Well, that went by quickly.
Three weeks ago we stepped on to a big blue and white sailboat, ducked into the cabin, started furiously typing, downing coffee and recording amidst the churn of the ocean, and when we popped out the Race to Alaska was over. If you're reading this as soon as we publish it, we'll be 10 podcast episodes in, and the Race to Alaska will be done save for one final straggler (Go Team Wee Free Men!) that will be finishing at some point very soon. Once again, the Grim Sweeper will have caught no one. Or, rather, everyone who the sweep boat would have caught will have quit before they caught up with them.
It might seem counter-intuitive, but we'll still be releasing 4 more podcast episodes in rapid succession this week through The Daily Fix, at least one R2AK-focused episode through the Boldly Went stream sometime later this month, some more killer outtakes on Patreon, and for a kicker probably eventually a Seventy48 Boldly Went episode as well. The race will be over soon, but we have so much audio and podcasts are forever. The stories keep coming. We'll never escape it.
This thing was a real pilgrimage for us. We didn't know much about sailing, or about the R2AK organization, before we dove in to this immersion experience. We still don't know much about sailing, but we've been repeatedly doused by R2AK, and I can tell you that it's all whales and dolphins and massive wilderness and good people in silly boats and remarkable athletes with good senses of humor. So good!
Most of my previous impressions about boating culture were formed when I was a child, and I watched One Crazy Summer a bunch of times on Fox, when they were best known as the network that showed Savage Steve Holland movies on Saturday afternoons, and before they spawned the news channel that's ushering in the end of Western society. Based on that experience, I'd always assumed boat racing was for bad guys and their feather-haired girlfriends.
So, it was really great to be immersed in this small bit of dirtbag boating subculture for a few weeks. While I assume there were a few bad guys with feather haired girlfriends in the race, these people were mostly on borrowed or working class boats, or creatives who built or modified their own. Even the fast racers embraced the indignity of attaching specially engineered Cannondales with propellers on the back of their $250,000 boats since they can't use motors. There's no way to end up in the R2AK if you don't know how to have a good time.
Are sailors athletes? Hell yeah, these people were. I'm not sure what category to put them in, but this race required a weird combo of the abilities to row for hours at a time, go for days without sleep, stave off hypothermia, engineer fixes for expensive machinery from crap you find in the couch (boats have couches!), read the winds and the tides, poop in buckets, crank lines, and point cloths in the right direction so you move forward rather than backwards. I don't know exactly what category of athletes you'd put them in, but their skill set was similar to the Warboys from that last Mad Max movie.
Because this has been our sample size, I'm pretty sure my views about boating culture aren't any less skewed now than they were beforehand, but I do think we learned a few things. We were on a big, complicated boat, so it wasn't the easiest place to learn to sail, but we did get a primer on some of the basics and learned some helpful terms like cock-a-bill, spreader, broach, monohull and multihull. I still don't really understand most of those words, but I do know what port and starboard mean, and I know that stern is the part of the boat that you vomit and urinate off of. I could tell you basically why people use a spinnaker, and what it means to reach and steam. I'm indoctrinated now because I think 20 mph is pretty fast. Also, I've already been made fun of for pronouncing "Portage" according to Canadian conventions rather than American. Can’t win but that's nothing new.
I understand now why this race gets in people’s blood. The course itself is incredible. It's real wilderness: big, absorbing, water and mountains that seem to go on forever and probably want to kill you. There are whales and grizzlies and dolphins and sea wolves. The landscape hearkens back to a time where bigger animals than people dominated things.
And the race itself doesn't feel like any other race I've been to. Well, maybe a little bit like a Fatass ultramarathon or something, that lasts for a month. The thing that helped me understand the race’s culture the most was talking to Jake Beattie, one of the race founders, about it. He said that what they’re doing is influenced by the organizers' history as Outward Bound instructors, where the goal is facilitating life-changing, transformative experiences in nature more than putting together competitive races. Jake and Daniel Evans are the heart of the race, and both of them are themselves all heart. When I realized that, the race made sense. These people are trying earnestly to change lives.
And I do think it's working. Racers are so fiercely supportive of one another by the end, even when they're competitive. It's a ridiculous challenge to complete this thing, and it seems like people end up in at least once a day in survival mode. In that space, people tend to see past their differences and work together. And at the finish line the sense of having conquered a shared struggle together was palpable.
