It's a simple concept. One-hundred twenty three teams are set to launch under their own power from Tacoma, Washington on Monday evening, June 11, bound for Port Townsend some 70 miles across Puget Sound. Racers have 48 hours to complete the course on whatever craft they like (provided it's human-powered), using whatever route they'd like. While these waters are highly trafficked by the marine community in the area, this is the first race of its kind and 2018 is its inaugural year. The name too, is simple: Seventy48.
Racers of all stripes have signed up for the event. Local boatbuilders who will be rowing their own crafts, two six-person outrigger canoe teams hutting their way up, a core SUP community that often frequents these waters using their knowledge to pick their way through the complex currents and tides of Puget Sound, and many more. Among them are mothers and fathers, young and old, veteran racers and those who are competing for the first time. Their reasons for doing the race all vary but one seems to override them all: they couldn't say no to the adventure.
When I first heard of Seventy48 I was intrigued. The race will be run by the same folks that run the Race to Alaska, the 750-mile, any-craft-goes journey from Port Townsend to Ketchikan, Alaska that is in its fourth year. R2AK, as it's affectionately has it's own tribe, it's own community--race organizers will pay for a tattoo of the race logo at the pre-race festivities. The vibe of their marketing poses Seventy48 as a dare, as something they don't even necessarily recommend you do, but something that they lay out your feet as a challenge, if you choose to take it.
At least that's how I felt.
After doing Molokai 2 Oahu solo last year, I’d decided that 2018 was going to be an easy year, that I wasn’t going to subject myself to months of training for a physically demanding and logistically challenging race. I was just going to surf and paddle for pleasure. Then two of my buddies talked me into doing M2O on a three-person team (the race is the last weekend in July). “OK, that’s only a little over 10 miles,” I thought. And it would be fun to share the experience with friends who had never done it before.
So I started training. Nothing crazy, but I started. Seventy48 was a kernel nestled in the folds of my brain but I wasn't seriously considering doing it.
Then I talked to one of my childhood friends from southern Oregon, Trevor Smith, who works for Good Story Paddle Boards, a small company founded by Matthew Nienow that specializes in custom wooden SUPs. They're based in Port Townsend and were making a board for a racer. When that person dropped out and they offered to make me a custom-built, wooden SUP just for this race, well, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
That simple decision has turned into all-consuming preparation as the race start speeds closer. I've been training four months, prepping my body to endure some huge days of paddling. I've whittled down my gear to the absolute necessities, while maintaining safety as a top priority and I've studied the winds, currents and tides of the route. My brother, Max, also decided to do the race too, so we've been swapping gear, logistics and training notes.
But I've never paddled on the route itself, and, because the board was made in Washington and I live in California, I haven't paddled it either. So there are definitely some unknowns to face--including paddling at night across well-trafficked patches of the Sound.
To say I'm nervous would be an understatement. More than anything, though, I'm excited. This race has never been done before by anyone. All of us racers will be treading new water. More than anything--the pain, the darkness, the beauty, the doubt, the clarity--it will be an adventure. And that's what we signed up for.