Monday, September 29, 2008

Boston...Maybe

This past weekend I did not accompanied my competitive men teammates to row in the Head of the Ohio. Too far for me. Instead I stayed on the Occoquan and rowed with our Fitness rowers. The best description I have for the Fitness rowers are that they are a group that likes rowing, see it as an excellent way to get and stay in shape, but have no desire to compete in races. It's a mixed group of men and women and boats are formed up at practice depending on who shows up to row. As it turns out, they had enough to field an 8+ both on Saturday and Sunday. They spend a lot more on drill work then I'm use to so from that perspective it gave me an opportunity to refocus on my stroke and what I do right and what I do wrong. It was also different from the point that when I'm with the Men, being a lightweight, I'm far from the strongest rower. This weekend I was one of the strongest rower with the Fitness group. There was no power in the boat at all. The boat felt so very heavy and I can feel it in my lats from pulling such heavy weight. The fact that they tend to row at such low stroke rates contributes to the heavy feel of the boat. Still it was a way to get out on the water, even though we got rained on both mornings. Not downpours, more like a light sprinkle. Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, it looks like the men got two seconds and missed a third place finish in another race because they missed the finish buoy. Sounds like some bad coxing there. The Women got a third in their 8+.

After practice on Sunday, I was approached about coxing the Men's Club 8+ entry in the Head of the Charles. Apparently since it's a club entry, there is an eligibility issue with using high school coxswains in this category. Something about high schoolers competing against college crews. Anyway they needed a coxswain and I was asked. Now I have no real experience as a coxswain. Sure I've taken boats out a few times during practice, but never in a race. The Head of the Charles is probably the most challenging race for coxswains that I know of. Given the level of the competition, the various tight turns and the numerous bridges that have to be negotiated, it's difficult and requires a lot of quick decision making not required in most races. I accepted the offer, but I did encourage our coach to continue to look for someone a bit more experienced than myself. Another point is I'm hardly coxswain size. True I'm a lightweight rower, but at 160 pounds, I'm pushing the upper limits of being a lightweight. Our current coxswain probably weighs about 115 pounds, if that. That's 45 extra pounds of dead weight. If I remain the coxswain, I'm sure it will be exciting to say the least. Clashing oars between boats, collisions between boats, and hitting bridges as boats jockey for position are not uncommon. Hold onto your seats and pray I can get our boat through in one piece. More to follow on this.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A New Blog and Family BBQ

Since Daughter#1 was laid off from her job, she has a lot of free time on her hands now. She has chosen to start a Blog (a chip off the old block). She'll be sharing details of her job search and of her upcoming wedding. She'll also throw in some rowing stuff too since she'll be coxing a Women's Master 4+ in the Head of the Charles. Check it out.

We had my uncle and his wife over for a cookout this afternoon. They recently moved to Virginia from Florida along with their son (my cousin) and his wife. They were due to work at the nuclear plant at Lake Anna and that job was put on hold and then they were hired to work at Ft Belvoir and that job went away so they're hustling to find jobs. Even though he's my uncle (father's side), he's only 4 years older than me and my cousin is about 28 years younger than me. Very unusual. We grilled up some brats and chicken and swapped stories for the afternoon. It was good to see them again. He was a big part of my life growing up and it's nice having some family close by again.

It was a good day for my football teams. Auburn hung on to beat Tennessee. Maryland beat Clemson, Ohio beat VMI, Navy beat Wake Forest and Va Tech is winning at Nebraska. Lets hope the Redskins can do as well tomorrow against the hated Cowboys.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Washington Race

