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
  • DEAN, W. A. FRANKE COLLEGE OF FORESTRY AND CONSERVATION, UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA
    Dean, W. A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, apply http://bit.ly/2548umjobs. AA/EEO/ADA/Veterans Preference Employer
  • GRAPHIC DESIGNER
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a creative and driven graphic design professional to design high quality print and digital collateral. The Graphic Designer will bring...
  • STEWARDSHIP SPECIALIST
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks experienced person to manage its 133 conservation easements in south-central Colorado.
  • CAMPAIGN REPRESENTATIV
    Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign is hiring an experienced campaigner to lead our work challenging the oil and fracked gas industry on the Gulf...
  • AG LANDS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Oregon Agricultural Trust (OAT) seeks passionate relationship builder experienced in coordinating agricultural conservation easement transactions.
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • FINANCE DIRECTOR
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) is hiring 4+ positions: Finance Director; Coms/Engagmnt Mngr; Dev/Engagmnt Dir; Americorps vol
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND ENGAGEMENT MANAGER
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) is hiring 4+ positions: Finance Director; Dev/Engagement Dir; Coms/Engagement Mngr; & Americorps volunteer
  • SEASONAL TRAIL CREW LEADERS
    Lead the nation's premier volunteer-based trail crew programs on the spectacular Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. This is a great career-building opportunity for rising professionals....
  • ORGANIZING AND TRAINING COORDINATOR
    Is this your dream job? Are you looking to join a nationally recognized organizing network, live in a spectacular part of the West, and work...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND ADVOCACY DIRECTOR
    Provide stewardship and protection for the Great Burn wildlands along the Montana-Idaho stateline. This position is based in Missoula, MT, where a river runs through...
  • DEVELOMENT DIRECTOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness is seeking a qualified Development Director to manage the fundraising success of our growing organization, including the team-driven implementation of...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Central Oregon LandWatch is seeking an Executive Director to advance our mission and oversee the development of the organization. Job Description: The Executive Director oversees...
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • SAN JUAN BASIN ENERGY CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance is seeking a full-time San Juan Energy Campaign Organizer located in Farmington, New Mexico. The San Juan Energy Campaign Organizer focuses...
  • WILDLIFE PROGRAM MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance (SJCA) is looking for a passionate, experienced, and motivated Wildlife Program Manager to lead campaigns to protect and enhance wildlife and...
  • GRANT WRITER
    "This thriving citizens organization exemplifies the ideal of public involvement in public processes."- Billings Gazette Help protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, &...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER AND MEMBERSHIP COORDINATOR
    Western Colorado Alliance is hiring for 4 positions, 2 Full Time Community Organizers, 1 Part Time Community Organizer and a Part Time Membership Coordinator. For...
  • BUSINESS OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    Thorne Nature Experience is looking for a Business Operations Director who will work in partnership with the Executive Director and Thorne's Directors and Managers to...
  • WILDERNESS CONSERVATION CORPS - OREGON
    The Siskiyou Mountain Club is hiring interns for the 2020 Field Season. Interns utilize non-mechanized tools to complete trail restoration and maintenance while gaining job...