My clock-radio turns on at 4:40 a.m., and I flick the switch on my bedside lamp. None too gracefully, I get out of bed and make it to the bathroom, where I wash my face and brush my teeth. Back in my room, I layer my clothing--thermal underwear, turtleneck, sweatshirt, fleece, jacket--in anticipation of the chill of a late-October morning on the water. By 4:55 I am out of my apartment and in one of the glass elevators of Homewood, on my way down to North Charles, where Athletic Center van No. 3 picks me up.
From Art Museum Drive, we take Howard to Martin Luther King to 395. At 5 in the morning, we occasionally drive the entire 3-mile stretch of road without hitting a red light. From 395, we take 95 north, and as we ascend the entrance ramp, I get my first glimpse of the water. The water is still and flat, like glass. We take Hanover Street off 95, and after crossing Hanover Street Bridge, turn right onto Waterview Avenue. Another block, and we turn into the boathouse parking lot. We park beside a Loyola van, exit our own, and walk down a grassy slope to the bays at the back of the boathouse. It is 5:30.
As the eight rowers of the Holm bring the oars out of the bay and lay them down close to the dock, I find my coach. She tells me that the workout will be a time-pyramid, with the rating varying between 28 and 30 strokes per minute. I walk into the boathouse and in the office pick up my cox box, so that I will be able to time the pieces and give the rowers feedback on the rating. At the back of the first bay of boats, I get a bowlight from a large wooden box. I then rejoin the women in my boat at the back of the second bay, where they are stretching. I'll be by the boat, I tell my rowers, and as they finish stretching, one by one they come to the first bay and line up on the boat. I count eight women, and I say, Hands on. We take the Holm from the boathouse down to the water.
Once the boat is in the water, the oars in the oarlocks and the bowlight at the bow, I give the command for the rowers to get in the boat, All eight, one foot in, and down. Tie in and count down from bow when ready. The rowers count down (bow, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, stroke), and we walk the boat down the dock. Two hundred meters off the dock, we wait for the two other women's varsity boats. The docks are crowded with boats from Loyola, UMBC, Towson and the Baltimore Rowing Club. We can only vaguely make out the shapes of the rowers setting boats on the water. Once the two other Hopkins boats join us where we wait, we start to cross the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River, looking for the bowlights of other boats as we go. I steer toward the skyscrapers of downtown Baltimore.
To warm up, we row by fours with square blades. I throw in some drills as we head down to Glass Beach, where our coach waits in front of the glass factory. Outdoor industrial lighting illuminates towering piles of broken blue glass and our coach in her launch. At the Beach we aim toward Hanover Street Bridge, and on the coach's command, we take it away on the paddle. In 500 meters we pass the boathouse off starboard side; in another 500, we are through the bridge. From her motorboat, the coach calls through a megaphone for the first piece at full pressure--one minute at a 28. We round an orange channel marker, point towards the Lehigh cement factory, and I call for the rating to build. Right now we're at a 20. Up to a 24 in three--one, two, three. Up to a 28 in three--one, two, three. I trip the timer on the cox box.
The eight women facing me lock their oars in the water, push with their legs off their footstretchers, pry with their backs, finish hard with their arms and then, in reverse order, come back up the slide for the next stroke. I call, Drop, drive, send and breathe. Drop, drive, send and breathe. Powering it out with the mid-drive. Ten more. Drop, drive, one and breathe. Drop, drive, two and breathe. Drop, drive, three and breathe ... .
At the end of the 10, we bring it down to a paddle for a minute, before bringing the pressure back up for the next piece. We row like this, with the pressure on and then off, in increasingly larger intervals. As we pass Fort McHenry off port side, we are in the middle of a four-minute piece at 30 strokes per minute. At the end of the piece, the coach calls for us to weigh enough. We stop, spin the boat and start heading back to the boathouse, picking the pressure back up for a five-minute piece.
After we pass back under Hanover Street Bridge, the coach stops us, talks to us about Saturday's race in Philadelphia and then sends us away on one more piece--30 strokes at a 32 rating. The rating is high for this point in the fall season, but we execute the 30 strokes, and we feel the boat move out from underneath us. Swinging together, we feel our strength as a boat, and we feel confident about Saturday's race. After the 30 strokes, we head back to the boathouse to dock. Standing on the dock, I look east and see the sky grow orange as the sun rises.
Back in my bedroom, I start to strip away my layers--jacket,
fleece, sweatshirt--as I anticipate a warm shower. As I walk out
of my room toward the bathroom, I check the clock: 7:56 a.m.
Barbara Kiviat is a coxswain for Hopkins' Division III varsity women's crew. She is a junior from Salisbury, Md., and a Writing Seminars major in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.