Sunday my rowing club headed to downtown Washington and the Georgetown waterfront to race in the Potomac Boat Club's Scullers Head of the Potomac. I was originally entered to race in both the Men's Quad and Men's Masters 8+. However these events were scheduled back to back and there was no way I could two head races of 2.5 miles each back to back. The Quad was scuttled. Thank God. We had two boats entered in the Men's Masters 8+ category. One with an average age of 43 and one of 51. I was rowing bow in the older boat. Now I can row from both sides - port and starboard, but I'm much more comfortable and I feel more productive rowing from the port side. Unfortunately we have a shortage of starboard rowers so occasionally I get moved over to the starboard side. Such was the case for this race. The race was held on the Potomac, which can be at times a royal pain. We get spoiled rowing on the Occoquan, which tends to be provide pretty smooth water almost all the time. The Potomac is a much bigger body of water and much more open. It can be pretty choppy most of the time. Sunday it was more like the Occoquan. Nice and calm. The weather was sunny but very fall-like with temperatures in the 70s. The Georgetown waterfront is a beautiful place to race being in the shadow of the Kennedy Center and the infamous Watergate Hotel. You can see most of the monuments and watch the planes landing at Washington National airport. I'm not sure what to say about our race. At times we rowed well and at times it was pretty ragged. We tended to be down to starboard a good deal of the time making it hard for me to row cleanly in terms of rolling up early and getting the proper length at the catch. We came in 7th out of ten boats entered finishing right behind our younger boat. Not great, but not bad for us either. Certainly a fun day and one that didn't use up a whole day coming and going since we are located so close to Washington. The club is traveling to Pittsburgh and the Head of the Ohio this coming weekend, but I decided not to go. It's a 5 1/2 hour drive and really requires an overnight (or two) stay. It just gets too expensive in terms of time and money. I'll stay home and row with our fitness group instead.

A picture to share from earlier in the month and our row around Wye Island. Here my boat shows off their first place medals.




Monday, September 22, 2008

Football and More Football

Fall made it to Virginia just in time for the weekend. morning temperatures would be in the low 50s and climb to mid 70s by the afternoon. coupled with the low humidity, it made for a delightful weekend. This past Friday was a day off and I decided to run over to Sandy Run for a row in a single scull, something I haven't had time for in a while. Since I also had a Doctor's appointment later that morning, I didn't try to make it too long an row and just went up as far as Fountainhead Park before turning around - a total of 7 miles round trip. Just as I was reaching Fountainhead, here came the George Mason Women's Crew team, in 8+s, four abreast heading back toward Sandy Run. It was an impressive start and it appeared that that they were racing as pairs with the varsity boats racing each other and two novice boats racing each other. It was quite impressive seeing all four boats coming down the river. My row was a good one considering I hadn't sculled in a single for a while. The boat seemed to move pretty well, particularly on the way back. My muscles were pretty sore though afterward proving that I need to get out on a much more regular basis.

The Doctor visit went well. It was just a checkup to see how I was doing on some new medication to control my high blood pressure. High blood pressure runs in the family unfortunately and I hate having to take medicine to control it. However the alternative of stroking out is hardly a pleasant alternative so take it I must.

Saturday was my usual club rowing practice. What a gorgeous morning with the cooler air temperature raising mist off the warmer morning and the rising sun turning it a beautiful shade of gold. We were preparing for the Head of the Potomac to be held on Sunday as well as do some final seat racing to select the 8 rowers to row at the Head of the Charles. Being one of the shortest and lightest member on the Men's side, I new I was a long shot to make the boat and alas, that's what happened. So no trip to Boston this year. I covered my disappointment with a few donuts, eggs and home fries as our novice rowers provided breakfast for the club.

After practice, I raced home and showered as Ann and I had tickets to the University of Maryland football game against Eastern Michigan. Actually we have season tickets, but this was the first game we could actually make. We like to go early and tailgate for a while before heading to the stadium. Maryland won by a wide margin 51-24 although the game was a little closer than the score would indicate. The people that sit around us are all pretty nice and it was good to see them again. After the Maryland game we came back home in time to watch Va Tech come from behind to beat UNC on TV, a game Daughter#2 and the Son In Law were at down in Chapel Hill. We grilled up some steaks after that game in preparation to watch LSU play Auburn. An exciting game to say the least except Auburn came up on the short end Damn.

In some sad and shocking news, Daughter#1 was downsized and laid off today. Life can sure be sucky some days.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Festival Time

Finishing up on my weekend (now that it's late Wednesdays night), on Sunday we headed to Delaplane, VA and the Sky Meadows State Park for the Virginia Scottish Games. It was the brainchild of Daughter#2. The Games are a two day affair and since some of us were busy on Saturday, we decided to meet up on Sunday. It was a beautiful, if very hot, day. There were plenty of tents for the various clans and speciality vendors.

