Richard and Steve Drive Across the Country

There is a much larger story that will not be related in detail here:  At the beginning of this year, my family, along with many other parents, started a new rowing club on Vashon Island.  It took a lot of time, effort and perseverance to bring the Burton Beach Rowing Club (BBRC) into being, but that intrigue is for another time.

Our new club was lent boats by other area clubs to get us going, but those loaner boats were not ours forever.  Our coach, Richard, found some Sykes boats to buy in Baltimore and got a good deal on a boat trailer with which to haul them.  At about the same time, we found some used Hudson racing shells for sale in Boston.  Used Hudsons, available in good condition, are hard to find, so we decided to act on the opportunity.

In the middle of February, I set out with Richard to drive across the country in his Acura MDX to go get three boats in Baltimore and then three more in Boston.  Unlike Western Washington, most of the rest of the country was still very much having winter at this time.  We wanted to make the trip in less than a week, and this was our planned route:

We set out driving from Seattle to Iowa City in one long stretch.  Richard is friends with the head women’s crew coach at the University of Iowa, and we would stay with his family for that one night.  Things started off well when we left The Island on the 5:20 am ferry, but we got stuck at the Snoqualmie Pass when it was shut down for two hours.

It was still dark when we got to the pass but was very much light when we finally got moving again.  This leg of the journey wasn’t terribly exciting because we just . . . drove.  Our first stop for gas, in Coeur d’Alene Idaho, came out to exactly $50.  That’s about as exciting as it got.  There was snow.  Lots and lots of snow (and one Loversize Dad).

Somewhere between Idaho and Montana, I took over driving and stayed in the driver’s seat all through the night.  We had satellite radio, and I listened to Forensic Files on HLN for much of that time.  We were very lucky in that Richard’s musical taste and mine overlap by about 80%.  And we’re both big Beatles fans, so that helped immensely with those long hours on the road.

By the time the sun was coming up on our second day, we were in Iowa.

Our host family was incredibly gracious, but I was ready for a shower and bed.  Instead, we took a tour of the incredible boathouse for the women’s crew program at UI.  Here we have Title IX in action, and the UI has a bit of a men’s football program (some basketball too).  So women’s sports get a tremendous amount of money.  Among other things, I got to see the largest motorized indoor rowing tank in the world.

After the tour of the school, we took a quick look at Iowa City (the most exciting college town in Iowa!) and then went back to the house for a generous dinner and dessert that included raw cookie dough served in a bowl with a spoon.  After dinner, we got that much-needed sleep and shower and then hit the road again, just before dawn.

We made it across Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and then Pennsylvania just like we’d hoped to.  Western Pennsylvania was pretty at sunset.

We rolled into West Baltimore after dark and pulled into a Motel 6, a mistake I will never make again.  Perhaps when you walk into a hotel lobby and the front-desk person is sitting behind bullet-proof glass, you might want to find another place to sleep.  We stayed there anyway, and I swear my bag still smells funny just from being in that room overnight.

The next day, we accomplished our first main goal:  We picked up Richard’s three boats and the trailer.

For the rest of our trip, we’d have that big trailer behind our car.  Before leaving the boatyard, a harbinger of things to come was the fact that one of the headlights went out.  It would have been some feat to get to the auto parts store with the trailer attached, so one of the super friendly people working at the boatyard drove me to get a new bulb.  We got that put in and were on our way North.  The plan was to drive up to Boston and then spend the night there.  We’d get up early the next morning and meet the coach at Tufts University to buy my three boats.  This was supposed to be a relaxing day with an easy drive, but that was not what happened.

Our mood soured as we drove up I-95.  We’re not used to toll roads out on the West Coast, and we knew we’d have to deal with them.  We also knew they’d be even more expensive with the boat trailer.  We were not prepared, however, to have to stop every 20 miles or so to pay another $15-$20.  Crossing the George Washington Bridge alone cost us $50.

And it was crowded.  We were in heavy traffic the whole way.  And it was, to our eyes, ugly.  We came from the Pacific Northwest, through the Mountain States, and then across the prairies and plains.  It’s not like I’d never been in a big city before; I’ve actually spent time in these exact cities.  But there was something particularly unpleasant about this stretch of road.  The service plazas were dirtier and smelly.  The people working there seemed hopeless and lost.  There just seemed to be so many people living right on top of each other in this expensive part of the country, made entirely out of old concrete.

