Seventy48 photos and a Grit City Magazine collaboration: Parting shots from the inaugural precursor to the Race to Alaska.
Hanging out at the 2018 Seventy48 was a great experience for a lot of reasons, but as is so frequently the case, the best part about being involved in these adventures is the people you meet and the connections you make. And a couple of great new connections we made coming out of this one were with Natalia Cohen and Grit City Magazine.
Natalia was on hand at the event as a keynote speaker at the pre-race, because she's done some epic stuff in life. Most notably for Seventy48 purposes, she was a member of the first 4 person row boat to cross the Pacific between San Francisco and Australia. It was an all-woman team who spent 9 months paddling the 8000 miles, and there's an excellent film about it called Losing Sight of Shore. It's on Netflix at time of writing, and you should definitely check it out.
But in unrelated business, Natalia is also an amazing photographer, and put together a collection that perfectly encapsulates the personality of the event. Our own pictures mostly consist of off-center selfies and grainy photos of cute dogs we saw on the street, so we're super happy that Natalia agreed to let us use some of hers to share a bit of the event experience with all of you.
Grit City is a local Tacoma publication that fits right in with what we're about. They say they were founded on the notion that "Tacoma has good stories to tell", and they publish articles about people and places that make the city great, in all of its gritty, scrappy, bad reputation, underdog glory. They're sort of an online, local, civic version of us, so we were stoked when they agreed to let us put together a recap of Seventy48, telling the event's story for their audience. They combined our text with some photos from race participants and Over Tacoma to create a great little picture of what the event was all about, if I do say so myself.
So, for a final entry on the inaugural Seventy48 here, I wanted to highlight both of those collaborations because they wrap up the story nicely.
Our Story in Grit City Mag
Click here for the whole story, titled "Gritty, Ridiculous and Inspiring: Get to know Tacoma's Seventy48 race". Here's a little sample:
Seventy48 is a throwback to a type of ridiculous, hardscrabble, and mildly lawless adventure race that enjoyed a brief peak of popularity in the early 1900s. Different sport, but its best-known local spiritual analogue might actually be the Mount Baker Marathon, a race from Bellingham Bay to the top of Mount Baker that was held for a couple of years between 1911 - 13, and was recently revived. Even Seventy48’s identity as a partnership between Tacoma and Port Townsend recalls the late 19th Century boom period on Puget Sound, when Tacoma designated itself the “City of Destiny”, and Port Townsend the “City of Dreams”, due to shared expectations of future growth, riches and (one assumes) major sporting events.
Seventy48 Photo Wrap Up
Pics by Natalia Cohen. Except for the portrait of her, which is by Troy Nebeker. Natalia is on Instagram @natalianomad. Troy also has a bunch of amazing photos at @monsterandsea.
They give free tattoos to participants in the Race to Alaska, but you have to pay if you're Seventy48. Dave McCallum from Nanaimo was clearly fully committed to the cause. He took like a 10 mile detour around Bainbridge Island and isn't even a paddler, but still managed to finish via SUP in good time.
We've been hanging around so many cool people at the finish of the 2018 Seventy48. If you've ever been to any sort of ultra-endurance event, it'll come as no surprise that finishers are a unique combination of destroyed, elated, inspired, and ready for a beer. This distance and type of event - where racers go overnight, in many cases twice - is a rare thing in the paddling community, and the sense of adventure and accomplishment among participants is palpable.
We're approaching the end of the experience - cutoffs are at 5:30 pm - and we're overwhelmed by the stories to be told here. We've interviewed dozens of participants, absorbed the background and spirit of the event over dinner with Dean Burke, the organizer who represents the beating heart behind this thing. We've gotten a ton of before and after reports from racers who started out optimistic and finished changed people, and we'll be sorting through for quite awhile trying to communicate with you what this event was all about.
I'm not just saying this - I really think this is an iconic event in the making, because a million components capture the imagination, and it's been so fun to be on hand for year one.
The scrappy, DIY spirit of Race to Alaska is alive and well here, but with pre-race presentations by internationally important paddlers, and the kickoff in downtown Tacoma just as the business day was ending, the Seventy48 has it's own unique sense of civic importance in a historically water-dependent city whose identity is reflected in the event - hardcore, unexpectedly cool, and on the rise. Even at a first year event, crowds were gathered along the Tacoma waterfront for miles cheering participants, who were visible for the first several hours of the race from various accessible vantage points. It's easy to envision this becoming a big annual gathering for Tacoma at the start of Summer - an everyman's Boston Marathon in a city that's historically been an everyman's kind of place.
