Stage 2, Day 9: Erosion, Gelato, and the Tenacity of Compassion

It’s easy to underestimate the sea. More than the storms, it possesses a quiet inevitability.  Give it time and the sea can wear human will and elemental material into a nub. Walk along the sandstone shores of the Pacific Northwest and you can see its power to wear away the most durable material known until bronze hit the scene. Thanks to the perpetuity of the sun, moon, and our elliptical progression of rotations through the void of space, the seas inevitable rise and fall and wear at the cliffs, turning the rock itself into Daliesque landscapes that curve, and wail, and make you wonder when you should start taking acid and melting clocks just to make sense of it all. Sometimes the surrealist waves of stone give way to honeycomb-like structures in the rock itself, a process started with the dislodging of a single grain of sand. A single grain that rattles around, gaining momentum, importance and followers until the geology is changed forever—giving shorebirds new nests and photography students more of the same new material the last batch had last quarter. It all seems inevitable as the tides themselves. The sea takes its toll and creates anew. Through the stone, bronze, iron and now the age of R2AK, the sea has worn down the hardest substances known to man.

At time of writing, the saltwater has laid a thankfully lifeless claim to eight teams, boats and crews that have been worn away by the rigors of the route, some before even starting. There has been damage, broken boats, shattered morale, evolving priorities, injury and better judgement. While all of the racers live in a constant state of knowing they are a few bad decisions away from the race ending abruptly, as these words hit the page there are two teams whose campaigns truly hang in the balance: Team Kraken Up and Team Alula.

The nine, then eight, then a self-diagnosed “4 1/2” women of Team Kraken Up are anchored up in their open boat in the Maude Island waiting room for Seymour Narrows. Their departing crew? Two of the three were eager but inexperienced and uncomfortable with the unpredictability of the Inside Passage. Their captain is one of the most competent professional mariners on this part of the coast, but even with the best of the best at the helm the answers aren’t often known until the question is long retired. As the phrase goes “Want to make god laugh? Make a plan.” Choosing a boat for the R2AK whose primary attribute is its ability to go one third as fast as the tide means that for however long they remain in the race they are living at the mercy of the weather and and rise and fall of the water that engulfs them. No way to fight it, totally subservient, and a reality that was a bit much for some of their crew who weren’t ready for the constant and massive changes in plans that are inevitable when you are beholden to the unknown complexity of the elements. The third had a finite amount of time to give and the timer went off close enough to Campbell River to get a ride home.

Despite all of that adversity, that single grain of expectations making a honeycomb of their monolith and whittling away a third of their crew, in their own words today was their “best day ever.” Tracker junkies found them in the marina and inquired as to their gelato supplies that had apparently become their power animal. Team Kraken Up found 5 knots of counter currents and made time against the brunt of the ebb by working the shallows, and the five that remained had a humpback apiece that are still heard in the distance as they wait for their window at Seymour Narrows. Rockstar status, a re-up on gelato, a pod of humpbacks and more miles than they thought possible? Best day ever. Their decision point on whether or not to press on will be ongoing, until it’s not.

Team Alula’s progress has been slow, and then stinted as conditions did not match their hopes for a fast passage. The light airs of the southern course haven’t favored the trimaran piloted by three wheelchair bound sailors. They can row, they’ve been rowing, but concentrating all of that effort onto half of a body’s muscles must have been exhausting. They’d clawed their way to just before Campbell River, when Bruno made his intentions clear: He needed to get off to make a date in New York where he is being fitted with an exoskeleton. As comic book scholars we totally understood, these guys were already halfway to superhero, but how could you pass up the opportunity to become Iron Man? This race was all of theirs, but with Bruno gone the prospect of an early exit now was as much sacrilege as an inevitability. Still, the boys on Alula don’t have a single ounce of quit. We read their text to the race phone at last Friday’s finish line party:

“This is Team ALULA. We just lost a crew member in Campbell River and are down to two. We need two on the oars to carry on. The two of us left are determined to get to Ketchikan before the grim sweeper. What we are looking for is another crew member. Preferably someone who has had to had to pull out of the race and wants to carry on or has finished the race and wants more. I realize this will officially take us out of the race but we have always been a race of one. This is more than a race to Alaska for us. Can you help us find a crew member and carry on? As of now, we are still in the race until someone steps on the boat as crew. Or we can no longer continue. We love this race and every thing it has thrown at us, can’t thank you guys enough for letting us be a part of this amazing adventure.”

You could hear a pin drop. The silence wasn’t the callous shrug of sailors anxious to return to a well earned beverage. It turned out to be the inhalation prior to Stage 2’s “I am Spartacus.” Team Alula asked for help and the R2AK community rallied to deliver. Morgan Tevrow from Team Mail Order Bride said, “The idea immediately sounded workable. Then Jake bought be a few more beers and I decided I was game.” Mark Eastham from from Team It Ain’t Brain Surgery met Team Alula in Port Townsend as was an instant fan. For Eastham, this call for crew was “a no brainer.” Get it?

Both Tevrow and Eastham called in and stretched their time off to help these guys make it to the finish. Why? Because even without an exoskeleton, Team Alula are superheroes whose very perseverance fights for truth, justice and the R2AK. Neither Tevrow or Eastham could do the whole distance, so they devised a plan and spilt Alula’s remaining run in two. Morgan flew to Campbell River to sail north and Mark will take over when they reach Bella Bella. Team Alula is getting to Ketchikan. You can hear the slow clap all the way from here, Kleenex sales skyrocketing all along Coastal BC.

While the sea may wear away, the sailors of the R2AK keep building something bigger and better. Bird nests of compassion? Barnacles of tenacity? Kelp beds of a better metaphor? Who knows, there’s still plenty of race left to go. Anything could happen (except maybe that last one), stay tuned.