Every time we had to stop for traffic or to pay another toll, our spirits sank just a little bit more.  We did get a glimpse of Manhattan, and I finally saw the Atlantic Ocean on this trip.  Then, somewhere in Connecticut, the A/T Temp light came on.

We pulled into a disused service area to let the engine cool and find out how serious the problem was.  Turns out it was quite serious.  We drove a few more miles, and the light came on again and stayed on.  We ended up parking on a terrible side street to have a boat trailer on and called a local Acura dealership that also had a service garage.  It was 4:00 pm, and we were in Norwalk Connecticut.

It was starting to rain as we pulled into Devan Acura of Norwalk.  Imagine what these guys must have thought when they saw our rusty old boat trailer pulling onto their lot.  Normally they would have been getting ready to go home at this time, but they stayed late and checked out our situation.  They even called in their transmission specialist while we waited across the street at Dunkin’ Donuts for the prognosis.  It was bad.  Richard’s car needed to have the transmission entirely rebuilt.  It would take at least a few days, so we ended up checking into the Norwalk DoubleTree.  I felt homesick and helpless and wondered when I was going to get to see my kids again.

This was the dark time.

At this point, helpful people made suggestions about renting a truck and going to Boston to get the boats.  Some even suggested driving the boats back home with a rented truck and then having Richard fly back to get his car.  We didn’t know how long it would take to rebuild the transmission, so we were looking at potentially several days of lost time.  We found out, though, that no rental car company would allow us to tow anything (and none of their vehicles would even have a trailer hitch), and moving truck companies will only let you use their trailers, which only haul cars, not racing shells.  We were stuck again and reduced to asking strangers (the hostess at the hotel restaurant, the front desk people) if they knew anyone with a truck that had a trailer hitch.  We would have paid someone to borrow their truck for the day to go get the boats in Boston so we wouldn’t lose all this time.

Eventually I made the right comment to the right person.  Steve, from the Norwalk AAMCO, was the transmission specialist from the previous night.  The following day, we were in his shop to assess the damage.  I mentioned our plight to him, and he got right on the phone and made a bunch of calls.  It was dizzying to watch him work out the situation.  I don’t know how many people he actually spoke to in his no-nonsense, big-East-Coast-city accent, but eventually he handed me a piece of paper with instructions scribbled all over it.  We were to go to the Enterprise in the lobby of the Crown Plaza in the next town over, in Stamford.  There they had a Ford F-250 with a trailer hitch that we could rent for the day.  It was incredible.  We were making positive progress again, but it was the last time we’d ever see Steve.

After getting the truck in Stamford, we had to drive back to Norwalk to pick up the boat trailer from the back of the Acura dealership.  The hitch on the F-250 was much higher than the connection on our little trailer, so we had to enlist some muscle from among the mechanics.  They even let us use their tools to hook up the trailer.  It took some time, but we finally got on the road to Boston.

To get to Tufts, we had to drive right through the city of Boston.  This is challenging in the best of circumstances, but hauling the boat trailer took it to a whole other level.  We also got a little lost trying to find the boathouse and ended up on a construction site.  These things, coupled with a developing migraine and the surprise cost of a new transmission, put Richard in a somewhat beleaguered mood.  It was already starting to get dark when we pulled up to the Tufts boathouse and began the process of selecting and purchasing boats.

Coach Brian is a super laid-back and nice guy.  Eventually we got things sorted out and purchased the three boats we’d planned on and got them lashed to the trailer with the three from Baltimore.  By the time we pulled away it was dark.  More importantly, it was rush hour in Boston when we drove back down to Stamford Connecticut to return the miracle truck.

Of course, nothing could be totally straightforward.  First we had to drive the truck and trailer to the Norwalk DoubleTree in order to unhitch the trailer, this time without the aide of the Acura mechanics.  Then we had to take the truck down to Stamford to return it to Enterprise.  But first we had to transfer all the boat stuff, like the riggers, to Richard’s loaner Acura (which we’d left in Stamford).  Fortunately, the good folks at the DoubleTree, who were also aware of our plight, offered to rope off a bunch of parking spots for us to put the trailer.  Not only were they willing to do this, but it was their idea.  We would have been screwed without that because their lot was totally full by the time we got back from Boston.  Here’s how things looked the next morning:

We still weren’t 100% sure when Steve at AAMCO would have our car done, but he indicated that he would be finished that afternoon or evening.  That would be an incredibly short turn-around-time to rebuild a transmission and install a transmission cooler, but it turned out to be accurate.  Richard and I tied all our new stuff to the trailer and prepared it as best we could for the cross-country trip.  We bid farewell to the folks at the DoubleTree and then to the folks at Devan Acura.  At about 4:00 pm, roughly 48 hours after the beginning of this little side excursion, we left Norwalk in our own car.

