One morning in April, out of the blue, I got a call from a friend who asked me to participate in the Ski to Sea race as part of his team called Half & Half. The race is a long-standing tradition in the town of Bellingham just south of the border. It’s been running since 1973 and is a 7-leg relay race which starts from Mount Baker and finishes in Bellingham Bay (hence the name Ski to Sea). The race starts with cross-country skiing, followed by downhill skiing, running, road cycling, mountain biking, canoe, and finally kayaking out to the Bay. The team, Half and Half, has been participating for several years now and this year they were in the need of someone to complete the cross-country ski leg.
As a rather mediocre cross-country skier who doesn’t even know how to skate-ski, I was at first taken aback and insisted that I don’t want to diminish his team results with my bad skiing. But he said that the first places are always taken by the likes of people who are either on the national US skiing team, or have had some other great skiing accomplishments. So, he said, don’t worry and have fun.
Nonetheless, I had a major case of nerves the night before. I imagined being the last one at the leg’s finish, barely making my way to the finish line while others effortlessly skate-skied by. But as it turned out, the skate-skiing technique wasn’t a huge advantage for this race.
It was Sunday, May 28, a perfectly sunny day. Our group of five (which included two of my teammates – the downhill skier and the runner) made our way up to the lodge at Mount Baker. The road would be closed for the duration of the race and we would have to wait until the last of the runners make their way down.
I was the first to race, so I made my way to the start line. It turned out that over 300 teams signed up to participate in the race, so here I was, standing in the middle of the crowd of roughly 300 people!
While waiting for the race to start, I entertained myself by reading the teams’ names on people’s bibs. A few of my favourites were “The Fighting Snails of Snowline”, “Team Gray-nola”, and “Good Friends Making Bad Decisions”.
When the race finally started, it was madness at first, with everyone scrambling up the first hill and falling in the melting, slippery snow. Those who were trying to skate-ski up the skill quickly realized that they couldn’t do so in the crowd. I actually felt at an advantage over these people because my classic skis had edges that I could use to climb up the hill.
Did I mention that it started to get hot around 8 am? I immediately regretted not taking my hoodie off, but my bib was already pinned to it so I had to wear it it for the duration of the leg.
And so it went, up and down and around the hills for about 6.5 km. Many more people were falling because the snow was slippery and it appeared some of them didn’t know how to stop. After a slow start near the end of crowd, I managed to pass some people and moved up the ranks a little bit. When I finally finished, passing my bracelet to my friend to begin her downhill leg, I was just happy to be alive and not last even though I knew I was in the last quartile. After the race, I learned that the first-place finisher in the XC ski leg was none other than Kikkan Randall, an Olympic cross-country skier. Unfortunately her strong finish didn’t help her team as they ended up finishing in the 38th place. It is really a team effort after all. It was amazing to know that I was in the same race with Olympic racers!
Re-hydrated and happy that my leg was done, I watched the downhill skiers. It was a challenging leg – the most difficult part is not actually skiing, but carrying the skis/snowboard up the mountain. Skiing down is the easiest part as it takes about 4 minutes. My friend did very well – she ranked the highest among our team members.
After the downhill leg was done and the runners left, the road was finally opened and a string of cars began a long slog down the mountain road.
After the race, the Half & Half team and a few friends had a little party at a park in Ferndale and I got to meet good friends who came to cheer as well as some amazing new people!