To say that Meredith Loring, MBA’13, and Sami Inkinen, her husband, believe in health and fitness is perhaps an understatement. Loring, who follows a raw foods diet, is a former competitive gymnast turned trail runner, ultrarunner, and cyclist. Inkinen is a triathlon world champion for his age group and has finished the Hawaii Ironman multiple times. A morning run for the couple may last three hours. A fun afternoon might involve a five-hour bike ride. Past vacations for the adventure lovers have included trail running in Nepal and the Himalayas and cross-country skiing from Russia to Sweden. You get the idea.
So when Inkinen discovered his blood sugar levels were elevated, he was shocked. “Sami was following the USDA food recommendations to a T,” says Loring, “eating very little fat and primarily carbs.” Turns out that too much sugar and processed carbohydrates, which our bodies treat similarly to sugar, were the culprits. “We were thinking if Sami, who spends so much time thinking about optimizing his health and body, can’t figure it out, what are the chances for other people?” says Loring.
Around the same time Inkinen made his health discovery, he had become obsessed with a new big adventure: crossing an ocean. “He had been asking me about it, but I kept brushing him off,” says Loring. “I didn’t think he was serious. Then he started looking into buying a rowboat.”
That’s when Loring knew there would be no escape. But the couple decided to make the endeavor into more than a physical challenge. They previously had determined they would dedicate their lives to changing the way people eat in the U.S., taking a three-pronged approach, as Loring describes it, through policy, awareness, and new products. Inkinen already works for a venture capital firm focused on companies in the healthy living space, and Loring founded Native Life, a food company creating grain- and sugar-free products, starting with cereals. A 2,400-plus-mile row from Monterey, Calif., to Honolulu, Hawaii, would certainly garner attention. To also raise awareness about too much sugar in U.S. diets, the couple turned the row into a fundraiser for the recently founded Institute for Responsible Nutrition, which aims to reverse the climbing rates of childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
The couple trained; found sponsors; created a website (fatchancerow.org) to explain their mission, track their progress, and raise money; took courses in first aid, survival training, and ocean preparedness; and sourced food and supplies. About six months later, on the morning of June 17, at 6:00, the two departed. The following are excerpts from the blog Loring kept during what would turn out to be their record-breaking row.
Today is our fourth day out on the Pacific, and we are making slow but steady progress—unfortunately, not in the right direction. Each day we have seen strong (15–20 knots) head winds. On the first day, we rowed for 17 hours straight together to try to get as far west as possible. Since then, we’ve been lucky if we can just go south. The waves have been very high, with some looking more like giant walls coming right at you than something you would row over. Yesterday’s winds were close to 30 knots, and the waves were breaking on our deck, over and over. Sami proved his worth once again by grabbing me as I got washed off the boat, not once but twice. Luckily, the only thing that was really damaged was my poor rain pants, which are now ripped in half. (I still wear one leg of them to protect me from splashes.)
My legs are taking a beating and my shoulders are as well, from getting slammed into the side rail of the boat. Needless to say, we are going to continue rowing together until the conditions are less dangerous. We also came close to capsizing twice, once while we were rowing and once when we were attempting to sleep. For now, our plan is just to try to keep going south, and, if we’re lucky, a slight bit west. We’re on the lookout for sea life. So far we are pretty sure that we saw two sharks.
Today brought sunny skies and smaller seas. We were able to get a rhythm in our row and didn’t have to concentrate so much on looking out for side waves that would hit us. I’m feeling pretty beat up after the last couple of days. Now we are just focusing on getting south ASAP. Unfortunately, we are headed a bit east because of the wind. The arm of my rain jacket got torn off yesterday when I got knocked into the oars. Now I really look like a bag lady. The sun is so strong that every inch of skin needs to be covered, so I’m wearing a face mask and a big pink hat. I look like a bank robber, I’m sure. We have been fantasizing about what kind of body cleaning we are going to do when we land. Consensus is shower and salt scrub, then hours and hours of massaging :). We are still upbeat and jamming to tunes like no one is watching … well, no one is watching. Life is good.
Yesterday we encountered some problems with our electrical instruments. Now we don’t have AIS (which allows us to see other boats, and for them to see us), GPS, chart plotter, or autopilot. The GPS comes on sporadically, but seven hours of tinkering with it yielded no solution. We are trying to test to see if our AIS signal is going out so we have more confidence that boats can see us, but we haven’t been able to confirm this yet. Lots of water came in the cabin through our air vents in the last nights, so we have little puddles in our sleeping bags and mattress. Our cabin is getting really gross. We both think that the cabin conditions are going to be the thing that really bothers us most during this journey. Tomorrow the wind is supposed to be northerly, so we will try to start pushing west, though the weekend forecast doesn’t give us much confidence that we will get very far.
