New York City Triathlon, 2010

More than 3,000 athletes from around the world plunged into the Hudson early Sunday morning to compete in the 10th Annual Nautica New York City Triathlon. The race consists of a 1-mile swim between 99th and 81st Streets, a 25-mile bike loop along the Henry Hudson Parkway, and a 5-mile run through Central Park. The swim is widely considered to be the easy part of the race owing to the Hudson’s strong southward current.

While the 31-mile course may seem like the province of superhumans to those of us at the couch-potato-to-5K end of the fitness spectrum, the event has become so popular among aspiring triathlete champions that event organizers will adopt a NY Marathon-style lottery for those looking to compete in next year’s race.

This year’s top winners – Czech Olympian Filip Ospaly who finished in 1:46:28, and second-time pro women’s champ Rebeccah Wassner of NYC who ran home in 2:00:25 – both scored $8,000 cash prizes. Wassner’s twin sister Laurel, the world’s only pro triathlete cancer survivor, took second place in 2:02:16. I daresay a handful of determined contenders is still running.

Parks On Fire (California Burning Mix) used courtesy of Dj Rkod/cc Mixter

River Summer

I spent the better part of the weekend with a group of teachers staying on board the Seawolf, a research vessel docked on the Hudson as part of the Environmental Consortium of Hudson Valley Colleges & Universities’ River Summer program. The five-day session was packed with lectures, site visits and research projects. As glad as I am to have squeaked through my last chemistry class years ago, I didn’t mind the science lessons at River Summer. Studying the ecology and development of New York City with the entire Hudson River watershed as a classroom changes everything. The main thing you learn is that, in addition to being a source of wonderful stories, the river is also a great teacher.

Streams of Consciousness

Digital arts journal Underwater New York recently held a reading in Bryant Park devoted to stories inspired by objects found in New York’s waterways. They ranged from the tale of a survivalist family installing a formica dinette in their bunker to that of a peripatetic diplomat regarding a plastic flute. Author Said Sayrafiezadeh told the story of how he and his wife threw a bottle of momentoes into the Hudson on their wedding day. The event (and journal) grew out of a New York magazine article about objects known to exist underwater around New York City. “We’re a collection of stories, music and art and we want to remain that,” editor Helen Georgas said. “But we’re interested in the waterways, in preserving them and making sure that they continue to exist and be thought about and cared about.”

Different Strokes

It’s a sweltering summer afternoon. The temperature is edging toward 90 and the sparkling Hudson looks like a mirage. There’s a small group of people paddling around in the water. I move in for a closer look.

“It’s like bath water,” says Nancy King, a local cyclist who calls the sandy inlet located midway between the George Washington Bridge and the 125th Street sewage treatment plant Paradise Cove.

“When the tide is high the salt comes in and it cleans things out,” says King who prefers the Hudson to the local beaches. “I spent my summers in Montauk so I’m used to clean water. Coney Island, as exciting as it is, I just wouldn’t swim in it.”

King met Harlem resident Eric Schechter here a year ago. The British-born writer and filmmaker swims in these waters at every opportunity and considers them to be as clean as rainwater despite the occasional solid waste plume.

“There is a time of day– I don’t know quite how it works–when debris does show up and all the famous condoms and Tampax and other effluvium from the city comes to the edge.“

But Schechter is undeterred. “My imagination would dry up without this. It’s as simple as that. This is the joy of my life.”

While the Hudson’s water quality has improved considerably since the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, raw sewage overflow continues to pose a health risk to swimmers. Even officials who claim New York waters are the cleanest they’ve been in more than a century advise would-be bathers to steer clear of the river after rain storms.

When I meet Schechter walking by the river a few days after his swim he complains about a soreness in his throat and joints. Coincidence?

Lead, pesticides and PCBs aside, raw sewage (specifically enterococcus, a bacteria commonly found in human waste) is what poses the most immediate health threat. Riverkeeper, a Hudson River advocacy group, runs a testing program that issues periodic water quality reports. In accordance with standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency, levels up to 35/100ml — about four tablespoons per cup — are deemed to be safe.

