I was up at five o'clock this morning to drive up to town for my maiden row on San Francisco Bay. It was dark and cold as Quackers and I headed up I-280 and through the slowly-wakening city to South End Rowing Club.
Paul greeted me at the door and showed me to our craft - a clinker-built wooden boat called Valhalla. We launched her off the end of the quay and set out at a brisk clip for the island of Alcatraz.
It was distinctly rough and chilly - the temperature round about freezing - but any potential grumbles died on my lips when I saw open-water swimmers ploughing along beside us, their pink-cold arms arcing up from the choppy waves. Brrrrr! No right to complain.
It wasn't a comfortable row. When I rowed the Atlantic I deliberately planned to have no overlap between the handles of my oars, not wanting to bash my hands together. This morning my arms were crossing over at the wrists - a BIG overlap - so soon my following hand was bleeding, I was punching myself in the ribs, and I kept catching crabs (getting the oar caught in the waves).
But, strangely, it was fun. It was a beautiful sunrise, and it felt good to be out on the open water rather than rowing on a machine. I'm not going to be back in the Bay Area for a couple of months, but I'm looking forward to spending more time out rowing with the SERC.
I have just finished reading Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. I'm was supposed to be working on writing my own book today but I simply couldn't put this one down. It is one of those rare books that changes the way you look at the world.
It's not a new book, but it is even more relevant now than it was when it was first published in 1977. A bit like Jonathan Livingstone Seagull it puts across some very profound concepts in a deceptively simple form.
It concerns man's relationship to the world - how we set ourselves apart from the other animals, overruling the natural order of things in order to feed ourselves and thereby increase our population far above the level that the earth can comfortably support. It examines how we developed this attitude, and more disturbingly, looks at where this attitude may be taking us.
The book has had quite an effect on the way I look at so-called 'civilization', indigenous peoples, and the world as a whole. Powerful stuff, and now added to my list (right) of Favourite Books.
I'd been too busy of late to check on the progress of the Rames-Guyane solo rowing race from Senegal to French Guyana. But I checked it out this morning, and am delighted to see that Sophie Mace, the only woman, finished in fourth position. Well done, Sophie!
Of the fifteen starters, 7 attempts were abandoned, 2 competitors were unplaced, and 6 completed the course. Sophie finished on 7th January, after 50 days at sea and covering 2300 nautical miles. Compared with my 2550 in 103 days, this is awesome! She clearly rowed like a maniac, and/or had some great weather conditions.
Respect. All power to her elbow!
I've driven nearly 700 miles in the last 3 days in my new yellow truck, affectionately known as Quackers, and he's doing a great job. He's coped with temperatures down to minus 11 Fahrenheit (minus 24 Celsius), snow, ice, torrential rain, and bright sunshine. But - is he environmentally friendly?
Well, no. Not friendly. Not even relatively neutral like my much-loved VW campervan Priscilla, who ran on LPG. But in my defence, he's the best of a bad lot when it comes to American-available vehicles that are capable of towing a 1200lb rowboat.
Ideally, I would have bought a hybrid or a diesel that can run on biodiesel - but a hybrid was too expensive and biodiesel is not widely available - and American un-bio-diesel is not as clean as its European equivalent.
So I had to settle for the best miles-per-gallon I could find amongst 4x4 pickups. And the Ford Ranger was as good as it got - claimed to get 22mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. According to my figures so far, I reckon Quackers has averaged just over 20mpg, which is not great but it's not too bad compared with many American gas-guzzlers.
So my conscience is prickling, but I did the best I could within the constraints of what I need to do and how much I can afford. Let's call it pragmatic environmentalism. The main thing to remember is that every little bit helps. If only everybody would be conscious and do their little bit to help (by using public transport rather than driving, or driving rather than flying, and choosing the most environmentally friendly car that fits their lifestyle, for example), all those little bits would add up into a very substantial global difference.
Magnificent scenery en route from Oregon to California...
Getting all my ducks in a row...
And the happy driver.