The Ski to Sea finish line last year at Marine Park looked a lot like Disneyland on a summer day. It was packed with beer gardens, sports gear kiosks, and the families of athletes. I'd never seen so many people in one place in this town.
I watched Ski to Sea last year as a spectator. This year I'll be a participant.
Ski to Sea is an 82.5 mile, 7-leg relay race from Mount Baker to Fairhaven. The race begins with cross-country skiing at the Mount Baker Ski Area, then downhill skiing or snowboarding, running, road biking, canoeing, mountain biking, and ends in Fairhaven with sea kayakers ringing a bell at Marine Park. The 34th annual event will feature 400 teams with 3,200 participants.
I didn't imagine a year ago that I'd be a Ski to Sea racer. Although I've always enjoyed riding my bike and frolicking outside, I was always the first one out of breath, and even in college I was the last kid picked for teams in boffing capture the flag. Last spring, however, a friend gave me his old road bike, and I finally found a sport that really spoke to me. It probably had something to do with working with the bicycle. Now, I want to put my biking skills towards something as prestigious as Ski to Sea.
I'm doing the road biking leg in the race. I will ride my new Specialized Roubaix, which is such a fancy bike that I feel like a poser when I ride it. Halfway down Mount Baker, our runner Emily will pass me a figurative baton (a chip on a wristband) and I'll speed away as fast as my muscly legs and slender little road bike will carry me, 36 miles in all to the city of Everson. There, I'll pass the wristband on to our two canoeists.
My personal goal is modest: don't be the last cyclist to finish the road biking leg. Al-though we're not a competitive team, road biking is one of the most important legs in the race (the other being the last, kayaking). I've never been in any sort of race before, so I'll be figuring out this strategic drafting and pelotons and breaking away business as I go.
I have been training, although calling it "training" is probably just a word to make me feel a little more professional. I should be getting out on my road bike for more than a few 25 mile rides each week, but I'm still recovering from a winter indoors and I've been pretty distracted by my recent obsession with mountain biking. In hindsight, I could have practiced a lot harder, but I'm confident I'll finish the race, and I'm happy with that for my first time in any kind of athletic competition.
The 400 teams are divided into categories like Whatcom County, masters (40 and up), family, women's, veterans, mixed-gender, and recreational. My team is entering the recreational category, which is comparably low-key. We're all young Western and Whatcom Community College students, except our cross country skier. We couldn't find someone our own age, so my dad is starting us off on his 1989 Nova touring skis.
Our downhill skier, Hannah, has been sighted hiking up and down the streets of Belling-ham with her skis on her shoulders and wearing her boots around her house. The downhill ski route includes a hike uphill in between runs.
Our team's name is Natural Stochasticity, which I'm told is "the quality of lacking any predictable order or plan" in the field of risk management. I suppose it's pretty fitting, since I haven't even met a few of my teammates yet.
My little brother Logan, who is a Western freshman and won at nationals with the cy-cling team, is also doing the road bike leg of Ski to Sea. I don't expect to be on the course at the same time as him. Logan was invited on the competitive Running-Shoes.com team, and he hopes to be in the first group of cyclists.
My mom is the only family member not racing, but she'll be up there seeing my brother and I off on our road bikes. She will make us spaghetti the night before, the traditional carb dense meal she feeds my brother the night before his big bike races.
Ski to Sea will have passed this last Sunday, May 27. Check back next week for a re-port on Natural Stochasticity.
Cross Country Skiing: Mount Baker, 4 miles
Downhill Skiing or Snowboarding: Mount Baker, 2.5 miles
Running: Mount Baker, 8 miles, 1,700 ft. elevation drop
Cycling: Mount Baker to Everson, 36 miles
Canoeing: Everson to Ferndale via Nooksack River, 18 miles
Mountain Biking: Ferndale to Bellingham, 9 miles
Sea Kayaking: Bellingham to Fairhaven, 5 miles (4.3 nautical miles)
Total: 82.5 miles