Monthly Archives: February 2015

Josh and the tub

Newly Impassioned Soul

I heard Mumford & Sons “Roll Away Your Stone” on the iPod the other day. It was one of those gorgeous warm afternoons we’ve been savoring as part of Febru-ly in Seattle (follows June-uary, thank you to Gail, apologies to my fellow skiers and NY in-laws!)

The song brought me back to an epic ride from August 2011, that I thought I’d share with you. Conveniently, Josh and I made a video about it, which you can now watch here.

Courage Classic is a 3-day charity ride (i.e. non-competitive) that runs each August in the mountains east of Seattle. What made the ride so amazing for me was that it was the first time out for more than just a short day ride with my son, Josh, who had just turned 16. It was a father-son rite of passage, something that happens once in a lifetime — if you’re lucky.

The basic elements of the ride: Three days on the bike, two nights camping. All-you-can-eat meals and snacks catered by volunteer organizations competing for your votes of appreciation. Portable shower truck at each stop and the finish. Camping gear hauled for free by UPS. On-road support vehicles. Live music. Beer. Waterfalls. All you have to do is fundraise/donate, train for a couple of months, then climb and descend Snoqualmie Pass, Blewett Pass and Stevens Pass, a total of around 180 miles (of bliss!)

For the movie, we mixed a time-lapse sequence from Josh’s GoPro Hero HD, along with cellphone stills and an amazing hula dance (what some people will do for a free T-shirt!) Some fun facts that take you back: Josh is wearing a Windows Vista jersey; and at one point during the time-lapse, you get a quick glimpse of Jay Inslee, who was beginning his campaign for governor at the time, and riding with his son.

Since that ride, Josh has become quite an adventurous outdoorsman (check out his YouTube channel here.) The ride was a hard one for him – he was about to come down with mono, and almost bailed – but I’m so grateful to have been able to share something so special with my son.

By the way, if you think the whole thing sounds like fun, but want to try something a little less challenging, I have a tip for you. The guy who ran Courage Classic is now running Obliteride in Seattle, with rides from 25- to 180 miles, the second weekend in August. The hospitality isn’t exactly the same, but pretty darn close, and it’s a great cause! I have a team, and we start training in May.

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Book Review: The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown

The Boys in the Boat* was one of my favorite reads of 2014, and it’s a perfect book to read between Super Bowl and March Madness.

My good friend and fellow blogger, Jennie Locati, recommended “The Boat” for its combination of sports, politics, triumph against the odds, and local Seattle history she knew I would love.

The story is set in 1930’s depression-era Seattle, and follows the 9-man University of Washington varsity crew team, their coach and boat-maker, in their quest for, and ultimate victory, in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Along the way, the “farm boys” from Seattle have to defeat rivals from Cal Berkeley and the elite East Coast teams, and then, after an historic fundraising effort spearheaded by Royal Brougham (yes, that’s a real person!), go to Berlin and meet Hitler himself.

The central character, Joe Rantz, one of the eight Husky oarsmen, was not my favorite character. He was a great choice to tell the story, because he was so clearly representative of the era, with modest roots and many struggles along the way.

I identified more with the boys’ coach, Al Ulbrickson, and the story of his rivalry with the Berkeley squad. Perhaps most interesting (for a geek like me), was the British boat-maker, George Pocock, who took up residence at UW, built boats for both UW and their rivals, and brought a humble combination of wisdom, craftsmanship and engineering genius.

My favorite moments in the story:

  • The Huskies travel to the East Coast to compete with the Ivy League teams to represent the US in Berlin. I’m a U. Penn grad, and Penn turns out to be a big villain, using a secret weapon to try to scuttle the UW’s Olympic hopes.
  • An interesting sidetrack explored the rivalry between Leni Riefenstahl, called “the greatest female filmmaker of the 20th century,” and Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945.
  • The stories and images of Depression-era Seattle. For anyone who thinks today’s cities are dirty, grimy places, the Hooverville shantytowns of the 30’s – with their lack of sanitation/plumbing, and rows upon rows of leaky tar paper shacks – is a shocking reminder of how so many Americans lived just a few generations ago.
  • The descriptions of the freezing cold practices and races, the grueling hard work (“like my insides had been scrubbed with a metal brush”) and ultimately the perfection of the “swing” – that perfect flow where every ounce of synchronized crew effort translates to the boat, which literally flies over the surface of the water.

Brown gives us a vivid explanation of how “the boat” encompasses so much more that that thing in the water:

 …Watching Joe struggle for composure over and over, I realized that “the boat” was something more than just the shell or its crew. To Joe, it encompassed but transcended both—it was something mysterious and almost beyond definition. It was a shared experience—a singular thing that had unfolded in a golden sliver of time long gone, when nine good-hearted young men strove together, pulled together as one, gave everything they had for one another, bound together forever by pride and respect and love. Joe was crying, at least in part, for the loss of that vanished moment but much more, I think, for the sheer beauty of it.

Reread the paragraph above and replace “Joe” with “Russell”, and you’ll understand why I love sports and the timeless stories they tell.

Please post back if you have a favorite sports book or story.

*Actual Title: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.