Silver Anniversary Styling
From top: The aid station resplendent with flags and skis; Kristine Kennedy cruises to the finish; ace founder Buckwheat Donahue watches the fun; Alain Masson double-poles to a top 5 finish; a butterfly takes wing; and Amanda Mouchet gets catty at the start; – Andrew Cremata & Jeff Brady
Becoming a Buckwheater
Cremata makes falling fancy
By ANDREW CREMATA
Plenty of good ideas have originated in a bar. Some bad ones too.
It was three weeks before the 25th episode of the Buckwheat Ski Classic, a benchmark year by anyone’s standards. An event of this magnitude calls for special treatment, and since it was my eighth year covering the race I wanted to do something a little different. Normally I walk around aimlessly taking pictures of various racers and conducting simple interviews, eventually making my way out to the Aid Station where the elite members of the ski racing community gather for fun and merriment.
For a week I tried to find a local Skagwegian who was entering the Buckwheat for the first time. The plan was to follow their training during the three weeks leading up to the race and then track their progress on race day. It would be an insider’s perspective and a tale of personal triumph. However, my efforts to find this mystery ski racer turned up empty.
It was on that fateful Friday night that I was lamenting my dilemma to my friend Sam when he responded with the comment, “Why don’t you enter the race?”
At the time it seemed like a great idea, and considering the Buckwheat Ski Classic’s origins stem from many a late-night bar conversation, it even seemed fitting. I made plans to join Sam the following Sunday for my first ever cross-country ski experience at the site of the race itself – Log Cabin.
On Saturday morning, as the memory of our conversation seeped back into my memory, I realized that the whole thing was most likely a huge mistake. Everyone says cross-country skiing is relatively simple, but these are often people who aren’t overweight or lacking all of the cartilage in their left knee. Plus, my typical idea of sport revolves around the grueling triathlon of fishing, golf and bowling. For a sport requiring physical exertion I would have to train, and training would require daily trips to a feared place with a name I have seldom spoken – the gym.
After renting some skis, boots and sticks I made my way to the Skagway Rec. Center gym for a workout consisting of some weight training and cardio. While my body reacted with horror I found that I actually felt pretty good afterwards. There was a machine in the weight room that claimed it could tell you your “body mass index.” There were four positions a person could rank; underweight, normal, overweight, and obese. As I gripped the machine I watched the meter blink as it climbed all the way to the final destination. It was a grim revelation – I was obese.
I chose not to destroy the machine and instead decided to focus on the race. I watched no less than 20 how-to videos on YouTube, after which I was reasonable sure of the technique. It would be a long haul but with a little bit of luck I was sure I could manage to finish the 10K race. Then, on Sunday, I went skiing for the first time.
There was a brief moment during that first outing when I experienced the natural alignment of rhythm, symmetry, and solitude. I was gliding among the trees with only the sound of the skis gliding effortlessly over snow. I could hear a raven in the distance, and while the air was cold against my face, my body was filled with heat. For a moment I was lost in that place between body and mind, where the two essential parts of man coexist in a beautiful interplay of balance and motion. Then I fell on my face.
Actually the skiing turned out to be fairly easy. It was falling that was difficult. I fell hard enough a few times to knock the wind out of me, but was grateful for my obese belly when it braced my impact. Over the following three weeks I managed to ski five times, and the progress was steady and somewhat rewarding.
I also kept up my daily training regimen, finding new ways in which the body can render pain and soreness. As race day approached a funny thing happened, I started feeling lighter, stronger,and even a little excited. I was fairly certain I would finish if I could avoid breaking a bone or hitting a tree.
The excitement of the scene was palpable. The weather was perfect and the sun was shining. I had never been a part of the action on the other side of the fence where the racers line up, but I quickly figured out that the start was going to be one giant melee of bodies and skis. I was afraid of getting twisted with another skier, so I lined up toward the back and waited.
Buckwheat’s familiar howl signaled the start and within moments I was on my way, trying hard not to fall before actually clearing the starting gate.
For the first ten minutes there were skiers on every side of me, but we were all moving at about the same pace. The pack thinned and I was able to get up to a good speed on a tapering downhill slope. Then suddenly, I saw that everyone ahead of me was stopped.
This was a problem because one thing I really hadn’t learned was how to stop. I dug my sticks into the snow in a lame attempt to slow my approach while yelling at the woman who lay directly in my path, “I can’t stop!”
To her credit she sensed the danger and was trying to inch forward as I slowed my approach but it was still not enough. I wrapped my arms around her on impact, attempting to keep us both upright.
“If you hold onto me I’m going to fall!” she yelled.
“If I don’t hold onto you we’re both going to fall,” I answered. “And I’m going to be the one on top.”
Surprisingly, we managed to avoid catastrophe and we laughed as we went on our way.
When I cleared my first steep downhill slope without falling, I knew that it was going to be a special day. I got on a steady pace and soon I was passing Dean Anderson and Missy Tyson cheering me on and clanging a bell.
