2001: A Rhine Odyssey
6th October 2001
Mike's Rhine Marathon Experience in 2001
Day One (Friday)...
...found an elite advance party liaising at Dusseldorf HBF to check out the lie of the land. Alan (who insisted on wearing a rucksack and carrying a large unfolded street-map) lead the group towards the river studiously ignoring all attempts by local people to offer assistance. The group, consisting of Alan (h'officer), Tony (transport), Mike (drinking) and Dargs (explosives) started with a plan to visit improving local sites of historical and cultural significance. Then Mike found the man-with-a-(beer-selling)-van in Marketplasse and the rest, as they say, was history (hic).
Having secured the city, the group proceeded to Benrath (a "suburb" just south of Dusseldorf) at about 16:30 (having been drinking solidly since the morning). After letting Tony check into his hotel (softie) on the way and making friends with a group of small boys who were eating Americans (they breed them tough in Benrath) the platoon finally made their way to Benrath boathouse. Finding it shut (apart from some menacing guard dogs) they sought sanctuary in a nearby hotel where, fortunately, the bar was open. A few beers later and another attempt was made to enter the boathouse, this one proving more successful (the door was open). Dargs laid several explosives nonetheless.
From a slightly shaky memory the rest of the evening proceeded as follows. Beer; beer; friendly German rowers; beer; beer; Spaghetti Bolognese w/beer; beer; beer; beer; beer; glamorous barmaid; ouzo; ouzo; ouzo; beer; bed. During the evening six more people turned up. Being Danielle, Greg, Kate, Pete, Bea and Wayne. Nobody in the advance party really remember that happening (particularly Dargs as he had passed out on a bench). It's an amazing thing to watch an expert lay explosives in his sleep - what a treat. The hard-core (well Mike and Pete at least) stayed up imbibing Ouzo (Pete) and falling rapturously in love with the barmaid (Mike - not reciprocated) until about 02:30. Great race preparation boys!
We also spent some time with Anna (the boys' lovely cox) perfecting the calls she would use the following day. Having been presented with a complete list of English/German calls the crew decided to cut things to:
Pullen (at the start of the race)
Stoppen (26 miles later)
Bow, WHERE ARE YOU?
Two, you're rubbish
Three, you're carrying the rest of them
Stroke, "stunned silence"
Day Two (Saturday)...
...at 08:00 the lights came on but nobody was home. After a Nutella, toast, cheese and ham fuelled breakfast the Cygnet athletes poured themselves into a minibus for the short drive to the start of the Marathon. Amid much holding of heads and stomachs the crews devised cunning race plans to guarantee several pots per crew (and if you believe that you'll believe anything). The boats were rigged and coxes allocated and the first crew took to the water at some time after 10:00. Dargs, still drunk from the night before, laid a very powerful stealth explosive that went off so prematurely that he was caught in his own crossfire. Unfortunately this caused his legs to crumble and he dropped the boat.
The slightly hung over men's crew put the boat in the water and gingerly pushed off, took a few strokes and got a taste of things to come. No two blades hit the water at the same time and you could hear the groans of the "oarsmen" as they contemplated 26 miles of the same. We spun the boat and off we "went" shortly followed after by the mixed (better) crew.
Speaking personally (whoever I am) the race can be broken down as follows:
Miles 0 to 2: mild post Ouzo nausea and light alcoholic perspiration
Miles 2 to 7: barely controllable nausea and mild DTs
Miles 7 to 12: feelings of hazy euphoria and a suspicion of a blister on my left hand
Miles 12 to 15: not feeling too bad and definitely a blister on my left hand (not too bad though)
Miles 15 to 19: big, bloody blister on my left hand has been joined by several friends on the pads of most of my fingers, otherwise OK
Miles 19 to 23: getting tired and blood trickling down hands, try sculling without actually touching the blade handles - technically a bit tricky
Miles 23 to 25: very tired also barely suppressed feelings of intense hatred for the rest of the crew, small droplets of blood trickling from hands into the boat
Miles 25 to 26: can no longer be arsed to feather so pretend to practise technical square blade paddling, back and legs sore, head thumping, want Mum, more blood in boat then in body
All of that wouldn't have been too bad, except that at the end of the row you have to turn and paddle back to the pontoon which takes as least as long as the whole marathon. Then you have to clamber out of the boat and lift it out of the water. Then you have to carry the boat up a steep slope before hurling it uncaringly onto a waiting trolley. Then you have to start drinking beer because it's the thing to do, but it's the LAST thing you really want (until you've had a couple).
Post-race involved showers (not unisex as keenly anticipated), a frenzy of pink icing covered cakes and, yes, continual beer. We attended a very impressive prize-giving ceremony and were dismayed to learn that we seemed to be the only club who hadn't actually won anything (which in itself was probably worth a prize). The job-of-the-day belonged to a rather handsome German oarsman who handed over the prizes to those people flukey enough to get on the podium. The general consensus was that he spent a lot longer congratulating the girls than the boys, or was Dargan just being jealous?