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!


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.