TL;DR – I finished the Seventy48 race, kayaking 70 miles from Tacoma to Port Townsend in 15.5 hours and I’m ready to sign up for next year.
One of the lessons I’ve learned from doing various long distance events is the distance always feel impossible until you do it, then it feels like something anyone could do. The Seventy48 was no exception. As I mentioned in the last post, I had put in the training that seemed like enough, but the race was still over twice as far as I’d ever paddled, so I was still nervous.
I had decided months ago that it would make sense to take the day off of work before the race. I know this wasn’t required, but I had three personal days I was going to “donate” back to the school district soon and thought a little more sleep that morning would be good. I stayed up later the night before and slept in the morning of the start to try to push my internal clock back a few hours. Starting at 7pm, I didn’t want to get in the boat and immediately start feeling tired. I also decided about two days before the race that I was going to try to go all through the night rather than stopping to sleep so late afternoon caffeine was helpful.
It had been raining hard for the previous few days but let up that morning. I hoped we’d be able to start dry. Once I was in the boat, it wouldn’t matter if I got wet, but it’s always nicer to get into the boat dry (this is probably just a mental thing I should get over). Unfortunately the rain came back just as I got to the check-in and grew more intense while we waited for the start.
Getting to the launch site, I was greeted by so many different types of boats. I expected kayaks, rowing shells, and SUPs. I hadn’t thought about it much but wasn’t surprised to see outriggers or canoes. The catamaran-style boat with two 8-person canoes lashed together was unexpected, as was the 12-person canoe, and the four-person bike-boat. It was amazing to see the diversity of vessels attempting the event, some costing $10k+ and precisely engineering for speed while others appeared to be fun DIY projects that the owners were simply hoping would float long enough to complete the journey.
Shortly before launching my boat, the rain stopped and I was able to stay dry getting in. My parent, Dom, and Avery wished me luck from the dock as I pushed away. There was so much excitement amongst the boaters and spectators as we approached the start. It felt like the start of an ultramarathon. Sure, we were all out here competing against each other, officially, but really, we were all just trying to see what we could do and wished others the best of luck getting to Port Townsend. This spirit of camaraderie is one of the best aspect of these events.
When the horn sounded, we headed out through Tacoma. People cheered us on from shore, bridges, and boats. Weirdly none of them seemed interested in trading places with me. After a mile or so, the crowd of boats started to spread out. I had plenty of room to paddle without worrying about hitting other boats while being close enough that we could still have conversations. As we continued along Ruston Way, a storm was moving in. Kayakers could see it coming while rowers had views of sunny skies behind us. At Point Defiance, we had a Spot Tracker GPS check where I found out my tracker had shut down. After restarting it, I turned the corner to head towards Vashon and almost immediately spotted a pod of porpoise. I was excited and pointed them out to another boat. “Oh yeah, Harbor Porpoise. They’re all over.” After spotting the third pod within the hour, I was a little less excited about seeing them… but only a little. This is also where the Humpback decided to check in on us.
We continued up the west side of Vashon as night fell. Boats continued to spread out. By the time we were crossing to Blake Island, I could see lights on other boats but couldn’t see or hear the people in them. With the storm clouds still above us, there was no way the (nearly) full moon was going to help light our way. Luckily, the thoughtful people of Seattle left lights on for us that reflected against the sky and made it easy to find each piece of land we needed to get to.
I’ve heard that many long distance paddlers will hallucinate, especially at night. When crossing from Fay Bainbridge, I noticed some light on the edge of my field of view. Looking directly at it, I had a small glowing dot on my hand. I paddled a few more strokes and it stayed there. Eventually I dunked my hand in the water and the dot was gone. I’m fairly certain it was just some bioluminescence, but I talk with people about it, the less sure I am.
Not long before getting to Point No Point, light returned to the sky and I was getting hungry. Having already eaten several bars, I felt like I wanted something else, but didn’t remember packing anything that sounded good. Just as I was deciding which was worse, hunger or more bars, I remembered that Dominique had made a last minute purchase for me, a squeezable pouch of peanut butter. Those five servings disappeared in a little over an hour. It was perfect!
The longest crossing on the course was leaving Foulweather Bluff, aiming for Marrowstone Island and Indian Island. Navigation along the course so far had been very easy. This crossing was about five miles. As I approached, the skies were clear and I could see where I was headed. Unfortunately, as soon as I left Foulweather Bluff, another cloud bank rolled, obscuring the far side. This was the only time during the race that I felt the need to pull out my compass. Additionally, during this crossing, I hit the point where I’d been awake for over 24 hours and my eyes started to droop. I sighted off what land I could see and drank some tea to try to stay awake. I managed to get across without any issues, but heard that at least two other boats went too far to the east, drifted into shipping lanes, and were disqualified.
After the crossing, I knew I was close to the end, but those last six or so miles still felt like they took forever. I finally pulled into shore in Port Townsend with an air horn signaling to all within a mile or so that I’d finished the race.
Usually at the end of a long race, I feel like I never want to do that again. It typically takes a few weeks before the pain and frustration fade enough to make me think it would be a “good idea” to sign up for another one. With this, I probably would have signed up on the dock for next year. I’m not sure what it was, but it felt like a fun trip that I was ready to do again, once I’d rested for a bit.
While sitting on the beach at the finish, a family stumbled upon the event and wanted to know what was going on. After a brief description, they were impressed enough with the finishers, they said, “Wow, I’m going to have to let my family know I met a real-life hero.” It seemed like such an odd thing to say. First, I think we have very different definitions of hero, since I didn’t feel like doing this event had really helped anyone else which I see as a key function of heroes. But it also took much of my remaining strength to not explain how this was something that pretty much anyone could, if they were willing to put in just a bit of training. At that moment I realized it was just like other ultras because I was thinking “it’s JUST a bit of activity for 15 hours and change. The sort of thing anyone could do.”