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.
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Tuesday and 3pm is the Most Agreeable Meeting Time


I think crowd sourcing is an interesting way to make data driven decisions on daily life. Take scheduling meetings for example. It’s a nightmare to find a time that works for everyone. Meeting scheduling website When Is Good looked at 100,000 responses to 34,000 over 2 years and found that 3pm on Tuesday is the most agreeable time for a meeting.

The basic findings of their crowd sourcing study are as follows:

  • Event invitations are most likely to be accepted for a Tuesday at 3pm.
  • Surprisingly, very little variation exists between the days of the week.
  • On average only 3 or 4 people out of 10 will be available at any given time.
  • People are happier than you might think to work through lunch.
  • Flexibility jumps up at 10 and 11 in the morning, but peaks at 3PM.


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.

My experience with Lasik (surgery #2)

Tangible Goal = improve my sight so I can work into the night without my eyes going blurry.

Some of my friends have asked me how Lasik went. It went well. Last Friday I got my got Lasik on my eyes for the second time. Originally I was +3 (farsighted). After my first Lasik I was +1.5. Now with my second surgery I’m intended to be zero, or without prescription. This means I can work later into the evening without my eyes getting tired. This correction puts at risk my ability to see far, to some extent, although I have not experienced that yet. My close-up vision is noticeably sharper, it’s as if I just traded-in my Sanyo for a Sony Vega.

Here before and after pictures. A small subconjunctival hemorrhage is visible in the 48 hours picture (at 11 o’clock on the eye). This harmless side affect will resolve in a few weeks. It was caused by the suction ring applied to my eye to cut the flap. The eye flap is folded back so the laser can reshape my stroma. Details on wikipedia.

The Lasik procedure is painless, but eary, especially since I knew what was coming. I had my first surgery in August 2008. I’m glad it’s done. It’s 15 of the worst minutes of my life. The body/mind is very defensive about the eyes, for good reason.

I’m anticipating the side affect of dry eyes. The doctors treated this last time with a lower tear duct block, which may or may not still be in there. Time will tell.

Before Lasik
Before Lasik.

After Lasik. 2 minutes postop.
2 minutes after Lasik.

After Lasiks. 2 hours postop
2 hours after Lasik.

After Lasik. 24 hours postop.
24 hours after Lasik.

After Lasik. 48 hours postop.
48 hours after Lasik.

Overheard in REI… “Mount Everest is very easy to climb, only just a little too high.”

The most common mountaineering question I get asked is “How was Everest”. It’s a hard question to answer with a phrase or two. It requires a great deal of hang waving a a certain amount of time to encapsulate a life changing event  where I risked my life, carried the body of a dead man, nearly plunged 3000 vertical feet down the Lhotse Iceface, made friendships that will last a lifetime, and lost 50 pounds of my own body weight. It was a tremendous event in my life, so it’s hard for me to summarize, and I usually don’t want to.

So you can imagine my amazement when I overheard someone today in REI summarize his Mount Everest expedition in 13-words. I think this quote is originally attributed to Andre Roch, although I heard it from someone else. Mostly the quote makes me laugh, some things just can’t be ‘boiled down’.

“Mount Everest is very easy to climb, only just a little too high.”

Here are some my pictures from my expedition to Mount Everest in 2005. I stood on the top of this particular ‘tangible goal’ at 9AM on 6/2/2005.

Book: Absinthe and Flamethrowers


I picked up a book today called Absinthe & Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously. It’s an exploration of a single, important question: Are people who take risks happier than those who do not? Bill says they are. I agree.

What did not resonate. Bill Gurstelle is a fellow Minnesotan, but a solely different kind of “adventurer”. His book is ostensibly about him blowing things up with gun powder, which isn’t really my style. Not that I’m against detonating inanimate objects, it’s just not a tangible adventure. It’s more impactful (to me) to reflect on climbing Mount Everest, than to ruminate on an exploded grapefruit.

What did resonate. The graph above resonated. Bill coins the “Golden Third” of people as happier because they take risks. He says we live in an age where disruptive ides are critical to our future. Children and adults should have the “license” to invent and to adventure beyond the safety of the envelope, just like the first caveman who overcame the fear of fire.

[Update] Book: Born to Run

2440779305_6709b5607dIn my previous blog post I mentioned that runners are more likely to get injured in expensive shoes than in less expensive shoes, and even less likely to get injured running barefoot. Customers are spending money to hurt themselves. This is based on Christopher McDougall’s research in the book Born To Run.

A few of my friends have suggested that people that buy expensive running shoes are more likely to drive themselves harder and get injured. This angle is addressed in the book — Chris talked about casual runners who run three times a week and still get injured in expensive shoes.

So, I still believe that spending money on expensive shoes is a waste of cash. You’re better off making shoes out of 2 liter bottles, as in the picture.

Maui Jungle Flora

We went on a day hike on a plantation in North Maui. Along the way we found waterfalls, a swimming hole and some very interesting plants. One plant featured protective leaves that turn inward to protect itself from insects, and another had a flower that tasted exactly like mushrooms.

If you have help me identify these plants I’d love it.