Week 2: Graduation.



It’s graduation season.  My social media feed is frothy with posts of new graduates enjoying the pride and ceremony of their achievements, and it’s fun to watch.  Their posts remind me of how happy and excited that accomplishment is.

Yesterday afternoon I too celebrated a modest “graduation”.  I spent a few moments in the trailer office at a small marina acknowledging a little accomplishment of my own: the conclusion of my introduction to sailing.

It’s a pretty minor first step, but hey – there it is.  I am now a 100% bona fide amateur sailor.  As it turns out I’m a natural at running into docks, so if you ever need someone for that – I’m your guy.

The final day of training was a challenge.  The sun and breeze we enjoyed on the first session were replaced by a persistent cold rain, so by the end we were drenched and freezing.  I couldn’t help but think that I’ll be enjoying similar conditions (and much worse, I imagine) during the ocean crossing, which certainly quelled any urge to complain.  I should buy a coat, though.

At the end of the day my patient instructress presented my pitifully soggy self with this impressive new credential.

My next step will be taking full advantage of my free practice time at the marina to fully develop my dock-crashing talents.  I mean to impress those Clipper folks.

I can no longer say that I know nothing about sailing (though maybe Chip down at the marina would say otherwise), and it’s great to have a real piece of evidence that all this effort is actually advancing me toward something.  I know from experience that it’s easy to lose sight of progress, and a benchmark can help bring some perspective.

So I’ll take my dinky certificate, thank you very much.  And now that I can check that off the list, it’s time for the next challenge.

Week 1: Weather for [Sailing] Dummies.


Everyone says the first week is the most difficult, right?  Or is that the second week?  I guess it doesn’t really matter, they’ll all be history before long.  Week 1 was no huge challenge, other than the weather.  Storms have forced me to reschedule my lessons twice now, but after punishing us for a week Mother Nature gave us a gorgeous Saturday.

I boarded the flying scot with two other amateurs and we spent the day bouncing around the Potomac and working on our sunburns.  We learned the basics: rigging, tacking, jibing and – most importantly – how to test the patience limit of your instructor while trying to avoid a sudden storm.

Only one day on the water this season and all I can think about is getting out there again.  The final part of my training is set for this weekend, and I’m preoccupied with knots and points of sail.  Everything will settle down before long, but the honeymoon period is nice, isn’t it?  I’m sure I’ll look back on this time from the pitching deck of a ship in the middle of the Atlantic and laugh at myself.  Until then just leave me to enjoy the naivete.

My calendar tells me that there are 124 days left before I leave for training.  I can’t believe how quickly the time has gone, and I’m sure 124 more days will feel like nothing at all.  There’s so much more to do!  So many more knots to learn…

The biggest realization that being out on the water has given me is that all of this is real.  It’s easy to submit applications, make plans, start shitty blogs, and talk a big game – but being out there and spending time with the wind and water really make the whole dream so much more tangible.  It’s exhilarating and encouraging.

Finally at the “Start”

So the fateful “Training Start” date is looming on my calendar: Monday, May 9.  That means this weekend is my last chance to ruin myself with booze and BBQ before the long drudge back to fitness.  Aside from it finally being warm enough to take my doughy self outside to run, I chose the date for a reason:

A very good friend of mine is getting married!  I haven’t seen this particular group of college friends in years, and every time we meet is a blast – so I’m definitely very excited.  I know there are plenty of people who can attend a wedding while limiting their revelry to a garden salad and a glass of water, but who wants to spend a weekend with that guy?  No one I know.

So I’ll just pull the cliché and say “Alright, ONE more bad weekend,” and then prepare myself and the people I love for a couple months of viciousness while I deny myself everything that makes life bearable.  I would normally tell myself that I hope it works, but hope isn’t really a thing at this point – it has to work.

There’s a lot to do!  Physical fitness is just one piece of the puzzle.  And I’ve done that before, I can do it again – I’m actually looking forward to the challenge and routine.  No, I think my biggest challenge will be the things I’ve never really experienced before.  All the sailing, all the promotion, all the fundraising, and all the knots.  There are a lot of knots to learn.  I’m interested to see how everything will end up fitting in with work and the frat…

Probably not the best time to get a new puppy, right?


WRONG. It’s always the best time to get a new puppy.  So, wish me luck this one last raucous weekend.  And if I make it to the other side alive:

Wish me luck again.

It may not be obvious to most people I meet…

…but I am terrified.  I’m usually running anywhere from mildly nervous to cold sweat terror most days, depending on what category of shit I’ve managed to get myself into.  And see, that’s the frustrating thing: I do this to myself.

For most of the 28 years of my life I have sadistically pursued every opportunity to boldly go where I have no idea what I’m doing, to humiliate myself (the more witnesses the better), and to dive in way over my head and leave the learning to swim for later.

As a child these experiences were thrust on me by my loving family.  When you’re the youngest of three growing up in a military family, the only constant is change.  New friends, new schools, and new neighborhoods shot past as I was yanked along on more than twenty moves before I graduated.  Every day was a shiny new opportunity to forget where I lived, to realize I didn’t know anyone, or to re-learn the Civil War Reconstruction for the third time because “That’s what students learn about in the 6th [7th] [8th] grade in this school.”

But finally I went to college, I got a job, I put down some roots.  But like some kind of perpetual newbie junkie I just can’t quit.  My body now craves the fear of failure.  I search for job openings that I’m slightly unqualified for, thrilled by the prospect of tearing up my career and learning a new one on the fly.  I blow my savings to hurl myself across the globe to cities and cultures I know nothing about, or (a recent favorite of mine) I commit myself to the most incredibly ridiculous task that I am nowhere near equipped to take on.  It’s a problem.

It would be one thing if I were that kind of stereotypical “Adventurer” type – but I’m not.  I’m a soft-spoken introvert.  I could stand to lose like… 20 pounds.  I’m into video games and cooking, and confess to wishing quietly to myself that I could just dip my feet in a tub of warm water and sleep instead of going out on a weekend.  It just shows that anyone can be afflicted.  Any one of us could wake up tomorrow and have committed to climb Mount Everest for charity or purchased a non-refundable ticket to a place we’ve never heard of.

Like any good addict I keep some go-to fixes on hand – I’m sure volunteering to run a national organization with no prior experience, for example, will ensure that I feel inadequate for years to come.  That’s high quality stuff.  But what’s my latest rush?  What keeps me awake and forces me to daily question whether I’m fit to make substantive decisions about my own life and well-being?  The Race.

The Race and everything about it – from funding, to training, to this weird fear I have of the ocean at night – occupy the majority of my thoughts lately.  But that’s exactly why I do it.  The final outcome is so unattainable that the only thing I am more perversely fixated on than the grueling process of actually completing the task is discovering what new, even worse hell I’ll design for myself when it’s all over.

My hope is that by expressing my fear, and walking each step of this journey in full view of everyone I know (and some that I don’t) I can convince some people on the sidelines to get up and live the life they want.  Step 1 is to realize that everyone you see getting up and taking action, no matter how calm they look, is just as terrified as you would be.  I don’t think it ever goes away.

At least it hasn’t for me.


**Quick Note**: Today is actually an appropriate (and sad) opportunity to take honest stock of my fear and the danger surrounding the race.  Today it was announced that current crew member Sarah Young met a fatal accident crossing the Pacific.  Without knowing very much about Sarah (only what anyone else can learn online), I can say that I aspire to just a small piece of her bravery.