It was a day of close calls and hard-fought battles as nearly 500 teams competed in this year's wet and wild Ski to Sea race Sunday, May 26.
"That was a race and a half," said Klicks Running & Walking downhill skier Jon Ralston, of Bellingham. "Everyone was just hammering all-out today."
Klicks battled Beavers Tree Service for the Whatcom County Open title from the top of the mountain down to Bellingham Bay.
"We had the first leg, they had the second leg," said Kirk Christensen, the kayaker for Klicks. "It was back and forth the whole time."
Klicks captain and team runner Sam Alexander said four seconds separated the two teams at the start of the mountain bike leg.
"This is the best battle we've had in several years," Alexander said.
The title was still up for grabs as the jittery kayakers bounced around and traded good-natured taunts in the hand-off area at Zuanich Point Park while they waited for mountain bikes to arrive.
"We weren't sure if we would have a race at this point, but omigod we have got a race," said an excited Brandon Nelson, the Beavers kayaker, as he awaited his chance to get on the water.
Klicks had beaten Beavers in the previous two years, Nelson said.
This time, Beavers edged out Klicks at the finish line. An exultant Nelson yanked the rope off one of the bells when he rang it at the finish line at Marine Park in Bellingham.
"It was my dream race. We have not been at the top of the podium for Whatcom County since 2010. This was our year to regain it," Nelson said. "What a race. Beavers Tree Service is back on top of the podium, baby."
In the Competitive Open division, the race was once again a showdown between Barron Heating and Team Aeromech. Barron has won the overall race 11 times since 1996, including last year.
Barron won the race by seconds in 2012. This year, it won by a comfortable lead when Barron kayaker Zsolt Szadovszki crossed the finish line first.
"The team did it for me this year," said Szadovszki, who lives in Honolulu. "I just did what I had to do."
Aven Construction won the Whatcom County Mixed division.
The race was a nail-biter for the top competitive women's teams as well. Boundary Bay Women was able to finish first in the category for the 14th year in a row, edging out A Gift of Dance/Fast and Female.
"It was neck and neck," said Boundary Bay's runner Somer Willson, who came from Calgary, Canada, to compete. "I think this was the closest it's ever been. It made for an exciting day."
Though Fast and Female's kayaker was in the water first, Boundary's kayaker, Tracy Landboe of Seattle, was able to pull ahead early on in the leg.
"She was in front of me, so I had someone to chase down," Landboe said. "I just hit the water full speed, hoping I could catch her."
Kulshan Cycles came in first in the Whatcom County Women's division.
Kulshan's kayaker, Heather Nelson, said the race was a blast, especially knowing that the team competed so strongly with Olympic-level athletes from all over the world.
"We take a lot of pride in being all local girls and showing what our local talent is," Nelson, of Bellingham, said.