Leaning On My Gibby Girl Strength: Week One Complete

It’s been a full week since I left Chicago for this journey. Sometimes it feels like the time is flying, sometimes the minutes feel like hours.

I have been so fortunate to meet so many supporters on this first leg of the trip. The Racine Yacht Club graciously hosted Liv and I while the high wind weather passed. On Wednesday night, I got to meet a group of breast cancer survivors in Racine who use dragon boats to stay active. “Pink Paddling Power” surrounded Liv and I with pink shirts and adoration. They hugged and kissed me and said “thank you” for doing this trip. They reminded me so much of the ROW women – using exercise as a tool for recovery. It made me miss the ROW team and Chicago so much. I spoke in front of the Racine Yacht Club members and raised over $1,300 for ROW by passing around a donation bucket. Amazing.

Yesterday I rowed from Racine to Milwaukee. It was 22 miles and it took me 11 hours. Even at 5:30 am the winds were blowing Liv and I around in the harbor. My stomach turned as I made my way to the entrance of the harbor, the same place I nearly crashed into on Monday. My rudder wasn’t straight and my heart raced as I left the dock, fumbling to get around sailboats and steer. We got out onto the lake and there was a beautiful sunrise and southwest wind to greet us. When I got out of the harbor, my body relaxed a bit. Monday’s entrance produced more lingering trauma than I thought. I took a moment to remind myself that I could do this…I would do this…and that I had nothing to be afraid of. I learned my lesson and I was better for it. With that, my capable body and boat were back on my watery road forward. No reason to be scared.

My plan was to row to Wind Point and then try and hug the shore between Racine and Milwaukee. The west wind could quickly put me out to the middle of the lake if it picked up so I played it safe. Hugging the shore added miles and hours (thus extra energy) to my trip, but it meant that I’d always be able to control the boat (something I am beginning to value more and more).

As soon as I got to Wind Point I saw a storm coming in from the west. The winds picked up and tried to pull us out, but Liv and I fought to get back closer to shore. The turn at Wind Point felt like it took hours. I grabbed for my rain jacket and locked down all my gear. The rain lasted for a couple hours and winds that came with made for an even harder turn at Wind Point. Once the rain stopped a sheet of fog began to come out towards Liv and I from inland. The waves stopped, the sun began to say hello, and we rowed on past the power plant and into Milwaukee.

The city skyline started peaking over a bluff and I knew I was close: 5 more miles until the entrance of the breakwall and another 2.5 to get to a dock. I knew I only had a few more hours of rowing and for the first time since the trip started, I really dreaded taking strokes. My hands were blistered and sore and my knees ached (the same overuse ache you have after a marathon). Your body just wants to rest…and suddenly I just felt everything. I thought about how far I had come, that today was a good row and that I needed to just a couple more hours to hang on. I stood up and stretched once we were inside the wall, which really helped. After sitting for 10+ hours/day, my bum gets sore and my skin is irritated (not only in places people can see). If I can remember to stand up for even a minute, it really helps in the long run.

I got into the harbor and all I could think about was laying down. Since there’s no back to my seat on Liv, laying down is what I look forward to most at the end of the day. I have to be really careful when I lay my head down, though. The moment I lay down, I can’t be trusted to do anything for the rest of the night. I just fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. I’ve never been this tired. Yes, physically this venture is demanding, but it’s also extremely exhausting in every other way imaginable. I am on edge all day long. My nerves are shot by 7pm and I can’t even think straight. I’m in survival mode 300% of the time. “Where’s the anchor pulling us right now…is the rudder taught….did I lock the back cabin?” It’s very hard to get to the point where I can relax. But when I lay down, it’s a done deal.

Since I’ve been in Milwaukee I’ve had some great guests, including members of the Southshore Yacht Club, press from the Milwaukee CBS and FOX affiliates, and a group of sailing students. They are all curious about Liv and the reason I am rowing around the lake.