Nights bring so much relief, both mentally and physically. Waking up in the cabin, we always celebrate the “free miles” we’ve drifted overnight. During the night, I wake up from time to time from different maladies making their presence known. Billy, my big blister on the knuckle of my toe, is now infected and puffy. Anytime something touches him I wake up. My hips, too, are telling me I’m too old for this. I can’t straighten them out anymore, and we have at least a month left. My hands are knobby and stiff in the morning, and the skin is coming off from between my fingers. Sami has less pain now, but he’ll catch up soon. Despite these aches and pains, I feel incredibly lucky to be out here and have support from so many. The repetition of the rowing is meditative, and I think less about the outside world with each stroke I take.
Well, it’s the Fourth of July. I hope all of you are basking in the sun, swimming in lakes, and feeling nostalgic as you watch fireworks overhead. One year my brother and I watched the fireworks from the graveyard on the back side of Dublin Lake, N.H., one of the most prime spots to watch from. Earlier in the day, we had driven my grandmother to her favorite ice cream store, where they make all the ice cream from scratch. She was incredibly happy and excited to have that ice cream with us. I love that people can get such enjoyment out of small treats. I’m thinking about how ironic it is that I’m out here on the Pacific doing this sort of endeavor to raise awareness about the dangers of sugar when clearly many of my favorite times and memories involve ice cream, pie, and carrot cake. I reconcile my two minds by supporting Mark Hyman’s (MD and holistic health expert) suggested relationship with sugar—treat it like a recreational drug. I can get behind that.
Today marks the start of our fourth week! Wow, neither of us feels like we’ve been doing battle out here for that long. At most it feels like a week or so. We see birds regularly and try to bribe them into landing on the boat. Yesterday we got the closest to that happening, with a strange looking white bird with a black and yellow beak coming round repeatedly to stare at us. He left eventually, even though we threw salmon and macadamia nuts close to him. We are currently in what looks to be a four-day pull to get to the beginning of the trade winds. We have extremely light winds and waves, and we are going as long and hard as we can. I have been dreaming up a big challenge for my birthday, since a 35-mile run is out of the question.
Good day, friends and followers! Today, just days before my birthday, we are full of good spirits and good news. You may have noticed that our speed has picked up nicely in the last 24 hours and may be thinking we finally made it to the trade winds. If you thought that, you would be wrong. While it’s true that we are in position to take advantage of the trades, a weather system has dropped the winds to low single digits. It’s nice to row in, but it’s not helping us any. What has changed is this: As promised, Sami went to work on our broken electronics yesterday. It seems that it wasn’t faulty wiring causing the problems as we expected, but the GPS. Sami nearly gave up after spending two hours in the cabin, but tried removing the GPS and switching sockets, and by god it worked! Now the autopilot is back in action. This may seem like a small luxury to you, but let me tell you, trying to get this boat steadily in the right direction without an auto-helm or foot-steering is nearly impossible, and we have spent a lot of time rowing in the wrong direction (or not exactly the right one) because of it. I was so happy when Sami fixed it that I literally cried. I’m not kidding, I have never before been that happy.
Well, today I got the best birthday presents ever! Not only did we just cross the 1,000-mile (to go) mark, but we also crossed 140 degrees west, so we only have 17 left. We are celebrating between rowing blocks. Every few hours Sami treats me to another surprise, songs sung by friends and birthday wishes he collected prior to our departure, raw treats, and pictures of Teddy (our dog). It feels like we are beginning the (long) home stretch, a truly exciting feeling. More exciting than that is our upcoming cleaning day (tomorrow), in which I’m going to air out our mattress and sleeping bags, disinfect the cabin, and wash my hair. I can’t wait!
The weather continues to play against us, with zero wind, and any wind that does come, coming from the side. We are making a lot less progress than we’d like, but you can’t control these things, so we continue to focus on what we are putting in, not what we are getting out. The skies and sea are beautiful in this weather, one light and the other dark sapphire blue that glitters under the oars and in the trail where the boat has traveled. Occasionally, a stormy cloud will pass overhead, and the winds will suddenly pick up while we are beneath it. These moments are bliss, as the days are increasingly hot and sweaty.
