“It’s like the Iditarod on a boat with a chance of drowning, being run down by a freighter, or eaten by a grizzly bear.”
That’s how the Race to Alaska’s webpage describes this new event.
“Like all good ideas,” joked co-organizer Jake Beattie when we spoke recently, “this one came over a beer.”
He went on to explain more seriously, but with no less enthusiasm, that the race is intended “to get people excited about engineless boats. There are no half-measures here. This is about creating bold conversations about getting out on the water.”
Along with several other partners, Beattie’s organization, the Northwest Maritime Center, based in Port Townsend, Wash., is sponsoring the inaugural Race to Alaska, also known as R2AK. Its challenge: to sail, row, or paddle the 750 miles from Port Townsend north to Ketchikan, Alaska in the shortest amount of time, with no engine or direct outside support. The winner takes home $10,000, which Beattie said is one of the largest purses around for an adventure race. The second place winner takes home a set of steak knives and “cathartic elation if you can simply complete the course.”
Some of the participants, according to Beattie, will be “people who are experienced adventurers or extreme athletes.” Profiles of two such entrants are posted on R2AK’s website. Roger Mann, a catamaran sailor and veteran of windy, hot, and grueling WaterTribe events, was the first one to sign on. Tyler Backman, sailing a Marconi-rigged Montgomery 15, has also tossed his hat in the ring. Beattie told me that about seven other people have signed on so far, some from the Northwest, and many more have expressed an interest. One family with a terminally ill child is contemplating the race as a way of creating some final family memories together.
For some folks, R2AK is an excuse to get off the couch and try out something new. “The first stage from here to Victoria, B.C. is epic, but the next stage is more so,” Beattie explained. For non-professionals or those with less time, Beattie hopes some will attempt the first stage, known as The Proving Grounds. It consists of a 40-mile open-water crossing of the Straight of Juan de Fuca. Those who complete it are qualified to move on to the second and final stage to Ketchikan.
Completing the course is only a part of the reason that the Maritime Center is organizing the race. One of the most inspiring routes to Ketchikan will take people up the Inside Passage.
“The trip is wild,” Beattie said. “It is such a beautiful coastline that it will help connect people to nature and the water.”
Ultimately, he hopes the event will raise awareness that there are lots of ways to get people out on the water and have adventures of their own. “Maybe they’ll think the race is nuts,” Beattie pondered, “but they’ll come up with another idea for themselves.” And if R2AK can provide that kind of inspiration, it will be a success.
The race kicks off on June 4, 2015 from Port Townsend. R2AK organizers are working on ways to lower the costs and to connect participants to locals along the route. More details and registration information are available on the event’s website.