These are Scottish games so there were plenty of athletic events going on throughout the day, When we first got there they were seeing who could pitch this whatever the highest over a crossbar (not visible). I have no idea how heavy the package, but the event seem to require as much timing as strength.
One of the more interesting demonstrations was the Border Collie sheep herding. Anyone who has seen the movie "Babe" knows the basic idea of a herding competition. The dog is controlled with a series of whistles. It was quite remarkable to see the trainer control the dog who in turn moved the sheep in the direction the trainer decided just through a whistle, often from quite a distance. It was a big favorite with everyone. After the demonstration they had a representative from a Border Collie Rescue Organization talk to the crowd. It really takes someone special to be a Border Collie owner. They need to be engaged and worked. Definitely not a dog for a couch potato.

My Grandfather emigrated from Scotland in the 1920s from Glasgow. He's part of the clan Campbell. Definitely not a favorite of most clans since they threw their lot in with the hated English at some point. The clan is headed by the Duke of Argyll.

It wouldn't be a Scottish Festival without beer and Fish n Chips, both of which we enjoyed. Here The Son In Law, Daughter#2 and yours truly enjoy some fine spirits. McEwan's Scotch Ale.

It also wouldn't be a Scottish festival without bagpipes. Most of the pipe bands were there on Saturday for their competition. I would have liked to see that. However the Winchester, VA Pipe Band did drop by for everyone's entertainment.


Here is a short video of them playing Scotland the Brave.

video


Since it was a very hot day, we spent a good deal of time sitting watching the live entertainment. The Celtic band Rathkeltair was very good. Who knew you could rock out with a bagpipe in your band? You can get a small sample of their sound.

video
We stayed until about 4:00 and they were wrapping things up. The park provided a gorgeous setting and it was truly a fun day. Score one for Daughter#2.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Oh What a Day

Today I stayed home so I could go to the Dentist to get a "suspicious" area looked at by my Dentist. The area had turned up in an x-ray my Periodontist had taken a few weeks back. I only see my dentist when such problems turn up and rely on regular visits and cleanings by the Periodontist to keep my teeth and gums on the straight and narrow. The visit didn't get off on the right foot as I missed a turn and showed up 15 minutes late for my appointment. Then the Dentist decided the x-rays the Periodontist had forwarded to him weren't clear enough and wanted to retake them. That accomplished his assistant came in a few minutes later to discuss them with me. As they popped up on the flat screen monitor, she pointed to a shadowy area on my back upper right molar. She explained that was all decay and, oh by the way, it had broken through to the root area and guess what? It's your lucky day - you need a root canal and crown. Lovely. Also just my luck - they had a cancellation later in the day and wouldn't it be wonderful if I could come back for the procedure. Dealing with Dentists is like dealing with an auto mechanic. You just aren't qualified to know if something is really truly wrong or its just a way to dip into your wallet. I guess there is a measure of trust involved. So I rolled over and agreed to come back. Next up was their office financial assistant to make sure I could afford it. She showed me the bill and after picking my jaw up off the floor, I guess I satisfied her to the point that yes I could afford the procedure. They sent me on my way with a cheery "See you in a bit".

I went and had lunch before returning. I was truly dreading it because I had heard that it was quite an uncomfortable/painful procedure. They numbed me up pretty well, but god the sound of the drill. It freaks me out whether I can feel it or not. The fact that I know he was slowly destroying most of the tooth didn't help my visualization of what was going on. Overall I guess it wasn't too bad and didn't hurt at all, including post recovery. Even now, several hours later, I'm not feeling any discomfort. Knock on wood. I now have a temporary crown with the permanent one due to be ready in a few weeks. It sucks getting old

