Friday, July 31, 2009

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Good

It's the weekend! Even on a work at home day Friday, it still feels like the weekend has begun. Bring it on. Working from home also lets me work in a row during my lunch hour. In addition, Daughters #1 and #2 will be visiting this weekend with their respective spouses. Daughter#1 is headed for a wedding in Richmond on Saturday and will be spending tonight with us. The plan is for a family luncheon tomorrow before they head on to the wedding. Daughter#2 will be here since Daughter#1 will be. We also expect The Son to put in an appearance or two as he emerges from his cave.

The Bad

Daughter#2 got the official word today that she is being laid off by the Virginia Department of Transportation or VDOT as it is known. It wasn't totally unexpected given Virginia's large budget deficit and the word had been out for some time that layoffs were coming. You can read more about it here. The layoffs were based on seniority and Daughter#2 was practically the junior employee in her area (Rockingham County). Still getting the word that you no longer have a job is a miserable experience even if you have been preparing yourself for it. She'll have a job until October and get a severance package and hiring preference for other state openings, so hopefully she won't be unemployed for long. With her lay off, both twins are now unemployed and Daughter#1 only has a part time job. You don't have to convince this family that the economy sucks. On a brighter note, The Son did have a series of interviews today so he possibly may have a job by next week. Daughter#1 has also had interviews for coaching positions for rowing in her area, including one for a university. She still has a deep love for rowing so that would work well for her.

The Ugly

My row today. We have a front coming through and a severe thunder storm warning for later today. I still thought going out for a row today over my lunch hour was a good thing. When I got to Sandy Run, the water looked a tad choppy, but I decided to man up and go out anyway. Probably not the smartest thing I've ever done. I row a single for fun and a way to relax. Rowing in windy conditions with a heavy chop does not contribute to a fun row. It was a fight all along the way with occasional respites that allowed me to settle down a bit. I was happy to get back to the dock. The fact the no one else was out should have clued me in to just pass. Live and learn.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Diamond States

Yesterday was the completion of my 2009 sprint season with the Diamond State Masters Regatta. Starting tomorrow we will shift our emphasis to the upcoming Head race season, which starts in September. Certainly Diamond States is the biggest one I will compete in for this year. Some from my club will compete at Masters Nationals in August, but I decided to skip that one. But yesterday. Diamond States is held on Noxonton Pond just outside Middletown, DE. It's hosted bu the Wilmington Rowing Club. The "pond" is owned by St. Andrews School. I was schedule to race in the Men's Masters 4+, Category D at noon. Our boat average age being 53. I carpooled up with two other guys in my boat. We left Virginia around 7:15 and arrived around 9:30. We found that our boat had already been unloaded from the trailer and rigged. Here is our 4+, named the "Big Dawgs". Its a Vespoli. I would be rowing the #2 seat.

At a Regatta you do a lot of waiting around. Waiting for your turn to race. You drink a lot of water, eat lightly and watch your teammates race. Below is one of our Women's 8+. They are second from the top. They finished second to Saugatuck where Daughter#1 used to cox and just recently got married at their boathouse. An excellent finish for our women. They went out later and garnered two first place finishes in 4+s. Awesome.

Approaching the finish...

The view of the launching dock. Some boats also returned here. It was a busy place all day long.

One tends to rough it a bit at regattas. When nature calls, its usually porta potties that have to do. This year, Diamond States came up with "Executive Washrooms". Talk about heaven, clean air conditioned bathrooms with flushing toilets and running water. What luxury.

