Every marathon swimmer knows that each splash is a learning experience… an opportunity to grow wiser and more deeply connected to the bodies of water we immerse ourselves in. A circumnavigation of Manhattan offers three “rivers” to commune with; each with unique characteristics that are affected by its sister “rivers’, the Long Island sound, the New York Harbor, and countless atmospheric possibilities. Add to this equation the human element, and its easy to see that putting together an event like MIMS is a daunting task, and a multiple circumnavigation…. mind boggling. With months of planning in the bank, the arrival of two tropical storms to the region created a period of increased flow to the Hudson River; knocking aside the predicted ebb and flood schedules for a few weeks.
Additionally, much of the Catskill and Adirondack Mountains were released from their heights to begin a journey to the sea in the form of reddish brown silt and mud. The “red cloud” was the cause of the recent cancellation of a favorite NYCSWIM event, the two-mile swim around Governors Island just a week ago. Though visible in satellite images the discoloration was hardly noticeable to a swimmer, and the Harlem River indeed looks quite inviting from a few feet above. Of course, directing a swim event around Manhattan is like going to bat against two Cy Young award winners at the same time, and Morty Berger has an excellent batting average. Even as a few curveballs were hurled at us (in the form of East River closures due to U.N. security protocol), just days before our scheduled splash, he kept the inning alive as we scrambled to come up with a “Plan B”. Of course this meant rescheduling, readjusting, reconfirming, and in a few cases, coming up with last minute substitutions. That this came together at all is a great testimony to the incredible support that the open water community can count on in New York. I am deeply indebted to the kayakers, and boat crews for their reliability and attention to safety details. The kayak schedule involved 5 paddlers working in shifts of 3, and linking up from three different locations.
THE GOOD SWIM
Splash time was a little before 6 PM near the footbridge at 103st. Kayakers Gary, Margaret and Brad quickly fell into formation… Gary as point man, Margaret to my left and Brad to my right. I imagined how cool this would be from a bird’s eye view. We had a smaller boat leading, with crew members Janet, Willie and Gilles, and the mother ship stayed mostly behind with Morty, Rondi, John and Sharoz on board. They were responsible for mixing my feeds and getting them to Brad. Rondi was busy keeping stats of the swim as well. It was dark before we made it to the Hudson, The glow of the city at night had little warming effect, especially as the paddlers dropped back one at a time to don more layers to fend off the evening chill; still, the light reflecting off the water continued to build as we approached each bridge then… brief shadow, and light again. Janet was in the water near me, and with the added light, I could see the familiar smile on her face as we crossed under the Broadway Bridge, the Henry Hudson Bridge, and through Spuytin Duyvel (the bridge was open) into the Hudson. The “slightly briney” Harlem gave way to a noticeably fresher taste and colder temperature rather abruptly at the Henry Hudson Bridge. Was this an affirmation that the Hudson was still draining Irene from the Catskills? Perhaps. There was also a noticeable difference in temperature at a depth of about 18 inches…. Fresh cold water sitting on top of warmer brackish? By this time, the tight hamstring that I was babying by not kicking too much was cramping a bit, and to survive I stopped kicking all together. I guess this combined with the decreased buoyant effect of fresher water meant that my legs were dropping and creating some increased drag. I was telling myself that if I could hold out through the night, the sunrise would give me the boost I needed to finish strong, but unlike some other marathon swims I’ve done, you can’t just tough it out around Manhattan. There are deadlines to meet, miss one by too large a margin; and its over. I was falling off pace.
Hannah was now kayaking on my right, and after Gilles, and Willie each joined me in the water… Gilles for 90 minutes and Willie for 2 hours, Janet was back.
The temperature seemed to hold steady until we got near the battery where I felt another drop. Little bioluminescent creatures were now greeting us as we disturbed them with nearly every stroke.
We headed north in the east river. The Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg Bridges passed slowly….nothing like the rapid fire succession like during MIMS. Again, I focused on getting to daybreak to evaluate how I was doing, but was informed that we were now about an hour behind schedule, and it was inevitable that the tide would turn against us before lap 2. Teddy never got his chance to paddle for me though I was happy to see him out there, even if we didn’t have a chance to chat.
There is a lot of data to sort through, and a bit of time to start planning another go around. All in all, it was an incredible night in the water. I am fortunate to have been able to share it with so many good friends.