She sleeps on the boat. Even in a storm, even at a port, her bed rests inside a 6-foot long air- and watertight sleeping cabin. And it's not really a bed. Just a thin mattress pressed between walls with enough room to stretch her legs, and a seat belt used to keep her buckled in.
When you lay in the boat, you think for a moment, "This isn't so bad." Then you remember the boat is docked in a harbor in Chicago on Lake Michigan on a beautiful day with no wind and no rain and you took the train to get here and you'll take it back.
Inside the cabin are the essentials. A radio providing weather updates. A life vest. A rain coat. A fan. And of course a map of Lake Michigan that covers the ceiling, along with a small, tinted window that looks up to the sky. Outside the sleeping cabin is the rowing seat, and beyond that is a smaller cabin that holds food. The boat is 19 feet long and, when fully packed, weighs 700 pounds.
For two months, this is the home of Jenn Gibbons.
"This is really hard," the 27-year-old Pilsen resident and founder and coach at Recover on Water told me at Monroe Harbor the day before she left. "Today, when I was rowing from Burnham Harbor over to here, which is probably like 2,000 meters, it took me two hours because the [wind] was 10 to 15 knots. Half the time I'm trying to make sure I'm going in the right direction, other times I'm just trying to get strokes."
She's out there now, even as I sit at my desk and type this, out in that boat attempting to row the perimeter of Lake Michigan. The trek is 1,500 miles. She departed the morning of June 15. If all goes to plan, she will dock back in Chicago on Aug. 15.
But that's a long way off, and a lot can happen in two months. Hell, a lot can happen in a week. Remember Monday, that wind we had here in Chicago? If you spent any time walking outside, it was tough to miss.
So imagine Jenn's Monday. Instead of, say, making a commute to the Loop, stepping off the train, and saying with a laugh, "My goodness, this wind nearly knocked me sideways!" she spent Monday morning rowing from Kenosha to Racine, sea sick and road weary, all in the face of 20 mph winds.
Initially, the wind seemed like a friend, enhancing each stroke and allowing her to soar toward Racine. But as she approached the harbor the southwest winds were pushing her northeast, away from land. If she overshot the harbor, she was screwed: no way she could row back into the wind. And so she prepared for what she would later call "the hardest rowing strokes of my life."
For 30 minutes, she battled wind and waves, sun and flies, pride and fear. All this, and her only reward was finishing Day 4.
But she did, and when she finished Thursday's work she was in Milwaukee, her first week completed and eight more to go. And tonight, she'll open the door to the cabin, climb onto her mattress, buckle her seat belt, and go to sleep.
Jack M Silverstein is a RedEye special contributor. @ReadJack.
Follow Jenn's trip at row4row.org, or on Facebook at @row4row.