Petaluma Row

What an adventure!!! This weekend Justin Huskamp and I rowed 80 miles from San Francisco to Petaluma and back. The row was fast, scenic and cold.

  • Saturday 40 mile row to SF to Petaluma
  • Sunday 40 mile row to Petaluma to SF

The flood tide began early morning Saturday so we left with it at 6:00am. The flood tide ended by 10:38 when we reached the Petaluma entrance. The counteracting ebb tide against us was weak during our row up the Petaluma. The ebb tide that would push us home began at noon so we left as late as possible, 8:00am. Our late departure gave us fast current speeds, faster boat speed of 8 mph, but higher winds and thunderstorms. You can’t have it all.

Gear list

  • Individual gear: 2x rowing gloves, waterproof outers, 2x rowing clothes, 2x shoes, 2x socks, baseball hat, knit cap, sunglasses
  • Shared gear:, dry bags, walkie talkie, 2x bailers, horn, life vests, 3x blade sets, extra ropes, 2x headlamp, bow light, sunscreen, water, charts, iPhones, Leatherman, ziplock bags, sponges
  • Food: GU gel, GU Chomp, GU Brew, toasted bagels w/cream cheese, cashews, walnuts, cooked chicken, cooked sweet potatoes

Like Yvon Chouinard says, “it’s not an adventure until something goes wrong”. Here’s what went wrong:

  • Low visibility in San Pablo Bay meant we couldn’t see shore in any direction — solution: GPS
  • Waterproof GPS got wet and gave wrong bearings — solution: compass
  • Gigantic tanker emerged from the fog just as we crossed the central shipping channel — solution: sprint
  • Headwind got so strong that I couldn’t hear Justin 2 feet behind me — solution: yell louder
  • Thunderstorm soaked my clothes — solution: borrow Justin’s hat
  • Our hands got blistered from rowing wet– solution: deal with it
  • I completely bonked just as we finish the row Sunday night — solution: cupcakes
Rowing blisters. (Justin left, Neal right)


  • Southend Rowing Club of SF at Aquatic Park
  • Alcatraz
  • Angel Island
  • Richmond San Rafael Bridge
  • China Camp
  • Black Point Marina
  • Papa’s Taverna, Lakeville
  • Petaluma Marina

Day 1 - 40 miles

Day 2 - 40 miles

The boat was the “Valhalla”. She’s a fast, 22 foot long, 3.5 feet wide, lapstrake wooden rowboat built by boatwright Jeremy Fisher-Smith in 1979 at Tomales Bay. I love this boat and called Jeremy today to thank him for building the boat 30 years ago, when he was a 22-year old.

Stats for this row:

  • My hardest row ever
  • My 2nd longest row ever (100 mile row to Sacramento was longer)
  • Speed 7 mph
  • Seals: 20+
  • Duck blinds spotted: 1
  • Other rowboats spotted: One 1-person shell on Petaluma River
  • GU gels and chomps eaten: 12 on Saturday, 15 on Sunday

Future rows:

  • SF -> Farallon Islands (70 roundtrip) – 1 day
  • SF -> Half Moon Bay (70 roundtrip) – 2 days
  • SF -> Tomalen Bay (120 roundtrip) – 2 days

Thanks to:

  • Justin for being awesome.
  • Owen, Dan, Tom, Joe and Tom and everyone from the Southend Rowing Club.
  • Carol/Ken for Petaluma dinner and housing.


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Planning Ama Dablam Climb

I am planning a trip to Ama Dablam, 22,349 feet. The year is unclear as I’m still in planning mode.

Ama Dablam dominates the eastern sky for anyone trekking to Mount Everest basecamp, that’s when I first saw it and was captivated. It’s a gorgeous peak.

The most popular route by far is the Southwest Ridge (right skyline in the photo). Climbers typically set up three camps along the ridge with camp 3 just below and to the right of the hanging glacier, the Dablam.

As with Mt. Everest, the best climbing months are April-May (before the monsoon) and September-October.

I have the gear. I need the team and 1 month vacation.

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Everest Summit Day HD

HD footage from “ivegivenallican” (I’ve given all I can). Shows the the three most memorable parts of summit day, those being Hillary Step, South Summit and Everest Summit. I wish it showed the balcony — I have a pretty foggy memory of this spot and it would have been nice to see it again with a fully oxygenated mind.

