The 2014 Bellingham Traverse
By Ian Ferguson | Photos by Kayla Andres
Salmon, at least the ones that want to procreate, have it rough.
When it’s time to spawn, they not only have to swim upstream for hundreds of miles, leaping over rushing falls and dodging bears, anglers and other predators along the way; they also have to navigate complicated coastlines and river systems to find the place where they hatched years ago.
After mountain biking in the Bellingham Traverse last weekend and navigating the logistics of team organization, I feel their pain. Sort of.
The Bellingham Traverse is a multi-sport relay race around Bellingham and Fairhaven. As individuals or teams, racers run, mountain bike, road bike, trail run and kayak along the trails, roads and waters of Bellingham. Our team was thrown together at the last minute, but we somehow got everyone together at the starting line, with our two bikes and our rented kayak on our cars and ready to be brought to the start of their respective sections.
Our whole team watched the mass start and cheered on Jeanine Cheney as she took off running along the interurban trail towards Lake Padden. We had multiple cars because our friends Laura and Lexi were visiting for the weekend (along with their dogs), and after watching the start we got in our cars and met at Lake Padden. Jeanine set a blistering pace, running the 5.5-mile Greenways course in 40 minutes flat. Then it was my turn on the mountain bike.
I barreled down the gently sloping first section, excited to finally be moving. When I reached the first uphill, I quickly realized I hadn’t been on my bike in weeks and didn’t have anything close to a race strategy. Before long, I was hiking my full-suspension bike up the trail. I wasn’t the only one pushing my bike, but a good number of more fit riders passed me going uphill.
I was completely winded and the lactic acid was burning my leg muscles when I finally gained the high point, but on the downhill I was able to pick off a few of the people who had passed me. There are some true mountain biking sections of the course where I was glad to have full suspension, and although I didn’t see any wipe-out aftermath, there were plenty of people who hopped off their bikes to navigate tricky sections. From start to finish, the trails were a blast to ride.
Six miles and 46 minutes after setting out, I high-fived our road biker Stamati Anagnostou and sent him on his way.
I had time to drop off Jeanine (who had to work that afternoon) and grab some food and water at home before meeting my team at the end of the road bike section. Stamati came cruising in after completing the 18 mile ride in 1:07. He said the ride was “delightful,” and he appreciated the views of the Coast Range in Canada as he rolled down the final downhill into Fairhaven.
Kayla Andres set off on the trail run a couple minutes after Stamati finished because we all somehow missed him coming in. It was at the end of Kayla’s section that we ran into our first hiccup.
High winds and waves out in Bellingham Bay caused course officials to change the kayak section, the final leg of our relay race. Instead of starting at Marine Park, we were to launch our kayak from the Bellingham Boating Center dock.
We carried our kayak to the dock and waited for our trail runner to arrive. We watched a lot of trail runners from teams ahead of us run to the staging area and tag their paddlers. Some of the people running up to the dock were already wearing lifejackets. We assumed these people were solo competitors.
Because of the number of trail runners who were arriving at the dock without lifejackets, we falsely assumed a race official at Marine Drive was telling runners to keep running to the Boating Center. Turns out a number of paddlers had the good sense to go to Marine Drive, the original finish for the trail run, to meet their runners and tell them about the course change.
We unfortunately didn’t think to do that. Kayla looked for us at Marine Drive for about 10 minutes before walking over to the boating center where we all were. No matter; Kat Thorney was stoked to paddle and we pushed her off from the boat launch.
Hungry by this point in the day, Kat had asked me to get her some Russian dumplings so she could eat at the end of her leg. Thinking she would take about 45 minutes (an average paddle time from last year’s race), I agreed. This is where our team began to fall apart.
Our friends Laura and Lexi who had been visiting for the weekend with their two dogs needed to get back to our house to drop off their dogs. Kayla needed to drive Laura there because they didn’t know the way. Lexi and I headed to Pel’Meni to get dumplings for Kat. Jeanine, who had changed for work, went to Cornwall Beach, the end of the kayak leg where we were all supposed to meet up and wait for Kat. Stamati was there too, but he was getting hungry…
The end of the kayak leg is the one point in the race where the whole team needs to be together, because the final leg is the “Team Trek” from Cornwall Beach to Boundary Bay along the interurban trail.
Lexi and I had just left Pel’Meni with Kat’s dumplings when Stamati called.
“I’m hungry, I think I’m going to get some dumplings too,” he said.
“I think there’s enough time, go for it,” I said.
Five minutes later, Kat called.
“I’ve been done with the kayak leg for five minutes. Jeanine’s here but where the hell are you guys?”
“Sh#$! I’m just leaving Pel’Meni. Start heading towards Boundary Bay Brewery and I’ll meet you along the way.”
The kayak leg had been shortened because of the wind and waves, and our team was completely scattered across Bellingham. I should have called everyone at that point and designated a clear meeting spot. Maybe I was still delirious from the mountain bike, but I thought I would just intercept Kat and Jeanine and go from there. I ran down to the interurban trail behind the Hub Community Bike Shop, thinking they would be coming up the interurban trail at any moment, but unbeknownst to me they had started running along Cornwall Drive, the shortest route to Boundary Bay Brewery.
Thirty minutes and a dozen phone calls later, our team was finally assembled on Railroad Ave. Note to self: try to do the race with one or zero cars next year, bring all necessary food and water, and keep everyone together. We jogged the final 100 yards to the finish line together, late but triumphant. We drank tasty beers and ate tasty quesadillas to celebrate.
The Bellingham Traverse, aside from raising money for local charities, is all about salmon conservation. I realize now that our struggles at the end of the race are kind of like the obstacles salmon face in life. Rivers are constantly changing, and salmon have to navigate complex barriers to reach their spawning grounds.
Natural changes are hard enough to navigate without impacts from human development. Those lucky salmon who do make it through reach the culmination of their existence, the finish line of life, and make it possible for the next generation of salmon to complete their own journey. Through the efforts of local conservation groups, we can help make their journey just a little easier.
130 teams and 504 people participated in the 13th annual Bellingham Traverse this year. We can’t wait to do it again!