And as a trailrunner who's been on hand as ultra running developed from the pursuit of a bunch of eccentrics into a money sport where hundreds of races sell out every weekend across the country, the atmosphere felt familiar - like it's on the front end of something bigger. Endurance paddling - and particularly events that require racers to be self-sufficient and travel overnight - is less of a thing than endurance running at this point, but finishers were coming in elated after a genuine adventure, and spectators were making plans to participate next year.
The Seventy48 is a real adventure that's "digestible" in the words of one of the race photographers. The parent event is romantic, and the idea of spending three weeks racing to Alaska is captivating, so it's no surprise the the R2AK has quickly established itself as iconic. But the Seventy48 is an approachable way to participate in that spirit, and a real challenge that you can imagine tackling without quitting your job or dropping tens of thousands of dollars into the cause. At the same time, the connection with the longer race is intuitive, and it turns the whole week between Seventy48 kickoff in downtown Tacoma and the starting line of the R2AK in Port Townsend into a rolling party for participants and spectators alike.
It's been awesome to be on hand for the experience. Watch this space for more audio, stories, and more, as we do our best to do this event justice, and maybe convince you to throw your hat in the ring for this epic race up the Salish Sea!
If you see some poignant, heartfelt audio laying around, please return it to us, because we lost it somewhere between the Seventy48 finish line and here.
Man, that sucks, because we just ran into Dean Burke, and he had so much amazing stuff to say.
If you don't know Dean, he's a huge part of the heart and energy behind this thing. After finishing paddling the Strait of Juan de Fuca last year during R2AK, becoming one of the first human beings to do that on a SUP, he floated the idea to organizers for a human powered pre-race between his beloved hometown and Port Townsend, and after a herculean organizing effort, here 117 teams of you are a year later.
Dean was (almost unbelievably) racing in this event after also organizing it, but had to pull after 50 miles on his paddle board at Point no Point due to a shoulder injury. I can tell you though that he's feeling good about the experience. The massive community support and response has clearly been incredibly moving for both Dean and his wife Heidi, because they were both tearing up talking about it.
Don't worry - we'll track him down again for some audio commentary, but in the meantime, if you see this guy wandering around, watch the injured right shoulder, but give him a hug and tell him he's amazing, because this thing he helped dream up has the makings of an iconic event in this crazy community of water people. And paddling a SUP 50 miles over night isn't a bad effort after coordinating an event of this magnitude.
We just arrived in Port Townsend at the finish line of Seventy48, spoke with one of the race organizers and the second place finishers, and found a coffee shop with wifi, where we'll be posting up for the next few days to let you in on the action!
I'm someone who's never paddled more than 20 miles (with current) in a day, and who's secretly terrified every time I go out on salt water that something giant is going spring up and swallow me Moby Dick style. I'm not sure if that makes it more or less likely that I'm so stoked to be on hand for the inaugural Seventy48 and experiencing the kickoff and start of its older sibling, the Race to Alaska (R2AK) on Thursday.
If you're never heard of Seventy48, don't feel bad. Pretty much everyone is uninitiated to the event, because this is the first year, and it's being born in real time as I write. Not even the organizers are quite sure what it is yet. So our goal is to capture its spirit and share it with this corner of the outdoor community.
We ended up here because the event has been driven, in large part, by our friend Dean Burke, who's a big fish in the small pond that is the SUP boarding community and has been one of the biggest supporters of this Boldly Went project. After Dean became one of the first humans to cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca last year on the first leg of the Race to Alaska (a story he told for maybe the first time publicly at one of our Tacoma events), he and some of the R2AK organizers conspired to create a fully human powered event with a lower barrier to entry, but the same spirit, and that became the Seventy48.
The R2AK is only on year four, but it has already developed a cult following and iconic status because it's a brilliant, simple idea: leave Port Townsend, WA in the upper lefthand corner of the Continental US and race via water to Ketchikan, in the lower righthand corner of Alaska. The sticky hitch is that you can't use an engine to get there. Any combination of paddles, peddles or sails are cool, but if your boat has a motor, it has to be physically torn out to participate.
