The Journey – Final Thoughts

I have been trying to figure out what I would write to summarize all that I have felt over the last week and how to describe the experience.  I have come to the conclusion that I do not think I could ever find the exact words to convey just what I am feeling.  The journey itself, moving down the river with a fun, supportive, responsible, driven crew of people, far exceeded my expectations.  Karen Throsby did an excellent job in trying to describe the 8 bridges operation in all its logistical complexity, in her blog: Metaphors.  So much goes into each and every day that it is a wonder we were able to ship-off each day on time…but we did.  How?  Well, first, I think we need to go back to the beginning.  This swim started as a thought by David Barra and was carried to fruition with the help of Rondi Davies.  After testing the waters themselves, the event evolved into a well-oiled machine.

Rondi and David  Rondi Davies & David Barra

I believe these two, alone, and what they created, is what makes this event special to it’s core.  They have felt the water, they have swam through each stage, they understand – mentally and physically – what is involved and what each swimmer goes through.  They are there, each day, on the water, going through each stage with the swimmers and their crew. They have given all of us in the open water swimming community, an opportunity to chase our dreams.  For some, it is tackling one stage, for others it is getting through multiple stages, and most have far deeper reasons for attempting any of the stages.

For me,  I cannot fully explain the “why” but I will say that this journey has changed me.  It has taught me that my mind is stronger than I thought and while my emotions still remained soft, physically, I fought harder than I believed I could have and won those fights.  You learn a lot about yourself as you spend hours upon hours swimming.  You also learn a lot about others.  I learned that not everyone is out for themselves, and on this river, in this event, no one is.  I learned that there were people that genuinely wanted to see me thrive, grow and achieve – and when I though I was not strong enough, I learned that I had those that knew I was and reminded me during my most difficult moments.

I can close my eyes and remember the moments down the river.  All of it.  The nervous times, the cold times, the relaxed times.  I can see smiles, hear voices of those that cheered me on and feel the embraces of those who hugged me when I finished or before I Started.  I can hear Margrethe asking me if I was warm during my feeds–being sure to keep the word cold out of the question.  I can see John Humenik and Janet Harris after I finished stage 4 standing on the boat with big smiles on their faces…as happy for me as anyone could be.

I also learned that strong bonds can be fortified in a very short amount of time and last forever.  Swimming is NOT an individual sport.  The kayakers, the boat crew, the other swimmers, we are all a team and any weak link of that team can damage a swim no matter how hard the other parts are working.   For this swim, I remember all of the crew that came and went, all of the kayakers – not just my own because everyone was helping everyone.  We cheered for one another, we sat silent with one another, we cried if needed.

The week-long swim journey down the Hudson River was THE MOST physically, mentally and emotionally challenging event I have ever done and I tried to appreciate every minute of it.  Each day brought with it a new challenge and a lesson in just have far the mind and body can adjust when pushed.
Every day, the best part of the swim was feeling the shadow of the bridge on my back and knowing I had completed another stage.  With each completion came a greater anxiety leading up to the next one.  Day after day, the anxiety-relief-anxiety cycle played out.  For the last stage, Andrew Malinak,  was there and swam with me under the Verrazano Bridge.  I still cannot describe my emotions during that time but, as I made my way onto the boat and Rondi Davies was there to congratulate me with a big hug, I remember a wave of relief finally settling over me.
I never cry during or after swims but I did after stage 4.  I’m not sure why.  As Rondi and I sat on the bow of the boat, she looked at me and said, “you must feel so good right now,” and with that I started to speak and just cried.  I told her I didn’t know why I was crying but she understood why.  It was the stress of the event, the overwhelming nature of what we, the 7-stagers, were tackling, the constant movement of it…even when we were back at the hotel and sleeping we were moving forward.
The river, the event, changed me.  My swim family has grown and I still miss every one of them.  Andrew and I had some ideas of how we could make living on the river with group work – put in a research grant- yeah-we would put in for a research grant about something or other and then we could move around the river together as a team…and see each other every day…and work…and play but…life doesn’t work that way and reality hits hard.
David Barra and I didn’t really get a chance to speak much on the river.  He was operating agent orange and spent most day’s with Mo Siegel.  Before I left though, we hugged.  I started to cry again – what was wrong with me?  He told me I had made them all proud.  This moment was there with swimming with Rondi through the harbor – that was another great moment for me – only crying could express my appreciation for him saying that.
Karen, in her blog, spoke about the “next big swims.”  For me, I have to prepare for the swim around Manhattan on August 1st.  I’m nervous as hell for that of course but I will have Margrethe beside me kayaking and I know she will steer me in the right direction.  I also have been thinking of another swim for 1 1/2 years now.  It will be a swim that I want to do, that I think I can do but with a good crew and sound advice from those who know water well.  If all goes well, it will happen next spring.  For now, I am going to allow myself some more time to reflect on the amazing journey that just took place and the amazing people I met along the way.