It's really an amazing thing we've been able to be a part of these last few weeks. We have a few more episodes coming your way, so I hope you'll listen. For now, I'm really happy to have been able to participate in this, and get the full Camp R2AK immersion experience. It all went by too quickly.
Also, hey, seriously, let's hang out sometime. We go all over the Western US and Canada hosting Boldly Went Storytelling events where you all can share your stories. Our next tour will be in the Fall, so fill out that form up in the right hand corner of this page to get our weekly podcast in your inbox every week. It's great and free. Also, if you like the R2AK, you're totally the target audience for our book, The Dirtbag's Guide to Life. It's funny and useful and inspiring and ridiculous and dirtbaggy.
Hello from Hartley Bay, BC, one of a series of ridiculously beautiful tiny communities along the coast that we've visited in order to poach data to do things like write blog posts!
The winners of the Race to Alaska are in, and have been for days now! Congrats to our friends on Team Angry Beaver, whose name demonstrates unequivocally that this race is not any other race. We talked to those guys at the beginning of the race a couple of times, and they were confident they would pull it out and be the first to get to the $10,000 that is literally nailed to a tree in Ketchikan. They did. We spoke to them on the first episode of the R2AK podcast, and we have lots more audio from them coming out in coming episodes!
If you're thinking to yourself, "Hey, someone won. The race must be over," then you don't understand the Race to Alaska. Sure, for the front runners this event is about the competition and aiming for the money, but for the vast majority of the field, this is about the journey. Racers have until the end of June to finish this thing, and some of them may well take that long. For them this is going to be a pilgrimage, and for us it's a lot of great stories. There are still folks out there in a Hawaiian outrigger (our friends Chris and Marty Fagan, who some of you reading probably know!), a tiny 16 foot Swampscott Dory, an absolutely beautiful heavy wooden boat built in 1903, a dad and son who affixed a paddlewheel to the back of a "Controversial Sailboat," a folksy old man in a tiny sailboat that the designer named after him, and a burley couple in a rowboat who are making remarkably consistent progress. In my opinion, as UltraPedestrian Ras says, business may be up front, but the party is in the back.
If you've been following the podcast, and have been operating under the assumption that the race is over, you might be wondering why we only have three out of fourteen episodes out, and whether we've been fired. Well, "you can't fire us, we quit!"... is what we'd say if they tried. But they haven't. They've smartly backloaded our podcast content so that you all will have something to listen to while you're watching the small boats meander their way north. Our content stream is just beginning, and starting tomorrow, June 13th, we'll be delivering a rapid fire stream of what we think will be a binge-worthy series of episodes highlighting various interesting aspects of the race, from unique challenges posed, to unique boats involved, to unique things that happened in the 2019 race. We've been busy squirreling away interviews and embarrassing facts about racers to build you 11 more stories about what this race is all about, and our whole team is working furiously to get them out to you!
So, the race is over, it's true, but stay tuned because the race is just beginning!
PS - if anyone is wondering, this race is a freaking amazing experience. It's a genuine epic adventure wrapped in a comedy show wrapped in a David Attenborough special. So good!
Hello from the deck of a ship in the Georgia Strait! It's sunny here! So far making podcasts for the R2AK is the best summer ever. We have to sleep in tiny bunks and the "head" is complicated, but the views are great and the other campers are really fun, even if they are starting to smell.
It's Day 3 of the race and so far we've learned how to say we're screwed in sailor talk at least two different ways, challenged some eco-pirates to a game of beach volleyball, and watched a bunch of sailors lead spin classes on the back of their boats for hours at a time.
We're not even a quarter of the way in and everyone already seems to be breaking their fancy boats, but somehow there's an Australian guy who is doing fine on a stock plastic Hobie Adventure island that looks like he bought it at Target. A couple of young guys who bought their boat on Craigslist told us they already put a hole in it, and broke the weird bike that they use to pedal when there's no wind. They're not giving up though!
Someone said they saw some porpoises, but I want to see a whale. There's water everywhere here but I'm definitely not going swimming. I brought my swim suit but I'm afraid of 50 degree water.
Race to Alaska is so much fun! I'm so glad this is how we decided to spend our summer. I hope you're having a good summer too! Tell my mom hi.
Welp, gotta go! The captain says my sandwich is ready and Angel says that I have to get back to writing podcasts.
PS - that picture is of our friends Danny, Chris and Marty. Marty's sleeping while they paddle! He's so funny!