Windy Moonless Long-Distance Sculling In The Dark Wilderness, 101
45 Miles — 72.42 Kilometers
I had upgraded my little red dock and packed my rowing bag … even made some power snacks on Saturday to be ready for a truly early start on Sunday. It was going to be another sailing day, but in the 70’s and I need experience rowing on all conditions in my preparation to break the world long distance sculling record. As I state in Sculling For World Healing, I will have no problem with the distance. But the time will be very weather-dependent and will require a lighter me and a faster boat. But for now, I will become the best sculler I can be building my skill, strength and mileage in a variety of conditions — including the dark.
The thirty-some mile drive has become second nature to me now, and as I pulled into the long country road leading to the lake, I passed a fire truck with its lights flashing. I had texted Bob I was on the way out there so he would know he would soon receive a picture of his boathouse as the water levels raise to where at some point we will find out if it still floats. Tick-tock, tick-tock, Bob.
I had gotten used to being the only car in this parking lot, but this is what I pulled up to, except by the time I took the picture, some of the emergency vehicles had disappeared down the ramp to load up boats with firefighting equipment. Deputy Staten met me to tell me a cabin on the lake was on fire and that it would be a very long time before I could get my boat on the water. Bass fishermen were in queue too. He advised me to go on out to the other launch area and gave me directions to get there by road.
I had an impulse to skip it, but 63 miles is a lot of driving (and CO2 footprint) for nothing. I pressed on. It was another 11 miles to the remote launch on country roads. That was going to make for about an hour to drive home after the row.
When I arrived, I checked in with the deputy there and then spent way too much time walking up and down that very shore-line that had stolen 5 weeks of my life last November/December after the day Bob and I shot the Sculling For a Blue Angel Music Video. This structure is a little store where you can buy snacks and Bob was hungry.
I usually never get out of the boat, but did to be a pal that day, I immediately sunk into quicksand and overstretched my right Achilles tendon. I got back in the boat and rowed another 10-15 miles. But the next day, the pain was so piercing — like fire — that I was sure I had ruptured it but. I was not fully recovered for 5 weeks. Turns out you need your ankles for just about everything including rowing and working out. I lost a lot of my strength and the last of the warm rowing weather of the year.
So needless to say, I am not fond of this place. It was muddy and the incline at the waterline was too gradual for my little red dock to work right, so there was no place to put my boat in cleanly. I wanted to pitch it again, but over-ruled myself and MADE a way for my little red dock to work.
I saw the Bald Eagle. I’m sure that meant something like: be brave. I was very brave. You’ll see.
As I was preparing my boat, I caught some guys using my freshly rinsed little dock that is simply not meant to hold the weight of heavy guys … as their way to get in their boat without getting their feet wet. I made Eric stand there while took I this picture, then requested after they used it to please clean the mud off that they just tracked onto it. They left it in fine condition so no harm done.
Yes, I am little prissy about being able to get in and out of my boat without getting it muddy or freezing my feet, or injuring myself in bottomless mud or on loose rocks. So I come prepared to do a little extra for my launch and landing to be a little safer, cleaner, comfortable and more convenient.
It WAS fricken windy, and that made me think again about how good of an idea it was to get on the water, but I told myself it would calm down and I had all night, if need be, to enjoy another moonlight row since it was just two days past the full moon.
I got on the water at my record latest time of 5:30 — two minutes past the official sunset time of 5:28.
It was still windy when I put in, but soon it let up and I had a twilight of glass to enjoy at the beginning of my row. My boat wanted to do 6 miles an hour effortlessly, which meant I could easily do 7 with a little oomph in my drive. But it was not to be.
First of all, the calm part of my row was spent returning texts from Bob wondering where the cabin that was on fire was on the lake (I made sure with the deputy it wasn’t Bob’s house). I told him I didn’t know, The fire had been long put out I am sure. He was also texting me that I needed to get running lights, a strobe and a Jen Cam installed on my bow. It’s true, I am cheating now with just having a flashlight on my splashguard. My grace-period will be over when the Summer People get back. There will be night-time traffic then.
Then …. IT GOT DARK. Way out in the country, there are stars in the sky … plenty of stars. But they don’t light up the water and the shore like even a sliver of the moon will.
I remembered a couple of things and learned a few more things. That’s what I’m out there to do.
I remembered that rowing shells are REALLY tipsy. That fact seems to diminish as skill and confidence increases. I was reminded acutely of it that night when I learned that vision has a LOT to do with keeping balance.
So even before the wind whipped up again, I had to settle into a slower pace than I wanted as I tried to get used to keeping some kind of stable stroke with no visual frame-of-reference to help.
I also learned that as much as I needed the lit-up instrument panel to keep my bearings, it was a two-edged sword as it kept me from being able to acquire night vision. Toward the end of the row their batteries dimmed to where they were just right, I will keep that pair to use in the darkest conditions for as long as they last. Perhaps I will design little dimming covers to put over fresh lights for such occasions. This is a picture of the dimmer lights at the end of the row.