Then up ahead, looming like some crystal oasis in a desert painted white, was the infamous aid station. I could feel the ache of temptation as the thought of an ice cold beer pouring down my gullet filled me with the desire to take a little break. I resisted. A break would lead to broken, and I was on a mission for the finish line at all costs.
Worse was having to pass the aid station a second time, but by that point I had only two kilometers left, and I knew I was on the verge of success. I picked up my pace, eager to finish strong and push it to the limit.
When I crossed the finish line I was too out of breath and exhausted to feel anything other than pain. I thought it best to get out of the way of other racers approaching from behind, and I immediately fell over sideways in front of everyone gathered to witness the finish.
That fall left a nasty bruise, but it’s one I’m going to hate see fade. It’s a reminder of how for one brief moment in time I was a fancy ski guy, and became a part of the only ski race that matters anywhere around these parts.
My odyssey through the Buckwheat Ski Classic left one indelible impression on my mind: while the race might be held in Canada, make no mistake about it, the entire community of Skagway is the host of this remarkable event.
My perspective as a ski racer revealed how many Skagwegians are involved as volunteers, often in the places you might not expect. There are aid station volunteers like Alex King and Paul Reichert. Trail groomers like Mike Korsmo and Tim Bourcy. Parking attendants like Kori Goertz and my friend Sam. There are the many people who cook meals, fold t-shirts, check ID at the dance, clean tables, wash dishes, set up, break down, and everything in between.
There is also the namesake of the race, Buckwheat Donahue, who says it is his last year organizing the event. Not to worry though, others are stepping up to the track to make sure the race will go on. As for Buckwheat, when asked what he plans to do next year he said, “Simply be a volunteer.”
From the looks on the faces of the volunteers at the dance party, that’s not a bad place to be.
As I look into the crystal ball of next year I can’t really say if I will don skis or not. One thing I can say is thank you to all of the volunteers and friends who made my journey possible. I had patient teachers who only laughed when I fell or did something stupid, and I got more than one helping hand from those who always seem to be doing their part at every race.
In fact, next year maybe I too will become a volunteer. Not only would it be rewarding, but it would give me the perfect excuse to avoid any and all skiing in the future. Regardless, I’m proud to have my name etched into the record books of the Buckwheat, even if it is at 41st place.
All in all, becoming a Buckwheater was a pretty good idea.
OTHER BSC NOTES
- John Parry became the first son of a former champion to win the big race. His dad Bill won the 50K in the race's second year.
- 10K winner Lucy Steele-Masson had not raced since winning the 50K in 1998.
- The Des Duncan Award for top volunteer went to Su Rappleye, who handles our registration and the business end of the event.
- The Miss Buckwheat Award went to Keagan Niebuhr.
- Buckwheat Donahue was honored with a song and several testimonies and standing ovations throughout the evening for his 25 years of organizing the race. He also gave out several anniversary quilts – made from old BSC t-shirts by Jean Worley - to long-time volunteers and Miss Buckwheats.
Buckwheat Song sung at the 2011 awards
by Bigger Hammer alumni
(to the tune of the Beverly Hillbillies)
In Skagway in the winter in the eighties it was stark,
We were getting pretty tired of the constant cold and dark,
Then one night in the bar Robert Carlin took a seat,
Said “I’ll toss in some bucks, let’s create the first Buckwheat!”
Race, that is, wind and snow, all for fun.
The very first race was an adventure in itself,
The racers all skied off and they fended for themselves,
When they skied across the road, some folks almost lost their luck,
When through the swirling snow, came a screaming big-ass truck.
Faro ore, lead and zinc, silver too.
For some the healthy goal is to ski fast to the end,
For others it’s the Aid Station, to party with a friend
No matter why you come, all will find the race a blast,
for the lazy, the infirm and the few who are fast.
Racers, eh? Cheer them on, pass the scotch.
Now it’s been a quarter century of howling and good fun,
Quite a few have joined the party and a few have even won,
There always been a welcome here for anyone to ski,
Thanks to Buckwheat and to Skagway for your hospitality!
Thanks, Buckwheat- raise a glass, give a cheer!
Link to complete results and more photos on the BSC 2011 Page
Two SHS girls at All-Star weekend, on to Vegas
Seniors Jesse Ellis and Kaylie O’Daniel were recently selected by the Association of Alaska Basketball Coaches to play in this weekend’s inaugural AABC All-Star Game.
The two SHS players from the two-time state 2A championship team made the team of 24 girls from all divisions. The game is at 5 p.m. Saturday, April 9 at Colony High School in Wasilla. Ellis also will get to travel with 12 members of the team to Las Vegas for games April 15-17.
UPDATE - Link coverage of the All-Star Game in the Mat-Su Frontiersman. O'Daniel led her team in scoring. 2A Player of the Year Ellis played with the Alaska team in Las Vegas April 15-16, and they just missed making the championship of the Region Select Division. See Elite Tournament Results.