Stage 2 Kingston-Rhinecliff 198 Miles: ‘The Bitch’

By Liz Morrish

This is the one David Barra calls the ‘long-ass‘ stage – the one you really earn. Last year only four swimmers completed the stage due to the rough conditions; this year it is much calmer. A couple of swimmers from last year are giving Stage 2 another go, including Jamie Tout and Devon Clifford.  They seemed relieved at the welcome sight of still water and the sound of stirring chickadees this morning.

There is a process of warming up and greasing up before swimmers embark on Launch 5 to be transported to the stanchions of the bridge to begin the stage. The Brazilian group of swimmers, Flavio Toi, Harry Finger and Marta Izo, all use Vaseline and lanolin for both its insulating properties and to ward off chafe,

while yesterday’s lead finisher, Stephen Rouch covers himself in Butt Paste, the trade name of a popular diaper rash cream. This gives him the rather ghostly appearance of Batman’s The Joker, but it is effective.

So as the tide moved from flood to ebb, the swimmers took to the water. They must follow a narrow channel for this stage to stay in the current and the deeper water.

Both water and air temperatures were about 66 F, (17C) and this makes it difficult for the swimmers to keep warm. Having a hot sun on your back keeps body temperature up. The cold took a toll on a few swimmers yesterday. Katrin Walter of Switzerland huddled in the wheelhouse of Launch 5 soaking up the warmth before splashtime today. Yesterday she had found the conditions difficult, but she had finished, and today she was back for more, but sadly needed to come out after 90 minutes. Several others also exited the water today.

All the time, commercial traffic passes. Huge cement-carrying barges being pushed to Albany by tugboats cruise by, delicately avoiding the vulnerable swimmers. There are some lovely landmark lighthouses along the route today, and a couple of islands the kayakers must lead their swimmers around. And the most experienced of them sense the current flow and track right into it, so that our lead kayaker barely needed to paddle at some points. That’s the literal meaning of going with the flow. Up in the wheelhouse, there was much talk of Margarethe Horlyck-Romanovsky, a legendary kayaker who had an unerring sense of the river’s flow. She can’t be at the event this year, but she is much missed, much remembered.

The bridge came within reach and a fine misty drizzle descended. This didn’t help the swimmers when they exited, but we are hoping for fine weather in the Hudson Valley tomorrow.

There’s a new men’s record set by Stephen Rouch. His proud father, Stephen Senior, was there on Launch 5 to watch – as was Roy, father of the previous men’s record holder, Andrew Malinak. Stephen knocked 3.5 minutes off Andrew’s record, which Roy had also witnessed. This is testimony to the continuity and community of 8 Bridges.

Graco Marlan was next out of the water, followed by Abby Fairman who has really worked on speed this year. She was proud of her victory over John Hughes who was in next, and he was followed by Marta Izo and Flavio Toi. And happily, both Devon Clifford and Jamie Tout can claim to have conquered stage 2. Experience of completing two separate ice miles will have helped Devon deal with the cold.

The birdlife on the river is magical: herons and cormorants sit placidly on the channel marker buoys; bald eagles swoop down and hunt fish. And all the while the scenery runs from mountain to rolling, wooded hillsides. The train to Montreal salutes us hourly with its horn. 8 Bridges is very much underway.

What motivates swimmers to take part in 8 Bridges?

By Liz Morrish

It is 6.45am and swimmers, volunteers, boaters and organisers are assembling at Dutchman’s Landing, Catskill New York. Many of us haven’t met before, but it seems already as if people are gelling into their assigned roles.

This is the meaning of team work and it is the swimmers who are at the centre of this event. Everybody is here to make sure that they swim their swim. This explains why all the volunteers are here, but why did the swimmers themselves choose to participate in this particular event?

The scale of the challenge was an obvious factor, with several swimmers having done Channel swims or other marathon swims, and looking for another testing event. It is also clear that the Mighty Hudson itself is a huge part of the attraction.