Of course, it was the beginning of rush hour, and we were still among the big East Coast cities.  Neither Richard nor I would breath a sigh of relief until we were at least into Western Pennsylvania.  One bit of excitement was the driver-side windshield wiper that kept snapping out of the arm.  Imagine driving at night on a busy interstate in the rain, and the windshield wiper stops working.  And it’s not like you can make any sudden movements with a boat trailer attached.  Later in the night, we were made aware that we had no taillights, neither on the trailer nor the car.  We replaced the fuse as soon as we could.

We drove through the night.  The further West we moved, the colder it got.  By the next day, we were moving through the middle states of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois again.  We felt freer and less claustrophobic.  There were fewer cars on the road, and we made fairly good time.  But we had to dive much slower than when we came out, and the weather really was getting worse and worse.

As evening fell, and it started to get dark, the roads were getting slippery, and the snow was falling harder.  Richard made the executive decision to stop for the night, so we pulled into a Holiday Inn Express in Northwood Iowa.  Within minutes of pulling into the parking lot, one car hit another and knocked it into a ditch.  This happened right in front of us, so it was probably a good idea to stop for the night.  Logic aside, I still wanted to get home a see my family again.

Before you ask, we did analyze our route home several times.  We thought about getting on to I-84 West and going to Portland and then North to Seattle from there.  Every option we considered had its own challenges, and we elected to stay on I-90.  From Northwood, we headed North and got to Luverne Minnesota.  At a gas station there, the young lady behind the counter informed me that Luverne was 30 minutes from everywhere – 30 minutes from Iowa and 30 minutes from South Dakota.  That was just fine for us.

The highway changed from mostly clear to somewhat slippery, but the worst weather was the wind.  We had big, light boat shells behind us that acted like sails.  The worst wind would be in Montana, but moving across South Dakota definitely had its terrifying moments.  We saw lots of cars in the median and even a semi-trailer on its side.  We also saw billboards, lots and lots of billboards.

For 300 miles from Sioux City to Wall, there are countless signs for Wall Drug.  But those certainly aren’t the only ones.  There’s signs for the Corn Palace in Mitchell and Firehouse Brewing Co. in Rapid City, the later of which all feature real fire engines.  It got so we were disappointed when we’d pass one of these landmarks because there wouldn’t be any more signs.  They definitely kept us entertained as we moved across the state.

Although we were tempted to visit Wall Drug, we only got to within 4 blocks.  Our desire to get home superseded our curiosity about this mecca of Americana.  From South Dakota, we drove into the northeast corner of Wyoming at just about sunset.

Once again the weather was getting worse at it got dark, so once again we stopped for the night.  This time it was at a Hampton Inn & Suites in Buffalo Wyoming.  The next morning we were up before dawn and into the great (great BIG) state of Montana.  We had to be careful of driving conditions at all times.

Montana was beautiful, even if it was covered with snow.  It was beautiful, but it got a little tedious after awhile.  We passed mile after mile of snow-covered hills and pastures and farms.  MileAfterMile.

It was George Harrison’s birthday weekend, so The Beatles station was playing mainly George Harrison songs, which both Richard and I got a little sick of.  His voice sounds a bit nasally after awhile.  Mile after mile we drove across Montana, which looked a lot like South Dakota, at least along I-90, except there were no entertaining road signs.  What we did have was the Clark Fork, which runs along the interstate most of the way across the state.

When we stopped for gas in Livingston Montana, we noticed two things.  One was that it was really cold outside, especially with the wind.  The other thing we discovered was that one of our boats had become dangerously loose and on its way to flying off the trailer.  We bought the store’s last roll of electrician’s tape, which works well to reinforce the straps that hold the boats on.  It’s just that you can’t tighten the straps or apply tape with gloves on.

After getting that sorted out, we got back on the road and continued across the seemingly endless state of Montana.  Eventually we crossed into Idaho at Lookout Pass, but by then it was getting dark again.