My boat launched about 40 minutes before out race time and right behind out other Men's 4+ who was in the heat right before ours. We did a start and did some warming up. It was hot and humid, but you hardly felt it out on the water. Your mind was on other things. We raced in Lane 6. We had a fair start, but as the race progressed we slowly slipped behind the other boats. We finished last. Even finishing last, we had fun doing it. We enjoyed testing ourselves against other clubs. Although obviously we need a lot of work. Hopefully we'll do better during Head race season.
My boat was only scheduled for one race, which given that it's a 2 1/2 hour ride to Middleton, was a bit of a waste. Two races would have made the trip a little more worth while. We docked after the race and de-rigged the boat. The plan was to leave after our race seeing as we had no further races and to beat the beach traffic. We caught a bit of flak for leaving early and not hanging around to load the trailer. However, we had taken care of our boat and there was still plenty of people to load the trailer and it didn't make sense for us to have to wait around. So we left. We'll be back at our boathouse this evening to unload the trailer and re-rig the boats so they are ready for tomorrow's practice.
One of the highlights of driving to and from Middletown is crossing the Chesapeake Bay over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. All 4 miles of it.

True to form, the last few miles coming home were the hardest as I-95 was backed up a good ten miles between Springfield and Potomac Mills mall. I got home around 4:00. Even leaving early that made for a long day. Others in our club didn't get home until around 10:00. That's just crazy.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Happy Birthday!

Today is the birthday of our twins - The Son and Daughter#2. They turn 27. The Son is about 3 to 5 minutes older then his twin sister. They are all grown up now. It's a weird feeling having kids that old. Even though they have been out of college now for a while and Daughter#2 has been married for almost3 years, I still think of them as being much younger than they actually are. I often find myself biting my tongue and letting them live their own lives and not jumping right in with a ton of fatherly advice or flat out telling them what to do like the old days. So to my twins, I hope you day is very special and thanks for all the memories and I look forward to the ones to come.

It was a very laid back weekend for me. Friday was a work from home day and work I did. I had a contract modification to complete and I finally got it finished late in the day and sent it out to the contractor. As it turned out, there was miscommunication on one of the clauses and had to be revised on Monday, but whatever. Work is work and it's all not that interesting.

Saturday I had rowing practice in the morning. We have another race coming up on the 26th so we're pointing toward that. We did two long pieces with the second piece at a higher stroke rate then the other. I was pretty beat after the row. Luckily for me, there was breakfast at the boathouse after the practice. It was the men's turn to provide breakfast. For my part, I brought a scrambled egg casserole. I just grabbed a recipe off the web that called for putting it together the night before. This worked for me as I didn't want to get up at5:00AM to make it. So I mixed up the casserole the night before including cooking the bacon, and sauteing the onions and mushrooms. I had Ann throw it in the oven while I was at practice and bring it down as we came off the water. There was a ton of food to eat, including freshly made pancakes, muffins, donuts, fruit, cake, coffee and juice. I ate my fair share and it was all good. The breakfast also gives us a chance to mingle and catch up with our teammates so its a win-win and everyone enjoys it. After I got home and was cleaning up, Daughter#2, The Son In Law and Gracie (their black lab mix) came up from Harrisonburg. An old high school friend of Daughter#2's was in town for the weekend and was hosting a bbq. Since her friend now lives in California, she hasn't seen her in a while so they accepted the invitation. After they arrived, we headed down to the town of Occoquan for lunch at Madigan's Waterfront. We sat out on their deck overlooking the Occoquan River. It was sunny and warm, but not hot so it was perfect. I had the crab cake sandwich and a pair of Corona's. It was a great lunch. After lunch, Ann and I returned home while Daughter#2 and The Son In Law headed off to various pawn shops to find (unsuccessfully it turns out) some cheap drums. The son In Law restores them as a hobby.

