Imaginary journeys on a rowing machine

  • Images; bigstock, photo illustration by Shaun Gibson
 

I don't mind exercise. Really, I don't. But I've always preferred to do it while accomplishing something else: going to work, talking to a friend, running an errand. At the very least, I like to huff and puff outdoors, away from the computer and incipient carpal-tunnel syndrome. Going to a gym? It's always seemed a little bit like paying a fee to breathe, or to digest. Besides, in rural western Colorado, I live near plenty of dirt roads; they don't smell like old socks, and I can use them for free.

Over the past few years, though, this prejudice of mine has collided not only with the hectic schedule of new parenthood, but also with -- can we put this delicately, please? -- the arrival of the time of life when one's waistline no longer requests, but demands a workout. And I'm too vain to buy new jeans.

So late last year, during an especially long, dark December night, I ordered a rowing machine -- the kind with a flywheel, a bicycle chain and a sliding seat. This wasn't entirely an impulse purchase: In high school, I had a brief stint as a coxswain on the crew team, and I have fond memories of misty early-morning outings on the Hudson River -- and even of the dreaded rowing-machine workouts, which I found somehow rhythmic and soothing. A rowing machine, I reasoned, would let me exercise at home near my daughter -- and it would at least imitate a real-world activity. So what if it came with a computer screen, and looked a lot like an extremely large gerbil wheel?

"Mama, where you going to row?" asked my 3-year-old, eyeing the big cardboard box in the living room.

I sighed. Exactly the problem, I thought. I'd capitulated to pointless exercise.

My daughter brightened. "You should row to Yap!"

Yap, as you may or may not know, is an island in the Western Pacific, and one of the states of Micronesia. It is my household's conceptual equivalent of Timbuktu -- an impossibly faraway, mysterious place. According to Google Earth, it is 6,992 air miles away from my front door. The water route, I thought, would be ... well, I didn't even want to think about it.

I laughed. "That's a pretty long row."

My daughter looked unimpressed.

"How about we start by rowing to the coffee shop?"

The coffee shop is 1.5 miles away. My daughter, still foggy on matters of scale, quickly agreed. (Also, the coffee shop has bagels. The availability of bagels on Yap is as yet undetermined.)

After a single 5,000-meter workout, we'd gone to the coffee shop and back. "Did you like the bagels?"

"Yeah. Now Yap."

I sighed. Six thousand nine hundred miles is ... about 11 million meters. Eleven million meters is about 2,200 average workouts. My daughter would be finishing elementary school before we spotted land. But wasn't this what I'd wanted in the first place? To use exercise to get somewhere?
"OK," I said. "But it's going to take a while."

To date, I've rowed about 300,000 meters, close to 200 miles. I figure we've rowed down the North Fork River and into the Gunnison. We've gotten through the first serious rapids of the Colorado River, and crossed the border into Utah. We've camped on the beach, and told stories in our tent. Soon, we'll get in a special yellow airplane and fly around Glen Canyon Dam, then Hoover Dam and the rest, our boat strapped securely to the fuselage. In a few months, we'll hit the Colorado Delta, where we'll portage across the mudflats and into the Gulf of California. We'll round the tip of Baja and head out to the open ocean, where, if we're lucky, we'll see gray whales and cookie-cutter sharks. My daughter hopes to see some dolphins, and maybe even a stray penguin. We need to remember to bring lunch, and cookies, and juice.

And so I row on. Behind my left shoulder, framed by a bedroom window, the view of the mountains stays the same. But the imaginary horizon is infinite.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Greater Yellowstone Coalition seeks a development professional to coordinate the organization's individual giving program. The position description is available at http://greateryellowstone.org/careers Please email a letter...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. At least 8-10 years of experience...
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER AND BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER MANAGER
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring for two positions. We seek a Communications Manager to execute inspiring and impactful communications...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Wilderness Volunteers Wilderness Volunteers (WV), a 24-year leader in preserving our nation's wildlands, is seeking a motivated person with deep outdoor interests to guide our...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • FISHERIES BIOLOGIST
    Under the direct supervision of the Director of Shoshone-Paiute Tribe's Fish, Wildlife & Parks, in coordination with the Tribal Programs Administrator and the Tribal Chairman,...
  • REGIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR NORTHERN ROCKIES, PRAIRIES & PACIFIC REGION
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation has grown into America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more than...
  • STEWARDSHIP MANAGER
    STEWARDSHIP MANAGER Job Vacancy and Description Posted June 2, 2021: Open until filled The New Mexico Land Conservancy (NMLC) is a non-profit, regional land trust...
  • KSJD - MORNING EDITION HOST/REPORTER
    KSJD is seeking a host/reporter. Please see for www.ksjd.org for more information. EEO compliant.
  • ON THE EDGE OF CEDAR MESA/BEARS EARS
    Quiet, comfy house for rent in Bluff, Utah. Walk to San Juan River. Bike or hike to many nearby ruins and rock art sites. Beautiful...
  • CARPENTER AND LABORER WANTED.
    Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rain forest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg meadows,...
  • PROJECT MANAGER
    Title: Project Manager Reports To: Program Director Salary Range: Negotiable; starting at $60,000 Location: Bend, OR The Deschutes River Conservancy seeks a Project Manager to...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Deschutes River Conservancy seeks a Program Director to join our dynamic team in restoring streamflow and improving water quality in the Deschutes Basin. WHO...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - TWISPWORKS
    Established healthy nonprofit in the Methow Valley of Washington state, TwispWorks is hiring the next Executive Director. Terrific opportunity to strive for our mission to...
  • BOARD DIRECTOR
    Help us achieve our mission of promoting excellence in the professional practice of wilderness stewardship, science and education to ensure the life-sustaining benefits of wilderness....
  • TEMPORARY FULL-TIME RANCH OPERATIONS ASSISTANT
    Twin Willows Ranch in Ocate, NM is seeking to immediately fill a Temporary Full-Time employment position as Ranch Operations Assistant for Facilities, Equipment, Land, and...
  • RANCH OPERATIONS ASSISTANT
    Twin Willows Ranch in Ocate, NM is seeking an individual to fill the Regular Full-Time position of Resident Operations Assistant for Technology, Hospitality, Gardening, and...
  • CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
    Conservation Project Manager Position Description Join Skagit Land Trust (the Trust), a not-for-profit conservation organization based in Mount Vernon, Washington, and help protect land for...
  • POEM+ NEWSLETTER
    Start each month with a poem in your inbox by signing up for Taylor S. Winchell's monthly Poem+ Newsletter. No frills. No news. No politics....
  • OUTDOOR PROGRAM - ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
    St. Lawrence University seeks to fill the position of Assistant Director in the Outdoor Program. To view the complete position description, including minimum qualifications required,...