We had some planning to do since we wanted to tackle the Snoqualmie Pass in daylight.  We decided to stop for the night at a Holiday Inn in Spokane Washington.  Richard delivered the bad news to me the next day, as I was eating my 100th hotel waffle – the pass was getting several feet of new snow, and winds were dangerously high.  He wouldn’t risk driving through the pass that day, even though we were so close to our destination.

We’d been on the road for 9 days at this point, and this is where Richard and I parted ways.  After some discussion, we decided together that I would fly home from Spokane while he drove the rest of the way the following day.  I felt a little bad about leaving him alone, but there were only a few hours of driving left, and I really wanted to see my family again.

The next day I heard from Richard early in the afternoon.  He had made it to the Vashon Island ferry after what he described as the easiest driving of the previous five days.  So that worked out fine.

After a fairly grueling ordeal, we’d made it back home with six new boats for our fledgling rowing club.  The Burton Beach Rowing Club would be rowing its own boats for its first regatta.

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2017 – The Year of the Camera Phone

(All of the images in this post were taken with a smartphone)

Fun Fact:  I took 10,000 fewer pictures in 2017 that I did the year before.  Sure, 2016 was the year of the Epic Trip to Italy, but that wouldn’t account for all of such a big decrease.  I do have small children running around, and that takes up a lot of my time, but it still seems like I was missing something.  As I was trying to think of a theme for this post, I might have stumbled upon the answer.  I took a lot more pictures than usual with the camera in my phone.

I’m  basing the 10k-fewer number of the number of images I have in my Lightroom catalog (the software I use to organize and process my images).  That number tells me that I have 10k fewer image files for 2017 than I do for 2016 (it’s the first time the number didn’t go up year-to-year).  But this only accounts for the pictures I took with my DSLR; it doesn’t account for the ones coming from my phone.

The last two phones I’ve used have had excellent cameras in them.  I wouldn’t trust them in super low-light situations or when I need telephoto reach, but in good light without applying any optical zoom, the images aren’t too bad.

The above is the very first picture I took on my last phone, the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus.  That was back in 2015, and I thought the image quality was pretty good then.  I started 2017 with that same S6 Edge+, but it died in Washington DC in the Fall.  I’ve been using the Samsung Note 8 (with its two rear cameras) ever since.

I’m pretty sure that the concepts of interesting subject, composition and lighting apply regardless of the camera being used.  After all, the camera is just a tool, and it’s the end-result that really counts.  Of course, that’s not an excuse to be lazy.  A crooked horizon is still a crooked horizon even if you took the picture with your phone.

Then there are the situations when I just don’t have the big DSLR with me.  Honestly, that’s not often.  As a photography enthusiast who has invested a lot of money in gear over time, I do carry that thing around with me almost all the time.  Having kids changed that a little.  I need to be able to grab them out of danger in an instant, so I need my hands free.  But when a double rainbow that’s half on land and half over the ocean presents itself in Hawaii, you gotta take a picture of it.

The image above of Portland’s Marquam Bridge is kind of a unique situation.  I took the picture with my phone even though I had my DSLR right there with me.  I was in the location to shoot the Portland Fall Classic (crew regatta).  If you know the area, then you might know that I am standing on the Tilikum Crossing and that it’s a bit of a hike to get up there.  Since I was there to shoot the boat races, I had my huge 200-500mm lens on the DSLR, and I didn’t bring anything else up there with me.  I needed the phone to take this wide angle shot.  So I set the DSLR, with its giant lens, down and whipped out the phone with its wide-angle lens.

Here’s another situation when my DSLR was nearby.  I didn’t have it on my person at the time because I had to help haul rowing gear to the launch.  When I left our area I didn’t think there’d be any photo-ops anyway since the weather was so lousy.  However, when we got to the launch, the sky opened up, and a rainbow even came out for our Junior Women’s Four.

In good light, without applying any optical zoom (which is the same as cropping the image anyway), today’s smartphones have image quality that is close to a DSLR.  There is still a functional gap in many areas (like focus speed, low-light noise and lens choice), but in a pinch the images are usable.

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Head and Tail of the Gorge

I was supposed to go to China; that’s why I was in Victoria, BC.  This past weekend had two big regattas scheduled for Vashon Island:  the Head of the Charles in Boston, and the Head and Tail of the Gorge in Victoria.  My step-daughter probably would have gone to Boston with the rest of the varsity junior women’s quad, but that crew had an opportunity to go to a special regatta in Beijing.  They were going to let me tag along as the photographer, but the whole thing ended up being rescheduled and then cancelled outright due to interference from the Communist Party of China.  That’s how we ended up at the Victoria regatta while the other half of the Vashon Island Rowing Club went to Boston.

