22 Aug 2008, The Brocade
I aspire to be happy, healthy, and wise. I think many of us do. And for me, once I'd figured out that my old materialistic lifestyle was not making me especially happy, I needed to find a new set of values. These were pretty fundamental questions I was asking, a major change of life direction.
I had a wonderful month in early 2004 when I retreated to a small cottage on the west coast of Ireland for a period of reading and reflection. When I first decided to row across oceans, one of my hopes was that the solitude would give me a further opportunity to think about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.
To an extent my hopes were fulfilled on the Atlantic - although I spent too much time feeling sorry for myself, which is not conducive to thinking big or constructive thoughts.
This time around has been more successful - partly because I have wasted less mental energy on self-pity. Another factor has doubtless been the wonderful audiobooks donated by Audible.com via Leo Laporte. It was a random selection - his choice rather than mine - but it has been an excellent assortment and some of the books have stretched my mind in new directions. Some people - like Henry David Thoreau on Walden Pond - may be able to go into the wilderness and arrive independently at fundamental truths, but personally I find it helpful to get some input from outside sources to stimulate the thought processes.
I've come to regard my little rowboat as my own personal floating nun's cell - a place for quiet contemplation. (In fact my existence generally has been quite nun-like: Poverty and chastity are pretty easy out here - but I'm afraid obedience is not my strong suit, no matter where I am!)
I realize I'm very lucky to have this opportunity to ponder and reflect - but I think it's possible, given enough determination, for most people to find opportunities for reflection. I've got a friend who runs a business and has two young children, and she manages to find the time to go away on retreats to pursue Journeywork (a process of self exploration).
Another option is to find a few minutes each day to try and put aside all the more mundane tasks and preoccupations that all too easily take over everyday life, and focus on questions of a more spiritual nature.
Or my favourite way - which I am sorely missing at the moment - is to retreat to a coffee shop with my journal to spend some time thinking and writing. And having a caramel latte and a bran muffin. Somehow the indulgence seems justified by it being part of my spiritual ritual. Well, that's my excuse, anyway!
I guess that many people just don't feel the need to do such things. But my perception is that a lot of people have feelings of unhappiness, isolation, dissatisfaction or dis-ease, which may well be rooted in having neglected the spiritual side of their life. Speaking from personal experience, I can say that when I started to think about life more deeply, I started to feel more connected to other people, and this in turn brought me greater energy, happiness, and a sense of purpose.
And isn't that what, ultimately, we all want?
Position at 2100 21st August HST, 0700 22nd August UTC: 22 23.975'N, 152 05.886'W.
I've been keeping a close eye on my progress across the degrees of latitude. Since I crossed 130W I've been averaging about 1.7 days to cross one degree. But the last 3 degrees have taken 2 days each. So my ETA in Hawaii may slip back a day - but with weather, anything can happen, good or bad. So we'll just wait and see.
The wind really kicked up late this afternoon, which made for some character-building rowing after it got dark. The stars were hidden by clouds and the moon doesn't rise for a couple more hours. Imagine being tossed around on mountainous seas when you can't see a thing apart from the red glow of the compass. Quite glad to be in my cabin now!
Thanks for the great messages - especially Sandi, John, Chris, Eric, Roger et al.
Thanks to Ken for the info about Iridium satellites. I would have hoped, if I am seeing the sun reflecting off satellites, that my reception might be better. It seems to be getting worse as I get closer to Hawaii.
Interesting comment from Roger about the need for some more masculine reusable grocery bags. Not sure what to suggest for that. Maybe the Chico bags, which scrunch up so small that nobody knows you are carrying them at all? Or maybe you just need to be more secure in your masculinity/eco-friendliness. Say all together now: I'm green and I'm proud!
Click here to view Day 89 of the Atlantic Crossing 27 February 2006: Will She or Won't She? - could Roz reach Antigua in less than 100 days?
21 Aug 2008, The Brocade
A few days ago Erin A asked this question: Please share more of your wisdom on how you have trained your mind to deal with boredom, fear and loneliness. We all know it is all in the mind but then that is no easy task for everyone.
