Day 8: Fish and chips, steak knives, itchy bits

Field Report
photo: Team Zen Dog by Lynnette Oostmeyer

Whether it takes four days or 24, Racing to Alaska is a feat done largely in isolation; self-contained human pods floating along at least miles but often horizons away from the closest team. Even when on the tracker they look like they’re right on top of each other, they are usually so far apart that they are invisible to one another. A blip on the horizon, a faraway sail that may or may not be part of the race, by the time teams arrive in the Alaskan homestretch they are so spread out that they are usually hours apart and often more. Between conserving the crumbs of their depleted batteries’ power to the non-existent cell coverage, unless it’s a sunny day and they pass close enough to the halo of a cruise ship’s 5G cloud, they likely have less knowledge of where they are relative to their competitors than someone following along from their basement in Ohio.

Imagine a 100-yard dash, but instead of your competitors running against you in the lane next to you, they are on another track three towns away, or maybe running to the finish line through a side door and enter your view mid-race. Maybe they don’t plan on reaching the finish line until next week. As much as R2AK’s challenge pits teams against each other, by the time teams reach the Alaska line, the motivation for speed and excellence is driven increasingly by an intrinsic motivation: pushing themselves against themselves, and a heartfelt desire to ring a bell, take a shower, to reach completion.

Different boats, different routes, conditions, skills, motivations, intra-team chemistry: every team’s experience is unique to their own, but taking a step back as the five teams who finished and remained in Ketchikan gathered to celebrate Thursday evening—it was clear that there was a shared camaraderie at the experience that they’d all just had. For those of us rooting from the shores, whether on the finish line dock of the Alaska Fish House or from the glowing screens of the internet, we only get to skip across the top of the stories, the highlights and images that get shared out as best they can. The deeper body and soul memories of charging engineless up this rugged coast can only really be known by those who do it, and today North America’s (alleged) largest celebration of steak knives was one of the few places and times when those isolated racers could meet and be in fellowship with each other and the fans fortunate enough to find themselves in Ketchikan on this impossibly sunny day.

At precisely 6 pm-ish, teams and local fans fish-and-chipped their faces while a short ceremony was conducted, some short speeches were made, and the 2022 second-place steak knives were bestowed on Team Elsewhere. “These are actually nice,” one remarked, surprised, after seeing the laser-engraved logos on both the box and the individual knives. They were Henckels, or as one person put it,“two guys knives,” in reference to their logo.

A testament to R2AK’s *specific* culture, a new prize was created and awarded to commemorate Team Fashionably Late’s third-place finish. The team was assembled (yes, in matching outfits) and were presented with an entire “Bucket of Nothing” to commemorate their being the first team to cross the line after all two of the race’s actual prizes were distributed. Laughs were had, knives were admired, nothing was ladled from the bucket for anyone who wanted some, and for the rest of the night, the whole room reveled as their nothing cups runnethed over. Fan and racer alike, conversation ranged from recaps of race experiences to earnest debates on whether EFOY fuel cells were inside what was allowable according to race rules, if the outside route is really a different race, and the natural curiosity and concern for how the rest of the fleet was doing. “Where are the kids?” was the oft-heard wonder that seemed two parts impressed, one part concern, and one part hope that they might get to share a fish and chip night with a team that they wished they’d been when they were their age.

There’s an unfair question about whether it’s harder to win the R2AK or to be the last team to finish, and at least for the teams in the Fish House that night, the consensus position seemed to be the latter. Everyone was impressed by the teams still out there, plugging away, and especially the human-powered ones. “Those people are animals,” and they meant that in a way that seemed somewhere between the reverence of vegetarians and the fear of a bear-country hiker who uses salmon oil as cologne. They might be the proud owners of a shiny new set of steak knives, but they were in awe and impressed—even of the teams that chose the last days to retire from the race:

  • Team Dark Star decided that he’d keep on keeping on but on his own time and without the prying eyes of the Tracker Nation.
  • Team Zen Dog’s hand issues weren’t getting better, so he exited the race before leaving the road-supported convenience of Vancouver Island. Smart, and wise. Would he try again? In his own words, “I think I’ve scratched that itch.”

As the impossibly long Alaskan night gives way to the impossibly early Alaskan dawn of Day 8, there are still 16 teams scratching the itchy and making northward progress. If R2AK’s abrasive salve isn’t working, try Gold Bond. It’s like a Tic Tac for your itchy parts.

R2AK out.


Field Report: Lillian and Bob: Solo together on the Race to Alaska

By Lynnette Oostmeyer, Field Reporter