So couple of days ago I’ve done my first Hudson swim.. Figured I’d share the interesting points for those that consider doing something a bit out of the ordinary.
The Idea: At the beginning of the summer I started doing some Kayaking on the Hudson. Just a half hour after work or on weekends, to get my feet wet on a hot day. After couple of weeks I heard about early morning excursions. I joined one of these with a guide on a three-hour trip up the Hudson, to NJ and back. Along the way I’ve found out about the tidal currents of Lower Hudson water ways. Hudson flows according to tides that shift every six hours, hence the direction of the river flow also changes. During high tide the water is pushed into the Hudson and the water goes North with lower tides the direction changes. It was then that I remembered an article I read about open water swimming around New York. The idea of doing something different, was extremely appealing. It’s not a marathon but for what it’s worth I’ve never seen a swimmer in Hudson in all my years living here, so in a way I thought it’d be an adventure.
Endurance: I looked at options for joining experienced swimmers that are into open swimming few times a year, but it’s bogged down by safety, costs, and eligibility requirements. As I’ve been swimming most of my life I had the confidence I could physically spend an hour swimming and in case of problems figure out a way to get to safety.
Health: Historically Hudson was an open sewage and runoff for industrial complexes. In 1972 the Clean water act spurred better sewage treatments. and lawsuits have helped curb industrial runoff. The recent water sampling indicates that during dry days the water is generally acceptable level of pollutants. During rainy days the sewage treatment doesn’t keep up with demand and excess is dumped directly into the Hudson. General recommendation is to take a shower and not eat anything until one washes their hands. Being of Eastern European stock, Generally safe means perfectly safe. I’m far from being a germaphobe and generally believe the body needs exposure to some bacteria for a healthy immune system.
Boat traffic: In evening I go roller-blading or riding bicycle up and down the lanes around the Hudson to see the level or traffic, the speed of boats and how fast one can react in case of boat coming at you. My general impression is that this is an acceptable risk. If swimming relatively close to shore the only boats passing are yachts and generally pretty slow traffic so if spotted far enough it’s not an issue. Though the burden is on me. Organized swims are done with kayak escorts that are much more visible, and a single swimmer a rare occasion maybe difficult to spot.
Obstacles: The major obstacles remaining are piers, old pylons, underwater objects. The solution is simple go around them, the problem here is that going further towards the middle of the Hudson both increases the risk from oncoming boats, as well the amount of time and energy exerted if I run into problems and need to make ti to shore. The issue with being close to shore is that the current is much weaker (safer) but more exhausting, and the danger of being slammed into a pier or a pylon. In addition I have no idea how strong a 2.5 mile current is to fight and to avoid objects if I’m being carried into an object.
The Plan: Looking at tidal charts I found an optimal time window to do an open water tide assisted swim. To avoid the issue of piers and boat traffic I decided to pick about a three-mile stretch which should take about an hour of swimming. My pool time which is easier for lack of currents, waves and rest and kick off time is about 45 minutes to exhaustion. After going up and down the Hudson to find an easy place to go into water and to come out I picked out 130th street for entrance and a dock on 72nd street which I can come out on. Past 96th street there are very few places on can climb out of the water as it’s pretty much all walled off with six-foot walls leading to shore. Additionally on 59th street was a sanitation Department with Garbage barges and next spot would likely be somewhere down in Financial street a few hours swim down.
Hesitation: I announced to few people who I’m doing it, but then started getting cold feet. For a week the current down stream was taking place early in morning and at night. Neither worked so I had to wait for the tides to shift. This week it coincided with 3pm being optimal starting time. But now I was getting nervous. What if I did hit something, blacked out, got exhausted or drifted past the exit point. What then? Then after a very hot evening I decided it’s now or never!
The swim: I finish with some work put a posting on FB. put some sun lotion. Got my driver’s license in case I’m “rescued” and want to avoid going to the Police precinct, metro card, keys, mp3 player and headed off. First I go to my exit point on 72nd street chain up my bike and hide the keys under a garbage can. Then I head to the 1 train and head to 125th street. There I take of my shirt, sneakers, mp3 player and hide them behind some rocks. I wait for a park ranger to busy himself and get into the water. Take my tentative steps and jump in. For the first fifteen minutes I try to feel out what the current is doing, and how close to shore I want to be. I hug the shore but I get no assistance from current at all, after 30 minutes I’ve not covered more than 10 blocks, which is worrying cause my distance is three miles.
