Ready Rower

Waiting for me

Waiting for me

5:15AM seemed a little extra early this morning when the twittering of my iPhone interrupted my dream.  I awoke confused, unsure of whether it was really time to get up, having just fallen into a dream state a few minutes before the alarm went off.

I got up, turned off my annoying phone and then looked back over my shoulder at the warm bed I had just left behind.  My dog remained curled on his bed on the floor, snoring softly through slightly curled lips.  My husband seemed oblivious to the alarm, his own snores harmonizing with my dog’s–my husband forever the musician.

The rowing center bay glows like a fireplace

The rowing center bay glows like a fireplace

I slipped back under the covers for just a few minutes.  I thought about rolling over and falling back into whatever dream I had been pulled from.  But then, I remembered why I’d set the alarm for 5:15AM.  It was because I was going to row for the first time since last fall!

The thought of entering the river all by myself in the dark after not having rowed for months set off a new alarm, awakening the rabble of butterflies in my stomach.  With so much fluttering going on, there was no possibility of going back to sleep.  I decided coffee was in order.

I managed to get myself caffeinated, dressed, and assembled enough to take Tisen (who had managed to get out of bed) for a quick walk around the park.  Then, I was off.

A pedestrian bridge on the river walk reflected on the water

A pedestrian bridge on the river walk reflected on the water

I stuffed my rowing equipment into my saddle bags and rolled my bike out of the garage.  I carried it up the flight of steps to ground level, mounted, and rolled off into the dark feeling somewhat stoic, like I was about to face an enemy.

The quick 2 mile ride to the rowing center warmed up my legs and helped me relax.  The rabble in my belly died as I pumped my way up the slope of the Walnut Street Bridge looking over the stillness of the river below.  I reminded myself that it wasn’t that cold.  The worst thing that could happen is I could get wet.  I would make it back home slightly chilled, but no worse for wear.

Looking across the rests used for sculling boats to McClellan Island

Looking across the rests used for sculling boats to McClellan Island

I was the first rower of the morning.  I turned on the lights and tried to find my favorite boat to no avail.  I found another one and quickly learned I’d forgotten the art of carrying a rowing scull, but I managed to get it out safely.

I did everything out of order, but once I was seated in the scull and rowing, it was like I hadn’t missed a week.  The rhythm of legs pushing while arms pull oars through water, bending arms, straightening arms, sliding slowing back up to the catch, listening to the oars in the oarlocks and watching the Great Blue Heron soar a foot above the water all to a slow count of 4–it’s hard to imagine a better way to start a day.

One thing I forgot after a 5-month hiatus--what these things are called

One thing I forgot after a 5-month hiatus–what these things are called

Product Testing

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that I was convinced I was born to row because I made it through a Learn to Row class without falling in the water.  Let me take another moment to brag–I made it through the entire two weeks of classes without falling in.

Fortunately, one of the requirements for the class was to get back into the boat from the water.  This is fortunate in that, having not fallen in, I didn’t get to learn this on my own.

Getting back into a sculling shell from the water is no easy task.  You have to get your body up onto the boat while holding the oars into position so the boat doesn’t tip back over again.  It took me several tries and I was badly bruised by the time I made it back into the boat.

Since then, I’ve been feeling like I was never going to fall in.  I’ve been rowing twice a week and I’ve managed to catch myself every time I started to tip.  Then, the other morning when it was about 54 degrees out, I did my usual route around a section of the river that is mostly still within sight of the rowing center.

When I got to the downstream end of my rowing route, as usual, I stopped rowing to drift by part of Maclellan Island and see what birds were out.  Just then, four Great Blue Heron came swooping overhead.  I turned to see where they were headed and the next thing I knew, my head was completely underwater.  I didn’t feel the boat tip at all; I was just suddenly submerged.

Fortunately, the river was still toasty warm.  But, I had a moment of panic.  Once I got my mind around the fact that I was, in fact, in the water, I realized several things:

  1. One oar had come out of the oarlock and was floating away from me and the boat
  2. The boat was completely upside down
  3. My iPhone was strapped to the boat in a waterproof case and cute little lifejacket
  4. I had lights suction cupped to the boat since it was dark when I’d started rowing–they were now completely submerged.

Accepting that there was nothing to do but get the boat back together and myself back in it, I swam after the lose oar, pleased to find that it does, as advertised, float.  I got the boat righted and was equally pleased to discover that my lights were not only still attached, but also still it.

I got the oar back in the oarlock and managed to get myself back into the boat in one smooth try like I’d been tipping sculling boats for years.  And, the moment of pure delight came when I confirmed that my iPhone had floated and remained dry inside its case.

For once, all products performed as expected!

The only down side was riding my bike home in 54 degree weather soaking wet.

Learning to Row

I took the Learn to Row class offered by the Lookout Rowing Club here in Chattanooga back in July, but rowing a sculling shell and cameras don’t mix well.

At long last, I got my husband out to the rowing center to help do some shooting.  In these shots, I am demonstrating some of the basic skills we learned in the class:  carrying the boat by yourself, getting into the boat without falling in, getting off the dock without falling in, and rowing without falling in.

Note the “without falling in.”  That is an important qualifier.  A sculling shell is a long and narrow boat; the fact that it doesn’t roll all the time is a denial of physics (and the result of long oars that float on the water’s surface).

In fact, during the first class in which we got into boats and pushed off the dock, I was the only person in my class who didn’t end up in the water, including the instructor.  This is such a remarkable fact that I have to think that perhaps I was born to be a rower.  After all, I once scraped my face eating a breakfast bar; the odds that I would be the only one to make it through the class without falling in at some point are pretty astronomical.

