I used to row.
I did my college rowing at the University of Washington, Jan Harville was my novice coach and Bob Ernst was my varsity coach, back before he moved over to coach the men. (I hear he's coaching the women again now).
After I graduated from college I took a couple of years' break from being a jock to invest more of my time into being a wastrel. Inevitably, that too palled, and so I returned again to the world where your backsplash, your puddle, and your swing were all that mattered.
Swing is the sweet spot. Its the orgasm of rowing. Its where all rowers in the boat, all eight or four or two of them, hit the same rhythm on the slide, they come forward, drop oar, push back and finish each stroke simultaneously. When swing happens, the boat just picks up out of the water and grows wings. If you've felt swing, you'll never forget it. One year at Seattle Rowing Club we entered both the eight and the fours at a four mile race in Fremont. Our eight had some rigging problems before the start, and by the time we had the spacers set correctly, the field was twenty or better lengths ahead of us. We rolled into the start and sort of simultaneously thought "screw it, we're behind, we've got nothing to lose, let's just row the shit out of this thing." We just went with it. By the third mile, we hit it. SWING. Before long, we were passing boats. Leaving boats in the dust. Swinging. Flying. We flew up the canal and by God we WON that race by open water.
An hour later we did it again, in the fours. We split the eight up into two boats. The first four, with our stroke and all heavyweights, was heavily favored. They got to use our club boat. For the second four, it was me and three lightweights. Our club didn't own a second four, so we borrowed one from another club, a heavy old wooden behemoth of a boat. The four of us looked at each other and kind of laughed. We had no expectation for this race. We'd already poured our hearts out on a four mile race. We were just hoping to have enough left in us to finish.
Inexplicably, it happened again.
Somewhere in that race we found the sweet spot and we flew home. We won again.
I don't remember too many details about the rest of that day, or anything else. I just remember the swing.
When you ride, there's a thing you look for. Its like swing, but I'm not even sure there's a word for it. Its what happens when you start working together as one. You have a thought in your head of what it is you want to accomplish, you transmit that thought through your hands and your seat and your legs, and your horse, all his muscle and his brain and his nerves, they act out your thought completely willingly. Its as if he's an extension of your will, not because he's forced to, but because he wants to.
Saturday we took a horrendously awful never-to-be-repeated drive up mountain roads (just thinking about the dropoff right on the other side of the truck door gets my heart pounding in abject fear) to do an orienteering ride.
The night before, T-Bone smashed my nose with his head as he was jumping up on my bed. I was up past 11 with ice and a towel trying to stop the bleeding and minimize the swelling. I was up again at 4:30 with a headache and a painful face, trying to will myself to even want to go on this ride.
After we reached the trailhead (and I pried my fingernails out of the truck door), I wasn't expecting much. I was exhausted but ramped up on anxiety and adrenaline (amazing how worrying about falling down a thousand-foot cliff will do that to you), my nose hurt, and you know when you feel miserable you typically transmit that straight through to your horse.
I took some time to relax and calm down, to put the drive up behind me. To groom and saddle Bugs and walk him around a bit to loosen the long, bumpy ride out of his legs. Belatedly I realized he'd thrown a shoe sometime in the week prior, but I was able to borrow a hoof boot from another rider.
We started down the long initial trail. It had rained the night before and where the dirt was hard-packed, the horses slipped and slid on their hind legs, trying to find a grip in the earth. We made it through the first three objectives, and got to the fourth. It was a camp area and as we were separating to check our orientation points to find the plate, Bugs started to get antsy about being even a few feet apart from his riding pal. I took him and circled him a few times, let him move his legs and get his brain back into the game. We finished the objective and headed off down the trail. Where it was not rocky, we trotted and loped to make up some time. The last ride we'd done this, and Bugs had it in his head that he was in a big fat hurry. I spent the last hour of that ride fighting him to stay collected and not go barging off into the sunset.But Saturday, even with challenges, we found our sync. He was collected. He was patient. He went where I asked him, he stayed where I asked him. He moved off the leg like a dream, he didn't spook or get scared even when we ran into four hunters on atv's. He enjoyed the hell out of himself, and so did I. We found the sweet spot that makes you want to get up on the horse again, over and over again, so you can get that all-over amazing feeling that comes when you have swing.