By TEEKA A. BALLAS
The 17th annual Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay is almost underway and riders have new rules and restrictions to look forward to; spectators have new teams to rally behind.
A week prior to registration deadline, more than 200 teams and 1,000 riders had registered to race nearly 150 miles along one of the most scenic courses in the world.
The race will begin on the morning of June 20 in Haines Junction. Through picturesque countryside, racers will reach a summit of 3,500 feet and then careen back down to 80 feet above sea level at the finish line in Haines.
The relay race is comprised of solo riders and three team categories of 2, 3-4 and 6-8 making their way through eight checkpoints.
KCIBR is primarily meant to be more about entertainment than competition (as is denoted with team names like Taste Like Chicken and Achy Breaky Butt), said race coordinator Mike Kramer.
This is a recreational bike relay we dont keep track of the fastest times we prefer to not promote this aspect of the event, said Kramer. There is usually a wide spectrum of riders from wide to tall, slow to fast, and competitive to recreational we welcome them all regardless of their finish time.
This will be the second year that KCIBR is implementing the SportIdent timing stick. This is a digital device that records the riders exact finish and leg times. Since there were minimal complaints about the new SI system last year, the race coordinators decided to also record this years finish times via the SI reader.
New to rules and regulations this year, is a mandatory passport. As of June 1, anyone coming back over the U.S. border must have a passport. All racers must dismount at U.S. Customs and show proper identification.
Prematurely, the U.S. first tried to mandate passports two years ago without a lot of international forewarning. For KCIBR participants, the result was a two-hour long wait at the border. According to Kramer, the border station will be better staffed for the surge of bicyclists and support vehicles this year, and more lanes will be open.
U.S. Customs will provide officers dedicated to serving riders who are in a separate lane from vehicles, said Kramer. If a rider has their passport, the delay should be minimal. Drivers of support vehicles must have all passengers passports in hand when they reach the officer, otherwise be moved to the side, which will further delay their entry.
If riders and their support crew plan it right, the delay at the border wont affect either their time or spirit.
Although many of the old staple Skagway teams have hung up their bikes and helmets this year, there are still a handful carrying on the tradition of town spirit and competitive bravado.
The Skagway Sockeye Cycle team commendably consistent is slated to race this year together with their Haines counterpart. Between the two will be a mens team of 4 and a mixed team of 8.
This years captain of the mixed team, Dustin Crany, will be racing for the first time.
I somehow got talked into this, said Crany, though it didnt seem like it had taken much coercion., Crany, Sockeyes shop manager in Skagway, moved up this summer from Ft. Collins, Colo.
I was told that I was going to be team captain, he said. But I dont know much more than that I just think its going to be a lot of fun.
Sockeye placed third out of 77 last year in the mens team of 8 division.
Theres a new team in town though that might be looking to give Sockeye a run for their money.
Skagway favorite, and third place winner in the mixed team of 8 category last year, Soft and Supple is among those that have retired, but its rumored that many of its riders have formed a new team, a compilation of riders from various other teams that have also since disbanded. The mixed 8-person team is rumored to be going under the name Deep Fried Pickles.
Well pounce Sockeye Well ride circles around them! said Robert McCracken, one of the new deep fried pickles. Hes got the spirit, even though he doesnt seem to have much detailed knowledge of his new team.
Were the less supple side of Soft and Supple, joked McCracken with one of his teammates, yet the new team has plenty of room for bragging rights.
McCracken, alone has a good amount of long distance endurance under his belt; last year he rode 3,000 miles from Seattle to Cabo San Lucas Mexico.
Also on the pickled team is Rec. Center director, Katherine Nelson. Nelson has not only been training for the race, but has also been teaching several spin classes a week at the center.
Even with many teams not returning this year, it still looks as though Skagway has got its race face on.
UPDATE: Soft and Supple is back in the race as well, avoiding the deep fryer. Watch for Teeka's race story in the June 26 issue.
Molly Dischner and Tran Smyth train in the Skagway canoe on the Six Mile River in Tagish. To follow them in the YRQ starting June 24, go to www,yukonriverquest.com and click on the 2009 Results links. They are Team 70. And watch for Molly's race log in the July 10 issue. Jeff Brady
Eighty teams slated for 11th annual Yukon River Quest start at Rotary Peace Park in Whitehorse on Wed. June 24
Skagway represented by Yukon River Pirates
The final race roster is set for the 11th annual Yukon River Quest, which will begin on Wednesday, June 24 in Whitehorse. This years field will feature 77 teams with nearly 175 paddlers from all over the world including several past champions in what should be a competitive event.
Skagway will be represented again this year by local reporter Molly Dischner, who is teaming up with fellow UAF student Tran Smyth of Big Lake, Alaska in the Skagway Alpine Club canoe. They have been training every weekend for the past month and recently placed in the top 10 at the annual Icebreaker Race from Marsh Lake to Whitehorse.
Their team name is Yukon River Pirates and they plan to make the race fun for everyone.
We will be pillaging with our squirt guns as well as paddling down the Yukon, Dischner said.
She will keep a pirates log that the News will deem to print under threat of sabre in the first issue in July. In order to catch up and photograph the Skagway team, the publisher will release the June 26 News a day early, and deadlines will be moved up to Friday night, June 19. Arghh, youve been warned.