Everest is a different climb than any other mountain climb. As the video shows, it is a climb on army-like scale. Larger in duration (73 days in my case) and in the size of the average team (my team was 25 people). Most people on my team were support crew who stayed lower on the mountain. More than half never left base camp. 5 of us were from North America, the rest were Sherpa. Only 6 of us ever intended to reach the summit, 3 North Americans and 3 Sherpa. The altitude is what makes Everest take so long, require such a huge army-life support organization, and it’s why Everest has captured the imagination of so many. I have climbed many mountains that are more technically challenging than Everest, but there is no mountain higher than Everest and that is exactly why Everest is such a formidable goal. The air is 25% as thick at the summit as it is at sea level. Even with oxygen the body is coping with a fraction of the oxygen it needs to perform. Each step requires multiple breaths. Each step is an opportunity to quit. Each misstep off the ridgeline carries enormous consequences.

Watch this full screen.

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Great White Sharks In The San Francisco Bay


The Graphic: The colors lines represent actual sharks from 2000-2008. The gray area represents the extrapolated ranging of all great whites in the area. There is no blow-up of the bay, but supposedly they roamed inside the Golden Gate.

The Study: According to a Stanford University-led study released Tuesday, great white sharks occasionally stray from their Northern California feeding grounds for jaunts under the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco Bay, apparently in search of snacks. The sharks lived in the deep ocean near Hawaii between January and July and in Northern California between August and December. The scientists tracked the snaggly toothed predators between 2000 and 2008 from the Bay Area to San Diego, Hawaii and back as the sharks followed a surprisingly precise route in a strict time frame.

My take: There are thousands of seals in the Bay. However, the water is comparatively cloudy and noisy. This relative different probably ruined the hunting efforts of the sharks while they were in the Bay. That said, it’s only a matter of time until there is a great white attack in the Bay — shiver.

Read more: San Francisco Chronicle

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Example Of Functional Building Design


The horizontal surface of a gym floor is not the most efficient use of space. The underutilized vertical surface the side is a much more space efficient workout facility.

Check out the architecture of this dorm at the University of Twente in the Netherlands by Arons and Gelauff Architects. This is definitely the product of designing and constructing spaces that reflect and functional, aesthetic and environmental considerations.

The dutch  must belay this building using non-standard ropes for this pitch. This building is 9 stories tall, or 90 feet. Climbings ropes are 60 meters long, or 196 feet long of rope. 6 feet is not enough belay slack.


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Sacramento Row



Rowing has become a regular outlet for me. I row the wooden rowboats that the Dolphin Club of San Francisco makes available to members. All you have to do is join, take a rowing skills course, and you can row a boat that was built prior to WWII. Sound amazing? It is. Most of the boats were built in the Golden Era, this is the happy period between WWI and WWII. Many are Whitehall class wooden row boats that are varnished and equipped with 8-9 foot all-wood oars. Some of the boats have a single rowing station, others have 2 rowing stations. Most weekends are rowing weekends for me. I pick a point in the San Francisco Bay and head toward it. Sometimes the currents change my path. I see dolphins during most outings. The Bay lacks sharks so there is a plethora of seals and dolphins that fish the Bay. Rowing puts the entire bay at my fingertips, without the roar of a gasoline motor or being at the mercy of the wind as in a sailboat. In a rowboat I can go anywhere in the Bay, and I like that very much.

This past weekend I was invited on the Dolphin Club yearly Sacramento Row. I immediately liked the idea — it would be light-hearted, challenging and fun. It also met my requirement of having a tangible start and end. Rowing to Sacramento, I found out, is a tradition that goes back 40 years or more, and is currently carried forward by our master boat builder, Jon Bielinski.

Some facts about our row:

  • 100 miles row upriver to Sacramento from San Francisco Aquatic Park
  • 3 men (Jon Bielinski, Darren Palm, Neal Mueller)
  • 2 men rowing, 1 man navigating. We observed a constant rotation of 40 minutes rowing, 20 minutes navigating/resting.
  • Our vessel was the Lawton Hughes 2-man rowboat built in 1938, and refurbished by Jon Bielinski


12835_674293528207_609340_39030721_7087192_nWe set out Saturday morning at 3:45AM for 3 days of difficult upriver rowing. We rowed 14 hours Saturday, 12 hours on Sunday, and finished with 4 hours on Monday. We rowed with the flood (current with us) Saturday morning and Sunday morning. We rowed with the ebb (current against us) Saturday afternoon, Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. here is a day by day.

