The R2AK is ridiculous. Whether you took that to mean the definition closer to unbelievable and formidable or the definition closer to hilarious, you were right. Spot on. 750 miles without a motor: ridiculous. Steak knives for second place: ridiculous. A week of gales on the nose: ridiculous. Starting a 750 mile race by running down to your boat then rowing out of the harbor: ridiculous. If there is one thing we believe to be true, it’s a conviction that both things worth doing and the reasons for doing them are complicated, and the choice between contradictions is often falsely binary. Ideas aren’t algebra and their accounting doesn’t share mathematics’ transitive property. More plainly said: humans are complicated, and in our complication we can simultaneously hold opposite truths without risking hypocrisy. Example? We love the idea of an unsupported race and also love that people along the route have been so moved by the adventure they’ve offered racers food, shelter, conjugal comfort (alleged), and help with repairs (verified). We love the idea of the teams being in the unreachable wilderness, outside of the input or assistance of anyone but their own guile, native spirits and the magical woodland creatures of the BC Coast, while at the same time can’t hit refresh fast enough when the tracker page goes down. (Where are they?!?! click,click…click, expletive, check Facebook as a distraction…click). We are full of ideas in conflict, whose opposing weights don’t negate themselves but create their own equilibrium.
Like the inherent challenge of R2AK that embraces the simplest form of complicated by trying as hard as it can to get out of nature’s way, R2AK has embraced the seemingly contradictory fact that the most impressive people (at least the ones we enjoy hanging out with) are both seriously impressive and impressively don’t take themselves too seriously. Example: Jim Whittaker, first American to summit Mt. Everest and founder of REI lives in R2AK’s hometown of Port Townsend – nicest guy you’ve ever met, and in his 80’s wears checkered Vans skateboarding shoes. Never seen him in anything else. Hardcore and hilarious can happen at the same time, and it’s hard to conceive of either happening in greater abundance than with Team Soggy Beavers, who crossed the line yesterday at 1624; becoming the 7th team to arrive in Ketchikan, the first whose journey was primarily human powered, and the only crew whose roster included a dead guy in a bottle. Hilarious and hardcore, these 20-somethings from Canada are as R2AK as they come.
Their boat, spartan. 44 feet of canoe doesn’t have a “down there” and except during the rare shore leave lacks anything approaching a cockpit. There was no head onboard, just “Grip it and rip it!” over the side, in plain view of anyone astern.
Their work ethic, sterling. While some teams stopped to bottom fish or catch crabs, the Soggy Beavers’ plan was to endure an 8 hours on, 2 hours off schedule. Their hierarchy had no tops, no bottoms, just six equals offering up their hard, steady stroking for 16 hours a day, and once their canoe got up to 9 knots ripping a reach around Queen Charlotte Sound. In a light air year these guys could have been in the big hunt, or at least a contender for the steak knives.
No beating around the bush, their spirit and humor is as priceless as their feat was impressive. At the Victoria finish line they hopped out of their canoe wearing dresses, they installed an onboard speaker for books on tape so they could all learn German, their provisioning plan called for pizza delivery in Bella Bella. Every time we heard about these guys we cracked up and were at the same time were blown away by the miles they logged day after day, besting the wind with the power of biceps and determination, amazing us all with their consistent 5 knots north.
We are going to miss a lot of things when this race comes to a close. The fellowship of the racers and the communities along the route, our midnight trips to the tracker just in case we missed something, and right up there on the list will be the use of “Soggy Beavers” in our everyday vernacular. It’s a name that gives us pleasure to hear because like the R2AK it’s a bit of a dare. The Beavers dared us to laugh. They dared us to take offense and risk needing to explain why. They dared us to say their name and resist a snicker, regardless if our audience were friends, loved ones or the evening news. The Beaver boys dared us to take their folly as seriously as we regarded their accomplishments and get over our own hang-ups in the meantime. They paddled deep into the territory of “Both/And” and took us all with them, even that dead guy they had onboard. They were a crowd favorite, and wherever they planted the flag people caught Beaver Fever, a condition for which there is no known cure.