Stage 2, Day 13: Gritting it Out Vantucky Style

The money was pried off the firewood a week and a half ago, steak knives drew first blood shortly after. First solo and first under 20 feet were wrapped up yesterday by Colin Angus’s calm, collected, and calculated push over the line. Other than “First boat to be swept” and the good game high five there’s not much left in the way of official accolades to pass around. We’re not big on creating new awards just to make people feel good, but after their early morning finish and the first editions of their R2AK war stories, it was pretty clear: if there was an award for burliest passage, Team Vantucky’s two weeks of glorious awful would stand alone atop the podium.

What do we mean?

Two weeks and 750 miles without a cabin? Burly.
Rowing 16 to 18 hours a day for literally two weeks? Burly.
Sleeping in your drysuit under a space blanket for two hours a day? Burly.
Staring at your brother non-stop for two weeks while rowing, as well as watching a second activity known by the same number? That’s the grossest kind of burly.

There’s no question that Team MAD Dog’s four day howl to Alaska was a ride of methamphetamine proportions. It was epic in the non-Tolstoy way—a short, full throttled romp of skill and lucky that avoided driftwood and calamity even after their second stage boosters dropped away. Sleeping with a open knife in a sealed bivy sack? Burly for sure, but it pales in comparison to gutting out three Sundays worth of windless trudge, rowing a boat meant to sail chasing the competition and early aspirations all while staying just a few strokes ahead of your competition and a growing sense of failure, both of which seem to gain with every mile. Add in the effects of salt soaking body and soul for half a month and the predictable trash talking of your tugboat coworkers waiting for you to slip—no contest. Team Vantucky is in a different league of raw.

The bearded brotherhood of Team Vantucky entered the race to do something awesome: to push themselves beyond the pale, and in the pursuit of the coveted cover of Small Craft Advisor—the undercard prize to the $1,000 for the first boat under 20? to finish. Their boat was a blue rotomolded miracle; humble and durable, a Windrider 17 made and named for conditions that only materialized on their final night. “We were doing 10 knots in 15-20 knots of wind.” Finally. “If they were going to save the wind for one night, this was perfect.” The rest of the time they were on their aftermarket oars, rowing in shifts. One bro rowing, the other steering, their eyes only four feet apart for 16 hours a day. “I’ve never looked at him for that long in my life.” It was an awkward slow dance and a family reunion all in one, from the provincial capital to the wilds of British Columbia.

“Once you go through Seymour Narrows its like you open a door into a different climate.”

To call their existence wet is an insult to their state of saturation. More then wet, more accurately they were two kinds of soaked, the saltwater saturated world on the outside of their dry suits and the humid terrarium of perspiration—and god only knows what else—that existed within. One was colder, the other was a more disgusting version of slightly less so. Wet from spray, wet from rain, their hands and feet took the worst of it, the darker crevices of their beings taking a close second. The palms predictably blistered from weeks on the oars, the back of their hands were blistered from the combo of salt, cold, and the sunburn of knuckles at an angle to the sun that solar panels require engineers to recreate. Wet, cold, and blistered? Keep rowing. Burly.

“This was the hardest endeavor we have ever done. Not just the physical, but the mental aspect.”

The long 16–18 hour days were a product of their own aspirations and the sense/urgent reality that they were falling short, daily. “We had made goals of where we wanted to be, and we kept missing them.” And then the revised goals, and then the revisions on the revisions. With dead cell phones and only intermittent glimpses at the tracker they had a sense that they were falling behind the fleet, too. No wind, no easy miles, they did the only thing that champions can do—they stayed at it, all day and most of the night, most days going to sleep at 4 a.m. in order to catch the tide. Slept when their rowing made no affect against the adverse current, then get up and go again. “We kept thinking that people were passing us. We’d feel bad for stopping for two hours. We can make pretty good headway in two hours.” Time to go. They’d go for days without seeing another boat, assuming that their competitors were passing them. “We felt like people were always hot on our tail…”

Vantucky was driven. They were buoyed by their supporters of friends and family standing tracker watch back in Vancouver (no, the other one..the one near Portland), and the fans that found them on a beach to offer encouragement and support. “We were waiting for the tide near Alert Bay. Just sitting on the beach in our drysuits, eating in the rain, when all of a sudden we heard some people shout ‘Team Vantucky!’ We thought we were in the middle of nowhere, and all of a sudden we were rockstars…” Their new fans offered food, company, a dry place to sleep on a yacht just a few yards away. Vantucky politely declined. “It was really neat to feel that love…” but they were behind, they knew it, or at least thought they did. Time to row, and row some more.

When they realized that of the boats they decided they were racing, they were behind only to Colin Angus, it didn’t lessen the pressure. They had made commitments. They thought they’d be done by the 10th, at the latest. “I flew up my family, my wife and my kids so they could see me come across the finish line…I’m going to miss them!” So two days out they doubled down and doubled their efforts, flogging whichever one of them was rowing to make it in time. They made it, but barely, their arrival and the outbound flights overlapping by only a few short hours of weary and expectant celebration.

Exhausted, soiled, drying out, burly to spare. Team Vantucky made the reunion, missed all of the bling and official accolades, and did something incredible. “We already have a strong bond as brothers, but this will be an experience we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.”

The cherry on top of their bro fueled blisterfest? 18 hours after touchdown Kevin is getting back into the boat with their dad and his blisters to make their way back to Prince Rupert and then the long drive home to Vancouver (yes, the other one.) Back in the boat for an optional 90 miles, that is burly to the core.

Congratulations Team Vantucky. The R2AK was created to inspire and highlight the fighting spirit to which we can all aspire. You guys just set a new high bar. Suffer on brothers, and stay burly.