“I have raced a lot in the Hudson and I have a deep affinity with the river,” wrote Mark Spratt.

Susan Kirk is in awe of the river, “Swimming in the Mighty Hudson is an amazing privilege, experience, and challenge! Sometimes she does not play nice and denies you a finish.”

“It is a unique event in the beautiful Hudson River with so many amazing swim friends!” says Kimberly Plewa.

Mina Elnaccash is lyrical about the Hudson:

“I grew up in Westchester County, near the Hudson River, and now my brothers reside in the Hudson Valley. Living in the Boston area I miss NY sometimes, so it’s a bit of a homecoming every time I visit. I have fond memories of sitting by a Hudson Line train station watching the lightning in the rainstorms traveling up and down the river between us and the city – you could always see the storm in the distance even when it was nearly 30 miles away. The river seemed so massive and intimidating then. Swimming seems to make all those points on the water a little closer together.”

Ed Riley summarizes, “it’s the gold standard for marathon swimming. it not only measures your endurance but also speed and uniquely your recovery.”

Bob Heiss probably speaks for everyone as he feels challenge, friendship, camaraderie and scenery all play a part.

“For me, swimming is a lifestyle. I love the challenge of a tough swim and the preparation and training necessary to do well. I feel part of the swimming community and have developed many close friendships through the years. Several of my friends are participating in various stages of the 8 Bridges this year, so camaraderie is a strong motivator. Stage 6 is a beautiful part of the Hudson, a scene I see daily, and I want to be a part of it. Finally, in the words of George Mallory when asked why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest, “Because it’s there.”

It is clear that considerable lustre has attached itself, with justification, to the reputations of the organisers, Rondi Davies and David Barra.

“Such an amazing event, so well organized and distinctive, Rondi and David are top quality people,” was a frequent comment.

Rondi and David’s reputations rest not only on their legendary organisational abilities, but also on their own inspirational performances in marathon swimming. Rondi delivered a time of 5:44:47 in a 2011 round-Manhattan swim, and also completed all 7 stages of 8 Bridges in 2012. David Barra has accomplished the triple crown of marathon swimming, (Catalina Channel, English Channel and Round-Manhattan swims). He completed the 20-mile Provincetown to Plymouth swim in Massachusetts and the 25-mile In Search of Memphre, a cross-border swim from Vermont (USA) to Quebec (Canada), In 2015, Barra completed a 38-mile crossing of Cayuga Lake in New York in 23 hours 26 minutes. In 2017, he was inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.

This is season 7 of 8 Bridges, and under Rondi and David’s guidance, everybody is in good hands with a prospect of a truly memorable swim.

Stage 1: All Action

By Liz Morrish

There’s a lot of preparation that has to happen before an 8 Bridges swimmer hits the water each day. Marathon swimming may be an individual sport, but it requires a whole team of safety boats – the main Launch 5, 2 inflatable RHIBs, an outrider, Agent Orange, two jet skis as well as a kayak escort for each swimmer.

It was reassuring to see the Riverkeeper team on the river. This is a non-profit organization committed to monitoring and campaigning for clean water in the Hudson River. They are fellow travelers with the 8 Bridges team, and they pulled alongside to let everybody know the water quality was excellent, despite recent heavy rains. Together with a 2.1 knot current, this was looking like ideal conditions for our 17 swimmers on Stage 1, the Rip van Winkle Bridge to the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge – a distance of 18.3 miles.

A half hourly event is the stroke count – how many strokes per minute the swimmer is taking. This is the surest indicator of the swimmer’s wellbeing. If the stroke count drops, this may be sign the swimmer is tiring or in distress. The count is logged for comparison as Rondi checks in on each swimmer via the kayaker.

The kayak escort ensures the safety of each swimmer and also, organizes the feed bottles so that feeds are given to the swimmer every half hour. Because of this, the kayaker is a central figure to the team. Some pairings of kayaker and swimmer bond to the extent they work together for swims across the USA and beyond. In other cases, swimmers will recommend their kayaker to another swimmer taking on the event the next year.

