The Hudson meanders through forests and over the boulders of the Adirondacks before joining a wide, slow stream near New York City. It stretches 315 miles (507 kilometers) from source to end.

Lewis Pugh completed the entire swim Wednesday morning.

The 53-year-old endurance swimmer emerged from the water in lower Manhattan after a month-long journey wearing a Speedo suit, swim cap and goggles. As he climbed out, he smiled and raised his fists in victory. Despite a drizzle of rain, supporters gathered at Battery Park cheered.

“It’s very difficult to swim for 30 days,” Pugh told reporters at a news conference. “Yes, it does take a huge toll on you. But I can honestly say I feel like I have my energy back.”

Pugh had been dealing with fatigue and shoulder soreness for weeks. He’s dodged tugboats and floating plastic trash. He insists any discomfort is worth it to highlight the importance of the Hudson and clean rivers.

“Seeing the Statue of Liberty on the horizon and seeing that beautiful torch made me think that everything we value depends on our ability to drink clean water, breathe fresh air, and take care of our The planet is habitable,” he said. “Rivers are the arteries of our planet.”

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

Lewis Pugh swam along the Hudson River through a forest.
Swimming in the Hudson River near Castleton, NY

AP Photo/Hans Penick

Christopher Swain swam the Hudson River in 2004. Swain wore a wetsuit and Pugh wore a Speedo suit and typically tried to swim 10 miles (16 kilometers) a day.

“There’s no river in the world that has beavers, bears, bald eagles in its headwaters,” Pugh recently told The Associated Press before a swim. “Finally, you come under the George Washington Bridge, breathe to the left, and you see these amazing skyscrapers.”

like swimming on a dirt road

On a recent trip south of Albany, Pugh snapped off his hat, donned goggles and jumped out of the inflatable boat accompanying him. He started by taking a swig of Pepto-Bismol, a nod to the impure water. He also rinses his mouth with antibacterial mouthwash, cleanses with surgical soap, and wears earplugs.

Support group members followed by boat and kayak.

The second half of Pugh’s swim was at the mouth of the Hudson River, a tidal stretch of river that stretches from New York Harbor to just above Albany. He tried to drift with the tide, but he said wind and choppy water made progress more difficult.

“Imagine driving down a corrugated dirt road, that’s what it feels like when you’re traveling up this dirt road for hour after hour after hour after hour,” he said.

Pugh takes a drink from a team member in the kayak.

AP Photo/Hans Penick

The challenge was different when Pugh set off on Aug. 13 at Lake Tears of the Clouds, high in Mount Marcy. In the Adirondacks, some rivers were too shallow to swim, so Pugh ran along their banks. Other sections of the river with fast currents have enough rock to create what Pugh calls a “high-consequence environment.”

“I was just wearing a Speedo, a hat and goggles,” he said. “So if you hit a rock, you’re really going to drop to second place.”

Pugh had to take a detour on land around waterfalls, dams and locks, although he was able to swim through one of the locks. These barriers disappear at the estuary, which grows wider as more development crowds the coast.

Decades ago, the Hudson River was notorious for being polluted by everything from industrial chemicals to old tires and sewer runoff. Even as late as 2004, when Swain swam across the river to encourage continued cleanup efforts, New York Post headline Read: Loving that dirty water; eco-nuts swim in the slimy Hudson River.

Pugh, wearing a swimming cap and goggles, shot waves from the water.
Pugh sends waves from the water.

Cleanups and tighter regulations have helped the river slowly transform into a summer playground for more kayakers, sailboats and even swimmers. The water is still not perfect. For example, after heavy rains, sewage can overflow into parts of the Hudson River.

Still, while more work needs to be done, Pugh said Wednesday that the Hudson is a powerful example of how waterways can be revitalized.

“We must also never forget the history of the Hudson River, because we came with saws, we cut down forests, we built factories, we dumped industrial waste into the river…the river became A dump,” Pugh said. “But by the 1970s, New Yorkers said, ‘We’ve had enough.'”


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