I also struggle to find my comfort rhythm. My best stroke is breast stroke but I can get better speed and rhythm with freestyle. With freestyle though alternate between breathing left and right. And it worries me not to see straight ahead. But eventually i find a rhythm of sort alternating between the two. Freestyle works arms more, breast stroke the legs. As I finally get moving and more comfortable I decide that I need to take advantage of the current and swim further into the river. which helps a little. When I find my rhythm I start enjoying myself , relax and start drifting into my mind. swimming for me is the most meditative practice. It’s where I can actually focus on the breath. The one constant. The noise is drowned out and even looking around loses point for minutes at a time. Just steady in out, stroke, stroke.
Though my swim isnt’ without interruptions. I notice pretty quickly that I am quite the center of attention to people at on the river path. People get of their bikes, stop running and stare out in the river. The expressions I get the range from amused to impressed to completely confused (majority). Cameras and cell phones come out. pictures are taken. people yell words of encouragement. One lady just start questions what I’m doing out there? I get the arm up in “what the” gesture. And I do my best to stop and give them the should ” ehh, i dunno” should shrug and a smile. People wave, and I always stop and wave back, and give the thumbs up and go back to swimming. With the people on the shore I’m less concerned about something happening as almost the whole way down there is someone with an eye on me. I always smile and give the thumbs up not only to return the gesture of support but also worried about a good sumeritan deciding to save me with a call to 911. On a side note a read a news feed week ago about a man being pulled out of the JFK waterway naked, then being escorted to a psychiatric ward for evaluation. As I got more comfortable with my swim my primary concern became to avoid a psych evaluation which from personal experience is a very subjective process not to be taken lightly.
An hour into my swim I hit the half way mark which is a bit worrying cause I can feel my muscles tensing up, and a shooting pain in my stomach lungs. I’m not too worried about taking breaks but a muscle cramps in open water are no fun. But if one stays cool and relies on body’s natural boyance massage the cramp out it’s only a temporary inconvenience. But the pain in my side starts getting worse even when I reduced the strain. I turn on my back inhale and float. At this point the current has picked up quite a bit and the experience is with the exception of arms and stomach being exhausted very relaxing. You watch Upper East side passing by, watch the West side highway traffic at a standstill so much so that I swim faster than the cars move at times. There’s quiet and peace, as the clouds roll by.. It’s amazing what a difference a plunge and a few hundred feet can make.
After few minutes the pain recedes and I decide to get back to swimming to keep my body moving, as well as the Boat yard is coming up. The boats w are spread out quite a bit too far to swim around. So I decide to swim through and in between them. Here I do quite a bit of maneuvering working with the current and enough work to avoid them. I remember on Kayaks this wasn’t recommended as with unexpected waves can throw you off quite a bit, but I don’t have much choise going completely around them would require too much effort and would put me in traffic lane.
I notice a queer thing on the shore. a man has been following me for the last fifteen minutes. he walks at a very slow pace pretty much parallel. Doesn’t have an expression or wave. Just follows me. It was initially quite comforting every time I’d take a break and look up at shore there he was. I imagine he’s looking after me.. I keep swimming, and he keeps walking slowly. Then something occurred to me and that’s when I realized that the heat and lack of water was getting to me. I started thinking that this is New York, strangers do not look after strangers. A sinister thought crept into my mind that this man was waiting me down. Seeing that I was becoming exhausted and would need to exit. And that’s when he would strike. As I’m getting out of water he would drown me and it would look like a crazy guy drowning in the Hudson. I try to put this out of my mind and not look up at the shore, but the more I tried the more this idea pursued me, then I’d look up and he was there. Finally as I made I went around the boat yard and came up few hundred feet later I look and he’s gone. And I wonder did he get tired of watching me, is he hiding? While swimming out of sight I planned a maneuver in case he was at the pier I was exiting where I’d grab him by the arm and push and throw him into the water. After he was gone I realized how nuts my idea was and that it maybe a good idea not to swim alone to the point your brain starts playing tricks.
Anyway After the boat yard I cruise the last ten blocks towards shored and get out on the closed kayak pier hop a fence and collapse on the ground. I did it. Some kids surrounded me and are asking me some questions but my ears are ringing and I just lay there with a giant grin on my face. My final time was one hour and forty minutes in the water.
I go barefoot to grab the bike and bike back to 125th to pick up my stuff and then back home. collapse and take a nap.
Conclusion: This was just the adventure I was looking for. An endurance test, an adventure, and contemplative trip down the river all combined. Would I recommend it, absolutely there is definitely risks out there and you need to be good swimmer and cool. I’d also recommend doing it with another person. If anything happens out there having an experienced swimmer then can rescue and pull you to shore is the difference between a close call and drowning.