As we reached the halfway point of the stage, the chop kicked up slightly. It was enough to swamp the kayaker for the lead swimmer. This called for a swift rescue from David Barra’s Agent Orange rescue boat. The kayaker and kayak were retrieved, ferried to the main Launch 5, and the swamped kayak exchanged for a fresh one, not forgetting to transfer the swimmer’s feed bottles. The swimmer was Stephen Rouch of the USA who was way out in front, setting an amazing pace, but perhaps a bit disconcerted at his kayakers’ disappearance. Launch 5 kept pace with him until his escort could be restored.

Shortly after this, the lead passed to Graco Morlan of Mexico but he was overtaken in the last two miles by Rouch who was the first to pass under the Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge. Morlan was a close second, with Flavio Toi of Brazil coming in third. Abby Fairman  (USA) and Marta Izo (Brazil) came in next, followed by Ed Riley (USA).

Some swimmers do well in turbulent conditions, and apparently Graco Morlan is one of them. “He just loves the chop” yelled his kayaker as Morlan powered past. He and Rouch seemed to be racing head to head. Tomorrow will tell if this has depleted their energies. 8 Bridges, is, after all, a phenomenal test of powers of recovery.

First Swim, 1st Stage – Rip Van Winkle Br. to Kingston Rhinecliff Br.

Exactly a month ago I was stroking and kicking through my first ever marathon swim. I swam a whopping 18.3 miles, more than double the distance I’ve ever swum at once.

Somehow I never get to train properly for my races. Not because I can’t get serious about the training but there is just always something in the way – an injury, crazy workload (same reason I didn’t get to sit down and write this right after my swim – a month ago); limited time, money or both. 8 Bridges was no exception even though I did get to squeeze in 3 2-milers and a bunch of 20-60 min training swims. I was more prepared than for any other races I have ever done, but would it be enough to take me through 18.3-mile swim?

I picked Stage 1 for all the wrong reasons – not because of the distance and my previous experience, but because I had friends living ‘just’ an hour drive away from the starting point so I could have a place to stay. I practiced my nutrition in a 1-hour swim trying to chug down a quarter of a 20 oz bottle, not a 4-hour swim with feeds like David Barra recommended.

But here is a good and bad thing about open water swims – ready or not, but the daycomes when you better take your clothes off and jump in the water and do the best you can. And so I did, we all did. Some swimmers starting their 7-day journey down to Verrazao Bridge, some, like me, doing their longest ever race; all determined and ready to push our limits.
Jump in, fix your goggles, find the turquoise kayak. 10,9,8,7… GO!!!

8Bridges start

The next 30 minutes I was debating with myself if I should stop and tell Luis that I want him slightly behind, not in front of me – before this swim I never knew where I prefer my kayak to be. Now I know. I wouldn’t have to pick my head up to check where the boat is if I don’t see it when I breathe, but I could also see what the paddler is doing, see his face and expressions every time I turn. There was nothing bad in stopping for 30 seconds to communicate that to him.

For the first couple of miles I was enjoying seaweed all around me. I would pick it up with my fingers and try to play with, laughing (bubbling) when it would get on my head or stuck on my nose. There was so much seaweed!
I was trying to tell myself jokes but somehow I could barely remember any. I would definitely need to read more jokes before next race. I was trying to do math in my head but there was not much to do – I counted how long I would be swimming by the time I finish my first feed – 2.5 hours; second – 4.5; third – I didn’t want to think beyond that point. The stage record was 4 hours 30 minutes, I knew it would take longer for me but a girl can hope, right?

First feed came, another one, some more – first bottle done. I mixed something different into the second one. Oh how yummy it was!!! Never knew I would be drooling over my feed in the middle of the Hudson! Worth to pick up the pace until the next feed, like if it would come sooner if I swam faster… ☺

My left shoulder started hurting after the 1/3 of the distance. I hoped it’s just soreness and not an old injury and miraculously it stopped aching after another two hours of swimming. My shoulder probably knew I need it for a little longer.