The weather was crummy, and the water was roiling.  We heard it was in the 70’s and sunny in Boston.  Not so in Victoria.  It was raining and cold and windy pretty much the entire time.  Here you can see the tide disagreeing with itself as the water flows in two directions at the same time.

The Head of the Gorge races took place on Saturday.  The course started almost as far south as Victoria Harbor.  Due to a very narrow point in the course, where only one boat can pass at a time, all boats had to launch at the same time (so there was no two-way traffic).  This was a mess of a traffic jam and took forever to accomplish, but the real hardship was on the rowers who had to wait at the start until their scheduled time.  Some of the rowers had to sit in their tiny, uncomfortable boats for up to two hours just waiting.  They sat there in the rain and cold and tried not to cramp up.

After about 2Km of rowing, the boats came to the narrows.  With rocks on both sides, and a stone bridge overhead, it was a treacherous passage.  A man called the angle of the narrows stood with a loud-speaker, telling the crews how to navigate.  In spite of this expert help, several boats ended up on the rocks.  When incredibly expensive, fiberglass oars and racing shells smash along big, sharp rocks, it makes a distinctive scraping sound.  It sort of sounds like tearing a cardboard box open, about 100 times louder. Fortunately, none of the Vashon boats suffered this indignity.

One of our junior women’s double boats was impacted by another boat being on the rocks though.  They were behind an eight that got stuck on the rocks and had a hard time getting unstuck.  The eight spent so much time stuck in the narrows, that our double, that was right behind them, actually had to stop and wait, right in the middle of this timed race.  Vashon ended up with a second-place finish in that race, because of this stoppage.  Not bad at all for the two girls, but they were still kind of robbed.

Have I mentioned yet that there were exactly zero coaches along on this trip?  They were all in Boston at the Head of the Charles.  For this regatta, a small collection of dedicated parents and masters organized the transportation (international transportation) of all the rowers and the boats off of one small island (Vashon) and onto another, much larger island (Victoria).  These same parents, with a lot of help from the masters, managed the lodging and feeding of the junior rowers and even managed to get them to the races on time.  We got them all out on the water and then packaged up again without leaving one rower, boat or a single oar behind.

It would have been a challenge for the rowers to negotiate the narrows under calm weather conditions.  Remember, this was at a point where the water was flowing in two different directions at the same time.  It wasn’t easy just keeping the shells upright, let alone perfectly between the rocks.  I was just trying to keep my lens clean, but these athletes were actually in a small amount of danger.  As a bonus, later in the day, the bridge overhead flooded and let a cascade of water fall down onto the already soaked rowers.  It was wild.

Above you can see some of the boats launching for the afternoon races.  Several of the crews dressed up too, as is tradition.  If you look closely, you can see Wayne and Garth rowing a double.  It was nice to see the kids honoring something that was popular when I was in high school.  Party on guys.

Nothing in life really prepares you for seeing eight Marge Simpsons rowing by in a downpour.

. . . or Marilyn Monroes (MonROW?) going past you in the rain.

That Marilyn Monroe boat is followed by a rainbow.  It took me awhile to figure that out.  If you watch the clip, you can see how several boats follow one and other into the narrows.  If any of them had a problem, the next boat would also have a problem.

Dressed up only as the champions that they, themselves, are, here is the varsity junior women’s quad from Vashon Island.  This is the crew that would have gone to China.

The Tail of the Gorge races took place on Sunday.  It was a different course than the Head.  It was further north, going southeast and contained no narrow passage.  Still, all the boats launched at the same time.  After carrying their oars for them, I was able to get this picture (with my phone) of the junior women’s quad as a rainbow came out.  We were promised better weather on this day.  Although there were some sun-breaks, it was still cold and rainy, with the added feature of strong wind gusts.

Here is the women’s quad in action, right at their catch.  If you look closely (or follow the link to a full-resolution version of the image), you can see that the boat’s name is Passport to Pain.  Appropriate for rowing to be sure, but it is actually the name of an annual bicycle race on Vashon Island that the rowing club organizes.  It’s a major source of income for the club and helped with the purchase of the boat that bears its name.

