Stefan and I row to the Golden Gate and beyond three times a week. You’d think we’d be bored with it by now. Not so.
I always have something to think about. Mostly I think about the water or my stroke or the waves I can hear approaching, but Thursday morning my mind was on a talk I’d attended the night before at Marin Rowing.
The talk was by Chris Martin, a former British national team rower. Chris rowed solo across the Atlantic in 2006 and apparently that wasn’t enough suffering for him. In 2009 he rowed a double with Mick Dawson from Japan to San Francisco. Yes, you read that right: Japan to SF, that’s roughly 5,000 miles, and it took Chris and Mick six months, about two months longer than they’d planned.
Not surprisingly, they ran out of food 130 miles outside of San Francisco, but luckily a kind supporter (who happened to have access to a helicopter) airlifted supplies, dropping them into the water for the rowers. There was even a Big Mac and fries in that package. “The best burger EVER” according to Chris.
Just imagine – six months in a boat, two hours on, two off, round the clock, with only one other person for company. Average boat speed: three knots. Average boat speed when barnacles built up on the hull: one knot. Chris and Mick would take turns going overboard to scrape off the barnacles; occasionally sharks would join them for the cleaning sessions.
Whales escorted their boat at times, rising up out of the water and checking them out as if they were the new kids on the block. Albatross flew alongside and on one moonlit night, an enormous school of about 400 yellow-fin tuna surrounded their boat, moonbeams shining off their backs like flashes of silver.
I especially loved it when Chris showed a shot he took of the night sky glittering with thousands of stars and spoke about how on calm nights the stars would be reflected on the water's surface, making him feel like he was rowing through space.
As you can guess, it wasn’t all stardust and magic kingdom moments. There were near misses with fishing boats, huge storms and waves, and as mentioned, sharks, lots of sharks.
And Chris made the point that when one’s existence is whittled down to an endless loop of eat, sleep, row, “a little bit of your personality disappears.”
This point stuck with me and I thought about it as Stefan and I fought the current on the way back from the bridge. Why would anyone row the Pacific? Or any ocean for that matter? Day in and day out. What a slog!
The sun rose over the horizon and delivered a little epiphany to me along with its glorious glow. Yes, anything that takes effort is a slog. A row, a run, work, definitely work. But anytime you pour yourself into something, you lose yourself, and in that losing, you also find yourself and reclaim little, hidden corners of your mind.
And that, friends, is what keeps me coming back to the bay for more.
PS – Chris Martin, along with some other accomplished ocean rowers, is putting on the Pacific Rowing Race in 2014. The race goes from California to Hawaii and entries are open if you’re so inclined.