You know that feeling you get when you push yourself so hard that every muscle in your body aches? That feeling of pure exhaustion and over exertion that hinders you natural flow? That feeling that makes you want to collapse and scream in agony, yet somehow you also want to smile because you earned that level of pain? I love that feeling.
I can’t honestly say I was prepared for what I took on this past Saturday and Sunday. I didn’t dedicate a fraction of the time or effort most of my sea friends committed to their training because life got in the way and I let it.
This weekend I participated in Stage One and Stage Two of the 8 Bridges swimming event in the Hudson River. This is by far one of my all time favorite events – as a swimmer and volunteer. It is also by far one of the absolute greatest open water events in the world, and is in fact the worlds longest stage race. The event is well organized and enjoyable, and takes place in an amazing location. I completed Stage Three a few years ago and loved every second. Since the first year of the event I’ve wanted to do more stages. This year I went for it and registered for the first two stages, with the ultimate goal of making my way all the way down the Hudson soon enough.
Swimming in the Hudson is like magic. If you’ve never done it then you’re missing out. That might sound strange to most people, and I’m sure I present somewhat questionable having said that, but it’s the truth. An amazing waterway with breathtaking views, I like to think of the Hudson (particularly the 8 Bridges swimming aspect) as an escape. Where else can you transcend reality and societal norms in such a way as to put your head down for hours on end and see nothing but the silhouettes of mountains, the shapes of playful clouds, and…well, your kayaker, because let’s be honest you need them there with you and you see them at nearly every breath you take. It is therapy for the soul.
Upon arriving upstate in preparation for this event I surprised myself in that I am not sure I’ve ever felt less nervous for an event. I was sort of waiting for it to hit me that I’d be taking on this challenging journey down the river but that slap in the face never seemed to come. I think this has something to do with how great the event is in its entirety. To be surrounded by so many talented, genuine, spirited, generous, and loving people is a special thing, and that’s what this event gives you. I don’t believe the nervous ever set in for me because of the people, my people. Like so many great open water swim events, it is easy to feel a sense of belonging that you might lack in many other aspects of life – at least that is how I feel. This same feeling came over me when I was in Vermont for the Ice Swimming Championships, the feeling of pure bliss in knowing that each individual around you shares the passion you have or nonetheless carries the desire to support that passion in you.
I digress. Stage One was beautiful. We started off with a perfectly calm and peaceful morning picking up just a bit of chop on the second half. To be frank, I don’t have much else to say about day one because it was so great in all aspects. Oh, but I will mention how wonderful it was to finish strong with John smiling on one side, gliding through the water on the paddle board and my amazing kayaker Lizzy on the other side, with a smile on her face as she’d had all day.
Day Two on the other hand was rough. Having been in a car accident less than two weeks ago and experiencing whiplash, I was slightly hesitant in the conditions we were experiencing. The Hudson sure likes giving us a true washing machine adventure. Hour after hour I kept waiting for the moment the river was going to calm down and the sun was going to shine. It didn’t. Despite my neck pains though, it was a fun ride! Maybe not ideal for 7+ hours of swimming but even in those testing conditions, how could one not love being toyed with by the very element in which they came to play? I love it. Toward the end of day two the current changed after only two swimmers reached the ending point, the Mid-Hudson Bridge. All the rest of us who hadn’t made the choice sooner to get out were pulled, as the speed picked up against our favor. That’s how the river works, like magic.
Open water swimming is a test to withstand anything the elements so choose to throw ones way. It’s the price of admission to enjoy the waters and I would happily pay that price any day. Though I was a part of those pulled just shy of the bridge, I have to say I’m pretty happy with myself for swimming nearly 40 miles in two days. I wasn’t sure how my swims would end – now I know, and the worst of it is sore muscles – and I would do it again like that in a heart beat. Maybe with a little extra training time though next year.