I tried to look around as much as I could, saw some trees and houses on the shore. A lighthouse, other swimmers and kayakers passing by. I had wished I could be in a kayak or one of the support boats so I can see all the beauty of this swim. I would try to enjoy every stroke and the view coming with it for a bit and than I would put my mind back in the water, pick up the pace and just swim trying to get the Kingston Rhinecliff bridge to come sooner.

8bridges - swim

I knew from reading past blog posts that me seeing the bridge didn’t mean I’m close. But when Luis told me we are 2/3 way there I asked myself ‘What??!?!!’ I knew it was too good to be true but I couldn’t hide my excitement. Of course the current wouldn’t allow it to be that easy. Only after another 2-3 hours of swimming, dealing with back pain (was good to learn later that it is normal to experience pain in a lower back on longer swims) I got in the shade of the bridge, swam all the way to the south end of it and rolled into a ball to stretch my back. How good that felt, finally!

When I was signing up for this race I had no idea how much it is going to mean to me. The burning feeling inside, the sense of accomplishment – it feels like the door opened into something wonderful and new. As if I was able to do this is there really something I can’t do?!?? Swimming the last mile, I thought, “Why do I do this in the first place? It’s hard, painful sometimes and it takes so much time out of our precious lives. Why can’t I be like my friends spending all day in front of the screen and playing video games instead?” A couple of days later, after all the feelings settled down I knew the answer. Because without water, without what I do, I wouldn’t be fully living.

Huge THANK YOU to Rondi, David and the rest of the 8Bridges crew, you did terrific job organizing this event, and I really hope you’ll do many many more!
Thank you to my amazing kayaker Luis for handing me feeds, water and keeping my spirits high. I don’t know if you saw me smiling while I was swimming but here and there, for a great part of the distance, I was 🙂
Thank you to my amazing boyfriend for always supporting me no matter what kind of crazy things I do.
Thank you to all my swimming students for your stories, inspiration and helping me to make this happen.
It was my first real marathon swim and I know there will be many more to come.

Through the Eyes of a Kayaker

Charts, weather reports, supplies, radio, … check, check, check, check … and after all that, sometimes it just goes out the window … or maybe it went down the river; wherever it went I’m trying to pull it back together.

The swimmer has a lot going on below the water. I can’t even imagine or pretend to know. But I’ve seen the smiles, tears, screams, wild emotions, rejoicing … you name it. That’s the swimmers’ world and they are an amazing bunch of people.

As Erica’s kayaker [and significant other], there’s also a lot going on above the water. Before the event, I’m watching the weather, calculating tides/currents, figuring out a schedule for the days ahead, checking the course for the best path, going over feeds, checking the schedule to make sure she’s where she needs to be, etc. I try to keep Erica focused on the swim and deal with all the logistics. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s the goal 😉

Once the swim starts, I’m keeping her on course, providing the feeds, monitoring her condition and stroke count, keeping my ears on the radio and steering around whatever needs to be steered around (small and big). When needed, I try to throw out some words of encouragement. It doesn’t always get received as I hoped, but I hope she knows. We have a saying: “What happens on the water, stays on the water.” Except for the good stuff … we take that with us!  In the end, we keep a good attitude and have fun.

Oh, and then there are the sights!! I try to snap a picture when I can so Erica can see all the cool things she swam past. And the Hudson does not disappoint. It is a very scenic river to travel down.

The 8 Bridges event is really amazing and well organized, even for kayakers. During the event, the safety boats are in communication with the kayakers and any and all boats in the area keeping everyone safe. It’s kind of fun to listen to the chatter as a large tug goes by. At least one will ask about the event and the reactions are priceless.

