June 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Swim to the Other Side of the World: Part 3

It had taken me less than an hour to swim the 2,175 meters from Brighton Beach to the Coney Island Pier, but now I was on the other side of the pier. I was in “Ku Wai,” a term the Ancient Chinese had used to describe the barren wilderness beyond The Great Wall. I didn’t have time to stop and ponder the stark contrast of the world I had left behind—the clock was ticking.

A vast open ocean extended to the horizon on my left. On my right, a strip of deserted beaches. I pushed on under a gray sky, inserting one hand after the other into the ocean. My mind started to drift, but I continued to point my fingers towards the edge of the horizon, that magical point where the sea kissed the beach.

Almost as soon as my Garmin GPS watch buzzed that I had reached 2,500 meter my fingers touched sand.

How could that be?

(You are in “Ku Wai,” the other side of the world.)

I was still swimming 100 meters offshore. I shouldn’t be able to stand this far out to sea.

(Everything is different here.)

I pointed my middle finger towards the tip of the next shoal, in the distance.

(Giving the ocean the “middle finger”?)

I pointed my middle finger towards the tip of the next shoal in the distance, remembering what I’d learned years ago: where you point your finger is where you’ll wind up swimming. I had one more shoal to swim around, so when I pointed my finger 15 degrees to the left, I started pulling away from the shore moving ever farther out to sea.

At 3,000 meters into my swim the Jones Beach Pier was a half mile behind me.

This is the point where you really begin to “feel” the Atlantic Ocean. The entrance to the ocean starts farther back, but at that point, you no longer have Breezy Point on your left to keep the tides flowing east to west or west to east.

I was in the Coney Island Chanel. From there it’s two miles west to Staten Island or four miles south to Sandy Hook, New Jersey, or worse. Get caught in a strong current and you will be pulled into the shipping lanes of the Lower Bay. Out there is where Poseidon waits with his trident. A three-pronged spear. I had no desire to find out how pointy it actually was.

(You mean his fork.)

Three-pronged spear.

(Salad or dinner fork?)

Trident.

I always regarded Poseidon as the moodiest and ill-tempered of Greek gods. Insult him and he would seek vengeance upon you.

(But he was the protector of sailors.)

I was the furthest thing from a sailor. I already felt like I was already tempting the god of the sea, earthquakes and storms by venturing beyond the shore.

(You were two miles into the swim and only two miles from Staten Island.)

Which is why I follow the shoreline.

(What if you had cramped?)

That has actually happened before.

(Did you call for help?)

With what cell phone dingus?

I simply rolled over and floated in my wetsuit until the cramp went away.

(But here the currents would have carried you out to sea had you done that.)

If that happened today, I’d be at the mercy of the tides.

(Forget drifting to Staten Island, you might float all the way to Atlantic City.)

Fortunately, I’d prepared. I spent two full weeks planning this swim. I made sure to stretch properly in the days leading up to the swim to avoid the problem of cramping. I was determined to reach the end of the world and nothing, not even Poseidon, was going to stop me.

A wave washed over me as I turned to breath and I found myself with a mouth full of sea water. There was no panic, no sensation of drowning, only calm. Years of racing had taught me that seconds can feel like minutes when you can’t breathe, but they are only seconds. I rotated my face down in the ocean and I waited for the chance to expel the mouthful. I turned to breath and spit out the sea like a blue whale coming up for air.

Then as I passed a shoal of rocks the size of Volkswagens, the shoreline started to recede. I was now 4,000 meters into my swim. I had been swimming for a mile with nothing on my left side, but now the land on my right side was disappearing.

For over two hours, the beach was my “right side companion.” Every time I turned my head to breathe, there it was. Not anymore. Without a coast to break the waves, the currents were playing by their own rules. They sped up, slowed down or pulled me sideways without warning.

My arms propelled me forward through the rolling waves as my mind wandered. As I started to head out to sea, I imagined Poseidon, just beyond the horizon, trident in hand, laughing at me. I pressed on in a swilling current that could smash me against the rocks or sweep me out to sea.

David Roher is a USAT certified marathon and triathlon coach. He is a multi-Ironman finisher and a veteran special education teacher. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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