Motor in Maintenance

Dear Reader,

   Before setting off on a trip of any length, it’s a good idea to check out your motor and make sure it’s in good condition for travel. Examine it for wear and tear, make sure all the bolts are tight and the moving parts are moving. Clear the lines and filters and check for buildup or obstructions. 

   I did an inspection on the engine for my rowboat and found a couple of things that needed attention – but nothing disqualifying. First, a physical inspection of the moving parts found a tendency for one of the arms of the motor to dislocate out of its socket. This is apparently a common issue with this particular motor; when reviewing the maintenance logbooks I found that the problem had occurred three times in the year 2020 alone! 


   In late October, I sought out the help of a rowboat motor specialist in San Diego named Greg Spooner. Greg is an ocean rower who is also a physical therapist – additionally, he also rowed the Mississippi River, so I knew I had found someone who understood, and wouldn’t call me crazy. The mechanic Greg recommended a series of exercises to strengthen the area that supported the motor’s arm, and after inspecting the other parts of the engine for imbalances, sent it off with an approval that, with a little attention, this motor could indeed row 30,000 miles. I was happy – next up: clearing the engine lines. 

   This problem required a little more invasive repair. Upon performing a thorough inspection of the engine’s fuel system, scanners found a buildup in an exhaust filter called the kidney. The buildup wasn’t in the way of the system, but if it moved, it would clog the discharge line for water. If that happened without access to a mechanic, the engine would most likely quit. Definitely, a problem that needs to be resolved before using this motor on the open ocean. 

   So that’s what I’ve been up to: motor in the maintenance shop. I have to have two operations done to remove this particular kidney stone; it doesn’t want to leave. So I had the first procedure and I’ve been a patient all week, obviously grounded from flying until I can file my medical paperwork with a clean bill of health. It’s a bit of a transition, going from rowing for 10 hours a day, to not even being able to go for a walk. Not having my health and facilities, not being able to move about freely, always makes me realize how fragile these bodies are, how quickly we can be reduced to shells by pain and illness. 

   At the same time, I’m caring for my Pápá , my grandfather who has stage 5 Alzheimer’s disease. Watching him live with this illness, and slowly get worse, only reinforces my sensitivity to life and being alive. These constant reminders of mortality only fuel my desire more to do something with this life I was given – while I still have my health, while I am young, while I can. 

   I’m a patient, and he’s an old man in the last chapter of his life. I have a lot to be grateful for: I will get better soon – and if I’m lucky I’ll make it as far as my Pápá, and live out the last chapter of my life as an elderly person, being taken care of by someone who cares. It’s not easy coming into this world, and it can’t be easy to leave, either. My hope is that people help you leave the same way they helped you arrive: with love and care. 

   Being with an elderly person reminds me of this song by John Prine:

“You know that old trees just grow stronger, 

and old rivers grow wilder every day. 

Old people, just grow lonesome. 

Waiting for someone to say,

Hello in there, hello.” 

   It brings me great joy to say to my Pápá every day, “Hello in there, hello.” I don’t care if I’ve heard all the stories a hundred times; it makes him feel seen and heard, and that’s the most important thing I’m doing with my life right now. 

   But I’m doing a lot of other things, too. Since I can’t work until my boat motor is finished with repairs, I’ve had a lot more time to sort things out for the big trip. At this point in the planning process, there’s so many things to do that one of the things to do is figure out what to do! There’s a lot of different parts to an undertaking of this magnitude – not only do I have to learn how to be an ocean rower, but I have to learn how to be an accountant, a tax specialist, and a businesswoman, while also being a meteorologist, a navigator, and a customs and immigration officer. The role “ocean rower,” especially one with a route like mine, encompasses many roles, many of which I have no idea how to do. But I’m learning. 

   Right now, I have to work around pain, but the work distracts me from it. Here’s a journal entry from 3 days after my first procedure (a lithotripsy, yes they put me to sleep and all that hoorah):

   “Really feel like I hit a low point. All day today felt like shit – Got this stent, started my period, being pulled in so many different directions with my flying job, my Pápá , and my dreams…I don’t even have a real place to live, crashing at other people’s houses. In physical pain, tight on money, no place to call home and be settled. But again when I put everything in perspective – I have a family, somewhere to sleep, food in my belly. All this I am bringing on myself. I need to enjoy this – it’s a privilege to even be able to do this – run a nonprofit, start a business gathering money to fund something that’s never been done. What an honor! I need to remember that all this too shall pass, and not take it so seriously. When I’m on the water in my ocean rowboat, rowing away, all this shall be worth it. This part of the journey is just as much a part of the trip as the trip itself.”

   Even when I’m feeling low low low, I talk myself into finding the gratitude.