Saturday, March 5, 2011

Dam Row Euphoria

3:00 p.m. Saturday: The rain has settled in for an all day drizzle. We lucked out with a window of opportunity and got the Dam Row in this morning. Here is my report on a magical morning on the river.

It was damp at the boathouse when the crew showed up at 5:45 a.m. It had rained through the night, but Tuscaloosa seemed to be in a clear area which was supposed to hold till 10:00 a.m. according to the radar weather reports.

Mark was the first to get a set of oars to the “oar tree”. Three other rowers quickly followed suit. Hunter texted Dawn he was on the way: fill the gas tank on the launch and put the extra gas tank in the boat. We were wheeling the launch down the ramp to the dock when Hunter and Sara pulled in.

Before carrying the boat to the river we discussed the row and what it would entail with our coach Hunter. This outing had caused a lot of controversy in the Black Warrior Rowing Club. It would be the longest row ever attempted by the club. Reasons ranging from pee breaks to unconditioned rowers were brought up as grounds not to go. With Sara as cox, eight enthusiastic rowers pushed off the dock at 6:20 a.m.

We started out the row with warm up drills. We would not be resting between sets. We would transition between drills “on the fly”. It worked out well and we were “warmed up well” as we went rowing fours to the first five minute rest spot, just past the steel mill.

Stern four doing drills.

Middle four rowing the the "rest spot". I'm pretty sure we are just transitioning stern pair out here.

The misty gray rolled away and I started to heat up. Off came my thermal shirt; I was able to row with only my BWRC team shirt. I doubt it will warm up enough be able to row shirtless.

This is the farthest I’ve ever been down the Black Warrior River. The south bank has steel piers for the tugboats and loading stations for coal. The smell of sulfur was heavy as we rowed by. Creeks feeding the river were crossed by rusty railroad bridges. When you are rowing, in order to keep the set it is imperative to “keep your eyes in the boat”. As a rower you can only see where you have been. I had no idea we were nearly at the dam till Hunter gave the call for twenty good strokes and then “weigh enough” which means to stop rowing.


Here we rested up for twenty minutes before the return trip to the dock. Time to hydrate and have a snack. We unstrapped from the foot stretchers, stretched in place and laid back. By pairs we stood upon the deck of the boat to work out some of the lactic acid. I can feel my butt and upper hamstrings getting sore. But, it is a “good” sore: proof we are actually working muscles. Hunter had us pose to show we were having fun.

Mark and Laurie: Stern pair.

Were we ever! I’m still on a “high” grinning as I type this out listening to Pandora on my “Cowboy Celtic” station.

I'm loath to call myself an “experienced rower”: Mark, Laurie and I were the “oldtimers” of the row. Dawn, Kathy, Leslie, Joe, and Nancy (If I’m remembering correctly) all joined last fall. The improvement made by all the rowers was so evident. We rowed by sixes to just past the steel mill. Here we stopped for another five minute break.

We are on familiar ground now. This is our usual “turn around” point when we train. We are all still raring to go. Hunter told Sara our cox from this point we will be rowing sixes and eights the 2000 meters to the steel pier. Rowing eights is scary as the boat can be unstable without a set of oars acting as “training wheels” holding the set.

It can be confusing explaining how different sets are transitioned through. We naturally started out with the “stern six” rowing. Then after twenty or so strokes, the bow pair (seats 1 & 2) was transitioned in. Now the entire crew was rowing. After another twenty or so strokes the stern pair (seats 7 & 8) were transitioned out. This transition pattern was worked down the boat till it got the bow pair.

From here we rowed solid eights back to the steel pier. This is where you learn to focus on technique and over come your fatigue. We had some rocky moments but we pulled through. Hunter had us bump the rates up to a 22 which helped steady out the boat.

One of the tugboats from the towing company had been following us. We let it dock before heading to the boat house. To work on our core muscles we rowed back with feet out of the shoes.

We returned safely without any caught crabs, injuries, or drama.

Our coach Hunter is full of enthusiasm as he tries to push us. I’m afraid that enthusiasm can be misinterpreted as carelessness. After returning the boat, oars and launch to their storage spots we all dissected the row. I did not hear anyone complaining of being worked beyond their limits. Instead everyone agreed we all handled the challenges and we can’t wait for the next “Dam Row”.

Speaking for only myself now, I will state I relish being pushed in this fashion. It means so much Hunter and Sara take time out for us to get serious time on the river. At 59 years old I was the “old man” of the boat today. When we docked at 10:00 a.m. I felt like I was back in my 20’s. I guess it could be the endomorphins kicked in from the row, but the pure feeling of elation of what we accomplished this morning has me still grinning like a fool.

I think as we get older we want assurances that “everything will be all right”. I don’t want to invite trouble into my life, but I refuse to live in a padded room insulated from any harm. That is not living. I’m so thankful to be able to row at this stage of my existence. This time on the river more than makes up the years I spent working in the shop for GM on a mind numbing job.

There are three quotes I try to live my life by:

1. "Life is not a dress rehearsal."

2. "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death."

3. "Enjoy"

Joe in 5 seat, Standing: Leslie 4 seat, Jamie 3 seat, Dawn 2 seat.


About Me

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Tuscaloosa, Alabama, United States
Retired auto worker who can now spend too much time restoring his 1922 Bungalow Home. I'm involved in a number of varied activities from collecting bricks to rowing with a masters rowing group. This blog is to share different aspects of my life on my Facebook page. I've kept an on-line journal for eight years.