By JEFF HOYT
After any journey that tests the boundaries of human endurance, explorers or athletes tend to summarize their quests with quotes worthy of a motivational poster: “Journeys define us, reveal our shortcomings and teach us about life”; “Courage comes from achievement but also from the attempt”; “The only way to guarantee failure is to never try.”
Last weekend, islanders Bruce Morser and Bob Horsley rowed the SEVENTY48 race from Tacoma to Port Townsend in an open water shell in just over 15 hours.
Listen to their inspiring words:
“The back, the butt, the hands — everything hurts,” said Horsley.
“We were Frankenstein-ing around the beach holding our arms stiff in front of us,” added Morser. “We looked like the ‘twits’ in that Monty Python sketch.”
“SEVENTY48” is shorthand for 70 miles in 48 hours. Sponsored by the Northwest Maritime Center in Port Townsend, the rules stipulate human power only — pedaling, paddling or rowing. No motors, no support, no wind. The four entry classes are facing forward, facing backward, standing and solo.
The race launched from Tacoma’s Museum of Glass early Friday evening. A hodgepodge of vessels lined up for the mass start: single, double and quad rowing shells, along with sea kayaks, high-tech surf skis, a Tahitian outrigger canoe and narrow, high-performance paddle boards. Hand-made watercraft included dinghies, a 12-seat wooden trimaran, a peddle-powered floating car and a catamaran powered by two upright bicycle riders.
Team names included Blister in the Moon, Where’s My Hat?, Wanderlost, Captain Wetsocks, and It Sounded Good After Two Beers.
“Everyone was incredibly friendly and happy to embrace that ‘kindred spirit’ feeling,” said Morser. “There weren’t the usual pre-race social jitters, but a real mutual love and respect for people who are inexplicably drawn to these sorts of experiences.”
Morser and Horsley, facing backward as Vashon Island Rowing Club’s sole entry, rowed all through the night in rough water with waves coming at them from all directions, finishing 14th out of 118 entries just after 10 a.m. the next morning.
Dozens of friends from VIRC gathered on the beach at Lisabeula Park to welcome them to their first shore break as the sun was setting over the Olympics.
“The highlight was when we rowed up at Lisabeula and heard a roar from all the people on the beach,” said Morser. “It was an unbelievable level of support.”
The guys even took time out for late-night and early-morning phone updates on Voice of Vashon. Floating off the south end of Blake Island after having just dodged the Southworth ferry, Horsley exclaimed: “It’s cool being out here in the dark! This is amazing!”
During Saturday morning’s phone-in, they had just rounded Point No Point. As they prepared for the final push to Port Townsend they reported a rough night of open water rowing.
“We’ve done far more sharply painful events together, but in terms of resilience needed, this one takes the cake,” said Morser.
“The trick was getting to our food and dry clothes,” said Horsley. “It was hard to stage things on our breaks. The water was rough, so the beachings were dicey.”
They explained that the journey had vacillated between Type 1 and Type 2 fun.
“Type 1 fun means you have a great time both doing it and remembering it,” said Morser. “Type 2 fun means the actual experience is pretty painful but you love telling the stories afterward,” said Horsley.
So, what’s Type 3 fun?
“The Shackleton Expedition,” said Morser.
Morser and Horsley are no strangers to Type 2 fun. Two years ago today the pair had just left Prescott, Wisconsin, the halfway point on a 4,000 mile cross-country bike ride from coast to coast. When the SEVENTY48 website proclaimed, “It’s hard enough that it’s a bad idea to even try,” Horsley and Morser decided this would be their brand of fun.
“Having sailed round-trip from Vashon to Port Townsend at least 50 times over the years, I felt comfortable with the waters, shoreline and bathymetry,” said Morser, “but it’s a whole new game in a boat with less then 3 inches of freeboard. Look inside your washing machine during the agitation cycle, and there you go.”
Next up for Morser and Horsley? An extended butt break before training begins for the ninth annual Passport to Pain bike ride up and down the gnarliest hills Vashon Island has to offer. 80 miles. 10,000 feet of vertical. Type 2 fun all the way.
Registration for Vashon Island Rowing Club’s signature fundraiser event is now open at passport2pain.org.
Bruce Morser and Bob Horsley recorded three interviews with Voice of Vashon’s Jeff Hoyt during and shortly after the SEVENTY48 race from Tacoma to Port Townsend.
To hear an edited compilation of the conversations, click their picture on the VoV homepage at voiceofvashon.org.