For the Tail of the Gorge, my shooting position was on an overpass bridge.  I looked forward to shooting directly down at all the boats, but the bridge spanned a fairly wide spot on the water.  I had to look across the road to see where the Vashon boats went under the bridge (usually easy to spot with our bright blue oar blades) and then guess where they’d come out on my side.  I was never directly on top of our boats, so everything is at kind of an interesting angle.  Here we have the master women’s quad.

The overhead bridge view was a pretty cool vantage point.  This time I was almost perfectly in line with the junior men’s double sailing underneath.  This is right after their release, midway through the recovery stroke.

Below is not actually a racing shot.  These boats are launching for the afternoon races.  It looks pretty, almost like nice weather.  But the sunshine was brief, and it was never what I’d call warm.  Again, the crews had to wait near the start for an hour or more.

Launching all the boats and then having them all row to the start seems like it takes forever.  Once they all get up there, some of the officials check the course for . . . I don’t know, sharks?.  That’s how we know that the race is about to start and that I need to get over to the other side of the bridge.

Here’s the junior men’s quad, at the beginning of their drive stroke.  I think the bow seat knew I was taking their picture.

This might be my favorite shot of the day (except for that rainbow launching shot I took on my phone).  There’s just something impactful about seeing this mixed masters quad powering through the rain and wind.  I know all these people, and some of them even volunteered as instructors for my learn-to-row class over the summer.  Hell, I could be down their next year.

Here’s one of our junior women’s double boats, looking sleek as they shoot out from under the bridge.  For every other regatta I’ve shot this season, I always wanted more reach than even my 500mm lens affords.  For this race, on both days at both shooting positions, I used the widest lens I have.  I was so close to the rowers, I could have high-fived their blades.  It was also the most I’ve ever worried about dropping my gear into the water.

Vashon’s last events of the regatta were both women’s singles (an open and a masters).  These poor women had to sit up at the start for almost two hours before getting to row 3Km in the rain.  This is not a sport for the weak-willed or casual competitor.  All of these athletes are dedicated rowers.

UPDATE:  The Vashon Beachcomber’s article about the Head of the Charles regatta

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Tail of the Lake Regatta

There was a one-day crew regatta this past Sunday at Gasworks park.  I had to drop off my rower well before dawn, so I had a chance to take some non-crew pictures before the sun came up.  There’s a great view of the Seattle skyline from the park.

I’ve always wanted to visit Gasworks Park, but this was my first time there.  As much as I wanted to shoot all the super cool structures, I was there for the regatta.  The only “gasworks” I shot were before there was any light in the sky.

That’s one of the trucks used for setting up the regatta tents.  The light is coming from one of those tents, the medal station I believe.  The long, 30-second exposure provided the movement for the clouds.  There was a tremendous amount of goose poop everywhere.

When the sun started to come up, the city looked a little different.

You can see that the wind was starting to move the water around a bit.  It only got worse as the day went on, but Pacific NW rowers aren’t used to competing on glassy water.

Here’s a shot of the real photographer on the course that day.  He got to stand on top of that boat the whole time and probably has much better views than I did.  But I got to talk to more people.

That’s our junior novice men’s 8 boat in the foreground.  They were waiting to cross the course to get back to the staging area.  It was a crazy, 4k course around Lake Washington.  After circumnavigating most of the late, the crews had to navigate a sharper-than-90-degree turn that put them on the final stretch.  This was a timed head-race, so once a flight started, there was a constant stream of boats in motion.  To get back to the staging area crews had to actually cross over the course at that incredible turn.

Also, there was commercial traffic still happening.

The lake wasn’t closed off to its normal activities, so the crews had to contend with commercial and private watercraft as well as the occasional waterplane.

I know I wouldn’t have been quite ready to race in this one.  But our team did fantastic as always.  Here’s our Masters Men’s Quad:

One of our Junior Men’s Doubles:

And our Varsity Junior Women’s Double:

These two would go on to win gold when they raced with the two JV Junior Women in a quad.  Here’s the end of that run:

As usual, it was a pretty successful day for the Vashon Island Rowing Club, and I’m looking forward to the next one.

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Solar Eclipse with the Mayor

“Ever since the beginning of time, man has yearned to destroy the sun. I shall do the next best thing: block it out.”―Mr. Burns

The Great American Solar Eclipse of 2017 was a magical time.  I’m from Portland, OR and my parents still live in the area, so it felt like my home town was getting something special.  Since the last total solar eclipse visible in Portland was in 1979, I guess the 2017 event was technically my second experience.  I have only a vague memory from 1979 (something about a pinhole in a shoebox), so 2017 would be the first really memorable one for me.

