Montclair Resident Takes On 15th Annual Great Newburgh to Beacon Hudson River Swim
Reprinted From: Baristanet.com, 2018
By: Carmel Loughman
Last October I began swimming. I am not a natural swimmer. I am afraid of the water. I cannot sit on a beach without thinking of an Hokusai-esque rogue wave emerging from the calm sea nor can I go into the water without hearing the “Jaws” soundtrack in my head. But I slowly got used to the pool and worked my way up to a mile and a half swim, following the black line on the bottom and counting my strokes, for about 4-5 times a week. Very boring. Afterward though, my body felt really good even though the chlorine turned my hair and eyebrows a weird blonde and gave me itchy spots on my skin.
I like to have goals. At the beginning of the summer, I got it into my head to swim across the Hudson River. I knew that RiverPool, an organization co-founded by folksinger Pete Seeger, a great supporter of the Hudson River, ran a charity swim. So in June I signed up to do the 15th Annual Great Newburgh to Beacon Hudson River Swim.
I had spent my life going under the Hudson on the subway and train, across the Hudson on the ferry, and over the Hudson by foot and car on its various bridges. But swimming it captured my imagination. I was a little nervous about what I might encounter in the river – strong currents, icy temperatures, flotsam and jetsam, fish! – but felt committed.
As the date approached, I was very geared up for the swim, originally scheduled for Saturday, July 28. But on that morning, when I checked my emails at 5:30 am before setting off, I found the swim had been postponed to the next day because of rain. This was a big disappointment as I was mentally prepared and had pumped myself up to get it done. It also gave me another day to ponder the foolishness of this whole venture. Everything I listened to on You Tube about open water swimming mentioned panic attacks, fatigue, hyperventilating, hypothermia, and river zombies! Thus, the self-psyching in preparation had been key. The postponement was a setback. Another day to worry was not mentally productive. In addition, two of my cheerleaders had to bow out because of other commitments on Sunday. I admit I did have thoughts (briefly) of chucking the whole endeavor but talked myself out of this by considering all the preparation I had done. For all of July, I got up at 5:15 am to do my hour and a half practice swim during my pool’s abbreviated summer hours. I couldn’t not do this swim.
So on Sunday, with my son, Ivan, and good friend, Cindy, we set off that morning for the Hudson River. It was a beautiful drive to Newburgh passing the green trees of the Hudson Valley under a canopy of blue sky and fluffy clouds. The Hudson seemed calm; but the distance across to Beacon was sobering. What was encouraging was the assortment of my fellow swimmers – young, old, fat, fit, male, female, even one basically armless man (who beat me to the finish). I didn’t have to be a super athlete to do this, I reasoned. Colorful kayaks gave comfort as they undulated at the swim start ready to watch over and guide us during the crossing. I took my place among this passel of determined swimmers and jumped in.
At the start of the swim the current was going in a southerly direction; in the middle, the river became lake like; at the last third the current veered north and became stronger. The temperature was ideal. The water was surprisingly clear. Though we were warned of tree branches floating on the river from all the rain, not too much debris, mostly something like seaweed, touched me now and again. A bit startling when that happened. Only during the scrum at the starting splash-in was I close to any other swimmers. It was just incredible to be in the middle of the Mighty Hudson River, a lone swimmer counting on my own endurance to get me across. None of my pre-swim worries of my goggles fogging up, my earplugs popping out, my GPS tracker falling off my ankle, my feel cramping, or my strength failing, materialized. The hardest part was swimming straight. It was very difficult to sight the site where we were instructed to land; I felt like I was zig zagging across the river and using up more effort than perhaps was necessary. The other surprise was when I got about half way to Beacon it felt like I stopped making progress and was just treading water, so to speak. I had been warned of this sensation, so was not unduly worried, but it did make the journey seem longer. I am not sure how long it took me to get across. I did stop now and again to turn over on my back to absorb the scenery and ponder the fact that I was alone in the middle of the Hudson River!
I feel thankful for the ability to do this, at this point in my life, and for the friends and family who encouraged and supported me. I would tell anyone who has an imaginative inkling to take on a feat like this to plan, commit, prepare, and do it! It’s a great feeling!