The Yukon River Quest is the longest annual canoe and kayak race in the world. Except for two mandatory rest stops totaling 10 hours, paddlers race non-stop over approximately 740 kilometers (460 miles) to Dawson City. Held annually in the north during the last week of June (around the summer solstice), it is a true Race to the Midnight Sun. The YRQ is widely recognized now as one of the toughest ultra marathon paddling events on the planet, where the worlds best paddlers gather to compete.
A segment on the 2008 race was featured on NBC-TVs Jeep World of Adventure Sports this past Saturday, June 6. It also has been featured on the BBC and CBC, and in numerous paddling and adventure magazines. Journalists from Australia, New York, Houston, Toronto, and Calgary will be coming up to cover this years race.
For the 2009 event, teams will compete for a record $36,000 in prize money in various categories, but most do the race for the personal satisfaction of staking his/her claim to a coveted finisher pin.
The YRQ has grown in popularity since its gold rush centennial beginnings over a decade ago. This years field is down slightly from last years record participation.
We are very pleased to see that the number of teams this year is very close to last years number (89), even in this economic situation, said Jean-Francois Latour, president of the Yukon River Marathon Paddlers Association in Whitehorse.
Eight countries will be represented this year. Coming from outside North America are paddlers from Australia, Austria, Great Britain, Japan, Latvia, the Netherlands, and the United Arab Emirates. The USA will be represented with paddlers from Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Montana, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. Finally, Canada will have team members from Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Northwest Territories, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and the host Yukon Territory, which has 28 paddlers in the race.
The 2009 YRQ will have stiff competition in most categories:
Solo canoe: 3 teams including 2008 champion Kevin Mellis of Calgary (formerly of Whitehorse).
Solo kayak: 16 men, 4 women including 2008 champion and record holder Brad Pennington of Texas (featured in NBC program), and past champions and record holders Carter Johnson and David Kelly of California, as well as multi-year womens champion Ingrid Wilcox of Whitehorse.
Tandem canoe: 16 mens teams, 9 mixed, 4 womens. Watch out for the mixed team of Tim Hodgson (from the course record setting 2008 Kisseynew voyageur team) and overall canoe runner-up and former Canadian Olympic cross-country skier Jane Vincent of Whitehorse. And then theres the races perennial threat, Larry Seethaler of Anchorage, Alaska, back for the 13th time (all 11 YRQs and both Dyea to Dawson races) paddling with partner Brenda Forsythe. The womens field features some stellar teams: past champions Veronica Wisniewski of Washington and Elizabeth Bosely of Whitehorse paddling together for the first time; record holder Pauline Frost-Hanberg of Whitehorse paddling with Laragh Taylor from Marsh Lake, Yukon; and the up-and-coming Yukon team of Joanie Pelletier and Kari Johnston. The mens canoe race could be wide open, but watch for the YRQ-savvy team of Terry Ramin and Derek Crook from BC, and race veterans Eric Nelson and Dave Sevdy of Juneau.
Tandem kayak: 10 mens teams, 3 mixed teams, 4 womens teams. There are no past champions, but a highly international mix should make the K2 class fun to watch. Watch out for Dawson Citys Steve Geick and Janice Rose, and the veteran Alaskan team of Jan Nyboer and Greg Tibbetts.
Voyageur canoe: 5 in the open class (including 1 mixed team that switched to open), and 3 womens teams. The Texans (2007 champs) are back to try to reclaim the overall crown which they lost last year to the combined Canadian Team Kisseynew. The Texans are stacked with Texas Water Safaris veterans and are bringing a new boat, but they should face a stiff challenge from last years third place Team Dene from Hatchet Lake, Sask., which has added past tandem canoe champions Norbert Wolverine and Lionel Campbell and will be in last years winning boat. A British team of paddlers with experience in the prestigious Devizes to Westminister Marathon on the Thames also could be in the running, as well as an Alaskan team. Three veteran womens teams are back: Paddlers Abreast from Whitehorse, and multi-provincial Canadian teams Whoa and Yukon Yahoo.
Combined with the predicted high water levels of the river, we can anticipate a challenge to the course record of 39 hours, 32 minutes and 43 seconds, Latour said, adding that the start has moved off Main Street this year, making it a shorter run for paddlers. The start is at 12 noon.
We invite spectators to gather in Rotary Peace Park this year as early as 11 a.m. on Wednesday June 24 to witness the very spectacular start of this race when participants will cover a short distance running to their boats before paddling the 740 km that will take them to Dawson City sometime between Friday afternoon on June 26 and Saturday evening at midnight on June 27, official finish time for the race.
Complete team bios are online at www.yukonriverquest.com and will appear in a special Whitehorse Star race supplement on June 22.
In addition to the Star, major logo sponsors of the event are: Yukon Emergency Measures Organization Whitehorse, Faro and Carmacks SAR, , Kanoe People/Clipper Canoes, Air North, yukoninfo.com, Northland Beverages, Norcan/ Klondike Motors, Up North Adventures/Spirit of the North, and the Klondike Visitors Association.
Locally, the Skagway canoe is sponsored by The Skagway News Co., White Pass & Yukon Route, Red Onion Saloon, Skagway Hardware, Wells Fargo, and AP&T. Together they purchased the Clipper Jensen 18 racing canoe several years ago so local paddlers could have a canoe for the YRQ and other races.
The backbone of the Yukon River Quest are the more than 100 volunteers, 8-10 safety boat teams, and various support crews at its eight checkpoints. If you would like to help and join the fun of a truly great Yukon event that is the envy of the paddling world, click on the Volunteer link on the website, or call 867-333-5628. A handful of Skagway volunteers help out every year. JB