June 23, 2022
By Rebecca Ross, Field Reporter
Carling and Michelle of Team Let’s Row Maybe? have been showing everyone what they are capable of by displaying true grit, impressive determination, and the ability to catch up and keep up with other teams—Team Don’t Tell Mom, specifically. Unlike the sister duo, who appear to be more strategic and disciplined mainly because Leigh has done this before, Carling and Michelle are brand new to R2AK and experiencing a steep learning curve.
“Have you two been mentored?” I ask the two in a pre-race Zoom meeting.
“Well…” Carling begins, “Janice and Ian [Team Oaracle] let us borrow their boat. They’ve been, you know, helpful by telling us what to expect but…. no more than that.” I press for more, “Do you have a game plan?” “We’re going to have an open mind. We don’t know what’s gonna happen, but we’re gonna go and deal with things as they come.” Carling replies.
Truly her statement holds up. On day four, they rowed from 3 am to 4:30 pm to catch the tide at the right moment. Arriving at Campbell Marina, Michelle collapsed on the dock while Carling displayed a look that only someone who’s been through hell and back can give. Good god!
Even though their skin was rubbed raw, resulting in nickel-sized blisters on heels and hands, it’s the lack of sleep that’s doing them in. “We never want to wake up that early again,” Carling says, explaining that each day couldn’t possibly get any worse, yet it does. Admitting blisters she could handle, but rowing while nearly falling asleep was too much. I recalled a discussion with Lillian of Team Interstice who also commented that lack of sleep was one of the most difficult challenges.
And here I thought it was hours upon hours upon hours of rowing their asses off that would have been the culprit.
“I don’t know how the other rowing team [Don’t Tell Mom] does it, they get up so early and are fast,” Michelle gripes. “Yeah, but you two are keeping up.” I chime in. Carling smiles and replies, “That’s why we’ve been sleeping in, we know we can catch them.”
If any other human-powered team had said that, my eyebrows would have hit the ceiling, but with Carling, I don’t doubt her one bit—being an Olympic rower who’s been on the Canadian national rowing team for ten years, Carling can definitely walk the walk. But even then, their tactic of sleeping in coupled with competitive speed rowing puts me at the edge of my seat. Don’t burnout for godsake, it’s only day four of the race!
These past several days, I’ve watched these polar opposites complement each other like yin and yang. Carling being the headstrong engine, and Michelle, the voice of reason. Picking each other up (for Michelle that was literally when her feet were in too much pain) when the other needs it most, then continuing on.
With plenty of miles still ahead of them, we’ll just have to see how it all unfolds. But, noting Carling’s high tolerance for risk—and pain, I might add—that may be enough to force them through to the end—come hell or high water.
Rebecca Ross, field reporter
Rebecca is a freelance writer and outdoor photographer based in Longview, Washington, who spends time backpacking, traveling, and summiting peaks.