I did not fare so well on learning how to carry the boat.  In fact, I found that to be the most challenging part of the class.  It was also something I was determined to master because I knew I was going to be coming out to row by myself early in the morning and there was no way I was going to ask anyone for help.

First, I tried carrying the boat on my shoulder instead of my head.  I thought this would be more stable and give me better control over the boat.  It did.  However, I couldn’t see one entire side and I kept running into things like railings, buildings, other boats, and occasionally other people.

I eventually found carrying the boat on my head gave me much better visibility and the only time I ran into things was trying to put the boat back onto the racks.  I eventually learned to carry the boat in and out of the boathouse on my hip, place it on the slings out front, and then put it on my head to walk to the dock.  So far, I haven’t broken anything.

On this day, as I was rowing, my port oar popped out of the oarlock.  I was pretty proud that I managed to get the oar back into the oarlock without tipping the boat.  This is no easy feat–the oars are like training wheels and keeping both of them on the water evenly keeps the boat from rolling over.  For some reason, my husband didn’t shoot my amazing dexterity.  Maybe he was waiting for the moment when I would fall in?

Head of the Hootch

After a morning of hang gliding, we return to Chattanooga in time to check out the Head of the Hootch scene. The first thing about the Head of the Hootch is the sheer number of boats on the water. In spite of the fact that the river is closed to both recreational and commercial traffic for the regatta, and the fact that these boats are as sleek and trim as it gets, the river looks like it could not possibly have room for one more boat on it. As we walk over the Market St bridge to the aquarium, we have to stop and stare several times and gawk while we count the number of boats in a small space.

As we make our way across Market St bridge, the next thing that stands out is the number of people standing on the bridge. There are so many people jammed on the sidewalks on either side of the bridge at the South end that they are jumping off the sidewalks and onto the roadway to go around each other. When a close race goes under the bridge, people dart across between traffic to see how it comes out on the other side. This seems so dangerous that I wonder why they didn’t close Market St all together.

The third thing that catches our attention (oh, all right, so we could see this from our apartment before we left) is the number of tents lining the riverfront by the aquarium. There are market-style tents set up practically on top of each other. They line the street and spread out onto the grass between the road and the river. The road is closed and rowers walk in large groups, the teenagers oblivious to other pedestrians and not bothering to move out of the way when they occupy the entire sidewalk.

We make our way through the crowd looking somewhat like we need press passes. I have my tripod bag over my shoulder and Pat carries my camera bag over his. We walk down the steps next to the aquarium bridge to get under the street and out to the pier next to the fountain. I figure we’ll be able to get some good shots from under the bridge. Pat helps pick a setting by suggesting I shoot boats as they appear from behind the bridge support. These turn out ot be some of my favorite shots.

I’ve put my big lens on my camera and mounted it on my tripod. I stand behind the camera and discover that I can barely zoom out far enough to get half of an eight person boat from here. I contemplate changing lenses, but decide to stick with the 100-400mm for a while yet. I shoot the boats on the other side of the river. I zoom in and see how tight I can get from this far away. I’m pretty impressed with my lens. I’m feeling like I could pass as a professional with my lovely tripod and my nice big lens.

That’s about the time that the real professional (or wealthy want-to-be) shows up. He’s carrying what must be at least a 300mm f/2.8 lens, if not a 400mm or more. For those of you not familiar with camera lenses, we’re talking a $7,000 – 13,000 lens here. It has an enormous circumference and looks like it could gather enough light to shoot the stars at a high shutter speed. Suddenly, my big lens looks pitiful.

That’s the trouble about comparing your lenses to other people’s–someone always has a bigger lens. But when I look through my lens again at 100mm and just fit half a boat in the frame, I suddenly wonder what the heck the other guy is shooting. From here, I wonder if he can get more than one eye in the frame. I imagine some of the more dramatic sports shots I’ve ever seen and decide he can probably get some really great facial expressions. While I may have the same reach with my lens (or not, I can’t actually tell), I don’t have the same aperture opening. That means I have to have slower shutter speeds to get the same exposure that he can get by opening up his aperture wider. This allows him to freeze those rapidly moving facial expressions sharply in time when they would likely be blurred for me. I would love to see his shots.

I contemplate briefly walking over to him and asking him about his lens, but decide there’s no point in finding out what it is since I already have 2 lenses on my wish list that are in a far more practical price range. Plus, I don’t feel like embarrassing myself today by asking stupid questions. I would love to see the shots he’s getting, though. My main confusion is that he isn’t using a tripod. I wonder how he can hold that big lens without one. As I contemplate whether to talk to the photographer or not, Pat points out a large Swallow condominium complex built on the underside of a bridge structure. Their little mud huts hang, now abandoned, in a line, somehow making me think of a row of abandoned beach houses.

I turn my attention back to the boat races for a few minutes. Watching two boats neck and neck as they come to the finish line gets me excited. I am thrown back in time to my brief lessons in a learn to row class and the feeling of flying across the river in a 4-person boat when we all got into a good rhythm. I think about about how delicious it felt to kick the rears of the competing boat that day (especially when the average age of their boat was about 10 years younger than ours).

However, I don’t know who is competing against whom in this race. It makes it tough to follow or to decide whom to celebrate with. Boats just keep coming in. Then, I see the OSU women and then some OSU men. I’m somewhat excited that I recognize them by their paddles–the rowing class I took was held out of the OSU boathouse on the Scioto River in Columbus.

After shooting some more, we head to Thai Smile for lunch. I have my leftovers packed up and even think to ask for plasticware and napkins. I’m all ready for any homeless we encounter on the way home. However, it looks like all the homeless were shuttled off somewhere. All that are left on the Walnut St Bridge are a group of rowdy partiers who are having the time of their lives. We continue back across the river and go home with our leftovers still in tact.