It's $750 to enter, and there's a $10,000 prize purse for the winners, a set of steak knives for 2nd place, and nothing but glory and honor for the rest of the field. Anyone who can argue convincingly to race organizers that they won't get themselves killed or arrested can enter, so participants range from scrappy amateurs in boats they built themselves to pros in state of the art racing craft gunning for the prize.
The Seventy48 is a similarly simple idea: Race 70 nautical miles from the Foss Waterway in Downtown Tacoma to Port Townsend in 48 hours, just in time for the start of R2AK so you can keep going to Ketchikan if you want. In this case, no sails are allowed, so you have to get there by human power. Otherwise, you can ride a kickboard if you want. The prize amount was less determinate because it was based on number of entrants, but in its first year it upstaged its big brother and pulled together $12,000 for the winners.
First Impressions from the Finish.
I'm writing from the finish line, but we were also on-hand for the pre-race ruckus - boat safety checks, drinking, lectures, and the Skipper's meeting - and my initial outsider impression is that this things's got the potential to be iconic. Dean told us that they were hoping to get 30 teams in the first year, but they blew it because 117 showed up at the starting line. The Skipper's meeting was overflowing and participants were stoked.
Seeing the teams checking in was awesome and hilarious, because boats ranged from fiberglass speed racers to a dented aluminum canoe and a "kayak" that a guy built out of trash that washed up on the beach. There was a guy planning to prone board (you know that thing that surfers do where they lay on their board and paddle with their hands out into the waves? That's prone boarding.), and a large representation of SUP racers.
As with the R2AK, entrants had to apply and demonstrate to organizers that they weren't likely to get themselves killed or arrested, so the atmosphere wasn't like some novelty regatta. The crowd felt more like serious water people and adventurers who were keen to take on a creative challenge. The trash boat guy, for instance, is a seasoned paddler named Ken Campbell, who we've featured here before and is raising awareness about the impact of plastics in waterways, and the proneboarder is Troy Nebeker, the founder of The 24 - a growing event in the paddling community that raises funds for families dealing with cancer. These people are jokers, but they're badass jokers.
We've been interviewing participants (we already have so much fun audio!), and we'll be posting in different places, and tracking the stories of a couple of different participants to share the in race experience in coming weeks.
But for a bit of a taste of who the people in this race are, at the pre-race briefing racers shouted out reasons for participating in this race, including "there is nothing on TV", "To get away from my toddlers", "Because it's there", and "For fortune and glory". The race director said he thinks people are there because there's a small part of our heart that is looking for a calling, and that's what this kind of event is about.
One of our favorite teams is called 8 Oars, and is a group of 55 - 74 year old women paddling a five person rowboat. We also met the Stick Boys - a couple of Canadian brothers who live on opposite sides of the country and are coming back together for the race - and team Performance Anxiety who broke their paddle two hours before the race. And we are tracking our friends Dean, Troy, and Ken as they attempt to make their way to Port Townsend.
Based on our experience so far, the spirit of this thing manages to thread the needle between big, professionally run events and local DIY passion projects.
Social media and the website are slick and impressive, there is at least one former Olympian racing, and pre-race events featured presentations by two world record holders. Karl Kruger paddleboarded the 750 mile R2AK last year and Natalia Cohen who was a member of the first 4 person boat to row the Pacific. (Side note: that story that was told in the film Losing Sight of Shore (it's on Netflix at time of writing!)).
But the event was also pulled together by a scrappy group of organizers who are injecting the spirit of their local community into the event. There was a lot of gritty, cool, surprising Tacoma in this, with pre-race events at the Museum of Glass and local brewery Harmon partnering with the event for a signature beer. And seemingly half of the small community of Port Townsend was there for the start. Racers have to be self-sufficient - there is no support along the way, and the main rules listed were don't suck, be honorable, and stay out of the shipping lanes, and you get disqualified if you make the organizers think about getting legal advice.
The race is on as we speak: it started on Monday, June 11, 2018 at 530 PM, and it will finish on Wednesday, June 13 at 530 PM, so stay tuned. Winners are already in, and we're stoked to be at the finish line for the next two days. Wish you were here, but we'll do our best to fill you in on the good times!
If all of this paddling talk has you yearning for the sea, check out this playlist of podcast episodes featuring water people: paddlers, sailors, swimmers, and more. And don't forget to check out our Field Notes home page for the event here!