On Sunday I skipped the usual Sunday morning row or bike ride to hang out with Daughter#2 and The Son In Law. Instead I got up and took their dog Gracie for a long walk. She and I walked about 45 minutes or so and covered about 2.5 miles. When we got back to the house, Ann was making some french toast. We all enjoyed that before bidding Daughter#2 and The Son In Law goodbye. The rest of the day was taken up watching some baseball and napping. Sunday afternoons lend themselves to naps.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

First Races

This weekend marked the start of our racing season. We've been practicing all of about 6 weeks. Frankly I didn't think we were ready (speaking strictly for the men's side of my club). We had only had 2 practices where we even got around to practicing our starts. But ready or not we headed out Saturday morning to the Anacostia River and the Capital Sprints hosted by the Capital Rowing Club. We have sort of a love/hate relationship with the Capital Sprints. We love that it's our first race of the season and all the excitement that comes along with that. However, rowing on the Anacostia River pretty much sucks. The river is incredibly dirty and its pretty much mandatory to shower the minute you get home and hope you didn't pick up an infection. Then there is the whole issue of launching your boats amongst used syringes and condoms as they float by. Not to mention the race course itself. Its not a buoyed course meaning boats tend to wander out of their assigned (imaginary) lanes and get in each others way. Add to the fact that you also have to maneuver under two bridges at the finish line, makes it a somewhat stressful row if you are the coxswain or in my case, rowing bow in a Quad (no coxswain) and responsible for steering down the course and missing those bridge abutments at the end.

Saturday was sunny, but windy. That made for very choppy water. Rowing on the Occoquan, which is very sheltered, doesn't really train one for rowing on really choppy water. A few of the races, luckily not mine, but say for doubles and singles, it was a matter of just surviving. This is a look at the course looking from one of the bridges at the finish up river to the start, which was just below the bridge in the distance.
I was entered in two races. The Men's Master 8+ and Men's Masters Quad. Our boat captain decided that since this was our first race and all and to keep thinks light we would ham it up a bit. he went out and bought masks for us and our coxswain, Sammi. The masks were straight out of the movie Nacho Libre. Here is how we looked. Needless to say we drew some looks walking our boat to the launching dock.

Here we are pulling away from the dock. I'm in 2 seat. Most of the boat actually rowed the race with the masks on, but bow and I decided they were too hot and took them off before we hit the starting line. The Start Line Official jokingly gave us a "warning" for not having identical uniforms (meaning masks). Funny these officials.

Our coxswain Sammi is new to our club this year and is from Australia. It was so cool being coxed with someone with an Australian accent. Her terminology was a bit different then we were used to, but we could pretty much figure out what she meant. She normally coxes for the Women's side so we were grateful for her helping us out. Our row up to the start was just horrible and didn't bode well for our race. The set was terrible and there was no ratio and the check in the boat was as bad as I've felt it. There was only one other 8+ in the race and they were from Alexandria. They were a few years younger then us (based on the average age of all the rowers in the boat) and we've rowed against them before and we knew we had our work cut out for us. Remarkably, our start was very good and given the conditions on the river (i.e., choppy water) we rowed pretty well. The boat set up and we gave as good as we could. We still came in second, but it was close and everyone was happy with it. We didn't settle during the bulk of the race to our stroke rate we agreed to (32 spm), but ran most of the rate around a 36 to 37 spm. Even at that rate it felt good if a bit hectic. My second race came about two hours after the 8+ race. We were in the Men's Masters Quad and none of us in the boat had delusions on how we would do. The four of us had never rowed together before - no practice time whats so ever. While we all scull to some extent, two of us much more than the other two. The race went pretty much as expected. We finished last. At the start we were doing pretty well actually, but then a Quad from DC Strokes (the local DC gay rowing club), which was ahead of us, cut in front of us forcing me to steer wide to avoid them. It sort of went down hill from there, but we finished and we were happy in the row even if we weren't competitive. All was not lost though. The Women's side did quite well. They won the Women's Masters 8+ and Women's Masters 4+. Here is the 4+ at the finish.

And here they are with their medals. Their coach is on the right.

Here is a picture of the winning 8+. Congratulations to our ladies. They had a great day.

