

Suzanne at the Bear Mt. Bridge

A barge passing the finishing swimmers

Done for the day, back in Ossining

Tomorrow we begin Stage 5 and it’s going to be grueling. We got a preview of the course on the way back to Ossining last night. And thanks Indian Point the water temps are a toasty 80-81˚F, or five degrees higher than the water temps we’ve experienced to date.