Ski to Sea 2012–Race Report

It started out as a car sale, last year. Kyle wanted to make sure the car was in decent mechanical shape, so we met at a shop. I was pretty sure he was going to get the car, so I arrived in my running gear. While the car was being checked out, we chatted about running, and Kyle mentioned that he was doing Ski to Sea and needed a runner!

That next weekend, I had a funny conversation with my wife:

Puja: “Who are you going with?”

Me” “I have no idea.”

Puja: “Where are you staying?”

Me: “I have no idea.”

Puja: “What are you doing for food?”

Me: “I have no idea.”

Puja: “Can I call you?”

Me: “No cell service up there.”

Puja: “Did you update your will?”

It turned out just fine last year – I raced with a bunch of folks that I met for the first time, and when the race rolled around this year, Kyle asked me back, and also asked for some help finding a few other teammates. So I did!

Greg (cross country ski) and Justin (uphill walk and downhill ski) and I left Seattle for Bellingham on Saturday afternoon, in a pair of GMC vans – we planned on camping up at Mt Baker, instead of getting up early on Sunday to make the drive. We landed in Bellingham just in time to see Trevor and Dave (road bike and mountain bike, respectively) polishing off a pre-dinner ice cream. Kyle and Daniel (canoe) met us a few minutes later, and we found a pasta spot for dinner and a pint, engaged in the usual amount of smack talk, finalized our race plans (Trevor decided to come to the top with us), and headed up to the Mt. Baker Ski resort!

(Joe, our kayaker wisely stayed home, with plans to meet us at the kayak launch – no good reason to wake up early and go to the top of the mountain only to come back down again!)

Dustin and Trevor had to rescue an out gas-pop top camper, which meant that Greg and I had time to scout out a good spot at the top, open a beer and meet the neighbors before they joined us. It was cold, though – so we all hit the sack with the hopes of getting a good sleep prior to race day.

Race day dawned crisp (about 36) and clear – we brewed coffee, wrestled with our gear, made some oatmeal, and finalized our plan of attack.

Greg was first out the gate, in a massive shotgun start.


Shotgun Cross Country Start

He wisely lined up mid-pack, and we all hoped that the flu he’d been fighting wouldn’t get the best of him, and it didn’t. Although he narrowly avoided tarnishing the snow a few times, he completed the circuit and handed off to Justin.

Justin and I had many a conversation about the “downhill ski” component, which begins with a mile or so hike to the top. For some reason, the organizers won’t let you use the right gear for that job: no backpack, no tying your skis on, no skins – so it’s a fairly brutal uphill hike, carrying your skis and in your boots. Justin said it would be like me running 8 miles downhill in pumps.


Love those shoes

In any case, Justin acquitted himself admirably, despite the equipment embargo. He moved us into 118th place overall (and finished 33rd in our division) before handing off to me for the downhill run.

I’d run the same course last year, and had a blast – being skinny helps with the pounding on the knees, so I was looking forward to a speedy trip down the hill, and I wasn’t disappointed. Even though we were in 118th place (by time) there were a LOT of runners in front of me – so I started to count. I expected that I’d get 20-30 runners before the crowd thinned, but I was wrong about that. I counted 50 runners by the time I was at mile 3, and set my hopes on a total of 100!

pcs on downhill run

Patrick at mile 3

I wasn’t disappointed – by the time I finished, I’d passed 137 runners! We were now in 65th place overall, and 25th in our division!

Trevor was up next, and he had a brand new bike. He was speedy last year, and speedier this year:

Trevor on Bike

Trevor on the course

He finished a couple of minutes faster than last year, moving us all of the way up to 18th place overall and 11th in our division!

Kyle and Daniel were next up, in what I think is the toughest segment – a 18 or so mile paddle in the river. Racing in a new boat and with more practice under their belts meant that they shaved 6 minutes from their previous best. However, competition in that event is fierce, and we dropped a few spots overall and in our division.

Kyle and Dan in Canoe

Kyle and Daniel speeding along

Dave road the mountain bike this year, and since he’d never done the race, really didn’t know what to tell us about finishing time. But he also had a strong race, and he moved us to 34th place overall, and 9th in our division! Game on!

Justin and Joe and Trevor and Greg and I waited at the kayak put in for Dave, and while Joe didn’t seem nervous about the wind and the waves, I was – the race officials had already shortened the distance and the course, steering paddlers as much as possible to be near the shore and out of the wind. Joe is a seasoned kayaker, and a teammate on another race team of mine, where he routinely covers the 12 mile distance in 2 hours or less. In the past three years, Joe was 1st in our division and 5th overall, no small feat, especially given that the competition includes an Olympic gold medalist and 2 person kayaks!


(Joe finishing 1st in our division at Mountains to Sound)

Joe took the handoff, and we carried the boat to the water. The whiteboard was showing gusts of up to 29 knots. We watched as Joe turned the corner out of the harbor, and while it looked like tough going – it looked like it was tough going for everyone. Joe was in a sleek (and tippy) kayak, and just after we left for the finish line, he capsized.

Joe in Kayak 1

Joe getting out of the harbor

True to form – when the rescue boat arrived – he had them tow him back to the start, emptied the boat, and went out for a second time. About 10 minutes in, the boat tipped again. This time, Joe worked with a volunteer kayaker, executed a sea rescue, pumped the water out with a hand pump, and again set out towards the finish.

By that time – we were on the beach, looking for him, and I was more than nervous – I’d originally expected him in 30-40 minutes. Given the wind and the waves, I thought that an hour might be a new reasonable time frame. But we were past that by then, and I was worried about his safety. Turns out – Joe capsized for a third time, and when the Sherriff boat picked him up, they brought him to the shore.

Joe with Sherrif

Joe with the Sherriff

We met up with the rest of the team for a post race pint. Maybe two. And we decided that we’d be back near to take our revenge on the course.

All in all – it was quite an adventure!


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