My time on the East Coast is drawing to a close. I spent the weekend in Cambridge, Massachussetts, watching the Head of the Charles and enjoying the glorious autumn weather.
The photo shows Margo Pellegrino and me with her friend and supporter Greg Parker, who took up rowing 6 years ago at the age of 53. It's never too late!
I also had a chance to catch up with Peter King of WaterRower - who kindly loaned me rowing simulators to train on for both the Atlantic and Pacific. I spent up to 16 hours a day on my WaterRower while I was preparing for the Atlantic, so feel well-qualified to vouch for the high quality and realistic rowing motion of the machines. I was pleased to learn that, rather than having their goods made in China as so many companies now do, WaterRower make them here in the US, out of wood from sustainable sources.
And I met for the first time Tim Willsallen, an Australian rower who farms sheep in upstate New York (!) who was a regular texter while I was on the Atlantic. His messages were always interesting and thought-provoking and provided mind-fodder for many otherwise tedious hours at the oars. Yes, even the most wonderful oceanic wilderness can get monotonous when you are rowing for 12 hours a day without a functioning stereo to stimulate the mind....
Tomorrow I bid goodbye to New York to fly back to the West Coast to prepare for a presentation to 900 salespeople at the Brocade conference on November 7. After 5 weeks of constant travel, getting back to the Bay Area will feel almost like going home...
This morning I went for a run with a three-legged dog and my friend Margo Pellegrino (above), who this summer paddled nearly 2000 miles from Miami to Maine to raise awareness of marine conservation.
Margo was faster than me. So was her dog. But not to worry - I gave it my all, and even if that wasn't quite enough to keep pace with Margo it still helped move me closer to my goal of a respectable time in a half-marathon next February. I rarely get the chance to train with a partner, and it really helped me stretch myself beyond what I thought was possible, to try and avoid total humiliation. It was good to find a training partner who is just a bit better than me, to challenge me and make me push myself.
Once I'd recovered we hit the road - a beautiful drive up to Woburn, MA, to watch tomorrow's Head of the Charles Regatta. The bright sun brought out the glorious reds, yellows, pinks and golds of the autumn foliage. It was a long-ish drive - about 6 hours - but we talked nonstop and the miles whizzed by.
Good luck to all those competing in tomorrow's Amsterdam Marathon (especially Sam and Jason), and well done to the England rugby team on enormously exceeding everyone's expectations in the World Cup - a magnificent and spirited effort.
Today, on a whim, I dropped in at a hair salon on Madison Avenue. Unlike London ("we might have an appointment for you in 3 weeks") this one fitted me in right away.
The hair stylist viewed my distressed tresses disapprovingly. "It's been a long time since you had your hair cut", she said. I tried to remember when it was. The last time I could recall was the last time I was in New York, which was... err... 18 months ago. Oh dear.
"Yes, it's been a while," I confessed.
"And your colour - look at these roots. It looks like you've just dumped bleach on your hair. Has it been out in the sun?" she asked.
"Yes, it has. Well, all kinds of weather, really."
"Hmmm..." she frowned.
Considerable time and money later, I was considerably better coiffed. But how long will it last?
As she was blow-drying my hair she was suggesting I buy some curlers. "Once you've showered and dried your hair", (I don't possess a hairdryer - far too time-consuming and environmentally unfriendly) "you can put in some curlers to really give some lift and bounce to your hair - just a few minutes, and it will look so much better".
It's easy, as I'm flicking through the glamour mags in the salon, to daydream of an elegant, groomed version of me. But in the real world.... I can scrub up OK when the occasion demands, but only a daily basis, if it takes more than a few minutes, it's just not going to happen. My hair gets washed frequently (except on the boat, where it gets washed once a month if it's lucky), brushed occasionally, and blow-dried never. If my hair was an animal, I'd be convicted of neglect amounting to abuse.
But somehow I always seem to have something more exciting to do than curling my hair.
[And here's a bizarre thought - I wonder how many man-millennia must be expended worldwide every year in hair management - hair being cut, coloured, coiffed, shaved, waxed, plucked, and transplanted. Life would be so much easier if we managed to evolve our hair away altogether. Just think of all the more useful, interesting, life-enhancing things we could do with that time...]
P.S. Today I am off to New Jersey to see Margo Pellegrino, who this summer paddled nearly 2000 miles from Miami to Maine to raise awareness of marine conservation. She and I met up earlier this year, in Washington DC, where she introduced me to David Helvarg of Blue Frontier Campaign - who I now row for. She and I will be going to the Head of the Charles regatta in Boston this weekend - the largest rowing event in North America.
OK, off now to the gym. I've arranged to use the New York Sports Club this week. No excuses!
Yesterday I flew from London to New York. Does the Big Apple count as one of my daily 5 portions of fruit and veg?
As I was driving my rental car back to the airport, I heard a radio item about a study that suggests that individuals are not to blame for their obesity (estimated to afflict 50% of the UK population by 2050). Instead, the scientists concluded we have an 'obesogenic' society, where high-calorie food is cheap and readily available, and labour-saving devices, motorized transport and sedentary jobs reduce our ability to burn off those excess calories.
I was staggered. I imagined countless fatties breathing a sigh of relief and thinking to themselves, "Thank heavens, it's not my fault. Society is to blame, so I can stop feeling guilty about it and give up trying to lose weight."
We seem to increasingly live in a world that allows the individual to abdicate responsibility for their lives. If a person spills hot coffee in their lap, it is not because they were clumsy - it is the fault of the company that supplied the coffee. Smokers sue the tobacco companies. Children sue their parents.
While accountability to the public can be a good thing, there is a point beyond which the individual has to accept responsibility for their own choices. This may (gasp) involve some willpower or self-discipline. There is nobody forcing that cream cake or pint of beer or burger down our throats. Yes, they may be available, cheap, enjoyable and even addictive, but we still have FREE CHOICE.
It is easy to externalize blame for our failings - I should know, I've blamed my weight gain on everything from sugar addiction to 'special circumstances' - but ultimately I had to realize that the only person I was harming, and the only person who could make the change, was myself.
Training update: This morning I was out running around the reservoir in Central Park. My schedule dictated 20 minutes hard run, which with warmup, stretch and cooldown made for a workout of over an hour.
10 minutes into the 20, I was wondering how on earth I would get to the end. I was knackered.
But it helps that Jason asks me to rate my 'Level of Perceived Exertion' as a mark out of 10. Although I thought I was struggling, when I assessed my actual LPE it was still only 9. Not even a 9+. I clearly wasn't going to die in the attempt, and no other excuse would be acceptable... so I made it to the end, beetroot-faced and sweating, but proud of myself.