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!