Stage 7 – 18.1 Miles

The Day of Fierce Determination

Nerves.  I was a bundle of nerves.  Hell, I was full on terrified for this one.  I calculated that I would have about 12 feedings until the end.  This would be important.  Andrew and I spoke about the cold.  For him, he says he knows he has about 3 more hours after the shivers set in before his body really starts to react.  I had no time to test this for myself so I just took his calculation.  I figured if I got to my 6th half hour feeding with no shivers, I would have 3 hours to make it to the finish with shivers.

The beauty of this stage was that the original 6 of us 7 stagers and the kiwi team, Katrina Price, & heather Osborne, were the only ones doing this stage.  We started together and we were all going to finish together – just us.  One piece of terrible news was that Anna DeLozier was much worse, throwing up and very sick.  She would not be joining us for the last stage.  This was extremely upsetting to me.  We had made it down the river together, she was a strong swimmer and these stages did not phase her beyond the normal aches and pains one would expect to experience.  She would have done stage 7 and finished strong.  We all knew that.  It was not the river that took her down but illness.  My heart sank for her and my spirits were low for myself.

King_stage 7 beforeStage 7 BridgetteStage 7 JimKaren Stage 7  Mo - Stage 7  Katrina and Heather Anna

(Me, Bridgette, Jim, Karen, Mo, Heather & Katrina, Anna)

The other swimmers started a half hour ahead of me.  Rondi and I sat quietly at the stern of the boat.  She would look at me and smile every once in awhile and tell me it was going to be fine.  She warned about the temperature drop to 65 degrees in the Battery.  I asked her how long I had to swim once in the Battery. She told me about 2 hours, maybe less.  I thought, “ok, if the cold crept in and settled then I would have 2 hours of shivers and an hour extra if conditions were bad.”  Conditions were beautiful though.  The water was calm, the sun was out.  Rondi told me she was going to get in if it was ok with me.  I told her, “absolutely,” and that I would love for her to swim under the bridge with me if I made it that far.  With one more push in of my goggles to my face by Rondi and a hearty hug, she told me it was time to jump in.  This was the most scared I had been all week.  It was the moment of truth.

I jumped in and Margrethe was there and ready for me.  We went down the river together.  It was nice and calm and if you could pet her and say, “nice river. Be good for me today.”  I was tense in the beginning.  My first feed took for-ev-er.  I made peace with myself that this was how the day was going to go. It was going to crawl.  I flew yesterday…today the river wanted to make me work.  Maybe she wasn’t ready to see us all go after all.

Around an hour and a half into my swim I didn’t think I would finish.  I was using the mental exercises that Karen Throsby, a fellow 7-stager had taught me.  Warm, warm, I am warm.  If I’m not warm then I say, “I’m not as warm as I’d like to be,” but never put the word “cold” in the mind.  Remove it completely.  Karen is a seasoned open water swimmer…I was going to listen to her.  By two hours Rondi jumped in.  Ahhh…I got a boost and I didn’t feel cold. The top of the water was warm but the underneath was cold.  I reminded myself that the sun was shining, Rondi and I were swimming and Manhattan was next to us.

King Paced by Rondi Davies_Stage 7

Probably my proudest moment: Margrethe Kayaking as Rondi Paces me (Rondi in Green cap, me in yellow) – Feeling loved, & supported

At some point Rondi drifted back onto the boat and boat traffic seemed to really pick up.  Things were getting sloppy.  I saw the statue of liberty and she look beautiful.   I knew I had about 5 miles to go.  We passes ferry boats, we passes big tankers, we passes tug boats pushing the big boats.  Every boat seemed to be out in the harbor today and we were little fish in a very big river. As I worked through the wave trying to find my rhythm, a green cap appeared.  It was Andrew Malinak!  I stopped for a feed, looked at the bridge and asked if he was going to swim under the bridge with me.  He told me he would stay until I told him to leave.  I wanted him to stay.   I wanted him to bring me under the bridge.  We swam sloppy and crazy the rest of the way to the bridge.  Feeling the shadow of the bridge on my back felt good.  I hugged Margrethe and thanked her for everything–for getting me down the river safely, for keeping me calm and taking control.  We did it together.  Without her, I would not have made it.  I hugged Andrew–a hearty hug that was supposed to say, “thank you, I now know that feeling.”  We got on the boat and there was Rondi with a big smile on her face.  She hugged me and it was at that moment that I felt the journey was over.  It had been another beautiful day on the river.  We all made it.  Mo Siegel swam 120 miles in 8 days, Bridgette Hobart, Karen Throsby -swam 120 miles in 7 days – James Braddock, Katrina Price and Heather Osborne – we all did it.  We boarded the boat together 7 days prior and unloaded our stuff for the last time today.  Anna was missed.  I think we all felt it-not quite complete.  She would have finished and finished strong.