Despite its proximity to a wastewater treatment plant, this inviting stretch of the river– referred to by Riverkeeper as George Washington Bridge Mid-channel– has passed water quality tests with flying colors since 2008.

Sixty-five year old Antonio Conejo says he’s been swimming here for the last 25 years and he has no complaints. His wife waits on shore, nonetheless, to make sure he doesn’t spend too much time in the murky water. 

“When he told his doctor (that he swam in the Hudson), recalls Conejo’s wife laughing, he said (“You should get) five or six shots.”

Their children grew up a block from the river but prefer to swim in a pool.

“They don’t do crazy stuff like this.” she says.

To access Riverkeeper’s Water Quality Testing data click HERE.

“Dub Baby” used courtesy of BonesUK / ccMixter

Hudson River Greenway Complete

Last week City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe cut the ribbon on a short stretch of waterfront greenway connecting 83rd and 91st Streets. The path is the final link in a pedestrian path stretching 12 miles from Battery Park to Dyckman Street. The long-awaited extension eliminates the need to take a half-mile detour through Riverside Park that has for years confounded strollers, rollerbladers, skaters, runners and bikers making their way along the river. Mayor Bloomberg was among those credited with bringing the uninterrupted greenway to completion by allocating funds for most of the nearly $16 million project.

Art Rock

When rock sculptures first started cropping up on the banks of the Hudson last winter, I assumed riverside driftwood artist El Ropo was exploring a new theme. Then I happened to pass by while the artist was working and realized this was someone new. Bridget Polk (who bears no relation to the Warhol superstar) has been creating rock sculptures along the river for about a year. They are monumental, precariously placed and yet perfectly suited to the environment. The stones are best viewed at sunset when their weight and inscrutability give them an elemental power. In this three-minute video Polk talks about the art of rock balancing and unwinding by the river.

Postscript 11/28/2010: Dozens of friends and admirers gathered along the Hudson on a recent afternoon to watch Bridget Polkcreate her last riverbank rock sculpture. After 26 years in New York, she is moving to Oregon, where she will be a stone’s throw from the Willamette and Columbia Rivers.

Message In A Bottle

Is it possible to live plastic-free? And why bother? Because the plastic bag or bottle that doesn’t make it into a trash bin could end up washing down a storm drain and in the Hudson River. In this short video, a plastic-free lifestyle advocate talks about her effort to live plastic-free in NYC.

“Naa Yanga” used with the permission of Benjamin Robert Tubb of Public Domain Music (

Rocky Revisited

I recently spotted a yellow bird while biking along the Hudson River. The little fella really stood out against the rocks where he seemed to be contemplating a flyover to New Jersey. I was part of a small group that gathered to watch him. After about 20 minutes, I decided to climb over the rocks to try and grab him, figuring that if I didn’t, he’d either drown or be eaten by a hawk. It took a couple of swats to get a hold of him. He put up an impressive struggle–distressed animals, no matter how small, can be surprisingly strong –and tried to take the tip off my thumb. I managed to cover him with a scarf, put him in the basket on my bike and to take him to a local bird clinic.

Rescuing a bird is something that stays with you and I thought about him a lot during the following week, even going so far as to name him Rocky. When I went back to the clinic to check on him, I found out Rocky was a female peach-faced Lutino lovebird, only a couple of months old. After a few tests, she was deemed to be healthy and put up for adoption. True to her name, Rocky got off to a rough start. The initial adopter couldn’t keep her and she subsequently spent a solitary stretch in a holding area at the bird clinic. The vets grew concerned when her appetite began to wane and she stopped grooming herself. Then she was paired with another lovebird. Before long they hit it off and Rocky was on the road to recovery.

Postscript 8/20/2010: Thanks to Rocky’s wonderful vet for forwarding this recent snapshot of the happy pair at home. She was right about the bright red forehead…