Man Avoids Traffic Jams for 15 Years by Rowing to Work

In a bid to avoid traffic jams, a librarian from Bladensburg, Maryland, has come up with a really unique way of commuting to work – he’s been rowing his way to work in downtown Washington for the past 15 years.

71-year-old Gabriel Horchler says he looks forward to rowing his 21-foot Vespoli fiberglass racing shell to work in the morning just as much as he did when he first started in the year 1997. He got the idea when he was stuck on his motorcycle in the middle of heavy traffic, and he turned his eyes to the Anacostia River that runs parallel to the freeway. That’s when it hit him – why not use the river instead?

So he did just that, and now, 15 years later, his routine is pretty much set in stone. The river doesn’t exactly flow right outside his home, so he has to first take a 15-minute bike ride to reach his rowing shell at the Bladensburg Waterfront Park. He then rows about five miles downriver. In the last leg of the journey, he gets off the boat and onto another bike before arriving at the Library of Congress in Washington. The entire trip takes him 90 minutes from start to finish. He takes the metro back home from work, and the next day, the routine is reversed – he takes the metro to work and rows back home.


Photo: Anacostia Community Museum

“I think a lot of people can’t quite comprehend it,” he told Whitney Pipkin of Bay Journal. “But this is the ideal arrangement, because it’s such a straight shot. It’s perfect.”

Horchler’s unique commute has plenty of perks – fresh air, exercise, and most importantly, the absence of other commuters. “It’s wonderful. It’s almost sedative,” he said, speaking to The Washington Post. “You get into sort of a rhythm, and it’s very, very soothing. I’m not the victim of Metro breakdowns or traffic jams. I’m… I’m the master of the river.”


Photo: Napalon Productions video screen grab/Vimeo

“There’s a section between New York Avenue and Benning Road where you go by the Aquatic Gardens on your left and the Arboretum on your right,” he added. “You would not believe that you’re in D.C. You don’t see any buildings, you don’t hear anything. It’s really, really, exceptionally rustic looking.”

“It’s easy to zone out, with the rhythmic moving of the oars and the tranquil surroundings,” he said, in a short YouTube video that documents his commute. “The river is full of contrasts. Even the name Anacostia evokes contradictory feelings. I associate the name with the mystery and the lure of the waterway.”


Photo: Napalon Productions video screen grab/Vimeo

Naturally, years of rowing have made Horchler extremely fit for his age. Although he looks the part of a librarian – small build, grey hair, and wire-rimmed glasses – he’s actually quite something else under his shirt. “The guy is ripped; he’s freaking ripped,” said James Foster, president of the Anacostia Watershed Society. “The guy makes Arnold Schwarzenegger look wimpy.”

But Horchler is modest: “I don’t feel that I’m superior to these people in the traffic jam,” he said. “But I definitely appreciate the quiet and the water and the sounds of the oars in the water. It changes every day. You see a different wildlife. The quality of the water, sometimes it’s filthy, sometimes it’s amazingly clean. And then, with the seasons, the vegetation changes. It’s wonderful.”


Photo: WUSA9 video screen grab

Fifteen years of rowing has given Horchler plenty of time to become an expert of sorts on the local wildlife. “The variety of wildlife is astonishing,” he said. “The herons are my favorites. The big blues rule the river. Perched on a floating log or overhanging branch, these prehistoric looking creatures focus laser-like on catching fish. Occasionally I come too close and they squawk angrily and fly off. The white herons appear later in the season, and are more sociable than the blues.”

Of course, his commute over water hasn’t been entirely incident-free. He’s gotten completely drenched in unexpected showers, midway through the journey. The wind has changed direction without notice, interfering with his navigation. His boat has flipped over on three different occasions, and he once ran into a concrete barrier on the Benning Road bridge. And pollution in the river has presented its own set of challenges.


One time, he was caught in a heavy downpour when a tidal wave of trash came bounding towards him. “I was almost turned over by this stream of muddy water and trash,” he recalled. And there were times when he would spot something unpleasant, like a dead dog or turtle, that would ruin his entire day. But Horchler said that efforts to clean up the Anacostia have made things better lately. “The aesthetics of being on the river – that’s becoming more and more pleasing,” he said.

Sadly, Horchler won’t be continuing his epic commute much longer – he’s retiring from his job as head of the law cataloguing section at the library towards the end of this month. But he has no plans to stop rowing. “I hope to go even more,” he said. “Just not to work.”

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