Another magical day on the Hudson
by, July 12th, 2011 at 06:17 PM (1577 Views)
Yesterday was stage 4 of the 8 Bridges Hudson River swim. There are 7 stages in all, and I signed up for 2 of them—I had done stage 1 last Friday. Yesterday’s leg covered 15.2 miles, from the Beacon-Newburgh Bridge to the Bear Mountain Bridge. Although this stage was about 3 miles shorter than Friday’s swim, the currents are less swift along this portion of river, so the swim length looked like it might be about the same. It’s an interesting stretch, winding around several bends and passing by some prominent landmarks, including Bannerman Castle, the US Military Academy at West Point, and Storm King Mountain.
The day was forecast to be hot and sunny, with some wind kicking up in the afternoon. I took the first train of the morning up to Beacon, NY to the meet-up point at the docks (conveniently right by the train station). Since the train tracks run right along the east coast of the river, I got a preview of nearly the entire stage en route. Once in Beacon, I rendezvoused with the other swimmers, and we chatted some while sunscreening up. We had 7 swimmers for the stage—besides me there was Lisa from Toronto (who had swum stage 1 too); my MIMS relay partner John; Laeticia, an ow veteran from Mexico City whom I knew from other NYC-area swims; CIBBOWS swim pal Lori; and of course Rondi and Dave. I was happy to be swimming with friends. It was a beautiful hazy morning by the river, and while we were waiting to depart I spotted an otter ambling along the riverbank.
Soon we had loaded the boat, our kayakers were assigned, and we were motoring off towards the bridge that marked the start of the swim. I once again had Teddy as my kayaker—he had been a great guide on Friday, encouraging, and patient about following my feed schedule, which was a wee bit on the complicated side for OW swimmers. We waited on the boat some once we got to the start point, as the current was still flowing north. I was really eager to get into the water at this point, because it was already hot and sunny and the river looked cool and inviting.
Finally the call to splash came, and we each jumped in and headed to the far span of the double bridge for the race start. The current was still going north, and I had to swim some breaststroke to stay in place while awaiting the countdown. Finally we were off—hurray! It seemed to take a long time to pass under both spans of the bridge, and I worried that I would tire myself out swimming against the current without going much of anywhere. I decided to just put my head down and swim, and stop worrying, and soon I was a ways away from the bridge. It was slow going, but we were definitely putting the bridge behind us, and making steady progress.
At my first feed Teddy asked if I might be going a little too hard at the start of a multi-hour swim. He had seen me start out very slowly and cautiously on Friday. I explained that I had been nervous and uncertain that day about swimming so far, but that I was feeling more confident today about swimming strong for a long stretch. And I was. I felt good and strong in the water, and swimming a little faster just made the whole experience seem more joyful.
Soon after the first feeding Dave and I found each other, and we swam together for a long stretch, synching our strokes up for the first hour or so of that time. As mesmerizing as it can be just stroking along for long stretches in the river by yourself, it’s even more so when you’re also watching someone beside you who’s doing exactly the same thing. Here’s a picture from that part of the race taken by my kayaker, Ted Gruber. David's kayaker Gary is behind me:
We swam to the east of the little island where Bannerman Castle sits, which gave us the best view of the ruins of that 19th century fortress built by a NYC munitions baron. This structure has always intrigued me when I see it from the train, so I was glad to get a closer view. I some backstroke as we headed further south just to see it from that angle.
We passed through little cold patches here and there, but for the most part the water was warm—probably upper 70s. This part of the Hudson is more populated than Friday’s section, and there were small hamlets dotting both shores, with church steeples visible over the rolling green hills and rock faces. The water was pretty flat here, and it was truly glorious just stroking along in the sunshine with the beautiful scenery passing by.
My feeds were going well—I did a schedule similar to Friday’s, with a few substitutions. The menu included sweetened herb tea, honeyed vanilla milk, fruit puree (banana/peach/mango), pb&j pop, graham crackers with peanut butter, and pear puree. (I didn’t swim long enough to get to the dried coconut cubes or the cookie, but I ate them on the train ride home). I used more tea feedings and less juice ones than before, just because the cold tea seemed like a lighter option on a hot day. I brew my tea from an herb blend that includes chamomile, mint, and lemon, to which I add dried ginger. I sweeten it heavily with agave nectar so that it gives me good energy—it’s as sweet as southern sweet tea, with a more interesting flavor. The fruit purees are from the “Happy Baby/Happy Tot” line of organic baby foods—I now think of that brand as “Happy Swimmer.” They come in little pouches that are shelf-stable and easy to handle in the water. All my feeds tasted good to me, and I liked having the variety—it kept things interesting as the day went along.