Since I currently live in the Seattle area, I figured it would be an easy trip down to Portland, where I could avoid the outrageous prices being charged for accommodations by staying with my parents.  Although not in the direct path of totality, the Portland metro area would enjoy 99.4% occlusion.  I figured that would still be great and decided the Portland metro area was good enough for me to view the total solar eclipse.

To avoid what was being billed as apocalyptic traffic, I drove down on the Saturday before the Monday of the eclipse.  There was no extraordinary traffic the whole way.  I spent the night at my parents’ house and then got up early the next morning to practice.  My dad is a photography enthusiast who also happens to be the Mayor of Fairview, OR.  He’s been shooting longer than me and planned to use an array of equipment to capture the event.

Here’s our setup, just at the end of the driveway in Fairview.

Our Imaging Array

That’s my D810 closest to the camera.  I was using a 200-500mm lens with a 2x teleconverter.  That gave me 1000mm of focal length and a maximum aperture of f/11.  Initially I was concerned about that f/11 max aperture but later discovered it was a pretty good setting.  The filter on the front is just the sheet of film you can buy from Amazon.  Nothing special.  Next, from the left, is my dad’s D600 with the same 200-500mm lens.  He wasn’t using a teleconverter though, so his max aperture was f/5.6.  I don’t know what he ended up using.  For a filter, he has a 10-stop ND plus a polarizer.  Next is an unfiltered D750 that my dad planned to use to capture the corona.  His thinking was that he wouldn’t be able to get his glass filters off fast enough, so he setup a second camera.  Last in line is an inexpensive video camera to capture the entire event.

It’s a good thing we went out the day before to practice.  We looked at where the sun would be the following day and found good shooting positions, but the main thing was getting our settings dialed in.  We would have been way off if not for this pre-trial.  In spite of how hard we tried to prepare, it seemed like everything went out the window as soon as we pointed our cameras directly at the sun.  I already mentioned that I had to shoot at f/11.  I wasn’t expecting that my other settings would be ISO 400 and 1/15 second, but that’s what they ended up at.

Focusing was another story.  Everything I read and watched told me to simply put my camera on manual focus and set it to infinity.  That seemed pretty reasonable with the sun being so far away, but it only produced a huge blob of blurry light for me.  Eventually I was using autofocus to get sharp focus and then switched to manual to lock it in.  I just used the edge of the sun as a focus point, and that worked perfectly.  The most important piece of equipment turned out to be a couple of black towels.  It was so bright out that our rear LCD screens were all by unviewable, so we draped the towels over our heads to see the backs of our cameras.  I’m sure we looked very cool to passersby, but I was with the mayor at the mayor’s house so I didn’t care.

You can see sun spots in these images, so I figure that I really nailed focus.  I’m pretty happy about that and was very excited for the big day and the ultimate moment.  We got up early, spent a couple hours watching the local news about traffic and the weather at various locations, and got even more excited about this total solar eclipse.  A little before 9:00 am, we went outside and setup our photo array at the end of the driveway to capture first contact.

The Mayor of Fairview

The next hour was very exciting.  We listened to the local radio station for updates and interviews from around the state.  We talked and drank coffee and asked each other if we “saw that” and waited for totality.

Friends, I learned an important math lesson that day that you’d think I would have already known.  99.4% does not equal 100%.  At the penultimate moment of totality, we waited breathlessly for the corona to become visible.  The radio played a medley of sun-and-moon-related songs.  It got pretty dark, a weird darkness that was not like twilight.  The temperature dropped noticeably.  We continued to wait.  The songs ended.  Still no corona.  For some reason, people on the radio were cheering.  Seconds went by, and then one of us wondered out loud if the sun was actually getting bigger.  None of us wanted to believe it, but the truth was that the total eclipse had passed, and we didn’t see totality.  Close, but not quite.

So that was a little disappointing.  I thought for a moment about capturing the sun as the moon passed away and then considered another hour in the driveway, knowing I never got to see the greatest moment.  When I packed up my gear quickly, in a huff I said it was because I wanted to avoid traffic on the way back up, but really it was out of resentment toward . . . what?  The sun, for not being totally eclipsed in front of me?  The moon for not trying harder?

At any rate, this is the last picture I took of the Great American Eclipse of 2017.  I hope to be in Indiana in 2024 for the next one.

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