The 2012 Ski to Sea race started with whoops of delight Sunday, May 27, as cross-country skiers jostled for position under stunning blue skies and jagged mountain peaks coated with snow.
"Best ever," said Mount Vernon resident Meagan Pickett, who was tackling the cross-country ski leg for family team Wicked Pickett, of the weather. "It's gorgeous."
The final leg of the seven-leg race from Mt. Baker Ski Area to Marine Park wasn't as pretty. Breezy conditions and choppy water forced organizers to alter the kayak course - a decision that was made even before the first kayak departed for Fairhaven.
The last leg may have changed, but the usual results didn't: Barron Heating, in a dramatic kayak-leg sprint, won the overall race for the second year in a row and 10th time since 1996. Boundary Bay Brewery won the women's division for the 13th straight year, spurred on by a spirited challenge from Team Fast and Female.
The kayak change cut nearly two miles off the leg, shortening the overall race to about 91 miles. Instead of going around buoys in Bellingham Bay, kayakers stuck close to shore.
That decision, and one to release kayakers early, helped make sure every team got a chance to compete in the final leg, unlike the 2011 race when the leg was called off early because of conditions, leaving about half the kayakers still waiting to launch.
"It's going better than planned," Carter said in the late afternoon. "The bay is very difficult. We are having capsizes. We are having people brought back in."
But there were no serious mishaps, at least with competitors.
The timing system was a different story. Race times were inaccurate or incomplete for most teams. No times were posted electronically for many racers; others had times that made no sense. At one point, the electronic system had one downhill skier completing his leg in a bionic nine minutes.
"What? They still don't have the downhill time up?" said Cindy Maxwell, of team Venus Envy.
She had checked the results booth at Marine Park three times Sunday afternoon, hoping a year's worth of training had paid off. She'd been trying to get an alpine time faster than 40 minutes, and thought she may have eked it out.
Organizers promised they had written down times as a backup to the electronic system. Eventually, they said, it will all be sorted out.
But official results for some legs might not be available "for a couple of days," said Rick Lysen, who was running the results booth.
"Results continue to change," Lysen said.
Those who started the race on the mountain basked in the morning sunshine, once the sun came up. They had to be on the mountain long before the new 7:45 a.m. start time.
"It's beautiful, perfect conditions," said Armando Brionez of R.B. Wick's Golden Boys, a team of military veterans. "Sure beats running in the rain."
Cross-country skiers liked the sun, but the snow was a little soft.
"It's like you're skiing in mashed potatoes," said Holly Brooks of Team Fast and Female.
At least the snow was soft so when several cross-country skiers fell near the finish line, they just crawled to their teammates. Even though one guy lost a ski at some point, he managed to glide across the line on one ski looking as if he was skateboarding in the snow.
Amidst the competitors wearing high-end sports gear, there were others dressed as cows and bumblebees, racers who wore rubber ducky visors and hairy gray wolf hats, and others who brought disco to 2012 via gold lamé and sparkling purple pants.
Among them were team Solid Gold BaDankadank from Montana, although they also go by team Solid Gold Booties.
"We came a long way for this glorious day," said Shannon Hughes, 31, of Bozeman, Mont., whose race uniform consisted of gold pants, a gold top, hoop earrings and gold duct tape covering her ski boots.
Omar Bermejo, 30, of Ketchum, Idaho, just took up skiing in December. Bermejo, who served four tours in Iraq, lost his right arm to an injury he suffered in a motorcycle crash in San Diego while on duty with the Marines. He was the cross-country skier for Team NMCSD, or Naval Medical Center San Diego, which included other injured veterans - one canoeist with a leg amputated below the knee, and racers with post traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.
"It's amazing to see these guys compete," said Justin Vann. He accompanied Bermejo to the start of Ski to Sea as a representative of Outdoors for All, a Seattle foundation that promotes outdoor recreation for people with disabilities.
Bermejo, who is training for the biathlon in the 2014 Paralympics in Russia, said before the race he expected to finish in 45 minutes.
Bermejo's time turned out to be 41 minutes, 42 seconds, or 207th overall - better than most of the skiers with two arms.
While thousands of people flocked to Marine Park for the finish line of Ski to Sea, two visitors had never heard of the event. Ryan and Victoria Milton, both of Renton, got married on Saturday and were honeymooning in Bellingham, staying at the Chrysalis Inn and Spa near Fairhaven.
"We actually just saw the crowd and the cones down the road and followed," Ryan Milton said.
"We just showed up and asked what the hullabaloo (is)," Victoria Milton said.
Bellingham Herald reporters Caleb Hutton, John Stark, Kie Relyea, Ralph Schwartz, Zoe Fraley and Jared Paben contributed to this story.