Day 10: Mustang Survival’s Team Rite of Passage: I’m not crying, you’re crying

photo: Mustang Survival’s Team Rite of Passage by Michael Dougherty

Update by the Race Boss

Three teams made it to Ketchikan in the last 24(ish) hours at time of writing, starting with Mustang Survival’s Rite of Passage, Wraith 2AK, and ending with Rho Your Boat making a just-past-midnight landing looking a little too fresh for the standard “I just raced to Alaska” gaunt and bleary finish line look. (You sure you weren’t lounging in a hunting cabin on Metlakatla for the past 10 days?) And just this morning we received notice from Team Perseverance, in Port Hardy.

“Repeated days of beating into the wind making little progress and these conditions predicted to continue for the next several days, I feel the time has come to bow out of the race. I’ve done everything I can to make speed and forward progress, and it just hasn’t been enough.”

Doug is R2AK family and has been pushing up against the R2AK challenge since 2018. The whole team here is proud of his decision and taking his race to Port Hardy, through all of the brutal Johnstone Strait. Port Hardy is further than he’s ever gone, personal best. Huzzah!

In hopes of avoiding another “kids these days” conversation, I’ll put it right out there: Mustang Survival’s Team Rite of Passage has an average age of 16.75. They now hold the record for the youngest team to ever complete R2AK, as well as the youngest racer: Francesca Dougherty, 15. It does take a minute to let the ‘wow’ of it all settle down, because right when we think we’ve wrapped our heads around how incredible this is, they go and reflect that the difficulties of R2AK include high school (high school!). “We couldn’t have done this without our mentors. Finishing the school year and prepping for R2AK at the same time was a lot. Our mentors helped us to the start line and we took it from there.”

Okay, forget it. There is no way to talk about this team without bringing age into it. It’s like telling a joke with half the punchline, it’ll never land the same—but whatever tired stereotypes about this generation just don’t seem to apply.

Meet the teenage incredible behind that tracker blip you’ve been rooting for: Nadia Khalil, Francesca Dougherty, Sebastian Dougherty, Enzo Dougherty and a Santa Cruz 27: Mustang Survival’s Team Rite of Passage.

This is a team with boating pedigree. Siblings Enzo and Francesca are 2nd generation R2AK’ers, Nadia a varsity sailing team racer, and Sebastian—can we stop a minute to say how irritating and confusing it is that he has the same last name as Enzo and Francesca, but no family relationship?—spends his days on a family boat that happens to be the neo-legendary Hamachi, a J/125 and winner of the 2019 Transpac.

Up and coming sailors all, the team had long considered the Race to Alaska a life goal, dream board material that would have been out of reach for most 15-18 year olds. Yes, because of their pedigree, but being in their presence you immediately pickup that behind their affable exterior there’s something unnervingly competent about them.

Enzo, the engineer and rigger of the group, built out the pedal drive they were going to be spending days on, and supplied the Santa Cruz with enough gear to rerig it if necessary, including a legacy tool box. “We brought 100 feet of Dyneema and my dad gave us the same tool box he used in 2015.” Heirloom redefined. Like all teams, each experienced different trials; separate and distinct moments of wavering. For Nadia the challenge was never the sailing. “Headspace was so hard. Being in a good mood and being motivated was way harder than moving the boat.” Cape Caution was a universal high/low. A psychotic point of land with such a swing of behavior that one team can pass it calmly and without notice, while the next day its exposure, lee shore, and steep, confused seas create a ride of terror. For Rite of Passage, it was the best and worst. “We were going around Cape Caution in the middle of the night.” Sebastian recalled, “Ginormous waves and hitting 12 knots (of boat speed)! It was the fastest we went on the trip. We were surfing waves!” But they all realized that if one of them went overboard at that time, they would never be able to get them back. “If we would have lost someone overboard, we’d have lost them.”

A virtual hug for their parents who were watching the tracker like the rest of us, and read that for the first time right now, too. Kudos to your offspring, and to you for believing in them.

The race has always had a knack for exploiting a team’s weakness: sleep deprivation, worn gear, failing bodies, questioning judgment. It’s always about making it to Ketchikan before something breaks or the doubts take over the mind. Nadia and Fancesca’s knees were failing them from endless hours on the bikes, sleep had become a rare and sea-pitched commodity, but even then, Nadia found a highpoint. “Francesca and I were on watch and pedaling for four hours. We hadn’t slept for a long time and were having a conversation about something and then I realized, we were talking to each other, but having completely different conversations! I was hearing Francesca’s response in my head and responding to that, not what she was saying. It was hilarious!”

Yeah, Nadia, on land we call that auditory hallucinations.

Kids these days and their shenanigans.

Like many teams landing in Ketchikan, these four didn’t have a plan for “What next?” But it doesn’t much matter. Adventurers find adventure and how to descend from Race to Alaska’s summit doesn’t need to be discovered for these four today. Today it’s fish and chips, hugs with loved ones who flew in to bask in their achievement and reflect heartfelt admiration, and sleeping in a bed that doesn’t rise and fall with every wave.

If you’re over the age of 20 it’s hard to impossible to look at this achievement and not reflect back on what youth meant for yourself. If you’re like me it was more like petty vandalism and skylarking than heroism. Are they heroes? We guess it’s how you define it, but if you spend your days being better than you were the day before, why be anything else?

If you’re under the age of 20, hell even if you’re older, whoever you are, it’s my sincere hope that their heroics inspire you as much as they’ve inspired me. Mustang Survival’s Team Rite of Passage, you didn’t just race to Alaska, you fulfilled a long held dream. You proved to yourselves and the entire internet what you are capable of, what the rest of us could be. You showed us an alternative narrative to the blanket dismissal of a generation, helicopter parenting, and some vague belief that without forced march interventions the explorations of anyone born after 2000 will be limited to Mine Craft’s square and pixelated geography. You self-motivated IRL. You achieved, you inspired, and you’re just getting started.

Welcome back to land, Mustang Survival’s Team Rite of Passage. It’s been an honor.

Photos of Mustang Survival’s Team Rite of Passage by Rebecca Ross (1st) and Michael Dougherty (2nd and 3rd)

Our field reporters are out of range today. More from them tomorrow.