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I Survived

Wye Island has come and gone and all I can say about it is that I survived it. Weatherwise it was one of the best days we've ever had for this race. The early forecast of rain didn't hold and the day was sunny and warm. The water was flat and perfect for rowing. I was originally suppose to race in a Quad with three novice scullers, but that sensibly went by the wayside and I was moved into a mixed 8+. Unfortunately my mixed 8+ had 3 women and 5 guys. For a mixed entry you have to have an equal number of both sexes. So instead of racing in the mixed 8+ category, we were moved to the Masters Men 8+ category. The row around Wye Island is as pretty a row as you can ask for. The view of the Island and the surrounding area is very picturesque. Big houses with well tended landscaping, big boats, duck blinds, lots of water grasses. I wish I could say our row was as pretty, but it was downright ugly. We had no ratio between the drive and the recovery, there was no coordinated swing. Our 4 seat had not adjusted her oar locks which was positioned for someone 6 ft tall and not for her 5'2" frame. Consequentially her oar was barely in the water. In addition, two of our rowers were washing out early meaning their stroke length was about half of everyone else in the boat. The boat just felt heavy the whole race, which took us over an hour and forty three minutes (unofficial time). That's a good 20 minutes longer than it should have taken us given the water conditions. We were just bad. The good news out of all of this is that we got a first place medal. I hesitate to mention we were the only boat in our category. It cheapens the experience. :-) Onto the pictures.

Here are some of my teammates relax after rigging the boats as we wait the start of the races.

This is the boat we raced in . It's a Wintech 8+. Made in China of all places. The high school with which we co-own the boat with has named it the Titan. Our other boat sit on slings waiting to be launched and out boat trailer in the rear of the picture.

A shot of the Titan from the bow.
This is my seat on the boat. I rowed 2 seat (second from the bow). You can see everything from 2 seat (except what the bowman behind you is doing). Not shown is the seat pad I use since the seats get hard after a while and this was a long race.

Here is our Master Women's Quad getting into their boat. In almost all our races we launch from docks. Wye Island requires you to wade into the water to launch and recover. The bottom is a mixture of sand, mud and broken oyster shells. Most of us wear flip flops of some sort to protect our feet until we can get into the boat.

Ahhhhhhh....after the race. One of the joys of Masters Rowing are the cold beers and tale swapping afterwards. This is especially true after Wye Island as the cold beer cools your sore blistered hands as you hold it and makes you feel so much better as you drink it. One of the side benefits of racing on Maryland's eastern shore are some very good seafood restaurants. The club will normally stop in at one to celebrate the day and the club's accomplishments. I don't have the full results, but besides my boat we had one other first place finish (Women's Quad). This year we stopped at the Fisherman's Crab Deck at the Kent Narrows for crabs and the like.

The food was excellent as was the company and the cold beer. And I had a perfect view of the water.


I can't say that this was the best Wye Island race I've been to despite the 1st Place finish. It just wasn't a good row, but overall it was a fun day. It does test your ability as a rower to do that 12.5 miles and still maintain your form, focus and concentration for that long a period. It's also exhausting. Given the warm (hot) day, I felt really dehydrated afterward. At the end of the day I was in bed fast asleep by 8:00 PM and it still hurt getting up the next morning. Next up is the Head of the Potomac this coming Sunday, September 21.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My Marathon

I've always admired people who run a marathon. Running 26 miles is quite a feat not to mention the endless hours and miles put in before hand in training for the event. I've thought of running a marathon, but I know in reality it's not for me. The main reason is I hate to run. I often mock (to myself) the joggers I pass on my way to the boathouse to row or out for a bike ride. Loser, I'll think, keep running and end up damaging those knees and feet. I feel so superior to them although I have no right too. This Saturday is my marathon. Its Wye Island, a 12.5 mile row around Wye Island on Maryland's eastern shore. A normal head Race might take us 17 to 20 minutes to row the 3.5 miles. Wye Island will take us 90 minutes to complete. We'll finish with blistered hands and aching quads. We won't launch from a dock but wade in and out of waist deep water (down a boat ramp actually) to launch and recover. But through it all we'll feel a sense of accomplishment for having survived it. It kicks off our Head Race season and we'll race almost every weekend from now to the end of our season the first weekend of November. We'll rehash the race with our teammates as we hold cold beers in our hand as much to cool our burning hands as to drink. I love the sport of rowing and wish I had had the opportunity my kids of starting in high school instead of coming to the sport in my mid 40s.

