Stage 2, Day 19: A Team No One Has Heard Of

It’s been a slow couple of news days here deep in the R2AK Command Bunker. The last four teams are inching their way up the backroads of the inside passage, all past the point of no return and unless they go slow enough for the 30 citizens of Oona River to pool their resources and start their own airline, the only way home is to press on. To quote the great navigator Beyonce Knowles: “Forward.”

Three weeks in and the last four teams are busy turning shrivelling lemons into lemonade, from the smiling duo on Team Coastal Express who currently are playing the role of sweeper bait, Tim “Crotch Shot” Penhallow on Team Can’t Anchor Us (watch the Day 18 Clip of the Day if you don’t get the reference), Team Squamish’s ironman tenacity, and Bunny Whaler with the good hair. Four teams, and four voids of information as they all transit the R2AK’s dark side of the moon. No cell reception for a day or two. Other than the flea market psychic who serves as our mainline to the cosmos, we know as much as you.

Don’t worry, deep in the bunker we’ve stocked up for the lean times, and while we don’t have any news about the racers of the R2AK, we wanted to give a shout out to Blake Miller a lone wolf adventurer, an R2AK sleeper cell who’s taken the engineless cause into his own hands.

We met Blake on the dock in Ketchikan. More accurately, we met his boat and wondered if we’d forgotten a team. The 17? dory with a small sailing rig was packed to the gills with dry-bags, water storage, and tied up next to Team Angus Adventures. We checked the roster, felt relieved, got excited, and then started stalking to him. Our operatives found him fulfilling his obligations as a red blooded American tourist at the Lumberjack Show—it’s like Tijuana but with more lumberjacks, less donkeys, and a modicum of human decency. Despite his taste in pastimes, Blake was a decent dude and we loved that he was row-boating to Alaska on his own, just for “fun.”

He started his journey from his childhood home north of Everett in Tulalip Bay. Hold up, that’s not entirely accurate. His journey really started back in January when he lost a girlfriend/job which allowed him to kiss off his former tie-downs and head to Alaska on a rowboat that he built. His plan had a couple of what we like to call “challenge-tunities”:

He hadn’t actually built the rowboat.

He’d never built any boat.

His career as a math professor and river guide had never taken him to Alaska.

In three months of nights and weekends he banged out a dory kit from Chesapeake Light Craft—or more accurately an asymmetrical adaptation of a kit that he assembled along a learning curve that is most visible along the starboard side. It sails best on that side too—noticeably. He named it after his ex, (‘Good from afar but far from good,” or at least its latin equivalent.), then drove three states to the beach where he spent his childhood, and shoved off. That was May 20th. July 8th he crossed the line in Ketchikan, solo, and to the excited applause of people who just assumed he was in the R2AK—because who the hell else would do that…other than the two kayakers who showed up three days later. Blake tried to explain it away right up until the point when they bought him a beer. Well played! His was going to keep on going until his time ran out in August. “Maybe Juneau?”

Blake’s pace was slower than the racers (yes, even the ones still out there) but his spirit was every bit the same. Colin Angus got excited to meet him, and they both spent time mutually admiring each others’ boats, asking questions about their journey (“Smart move putting your boat on the ferry from Port Hardy to Bella Bella,” “You mean your boat is considered a kayak for the ferry to Bellingham? So it only costs $65?) It didn’t matter than one was a happily married renowned adventurer and the other was taking a rookie year rowabout to heal his wounded heart. They were comrades, boat builders, and had just finished a row to Alaska somewhere between 13 and 59 days. Brothers in arms.

Blake left the next day on the early morning tide, silently and without saying goodbye. Like the engineless ethic of the race, the only thing he left was the silence of his passing. Fair winds, Blake, and hurry the hell up the rest of you!