Andrew & I swimming crazy sloppy to the bridge Andrew and I on boatMargrethe and I on boat

Left: Andrew and I swimming crazy to bridge (another proud moment);

Right: Andrew Brought me to the finish where it all started one year ago (we hugged in the water and I cried – I couldn’t help it)

Bottom: My better half – Margrethe at the finish of Stage 7

As Andrew and I sat on the bow of the boat, he told me I had the look.  The look I saw on his face at the end of his completion of 7 stages almost one year ago.  I had mixed emotions.  I was happy to have completed all the stages but sad the journey was over.  As we pulled up to the dock my family was waiting. There were hugs, good-byes, and congratulations all around.  As I walked off the dock I looked back one last time at the new family I had gained over the past week.  I knew I would see each of them again at some point.  With a lump in my throat, we headed home.

Stage 6 – 15.7 Miles

The Day of Controlled Chaos

When I walked into my friend’s apartment, after stage 5, I looked like I had been beaten with a baseball bat (or at least that is how I felt).  Janine was swimming Stage 6 but immediately she brought me in, fed me, made me take a shower (god I needed it) and gave me two advil PMs.  With both shoulders icing, I fell asleep.  It was the first time I slept through the night all week.  I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to go.  We were catching a train that would get us to the meeting place a good 15 minutes before we needed to be there.  Things were good, but then…

We got to the start and Launch 5 was pulling away.  For a moment I panicked.  I thought that maybe I could do a runner and jump onto the boat like they do in the movies; however, this plan would have never worked since the boat was taller than the dock.  I would have ended up smacking into the side of the boat and falling into the water.  I waited to hear plan B.  We were to get on the zodiac (another support boat).  As we sat on the zodiac, me huddled on the floor, I finally noticed the weather and felt the rocking of the boat.  The day look ominous…a day when you look at the water and it looks creepy.  The water was sloppy, it seemed to be moving us in all directions.  Just when I thought things could not get better, I felt little pelts of rain on my face…awesome.

Stage 6 - Zodiac

Zodiac Ride here we go with Hannah and Janine

The zodiac made it’s way down the river a bit to the start and we quickly docked to do some fancy kayak maneuvering onto and off of boats.  By the time we met up with Launch 5 I was feeling sick.  I turned to my right to make sure I had space in case I needed to throw up over the side.  I thought we were going to board launch 5 but, no sooner did they give Margrethe her kayak skirt, we were untied and sped away.  I thought about doing another runner but again, I would have just hit the side of the boat and bounce off into the water (the zodiac sits much lower).  I looked to Hannah who was trying to be encouraging by saying, “look at the sun shining over New York,” and I said to her, “please ask them if we can get on the boat.”  The next go around, we boarded launch 5.  I was full-on sea sick and Anna was NOT doing well either.

Stage 6 Before Ominous before the start of Stage 6

Before the start - Stage 6 Getting ready and waiting

After a flurry of activity and a great deal of excited chatter on the radios, we jumped in, Rondi gave the count down and off we went.  I love big rolling chop and we had a tailwind with us!  Once I got comfortable and settled into my stroke Margrethe and I were surfing the waves and it felt good.  The sun came out and I felt that push down the river.  Maybe the river finally wanted to play nice, or maybe she wanted to spit us out…whatever the reason I didn’t care.

We had made it out of the controlled chaos, that was base camp at the Tappan Zee Bridge, to the George Washington Bridge in record time.  Everyone was smiles with the exception of Anna who finished the stage in amazing time but who was approaching the seriously ill stage.

Stage 6 - end   Me after stage 6Stage 5 - Kayak crew

Kayak crew enjoying some down time (Alix, Steve, Michael & Luis)

The day started out dark and chaotic with lots of s#its and Fu*ks but ended with hugs and pats on the backs.  Everyone celebrated with dinner at the dock.  I was happy to see my family and friend who made the journey into the city.  I was happy they got to meet my, now, extended swimming family– but the twitch in my stomach was not quite gone.  We had one more stage to complete. Stage 7 was one I had been dreading.  The warm spots down the river were going to come to an end.  I needed to get mentally prepared for the cold and physically prepared for a 6 hour swim.  I was tired.  I was nervous but I was going to fight for this one.  I already knew what this last stage would be called if I actually made it this far – Stage 7 was going to be the day of fierce determination.

Stage 5 – 19.8 Miles

The Day of Buoyant Optimism

I had been dreading this stage from the moment I signed up for 8 Bridges.  I knew it was called “the beast” and I knew it had taken down many strong swimmers before me.  I was nervous for this fight.  When we got to  the marina things moved pretty fast and we were on our way to the bear mountain  bridge.  The sun came out, conditions seemed good.  I was still terrified.  Until I got in the water, felt it and started swimming, I was not going to be able to relax.