Speaking of reasons to keep rowing, I found out some very sad and tough news today. My Grandma JoAnn has Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. JoAnn is an amazing
woman that I am very close to, and much of the reason I love Lake Michigan and chose to do my trip on this body of water. My mom called me in hesitation, knowing that I would be alone with the news and my thoughts on the Lake. I’m glad she called me, but am obviously upset. I don’t really know how to process this right now, but I do know that I am very lucky to have had such a special person in my life.

My Grandma Clem lived in South Haven, Michigan for years. While there, she started a beautiful tradition with me and all of my girl cousins. “Gibby Girl” get-togethers began when I was in elementary school. All the Gibby Girl granddaughters would spend a week with Grandma Clem. We spent many days at the beach on Lake Michigan: learning how to bake, cook, quilt, sew and stitch in between sand castles, giggles, and sisterhood. We’ve all gotten older and a week isn’t possible anymore, but we still meet for a weekend (or weekends!) and make sure Grandma is part of a breakfast and in on the festivities. I know she did this to keep us together…and in between all the activities the real treasures we find and we cherish now is that we get to learn from, share and enjoy each other. Every single cousin is different and beautiful, and I am thankful to have all of them in my life

My grandma recognized this…all those years ago. And now I lay here in this boat with this news and ache to be with them. I know they understand that I’ve taken on this challenge and we all have to be strong for each other, especially for a Grandma that has given us so many wonderful memories. Grandma: hang tight and keep fighting. I’ll be home as soon as I can.

8 comments on “Leaning On My Gibby Girl Strength: Week One Complete

  1. My grandma did the same thing, and I am thankful too — My cousins and I are like sisters and I know I can count on them for being there for me because we all have such a sense of family that was bred by those get-togethers every summer. You are in my prayers, Jenn, for all kinds of reasons!

  2. Jen,

    I’m sorry to hear about your Grandma JoAnn. Think about the love and the good memories to carry you through until you can see her.

    Thank you for doing this trip. I can’t even get my head around how hard it is, but you’ve already helped. The mantra that often runs through my head is “I can’t do this.” Now, I think of you and how amazingly strong you are in mind and body, and I can push myself to do that extra 5 minutes of rowing because you are pushing yourself to do 5 more hours. What ever I have to do is nothing compared to what you are doing, so you’ve encouraged me and the rest of the team. You’ve made us that much stronger. Thank you, Jen. You are a blessing and may the winds be at your back!

    lots of love,

  3. “We may not have it all together, but together we have it all”.

    Gibby Girls can take over the world! It’s so awesome to realize what strong women we’ve become… and how much these memories have made us that way.

    Missing you, loving you, praying for you!

  4. Dear Jenn,
    Robyn so beautifully expressed how we feel about you. Your Grandma Clem is a big part of who you are and is with you always. Wrap the ROW quilt around you and feel our love and gratitude.

  5. Jenn
    You are an amazingly strong women in so many ways, not just physically. Thank you for the time you spent with Pink Paddling Power in Racine. It truly was a treat. I hope some time we can have a meet and greet with your gals from ROW.
    Our thoughts and prayers are with you as you learn of your grandmother’s diagnosis and are alone with Liv to process this information. If you inherited any or your determination genes from her, she may gain strength from following your journey as she embarks on her own journey of treatment…..like yours, there will be days of struggle and days of triumph and days of reaching deep inside to carry on. Your journey is even more symbolic now.

  6. Dear Jenn,
    Robyn so beautifully expressed how we feel about you. Your Grandma Clem is a big part of who you are and she will always be with you. Wrap the ROW quilt around you and feel our love and gratitude.

  7. Dear Jenn,
    I’ve attempted to send this 3 three times now but like you I won’t give up. Robyn express so beautifully how we feel about you. Your Grandma Clem is a big part of who you are and she will be with you always. Wrap our ROW quilt around you and feel the love and gratitude.

  8. Dear Jenn,
    Robyn so beautifully expressed how we feel about you. Your Grandma Clem is a big part of who you are and she will always be with you. Wrap up in our ROW quilt and feel the love and gratitude.