For the 13,000 years that humans have existed in the top left corner now thought of as the US of A, this place that we now call Port Townsend has been a place of arrival and departure. Today too.
We’ve been told that for most of that dozen-plus millennia “Port Townsend” was a place where at least nine different first peoples had longhouses. Why? This place is on the edge of big water.
For anything smaller than a container ship, the 30 miles of open water between Port Townsend and Victoria is no joke on a calm day, a fatal impossibility on the worst. It’s no coincidence that it’s the launching pad for the Race to Alaska. For most of its history, the place called Kahtai was/is a place to gather—either to repair and recover after the passage that got you here or ready yourself in preparation for the passage that would take you away. Today too.
On the arrival side of the ledger, Team Beasts from the East arrived at 5:27 am after 10 hours/70 miles of Olympic-level paddling from Tacoma. Five hours later, Team Seychelle crossed the finish line on her SUP—winning the “Standing Up” class and becoming the first woman to ever win a class in SEVENTY48. Dozens of teams hard charged to the finish line then flopped exhausted on the lawn as a part of the human-powered, weekend-centered, bad-idea-appetizer that is the SEVENTY48. Arriving, gathering, repairing and recovering—like people have been doing around here since time involved humans.
At the same time that SEVENTY48 teams were collapsing across the line exhausted and triumphant after 70 human-powered miles, R2AK crews were getting ready for departure for 750. What does this next-level preparation look like, you ask? Today, in R2AK traditional fashion, it looks like a backyard, whole animal barbecue.
If you’re a longtime fan or at least have seen the documentary (and if not, it’s available on Amazon) you know that Race to Alaska is a lot of things all at once: joy and hardship, support and spotlight, birthday party and preemptive wake. Culminating all of that is the Race to Alaska racer-only lamb roast—the day before Ruckus celebration where racers meet each other and a few curious friends and neighbors. Today was no exception.
As the full-ish moon rose above the horizon, as human-powered teams of SEVENTY48 struggled against the rising winds and changing tides, the R2AK Class of ‘23 gathered to ready themselves for the departure looming in less than 36 hours. Tomorrow they might be competitors, today they were colleagues comparing notes about the hows and the whys.
“What’s your plan for driftwood?”
”We’ve been dehydrating food since March.”
“Wait, the tracker needs batteries?”
“Wait, you’re going to run this thing solo?”
“What’s the deal with the sock monkey?”
Race to Alaska brings and celebrates all comers, and everyone that toes the line falls somewhere on the spectrum between informed and afraid. Today, former Rolex Sailors of the Year talked with R2AK legends who carry sock monkeys as a habit/signature accessory. Today, the backyard BBQ was filled with racers, former racers, and the curve of time.
What does that last part mean?
At least this: a stalwart youngin’ on 2018 Team Blue Flash that sought not just Ketchikan glory but to do so as the youngest team ever. They did it. Average age of 18 (only to be surpassed by a 2022 team who finished with an average age of 16.5). In 2023, Maisey is back to sail with an amalgamation of Race to Alaska champions/Volvo Ocean Race skippers/ex-Soviet circumnavigators that form the backbone of Team We Brake for Whales. All growed up.
What does any of this mean?
At least this: Race to Alaska is back in its full elite and egalitarian glory. Between whenever you read this and 1900 hours Sunday, teams will be muscling the SEVENTY48 against all odds while other teams will be prepping against all odds to start the Race to Alaska at 0500 Monday, hell or high water.
Arrival and departure. Whatever you call this place in the top left corner, this week it, the racers, and anyone following along from Internetlandia are present day manifestations of human patterns that go back to creation. We aren’t, but if we were that kind of woo woo we’d say the ancestors were watching.
Go smudge yourself (or smoke cleanse for the haoles). This part of history starts tomorrow. Ready, set, R2AK.
Header photo by Jeremy Johnson