I don't specifically train my mind in advance of my rows, but I do have a few tricks I've figured out during my time on the ocean. I've used them on dry land as well, and they work for me. I hope they work for you too!
I'll take it in two sections. First I'll talk about a few possible ways to deal with fear, loneliness, and negative emotions generally. Then I'll talk about boredom - particularly in relation to physical exercise.
Fear, Loneliness, and Other Negative Emotions
- I remind myself "I am not my thoughts". We all have those little negative voices that pop up in our heads - but they are not who we are. They are just voices - maybe echoes of people from our past, or our own self-doubts. They will always be there, but we can choose whether or not to listen to them. I try to discipline myself to acknowledge them, say to them, "Thanks for sharing", and then ignore them if they do not serve me well.
- Lighten your eyes. When we get stressed or emotional, we tend to tense the muscles in our faces. If you make a deliberate effort to unwrinkle your forehead and relax your eyes, you'll find that you feel a lot less anxious. Combine this with some deep breaths, and you'll be well on your way to recovering from your moment of stress. There is a strong connection between body and mind, and you can calm your mind by first calming your body.
- Repeat a mantra. Think of something positive, and focus on it - maybe you've been in a worse situation before, and survived it. So tell yourself "I can do this, I can do this, I KNOW I can do this." If you can say it out loud, even better - it helps get the worry out of your head and into the open. Easy for me to talk to myself in mid-Pacific, not so easy in a job interview!
- Step outside yourself. You may be feeling anxious on the inside, but try to see yourself from the outside for a moment, like a character in a book or a movie. Imagine how that character would cope with this situation - especially if they are the hero of the tale. Describe to yourself how you are handling it - calmly, with panache, courageously, whatever. This really helps you to disengage from those negative emotions and see your situation clearly.
- Know that it will pass. Everything does!
We've all had those moments (haven't we?!) in the gym or out on a run, when we feel an overwhelming urge to stop. It's not the physical exhaustion that gets to us. It's the boredom. Here are some tricks I've found helpful:
- Remind yourself why you're doing it. Ask yourself why, and KEEP asking yourself why until you get to a really, really big reason why it matters that you do this. For example, I am doing this because I have to do this rowing shift. Why? So I can reach my target for the day. Why? So I can get to Hawaii. Why? So I can talk to the newspapers. Why? So I can talk about my environmental message. Why? So I can save the world! I'm exaggerating here, but you get the idea.
- Break it down into smaller sections. If I'm in the gym and bored with cardio, instead of doing 60 mins of nonstop cardio, I'll do 15 mins and then some quick weights, and repeat 4 times. It breaks it up and if you do light weights, fast reps, you'll keep your heart rate up. If you're out for a run then concentrate on getting to a particular landmark. On my boat, I might take a 5-minute break in the middle of a 2-hour shift, usually to do a little chore that needs doing anyway, to give myself a mental break.
- Pretend that you're closer to the end than you actually are. Say for example I've got 45 mins of a rowing shift to go. I'll tell myself just to do another half hour. Then when I get to the end of the half hour I think, "Well, only 15 mins and I'll have done the full shift. So I may as well carry on - I'm so close." So you kid yourself into doing just a bit more, just a bit more - until eventually you find you've done the whole thing.
- Focus on something else. I'll tell myself to focus on the audiobook I'm listening to, and promise not to look at my watch again until it gets to Chapter Ten, or until a particular character is mentioned again. In the gym you could focus on the music, or a TV programme. If you're out for a run concentrate on the scenery around you.
- Think about how you'll feel if you quit - shame, guilt, disappointment - compared with how you'll feel if you do what you set out to do - pride, self-respect, accomplishment. Which feelings would you rather carry around with you for the rest of the day?
And if all else fails, and you fall short, go easy on yourself. You can't do better than your best - and some days that best is going to be better than others. You're only human. Regret, shame and guilt are all destructive feelings - to your body as well as your mind. So don't give them headspace.
Ancient Chinese proverb say: Fall down 9 times, get up 10. Forgive yourself, let it go, and try again tomorrow.