Several hours into the swim we met up with the Riverkeeper boat and stopped to do an in-water interview with the reporters on board. The three lead swimmers had already stopped and talked to the press a bit while waiting for me and Dave to catch up, so it was nice to check in with my friends and hear that they were having a good day on the water too. I had an extended feed and stretch-and-play-in-the-water break while Dave told reporters a little about the 8 Bridges event, and the causes it supports. (He had to tread water while doing this—getting out or holding onto the boat would have disqualified it as an official swim for him). Soon that was wrapped up, and we headed downriver once again.
By this time the wind was picking up, and the water started being much choppier. We were definitely swimming with a good current now as well—things on shore started moving by at a faster clip. The current was moving south, but the wind was blowing north and west, which eventually made for some pretty unorganized water. I found I was able to take 2 or 3 good strokes, then suddenly on the next one my recovering arm would be stopped dead by a wall of water, or my head wouldn’t clear the surface when I turned to breathe.
I worked at being patient in this section and trying out different strategies to make the going as easy as possible—I experimented with using an earlier, firmer, and more angled hand entry into the water, seeing if a steady kick would stabilize me (that seems to work for Rondi when I see her swim in chop), breathing on my left more (the chop was often hitting me from my right), and doing more of a catch-up stroke where I waited to make sure I was getting good purchase on the water before each pull. All these seemed to help a bit, and it was interesting seeing how altering things just a little bit made my swim experience feel different.
But whatever I did, this section was just plain rough swimming. My kayaker did an amazing job of keeping the kayak steady in the wind, especially with the added constraint of travelling at swimmer pace. He was also having to periodically get feeds out for me, and signal me as to what route to take—the latter job was made more difficult by the fact that there were often waves blocking my sightlines to someone even just a few feet away, so he had to continue his hand signals through several stroke cycles. But he seemed game for not only doing this, but also for finding me the fastest currents to swim in. Even though these stage swims are not really races, I think kayakers who are experienced swim escorts pride themselves on helping out their swimmers as much as possible by finding the most advantageous currents. It’s a cool and complex skill to have, and one I would like to understand better.
(In addition to all their other tasks, kayakers had to report our stroke rate to the observer on the boat every ½ hour. Mine ranged from 55 to 60 per minute during this swim, and from 56 to 59.5 during the previous stage. Kayaker humor: “Hey, they just asked me your stroke count—I told them about 2400 so far!”)
On my right I passed by West Point, which towers majestically above the river. As a high-schooler, I semi-seriously considered going there as I was casting about for a way to pay for college. I eventually decided it wasn’t for me. I still have a picture of my 17-year-old self perched on one of the campus’s scenic spots that overlooks the Hudson. It was taken during a week-long summer program I was invited to before senior year. I imagine my life would be very different now if I had made a different decision, and I waved to that road not taken as I swam by.
Soon afterthat we rounded a bend in the river and the wind started gradually calming down. I could see the finish bridge ahead, and felt a little pang of sadness that my great adventure was nearing an end. As the water flattened out I started swimming strong and hard towards the bridge, and felt a sense of great joy moving through the water as I picked up the pace. I knew at this point that I would finish, and I didn’t have anything to save myself for. I fed one last time—a quick swig of tea—then waved off my last feeding as the bridge got nearer and nearer. I went under the span after 5h35m in the river. I felt completely exuberant, and a little amazed, and the thought immediately crossed my mind that I could maybe even do a longer swim! Someday. , ,
I took my time stretching out and flipping in the water after I was finished, so much so that the captain sent a kayak out to tow me back to the boat (which had actually moved a bit upriver to pick up another swimmer who had just finished, while I had continued drifting downriver in the current). The kayak tow-in was fun—sort of like waterskiing in very slow motion. Once aboard the boat, I hugged friends and we compared our experiences on the river. I felt a little sore, and still do today, but less so than after stage 1. Mostly, I’m still just feeling so happy that I decided to try these swims, and proud that I was able to do them.
When I got home last night and was enthusing over it all to my husband, he looked at me and said “You don’t look tired at all! You’d like to go back and swim another stage wouldn’t you!” I just got a big smile on my face. One of my swim friends warned me when I was planning my season that this OW stuff could get addictive. He was right! I’m definitely hooked, and now my task to figure out what long swim I’d like to attempt next!