Monday, May 30, 2011

Ski to Sea Race

Ski to Sea Race is a local multi sport race that received a lot of national attention last year. For the history of the race you can Google Ski to Sea and get on the website.

My involvement this year, which was the 100th anniversary of the race, took many twists and and unfortunate turns.

The family team that I was on two years ago finished in third place that year - a plaque and a photo of all of us on the podium can attest to effort all of us put in to successful completion the race.

This year we couldn't get enough family members to commit so I posted my name on a bulletin board, offering my kayaking skills for any other team needing a racer.

I was contacted by team "Puppy Cradle Grave Syndrome" - a team name with  origins that remain shrouded in mystery still. The teams kayaker had recently been in a severe accident - car vs semi - and had not recooped sufficiently to paddle.  They turned out to be a group of university students with very limited racing experience and not much interconnection between one another. Quite the opposite of our family team who were fairly close-knit and quite knowledgeable of the course. And I should mention very competitive in our approach.

For many years I have opposed the direction that the Ski to Sea Race was  heading - that the Race directors were promoting the race more as an elitist race for nationally  ranked competitors and less of a local race for folks who enjoyed competing with each other all within a framework of having a good time. Well, here was my chance to support my feelings. "Puppy Cradle Grave Syndrome" certainly didn't take itself too seriously.

 The race meeting was an absolute last minute affair with many of the racers meeting each other for the first time. Introductions were brief and logistics were kept to an adequate but minimal level. I left feeling a little apprehensive that these young men and women could actually make all the necessary connections to race but also found myself laughing at the whole concept of racing on a team with such a casual attitude.

I took it to heart though. On race day I skipped the mandatory kayak race meeting. It was at noon and I calculated that my racers wouldn't make down the course until 4:00 or 5:00 PM.  That would be a lot of wait time for me. Fortunately the race had an iPone/iPod Touch program that allowed me to follow their progress and my estimates proved to be correct. I didn't leave the ranch until almost two o'clock.

With 500 teams in the race some of the elite teams were already finishing by the time I reached town. There were however still hundreds of kayaks lined up on the park grass at the put in point when I arrived. Of the seven legs in the race my team was still on the Nooksack River canoeing with a Mountain Bike leg needing to be completed before I could get to paddle.

Meanwhile the wind on Bellingham Bay was picking up, more and more whitecaps were appearing and some of the less experienced paddles were having difficulty turning around the breakwater into the wind.
I was looking forward to the challenge thinking that I could out maneuver and paddle faster than a lot of boats on the water.

In order to contain the overall time of the race the idea was to release all remaining boats at 5:00 PM regardless of whether or not the teams' mountain bikers arrived. I was beginning to realize that I would be part of that group and the group would be huge.

I received calls that our Mountain Biker was on the course so I lined myself up for a last minute pee. By chance I heard some nearby folks with Ski to Sea Official tags on saying something on the phone that they had a "Situation" here at kayak put in point. They expressed concern of the number of boats still remaining to launch and of the deterioration of the conditions on the bay.

Not long after returning to my kayak there was an announcement that due to unsafe conditions in the bay the kayak leg would be cancelled immediately.  After watching numerous kayakers dumping themselves in the 50 degree water just outside the breakwater I was thinking it was a good idea. I would have enjoyed the challenge but I realized that there would be considerable risk. (Maybe my new ID bracelet would get some use.)

The sad thing is that the race directors literally folded the tent when they called off the race. The 200 teams remaining were left on their own to welcome their Mt Bike teammates when they finished their leg. There were no more announcements as to who was coming in which is sad because those riders deserved the recognition as much as the ones before them. Maybe more so because the race was over them then and there.

My rider came in at 5:15 and I was glad I waited to cheer him in. So it was a no go for me, all I got was the shirt.

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