One night, Joe was fishing near the Dungeness River, when a game warden hit him over the head with a piece of driftwood. Joe’s old friend, Harry Secor, chased after the warden, but the warden got away. The “jig was up”—Joe and his partner would never again break the law by fishing for salmon.
Throughout his time as a rower at Washington, Joe continued to want for food and money, reflecting the economic challenges the entire country was experiencing at the time.
Joe spent the summer of 1934 living in Sequim, trying to raise enough money to support himself for another year. He cut hay and dug ditches, often working alongside Charlie McDonald, his neighbor. McDonald taught Joe how to split logs; he also taught him about the subtleties of wood grain. Joe found that he enjoyed working with wood, especially the “sensuous nature of the work.” He found a connection between rowing and wood-splitting—“something about the delicate application of strength.”
Joe works hard to support himself and ensure that he’ll be able to continue on at the University of Washington. The passage further suggests that Joe is a sensitive, thoughtful young man, in addition to being a superb rower. The combination of delicacy and strength is critical in rowing—a good rower like Joe knows how to combine power with impeccable technique.
When Joe and his classmates returned for training in the fall, they were excited about their prospects. Newspapers suggested that Joe and the other freshmen were talented enough to qualify for the Olympics in 1936, and although coaches tried to prevent the team from reading such reports, Joe and his friends had heard about them. Al Ulbrickson was so excited about his team that he considered making them varsity immediately. However, Ulbrickson also realized that his team was “green”—talented but relatively new to the subtleties of the sport. He was also concerned that some of the rowers, especially Joe, didn’t have the concentration for competitive rowing. He decided to train his sophomores by “knocking them down a peg”—disguising his excitement about their abilities.
Ulbrickson wanted to make his sophomores varsity as soon as possible, but he realized that if he did so, he’d run the risk of making them cocky and headstrong. Instead, Ulbrickson decided to treat his sophomores more disdainfully. In doing so, Ulbrickson implicitly trained them to row under even the most adverse circumstances—without his support, the team learned to focus on their races, not the “hype.”
In the fall, Joe and his sophomore teammates rowed fifth boat, the lowest rung on the ladder. They were confused, and Joe in particular struggled to remain optimistic. He had even less money than he’d had last year, and he could no longer afford to go on as many dates with Joyce. Joyce continued to wear her diamond ring, but Joe wasn’t sure he could “live up to its implications.” Around the same time, Joe found out from Fred that Harry, Thula, and his half siblings were living in Seattle. Harry had moved his family to a home near the waterfront; later, as his marriage to Thula grew increasingly unhappy, he’d found work as a mechanic at a bakery.
Joe had plenty of experience with surviving under adverse conditions, but he was also surprisingly fragile and vulnerable. Therefore, Ulbrickson’s calculated disdain made him more insecure, at least at first. Another reason for Joe’s poor performance during this time was the instability in his personal life—Harry was back, and Joe didn’t know how to behave around his father, or if he should reach out to his father at all.
In the fall of 1934, Joe tried to reunite with Harry, Thula, and his half siblings. When he and Joyce went to Harry’s house, Thula answered the door and refused to let them inside. She told Joe that Harry wasn’t home, and that he shouldn’t come to visit again. Then she shut the door in his face. Joyce was heartbroken; she asked Joe why he wasn’t angrier about Thula’s cruelty. Joe replied, “It takes energy to get angry … I have to stay focused.”
This is one of the most heartrending scenes in the book: Thula is a selfish, close-minded woman who seems not to recognize how hurtful she’s being toward her stepson. But although Thula is the more overtly “villainous” of the two, Harry is perhaps worse; he allows his wife to convince him to abandon his own child, time and time again.
That fall, Joe threw himself into rowing. He idolized George Pocock, a man who, despite having little in the way of a formal education, had educated himself in virtually every subject. Pocock treated boatmaking as an art form. One of his most important contributions to the art was to replace Spanish cedar, the typical material for boats, with American cedar, readily available in Vancouver. Pocock used American cedar to build smoother, more aerodynamic boats. In October, Ky Ebright wrote Pocock to order new shells for Cal; in his letter, he accused Pocock of sending him poor shells to sabotage his program. Nevertheless, Ebright ordered more shells from Pocock, and Pocock sent them down to California.
Joe and Pocock came from similar backgrounds—they used their talent and initiative to climb the ladder of success. The rivalry between Cal and Washington persisted, but the rivalry arguably made West Coast rowing stronger overall, just as it had in the past. Cal received better rowing shells, and its rowing program seems to have improved considerably.
In the middle of October, a storm hit Seattle. As a result, Ulbrickson had no choice but to keep his team from training on the water—the storm was so intense that it could have destroyed the shells. Around the same time, Leni Riefenstahl was working on her new film, Triumph of the Will. Joseph Goebbels continued to envy Riefenstahl’s friendship with Hitler, and Riefenstahl later claimed that he tried to sabotage her. Nevertheless, Triumph of the Will became a success in Germany when it was released in 1934; it’s still remembered as one of the most effective propaganda films ever made. Hitler was so pleased with the film that he commissioned another from Riefenstahl for 1936.
Triumph of the Will is considered one of the most controversial works of Western cinema: Riefenstahl’s cinematic prowess is unquestionable, but the fact that she would put her talents to work for a vile dictator like Adolf Hitler is despicable. Riefenstahl glorified not only Hitler and his government, but also the Fascist ideals that Hitler preached—in particular, the superiority of “Aryans” to all other races, a belief that would later motivate Hitler to order the murder of millions.
As 1934 came to an end, Joe headed back to Seattle to spend the holidays with Joyce and her family. Around this time, he read an article about how students at the University of Washington were badly in debt for their tuition, even while many other students had relatives who could pay their tuition easily. After reading the article, Joe felt a mixture of anxiety, self-doubt, and envy for his wealthy classmates.
Joe is a complicated character: on one hand, his insecurities about his background and income motivate him to succeed, but on the other, his insecurities often hold him back from greatness.