Here is what John Mulligan, who rows out of Thompson's Boathouse in Washington, DC has to say about the Wye Island Regatta in an article he wrote for the Washingtonian magazine:

The 20-kilometer race around Wye Island, by the Chesapeake, is something every rower should experience. Even the coxswain’s chart is exhausting. It warns of submerged obstacles, coves to avoid, hidden islands of marsh grass, everything but “Here be dragons.”

I got my ride around the island by answering an e-mail plea for volunteers to fill a seat in a Prince William Rowing Club eight. As watermen unloaded bushels of crabs on their dock, the rowing crews marched into the river carrying their boats overhead. Ankle-deep in river muck, hip-deep in water, they rolled their boats down and launched. The race was four times longer than any other contest on the calendar. Dull aches sunk into elbows and thighs within the first 15 minutes. In the second half hour, we rested by pairs, guzzling water from squeeze bottles for a minute as the other six pulled past the duck blinds in the river, the stately white homes.
The final four miles were a struggle. But we picked up a semblance of stamina for the final 1,000 meters and finished in one hour, 29.13 seconds. Later we learned that we had placed second. The red ribbon—my first and only masters crew trophy—now hangs among the baby pictures and school calendars on our kitchen wall.

I think that pretty well sums up the race. You can read the complete article, which is an excellent piece on Masters Rowing in general here.

The only big worry about Wye Island is the weather. It's a challenging race in the best conditions. Having to fight the elements and choppy water just sucks the fun right out of it. Right now they are calling for a 40% chance of rain. Not very encouraging.

Wye island is open to all types of rowing craft, not just crew shells. The will by kayaks, canoes, outriggers, Dragon boats, etc. Here are some other articles written by these paddlers. Here. And Here And Here And Here

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Pictures from a Weekend

Daughter#1 e-mailed me today and said to put something up on the blog that was a bit happier than the last post and I am way overdue for a new post anyway. I do have some pictures from the weekend. Here is a picture of Ann at Madigan's Waterfront as we wait for our lunch on Friday. The bridge behind here took about five years to complete and at best it's about a quarter mile long. What a work project. The bridge straddles the Occoquan River. This isn't the section we row on, however. That's further upstream and on the other side of a dam. We were very enamored with the boat behind her also.
This was me after Saturday's practice right before Hanna really dumped on us. It's hard to get the full effect of how wet I really am since my shirt is dark to begin with. Believe me I was soaked. Like I had jumped in the river. I'm leaving puddles on the rug as I stand there.

I had started brewing some beer back on Labor Day weekend when I was home alone. A gift from Daughter#1. After it went into the carboy it just sat there for days. Nothing happened. I thought I had goofed something up or the yeast was too old. I was ready to throw it out. It just looked dead. Case in point. Dead looking beer:
But I am a procrastinator. I didn't get around to throwing it away, After about five days, I notice the water had moved a little in the airlock above the carboy. I thought lets wait a few more days. Now I can report that it is busy fermenting away. Notice the foam on top and the much lighter color. Its suppose to be much like Bass Ale when it's done. It should be ready for bottling in a few more days. That makes a mess of the kitchen so i have to pick a time when the kitchen will be empty for a while.

It seemed strange this week not be rowing on Tuesday evening. The weather was perfect. It makes my evenings a lot less hectic what with rushing to make practice and all, but I know I'll miss it. I had a complete brain freeze today working from home. It would have been a perfect time for a lunch time row, but I didn't think of it at all until lunchtime was over and done with. Maybe next week.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Rain and Death

We've been feeling the effects of tropical storm Hanna for about 17 hours now although the heavy rain didn't reach us until about 10:00 this morning. As of 5:00 PM we've received almost 9 inches of rain and it's still raining. Its rained as hard as 2.5 inches of rain per hour, but I think we're now in the tail end of it. That's a heck of a lot of rain. I haven't been watching any of the local news to see how much flooding there has been. Usually Old Town Alexandria is the first to go under water.

