Yesterday, June 18, I arose at Rapid City, SD at 4:00 AM MDT, crossed South Dakota and Minnesota, and arrived at Wausau, WI at 8:15 PM CDT. I drove 730 miles, stopping only for fuel, food, 6,000 steps of walking and the other basic needs.

The entire ride I listened to sports talk radio. I know so much more about the NBA draft now than I ever thought I would. I just love to learn.

I was hustling to make it to Jerry and Laura’s house for dinner and the night.

Jerry Phelan and I rowed a double the year I stayed with Karen and her daughter in Wausau. It was in the early 2000’s, when Jerry was 52 years old and I was 55.

We rowed almost daily (except in winter) on a foul, man-made lake on the Little Eau Pleine. We beach launched, which often meant carrying the 68-pound boat through hundreds of tiny dead fish with our legs sunk calf-deep in the “primordial ooze”, as Jerry called it. It was rotten water, but calm, and rowing there was a blast.

Another fine development is that I taught Karen how to scull there. She was 40 then and had no familiarity with the sport whatsoever. She is a natural athlete and with her musician’s sense of rhythm, she learned more quickly than anyone else I have coached. Karen and I had many good rows out there together.

When I rowed with Jerry, he stroked and I rowed bow. We worked hard. We did enter one race – a head race, at Green Bay, where we were horizoned due to my poor steering. We are about the same size and compatible in temperament. With more time we could have been fast.

That possibility fizzled in the 2,000 miles between Coos Bay and Wausau, and we never became competitive. But we did have fun, lots of it – in fact, probably the most fun I have ever had rowing.

Most days after warm-ups he and I would row ten timed pieces parallel to the face of the dam, a distance of about 950 meters. We would row a piece, quickly turn around, and row right back again. We aimed to keep our split at race pace, which for us was 1:50 – 1:55 per 500 meters.

One day early on, when we were just getting to know one another, Jerry said something following the seventh piece that gave me a huge laugh and still has me chuckling.

We were huffing and puffing and, in my case, psyching up for the last three pushes, when suddenly in a faux-baby voice, Jerry says,

“Don, I love to row, but sometimes I really get out of breath!”

No sh*t, you get out of breath, Jerry. The way he – a big former U.S. national rowing team member and brainy guy with an engineering degree from University of Wisconsin – delivered that obvious and silly-in-the-circumstances comment really nailed me, and said to me, this turkey is going to become a great friend.

And he has.

Jerry and Laura fed me dinner and breakfast, and gave me a good bed. It was terrific to see them. Today I eased off on the distance and ended up at Manistique, Michigan, a charming little town on the shore of Lake Michigan. Tomorrow I cross into Ontario, Canada at The Soo.

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