Dave and Rondi are great, and everyone is so down to earth, friendly, and warm. I just can’t say enough about how well organized this event is.  The fact that they have a core set of kayakers that return every year says a lot! It’s also great for the swimmers to know that they are getting linked up with folks that know what they are doing. Keep doing an amazing job Dave and Rondi! We’ll be back for more!!

Ps: Erica likes any swim that ends with a beer and a chocolate chip cookie …. Hey, make that an order for two!

All 8 Bridges

This is the last thing I’ll say about this for now: here is my story. I set out on an adventure last week. I swam a lot, learned a lot, laughed a lot, and in the end accomplished what I set out to do. There is much to tell. Some of it I’ll write now, some of it I’ll tell you in person, and some of it you’ll never hear.

Stage 1

I said that I wouldn’t race, told myself for months to pace. But that tail wind pushing us downriver felt so nice. There aren’t many distractions up north and I was feeling strong. Having Rondi and John pacing next to me made me feel stronger. They were my training companions two years ago, so it felt like old times trying to keep up with them, pushing myself to match their speed.

Stage 2

Somewhere around the five hour mark, my kayaker Darian is told by Launch 5 captain Greg that if I swim the next 2.5 miles in 25 minutes, I’ll have Grace’s record. An audible laugh was my first response, but then I remember the current and some mental math I’d been doing earlier. If I swam fast, that might work! So I swam fast. At the bridge, out of breath, I’m told I got the record. The men’s record, they mean. I was 25 minutes behind Grace’s. That is when I learn that Greg may not be a reliable source for when to sprint. No more record chasing for me. Greg’s comment becomes a great source of entertainment for me for the remainder of the week.

After I finish, we spot Penrose fighting the flood tide along the Poughkeepsie waterfront. The current is against him, but he’s still going for it, sneaking along shore in front of us. I want a closer look, so put my suit back on and tell Harris to get off the paddle board. Watching James finish his swim from right alongside is great. My arms ache as I paddle back to the dock.

Stage 3

The snooze button gets hit again because I’m feeling too nauseous to sit up. Food will fix it, I think, but it doesn’t. Driving to the train station, I’m doing my best to avoid defiling my father’s steering wheel. He’s turned the air off in the car, I snap at him, turn it back on, and the sick feeling recedes. On the train, my sandals break.

My stomach feels no better swimming. My feeds go down and come right back up. My mouth feels dry despite both the amount of water I’m drinking and the fact that I’m swimming in water. It feels like my stomach has shut down, nothing is passing through. And strangely, I’m cold. I shouldn’t be cold.

We stop at the New Hamburgh Yacht Club, slightly off course, to chat briefly with Marylou, Ken, and Diane. It has been years since I’ve seen them. Treading against the current off the end of the dock, I see Rufus at the top of the ramp. He’s whimpering. Rufus always got nervous when I swam there. He used to doggie paddle out behind me when I left shore, and then turn back when I got too far.

Dave paddles over and asks how I’m doing. Something isn’t right, I tell him, but whatever it is, the answer is just there on the other side of that bridge.

Stage 4

The scenery is gorgeous. This is the closest I’ve come to Bannerman’s Island. Seeing Breakneck and Storm King loom up ahead is awesome. Watching them fly by is better. I made the rookie mistake of getting sunscreen in my goggles, so I stop often to take them off and enjoy my surroundings.

Somewhere in those surroundings I find my friend Emily. She is waiting on Little Stony Point. Emily is the one who put me in touch with Darian. She’s come up from the Upper East Side with Nick to watch us go by. We exchange a few words, but don’t stay long.

Stage 5

We pass Indian Point and the water gets predictably warmer. It also feels smoother somehow, and the waves are less irritating. I find a rhythm and pick up my pace. Rondi is up ahead pacing the lead swimmer. I steal her as I pass by, I’m now the lead swimmer. I seem to have found my power in the cooling water of a nuclear power plant.

