The Buckwheat sans Buckwheat
FUN TIMES - The aid station groupies were out in full force, but Don Corwin was in serious grill mode. AC
Howling for the BSC
Heard from Skagway to the 'Heartbeat Trail' in Minnesota
By Andrew Cremata
It was the 20th year of the Buckwheat Ski Classic, and all of the pieces were in place.
There was Steve Sue Wing, Kori Goertz, and Alex King directing cars into the entrance at Log Cabin. Will Godbey pointing out suitable spaces. In the parking lot, race participants including Nan Saldi and Steve Dobert, were waxing their skis. Official timers Tara Mallory and Allison Haas were checking their stopwatches and clipboards.
And race founder and organizer Buckwheat Donahue was, well, lets jump ahead a bit.
Later that night, after the racers had long since crossed the finish line, and the aid station, which had been raucous with laughter, food, and drink, now sat empty in that snow-covered expanse, everyone relaxed, reminisced and enjoyed crab chowder or vegetarian stew served in bread bowls at the Eagles.
Around the perimeter of the dining area were posted newspapers, spanning the 20-year history of the race, organized deftly by Museum Curator Judy Munns. On their pages familiar faces, albeit with a few less wrinkles, and those faces shared the expressions of competition and joy that only hours earlier were fixed in concentration and kissed with both cold and color on the trails that Buckwheat and his crew of volunteers began to blaze two decades ago.
One obvious difference between the pulp history that hung from the walls of the Eagles and the starting line of this years race was that familiar bearded face with the trademark howl.
It was there in the past, the photos confirm that fact. You could find it at the starting line, on a snowmobile or smiling with that years Miss Buckwheat.
This year, however, it was nowhere to be found. As you made your way through the quiet of the woods or over a hill you half-expected it would pop out to greet you, but those trails remained quiet except for the swooshing sound made by slick skis, and the occasional grumble from a displaced raven.
In fact, for a while before the start of the race, it was eerily quiet at the starting line. That is, until this years master of ceremonies, Mike Korsmo, arrived and announced 15 minutes until the start of the first race.
The quiet grew to a low murmur as the racers took their place, one by one, in the starting gate. Just before the final countdown a ghostly apparition, somewhere on the Heartbeat Trail route in northern Minnesota, made his first appearance.
Its possible Korsmo started it, or maybe it is so ingrained in the participants and volunteers that it just happened spontaneously, but the reason is of little consequence as that howl began.
This year it wasnt one man howling for the rest; it was everyone howling for that man.
And its very possible he heard it.
From the starting gates to the parking lot, and seemingly from places unknown out in those woods, the howl started with a muffled roar and reached a crescendo that made everyone aware the race was on.
Participants in the 40K race were the first to leave, and rightfully so as they are ridiculously fast. You can feel a breeze blow by as they pass, and their serious countenance belies the ease in which they coordinate the faculties of their bodies.
While the 20K racers were entering the starting gate, there was Amanda Jensen setting up for the 10K, her mom Becky offering words of encouragement and snapping more than a few photos. Skagway Ski Club Coach Denise Caposey offered advice as she accompanied Amanda to the starting line, and there was her dad, Rod, with her in the starting gate lending support until the race started, quickly falling well behind his daughter yet smiling proudly all the while.
Weather played a role in this years race. Warmer than normal conditions forced some of the trails on the longer races to be closed, but no one was phased.
Approaching the aid station, which has recently become a showcase for the sculpting talents of Peter Lucchetti, Bruce Schindler and Ken Graham, one couldnt help but notice the effect the weather had on their efforts.
At first glance it appeared to be a scaled down model of the ruins in Greece, a dilapidated Parthenon worn weary by the advancement of time. It was quite an achievement to anyone who saw it, but for Lucchetti and his group of volunteers, it was bit of a letdown.
The night before, these ruins were pristine, complete with a 12-foot tall statue of Hercules bearing the face of Buckwheat himself. The Parthenon they created was as it would have been some 3,000 years ago, before its stone edifice became a victim to the ravages of time and decay.
This snow-carved version befell the same fate at its historical inspiration. The unusual warmth sped up the decline, and as the night wore on, its creators watched as time sped up, and bits and pieces of their Olympic tribute came crumbling down.
The Buckwheat statue gave no warning of its demise at the hands of the elements, and it was only the quick reaction by L.C. Cassidy, a member of the volunteer aid station crew, that kept her from being buried by the bearded bust.
It mattered little to racers stopping by for a bit of refreshment, some a little Gatorade, maybe an orange, for others a taste of something a little harder.