Serious Stage 6 Readying myself with Margrethe

It was time to jump in and I remember thinking, “good-bye boat,  good-bye crew  members.  I can’t wait to see you soon.” But I had no idea what soon meant.  Good conditions, 7 hours?  Bad conditions 8 or 9?

Anna and I jumping off launch 5 to tackle the beast Anna DeLozier and I jumping off the bow

When I got in and started to swim, the river was smooth.  It felt good and the temperature was lovely.  We hit chop around the two hour mark I think.  It was not terrible chop and I was so happy that everything else was going well that I didn’t even care.  One thing I will say was that I was tired.  I remember thinking, my shoulders are just going to unscrew from my body.  The week was catching up to me.  I was tired, achy and the fear of this stage had taken some of my energy.

Around 3 hours into the swim I got a shooting pain  from my elbow down the back of my arm.  This could not continue.  At the next feed I stretched  it and told Margrethe I was tired. She told me I was doing great and away we went.  We passed Yuta on the way and after a cheer and hello we continued on.  Then we caught up to John and said some “hellos” to him and Alex.  After that, Margrethe and I were alone until….ta-dah…

Sending warm feeds Stage 5 - hurt

Team effort: Rondi handing Buddy Porteus my warmed feed and Buddy giving it to                                           Margrethe all done smoothly while I swam on.

Andrew came up along side of me and was paddling next to me.  Like magic he knew just when to get there.  The chop picked  up and I was losing my battle with it.  This stage needed to end.  I stopped for a feed and told Andrew that  I just wanted  to jump on  the board with him.  I thought, “yeah.  We could paddle around  together.  Check on everyone.  Talk about stupid stuff and laugh and my shoulders wouldn’t hurt.”  But as soon as I told Andrew my idea of jumping on that board, he said that was  his cue to leave.  He knew all too well how great that temptation was from my point of view.

Andrew to the Rescue Andrew to the rescue

Once Andrew left we made our way around a turn where we could finally see the bridge.   Side note:  I looked up.   Big, big mistake.  Andrew told me not to look up.  Margrethe told me not to but I just couldn’t help myself.  I looked, I saw it and I knew I was in trouble.  By my calculations, I still had about 4 feeds to go (2 hours).  This was bad.  The bridge was now on my mind and each minute of not getting my feed felt like an eternity.

At some point Rondi jumped  in with me and we swam together.  I was grateful for the company.  She told me once I saw the lighthouse to my left, that the bridge was about a half mile away.  I couldn’t see any lighthouse and the  bridge did  not seem closer.  I put my head down and  just swam.  My shoulders hurt, my right hip hurt, my neck ached but I just thought that if I kept moving my arms I would get there.

Approaching Tapanzee Bridge Margrethe and I approaching Tappan Zee

Well, I finally saw the lighthouse and that 1/2 mile felt like it was about 1 1/2 miles but eventually, Margrethe and I conquered another stage.

I wish I could say that we slayed the beast – that we fought through ridiculous conditions and made it to the other side of the bridge alive and well.  In truth, the beast was sleeping.  It was still 19.8 miles.  It was still a 6+ hour swim and  it was still hard but the alternatives could have been worse.  Today was a  day of buoyant optimism.  The beast will always be known to me as the gentle giant who let me swim through the day virtually unscathed.  Tomorrow is another day.   The day of Controlled Chaos is what I am calling it.  I do not know what to expect, but whatever is thrown at me, I will try to control as best I can.  It may be like trying to catch dust in my hands but I’m gonna try.

Stage 4 – 15.2 Miles

The Day of Mental Insistence

The sun was shining!  It was beautiful.  We made our way to the train station (the finish) then took the train two stops to the start.  I was going home to rest after this stage.  My spirits were high.   I was going to see my husband and my kids.  I missed them so much.  I would think about them on the river as I was swimming down.  I try not to think about anything but it was hard to not have them make guest appearances.

Sun - stage 4

John Humenik and Margrethe  – the sun was having an effect on everyone

I made sure I put extra sunscreen on and wore my Arena polyester suit, hoping to hold in as much heat as possible.  I listened to music, I was readying myself.  I was ready for this stage.  The sun gave me a boost.   It is amazing what a little bit of light can do to the soul.  We jumped in at the start and we were off.  The water was calm, beautiful calm.  I could see Margrethe to my left but the sun was so bright I could only make out the outline of her. That was fine with me, I was not going to complain.  I calculated I had about 9 feedings until the end of the stage and if the weather and water cooperated, my calculations would be right on.

