Leigh Dorsey met her partner, Dameon Colbry, after joining the Come Boating! organization in Belfast. They bonded over their love of rowing, a passion that would take them on a 17-day journey from Washington State to Alaska.

Dorsey said she is always looking for new challenges when it comes to rowing. She and Colbry have rowed from Kittery to Lubec over the course of multiple trips, using the Maine Island Trail to camp overnight. She even talks about rowing from Maine up to the Arctic Circle.

When she watched the Race to Alaska from her home in summer 2018, she saw man-powered rowboats competing beside sailboats while still holding their own, which she said inspired the two to take the adventure this year.

“We got addicted to that (race) last year and were inspired by some other human-powered boats and thought ‘well, if they can do it, we can do it,’” Dorsey said.

Rowing with Come Boating! around Belfast Bay gave them some practice, but nothing could prepare them for the 6- to 8-foot waves they faced while crossing open water on the first day of the race.

Paddling the 750 miles from Washington State to Ketchikan, Alaska, they were immersed in the simplicity of living in the moment. Finding good sites to camp at night could be difficult, but they were rewarded with rare wildlife encounters like bear tracks and spotting a wolf.

One of Dorsey’s favorite memories of the trip was when a group of more than 100 Dall’s porpoises surrounded the boat, splashing and jumping out of the water in Discovery Cove near Canada. The rowers decided it was a good time to take a break and absorb the moment.

“For like five or 10 minutes we just stopped rowing and just listened and watched and it was really cool to be completely immersed in their world,” Dorsey said.

They stopped rowing every 45 minutes to stay hydrated and nourished, aiming for a diet of over 3,000 calories per day. Dorsey still lost weight on the trip but noted that’s what rowing for 10 hours a day will do.

There are not many rules in the race except no motor-powered boats are permitted, and racers can’t be caught by the Grim Sweeper, a boat following the racers. Only one boat has been disqualified since the race began because the Grim Sweeper caught up with it.

Dorsey and Colbry rowed 40 miles on the day they finished the race. Colbry said he enjoyed the entire experience and had few struggles, while Dorsey said she had days where she mentally forced herself to push through. They were both driven by their competitive spirit and the fear of letting each other down.

It took pair 17 days to complete the race, but there’s no strict time period within which racers must finish. They finished third from last, but, as the only human-powered boat, they still beat two boats outfitted with sails.

First-place winners receive $10,000 and second-place winners receive a set of steak knives, but Dorsey says the adventure, simplicity and new friendships are the real prizes of the trip.

“Boats like us enter it with absolutely no hope of winning because the boats that do it don't actually have any thought they might win. Most people are just doing it to do it — and certainly we fall into that category.”