Position at 2030 on 20th August HST, 0430 21st August UTC: 22 25.020'N, 151 30.273'W.
Thanks for all the great messages. Mum passes on your comments and emails submitted via the site. I'm not going to say all my usual hellos - it's a very hostile, squally night tonight and I'm bouncing around like crazy in my cramped little cabin. Time to get into my bunk before either the laptop or I come to harm!
Do remember to follow the voyage of JUNK as they head towards Hawaii.
Click here to view another of Rita's blogs from the time after Roz was no longer able to send messages. The Purple Dot Following Roz's movements on the Atlantic Rowing Race website.
20 Aug 2008, The Brocade
Last year I gave a presentation at a boys' school in Virginia - although to call Woodberry Forest a school is a bit like calling the Pacific a puddle. It was a magnificent school - gorgeous buildings situated in rolling green parkland. I got to stay in a beautifully appointed guest house. The boys were polite, interested, fun. But best of all I came away feeling I had made some friends - particularly two of the teachers, who just happen to be married to each other.
Earlier this year those two teachers and I got together again in California and as we were driving along I-280 Michael gave a fascinating description of the San Andreas fault, visible to the left of the highway. It was then that I decided I was going to ask him to write something about the land that lies hidden far beneath the Pacific - the ocean bed. Here is what he had to say. I found it fascinating, and I hope you enjoy it too. It certainly adds an extra dimension - of time and geology - to my journey.
When my friend Roz first asked if I would be willing to write an essay about the geologic story that (quite literally) underlies her journey across the Pacific, my first reaction was probably very similar to that of many people who are reading this: She's crossing the Pacific OCEAN! After departing the California coast, Roz won't see another rock until she makes landfall in Hawaii. That doesn't exactly make for an engrossing geologic narrative. But Roz was persistent (what a surprise!) and, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that geology does provide an interesting and unique perspective on her Pacific voyage. What follows is a rough geological "sea log" of the first leg of this remarkable adventure.
As Roz passed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, her attention was quite understandably on the treacherous currents that swirled around her and the enormity of the challenge ahead. I doubt she spent much time looking at the rocks of the Marin Headlands to the north, and I'm certain she didn't realize that those very rocks had made the same journey she was attempting-only in the opposite direction!
*Picture 1.* View of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco from the Marin Headlands. Rocks in the foreground are radiolarian cherts of the Franciscan Formation. Photo - Michael Follo.
The Marin Headlands are what geologists refer to as an *exotic terrane*. They are comprised of rocks-in this case bedded cherts of the Franciscan Formation- containing the remains of microscopic marine organisms known as radiolaria. Some terranes are thought to have originated as far away as the southern hemisphere and/or western Pacific. Movement of the Earth's tectonic plates transported these terranes thousands of kilometers. When the plate carrying the Franciscan cherts slid beneath western North America in a process known as subduction, oceanic rocks on the descending plate were scraped off and accreted to the North American continent. Intense folding of rocks in the Marin Headlands is evidence of the force of this collision and uplift.
Thankfully for Roz, her voyage differs from that of the Marin headlands and other exotic terranes in speed as well as direction. The average rate of plate motion is approximately 5 centimeters per year-about the rate at which a fingernail grows. On even her worst days, fighting headwinds and currents, Roz is well over a hundred million times faster!
Not long after paddling out of San Francisco Bay, Roz crossed a major tectonic feature, the San Andreas Fault - a *transform* plate boundary along which the North American and Pacific plates slide past one another. The movement along this boundary is primarily responsible for the numerous earthquakes that residents of California are all too familiar with. There are two other types of plate boundaries-*divergent*, where two plates move apart and new crust is created, and *convergent*, where two plates come together and crust is recycled as one plate subducts beneath the other.
*Picture 2.* Google Earth image showing approximate trace of San Andreas Fault (red line) where it crosses from the San Francisco peninsula to Point Reyes.
