Stage 7: Liberty

After over 100 miles of mostly rolling hills and rural scenery we were treated to swimming into one of the world’s largest cities. Plenty to see on both sides, with Manhattan on the left and New Jersey on the right. Jamie Tout, one of the successful swimmers from last year, described it as swimming by the Pillars of Hercules with the Goldman Sachs building next to the Colgate Clock on the Jersey side to the right and the Freedom Tower on the left. On a bright sunny day the landmarks glittered–the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and even the Brooklyn Bridge if you looked at the right places at the right times.

We started in two waves, jumping in under the western tower of the George Washington Bridge. The timing was tight again, so we stayed to the right, hugging the shoreline and pushing strong against a diminishing incoming current. In the earlier stages of the race “boat traffic” was when we saw two other boats that weren’t one of the many safety boats connected with the swim. Today there was real traffic as we passed by Manhattan on a busy Tuesday afternoon. The conditions for the first half of the swim were good with the wind behind us and relatively calm water. Once we passed the tip of Manhattan and headed to Liberty Island the wind came up strong, the currents swirled and the challenge really began! By then we could see the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and I realized we were seeing the finish line–THE ACTUAL FINISH LINE. Not just the starting line for tomorrow, but the true end point of the seven day odyssey. The days really didn’t matter much. Early in the week I lost track the actual day of the week, just thinking of it as “stage three day or stage four day”.

Other swimmers told us that the ebb tide was powerful as we approached the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and we would be sucked out toward the Atlantic Ocean. Although that didn’t exactly materialize, “suck” did seem to be the operative word as we ground meter by meter toward the bridge. By this point the outgoing current slowed, but not the wind. Conditions got progressively rougher closer to the bridge. But after an eternity we were finally swimming under the bridge and finished the longest swimming race in the world!

While it was a tremendously difficult undertaking to swim, I can’t possibly imagine the work that goes into producing this event. Dave, Rondi, Alex, and their team did an amazing job guiding us down the river. There were 102 people on the contact list of people involved in the event to give a sense of the true scope of the undertaking.

The swim is always a challenge, but the awesome part of an experience like this is the crazy-amazing people. I truly enjoyed the company of the other seven “seven stagers”: Janice, Devon, Patrick, Steven, Greg, Katrin, and John (my favorite brother). Adding to the mix were a few dozen other swimmers who cycled through various stages and brought a spark each day. Often overlooked in a challenge like this are the kayakers. These amazing athletes kayaked 120 miles down the Hudson, an incredible athletic feat in itself.

7 Days…8 Bridges…and 1 amazing experience!