Saturday started out easy and dark. After 2 hours of rowing we had already left San Francisco and were past Angel Island heading north toward San Pablo Bay. The fog fell over San Francisco to cover our wake. Looking back was no longer an option. The only clear waters lay ahead. We reached the San Pablo Straight lighthouse before day break and headed West toward Benicia where we stopped for a 20-minute break. lighthouseWe looked at the map and agreed to take the scenic route around the decommissioned warships in the “Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet” (aka Ghost Fleet). These old gals were beautiful and very large. The next stretch of rowing seemed to stretch on forever. We rowed port Chicago, a decommissioned naval base, and were spectators to a high-octane jet ski race. It seemed like we’d never reach Collinsville.  Around 6PM we did. It was amazing to see Lou waving at us in his neatly pressed shirt and loafers. We stayed that night in Lou’s house. 4 people from the Dolphin Club drove 3 hours roundtrip to wish us well and eat dinner with us. They left pretty early so we could fall into our beds. What a cool group. We slept well this night.

16632_162466882878_584212878_2744289_2675132_nSunday we rose before dawn for a breakfast by Cynthia and Lou in their comfortable home. The saw us off as the sun rose. Rowing began easier than Darren, Jon or I expected. From my side, my glute and leg aches had totally subsided. We rowed past mooing cow pastures and slowly turning wind turbines. By 10AM the wind increased from 0 mph to 15 mph. Just in time we diverted into the narrow waters of the sloughs which are buffeted by the wind by a high earthen levy on either side. Bicycles waved and encouraged us as they sprinted down the road-covered levy banks. At around 3PM we looked for a lunch spot. We fastened the Hughes to a half-submerged stump on shore and scrambled to shore. I’d eaten so many GU’s that I was too amped up to rest, so I swam across the Sacramento river using the breaststroke because of my recent Lasik surgery. We rowed into the night, and as dusk fell I was getting pretty sore in the glutes. Our rowing shifts seemed to occur faster and our 20-minute rest segments shorter. After 30 hours of rowing in 2 days my body was fatiguing. We didn’t talk much for 12835_674292819627_609340_39030676_6420588_nthat last hour and just settled into the last remaining pulls that were left before we docked the Hughes for the night. Our attitude totally changed when we arrive at Freeport, a lively riverside rest stop replete with a wonderful slip for us and a full bar and grill. We stowed the boat for the night and drank draft beer. The hardest portion of our row was over and we felt like celebrating in those comfortable restaurant seats. Darren and I even had a scotch. It was perfect. We slept next to the Hughes on the levy grass, hoping the sprinklers wouldn’t wake us at 6AM with a shower.

Monday was a short row. 4 hours of rowing from Freeport to Sacramento’s Miller Park. We were met at the beach by Eric Hanson and 3 of my great aunt and uncles, all who live in Sacramento. Eric graciously invited us  over to his house for a gourmet meal. Eric keeps 3 chickens in his backyard, and I might copy him soon (stay tuned). We trailered the Hughes and drove her back home to the Dolphin Club where we washed her out with fresh water and buffed her shine back. At the end of it she looked cleaner than when we left. Hard to imagine that the Lawton Hughes was built in 1938. The trees


that were cut down to build the Hughes have already regrown larger and thicker than before and the Hughes is still around. These boats are a renewable resource in the real sense of the word. In our throw-away culture of short-lived cell phones and car, it’s nice to care for something that will most certainly outlive me.

Our 3-man team was strong, upbeat and had so many good stories. Rowing with Jon Bielinski was an absolute joy. He helped built and/or refurbish most of the boats in the Dolphin Club and told us story after story about rowing and building boats. Before this row I did not know Darren. As fate would have it, it turns out that Darren have worked for the same executives at Cisco, he as a recruiter. Small world.

As always, special thanks to my team, our crew of supporters, the Dolphin Club, and to GU for once again fueling my tangible goals.
View Sacramento Row in a larger map

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Planned Row To Sacremento

8121_1168087160219_1169149814_30447692_3973962_nThis Sat-Sun-Mon I will row 100-miles from San Francisco to Sacramento with Renee and Jon from the Dolphin Club. We will be rowing upstream in a 40-50 year old wooden rowboat.

  • Day 1: San Francisco to Collinsville
  • Day 2: Collinsville to Freeport
  • Day 3: Freeport to Sacramento, drive home

Needless to say I am SUPER EXCITED as I prepare myself for this thing. This trip will be the culmination of my 2009 rowing season. I expect my hands and glute’s to be in tatters after this journey. Aside from the physical strain, the route is an adventure. We will be rowing upstream on trafficked shipping lane and using back-eddies to help us along. The plan is to have 2 people on the oars and 1 person steering. We will rotate at 20-minute intervals.

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