Roz's Pacific voyage is very different from that of her earlier row across the Atlantic. The Atlantic Ocean is bisected by a divergent plate boundary, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, separating the Eurasian and North American plates. They were once part of a single supercontinent, known as Pangea, which began to rift apart approximately 200 million years ago. As Europe and North America moved away from this mid-ocean ridge, the Atlantic Ocean grew progressively wider-as it continues to do today. The Earth is not getting bigger, so the amount of new crust created at divergent boundaries must be balanced elsewhere by subduction at convergent boundaries. In the Pacific, this occurs along the so-called "Ring of Fire" that circumscribes virtually the entire ocean basin.
Along this convergent plate boundary the Marin Headlands and other exotic terranes were accreted to western North America. However, complex plate interactions over the last 30 million years have transformed this formerly continuous subduction zone into the San Andreas Fault system. After crossing the San Andreas, Roz will not pass another plate boundary until she reaches the western Pacific near the end of her voyage. There, the Pacific plate collides with the Philippine and Indo-Australian plates along a complex boundary.
I'm certain that Roz will be thrilled to see the Hawaiian Islands - and they provide a break from 3700 kilometers of geologic monotony. For the past several months, Roz has been rowing some 5-6 kilometers above a featureless abyssal plain marked only by occasional volcanic seamounts, all below sea level. The Hawaiian Islands, on the other hand, rise from a depth of 6000 meters to an elevation of over 4000 meters above sea level. By this measure, Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawai'i is the tallest mountain on Earth, surpassing even Mount Everest (8850 meters).
The Hawaiian Islands are a chain of volcanic islands extending from Kaua'i in the northwest to the Big Island of Hawai'i in the southeast and require a different explanation. The most important clues to the origin of Hawaiian volcanoes come from their age distribution and composition. The oldest volcanic rocks are found on Kaua'i. The islands get progressively younger to the southeast, culminating in the currently active Kilauea volcano on the Big Island.
The Hawaiian Islands are thought to be the product of a more or less random "hot spot," a thermal plume of mantle-derived magma that has burned its way up through the overlying plate. The Pacific plate is moving (to the northwest) over a stationary hot spot. As the plate continues to move over this, a series of volcanoes have built up and then gone extinct as each island was carried away from it.
The Pacific Plate has been moving over the hot spot at an average rate of approximately 10 centimeters per year. The prominent bend in the chain reflects a change in the direction of Pacific Plate motion some 40 million years ago. Prior to that time, the Pacific Plate was moving almost due north.
The Pacific plate is steadily carrying the Hawaiian Islands northwest at a rate of some 10 centimeters per year, the first leg of her journey is actually getting longer by the day. Sorry, Roz!
*About the author:*
Michael Follo is a science teacher at Woodberry Forest School in Virginia. He has a Ph.D. in geology from Harvard University, and has taught at the college and secondary school level for the past 23 years. He has conducted geologic fieldwork in Europe, North America, and Hawai'i-but, unlike Roz, nowhere in between.
Position as at 2100 19th August HST, 0700 20th August UTC: 22 26.238'N, 151 00.378'W.
It is a beautiful night tonight. As I rowed along after sunset, waiting for the moon to rise, the deck of my boat lit up and looked up at the sky to see a shooting star. I'd never seen one so bright - it really was like a camera flash going off in the darkness of the night.
Thanks for all the great messages. Special hellos to: Brian - have a great (and safe) time mountain-climbing in Pakistan. Hope to see you in London in November. Andy, Emer, Ailis, Saoirse and Caoimhe - so nice to know you are keeping an eye on the blog. Hope you're settling into your not-so-new home. Lots of love to all. George - thanks for the quote. I used to live in the same village as Sir Peter Blake's family - I met his widow and son. Lovely people - wish I'd met the man himself, but I was too late. John, Erin - great questions. Will respond in future blogs.
And finally. from George van der Meeuwen in New Zealand: There is a legend that says: On the occasion of a great forest fire, all the animals sought to escape. Only one little hummingbird was gathering a few drops of water from the river and flying high to drop them on the fire. They asked the hummingbird what use it was to do so little? The hummingbird answered - 'If everyone were to do just a little!'