June 14, 2022
By Rebecca Ross, Field Reporter
Lillian Kuehl is no newbie to racing or even Race to Alaska. In 2019, previously known as Team Quilbillians, she pedaled her way to the finish line with her father and uncle on their custom-made 27’ boat.
Post-pandemic, Lillian is back and ready for the 2022 race—but with a new name, new team, new approach, and new boat. Now, Lillian is going by Team Interstice and doing it solo while paddling in a boat built from a kit.
It felt like a no-brainer that I had to meet her and her box kit boat in person. A 3-hour drive to Seattle, I started to question my GPS until I found myself in front of a row of boathouses on a dead-end street. Yep, this is definitely where a racer would live.
Arriving in the nick of time, I finally introduced myself to Lillian as she settled into Dave’s boathouse (her boyfriend and previous racer for SEVENTY48). Despite her double fisting a cup of coffee and a shot of espresso, prepping herself for the caffeine, she appeared as cool as a cucumber, somehow making me feel anxious for the race. Her calm laid back demeanor made it clear that racing and all things boat-related coursed through her veins.
“Okay, I’ve got to ask, why do you want to do this race?” I questioned. I watched her casually shrug, “I was born to suffer,” she replied, elaborating that she thrives on endurance racing that doesn’t rely on the wind. Understanding how far she could row in a day was another appealing factor.
I chuckled, but I also knew she 100% meant it. “Alright, I have to ask a follow-up. Why are you racing solo this time?” A humble grin crossed her face as she retold her R2AK experience with her family—stressing her need to want to do things on her terms, on her schedule, and without anyone slowing her down. “And, besides, I find racing solo easier. I don’t have to synchronize my movements.”
Interrupting a leisurely morning, Lillian, finished her coffee(s) before driving us to Fisheries Supply. I followed behind like a paparazzo as she chatted with the staff she knew by name before deftly navigating the store with confidence–the kind of confidence only someone who owns their own business repairing and upgrading recreational vessels would have.
Afterward, we finally arrived at Dave’s storage unit. The doors opened; fumes wafted out as the sunlight lit up a bright canary boat hanging upside, nearly dry from its second UV coating. My eyes lit up as I envisioned its bright contrast out on the water. This color is going to be perfect for photographing!
Unable to see it in pre-race action, I listened to Dave as he showed me the boat’s compartments and thingy-ma-jigs–stopping from time to time to bridge the gaps of my boat illiteracy. In the meantime, my peripheral view watched Lillian skillfully scrape off the blue tape residue on her boat with a knife.
“So why choose to build your boat from a kit?” I finally asked the question that radiated in my mind.
“I didn’t find one I liked, so I ordered one online,” Lillian causally explains. “Although, in hindsight, perhaps if we’d kept an eye out, we would have found one, and I would have gotten more training in, but c’est la vie,” she adds.
The nonchalance of her answer didn’t convince me that this was just chance. Having completed several races in the past–with her family, nonetheless–and being a business owner of one (for now), working on vessels, knowing her craft is in her blood.
Rebecca Ross, field reporter
Rebecca is a freelance writer and outdoor photographer based in Longview, Washington, who spends time backpacking, traveling, and summiting peaks.