BY KENDRA WONG
Tanner Ockenden knows how ridiculous it sounds.
For a couple of trying weeks in June, Ockenden, a Kamloops native, along with Victoria brothers Graham and Russell Henry, Salmon Arm’s Nik Rampen, and East Coasters Ryan Schissler and Mackenzie Punter, will be paddling in a 1,100-kilometre race from Victoria to Alaska.
The Race to Alaska, the first-ever longest human- and wind-powered race in North America, is a competition in which participants make their way in any type of non-motorized boat from Victoria to Ketchikan, Alaska.
The only supplies they can use are the ones they can fit in the boat and no outside help is allowed.
“Everyone is staying pretty positive right now,” Ockenden told Kamloops This Week. He and his team are among the only teams choosing to use human power.
One other competitor will make the trek on a standup paddle board, while a third will go in a rowboat.
“I think it’s going definitely to test our ability to stay positive as a group of six dudes who are all already pretty positive, as disposition goes, on a day-to-day basis. It will be fun to test our mental strength as well as our physical strength.
“It’s going to be a big wall to climb.”
In the race’s inaugural year, 38 teams will be competing for the chance to win $10,000.
Ockenden’s six-man team, which has dubbed itself the Soggy Beavers, will head north on a 44-foot long, 340-pound outrigger canoe, outfitted with a sailing rig.
“It’s bigger, it’s faster, it’s more sea-worthy. Polynesians crossed oceans in these things, so we figured it would be a good thing to run up to Alaska,” Graham Henry told the Victoria News.
“Because we’re doing it differently, it gives us an advantage if the weather is right for us. There are lots of catamarans that are fighting against each other and have almost the same set of gear; we’re in a very different boat.”
The team’s plan is to paddle non-stop for six or seven days, taking turns sleeping in a coffin-style position wedged between the seats, living in their dry-suits for the duration of the trip and eating dehydrated fruits and energy bars.
The Henry brothers have experience on longer expeditions, having kayaked 6,500 kilometres from Brazil to Florida in 2013.
But, for the other four paddlers, it will be a relatively new experience.
“This was an opportunity to slingshot myself back into a more transient, simple, adventurous lifestyle, which is where I find myself feeling most fulfilled,” said Ockenden, a NorKam grad.
He, along with Rampen and Russell, graduated from Thompson Rivers University’s adventure guiding diploma program in 2012.
“At this point, I think we’re a little too headstrong to feel the nerves right now,” he said. “But, coming up to race day, I’m sure we’re going to start to feel it.”
In preparation for the race, the paddlers have been training every day in Victoria’s Inner Harbour.
But, sailing on open water comes with its own set of challenges.
The group said managing sleep, unpredictable weather conditions and the physical exertion pose the biggest challenges.
“It’s going to be about creative problem-solving and just suffering through it,” said Graham.
“It’s not often that you get to see the entire Canadian West Coast in a week, especially via such a pure form of transportation,” added Rampen.
The crew hopes to land in Ketchikan by June 13.
After that, they’ll paddle back down to Prince Rupert where Schissler’s dad will take the boat and a few of the crew members home.
The rest will hitchhike south – the truck won’t fit everyone.
The team has set up a Go Fund Me page called Canoe to Ketchikan and half of every dollar donated will be given to the Vancouver-based Take a Hike Youth at Risk Foundation, an organization they are all closely connected with.
The race starts on Sunday, June 7, at noon from the provincial capital’s Inner Harbour.