Man Rows to Work, Leaving Car Behind

The Associated Press
Monday, July 30, 2007; 3:11 AM

BLADENSBURG, Md. -- As early-morning traffic outside Washington builds to a rush-hour roar, Gabriel Horchler walks to a riverbank with his oars, pausing to admire a heron on the opposite shore. He removes his shoes, steps into his boat and takes off _ slicing through smooth-as-glass water.

So begins his morning commute.

Horchler used to be among the frustrated souls on the frequently backed-up Anacostia Freeway, navigating his motorcycle through stop-and-go traffic and clouds of car exhaust.

But one day the Anacostia River _ congestion-free and running parallel to the road _ grabbed his imagination. Would it be possible to get to his job in Washington on the water, he wondered? Could the daily grind of commuting be transformed into something enjoyable and healthy?

It's been more than seven years since Horchler, a trim 63-year-old, began rowing to work. He rides one bicycle from his home in Cheverly to a boathouse where he keeps his 21-foot-long fiberglass rowing shell. He rows 6 1/2 miles, then rides another bicycle from the river to his job at the Library of Congress. The whole trip takes about an hour-and-a-half.

Horchler describes his commute as few people do: "the highlight of my day."

The routine is only possible thanks to a flexible work schedule. The Library of Congress allows employees to arrive between 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. _ a policy intended in part to help workers cope with the area's notorious traffic.

At times of the year with less daylight, Horchler can wait until sunrise to set out. If there's a strong head wind, he can take more time.

He arrives for his job as head of the library's law cataloguing team in shorts and a T-shirt. Then he rinses off in the library's employee shower and changes into work clothes he keeps in his office.

Horchler rows one-way each work day, weather permitting, from March until November. One day he rows to work and takes the Metro home; the next day he takes the subway in and rows home.

He prefers the morning trip.

"You arrive in a good frame of mind," he says. "Then the rest of the day you can sort of handle whatever comes along because you've already accomplished something."

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