It was the middle of a sweltering hot day in Utah when Steven Freygang, then the Experienced Junior Boys Coach, noticed smoke in the mirror of the passenger side of the trailer. He and Dennis Ferrer were in the midst of driving the Sammamish Rowing Association (SRA) trailer back from Junior Nationals hosted in Florida. SRA had an incredible presence at the regatta. All three boats(Varsity 8, Ltwt. 8, Ltwt. 4) had made the finals and Freygang noted their varsity crew was “off the charts good.”
It was an exciting time for Ferrer and Freygang, but that elation was also met with disappointment. During the varsity 8+’s grand final, their cox box failed in the first 500 meters. The crew responded by surging ahead, but soon ran out of gas as their race strategy was lost. They still had an impressive finish, and ended up being the fifth fastest junior men’s varsity 8+ in the country, but they were disappointed when thinking about what could have been if the cox box had not failed.
In a hurry to get the trailer back to Sammamish Rowing Association (SRA) in time for Masters Regionals, Ferrer and Freygang missed the opportunity to fully debrief with their athletes after nationals. As they drove towards home with a trailer loaded full of SRA and other Pacific North West team boats, they definitely felt a little low. Then came the smoke from the back of the trailer.
Freygang jumped out of the truck and hurried to the back of the trailer. The rear axle was on fire. Grabbing their only water bottle from the truck, he dumped it on the axle to put out the fire. “We stood there and didn’t know what to do,” Freygang said. On the side of the road in the middle of nowhere in blazing heat with no one around, they had no idea what to do next.
Their only idea was to call AAA. A representative from AAA came out, took one look at the 20,000 pound trailer and truck, and confirmed their fears that he really couldn’t help. The AAA man stayed with them though as they desperately called local coaches and teams in hopes that someone could help move their boats onto another trailer while they figured out what to do. No one was responding.
The AAA employee ended up helping them lift the axel just barely enough with a steel bar, assuring Fregygang and Ferrer that some trailers could be driven on just one axle for a short time. He drove behind the trailer as Freygang and Ferrer drove under ten miles per hour to the closest semi-truck repair shop. They made it and pleaded with the repair shop workers to let them store the trailer there overnight. They agreed to help, and Freygang and Ferrer left the trailer behind as they drove off in the truck in search of a place to stay. Every hotel and available room seemed to be booked except for one honeymoon suite at a local bed and breakfast. They accepted the room which also came with champagne and breakfast in bed.
Eventually the two drove home in the truck, leaving the trailer behind in Utah. It wasn’t until a month later that a special ordered part arrived at the semi-truck repair shop, and was used to repair the trailer. Simon Williams drove down to Utah with his wife, picked up the trailer, and SRA’s worst trailer experience was now in the past.
Not all trailer driving experiences are this dramatic and full of despair, as Freygang recalled. However, driving a 20,000 pound fully loaded trailer is no easy task. While it doesn’t require a specific license to haul in most states, SRA still requires its coaches to do some training. Matt Lundberg, a seasoned coach and trailer driver at SRA, said, “To be able to drive the trailer you don’t need any sort of professional license. Like with an RV- it’s scary to know not always the most qualified people are driving it. At SRA you go through training that entails being a co-pilot some number of times. After that, when a pilot gives you the go-ahead you are good to drive.”
Lundberg has driven the trailer for nearly a decade. He says that a good amount of nerves is always a good thing for trailer drivers to have. It keeps them alert whereas a confident trailer driver may not notice when something is wrong.
So what does trailer driving entail? A lot of stops for gas and coffee. Lundberg said, “if your co-pilot drinks coffee you stop for coffee.” While logging a lot of hours on the road isn’t always the most exciting task to take on, Lundberg still enjoys many parts of hauling the trailer. “Going from forests in Washington to mountain to plains and everything else in the other states is really neat. I enjoy seeing the different landscapes. Montana is very diverse going from evergreen forests and mountains to badlands type landscapes.”
Time is passed with plenty of music, podcasts, and conversations with you copilot(s). Some of Lundberg’s favorite moments are when they stop for gas, because people always come up and ask about the trailer and boats. He enjoys explaining where he is going and educating people about racing shells. He even once met people from Sammamish, Washington when he was halfway across the country!
So far Lundberg has had great success with driving the trailer, and has experienced practically no emergencies. He did however, drive a trailer through a hurricane in Florida, and happened to have the bow of a boat crash through the rear window of the vehicle he was driving at the time.
Lundberg wanted all rowers to remember one thing about driving the trailer - boats need to be strapped down tight! “Highway speed is same as hurricane speeds. Strap down boats tightly please!” He said.
Over the years Lundberg has had many co-pilots, but he did disclose who his favorite co-pilot of all time was. His wife has been able to accompany him over the years on trailer drives so she was his obvious pick for his favorite co-pilot. When they drive the trailer to San Diego they make a road trip out of it and try to stop at fun spots and overlooks during the journey.
Driving the trailer takes a lot of hard work, hours, and thoroughness to ensure successful arrivals and departures. It’s an essential job to ensure we can provide national racing experiences to our members at Sammamish Rowing Association. Even though trailer driving is hard labor - it’s a labor of love. The next time you see the trailer loaded up and ready to go, be sure to give the straps an extra look, and slip a gift-card for coffee into the driver’s seat if you have the chance (or in Lundberg’s case, a PB&J sandwich).