Forty Days and Forty Nights : “Life is either a great adventure or nothing.”
The sun is not shining, it is raining, we are rowing directly into a 20ft swell and it’s day 40 of the Atlantic Challenge. That’s forty days of back breaking, bum numbing, sleep depriving, joint aching, constipating and frustrating hard work. The type of hard work, that makes us at times, question just how long we can go on like this for. With each shift, the boat is at a crawling pace, it feels like rowing in treacle and the swell is pushing our little rowing boat in the wrong direction. The frustration with the conditions is at breaking point, every way-point or milestone we have set ourselves has meant to be the point at which ‘the conditions are in our favour’, and each time we row another 100 miles to reach it, the conditions have never changed.
I pray with everything I have, that when we reach 17 degrees west, there will be some change, if not consistency in the sea state. This week has been an award winning week for unpredictable, changing seas. For 2 days we had hot blistering sunshine with not a single wave or current in sight and we struggled to maintain 1.5 knots, Days 3-5 saw no sunshine and 10 ft cross swell swinging the boat from one bearing to the next, but at least the speed was between 2-2.5 knots. And now at days 6-7 we are in a huge storm, buckets of rain, waves the size of houses pushing us in a north westerly direction..we hit 5 knots of boat speed, but what a shame, its in the opposite direction to Antigua…lets deploy the para-anchor.
“SO WHY DON’T YOU JUST QUIT GIRLS?’..Lets face it, you’ve been rowing for 40 days and you’ve still over halfway to go. You’re miles behind the other crews, in fact 400 miles behind Atlantic Forces and then a further 500 miles behind the main pack..just sack it in, you gave it your best, but the steering and the conditions have meant its just not your time,give up, go home.’”
All of the above, has derived from both texts we’ve received, and in the darker days, from our own minds. The physical aspect of the row is not what makes this a challenge, its the psychological component to push through when you’re out of luck and everything is against you. Yes your joints feel like they’ve been smashed with a sledge hammer, yes your bottom is chaffed within an inch of its life and yes, you probably would like to sleep for more then 90 minutes at a time, but you can push through that.
What is so hard though, is to stay positive and keep moving forward when the ocean decides it wants to re-enact the scene from Lord of the Rings, where Gandolf the Great screams ‘YOU SHALL NOT PASSSSSSS.’ at the giant beast. We are beyond desperate now, sometimes we have 6 hours of rowable seas, and the pace picks up, you allow yourself to hope and dream that ‘ This is it! We are out of the worse, Antigua here we come..’ and bang 7 hours later, the sea is unrecognisable, it’s angry, and launching itself at you. We are at the point where we are attempting to row for 24 hours a day, in a 2 hour on/off shift pattern. The boat for the most part is holding a bearing, but we changed the set up of the boat so we are now rowing out of stern position and changing the steering whilst rowing at the same time. Its frustrating work, and can often be very time wasting when the boat is swinging and swaying in the rough seas, but at least we are moving 24 hours a day.
So, how do you motivate yourself in situations like I’ve just described? and would you believe me that despite all the pain, and frustration, there are moments, daily, where it is just the most amazing experience I have ever lived. There have been days where the only sound you can hear is your own breath, sunsets that shine, colours I never knew existed, shooting stars that feel so close, you could almost reach out and grab them. It is awesome, and on the days when I’m not sure how long I can keep pushing for, I let go of the oar handle, close my eyes, take a breath, open my eyes, and take in everything that’s around me. It is so easy to dwell on the negatives, a trait I think all of us suffer from. So we made the pact to try and see the good, even through sleep deprived eyelids.
Sometimes though, motivation does not come from within, but from the words and quotes of others. Both myself and Hannah are lucky enough to have been written, letters, quotes, & cards from our closest friends and family. I will never again in my life, underestimate the value of my friendships back at home, their ability to pick me up when I’m at my lowest or question our love and loyalty to one another. The shock of how loved we both are, has hit Hannah the hardest, a realisation that perhaps unintentionally she has neglected those that mean the most to her and has seen her vow to make more of an effort to both friends and family. It is the same for me also, and if you ever want to appreciate what you have, the friendships you value, consolidate your life’s hopes and dreams..then I strongly recommend ocean rowing. One of my favourite letters was written by my great friend Laura Cooper, and I thought I’d share it with you. It reads:
As you sit looking out across the water, I want you to remember how proud of you I am, and how much I admire you for taking on such a challenge. If things get hard keep close in your mind the reasons why you are doing what you’re doing. Remember when you’re at home in a normal day to day routine, how quickly a couple of months can slip by with no real sense of achievement or accomplishment. Use that to remind yourself that 1- before you know it you’ll be out of the water with a lasting memory of doing something amazing, and 2- we have our whole lives ahead of ourselves to worry about mundane first world problems. So to stand up for something you believe in and push yourself to reach such an amazing goal is truly giving yourself something to live for, be proud of and breaks you away from everyday normality, to use your time on this earth to make a difference. GO FOR IT!
All my love,
It’s a short letter, but the words are so true. I hear Laura’s voice at night, reading her letter to me, willing me to keep pushing on, reminding me that what is 2-3 months in the grand scheme of life? It’s nothing, at least I have the ability to be out here, so shut up moaning and get on with it.