Stage 2, Day 15: Rowing, Boring and a Bear Attack

The factory reps discouraged it. When Bill was selecting a boat for the Race to Alaska he did his homework and went to the source and told the manufacturers what he wanted to do and they told him this was the wrong boat. Even their competitors demurred. They told him it was the wrong boat—that it was the wrong type of boat. “They told me that no one had figured out how to row them.” Team Excellent Adventure’s arrival in Ketchikan today proved them wrong, again. This was Bill’s second go at ringing the finish line bell—the bell with “R2AK” blazoned across the 2×6 it was mounted to—in earnest and careful black sharpie. He and his did it last year, and today he and a new crew did it again, a full three days and two unbroken rudders better than their 2015 time. Different year, different crew, different race, way more rowing. “People kept asking me if I was afraid of gales. I can weather the gales, I’m afraid of the calms. I don’t want to row to Alaska.”

But they did, at least mostly. How many days did they row? What fraction is all of them? Rather than hours-long unbroken shifts of some of the teams (the Angus 15, or the Vantucky 5) Bill had devised a watch rotation to break up the long days on the oars, “I told Ben we should start at 90 minutes apiece and then subtract our age.” Ben used exactly .0001/E^(x-y) of his mathematics degree, in which x=1 and y= no way in hell, to realize this would mean Bill would only row for 23 minutes to his 60. They ended up compromising at 60/45. One would row while the other could tuck away in the cabin for some sleep, making food, and just getting out of the rain. Then they would do it another day, and then another, and then another. And then another. The windless rowshow of R2AK 16 made the crew of Team Excellent Adventure the worldwide experts in rowing a Montgomery 17, maybe more miles than the rest of the Montys combined over the entire history of human existence. Bill and Ben are hands down the two people uniquely qualified to teach a clinic that no one would voluntarily attend.

Their advice to everyone on the dock and the fictitious masses of no one who turned out for their talk at TEDexcellent? Don’t stop. For the whole 16 days they only stopped for contrary current and the “supposed gales” that have become legend in this year’s R2AK fleet.  The forecast gales never came, or if they came it was only at half strength, and only long enough to create a sloppy two foot chop—just enough to make the rowing even more annoying.

“I hate adventures, adventures happen when things go wrong.” If rowing through isn’t wrong, we don’t want to be right. Team Excellent Adventure (now seemingly appropriately named) had a self-declared boring Race to Alaska. No stories of note. Not the perseverance, the hot days and cold nights of rowing for the two almost-strangers from two generations surviving the pressure cooker of a tiny dehydrated and sore-muscled trip to Alaska on a boat whose builders told them not to take. Not even Bill’s adult daughter’s surprise finish line hello that brought tears to most of the eyes around. Not that they were the smallest boat to finish to date, not that Bill had spent more time R2AK-ing than anyone else (Tim on Team Can’t Anchor Us is vying for that title). Nope, no stories here. Super boring. We just fell asleep between typing “just” and “fell”. Twice.

If boring is good, and this race was the best, would Bill do it again if R2AK runs in 2017? “I can promise you that I won’t be the first one to sign up.”

While boring finished in a predictable and convenient time today, Team Wabi Sabi exited the race after, no joke, a bear attack. Holy shit.

First off, no one was hurt, and we’re not certain that their leaving the race was at all related to being charged by a full on bear, but both of those things happened. Not boring. Here’s what we know:

Team Wabi Sabi was on the beach to make a deposit of the…well let’s not be clever. They had dropped trou and were taking care of business of the squatting kind, saw a bear and cub down the way.  Their transaction concluded, they were getting back on the boat when they heard a large scale thrash of water and effective what we can imagine to be a highly motivated and expedient launch of their watercraft. The bear charged, they bailed outta there, and fast. No physical contact, but going from the call of nature to the end of Grizzly Man in less than 60 seconds must have been contact enough. The details are still hazy, we have no idea how close it was (close enough) of if the bear was black or as brown as their pants (either way, close enough), but the ursine prophecy of our earliest visions of the R2AK’s dangers came shockingly close today (close enough) as Team Wabi Sabi nearly became one with their spirit animal.

Close calls with apex omnivores, or boring to the bone. Take your pick, this R2AK has it all.