2019 Day 19: There is no news, tales from the Bella Bella offramp, and Failure.

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photo: Team Funky Dory by Charley Starr

It was April 18th, 1930 and there was apparently so little going on across the entirety of the British Empire that when the “on air” light went red in the BBC studio at 8:45, the broadcaster leaned into the mic and simply said, “There is no news,” then played the piano for 15 minutes. Wagner, and what a delightful anachronism it must have been. If only Neville Chamberlain (or whoever) had twitter, the people of the empire would have been spared the silence.

As the 19th day stretches R2AK into Wagnerian proportions, the team remaining and the news of them becomes fewer and farther apart. The temptation to go BBC and no-news it for a day is, well, tempting. We even brought in a rather large piano along with a rather large pianist just in case, but we sent them and the potential for a lame dirty joke home halfway through the set up. Today, rather than a singular story of a finishing team, there is no news, so we bring you a smattering of briefs and bits from some of the teams who made the brave choice to bow out at R2AK’s Bella Bella off ramp:

Team Funky Dory: On Sunday, Team Funky Dory withdrew with their honor and what’s left of Thor’s shoulder after a charismatic, ‘against all odds’ campaign that got them as far as Denny Island, just across from Bella Bella. Thor and Pax were lifelong friends who fixed up a 16’ boat that they bought for a dollar and harvested from the bushes on what amounts to a U-Pick arrangement. After rehabbing the boat that had been descending into planter status for the better part of a decade, they set to lengthen their already longshot odds by accommodating a Subaru’s apparent desire to wrap itself around the grill of their truck. The 40 mph car crash happened while they were towing the dory. It launched on the way to the boat ramp and smashed itself into and through the truck’s canopy. Devastation.

The cost of that unneeded collision/collaboration was an extra two months of full court press repairs, and a shoulder that had so much tissue damage that it was incredibly Thor (it’s funnier if you say that last part out loud) and incredible that Thor made it as far as he did before his Thorness got the best of him. By the time he threw in the towel his shoulder was to the point he was worried about permanent damage. Reports are that their spirits are good, and if their significant number of fans are any indication, they did what they came to do: have an adventure, raise awareness for their sponsors, and raise awareness that the health of this coast is not unlike Thor’s shoulder; it’s not fine, and we’ve got to stop just keeping on if we’re going to make it better.

You boys killed it, well done.

Team Try Baby Tri: Christian decided to chance the dance with the Grim Sweeper rather than making time towards Ketchikan. His R2AK was one with the ticking clock of a hard stop schedule, and when the calendar reminder dinged, he caught a plane back to the Bay Area to attend the premiere of his new film: Cubby. (CubbyFilm.com) After watching the trailer we really didn’t get it, as much as it made us oddly uncomfortable, as much as we loved the audacity of the concept…which is a mix of emotions that roughly approximates how we feel about the race boat that he bought off of Craigslist sight unseen for $600. We love that Christian came, two years in a row, and apparently gets better at it each time. Last year not quite to Victoria, this year solidly to Bella Bella. Hoo-rah.

Christian officially bowed out of the race before the Grim Sweeper could claim him, which offers absolutely no help to the whole IS/ISN’T debate that rages on about the existence of the Sweep Boat. Sorry kids.

Team Three Legged Cat: It’s been a few days since Team Three Legged Cat ended his race in his home town of Bella Bella. Unlike today, he called himself done on a heavy news day and the story was reduced to a brief buried somewhere below the virtual fold. Then we got an email from his very proud and forthcoming wife, and it was too good not to share. The words are hers, with minor edits mostly for length:

“Dear XXX,

I am married to a very, very humble man, but unlucky for him I have no problem relaying some truths! Stuart, as you know, built his boat 9 months ago from scratch in the hospital basement in between being on call, with 6 other on-call staff living next to the basement. The building was limited to 3 hours a day at most.

He tested his boat for 4 days, then loaded it onto the car (something the boat designer had no idea was even possible). Drove across two countries and reassembled it in PT.

Then the epic decisions that occurred after. Anyway, we could go on about the difficulties: paddling with one oar, fog, and current but everyone in the event knows about those.

What most people do not know about is Bella Bella. It is a small island in mourning, has been since November 2018, as to date there have been 19 deaths, yes!!! 19. So when Stuart finally made it home, it was in between memorials and funerals. The 300 plus islanders following the R2AK tracker needed something to celebrate, thus the island rallied to celebrate something amazing, by one of their own and just for fun.