There was Jeremy Simmons in his kilt discussing the merits of various 12-year old scotches. There was Don Corwin in his bombardier style hat, dropping hot-dog ammo prepared on his Grill-To-Go to a squadron of hungry, familiar faces.
On the trail more familiar faces; Craig Jennison making sure racers and snowshoers headed the right direction at a tricky crossroads. Dean Anderson, a member of the trail crew, always smiling, spreading laughter as if it were uncontrollably contagious.
Back to the awards ceremony there were still more volunteers; Jeannie Vogel and Billi Clem doling out portions of food to a swelling crowd. Kristin Wilkinson and Molly Coveno helping out Korsmo on the prize patrol.
Then, during the ceremony, another phantom Buckwheat appearance. After a brief struggle with a busy signal Korsmo was able to get that mysterious enigma on the phone. It was another spontaneous howl of approval from the packed Eagles auditorium, shaking the place to its very foundation.
If Buckwheat is the soul of the race bearing his name, there is little doubt that his presence was missed.
Yet take a look at the names of the volunteers, families, and racers that dot the thank-you ad in this issue. They are the blood, the flesh and the brains of an event that goes well beyond a mere name. There are many more, too numerous to mention.
Yes, its true, there was no Buckwheat at the Buckwheat, but this event is the face of Skagway, a reward for braving the harsh winter, a chance to show what our fine city is all about.
Buckwheat would be proud.
He might even howl.
OUT IN FRONT - UAA's Brian Gree and Eric Strabel turn the 40K corner at Log Cabin (DL), and Mickey Wilson glides through the woods in the 10K(AC).
UAA entourage wins
Skagway's Mickey Wilson claims 10K, local girls rule kids races
By Dimitra Lavrakas
Beware of wolves in yellow and green spandex clothing: theyll kick your butt.
The University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves cross-country team did that March 25 at the 20th annual Buckwheat Ski Classic, and golly were the times fast.
Yes, 10K of the 50K race had to be closed due to icing, turning the 50K to a 40K race, and there was this bottleneck where the 40Kers shared track with the 10Kers, but still take a look at this stat.
Former Anchorage Olympian Adam Verrier, who came in first in last years 50K at 2:24:21, took third this year, reportedly fighting a cold, with a time of 1:59:34. Yet on March 7, he won the Tour of Anchorage 50K with 2:15:57.1.
Was he chasing wolves at Log Cabin? Oh yeah.
First this year was UAA senior Brian Gregg with 1:54:48 and his coach, Eric Strabel, second at 1:54:49. They traded places throughout the race, but in the stretch, Gregg was ahead and hardly panting at the finish. A heavily breathing Strabel when asked what was the occasion for the invasion, replied: Its spring break.
UAA teammate Brendon Knight was a good 7.43.0 behind Verrier, but hes only a sophomore.
The new racers pretty much ran over former second-place winner Graham Nishikawa of Whitehorse, 2:15:04.0. But wait, thats less time than Verrier raced to win the Tour of Anchorage.
What can this all mean? Its just the Buckwheat one of the most unpredictable races on the planet, kind of like its namesake.
Locals also got bested by those squirrely health nuts to the north of us, who took the top spots in the womens 40K, mens 20K, womens 20K (except for first-place finisher UAA junior Mary Krusen), womens 10K, and womens and mens 5K snowshoe.
Skagway exceptions were eighth grader Mickey Wilsons first place in the mens 10K (50:56), and adult Sydney Shaws second place in the mens 20K behind Marsh Lake youth sensation Logan Potter. Another Skagway junior high competitor, Amanda Jensen, took eighth in the womens 10K. Skagways Mark Saldi and Gary Eagan also finished in the 10K top ten, not hanging out too long at the aid station.
With Wilson and Jensen leading the charge, the Skagway Ski Club kids were also all right in the youth divisions.
While Whitehorse did take the top three in the under 10 boys 5K, Skagways Wyatt Nelson came in fourth, and Danny Moore took second in the 11-12 Boys 5K.
Skagway girls were outstanding this year, taking all three top spots in the 5K girls 10 and under: Sydney Brown, Delani Moe, and Polly Brown.
It was a local sweep in the girls 11-12 5K, because only Skagway girls entered. The top three were: Kaitlyn Surdyk, Anna Korsmo, and Amanda Castle.
All skiers shared the problem of icy conditions with many decrying their choice of wax shortly after hitting the tracks into the woods. Hats, mittens, tops and toques went flying as the warm temperature had racers wringing wet.
It seems sort of appropriate that the 20th anniversary of this race included the Seawolves to fill in for the howler on the road.