8 Bridges Stage 2
by, June 27th, 2012 at 03:41 PM (1521 Views)
Yesterday I swam Stage 2 of the 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim, 19.8 miles from Kingston to Poughkeepsie. It was a tough stretch out on the water, and I struggled from beginning to end, but also found some beauty and pleasure in the day.
Things started out sweetly, with an overnight upstate with 3 friends who were also doing and helping out with the swim. I had a beautiful train ride up, tracking the completion of Stage 1 on my phone while I rode alongside the river. I got a pickup at the train station, and we enjoyed an early dinner and bedtime. In the early morning three us of packed up feeds, and we all headed over to the Poughkeepsie docks, parking the car near where we would finish that afternoon and catching shuttle van provided by the NY State Bridge authority up to Rondout Creek, where we boarded our boat for a half-hour chug up to the start.
Onboard, I explained feeds to my kayaker Pat, and we discussed where I preferred to have her positioned. I applied sunscreen, then put back on some clothes over my suit, as the morning was clouded over and windy. I was glad for the cool weather, as I knew the water was on the warm side (it had been 77 the day before). The day’s four swimmers (Rondi, Grace, Lisa, and me) huddled below deck to stay out of the wind. When we reached the bridge the kayaks and paddlers unloaded, the swimmers lubed up, Launch 5 moved us directly under the bridge, and it was splash time! We jumped in, had a quick countdown, and were off.
The sky was very dark as we set out. I settled into a rhythm beside the kayak, enjoying the dramatic dark sky and the view of the bridge behind me (I could see it as I was breathing). My body felt awkward in the water, and after a bit, even before my first feed, my upper arm muscles started feeling bunchy. Hmm—maybe I wasn’t rotating enough, and was muscling my recovery too much rather than making it a more ballistic movement? I did my kicking progression a couple of times through to feel a better connection between my arms and legs, and was able to use my kick to help me rotate more, and things started feeling better.
Feeds came and went, and I watched the scenery pass by as I worked on different things in my stroke. I realized I had been lifting my head higher than usual to watch my kayaker as I breathed, so I focused on keeping one goggle in the water when I turned my head. The sun broke through the clouds from time to time, and I turned over to look now and again at the ever-changing sky. It seemed to take a while before the starting bridge receded into the distance, but I knew that the current would start out weak or nil, then picks up as the day went along before fading towards the end—the swims are timed to the tides, which are on a roughly 6-hour cycle.
At one feeding my kayaker told me she had seen a bald eagle—Hannah had seen one too the day before during her swim. Cool! I tried to enjoy the scenic surroundings as they passed by, But all the little things were bothering me—my goggles felt too tight, the wind was making it difficult to stay a comfortable distance away from the kayak, the water was on the warm side. At one point I found myself thinking to myself, “Every part of me hurts,” and I had to laugh at how not-positive self-talk I had fallen into. The sinews in my elbows and wrists began to feel overused, and I stopped a few times to stretch. I just wasn’t having one of those blissy one-with-the-water, swimming-in-the-moment days. Luckily, the conditions were pretty good all day, so the swimming itself never got too hard. (The kayaking was another matter—a stiff breeze made for some hard paddling, and I appreciated the efforts my paddler made to stay with me when the wind wanted to blow her ahead. Luckily the breeze was from the north, so it was only small swells I was swimming through.)
I began to wonder how much longer the swim would be, and considered my options—I knew I could always get on the boat if I wanted to stop, and frankly being on a boat was beginning to seem like a better deal than staying in the water. Then I thought about being on the boat, surrounded by kind people consoling me for having gotten out early, and that scenario seemed a lot less desirable. I resigned myself to finishing up the stage.
But,even in the midst of these dark moments, there were saving graces. The overcast morning had turned into a spectacular sunny afternoon, with a brilliant blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds—it really was a glorious day to be out on the river. And more importantly, I was surrounded—literally—by good people who were cheering me along. Because I was at the back of the small group of swimmers, our trailing support boat (Dave along with volunteer Terry) had been hovering around all day, and as it became obvious I was fading they began to shout encouragement at every feed. In addition to Pat, volunteer Ryan had joined in as a kayaker, so I had one to either side of me, and they were both upbeat presences as I stroked along. (Although I’m enough of a veteran by now to know that “You’re doing great!” often means the opposite, it still doesn’t hurt to hear it). A Coast Guard boat, chugging along nearby for much of the day to keep commercial traffic clear of us, or vice versa, completed the flotilla around me.
And to top it all off, I had a wonderful support swimmer for the final 4-5 miles! Terry hopped in and swam beside me, and his welcome and calming presence helped me stroke steadily along to the finish. On the final stretch, Launch 5 circled around so that the swimmers who had already finished and the volunteers aboard could add their cheers, and John hopped in to finish the last few strokes with us and give me a big hug. A little kindness when things are rough always means a lot, and I was receiving lots and lots of it. I felt really touched and buoyed by everyone’s support. I can’t say enough good things about 8 Bridges organizers and volunteers, and the lengths they go to to get swimmers through their stages.
Done! (photo by Capt. Greg Porteus)
My finishing time was 6:31, making it my longest swim to date. Earlier this year when I was talking to pwb about the possibility of doing longer swims, such as the Channel or Catalina, I remember telling him that I hadn’t yet done any swims that didn’t turn out to be basically all-fun-all-the-time, and that I was unsure both whether I wanted to, and how I would react when that situation inevitably arose. Now I know that I can keep going even when I’m having a rough day, and things aren't all sunshine and daffodils and unicorns. Whether I want to continue putting myself in situations that will likely require that—well, that’s probably a question best considered on a day when I’m a little less sore and reeling.
One final note: Yesterday’s swim gave me even more appreciation for those attempting to swim all seven stages of this event. Dave and Rondi last year, and Rondi and Grace this year, are really going after something incredibly hard and amazing. They have finished stage 3 now, and have 4 more to go. Follow their progress at the 8 Bridges blog and facebook page!