Monday, February 9, 2009

Day 40

Today a few thoughts on the topic of the "mental training" that I did to prepare for this row, which I think is serving me pretty well now. Carter in Kentucky, thanks for the post; it got me thinking about all of this during my evening shift. One thing to note throughout - the physical and mental sides of training and rowing (among other things) are very closely linked, and of course each has a massive and constant influence on the other...

When it comes to the mental side of rowing, there are two different stages to think about, with different challenges:

The first 10-15 days - As you can probably tell from my posts, the early days of any ocean rowing expedition, mine included, are some of the hardest. I struggled with how to best prepare mentally for this stage, and what seemed to serve me best was the idea that I could anticipate and therefore take control of some of the mental hurdles I'd have to clear. The biggest one I feared was the feeling, "This isn't what I signed up for, how can I get out of this!?!?" Somehow, by acknowledging in advance that I would probably feel this way, I was able to say "Oh yeah, I knew this would happen" when the feeling came, which it did...often.

The other way I dealt with the "Get me outta here" feeling was borrowed from the British doctor/adventurer Mike Stroud, who wrote a book called "Survival of the Fittest," which was given to me shortly before I left for the Canary Islands (thanks Rick Smith!). There's a passage in the book in which Mike and a partner are on an expedition in Antarctica and are pulling heavy sleds over undulating frozen terrain in 60-degree-below-zero weather on their way to look at penguins (I think). Unsurprisingly, Mike is miserable and spends the first several days trying to think of how he can get out of the rest of the expedition while maintaining his dignity. He finally settles on collapsing in the snow and saying he had a certain type of stroke (don't remember the name) that would require him to be rescued but not have any long-term effects. He goes on for a while just waiting for the right time to put the plan into action.

Before he gets a chance to act it out, Mike confesses to his partner that he'd been planning to fake this emergency so he could be rescued. His partner is shocked, and then proceeds to confess that, while he hadn't been planning to fake an injury, he had just spent the past few days hoping something would happen to Mike so they could both go home! that story. The point is, by admitting they were both looking for ways out, they made it impossible to actually carry out one of these schemes. I don't remember what day it was, but when I found myself in a similar situation (i.e. miserable, seasick, hungry, scared, exhausted, and wishing I could go home), I called my sister Joy and said "Hey, so I just spent all of last night trying to figure out how to get out of this. Anyway, don't let me do it. I'm going all the way."

Problem solved! I never thought of taking the easy way out again. I never did come up with a good "out" though.

I'll have to write about the other mental feats of strength tomorrow. They'll have to be in full effect out here for the next few days, with light winds (10-15 knots) forecast until Friday.

Thanks to all who have supported this expedition and important research at Yale Cancer Center with a donation to Row for Hope. If you haven't donated, or if you would consider donating again, it would be much appreciated. To donate online use the link in the upper right-hand corner of this page or visit



Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

Congrats on your progress both mentally and physically. I read your blog every morning before going to work. WOW, and I thought my day was tough. Funny, I tried to think of a reason not to go to work this am, but wanted to go shopping after work and thought I would get caught for sure if I skipped.
My son used to be a coxan for RIT 2 years ago, any chance you guys rowed against each other?
PS...shout out to the Boy Scout troop my son is an Eagle Scout and it has served him well.

Anonymous said...

Young ridley

your words are wonderment
the journey upon
the mind is weathering

hands are like stone
sleeping is pointless
the stars are the present

legacy is made daily
truth is subject
voyage through for to solidfiy

sand is hope
future is clouds
winds be true to form


K-Rock and #1 Wild Bill said...

Hi Buddy - Day 40 - wow - who would have thunk it? And Ridley waxing eloquent about mental strength and close encounters of The Zen kind? It sounds like the Wizard has delivered both a heart and a brain - wondrous gifts! You have accomplished much. Both in your rowing and in your message to others - much to be proud of. Stay in the game - know that 'accomplishing much' isn't the same as accomplishing The Goal. A few more days, a few more miles -it's all moving you in the right direction! xxoo-

Anonymous said...

hey buddy,
keep it up. One way to look at it is that you may be approaching the halfway point of rowing, but with all the preparations you are over 90% done. Anyhow keep going and you will be sipping a G and T before you know it.


Anonymous said...

Your blog reminds of me of a marathon I was running last year when I got a nasty niggle fairly early on. I spent the next few miles trying to choose the right way and point to drop out. But I dug deep, and by getting the phone out and texting a friend (who was tracking me online) with the message 'I'm going to finish this 'extremely unpleasant experience'' (not quite the phrase I used) that pledge gave me the impetus I needed to get to the end. Ok, the time sucked but the achievement of just finishing far outweighed any disappointment.
Now there may be a few miles difference :) in what you are doing but it is your mental strength that'll get you through this, despite any aches and pains, and it sounds like you have it sussed.
Keep positive, keep healthy and keep getting through those little targets that add up to the end goal.

All the very best

p.s. Have you heard that a 56 year old woman has claimed to be the first to swim the Atlantic? She allegedly swam from Cape Verde to Trinidad (with a big support crew)

Anonymous said...

Hey Paul -

What an incredible inspiration you are! I lost my mother last year to cancer, the rock of our lives, my best friend. I am still often lost at sea without her.
As a Colgate alum, a Fairfield County resident and with a daughter pursuing crew, I have been avidly following your journey. My son's 4th grade class is following it as well.
Will definitely encourage my alum buddies to lift a glass (or more) to you at the 40W mark.
Sarah B.

Teddi said...

Wow! What wisdom!
Survivor Atlantic!
Teddi and her 25 wonderful 2nd graders

Niall Iain Macdonald said...

Hi Paul, I have been meaning to write a few words for quite some time now but just never got around to it...until now. I have been following your progress since you set off from La Gomera (I was actually on holiday there mid-December, I wonder if you were around then?) and I am, like many others, checking your blog on a daily basis to see how things are going out there in the Atlantic. I have nothing but admiration for your amazing effort and wish you all the best for the rest of your adventure. I am very envious of you as I myself have a little experience of rowing, though it was a much shorter challenge than yours! Last July I rowed the 43 miles across the Minch from Ullapool to my home in Stornoway on Lewis, Western Isles, Scotland. It took me 26 hours and I loved every second of it. I was very kindly loaned a 'Woodvale Pairs Class' boat by Simon and Amanda at Woodvale Challenge and they were so helpful and encouraging. I am certainly going to try and do something else as soon as possible -I was hoping for the Indian Ocean Rowing Race but I ran out of time for that one! Anyway, remember that it's the good and bad things that make up the whole experience and it things ever get too tough, just remember that there are many pairs of hands pulling on the oars with you.
Best wishes to yourself and 'Liv'. Keep safe, Niall Iain Macdonald

John said...

Every day that I read one of these messages, I'm more and more amazed by it. Keep it up big fella...almost 1/2 way there!

Kyle Brown said...

Boy, do I recognize the phenomenon you describe. On the 15th day of what I expected to be a 22-day cross-country bicycle trip, some yokels in Virginia threw the remnants of a hamburger at me. It missed, but the image of that thing skittering down the roadway, spinning off its 40mph velocity, sticks with me as the turning point when I said, "Screw it." Unlike you, I actually did bail. I've regretted doing so ever since.

Lorilynn said...

Every day when I read your post, I often wonder if you have ever considered bailing. Like another poster said, I think you would regret it later if you did. You have come so far in this journey. Think of how far you've come and not how far you have to go.
We will be watching! :)