Then a couple of things happened to make this row hands-down the most challenging one yet (not counting the typhoon I got caught in last summer).
The wind whipped up again and I found myself in open water conditions including gusts and swells just below whitecap level. Thankfully it wasn’t so bad that my boat swamped, but with diminished balancing senses, it was a test of skill to say the least.
And the thing I didn’t understand the most was: WHERE WAS THE MOON? The sky was clear. I could see the stars. The moon started rising only 3 nights before right at twilight (proof in the pictures on Sculling By Moonlight). But there was no moon to be found anywhere in the sky. What up Universe?!
Even though it was supposed to be a warm night (in the 50’s), I guess I couldn’t row hard enough to keep myself warm so at one point I put on two long sleeve jerseys and for the first time EVER, I put on tights! I even put on wool footies under my neoprene footies.
Before long I was rowing fast enough again that I had stripped back down to sleeveless, but didn’t want to stop long enough to pull off the tights. I felt a bit warm, but not enough to take the time to remove them.
I also learned that when dew falls, things get wet, so don’t leave anything you want to keep dry uncovered when it is getting dark. Funny how things you know in regular life have to present themselves in new situations like this … at least for me. I’m out there to learn not only to row better and faster in all conditions, but to learn how to stay in the boat, have everything I need without being over-loaded and just keep rowing! Most especially in REALLY long distance rowing in a single, it’s not so much how fast you go: it’s How Little You Fiddle.
When I got back to where I launched, I could have stopped there at 22.5 miles, but the moon was up, the wind had calmed a bit (back in there anyway) and I figured the next lap was my pay-off, so I went around again. After all, the farther the drive, the longer the row should be to justify the trip. That’s how I see it, anyway.
Halfway through my second lap, The clouds started to cover the sky until the cover was complete. But even a cloudy sky obscuring the moon is brighter than a clear starlit sky with no moon.
I have decided to zero out my GPS line next time I go out early in the day and make a new line. In an effort to squeeze the most mileage from the perimeter of the lake, my line is soooo close to the bank, even with the water levels rising again. And as Spring approaches, the bass boats will all be square on my line, so I need to shorten my lap by a half a mile to a mile. Since I’m gong to be doing multiple laps, I can afford to pull out from the shore a lot more to be safer.
I must take a moment to sing the praises of my beloved Hummingbird and thank the Maas brothers for making such a great boat. I could tell many stories of times I should have just gone right over … like in my first head race the day after I bought the Flyweight. I talked them into letting me enter The Head Of The Oklahoma at the last minute. Luckily my race was early enough the next morning that it wasn’t cancelled. Every single and double race after mine was cancelled due to the high winds. 15 MPH is a light wind day in Oklahoma City.
But that day, my first day rowing my new boat, two years away from having it rigged anywhere near right for me … I gave it all I had. Just as I was passing a grandstand full of people, the wind yanked my port scull (the one in my right hand) right out of my hand and swung too far away for me to catch it. Somehow I stayed upright until I could coax it back to within reach, and was on my way again. My time in the race wasn’t good, but that I finished dry in a new boat made me proud all the same.
Similarly, Maas boys, your Flyweight has saved my butt more times than I can count when dead trees, stumps and docks jump out from nowhere and catch me going full-tilt — and a wide variety of other crashes and sudden ALL STOPS I have encountered in my rowing too-close-to-the-bank approach. The other night I really should have capsized several times and had that fleeting thought each time: “This is it. I’m going over and there goes my perfect record!” But then, my Hummingbird steadies and I am a little shaken but still dry and very thankful.
I will mention one more thing that contributed to making this an especially challenging row. It’s one of the other things I remembered while I was out there. I started to notice something going on with my left shin with every stroke. It hurt a little and even cracked. Shins don’t crack like joints, right? I had no idea what was going on. And then I remembered slamming into my rebounder in the dark the other night when I had not put it way after using it and didn’t expect it to be where it was. It hit me on the lower part of my shin and I recall saying to myself, I need to go put ice on that. But then promptly forgot.
Truly, a stitch in time saves nine! 20 minutes of an ice pack on my shin that evening would have saved two days of icing it since I rowed 45 miles with a bruised shin. I don’t injured myself doing my sports. Just doing life. I’m sure that’s a metaphor for something. I am on the mend, but I think the Wednesday row I was planning (tomorrow) will have to wait for the weekend.
No matter how dark, windy and moonless it was … I was happy the whole time. There is no way I know of to feel more dramatically alive. I count myself among the most fortunate people in the world that I can do something so wonderful and enlivening as rowing as long as I want, whenever I want, and in conditions that most people would not brave even in a motor boat.
Super powers, I tell you!