Stage 4 the start Stage 4 – The start

We pushed our way down the river.  The river was slack when we started and she told me I was doing 20 minute miles.  I felt good but was not sure I could keep the pace I started with.  I was a bit too excited in the beginning.  around mile 7 we hit a really cold patch of water.  It remained cold for a while and I told my mind that this was going to be the temperature for the rest of the day but then I hit a pleasant warm patch.  This is how the day went, cold then warm.  It confuses the body and mind.  Just when the body starts to adjust for the temperature change…bam…it has to adjust again.

I didn’t care about the patches, I was so happy the sun was out and the water was calm.  Around 2 1/2 hours, Rondi jumped in and paces with me.  She remained with me for about 1 hour, possible 1 1/2 hours.  Rondi is a beautiful swimmer.  Even swimming next to her, I could see her effortlessly gliding through the water.  You can see she was meant to be in it.  She understands the feel of it.  Rondi, along with David, have an enormous amount of logistics to deal with when it comes to this 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim event.  Maybe it was the beauty of the water and the sun that pulled her in today, but whatever the reason, to swim next to her is always an honor.

Rondi Davies Satege 4 Rondi Davies – Stage 4

When Rondi left me, I was starting to get tired.  I took another feed and asked Margrethe about the bridge.  I couldn’t help myself.  She told me it was just around the bend.  I put my head down and went.  When I picked up my head for the 8th- 1/2 hour feed, she told me: “the bridge is right there.  You are 20 minutes away from the record.”  I said, “am I that close to the bridge.”  It really look further than 20 minutes to me.  Maybe she wanted me to finish strong, maybe she thought I could do it; whatever she thought, her words of encouragement worked and I put my head down and swam hard to the bridge.  I knew I was swimming longer than 20 minutes but it felt nice to feel the shadow of the bridge under me and hear Captain Greg Porteus sound his horn that I had finished.  I was going home.  I was going to see my family.  Even if it was for only 12 hours or so, it was worth it.  I would sleep well in my bed.  I would try to sleep in if I could.  I would hold and hug my family.  I would probably cry a little.  The day of mental insistence had come to an end and I made it through.  I will try to put the reputation of stage 5 out of my head.  It is nicknamed “the beast.”  I am hoping instead, stage 5 will be the day of buoyant optimism.

Stage 3 – 13.2 Miles

The Day of Positive Predictability

I woke up feeling pretty good.  I think, mentally, the though of doing 13.2 miles after the monster of the previous, was very appealing.  I thought this would be a good day to take it easy.  I had heard it was not so bad of a stretch.  Once we arrived at the meeting place, everything, as usually, seemed to move pretty fast.  The weather was not great, overcast and a bit of wind.  I didn’t even care.  I think I would have been surprised if the sun was out.  We made our way to the bridge on Launch 5.  It is funny how different the bridges look from when you swim under them, to the next day when you are looking at them from out of the water.  I always ask, “is this it? is this the bridge?”  What is wrong with me, of course it is.  Why would we be there?  We jump in, Rondi gave the countdown, and off we went.  In the beginning, the kayakers were not with us.  We swam for about 5 minutes or so without them but it felt like a lot longer.  Margrethe, my kayaker, is my other half and without her, I feel lost on the water.  She navigates for us and these swims are all about navigation.

Before we met our kayakers, Anna and I swam together.  It was nice having her swim next to me but that was short lived as I veered off to the right and I watched her slowly fade from me.  Margrethe caught up and just as she did the chop started.  Not terrible chop like the day before, just annoying.  Anna loves the chop, she excels in the chop.  Chop, for me, is like sporadic raindrops on my face–annoying.  You just want it to either pour or go away.  Swells I can do, chop…not so much.  As we settled in, it was clear that the day would be dreary and I started to get tired.  I knew if I dropped my stroke count Margrethe would think it was because I was cold.  I wasn’t cold.  I  could just close my eyes and fall asleep in the water.  I felt tired and achy.

Stage 3 - picture of the yucky day James Braddock swimming stage 3

Feedings came and went and the day seemed to move in slow motion.  At one point, Anna and I came together again, Launch 5, our big boat was between us as we fed.  Once we started again, the water seemed calm but then…wait…I saw a cap.   Just like that John Humenik started pacing with me.  He came, as usual, just in at the right moment.  John is an incredible swimmer and an amazing support for 8 Bridges.  Seeing him in the water brought my spirits up.  The water picked up and was churning us.  For a moment, I thought maybe a big tanker or cargo ship was passing and creating waves off of the side but no, it was just what the water was doing in that place.

John Humenik John Humenik – Just Amazing

John swam with me for about 1/2 hour or so and then said his good-bye to pace with Anna for a bit.  After he left, my spirits sank and on my next feeding (the 8th one), I said to Margrethe, “I don’t see a bridge yet.”  She said, “you want to see a bridge, it’s right there, look to your right, it’s small.”  And there it was.  I had about an hour to go (one more feeding in a 1/2 hour and then I would be there).

