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R2AK’s Women Warriors

by Norris Comer

In case you couldn’t tell from our lead feature, we’ve definitely caught the Race to Alaska fever and are equally as fascinated by the participants facing the course as the challenge itself. In a world seemingly dominated by bearded and windblown men, a team of nine women (which makes them the largest team entered in this year’s race) has stepped-up to the plate. Team Kraken Up! (get it?) is set to go the full 750 miles in their cabin-less 26-foot longdory that’s fitted with eight oars. The hull is a reproduction of a boat that was designed in 1993 by Kit Africa for ocean rower Mick Bird, who spent 64 days aboard the boat rowing 2,500 miles from California to Hawaii.

Team Kraken Up!’s boat Onward was built to identical specs at the Community Boat Project of Port Hadlock, WA. Team Member Julie Keim bought the longdory Onward from the Community Boat Project to help them continue their work with veterans, youth, and women in Jefferson County. We asked team members Julie Keim, Kim Carver, Jill Russell, and Marcella Branniff a few questions about them and what they expect.

How did you hear about this race/what is your history with it? Have you done it before?

(Keim): I watched a little bit of it last year and thought folks were absolutely crazy to take it on! I have never done anything like this before.
(Carver): I was running social media for the NW Maritime Center when Jake came up with the idea. I ran the Facebook page for the first race and became caught up in the community feel of the event, so I decided I wanted to race as well.
(Russell): Last summer, I was working in Alaska and my wife, Marcella Branniff, kept mentioning the race and how she was getting addicted to it. I was on ships at the time, so didn’t have access to the race tracker on the Internet, but got excited about it just from her descriptions and exclamation that we should enter some time. Of course, I didn’t really think she was serious…
(Branniff) : The owner of the company I work for entered the race last year, and was a sponsor, (and entered and sponsored this year as well) so I was pretty dialed in to the thing, and I became obsessed with watching all of the teams on the race tracker once it began.There was so much drama and excitement, it was hard to watch from behind a computer screen, but I could barely tear myself away. I’d wished they’d all had video cameras onboard, or blogs, or whatever. I would have consumed it all.

Team Kraken UP!

The whole team (left to right, top row): Tara Morgan, Katie Wixom, Alice Rhomieux, Kim Carver, Heather Carter, Julie Keim; (left to right, top row): Marce Branniff, Jill Russell.

What does this race mean to you personally, what makes the race special?

(Keim): I love Southeast Alaska! I worked on small PAX ships in southeast Alaska and I would watch in envy the small boats cruising through.
(Carver): I like the community-building aspect of it; it brings together all kinds of mariners and all kind of boats. There’s nothing like it in that respect. Personally, preparing for it has motivated me to get in the best shape of my adult life.
(Russell): This race is personal because it is so special. A certain amount of ludicrousness makes adventure much more enticing, and this race has that in spades.
(Branniff): Having run ships between Seattle and Alaska for most of my career, I’m familiar with the route, but I’ve never done it without at least 1000 hp. I’m looking forward to slowing down and really getting to know these waters, in a way that you just can’t at 12 knots. (No offense to all the trimarans in the race.) It feels similar to when I hiked [the Appalachian Trail from] from Georgia to Maine, and was often asked “but why are you walking when you can just drive?” If you don’t understand why that’s a strange question, I can’t explain why this race is special. We’re rowing and sailing because you get to know yourself, your team, the water, the boat, everything, in a completely new way, and share that experience together. That’s pretty cool.

Why are you doing this crazy race? What’s your motive and why not just take it easy on the couch?

(Keim): I love team events! It was a great excuse to get focused on my physical and mental well-being.
(Carver): Why NOT do this crazy race? Why is it that when we have less life left to enjoy, some of us get more sedentary and more scared of danger? I’m not going to spend this life watching everyone else have all the adventure!
(Russell): Our team motto is Adventure or Nothing and we all stand by it. We aren’t adrenaline junkies, but I know I love the idea and reality of pushing myself, embracing being uncomfortable, and experiencing life instead of reading about it or watching from a couch.
(Branniff): After enjoying two 2,000+ mile hikes, I’ve learned to embraced my love of adventure for it’s own sake, including a certain amount of discomfort, fear, and the feeling that comes from redrawing the lines around your own comfort zone. I think every [entrant in the] R2AK either has or will understand the gift you give yourself when you push beyond your physical and mental comfort zones for an extended period of time. I’ve come to love that feeling, especially afterward, with a warm shower and a beer.

What are you looking forward to most in the 2016 race?

(Keim): Eating fish and chips at the Alaska Fish House in Ketchikan!!
(Carver): The Pre-Race Ruckus in Port Townsend, the party in Victoria, and meeting up with new friends and old along the way, like crazy Thomas Nielsen, [who is] racing on his Seascape and Dan Blanchard of Team Un-Cruise.
(Russell): Finishing safely with a head full of memories.
(Branniff): Meeting Roger Mann.

What are you dreading most about the 2016 race?

(Keim): Cold weather, and being away from loved ones!
(Carver): Blisters and sores on my hands and butt.
(Russell): Finishing.
(Branniff): The day after we finish.

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