It feels as though I (at least) am walking a fine line between up and down now that we are in our fifth week out here. I’ve had more moments of missing friends, especially after reading notes or hearing their voices, than during the first few weeks. More often than not, for both of us, reading the daily mail ends with tears and silent introspection. We chat about more personal and serious issues, and these discussions are punctuated by periods of silence or with us listening to our own music or books. We are not annoyed with each other, but are giving each other the space to overcome the little mental battles—fatigue, loneliness, pain. Healthwise, I’m feeling like a strong-er rower, with much less pain in my joints and hands, but I’m certainly getting worn down and have had more days that I’m sick. Sami’s back is definitely a concern now, and he’s stretching it a lot more. I’m hoping he’s not in too much pain. I don’t think he tells me how bad it is.
This morning we witnessed the most amazing sunrise, with red and gold light creeping up over the horizon to reflect on meandering clouds, which had broken off from the total cloud cover we’ve been experiencing for the last month. We gazed and commented to each other how unbelievable it is that this is only the second visible sunrise for us in the last 30 days. It was worth the wait. The break in the cloud cover also means that we can see the stars at night, but saying “see the stars” doesn’t quite do the experience justice. Both Sami and I come from extremely rural areas. In my case, my childhood home was close to a mile from the next house, and the entire area was covered in thick, dense forest—not exactly the type of place that has light pollution. I saw amazing night skies as a kid, but this sky is more expansive, more expressive. Standing on the boat at night can be extremely disorienting. Without light, you can’t tell where the sea ends and the sky begins. Standing on the same boat, in the same seas, under a perfectly black sky lit with millions of bright stars is completely different. The sea shimmers gray and reflects some brighter stars and the half moon, every detail clearly visible, utterly magical.
Today marks the start of our sixth week out here! Now, though we are resigned to what happens, we are excitedly counting the days until we land. We had quite a fun day with wind speeds around 15 knots and gusting above 20. Unlike our first couple of weeks when the winds were also high, we now take them (and the waves) at 45 or 50 degrees, rather than from the side. This makes it much less dangerous (for me especially), and we are getting good enough at predicting waves that we can surf speedily down the big ones if we time it just right—super fun! It’s like mountain biking vs. road cycling. The downside is that you are wet all day and beat up by the end of it. Our legs get absolutely battered by the oar handles when the waves suck the blade in, and our shoulders get pulled in all directions and strained when we hook our arms over the rail (to latch on when the waves break sideways over us).
We are roughly 300 miles from Hawaii now, but as we were dreaming of our finish, the massages, full-body waxes we would have, and the soaps we would use, the wind changed against us. We thought we could possibly land on Saturday afternoon, but that doesn’t look like it will be possible anymore. I guess we didn’t really learn our lesson, despite all the meditation and introspection, as we were really bummed to have our daily miles towards Hawaii drop from above 60 to 45. It is fair to say that we were in a bit of a mental slump earlier, but we’ve decided to pick up the rowing from 14 hours each (which we are currently doing) to 18 hours each per day. So we each rest (some of which is sleep) 6 hours per day, and we row for 12 hours or so together, plus 6 hours alone each. Hopefully that will get us through the final head winds and to Hawaii.
We see land! Will update with more details, but I wanted to make sure that everyone knows there is NOT a welcome party here when we land, as we are in a totally broken state and have slept only a couple of hours (with 24 hours more to go). Bye for now, back to the oars!
Final nonstop 24-hour push was over last night. Record speed rowing in 45 days from California to Hawaii! Trashed but happy.
LORING AND INKINEN SET A WORLD RECORD for couples rowing from California to Hawaii, completing the journey in 45 days (the former record was 64 days). They also have raised more than $300,000 for the Institute for Responsible Nutrition. “People keep contributing,” says Loring.
When they landed, after talking with reporters, the two immediately left for the nearest mall. “We didn’t have anything, and what we’d been fantasizing about was being able to leave our wet, moldy clothes on the boat,” says Loring. So even though she personally despises malls, Loring and Inkinen went in search of clean clothes and toiletries. “It’s funny, because we were interviewed by a lot of people, and everyone wanted to know what food we had been fantasizing about and what we wanted to eat,” she says. “But when you stop eating sugar, you stop getting food cravings. Our energy levels were so stable. We didn’t even really think about food.”
The couple continues in its endeavors to raise awareness about healthy diets and lifestyles. Physical fitness and adventures will remain a part of their lives as well. This December, just months after finishing their cross-ocean journey, the two traveled to South America to cycle and run in Chile. “We like doing big adventures,” says Loring. “Although we do a lot of talking about the row, it already feels like a distant memory.” —Donna Coco