The palatability of food bars is inversely related to their nutritional value. I had bars from Mountain Lift, PowerBar, Clif Bar, Tigers Milk, and a half dozen other companies. My favorite energy gel was GU. Some bars and gels tasted good and some did not. Some were good for me and some were not.
By 12:15 p.m., I was rowing again. If I planned to cross the ocean in less than three months, I couldnt afford to be leisurely about the rowing schedule. For each hour at the oars, I allowed myself a fiveminute break. If a bathroom break ran longer than five minutes, I would subtract time from the next break. At first this seemed a little hard-nosed, but five minutes every hour translated into an hour of daylight lost in a twelve-hour day.
When one is rowing a barge across an ocean, every ounce counts. Not counting my sponsors polo shirt and shorts, which I packed away for my arrival in France, I had three shirts and three pairs of shorts on board. I had a Gore-Tex jacket and trousers for foul weather.For cold, I packed two fleece jackets and a warm cap. For the heat, I had a white sunsuit and a baseball cap with flaps to protect my neck and ears. I had a thin fleece sleeping bag and a heavier Polarguard sleeping bag. Packing an extra jacket or an additional sleeping bag was out of the question. When the Coast Guard had inspected the American Pearl, Id had a life raft aboard. After the inspection was complete, Gérard questioned whether I actually planned to take the forty-pound raft.
Technically speaking, the Coast Guard specifications for a twenty-three-foot vessel didnt require a life raft. Admittedly, the Coast Guard didnt have rules for transocean rowing boats. According to their records, no American, male or female, had ever rowed solo across an ocean.
Gérard argued that, unlike my food stores, the forty-pound raft wouldnt get any lighter. The extra weight would slow me down. Even if it added only a week to my trip, that might mean the difference between success and failure. Gérard was clear: "A heavy boat is a slow boat." With the storms certain to arrive in the fall, he told me, "a slow boat is more dangerous than a fast boat."
The American Pearl was, Gérard argued, "an extremely wellequipped lifeboat." Constructed from wood and foam, the boat might break up, but it wouldnt sink. Sailors have an adage: "The only reason to use a life raft is if you have to climb up into it." In the end, I elected to leave the life raft behind. This allowed me to justify a simple trade: the forty-pound raft went out, and a ten-pound library came in. I knew I could spend a quarter of a year without people, but going a quarter of a year without books was unimaginable.
In a compartment under my sleeping pad, in dry bags of black vinyl, I stowed away books by Plato, Shakespeare, Milton, Melville, Emerson, Viktor Frankl, Martin Buber, Dante, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and many others. I packed books about Alexander the Great and Winston Churchill. I even took along my grandfathers Bible.
Books were such an indulgence that I kept the extent of the library a guarded secret. I certainly didnt tell Gérard about the books. I was less secretive about the small library of books on tape and educational lectures. These were relatively light, and because I could listen to them as I rowed, no one questioned whether they would merit their weight.
That e vening , I reached into the compartment under my mat and pulled out John Ciardis translation of Dantes Inferno. I reread the opening line. "Midway in our lifes journey, I went astray from the straight road, and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood." I am thirty-five: midway in lifes journey. Have I gone astray from the straight road? I am alone on a dark ocean.
At the entrance to the Inferno, Dantes guide, the poet Virgil, tells him, "Here must you put by all division of spirit and gather your soul against all cowardice." I believed I was fully prepared for my ocean journey. The first circle of Dantes hell was reserved for the "virtuous unbaptized." The ocean had not yet baptized me; I still thought of myself as virtuous. I hadnt any concept of how deep into the inferno the ocean would take me. Rowing into hell was not my intention. I wish I could say that the devil made me do it, but I took up the quest all by myself.
Excerpted from A Pearl in the Storm by Tori Murden McClure. Copyright © 2009 by Tori Murden McClure. Excerpted by permission of Collins, a division of HarperCollins, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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