Rowers clear their minds and tone their bodies on Ruedi Reservoir
Informal group gets unique perspective when the water is flat and the people are few
It’s had already warmed up at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday when members of the Ruedi Rowers Boat Club met at the public dock at the reservoir. The six people hitting the water all had different sized and shaped sculls. There are no canoes, kayaks or stand up paddleboards on this day.
“We’ll take anything that’s human-powered,” said Steve Prudden, a founding member of the “rag-tag” group.
He has a large but sleek-looking expedition boat built for beach camping and coastal cruising.
“I built this boat as a retirement project,” he said. “Now that I’m retired, I’ve got some fun tickets I can cash in.”
That was six years ago. Since then, Prudden has become a regular at Ruedi Reservoir in the early mornings, when a light breeze blows off the Continental Divide from the east. On a typical day, the water goes flat after a couple of hours, then the wind shifts out of the west by late morning.
Rowing on Ruedi Reservoir is a great way to clear the mind and tone the body, Prudden said. He likened rowing to the efficiency of cross-country skiing or cycling, where you find a rhythm and cadence, and then feel like you can go forever.
“It’s zero impact,” Prudden said. “Great workout. It gets 80 percent of your muscle group.”
The Ruedi Rowers met simply by seeing one another out on the water when conditions are favorable in the early morning. The group includes Beth Madsen, who has a canvas craft she inherited from her late dad, longtime Aspen marketing executive and Pitkin County Commissioner George Madsen; Laura Hanssen, rowing an altered paddleboard; and Mark Kincheloe, who has a super sleek and slender racing scull.
Prudden and Jack Rafferty sometimes row together and other times simply give each other a nod and wave on their solo journeys.
Rafferty, well known in Snowmass Village as “the boot man” because of his skills in getting ski boots and other athletic footwear to fit correctly, got into rowing about 10 years ago.
“I’m a water person from birth,” he said.
He started sailing while growing up in Long Island and gravitated toward river guiding for raft companies when he moved to the Roaring Fork Valley decades ago. He said he always had it in the back of his mind that he would like to get into rowing. He cobbled together his first scull with a wood frame about 10 years ago.
“I used to come out here with a bag of wood screws and bailing wire just to make sure I could get back,” he said.
Seven or eight years ago he was gifted with the fiberglass hulls of a catamaran manufactured by the Hobie Cat Co. They were too beat up to rehab but he didn’t want them to end up in the landfill, so he got the idea of scull 2.0.
He tinkered with the geometry to get the fit right, getting advice from the other rowers who he met at the reservoir. He stripped off everything Hobie Cat puts on for sailing. He installed a 45-inch wide metal rowing frame that connects the two hulls and installed oarlocks, a slide seat and the platform called a stretcher where his feet are strapped in.
“It’s such a stable ride,” Rafferty said. (Even a novice rower and Aspen Times reporter found the craft stable.)
Rafferty was hooked once he got it on the water. He goes out three times a week, usually to Ruedi but also to places such as Rifle Gap. He has the vast surface of Ruedi Reservoir all to himself on one of those days and sees another Ruedi Rower or a paddle boarder on the other two days.
“You can absolutely get lost in the nature of it all,” Rafferty said. “The level of quiet is deafening.”
There’s a Zen feeling from getting in touch with your body and the boat, he said. He settles into a cadence where his body slides toward his feet, the oars slide under the surface at just the right time and then he extends, propelling the scull forward.
“You can go two hours and wonder if you’re getting a workout in,” Rafferty said.
The answer is yes. He typically goes 8 to 10 miles an outing. The pandemic of 2020 was particularly good for sculling.
“I put 450 miles behind the oars last summer,” he said. About 300 miles is more typical.
“If I spend two hours out here doing this, I’m surprised how much it kicks my ass,” he said.
It’s not all about the exercise. Rafferty is an accomplished amateur photographer and a nature lover. He hugs the shore while rowing and often stops pulling and just listens to the world around him. He knows where a bald eagle likes to hang out and he often sees a golden eagle that he said is “the size of a small child.” He sees osprey, blue herons and birds of all feathers. He’s even spotted moose occasionally hanging out on shore.
He’s had bald eagles and osprey dive for fish behind him in his scull’s small wake.
Rafferty’s goal is to share the experiences he loves with more people. He wants to investigate getting military veterans out on his stable sculls to help with their recovery.
He said it required about five summers of research and development to perfect his boat. He’s added a second to his fleet and plans to add more. Scull Cat is the brand name and Surface Tension is the model. He wants to eventually market and sell them.
He thinks rowing can work wonders for people trying to forget their worldly worries.
“You have to bring a clear head if the oars are going to do what you want them to do,” Rafferty said.
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