The best feeling is swimming under the bridge.  It doesn’t come for the longest time then it creeps right up on your and you are there, swimming under it.  When you get to the other side, the swim is called.  Waters picked up at the bridge and I immediately swam over to the boat to get on fast.  After that, we cheered on the other swimmers as they came in and one by one, smiling faces got on the boat.  Everyone, I can assume, was having the same feelings: relief, satisfaction, joy.  As an aside, I finally got to meet and talk a bit with Jim, the other seven-stager that rounds off our group of 6.  He, as I imagined, is nice, personable and enthusiastic.  Katrina, the New Zealander, is swimming 5 of the 7 stages.  She is hysterical and really adds humor, and positive vibes to each day.

Katirna stage 3 Katrina Price – Kiwi

I would say the only predictable thing about the day was the distance we were swimming.  While I sat on the boat grateful to have gotten through another day, in the back of my mind, I knew Stage 4 would come fast.  We would have just enough time to get back to the hotel, shower, eat an early dinner and get into bed.

Karen Throsby and I went and had a really good dinner at an Italian Restaurant.  We ate until we felt good and ready to slowly leave.  It was comforting talking with Karen, listening to her about life, swimming, and general chatter.  Maybe it is because she is British or maybe because the next day would be the hump day of this journey, but as I laid in bed I could not help thinking of Churchill’s famous, this is not the end speech.  I said it in my head: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”  With that thought, I took some deep breaths and tried to drift into a good night’s sleep.  I wanted to be ready for the day of Mental Insistence.

STAGE 2 – 19.8 Miles

The Day of Trepidation

I went to sleep feeling tired and a bit achy. I woke up feeling good.  This was a pleasant surpriseCould it be the CarboPro? I think so. We packed our bags, ate and headed to the meeting area.  Again, we boarded a bus to the start, unloaded then reloaded onto the boat. I sat in the wheel house because I knew our awesome captain, Greg Porteus, would turn the heat on for me. I was already concerned, no, down right scared, about the water. It felt warmer outside then the day before but it was windy on the water. I was hoping to feel that warmth I felt yesterday when I jumped in. Rondi gave the 15, then 6 minute warning. Where did the time go? We, the swimmers, at that point, were all huddled below deck so the kayaks could be loaded into the water.

Stage 2 the beginning

Me before the start – no clue what the day will bring

The kayakers and crew are an essential part of the swimmers’ team. They are our eyes and ears when we are in the water and they are constantly on high alert to make sure all the swimmers have the best chance of finishing. It is not holding the line (sometimes that’s impossible) but  staying on course and making adjustments as needed. It is a skill that makes them unique and essential.

Today was an excellent example of this unique skill that I mentioned. The wind was bad (sustained headwind at 15 mph with 25 mph gusts), the weather was bad, and the chop was unforgiving. The kayakers had to work through headwind all day. The chop was not my battle today. The chop was hard but not a breaker for me. I felt good, I felt strong. My battle was the cold. Around 2 hours into my 6 ½ hour swim, the cold crept in again. I, responsibly, told my kayaker I was feeling cold. I say responsibly because I thought about keeping it to myself and just monitoring myself for signs of hypothermia. I am lucky I told my kayaker. She asked if I wanted warm feeds, I didn’t want to have to bother the crew to get them to her but “yes. Yes, I need warm feeds” is what came out. The next feed was warm water mixed with my CarboPro. Those warm feeds, and the experience of my kayaker saved the swim.

The cold did not go away but it did not get worse.  I did not start to feel the signs of hypothermia, the cold was kept at bay.  After the second warm feed, I realized the cold would not go away so now it was a mental game. Chop let up sporadically and little throughout the day. We were fighting.  Mother Nature did not want us in her waters today. With each 30 minute feed that I took, I got the warmth and a burst of enegy. I knew the record was 5 hrs. 30 mins. So I had added an extra hour and calculated that I would need to go through at least 11 ½ hour feeds before the finish. Once I got to the 6th feed, the count down began and I did everything to hold off the cold thoughts that were invading my mind.

Feed 9 took the longest to get to. I looked up for the first time and saw the bridge but, no…I wasn’t going to fall for it again. I ask my Kayaker, Margrethe, “is that the bridge?” I kind of knew it was but I wanted to make sure. She confirmed so I cautiously said, “so about 3 more feedings (translated – 1 ½ hours)?  She responded “I think we can do it in two.” With that, I started to turn it over fast (or at least I thought fast) with a burst of energy. The second of those two feeding landed us right before the walking bridge. There is a walking bridge before the Mid-Hudson bridge. These bridges are about ½ mile apart. They feel like they are 1 ½ miles apart. I took a final feed between the two and not long after I swam under the bridge. The cold didn’t even bother me as much as it did yesterday when I ended. I was so happy the mental battle was over, I finished feeling strong and was grateful to get on the boat to eat the cookies I was thinking about during the last 4 miles.

