Tallulah, Louisiana. 14th October
We had a clue that the weather was going to be possibly uncooperative, when we started to see tornado warnings on several radio and TV stations. We started to take it seriously once we realised the impact of this on our already crowded schedule. Wide awake readers (or should I say, wide awake reader) will recall that we now have only one rest day remaining in the run in to the finish. Not only would this mean that we were forced to take our rest day during the storms, but it would also impact our two new intrepid guest rowers, Jim Eyre and David Ellis.
Jim and David had been gently persuaded by me over the course of a spectacular dinner at Jim and Sophie Eyres, fuelled by stories of derring do and huge challenge on the Mississippi as well as some 1996 Hermitage La Chapelle. On reflection, that was a very worthwhile bottle of wine to bring…. So Jim and David, in the cold light of day, realised they had signed up for 60 odd miles rowing, a sport entirely foreign to them both, on a wild, huge river, on another continent. And they didn’t have much time to learn. Both Jim (soldier of repute for 24 years) and David (CEO of a major professional rugby organisation) are hardly shrinking violets and like all the other participants, they just embraced the challenge.
They rolled into our hotel car park in a convertible burgundy Mustang with Massachusetts licence plates. Whilst this may have been in keeping with their personalities and seemed a good idea at the airport, I have to say it rather stood out at the Holiday Inn Express at Greenville Mississippi! We told them the news that we would have to take their second day as a rest day and did they want to try to row on the third day? Having come all this way, they were determined to give it a go, and so we did.
The first day was overcast, but humid and a little breezy (headwind, natch). David rowed with me and Jim with Paddy. David had done rather less in the boat than Jim and he and Paddy were the quicker boat for most of the day, but David was nothing if not determined. I coached him a little and got him to start using his legs to push, as well as his arms to pull and he started getting better and better. Slowly the gap between the boats became less marked and by the end of the 35 miles, we were steaming along. David and Jim were elated. They had learned a new skill and learned it well. They had faced a serious challenge, met it and delivered when needed. They were grinning like fools, even though David had rubbed all the skin off both thumbs….
The rest day was full of storms and rain, but thankfully the tornado missed Greenville and sadly hit further upstate. At least we and the boats were safe, but the rain caused the river to swell and rise and it will continue to do so for several more days.
Today we rowed two halves – 17 miles to a stop at which point we delivered the guys to a waiting lift so they can catch their respective flights, then Paddy and I rowed the remaining 17 miles to the finish. David rather under estimated the fuel needed and was pretty groggy over the last half an hour – a graphic illustration if more were needed that this is a tough haul. Jim was feeling good, and he and I had a great couple of hours. We climbed from the boats and, as ever, the two guest crew were emotional and sad to leave. These two were great examples of how this project gets under people’s skin and really affects them.
They climbed into their burgundy convertible Mustang and drove away, content in their achievements, but unless I am mistaken, they drove away rather slower than when they arrived….
Louisiana is here and we are within shouting distance of some great towns – Vicksburg, Natchez and Baton Rouge. Much more to come before we are done, but the excitement is certainly building now.