By Jessi Loerch Herald Writer
Ski to Sea is an impressive athletic feat. By ski, foot, bike and boat, racers make their way from the slopes of Mount Baker to the waters of Bellingham Bay.
A small group of determined racers, though, have found a way to make the event even more challenging.
Next weekend, for the first time, Ski to Sea will have a car-free division. Every member of the car-free teams completes the race, including getting to and from their respective courses, without the aid of cars.
Tyler Rourke of Everett is leading a car-free team this year. It’s the second time he’s joined in Ski to Sea, all car free.
The race is a relay. It starts on the slopes of Mount Baker, and it goes like this: cross-country skiing, downhill skiing or snowboarding, running, canoeing, road biking, mountain biking and kayaking.
The race this year has 11 car-free teams, eight racers to a team. The total Ski to Sea is approximately 500 teams.
Since the race covers so much ground, navigating it without a car requires a lot of time and some very careful planning.
For Rourke’s team, the fun starts early. On Friday, two days before the race, the team rides up to a campground on Mount Baker Highway, about 8 miles shy of the ski area.
They camp and enjoy themselves. Then, on Saturday, the skiers and the runner head up the hill, two on a tandem, and the other on a single bike.
The road biker hangs out, ready to head out after running leg. Everyone else heads back downhill. The three will camp overnight near the start, so they are ready to go Sunday morning.
Last year, they pitched their tent in the bucket of a snow loader, because it was the only place out of the wind.
On race day, the skiers do their legs, and then the runner goes.
Then it’s time to get back on the bikes. One person rides the tandem alone, and the other rides the single bike. They go downhill and meet the runner at the end of that leg.
And so it goes, racers helping each other get to and from their respective start and stops points, for the whole race.
For the canoe leg, Rourke and his teammates use a trailer to haul the boat. On race day, the paddlers haul the canoe from Bellingham to the Everson area on the Nooksack River, where that leg begins.
Then, while the canoers race, the mountain biker rides, with the extra bikes on the now-empty trailer, to meet them at the end of their race, and the start of his own.
The kayaker on their team is lucky enough to live near the start area, and simply walks the kayak down to the start.
Completing the course car-free, naturally, adds many, many miles to the more than 93-mile course. But Rourke thinks it’s worth it.
“This group likes the extra challenge, likes the adventure, likes turning a one day race into a many day adventure,” he said.
Rourke went to college at Western Washington University in Bellingham where he heard about Ski to Sea.
Then he read a study about the impact of the race — gallons of gasoline burned, number of water bottles used — and decided he wasn’t interested.
When a friend tried it without a car six years ago, Rourke was intrigued. He later served as support for a car-free team before doing it himself.
“One team proving it could be done led to other teams giving it a try, and this year for the first time we have an all new car-free division in the race,” he said.
Ski to Sea
Ski to Sea is a relay race from Mount Baker to Bellingham Bay with seven legs — cross-country skiing, downhill skiing or snowboarding, running, canoeing, road biking, mountain biking and kayaking — and eight racers (two people in the canoe). This year it is on May 26. Learn more about it at their website, www.skitosea.com.