Field Report: Behind the Scenes: The Unsung Volunteers

July 2, 2022
By Rebecca Ross, Field Reporter
Feature photo: Tor Baxter with media crew by Zach Carver

Race to Alaska has been one hell of an adventure for me as a field reporter. I made many stops between Port Townsend, WA, and Ketchikan, AK. My travels trended north via various modes of transportation, including boats. So many boats. But I often found my route doubling back, going sideways, or stalling altogether. If I had been fitted with a race tracker, the result would look like a kitten chasing a laser pointer.

The wonderful support and positivity from fans like you, who have been following along with my stories and those of the other field reporters, have made ricocheting around the coasts of Washington, Canada, and Alaska all worth it. And, as I wait for racers to cross the finish line, I must take a moment to recognize that without all the R2AK volunteers who have dedicated their time, knowledge, and resources, our in-depth stories on the racers wouldn’t be possible.

Julie Knott’s guest house, photo by Zach Carver

I didn’t interact with every volunteer this season, but the ones I did meet were instrumental in helping me do my job. For starters, Julie Knott refers to herself as Race Mom, rightfully so since she’s been a volunteer since the inception of R2AK. This year, Julie again opened her arms, house, and refrigerator to the media crew and racers waiting out the storm at the start of the Proving Ground. Her optimism, cheerfulness, and emotional support filled a room, making her love for the race and those in it undeniable.  

R2AK had a diminished fleet of media boats to send us all out on the water for 2022, making every volunteer boat a crucial one. Max and Molly McCarthy stepped in and offered me a ride on their boat, Loyal. Their kindness and patience were greatly appreciated as I aimlessly shouted orders over the engine, leading us all more or less astray. My time with them was a memorable start to a month-long journey.

To make it further north, we needed a boat to handle the distance and crew. Fortunately for us, volunteers Jeanne, Ev, and their daughter Katrina Goussev offered us a ride on their boat, Forever Young. Jeanne, the winner of R2AK 2018 with her all-female team, Team Sail Like a Girl, further volunteered her time and her dinghy as my driver, speeding us out towards the racers. Jeanne and Ev’s combined knowledge about the race gave me confidence in getting the shots I wanted. Jeanne and Katrina even baked cookies for us and the racers—something she said she wished someone had done for her.

I could have gotten used to the luxury and hospitality on board Forever Young, but once again the R2AK media team shuffled onto other boats to continue going north.

Heidi Baxter, photo by Zach Carver

Heidi and Tor Baxter graciously welcomed me on their boat, Cygnus. Their cozy quarters with daily coffee and my personal workstation made the transition feel like I had a home out on the sea. The two also provided assistance with photo coverage, allowing me to recoup from the constant demand—those were moments of respite I desperately needed to stay in it for the long haul. And, in a first-time memory I will always cherish, they even let me steer the boat!

But sadly, those good things came to an end when Cygnus started taking on water, a problem that had occurred years ago and now decided to rear its head anew. Fixed temporarily at French River, the issue arose again at Campbell River, and the Cygnus needed more time to repair.

Taking to land momentarily, I headed to Port McNeill where I transferred to Seaducktress, owned by Peter Geerlofs, one of the Northwest Maritime Center’s board members. Spectacular views, good conversations, added media support, and professionally prepared meals by another volunteer, Michael Delegarza, made the last segment of the race feel surprisingly relaxing. Maybe too relaxing when the engine died, leaving us marooned to languish in Lagoon Cove for a few days. The supportive community brought on by owners Kelly and Dan at Lagoon Cove was wonderful, but I had to catch up to the race. 

Peter Geerlof’s Seaducktress, photo by Rebecca Ross

Pushing further north, I took a bus to Port Hardy, boarded three planes, and hopped a ferry to finally arrive in Ketchikan. And while the race continues, so does its reliance on volunteers. Michael Briggs, the owner of The Ketch and sponsor of R2AK, generously hosts our stay and meals while we patiently and eagerly wait for all the teams to cross the finish line.

The post-COVID relaunch of R2AK has been, at times, chaotic, and there have been unforeseen mishaps, but the R2AK crew, inspiring racers, and devoted fans have made this a year to remember. And though they rarely share the spotlight, none of this could have come together without the selfless support of the 2022 R2AK volunteers.


Rebecca Ross, field reporter
Rebecca is a freelance writer and outdoor photographer based in Longview, Washington, who spends time backpacking, traveling, and summiting peaks.

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