Notes from a Not So Reluctant Crew Member – learning to row at the Minnesota Boat Club

Last week brought 2 and 3 of my Learn to Row lessons from the Minnesota Boat Club. For the first few minutes of the class we warmed up on the machines. While on one of the machines, I spent some time lost in my head fretting about my ability to row and wondering whether I would remember anything that had been taught. To catch you up, at our first lesson our instructors had us in the training barge rowing but tethered to the dock. My maiden attempt at rowing did not go as I had imagined. I thought, ‘really – how difficult could this be?’ Turns out there’s plenty you can screw up.

But onward and out to the barge we went. Our instructors, Kerry and Bruce, were liberal with their reminders; carry your oar blade forward, once in the boat never take your hand off your oar, keep the blade square to the water, etc, etc. Once out onto the water, Kerry broke us down into groups of 4 and had us start. As expected, there was a bit of flailing about but everyone seemed to get the hang of it quite quickly and soon all 12 of us were rowing (mostly!) in unison with our lead ‘stroke‘. Yay team!!

Here’s what I discovered very soon into it; I like this team sport. I like the individual effort required much like a more solitary sport such as running but because you have to match the stroke of your leader, I found I stayed more in the moment instead of getting lost in my mind with some needless thought. My brain felt scrubbed clean. Too bad those newly formed blisters kept interrupting my Zen!

By lesson 3, we just got better and better. It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday morning on the river. At times we would hit that sweet spot where everyone’s blade hit the water at the same moment – at the ‘catch‘, followed by the ‘drive‘ when the blade is in the water moving us forward, the ‘finish‘ as the blade comes out of the water and finally, the ‘recovery‘ as we all slide forward in one fluid movement.

I have 3 more lessons yet; can’t wait! Stay tuned.


Notes from a Reluctant Crew Member – learning to row at the Minnesota Boat Club

A while back I was walking along the Mississippi River with a friend. As we passed the Minneapolis Rowing Club’s building, my friend mentioned the St. Paul version of the rowing club, Minnesota Boat Club, on Raspberry Island. While she was lost in reminiscing about hot summer nights, partying at the River Serpent bar, I was distracted by her offhand mention of Learn to Row classes that she said would be starting up soon. This got me thinking about rowing. I’ve always been an athletic person and while most of my pursuits have been more solitary, the idea of being in sync with a group of people gliding across the Mississippi River certainly held some appeal. Thank the internet for turning a whim into reality; before the day was over, I had Googled Minnesota Boat Club’s website and signed up for the first session offered in May.

My first class was last Tuesday evening. We were greeted by our instructors, Kerry and Bruce, and given a tour of the Boat Club building. In short order our instructors had us in the workout room and onto the rowing machines or ‘ergs’ as they are referred to.

Now, as I mentioned, I’m a pretty athletic person. I trail run, I ride dressage competitively, I’ve had personal trainers blah, blah, blah – so as I’m watching Kerry demonstrate proper rowing technique, I’m thinking ‘no problem’. Um yeah; I climbed aboard that machine and felt as if someone had just asked me to pat my head and rub my tummy while jumping on one foot. But eventually I got into the groove along with everyone else in the class. We all got several turns on the machines, recieved individual feedback on our form and worked on some drills.

Next we were taken out onto the training barge tethered to the dock on the river. The training barge isn’t the sexiest boat on the river, let me assure you, but it was stable and built to withstand our clumsy first-time attempts at rowing. Before we actually got to row, I discovered that they don’t untether the boat from the dock. Once we got into position and were instructed how to row, I understood why. Good call.

I learned a surprising amount in a short time. And while mostly I felt like a total spaz, the instruction was solid, Kerry and Bruce were patient and we all did show improvement by the end of the evening. Like anything else, practice makes perfect.

My next class is Thursday night. I’ll let you know how it goes.


Winter at the Barrio Tequila Bar

I adore this part of winter; the Beginning. The contrast of green to white with the first snow, temps cold but not yet bone-shatteringly so, storefronts festooned in swags, wreaths, globes and garland, luring you with their candy coated promises. In this moment even the mundane of my closet becomes appealing. Last year’s winter clothes a novelty now hang from my still-summer body in good-humored accommodation. This very early winter time begs that I leave the confines of my home to find my friends and follow enticement. “Eat, Drink & be Merry” has never had more meaning than in December. Find a place for me to sit beside an expansive window and watch the world from inside.

Recently I spent an evening at Barrio Tequila Bar whose street side facade vaunts a wall of glass overlooking Mears Park in lowertown St Paul. Such decadence taken for granted, to be surrounded by this energy-infused warmth with nothing more than a simple pane of glass shielding me from the algidity. It’s here friends and I sip bar concoctions with meaningless names; “The Trinity”, “Macho Camacho” and “Enter The Dragon”, each softening the edges of our day with their velvety smoothness. My attention vacillates between the alcohol steeped chatter at my table and the winter life outdoors. Pulsing gusts of snow race across the street heedless of cars, men and women walk past, strides confident in their Sorrel-clad feet. Food arrives at our table, mini-Mexican works of art; Mahi Mahi Taco, Red Snapper Ceveche, Amish Chicken Quesadilla and a Trio of Salsas. Nestled at the center of the Trio lies the Habanero salsa, co-dependent lover of my tequila, task master to my taste buds; nothing brings me to present like my incendiary compadre, daring me, swearing no harm while bringing tears to my eyes.

And so the evening proceeds, friends wrapped together in the raucousness of the Barrio, a crazy confluence of tequila and capsaicin sharpening the contrast of what awaits outdoors. I know the freshness of December will pass, eventually my clothes will conspire to strangulate me and I will curse each and every snowflake that falls from the sky. But for now I will sit toasty warm indoors and enjoy the newness of my winter relationship.