Opening his emails there was the news of a family member’s death the morning he arrived. Stuart had to decide to continue on or not. He left the next day after having tea, he sailed north for two hours, then made a safety call as to his emotional state, he was not to face another 300 miles paddling.

Our discussions were always about just get to Bella Bella and see what follows. He made a Darwinian decision, the boat evolved from its home, returning to its home, and that is good enough for Stuart.

Charmaine”

***

In this collage of an update about a few teams who exited early, it felt important to revisit the subject of failure. Because no matter how many layers of atta boy we wrap around Bella Bella, there’s got to be a smoldering nugget buried somewhere inside of all of these teams that feels a lot like failure. Same with the teams that exited farther back, or even in Stage One, or even the ones who finished but their grab for the glory fell a little shorter than their declared intentions and quiet hopes. The feeling of failure can creep in to fill air space in the glass you tell the world is ¾ full, but to the congress of your inner critics is ¼ empty.

$10,000 or a set of steak knives; failure has been a part of the R2AK since its crust cooled. A few years ago we wrote this about it, and honestly we failed at coming up with anything better. A partial echo from 2016:

“In the age of self-esteem parenting where everyone gets a ribbon, failure is not something we often talk about. We turn shelves into shrines to heap on the symbols of our successes. We frame the certificates, we never wear our failures on our sleeves, never bring them up in job interviews, or when we’re trying to snag a date with that hottie who is way out of our league. Failure is something we avoid as often as we rebrand it to simultaneously soften the blow and dilute its meaning. Challenge, teachable moment, pivot point, beta version.

Failure is a concept that holds that same strain of loaded discomfort as talking to someone about their terminal illness. It’s uncomfortable and smacks of taboo. Say it right now, “I failed.” Shrink inward a little bit don’t you? Your voice trails off and eyes glance away to avoid the gaze of the reflection in your screen. Even in this fiction failure, it’s as loaded as it is deeply ingrained, despite the reality that the only way to never fail is to never try or to make your attempts so smug in their banality that they don’t matter. Pulling up aces with a loaded deck might gain you the chips on the table but it isn’t winning. Not really.

Here at R2AK Central we celebrate those who try and triumph; it’s no small thing to prepare and train and then struggle to the other end. With equal voice we try to celebrate the failures on the course because they are evidence of the all-out ambition we hoped this race would inspire. A hard fought failure might not be evidence that you had the best theory, but it is the only time when you look yourself in the eye and know that you gave it your all, left everything you had on the field. Failure of that sort of intrepid exhaustion is an effort worthy of celebration. We celebrate failure at the R2AK because other than $10,000 for one, and a fancy set of steak knives for another, the R2AK is really about the challenge—and for a challenge to be real, failure has to be a possibility.

Fail well, fail boldly, fail safe, grow.”

***

At time of writing on Day 19 we have one team left on the course (Wee Free Men) and closing “fast.” Maybe today, maybe tomorrow, but we can already hear the corpulent Valkyrie warming up backstage to the sounds of a Wagnerian piano and a report of no news.

24 Hour Fact Sheet

Yeah baby!

Team Solveig made it in this morning. Second to last finisher. And we wait with bated breath for the final finisher, Team Wee Free Men.

What the hell are they doing?

Here we take a moment to explain why our final finisher, Wee Free Men, are seemingly taking a slow boat to Japan by heading westerly to south westerly at a stultifying 1.6 knots.

We have no idea. Best guess is that they are worried about the strong westerly environment Canada is predicting for Dixon Entrance in the next 24 hours. By heading west in this relatively calmer weather, like winds of 5 knots, they will later be able to sail north with a very favorable wind all the way to Ketchikan. Or at least across their last huge obstacle, the very serious and sometimes dangerous Dixon Entrance. Or they have heard the Siren’s call and are making their way to an island somewhere by Italy.

753 miles traveled as shown on the GPS of Team Backwards AF

1282 miles traveled as shown on the GPS of Team Ziska

Sweeper Watch: Grim Sweeper is just north of Bella Bella, making it impossible for team Try Baby Tri to change his mind. And it looks like Team Dock Rat of the 2018 race will remain the only team ever swept in R2AK history.

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