We pass another power plant, this one far off on the west shore. It marks the halfway point, so I mentally await the symbolic moment when I’m directly in front of it. Watching the smokestacks move in front of the buildings behind takes ages. I’ll never reach halfway.

John jumps in tells me he has bad news. I’ll have to kick, he says, the tide might be turning soon. We pound our way into the waves together. His motions make him look like a porpoise, I think to myself. He tells me a little later that Rondi says once we reach the lighthouse we only have fifteen minutes farther to swim. The lighthouse approaches very slowly.

An hour or so later, I’m still between the lighthouse and the bridge. I’ve been lying to myself for an unknown period of time, only fifteen more, thirty more minutes. I look at the bridge. I’m ready to be done with this. Sure, I want to be under the bridge, but I want to be done. I look up again, and the bridge is a hair closer. If it were farther, if I were moving backwards, I would be done. But it isn’t, so I keep swimming.

The bridge doesn’t grow, but I can tell by the positions of the stanchions when I breathe that I’m still making progresss. Let’s end this, is the nicest thing I’ve said to the bridge for hours. That bridge is one of the few things to ever see me get angry. I sprint the last few hundred yards and it takes ages. I’ve been sprinting since the lighthouse.

7:30, I think when I get on the boat. Any longer and the tide would have changed I’d never have made it. 9:22, Rondi tells me. No way. I check the time of day. No way. I check the position of the sun. Finally it sinks in, the current has been flooding for nearly two hours, but I never admitted it to myself. Where did the time go?

Stage 6

Oh, this again? and I stop after ten strokes. The waves feel exactly like they did a few hours ago when I arrived at this bridge. I put my face back in and swim because I want to leave put the Tappan Zee far behind me. That bridge and I aren’t friends.

The scenery becomes familiar again. I watch the Palisades slide by on one side, and the Yonkers and Bronx rise on the other. Then there is the Henry Hudson Bridge over Spuyten Duyvil. I count down the blocks and watch the GW grow ahead.

Stage 7

The last time I swam this whole stretch of river she was next to me, and she’s here again. Christina paddles to my left, Darian to my right. She’s been kayaking for swimmers exactly as long as I have been swimming for kayakers, Christina was there when I first swam in the Hudson. I’m glad she’s here today, for many reasons.

Counting down the cross streets. Suddenly we’re at North Cove, the end of MIMS. Then we’re past it. I look up and hear a bell. I stop. There’s a green bell buoy ringing its carillon behind me, a packed Liberty Island ferry up ahead, and Statue off to my right. Caitlin has made her way into our company on board a small RIB. It feels fitting that she is here too.

With every breath I see a new tug and barge, or large ferry, or freighter. This harbor is busy. The Narrows Bridge is playing along with our little game. It is getting bigger, just like it is supposed to. We’re heading into waves two to three feet high, but I don’t care. The bridge is getting bigger!

Ed told me earlier in the week that the best moment in the swim is when you can see the bridge up ahead just by turning to the side to breathe. I can do that now. We’re close. Jumping in that morning was the most nervous I’d been on during this adventure; so close, but still with six hours of swimming to go. But now there’s nothing in my way now. Not storms, nor injury, nor boats, nor current. There’s nothing stopping me.

Wind SSW

While we all rested on Sunday, the wind was hard at work. We had four days of favorable weather during  the first half of 8 Bridges. On the fifth, as we arrived in the morning refreshed, ready to take on The Beast, a south wind was blowing.

Marathon swimmers rely on their training, kayakers, volunteers, and organizers, but they also rely on luck. Weather and currents can be forecasted and predicted, but not changed. Waiting in the narrow fjord beneath the Bear Mountain Bridge, the sky overhead was blue, but the water below was no longer flat. There was nothing else to do but jump in and hope for the best.