Anna was toweling herself off and we gave each other a hearty hug. Besides my kayaker and the crew that day, she, and her kayaker Lynn, also aided in getting me to the finish. I am not sure what mile but I believe around 3 ½ hours into the swim, Anna and I were together. As week took our feeds, I saw her on the other side of my kayak but she did not see me. My spirits rose. To see another swimmer feels so good sometimes, good for the psyche. I knew she would be leaving me…passing me…I gave a shout of “go Anna go” or something to that effect. Anna is a beautiful, powerful swimmer so I’m not so sure she needed that but I know I did and it felt good to get her smile before we took off again.

Stasge 2 - the bridge Approaching the bridge

Getting on the boat and anxiously awaiting the other swimmers to come in felt good but hearing swimmers dropping out or getting pulled tugged at my heart. You never want to hear about swimmers getting pulled.  You feel it for them.  Not as much as they do but you understand.  It was a brutal day and most got on the boat in good spirits – they were saving themselves for another stage, or the cold crept into them as well, or they wanted to get to a certain point and they did so they were ok with it. Whatever the reason I know it still hurts. I’ve been there and I have not ruled out the possibility that it could happen this week. Not because of the miles, I feel they may be ok for me. My coach has trained me well. My battle will be the cold. I won today…tomorrow is another day. That is what this journey is about for me. Seeing what I can get through and learning my weaknesses so I can improve for the next swim. Tomorrow is another day. It is predicted to be an easier day then today so maybe tomorrow will be the day of Positive Predictability.

Dinner after Stage 2

Swimmers and Crew enjoying dinner after a monster day

STAGE 1 – 18.3 Miles

The Day of Uncertainty

While standing in the parking lot of the bridge finish, waiting for the bus to pick us up and bring us to the start, I couldn’t help but feel absolutely nervous. What was I nervous for? I had swum long distances…I had swum short…I had swum in complete darkness. Every event, no matter what the distance, makes me nervous. I know it will hurt, I know it will be hard, but the predictions one can never really make are how hard it will be, how much it will hurt and what else can happen.

The bus ride was pretty benign as I listened to my music and tried to settle my nerves. I tried to listen to the songs I wanted to play in my head. Once we got to the landing, the bus was unloaded and the boat was loaded. Kayakers met swimmers, swimmers met swimmer and the race directors gave instructions. This is how each day will go. This will be the routine for those of us attempting all 7 stages. Speaking of our little family of 7 stagers, it is a wonderful group. A group that you want to be around, to spend time with and get to know on an individual basis. Each swimmer unique in his/her own way. Mo’s trait is his honesty. He says what he means and means what he says. He does not sugar-coat things. He is the pioneer in this group.  He will swim the 120 miles.  If he doesn’t make it to the bridge one day, he will swim until they pull him and then GPS track his location and drop him in the water the next day.  Then there is Bridgette. Her humor and positive attitude are so loved and appreciated. She’s also a great and seasoned swimmer.  You want to be around her any chance you get.  Karen is someone you can sit and talk with for hours and never get bored. Her fingers translate her mind beautifully on paper too! She is an experienced open water swimmer who, you can tell, really understands what she is getting herself into.  James is one swimmer I have not had the pleasure to really meet yet other than before the start…I’ll get back to you on him. Last but certainly not least is Anna. My daughter shares her name…I knew she had to be special and she is. Anna is quiet and humble but when she speaks and smiles she holds your attention. Anna is also a beautiful powerhouse of a swimmer and her humble nature instantly makes you a fan. Now that you have met everyone, on to the swim.

Stage 1 - preparing Knowing it will be a long week

The air was cold, 55 degrees cold. I didn’t want to take off my clothes to jump in. I did of course, but I didn’t want to. All nerves, one by one, the 12 swimmers jumped in. I politely let the men go before me because I didn’t want to be sitting in the water too long (is that mean?). When I jumped in, I was pleasantly surprised. The water temp was a lovely 70-71 degrees. Rondi gave the countdown and we were off swimming.

After a few minutes I could not see the other swimmers, everyone tends to spread out a bit across and personal space is established. It did not take me long to get in synch with my kayaker. She was very conscientious and met me on all the requests I had asked of her (tell me what to do, make sure I take in enough fluids, and keep the middle of the kayak in line with my vision – done, done and done).

The start was nice and smooth…dare I say, flat? But then, like all good things, the flat ended and the chop started. The chop seemed to last, off and on, for most of the swim, but I had other things to worry about like the fact that I was getting cold! The cold started to creep in around mile 9. I didn’t want to tell my kayaker but I did. I told her around mile 10. By my next feed she let the boat know and they asked if I could continue. I said yes. The CIBBOWS have taught me a great deal about cold water, signs to look out for etc. I put my head down, tried to think about other things and kept moving my arms. My thoughts, as I was swimming through head-on wind chop at mile 10, were: “what did I get myself into signing up for all 7 stages?” And “I can’t imagine how I am going to do this tomorrow.” With those thoughts, I put my head down and swam. When I got to my next feed, I looked up and saw the bridge. It was a burst of newfound energy for me, mentally and physically but…

Lesson 1: Never expect that just because you can see the bridge, that it is close. IT’S NOT!!!!

