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The Race to Alaska is 750 miles, on a boat, with no motors and no support


An annual boat race that started Monday in Washington state has some pretty challenging rules - no motors, no support, 750 miles to the finish line in Alaska. People can sail, kayak, row. One Washingtonian has even paddleboarded. Janice Mason is among those competing in the Race to Alaska this year. She's a former Olympic rower for Canada and a multi-year veteran of this race. She's paddling a tandem kayak with her partner, Ian Graeme. And she joins us now from British Columbia, where she's on a quick break. Thanks for joining us.


RASCOE: This is your fifth time doing the race, right? And I don't want to get too all in your business, but I understand that you and Ian actually have a love story that started with this race, right?

MASON: That's right. Yeah, we met actually through the race in 2016 on the dock in Port Townsend a couple of days before the race. Ian was on a trimaran called Fly and I was on a trimaran called Sistership. Anyway, we were both in Victoria and so we thought, well, let's get together afterwards and talk about our experiences. And when I first heard about the race, I thought - I didn't want to row and I just couldn't find anyone to do that with me. And so anyway, Ian and I chatted, and so we just got together and started training and a relationship developed.

RASCOE: I know the race starts in Port Townsend, Wash., and it goes all the way up to Ketchikan, Alaska. What is it like on a typical day?

MASON: Not every day is typical. I mean, the first couple of days are very atypical because the wind was not friendly and it was not safe for paddlers or rowers. So we all hunkered down and just kind of hung out. But once we're up and going, I mean, the typical day is get up at 4 or 4:30, make breakfast, break camp, pack our boat, get on the water hopefully around 6 if we can, and paddle for 36 to 40 nautical miles or whatever the conditions will let us do.

RASCOE: I've never rowed anywhere, much less 750 miles. What is the challenges of that? I would imagine it would be extremely strenuous.

MASON: Yeah. I mean, I - my background is in high-level racing, so I would got out typically and train for an hour and a half rowing hard, and that's the only way I knew how to row. And then I had to change my mindset to actually row this race because it's basically like walking all day. You just have to be nice and steady and keep going. Hopefully the body parts won't fail.

RASCOE: And all of these boats - they're unsupported. So what does that mean, like, when - to be unsupported?

MASON: You can't make any arrangements with people to meet you, say, at some town and give you some food or whatever. But it also means anyone can get support from anyone along the way as long as everyone can access it. So someone can walk up to us on a beach and say, hey, I'm following the race, here's a bag of apples. People have offered us places to stay overnight. So it's unsupported in that you can't plan anything. You have to carry all your own gear. But, yeah, basically it's - you're on your own, except for whoever's along the way who might be able to help you out.

RASCOE: So it seems like a lot of this is about the community, right?

MASON: Oh, definitely.

RASCOE: And you can talk to the other racers and, you know, the people that you meet along the way.

MASON: You know, I think that's one of the things that draws us back is - we could paddle the coast on our own, take our time, relax, you know, wander beaches, but there's something about being part of an event that - it pushes you a little bit. You know, you go out in conditions where you might not go if it weren't for the race. But also there's this huge community of people that are fans. And we've developed some amazing friendships over the years, and some of our best friends are other racers that have done the race multiple times as well.

RASCOE: That's Janice Mason, who's competing with her partner, Ian Graeme, in the Race to Alaska. Thank you so much.

MASON: Thanks. It's been great. And thanks for reaching out.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.

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