As four solo swimmers and a relay made their way downstream, the day looked promising. The current was running fast early in the course, spirits were high. As the river widened though, the wind was felt. It came in the form of short, choppy, irregular waves, head on. The kind of waves you look at from a boat and think nothing of, but as a swimmer you curse. These waves break your rhythm, and with it your spirits. Gulps of water come as frequently as gulps of air. Getting into the zone is difficult, and staying there is impossible.

As the day went on, the waves lengthened out into a more manageable, regular chop, something we could deal with. But during that time, another damage was being dealt by the wind, something more sinister than discomfit and a slight queasy feeling. The wind was slowing our current on the day we needed it the most. With the river at its widest during Stage 5, finding and using the ebb is critical in reaching the Tappan Zee before the flood.

By time the tide turned, no one was at the bridge. The waves were bigger now, and the lack of forward progress was demoralizing. Lighthouses did not fly by; bridges did not grow larger over time. An hour and forty-two minutes after the flood started, Andrew reached the Bridge. Shortly thereafter, the flood picked up to over two knots and halted the relay only six hundred yards from the finish. No one else made it.

Stage 6, another difficult day began where the last had left off. The same wind was blowing from the south as eleven swimmers splashed, and the ebb was again slow. Four finished before the tide turned, but all fought the same rough conditions for five to six hours. From the bow we watched our friends pushed backwards from the George Washington. It was sad to see so many not finish, especially when everyone gave a valiant effort.

But such is the sport we choose. For a few this event was the goal, but for most it was a part of something larger. For one swimmer who is training for the Ederle Swim, her mood was somewhat lightened to hear that her Stage 6 swim had been tougher than Ederle despite not finishing. Many other swam longer than planned, a feat in itself regardless of outcome.

And then the party afterwards. Sun beaten and weary, we pulled into Inwood. Swimmers, volunteers, kayakers, family, and friends mingled into the evening on the deck of La Marina. Sharing stories of the first six days, making plans for the future. The sunset across the Hudson couldn’t brighten the atmosphere more, though it tried. Fatigue waited patiently at the curb while swimmers reveled in the glory of one another.

Key to success

It is Sunday in the Hudson Valley and the River is quiet. No marathons are being attempted here today, despite the gorgeous summer weather. Things pick back up again tomorrow, today is a much needed rest from the past four days of constant motion.

With the first 66 miles complete, this is on track to be the most successful year of 8 Bridges by many measures. In the first four stages, twenty-two swimmers have started, and all have finished what they set out to do: Mo has completed two consecutive legs, Heather and Ed four, James and Andrew still making progress to seven. Records have been broken in every stage; Dave Farrell set the course record for Stage 4 yesterday on his longest swim to date. The weather has been amazing with nothing more than a gentle tail-wind and some light morning showers to note. The volunteers have been superb, a complex dance of kayaks, patrol boats, and jet skis getting it just right. Success, from any angle.

Rondi and Dave have not just created an event for us to swim. They have created an event that they want to swim. In the past they both have, of course, swum the event and therefore know intimately each leg of the swim and what is needed to complete all seven. But it has become very apparent in the past four days: they still want to swim this event.

From early in the morning, Dave can be found preparing the support craft while Rondi is organizing a stream of kayakers, swimmers, and crew. Through the first hour of each stage, the two can be found hard at work. But once things calm down and the swim is underway, both have been unable to stay out of the water. Each day Rondi has hands off her radio, watch, and clipboard to an able volunteer so she can pace with the lead swimmer for an hour or so. Meanwhile, Dave trades in the helm of Agent Orange for a pair of goggles and hops in as well.

And it isn’t just the two of them that want to be in the water. Numerous support crew have been in and out water during the first four stages, pacing swimmers, escorting by paddleboard, and offering eye-level encouragement. They all want to swim. And that is probably what makes this such a successful event. The people running 8 Bridges can, have, and want to be swimming the event. That’s a good sign.

From a swimmer’s perspective, it is wonderful knowing that the crew cares so much about swimming that they can’t not do it. That all tasks are so under control that an hour swim is possible and there are no frantic last minute emergencies is a sign of a well-organized swim. Seeing Dave or Rondi swim up next to you, seeing that they are willing to literally put themselves in your place, means that you are in a good place. It is very reassuring.

