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Hudson River swimmer completes 315-mile trek, conquering fatigue, choppy water, rocks and pollution

Hudson River swimmer completes 315-mile trek, conquering fatigue, choppy water, rocks and pollution


NEW YORK (AP) — The Hudson River winds through forests and rushes over rocks in the Adirondack Mountains before settling into a wide, slow-moving current closer to New York City. It stretches 315 miles (507 kilometers) from source to end.

Lewis Pugh completed the swim Wednesday morning.

The 53-year-old endurance swimmer emerged from the water off the lower tip of Manhattan after a month-long trip, wearing a Speedo, cap and goggles. He smiled and raised his fist in triumph as he descended. Supporters gathered despite light rain at Battery Park applauded.

“It’s incredibly difficult to swim for 30 days,” Pugh told reporters at a news conference. “And yes, it costs you a lot of money. But I can honestly say that I feel rejuvenated.


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Pugh suffered from fatigue and shoulder pain for weeks. He avoided tugs and plastic waste. And he insisted any discomfort was worth it to highlight the Hudson and the importance of clean rivers.

“Seeing the Statue of Liberty on the horizon and seeing this magnificent torch, it made me think that everything we hold dear depends on our ability to drink clean water, to breathe clean air fresh and taking care of our planet. it’s habitable,” he said. “Rivers are the arteries of our planet.”

The Plymouth, England, resident has completed other high-profile swims, including a 76-mile (123-kilometer) long swim across the Red Sea and a 328-mile (528-kilometer) long swim in the English Channel.

Christopher Swain once swam the entire length of the Hudson in 2004. While Swain wore a wetsuit, Pugh swam in a Speedo, typically trying to cover 10 miles (16 kilometers) a day.

Recently, during a stop south of Albany, he put his cap and glasses on his head before jumping feet first in front of the inflatable boat accompanying him. He made sure to take a swig from a bottle of Pepto-Bismol first, a nod to less-than-pure water. He also rinsed with antiseptic mouthwash, washed with surgical soap, and wore earplugs.

Support team members followed in the boat and a kayak.

The second half of Pugh’s swim took place in the Hudson Estuary, the tidally affected section of river that extends from New York Harbor to above Albany. He tried to swim with the tide, but said the wind and choppy waters could make progress more difficult.

“Imagine driving down a wavy dirt road, and that’s the feeling you get when you’re swimming in that chop for hours and hours,” he said before swimming a recent leg.

The challenges were different when Pugh teeed off Aug. 13 at Tear of the Clouds Lake atop Mount Marcy. In the Adirondacks, some parts of the river are too shallow for swimming, so Pugh ran along the banks. Other fast-flowing reaches contain enough rock to create what Pugh calls a “high-consequence environment.”

“I just wear a Speedo, a cap and glasses,” he said. “And so if you hit a rock, you’re really going to end up in second place.”

Pugh had to take overland detours around waterfalls, dams and locks, although he was able to swim through one lock. These obstacles have disappeared on the estuary, which is widening as developments invade the banks.

Decades ago, the Hudson was known to be contaminated by everything from industrial chemicals to old tires to sewer runoff. Even in 2004, when Swain swam the river to encourage its continued cleaning, a New York Post headline read: I love this dirty water; Eco-Nut swims the slimy Hudson River.

Cleanups and stricter regulations have helped slowly transform the river into a summer playground for more kayaks, sailboats and even swimmers. The water is still not perfect. Sewage overflows in parts of the Hudson after heavy rains, for example.

Still, Pugh said Wednesday that the Hudson River remains a powerful example of how a waterway can bounce back.

“We must also never forget the history of the Hudson, because we came with saws, we cut down the forests, we built factories, and we dumped industrial waste into the river…this river has become a dumping ground,” Pugh said. “But then, in the 1970s, New Yorkers said, ‘Enough is enough.'”


Hill reported from Castleton-on-Hudson, NY

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