Usually before a big swim I get a little nervous. Usually this is just about the swim. On Wednesday I was nervous about the swim, about the drive, and about rolling out of the house in the early morning with two little kids in tow.Turns out they were great. We got to the Beacon metro-north station with time to spare and I could see Launch 5 on the dock.
I got gooped up (diaper cream), the rest of the swimmers and kayakers arrived, and we all piled onto Launch 5 to head out to the starting point just north of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. I thought about the last time I swam this way and that made me feel good.
Once in the water there was a count down from ten and then we were swimming.
Maybe there are other swimmers that don't experience this, but for me everything always feels terrible at the start of a swim. The water feels cold even when I know the temperature is fine. Breathing feels hard. My arms hurt. Maybe this is a question of experience but all that didn't feel so bad this time. Or maybe I was just happy to see the bridge disappear so fast.
I felt a tiny little twinge in my left hip flexor, like it was about to cramp up. It didn't.
My feeds were evenly spaced 30 minutes apart, which of course means the wait for the first one is the longest. Usually after a few feeds I notice my legs feel all heavy and rubbery. This time I felt it on my very first feed. So as I swam I asked them what the problem was. Naturally there was no answer.
I want to keep this in mind for the next time someone asks what I think about while swimming for hours.
Once I settled into my rhythm I started to notice just how scenic this leg downriver is. Relatively flat water and my normal 3 stroke breathing pattern let me get a pretty good view of both sides of the river. It amazes me that such a short distance north of NYC on a busy shipping channel mostly what was looking at was tree covered mountains.
I felt like I was going to crash into Storm King Mountain. It was so close. I kept telling myself that it couldn't be as close as it looked. It seemed like I could just reach down and touch it because I was swimming right over the roots of the mountain.
Bill, my kayaker, told me we were picking up current and had passed the 5 mile mark. I think that was on my fourth feed, two hours in.
We passed a tanker going upstream. This reminded me just how big everything was. It didn't seem close, just big. The wake didn't bother me at all just lifted me up and down. Bill nearly disappeared behind a wave a few times and then everything was smooth again. A few minutes later we got caught in an eddy that it left behind. For a little while I swam in place. I could actually feel the water pushing me around.
This is the time in a swim when I feel the best. The water was comfortable with an occasional warm patch that felt truly luxurious.
I spotted a few other boats, this time on my left. A sailboat, a ferry. I wonder, can they see me out here? One of a handful of lunatics happily swimming down the Hudson?
After about 3 hours (or maybe 31/2) of some of the most beautiful flat water that you can expect, the river changed. A little chop combined with some rolling waves reminded me that I was tired and had been swimming for a while.
Bill flagged me down and when he gave me my feed he asked if I needed anything different. I wanted to ask for that nice flat water again. I didn't ask but I got it anyway. All those rolling waves just faded away.
Looking at the map now I would guess that when I first got a look at West Point I was around the 9 mile mark. And I was probably past the 10 mile mark before I lost sight of it entirely. I had another feed right in front of it so I got a good look.
Do things look bigger when you are swimming past them? I've seen West Point before but that was the biggest it ever looked.
I didn't know the mile markers at the time and I think I prefer it that way. I might have had three more feeds after West Point, there might have been more. I lost count.
I told myself I would swim until I finished, until they pulled me, or until that little twinge in my hip flexor finally cramped up the way it had been threatening for hours. I really was beginning to think it was going to be that last one when Bill flagged me down for a feed and told me it was probably my last one.
I looked and there was the Bear Mountain Bridge, and it wasn't all that far away.
"Just keep doing what you're doing." he said
I can't explain how motivating that simple phrase is.
I knew that cramp I was afraid of was not going to happen. I kept telling myself to just keep my rhythm and don't pick my head up to sight. Soon enough I could see the bridge even without picking up my head.
I swam into the shadow of the bridge before I was actually under it. I flinched. After swimming under a clear sky for so long, suddenly being in shadow feels strange.
And then I was under the bridge. And then I was past it.
There was an extra little bit to swim to Launch 5. Pulling my legs up to the bottom step at the back of the boat was hard. I missed the step on my first try. But I managed to climb aboard without much help.
I tried to clear my ears and almost fell over. So I decided to stand still for a little while. Then I had my bag. A bag that contained a towel and a shirt. And a slightly melted chocolate bar.