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.

The Stage 4 line-up

We have our biggest line up today for Stage 4 with eight swimmers coming from all over the area:
Suzanne Sataline from Brooklyn
Eli Falcon from Brooklyn
John Reagan from Slingerlands
Martin Turecky from Delmar
Mary Kavaney from Glenmont
Willie Miller from New Paltz
Rondi Davies from New York
Grace van der Byl from Solana Beach, CA

Splash time is at 9 am under the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. Swimmers will take a scenic route right past Dennings Point, Bannerman’s Island (and Castle), past the fjord-like Hudson Highlands, through the deep winding bends of the Devils Playground, past West Point and onto the Bear Mountain Bridge.

Winds will be WSW from 5 to 10 mph which will create head and crosswinds. Air temps. will be in the 90s. Swim distance is 15.0 miles.

The swim course for Stage 4

The sun came out

Devon Clifford at the completion of her first marathon swim. She took home the Scenic Hudson Stage 3 prize for her exceptional swim.

It was great to see many fresh new faces this morning at the Mid-Hudson Bridge: Devon Clifford and father Richard as Devon’s kayaker, Ricardo Grossman all the way from Mexico City, and Caitlin Rosen as volunteer.

The sun was out, there was a light breeze and we splashed quickly at 9 am. It was great to be in the water with David, reminiscent of 8 Bridges last year. He handed over Agent Orange boat duties to Lisa and John who brought up the rear of the group. Terry Laughlin also volunteered and spent a lot of time oogling over Grace’s amazing technique, which is a huge compliment coming from Terry.

We spent the first two hours  covering a pretty, narrow stretch. The river then opened up near New Hamburg with our first sighting of the Newburgh Beacon bridge eight miles in the distance. The current picked up here and we flowed past the Chelsea Yacht Club and towards the bridge. This is familiar territory for me since I swim here often on weekends, so it was extra enjoyable to swim by. The wind started gusting for the last two hours as a head wind or a cross wind from the west, and it was quite bouncy at times. My paddler Terry has a flag on the back of her kayak so I was reminded all too often that I didn’t like the direction of the wind today.

Suzie Dods approaching the Newburgh Beacon bridge

Everyone had a great swim today and we all finished well before the ebb current.

Ricardo Grossman completing Stage 3
What remains of Ricardo’s scary looking pink feeds after his five hour swim.
David and Ricardo on Launch 5
Grace and me happy to be done with Stage 3. Photo credit Greg Porteus

Wind and current

Stage 2, Kingston Rhinecliff Bridge to the Mid-Hudson Bridge, 19.8 miles, July 26, 2012,

Swimmers: Grace, Rondi, Lisa, Janet

Today started out much like yesterday: cool, grey skies and peaceful, green landscapes. We splashed under the Kingston Rhinecliff Bridge after an early morning shuttle to the start by the NYS Bridge Authority and Launch 5.

The current took a couple of hours to pick up, but we had a gentle tail wind that rolled us along past Kingston and Rhinebeck for the first few miles. I found it hard to get going, and it was only when the current picked up that my engine started to rev and I stopped feeling like a rusty old car. Today the cloudy skies were a little too somber for my liking, plus I didn’t like their threats to darken and make things more blustery. There were some beautiful long, peaceful stretches that included views of passing barges and the Esopus Meadows lighthouse.

Four hours into the swim and approaching the big bend into Poughkeepsie, adjacent to the home of Franklin Roosevelt, the tail wind and current really picked up and we were flying along. I stopped and took a big feed and then proceeded to bonk. It took a lot to summon myself back to pace and complete the final five miles. I think we all found today tough, though there was no question we weren’t going to finish. It was just a very long stage.

Today’s Scenic Hudson prize goes to Lisa Neidrauer for her fantastic swim.

Janet Harris, with Terry Laughlin as swim support, finishing Stage 2

And a big thank you to all the amazing, supportive and helpful volunteers: John, Patty, Ryan, Terry, Suzie.


The fun has begun

Stage 1 Rip Van Winkle Bridges to Kingston Rhinecliff Bridge, 18.2 miles, June 25, 2012

Swimmers: Grace, Rondi, Jaimie, Leonard, Hannah

Today was a great start to 8 Bridges 2012. They skies were cloudy and the river calm for the most part. This fits the mood of this part of the river, so when the sun did peak out it seemed wrong. Rain showers blew through before the swim, and then in the final stages when an electrical storm zipped by followed by a burst of heavy rain.  Many of the swimmers were in their final finishing stages at this point, though Jaimie Monahan had to exit the water to wait for the storm to pass.

The tide was fantastic today and had Grace, Hannah and myself swimming over four miles per hour. I found it so peaceful and thoroughly enjoyed every minute. Everyone finished! I was thrilled to see Leonard Jansen finish strongly after having a tough day with this stage last year. Now he can move onto Stage 2 for 2013. Leonard took home the Scenic Hudson Stage 1 gift, a beautiful framed photograph of Stage 1 Hudson River scenery, of course.

Leonard approaching the Kingston Rhinecliff Bridge
Leonard Larson finished with Stage 1.
Leonard finished with Stage 1

Dining on the Hudson

It’s storming in New York City this morning—I’m hoping the Stage 1 swimmers 100+ miles upstate are having better weather for the beginning of their amazing journey down the Hudson. Meanwhile, I’m making final preparations for my swim tomorrow.

It’s storming in New York City this morning—I’m hoping the Stage 1 swimmers 100+ miles upstate are having better weather for the beginning of their amazing journey down the Hudson. Meanwhile, I’m making final preparations for my swim tomorrow. Inspired by Stage 2’s route past the Culinary Institute of America, I’ve added a couple of new feeds to my menu—rice pudding, and a homemade cookies-and-milk concoction. Looking forward to a lovely day on the Hudson—the river is spectacular and inspiring in any weather!


I’m starting to get organized for my  Stage 1 swim tomorrow. I also was involved with the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim yesterday, and that required a lot of focus up until late last night. Fortunately, it went well, with a 100% completion rate.

One of my last moments of down time was at the start of the week, during my small, weekly yoga class. The instructor is very good about tailoring the practice to what the students have going on. Another classmate was also preparing for a big athletic undertaking, so Monday’s class focused on our upcoming efforts. The instructor chose the theme of the elephant, or sanyama (sp?) in Sanskrit, to help us focus on our strength.

I found the metaphor

helpful for a different reason: because elephants are known for being stubborn. For me, that trait is every bit as important as strength in a marathon swim undertaking. It’s not big muscles that keep you going several hours into a swim. It is simply

the stubborn desire to finish what you started.

The other helpful image that popped into mind relates to one of New York City’s more unusual annual activities. One night a year, the circus comes to town–and elephants get here by running through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. They trot in a line, one after another, some of them dressed up in their circus finery as they pass under the East River. I imagine it must be rather bewildering for them–from the lineup to the transit through the tunnel to their emergence in Midtown Manhattan to their parade across town to Madison Square Garden. And yet they do it, somehow trusting that everything will work out.

That’s what I’m going to try to do tomorrow–stubbornly head toward the finish, not caring that the activity is perhaps a bit unusual, and trusting that everything will work out. I’ll be thinking of elephants the entire way.