Ashland couple top rowing field on Willamette

Torsten Heycke of Ashland battles currents in the Willamette River on his way to winning last weekend's 115-mile Corvallis to Portland Row, the nation's longest rowing race.

Ashland couple Torsten Heycke and Beth Geismar finished first and second, respectively, at the nation's longest rowing race last weekend. The 13th annual Corvallis to Portland Row — the CPR — was held over two days on the Willamette River and covered 115 miles in five segments.

This 2011 event was Heycke's first CPR finish and Geismar's third. High water and high temperatures made for a challenging row.

"There were these 'dead heads' — big trees floating in the river," says Geismar. "So I was always looking over my shoulder so we wouldn't hit one."

"It hit 86 on Saturday," adds Heycke. "And it was the first nice Saturday of the year, so everyone with a motorboat was out on the water. So we were dealing not only with strong currents and eddies, but also with wake turbulence."

After this epic row, both competitors found that their right wrist hurt more than anything else.

"The motorboat wakes traveled parallel to our direction of flow," explains Geismar. "We got slammed by wakes mostly on our right side, so we'd have to hold that oar with a death grip."

Participation was slightly lower this year, with 21 competitors in 9 boats: two singles, two doubles, a quad and a four. Both boats with four rowers also hold a coxswain.

Heycke, who rowed a single, finished with a time of 11 hours and 14 minutes. Geismar rowed in a double and finished three minutes behind. The stage times are not available until the end, so the finish order can come as a surprise.

Of her second-place finish, Geismar jokes, "Now I'm thinking where I could have made up those three minutes."

Although it may seem as if a double should beat a single, it's all about balance.

"The advantage to being in a single is that you don't have to be in sync with another person, so it's easier to be in your own rhythm," Heycke explains. "But you're also in a smaller boat, so you're more susceptible to yawing and pitching. It's a delicate dance."

Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at

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