Sunday was our chance for more racing at the Occoquan Masters Sprints on our home water hosted by the Occoquan Boat Club. On Sunday I was to race in the Men's Masters 8+ and Men's Masters 4+. No quad, thank god. Sunday was much calmer then Saturday. We had great water to row on and a buoyed course! For our 8+ race we had 3 boats entered. Ourselves, Thompson's Boat Club and a team from Saratoga, NY, Queensbury. We had a very good race. We were dead even with Thompson's at the end of our start sequence and high 10. Unfortunately for us, Thompson's did a high 20 and pulled away from us. They held that differential throughout the race and we finished second ahead of Queensbury. We rowed a solid 34spm and it felt strong and relaxed. Given the lineup we had in the boat, we probably rowed as well as was possible. For the second race, Men's Masters 4+, we basically broke up the 8 into two 4+s. Unfortunately, I wasn't in the "A" boat. There were 5 boats in out race and we finished last. Totally not a surprise. We did have an interesting incident at the start. The referees did a quick start and Thompson's in the lane next to ours, wasn't totally ready and their coxswain didn't have a proper point and after the first couple strokes they were all the way over into our lane. Our blades were literally in their boat. The referees set off their alarms on their bullhorns signaling a stop to the race. We all had to back up and reload into the starting platform. The race itself was just ugly. Our boat was sitting very low in the water and the boat just felt heavy. The set was iffy too, dragging our riggers in the water a time or two. Not a fun race. On the plus side, our "A" boat won. Its been a while since the men's side of the club has been competitive so congratulations to them. Another nice thing about Sunday is we were done racing by Noon. Saturday was an all day event and we were unloading the trailer at 7 at night. Made for one long day. Next up for us is Diamond State Masters in two weeks.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Longest Row

Taking a one day break from chronicling Daughter#2's ride from Washington to Pittsburgh. I'll finish it up tomorrow where i can borrow some pictures of the ride from Cumberland to Pittsburgh via The Great Allegheny Passage. i will say that they did make it - all 4 of them and they had a great time. Details to follow including dinner at a microbrewery in an old Catholic Church in Pittsburgh.

Hope everyone has a great 4th with plenty of celebrating and bbqing and adult beverages, if you are of age, of course. My weekend was without explosions and sparkly things. Its just not the same if you don't have kids around. While Washington DC has a fantastic fireworks show, the thought of watching it with 400,000 of my closest friends and then getting home at a reasonable hour sort of sucks the fun right out of it. The only local fireworks show, is at the local minor league stadium and we just waited to late to get tickets to the game. We went last year and settled for grandstand seating, which was a nightmare and I swore I would never do that again. No reserved seating was available so we didn't go. Our loss.

I did do a lot of rowing however. I rowed for five days straight. Ok for out of five with one night I coxed. It turns out I'm doing a lot of coxing this year. In the past we relied heavily on high school coxswains/rowers to cox for our club. Unfortunately, this year we had a change of procedures and we can no longer provide assistance for the coxswains through their booster clubs. Without the incentive its hard to get them to donate their time especially when we row at 7:00AM on weekends. So we've had to rely on rowers as coxswains as we are short of adult and high school coxswains to fill all our boats. because I'm one of the smallest of the men, and I have coxswain experience, I get drafted to fill in a lot. For the most part, I haven't minded filling in, just so it doesn't become to frequent. The fact that I can go across the Occoquan and row on my own makes it a bit easier for me to volunteer. So its all good so far.

This weekend our first two races are on tap. On Saturday we travel up to DC for the Capital Sprints hosted by Capital Rowing Club on the Anacostia River (ugh). Sunday is the initial Occoquan Masters Sprints on the Occoquan hosted by Occoquan Boat Club. I'm not a big fan of sprint racing, but it's part of the deal so I go. I don't feel like we're really ready to race. We haven't even practiced any starts yet. I guess it all about competing and not necessarily winning. Just hope the weather is good.