No one should be surprised it has been so successful thus far.

Looking forward to a successful Stages 5, 6, and 7.

Jumping in to Stage 1

At 7:20 this morning, an hour before the start, we finished loading swimmers and kayaks onto Launch 5. After introductions, a safety talk, and a briefing on the rules, we left the Catskill dock and motored up to the Rip Van Winkle. As the flood tide slowly went slack, the swimmers slathered up with creams, screens, and lotions. One by one, the kayaks dropped into the still water of the Hudson waiting for us in the shadow of the bridge.

The four swimmers of Stage 1 were all about to set out on at least four consecutive days of marathon swims. Ed Riley of New York, NY and Heather Camargo of Hollywood, FL will swim the first four stages, with James Penrose from London, England and Andrew Malinak from Seattle, WA continuing on with all seven.

One marathon swim is hard enough, but multiple back-to-back swims add many new levels to the challenge. Here is what the swimmers are thinking about the swim in the hour before they jump in:

Why are you doing this?

Heather: is a frequent participant in her local Key West Marathon Swim. Her daughter got the opportunity to play at Carnegie Hall this June, so Heather is missing the annual Florida tradition. Looking for a bit of adventure up north, she found 8 Bridges. She tried signing up for one or two stages, but just couldn’t stop herself from signing up for four.

Andrew: has been thinking about swimming the length of the Hudson for longer than 8 Bridges has existed. He finally got around to scheduling the two weeks needed, and is very excited to return to his hometown (Fishkill) to swim in a lot of familiar water. This is a great opportunity to spend time with an amazing group of people in a gorgeous setting.

James: heard about 8 Bridges last summer when he met Dave Barra at MIMS and fell in love with the idea. He is looking to use this week as training for some other big, difficult swims he has in his sights, and hopes to come out a stronger, tougher marathon swimmer.

What have you done differently to train for this swim compared to other one-off marathon swims?

Ed: has taken the “swim all the time” approach to training. A typical week consists of training sessions once every twelve hours (5am and 5pm) six days per week. He focused on interval training during the morning session and distance during the evening, with longer swims on Saturday. He’s been totaling forty to fifty thousand yards per week.

Heather: sought advice from the event organizers and added some long back-to-back training swims to her routine. She has also been working to strengthen her shoulders by using paddles and weight training.

Andrew: has also been doing consecutive long swims on weekends to prepare himself. Accomplishing this meant altering his training location from the preferred cold water of the Puget Sound to warmer lakes. He has also been making weekly visits to a physical therapist, hoping to avoid shoulder pain early on in the swim.

What part of this swim is most daunting? What will you be working on as you swim?

Heather: lists pacing as a concern. Swimmers are taught to swim fast, but added speed depletes the body and increases the risk of injury. This swim is about maintaining a consistent, comfortable pace and not overdoing it.

James: is hoping to make it through all seven stages honourably. Treading water at the starting line, the path downriver looks very, very long.

Ed: sounds worried about the start of day two. Jumping in after day one, well he is expecting “a bit of an ouch.” But, he reminds us, no one wants to see a grown man cry. I suppose that’s why we all wear goggles, to hold the tears in.

Three, two, one…8 Bridges has begun!


Well, its nearly October. I saw a few leaves drop today… granted it was quite windy, but days are getting shorter; mornings are cooler; apples abundant and I am back to swimming mostly indoors.

We (Rondi and I) are already deep into the planning of the third annual 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim which will take place from June 15 – 22.  In addition to 8 Bridges, we will be hosting a couple of other swims in the Mid-Hudson: The 2 Bridges Swim Under the Walkway 5k and 2.5k and Bannerman’s Island Return, a 10k tour of perhaps the most scenic stretch of the Hudson River…. dates TBD.