Stage 1 - our view as we approach the bridges

The bridge as it looks when we are approaching

Rookie move on my part, I thought I had about 30 minutes left…WRONG. I heard over the radio I was 7 miles away. The chill in my bones returned. I put my head down resigned to not let the cold stop me.

As an aside, this is my story. With the exception of 1 other swimmer, who has absolutely no body fat, no other swimmers felt cold when they got out. Mark, an Aussie training for the English Channel which he will be swimming this summer, was disappointed it was not colder!

Another thing to remember is that the cold hits people at different times, in different ways. Sometimes water can be colder and it’s fine for a person, sometimes water can be warmer and it’s not.

Eventually, I did make it to the finish, I did get on the boat, and I was greeted by a supportive crew and Anna. She wasn’t cold and she didn’t look as beat up as I felt. Rondi gave me some warm water and the shivers subsided. As we watched and waited for the other swimmers to finish, cheering them on, feeling their achy strokes as if they were mine, I felt relief.  The day of uncertainty was over; however, the day of trepidation was already starting to seep into my mind.

Tasting the Hudson


Many people have asked me what my next swim endeavor will be, and when I tell them about 8 Bridges, the first response is, “are you crazy?” followed by “wow, I can’t even swim a lap,” and usually there is an ending like, “gross, you are going to swim in the Hudson? Is it safe?”

Let me address the last comment first.  Last year, I participated in Stage 7 of the 8 Bridges Swim.  This was 18.1 miles, swimming from the George Washington Bridge to the Verrazano Bridge.  I had no idea what to expect but I did know that I would be swimming through New York Harbor.  At no point, did I ever feel like I was not in beautiful water.  It was not the most pleasant of days – the sun was in and out and the head-on wind chop was not the best, but the water, itself, was lovely.  It looked fine, it smelled fine, and it tasted fine (I should know because I drank half of the Hudson that day).  The Hudson did not leave me feeling sick afterwards, and I resumed my daily activities the next day.  These are some of the feelings and impressions the Hudson, and swimming Stage 7 did leave me with:

I knew I wanted to swim another stage the next year.  It was not just the swim itself, but rather the whole experience – and it is an experience.  This is not a race, I guess it can be if you want it to be, but it is more a journey.  A personal journey with the backing of experienced crew (most of whom are fellow marathon swimmers), helping you to achieve your goal.  It is a beautiful exercise in what wonderful things can be accomplished with camaraderie, teamwork, and positive support.  The crew was fully engaged through the entire swim and just when I started to fade, Rondi  Davies, and John Humenik, after 7 days of supporting and swimming with others, jumped in and gave me the push I needed.  They wanted to see me succeed; they wanted me to finish and they made sure I got the mental boost I needed – to know I was not alone.

When everyone was safely on the boat we headed back to LaMarina.  Andrew Malinak had completed all 7 stages!  He looked tired as he sat by the railing of the boat but he had a look on his face that I can still see – contentment maybe– a combination of words I cannot find to describe his look.  He had, not a smile nor a frown.  The sides of his mouth curled up slightly as if he was thinking, “it’s done.  The journey is over.”  At that moment, whether my mind knew before my heart did I cannot say for sure, I knew I had to know what Andrew was feeling, not by asking him but by experiencing it.  For me, every long swim has started out by me thinking, “I wonder what that feels like.”  Is it painful? Is it tiring? What do you think about while swimming for hours and hours?   I’ve learned that while you can ask a fellow swimmer these questions, the experience is different for everyone and sometimes you just have to go through it yourself.  As Andrew wrote in his blog about 8 Bridges, some things I will share, some things you will never know.

I will try to write down something about each stage.  I will be as honest and raw as I can be, but I think, there are some things you just have to go through yourself to truly understand and know.  There is a great deal of uncertainties in Open water swimming.  One thing I am certain about is that the crew is top notch.  The group of people leading us swimmers down the Hudson will do everything possible to make this an experience we will look back on as fond memories.

I will spare you writing about the logistics of trying to plan for a 7 day swim odyssey but I feel like actually getting everything together and getting to the event is an accomplishment in and of itself!

The picture above is me at age 5 or 6 before a race.  The face I am making is how I am feeling right about now.  Nerves have been with me and in high gear for the past week.  I am told, by my coach and others, that I still make that face before a swim.  Those that will be joining me on the Hudson will be seeing that face a lot.