On Sunday I completed the longest row I've ever attempted in a single. I rowed a total of 14 miles. It was a combination of things that led to a perfect row. I didn't start out with the idea of rowing 14 miles. In fact, after rowing just 3/4 of a mile, I had to row into the cove for Oxford Boathouse (I started out at Sandy Run) and dock to adjust my foot stretchers as I couldn't fully extend my legs at the finish. After making the adjustment (twice), I was ready to go. The weather was overcast, but no rain. The temperature was mild and neither too warm or too cold. There was no wind and as a result the water was smooth and flat. There were more fisherman out then I would have liked (there was a fishing tournament supposedly). Nothing against fishermen as they have as much right to the water as anyone, but if you're out to fish then fish. Don't be moving from place to place every 5 minutes and creating big wakes and generally annoying everyone. So some fishermen not withstanding, I began my row. The longer I rowed the better it felt. I was relaxed, getting good fast run out of the boat with each stroke. When I got to Ryan's Dam (4 miles), I just kept going. When I got to the next point where I normally turn around (5 1/2 miles), I still felt good so I decided to go for the 6 mile mark. When I got there, I decided I would go on to the next big landmark, which is where Bull Run (yes that Bull Run) joins the Occoquan. This is 7 miles from Sandy Run. I felt a sense of accomplishment at having reached that point on the river. After taking a break, I headed home. At this point I had torn one blister on my right hand and I knew more blisters were to come. I made another stop at Ryan's Dam on the way back for another water break and ran into some former teammates out in an 8+. We had several guys break away from the Club this year due to some personal conflicts and they now go out and row by themselves. Everyone is till friendly and all, but it would be good to have them back. I headed out while they took a break and spun their boat. In my own mind, I decided to see how long I could go and hold them off until they caught up with me. I had about a 1/2 mile lead when they started off behind me. I managed to stay ahead for for a mile and a half and they finally caught me at Jacob's Rock. At that point I was pretty bushed. I had already rowed 12 miles including a hard row/ sprint over the last mile and 1/2. I finished the last two miles at a pretty leisurely pace. Remarkably I was not too stiff getting out of my boat at the end of the row. All and all it was a fun row. I'm not sure I would do it again anytime soon because it's so hard on my hands. As I type I have bandaids on three fingers and I'm not sure how the hands will hold up at tonight's practice. Now sweep rowing places the strain on my hands at different places, so hopefully it will work out. Sculling is definitely out though. Maybe I'll cox.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tales From the Trail - Day 4

On Day 4 (Wednesday), the intrepid band of bikers completed the 185 miles from Georgetown to Cumberland, MD along the C&O Canal Trail. The final leg to Cumberland was the longest leg to date at 63 miles. It was also not without its problems. The first real ones since they started off on Sunday. One of the riders (not daughter#2) got three flats. One in the back tire and two in the front tire. They managed to patch them up enough to finish the ride. The girl in question, however, did discover she had the wrong size tubes for her tires so they couldn't replace the tubes. In addition, the final 15 minutes on the trail, as they were coming into Cumberland, it started to rain soaking them all. Before going to their hotel, they stopped at a bike shop to replace the patched tubes. The rain had lowered the outside temperature to the 60s and inside the air conditioned bike shop it felt even colder to the soaking wet bikers. Hot showers all around were in order once they reached the hotel.

However beginning their trip on Day 4 from Hancock, MD, one of the first sites was an old cement works.

They also biked through Little Orleans, the last easy access to the trail by car until Cumberland due to the mountainous terrain. This is Bill's Bar in Little Orleans, which apparently has burned down.

At Mile marker 155 is the Paw Paw tunnel. They rode through it rather then dismounting and walking through it (as recommended). Daughter#2 said it was cold and dark.

This section of the rail has a lot of abandoned track, most from the Western Maryland Railroad. This trestle bridge is a Mile Marker 156.

Just a view of the canal and trail around Mile Marker 166. That's Lock #69 in the foreground.

