row2k Features
Regatta Road Trip: Part I -- On Not Driving Rented Durangos into the Great Lakes
September 17, 2004
Rob Colburn

"We were all delighted...we were leaving confusion and nonsense behind and performing our one and noble function of the time, move." -- Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Road trips, especially with a cohesive crew, are some of the most fun parts of being on the team. Being on the road together, living off the land, relying on our own decisions, backing each other up in unexpected emergencies, (not to mention twelve hours of conversation, jokes, and anecdotes) will bond those of us lucky enough to be chosen for our club's Away Squadron like few other adventures can.

We've rented a minivan and a Durango. The boat trailer went out the day before. The minivan has more leg room; the Durango has a CD player. Life's a tradeoff. In the minivan, we make our own in-flight entertainment by propping John's laptop on the armrests of the front seats, and watching DVDs on it.

"There are only two seasons," a seasoned traveller once remarked, "winter and construction." We seem to have hit the Construction Solstice. Or else someone repossessed the road for nonpayment of highway taxes and has scraped our half of it away. There are places where the cones and lane shifts turn driving into a video game. What it is like for a boat trailer, I shudder to think. Wish I owned stock in whatever company makes all those plastic barrels. In some places they've shortened the entrance ramps, making getting back onto the highway very dicey. Fully loaded and with seven of us aboard, the van accelerates only a little slower than a novice four, and the brakes are distinctly mushy.

"Three to build. Stroke rating is sixty-five. Shift on this one."

For awhile we convoy, but differing fueling schedules (the Durango wolfs about four times as much as we do) cause the vehicles to part company after lunch. No matter, it's easy enough to keep contact with cell phones. For some of us, this is as far west as we have ever been. We're digging the rolling mountain scenery in a Kerouac sort of way while listening to the grandly sweeping music off the "Lord of the Rings" soundtrack.

The Durango, meanwhile, is seeing more of the country than intended. Somewhere around Hebron, John's cell phone gets a call from the Durangians who belatedly realize that their navigation might SUCK because they're seeing signs for Michigan and Chicago.

"Michigan?!? Where are you guys?"
"West of Sandusky Bay. We practically drove into Lake Erie."
Julian and I spread out the map. Sandusky Bay...? Way up there? "Hey! you guys are 80 miles too far north--
"That's 128 thousand meters, you oarheads!" someone in the back seat shouts into the conversation.
"Don't you guys have a map?"
"A map of Ohio?"
Pause. "No, a map of Connecticut. Dudes, it's still a map, okay?"
"You guys need to come south. Fast. Take I-75 south. Meet you in Dayton."

Apparently they missed the split for I-70 and continued blissfully along 76 until they came to a big blue thing where no big blue thing was supposed to be. With two coxswains (plus a former coxswain) in the car, navigation should be the least of their problems. Oh yeah, one of the Durango's drivers will be toeing our straight four in the regatta. Parse that for omens how you like.

Downside of a twelve-hour trip is that there is not much to do except snack, and road food is not very rower-friendly. At every fuel and pee stop my cabinmates have been buying stuff. Bad lightweights, bad! The portable scale is packed under the seat in our van, and while stopped for supper, we weigh ourselves. It's not pretty. Only two of us are under 160. One of us (and I can't really mention names on account of I promised not to since it's his bag of trail mix I've been munching out of for the last 150 miles) drops trou in the parking lot, and he's still 173. Coach Conley is going to kill me for letting this happen if he ever finds out. ("I leave them in your care for less than 24 hours, and you deliver them to the regatta overweight, plus you manage to lose half the team on the way!")

"Don't worry, it's mostly water weight."

Appropriate song on one of the road mix tapes -- a song I was introduced to by a former member of the South African national team -- which fits the situation. The refrain ("Izinhlobo nezinhlobo zabantu") translates roughly "Because everyone likes jelly donuts." Perfect theme song for lightweights.

We mark off the mileage acording to the landmarks on our home course, spacing it out to fit. The Ohio border is the steps; Columbus is "the wire." (That was a long 350 metres!) At Cambridge City, we call the sprint.

John's cell phone buzzes. "We're receiving a subspace transmission from the Durangians."


"They're demanding total surrender of the planet and directions to the hotel. Resistance is futile."

"Tell them, the planet's already been sold, but the hotel is at exit 21, in sight of the highway."

On the outskirts of the city, we are treated to a spectacular lightning storm which lights up the whole horizon, as well as demolishes a utility pole rather spectacularly about forty yards in front of us. Thus, we arrive on the wings of the storm, strewing confusion in our wake. The hotel is clearly popular with rowing folks; we park our rented silver minivan among the dozens of other rented silver minivans in the parking lot and drag our stuff in.

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