Despite the rain, we did have rowing practice this morning. I came home completely drenched and soaking wet. Ann yelled at me for leaving small puddles every where when I got home. The row itself went really well. Our group (the competitive men) took out three 4+s. I've thankfully been moved back to the portside the last two practices. It's just more natural for me. With the rain, but no real wind, we didn't stay out that long. We did manage three 1,500 to 2,000 meter pieces and my boat took all three and by quite a margin. Considering we had two lightweights in our 4+ we did quite well. Our weekday practices came to an end on Thursday a victim of the fading sunlight and the start of high school fall crew. We'll now row Saturdays and Sunday mornings only. Our first Head race is this coming Saturday - the 12.5 mile Wye Island Regatta.

We got the results of the Head of the Charles draw. We got one entry for the Men (Club) and the Women only their guaranteed entry. We also got a double in. Weird. All things considered, I can't see myself making the club entry, but it's not up to me, but our coach.

Ann and I were eating out at Madigan's Waterfront in Occoquan on Friday for lunch when Daughter#2 called with some bad news. One of our neighbors had passed away from lung cancer (he was a nonsmoker). We had known him for over 20 years. They live just down the street from us and his daughter had been a friend of Daughter#2 since they were in kindergarten together. In addition, Daughter#2 had had his wife for a fourth grade teacher. He had been sick for some time and the chemo treatments ultimately couldn't beat the cancer. I wouldn't go so far as to call him a close friend, but he was more then just an acquaintance. The girls played on the same club soccer team for a number of years and we would often talk before, during and after the games. He was extremely proud of his daughter when she was able to make this select team. Washington is a company town. Much like Detroit is a company town with the business being cars, here the business is the Government. Like many of us, Jim worked for the Government. He worked for USDA as a Deputy Director for New Programs. He was a devoted husband and wife and our neighborhood will be the worse for his passing. We attended the viewing on Friday evening and the funeral today. Needless to say the weather mirrored everyone's mood. I didn't envy the family having to bury him in this heavy rain. He's earned his rest.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

How I Really Spent My Weekend

Ah the planned bachelor weekend. No wife, no kids let the hi jinks and partying begin. Ha! Lets review how I really spent my weekend.

Rowing - I did attend my rowing practice on Saturday morning. We took out three 4+s and rowed down to the race course and took turns racing each other around the Occoquan Challenge course (mostly the 180 degree turn). I felt like crap after the practice. I don't know if it was from lack of sleep or dehydration or both. I never did go out in a single over the long weekend.

Biking - I did go for a bike ride, but I did not go to the W&OD Trail and do a 50 mile ride. That ride would have taken me about 5 hours to complete and with travel time I would have been gone almost 7 hours. My old dog's bladder won't hold out for that long. Instead I did a local ride through the neighborhood and out to Bacon Race Road and the Prince William Parkway bike path. Overall it turned into a 25 mile ride that I finished in 2 hours. I rode about 5 of those miles on the parkway and they about killed me. Those miles came toward the end of my ride as I was looking to add a few more miles to my ride. There is a good reason I've avoided riding the Parkway even though it's the most convenient bike path for me. It has killer hills. After riding 20 miles already, they feel even bigger and steeper. It will be a while before I try that again.

Football Game - I didn't go to the game. After rowing practice I felt like crap (see above). My morning coke and lunch didn't make me feel much better so I decided just to stay home. I watched bits of the VA Tech-ECU game in between napping. I did watch most of the Maryland-Delaware game before napping again until 10:00 PM. I got up and ate dinner and went back to sleep until 8:00 AM.

Ball Game - Nope.

Movie - Nope.

TV - I did watch some TV. Parts of a few football games, including VA Tech-ECU, MD-Delaware, Alabama-Clemson and Tenn-UCLA.

Beer - I did make a batch of Pale Ale on Sunday. It is sitting downstairs. Alas it looks dead as a doornail. Not fermenting at all. I think the yeast I use wasn't any good. What a waste of good beer. I shall try again however.

Sleep - I did sleep a lot and loved it.

Ann and Daughter#2 returned Sunday evening. We couldn't agree on where to go for dinner so we stayed in and ate whatever we could dig up. Monday was spent running errands and taking naps. Wonderful.