Saturday, June 12, 2010

Going with the flow...

Of traffic. On water, or on land.

What rowing and cycling have in common and how both could help us think about what happens on the roads we bike, drive or walk along every day.

This week, I got my 'driver's license' to row on the Potomac River. At my colleague and friend Hillary Howard's suggestion, I took lessons at the Thompson Boat Center , was tested and passed!

One of the thoughts I had was this: the rules and regulations of traffic are the same everywhere. First and foremost comes safety.

 Joel Olbrys, the Dock Master at  the Thompson Boat Center  likes to say he's a cranky guy. He's quick to bark a correction when he sees an accident big or small waiting to happen. And that's before anyone gets in the water. Then again, he works in a place where people are constantly moving big pointy objects (rowing sculls) in a tight space (the dock) near the water. 

If being cranky keeps rank novices like me safe when I venture out on a river that has proven time and again that it's beautiful but also potentially deadly, I'll take the cranky.

But something else got me thinking about the connections between cycling, rowing and driving. Each demands that we learn the 'rules of the road', watch what we're doing, and look out for the other guy.

Like the roads we drive, on the Potomac, there is a flow that must be followed. There is traffic of varing sizes and speeds (fellow rowers, crew teams, power boats, kayaks) with operators of varying ability (people like me, learning the basics and members of those crew teams knifing through the water with speed and grace).

And just like on the roadways, looking down the road just a bit can help prevent a collision. Adjusting our speed to traffic conditions can make all the difference between a great outing and a disaster of a day.

And so can a small act of courtesy and kindness.

Again and again, as I worked to get into the form that would allow me to achieve the kind of graceful action in the water I saw around me, I would stop to regroup.

At one point, an obvious veteran approached. Gliding alongside me with a smooth, easy stroke, he called out "It'll become second nature eventually!"

That encouragement--and passing my rowing test to become a 'certified' rower--made my day.

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