This bench and tree is at about Mile Marker 178. I put it on for The Son in Law who deals with trees all the time as part of his job. The plaque next to the bench reads: This tree is the most outstanding Swamp White Oak specimen known in the State of Maryland. It is listed as a Maryland State record in the Maryland Big Tree Champion program. In 1991, the tree was 16 feet, 2 inches in circumference 4 feet above the ground. The tree was 82 feet high with a spread of 84 feet.

As they got closer to Cumberland, the signs of civilization begin to appear - at Mile Marker 182, a sewage treatment plant.

The very last Mile Marker at Cumberland.

The very end of the C&O Canal Trail is at the Cumberland Visitor Center. This statue is outside the Visitor Center.

Congratulations to Daughter#2 and the girls with her for finishing the trail. Halfway done. Day 5 starts The Great Allegheny Passage.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tales From the Trail - Day 3

Day 3 (Tuesday) found our group of riders traveling from Shepherdstown,WVA (Mile Marker 72) to Hancock MD (Mile Marker 124), a distance of forty (40) miles. Again the weather gods smiled on them with a sunny day and temperatures in the high 70s to low 80s. This leg saw the first minor cracks in the group. One rider had a funny noise coming from her bike and another is experiencing a sore knee. Luckily Hancock has a bike shop for the first problem and a pharmacy for the second. The girl with the problematic knee will test it out on the ride from Hancock to the end of the C&O Canal Trail today to see if it will hold out or force her to drop out.
During the ride on Day 3 the group passed Barrons Store and Museum. This is the country store from which Ann and I rescued Daughter#2 and a friend who were riding the C&O Trail from Cumberland to Georgetown before thunderstorms drowned them out back in May. The couple who own the store gave them shelter (the store was technically closed) and gave them some tea to warm them up until we could get there. You can read about it here. I hope they stopped to say hello.
Along the canal at various places are feeder dams for the locks. That is WVA on the far bank and the building actually houses a working electric generator. As a reminder, these pictures (and most of the facts) come from the Virtual Tour of the C&O Canal Trail at
As beautiful as the Trail is, it has been ravaged by storms over the years, which have taken their toll. This is what greets travels at Mile Marker 86.
The Trail here has been completely washed away. I don't believe there are any plans to try and restore it. Travelers are rerouted via a detour around this section.
After returning to the Trail, the group got to see this old Mill complete with a paddle wheel. It's known as McMahon's Mill.
A common companion to the C&O Canal are various railroads. Once a upon a time the Canal and railroads were competitors. The railroads were the overall winner, but along the trail are remnants of abandon tracks and bridges. This bridge was used to raise the tracks over the canal. It was replaced with the truss bridge in the background, which is still in use.
The group did not pull off the trail for lunch as they had the day before in Harper's Ferry. Instead they brought along lunch and ate on the Trail, which according to Daughter#2 consisted of bagel and hummus. Doesn't sound all that great for lunch but they also had some power bars and what not to sustain them. Another view of the Trail somewhere between Mile Marker 100 and 106. What a way to spend a day.
According to Daughter#2, the highlight of this leg was visiting Fort Frederick (Mile Marker 112). Built in 1756, its original purpose was to protect the area and settlers during the French and Indian War. The Fort has been restored to its original appearance and future plans call for re building the Officer Quarters. The barracks are already rebuilt and often staffed by re-enacters. I assume that's primarily on weekends and holidays. Daughter#2 didn't mention seeing any.

After Fort Frederick, our weary band of bikers arrived in Hancock, MD. Daughter#2's biggest complaint so far is getting off the Trail. Every exit requires a steep climb on already exhausted legs. Hancock does have a bike shop that I assume caters mostly to Trail riders.

The Group had marked out the Hancock Town Tavern as a possible eating place for diner, but I forgot to ask Daughter#2 if it fact they ate there. Their resting place was Americas Best Value Inn in Hancock. It did not rate high on her list.

Tomorrow they bike the last 63 miles of the C&O Canal Trail and finish up in Cumberland, MD. There they will pick up the Cumberland and Pittsburgh Trail - The Great Allegheny Passage.