row2k Features
Postcards from “the Barracks”
August 22, 2003
Rob Colburn

Club rowing -- summer season. Communal living, and forging lasting friendships with rowers from other cities. Some of the rowers from out-of-town have rented a gigantic 10-room unfurnished apartment they quickly name "the barracks" (a.k.a. "Apartamento F"). Furnished in Early Spartan Rococo, (translation: sleeping bags, air mattresses and folding chairs), the utilitarian 'base-camp' look of the place is softened somewhat by -- and obtains a personable quaintness from -- the gentle light of its northwestern exposure, and the bicycles parked all over the dining room.

In the spirit of share and share alike, the rowers play host in turn to yet more out-of-town rowers coming in from Oxford and Boston and for regattas. Stand next to the microwave long enough, and one will eventually meet practically everyone in the world of rowing. Only weeks ago, I had been clicking through rowing pics in row2k's galleries, choosing random examples to show some non-rowing friends of mine what truly good rowing looks like.

"See? See that angle? That's technique; that's exactly how it should look." A month later, that picture is no longer anonymous; I'm to cox Sergio's boat at Nationals. The six-degrees-of-separation rule is in full force here. Andy (Sergio's roommate) and I discover that we are very distantly related. Well, you can never have too many hard-pulling ports in the family, can you?

Cords for fans and CoxBoxes snake everywhere. (Air conditioning? Hah! We got hot water only yesterday. It's a glorious thing.) Drying unisuits hang over doorknobs and windowsills. Life is whittled down to the essentials: eat, sleep, row, boil pasta, row, play 'Halo,' row...and talk about rowing.

It's a high-octane experience being with people who have come together with singleness of purpose to pursue a goal, creature comforts be damned. There is a special aliveness which comes from being doers. Drifting off to sleep on the floor in the muggy heat, and reflecting on the day's practice, there is nowhere I'd rather be. Who needs a pillow?

Being a rowers' barracks (primarily lightweight rowers), the refrigerator is an altar consecrated to extremely healthy food. Nutrition is more than respected here; it is earnestly celebrated for the energy it brings. Half of Ecuador's banana crop -- carefully gradated in bunches by varying degrees of ripeness -- stretches across the kitchen counter. Our pasta collection is one of the great carbohydrate assemblages of the hemisphere. Orange juice comes in two-gallon jugs, the peanut-butter jar is the size of a scuba tank, and we bulk-purchase yogurt according to whichever brand is on sale. ("All work and Yoplait makes Jack a strong boy.") The cereal supply has been stocked as carefully as a Rothschild wine cellar -- appelation controlle, mise en boite a Mssrs. Kellogg et Post, IMPRIME RESERVE. It runs the gamut of oat brans to the decadence of frosted mini-wheats (presumably reserved for post-regatta celebrations.) The only concession to luxury is a large transparent plastic bear half full of animal crackers.

The digital scale is exactly where one would expect to find it -- bang in the middle of the kitchen floor, two steps in front of the refrigerator. Our Oracle of Perpetual Numbers is routinely consulted in transit as people pass too and fro from the living room. Alex "the port" (we also have a starboard Alex, whose last name means "rugged" or "enduring" in Portuguese; how perfect is that?) -- rides the 154-155lb knife-edge with the skill born of long discipline. He weighs himself, then selects a portion of linguini (cooked in large batches and stored in the refrigerator in convenient plastic bags for easy microwaving), a yogurt, and a small bunch of grapes. Food in hand, he weighs himself again, and -- apparently satisfied with the math -- stretches out in one of the folding chairs to devour his prey. One afternoon, I come back to find the captain of the BCC light 8+ contemplatively eating his bowl of honey oat Chereos while standing on the scale.

Dawn comes early and mercilessly to the barracks. My roommate is curled around his alarm clock, which is beeping into his face like a missile launch warning and producing absolutely no effect. It's not impossible he simply fell asleep in that position in the act of setting it the night before. More power to him if he can sleep through that. Let him cram those last precious moments of sleep in; I'll wake him when I get back from shaving. Sunburn or no sunburn, this morning is the decision point (hot water, remember). Otherwise it'll be the Hemingway look by Canadian Henley, and the border guards won't recognize my passport. Sergio's toes are still sticking over the edge of his air mattress, but they're twitching (he's been awake for half an hour). He's dressed for practice, and he and Andy are carrying on a conversation.

Gathered in the kitchen in our morning yogurt circle, (after I've scraped my face half off), we realize that Newell's alarm clock is still bleating plaintively from down the hall. "When does it become necessary and legal to kick my roommate?" I consult the group. "Oh, we're well into Newell-kicking season," Andy says, and goes in and gives him a resounding Head-of-the-Charles type oar slap.

No response. Not a reflexive twitch, not even a grumbled: "Go away, it's too early." Nothing.

"Is he dead?" asks the coach with more than academic interest. Such an untoward development could play havoc with the morning's boatings.

"No, just pining for the fjords."

A prod to the shoulder does the job, and Newell is abruptly wide awake, clear-eyed, talkative, and full of energy. Apparently there's an "on" switch somewhere.

The morning sun is a path of red gold on the river; the boathouse awaits. "We doubt not of a fair and lucky voyage." It is another day of rowing.

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