Pedal to the medal

Cindy O’Daniel, of The Procrastinators, screams down from the summit, and Julene Fairbanks is cheered on by her teammates. - Casey Dean

Relay racers ride from the Yukon to Haines for fun

By Teeka Ballas

The Yukon swans nesting at the Kelsall, Klukshu and Dezadeash Lakes got a full day of human sightings on June 16 as 1,200 of the two-legged mammals made their annual migration along the highway from Haines Junction, Yukon down to Haines, Alaska.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay. More than 250 teams from all over Canada and Alaska converged at the Junction, to ride 150 miles through picturesque countryside to a summit of 3,500 feet above sea level and back down to 80 feet above sea level in Haines.
“There’s entrants from other states too,” said KCIBR coordinator Mike Young. “We’ve got riders coming all the way from California, Washington and Oregon to participate this year.”
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. Racers this year ranged from the seasoned veteran to the truly green, from teenagers to those well into their adult years.
“Some people train all year for this race,” said seven-year veteran Cindy O’Daniel of the Skagway-based team, The Procrastinators. “Most of our team has barely ridden a bike at all this year.”
Many riders go to bed early the night before the race and are mindful of what they consume the morning of, where others see the event as reason to challenge themselves by celebrating and staying up late the night prior. “Some of these guys drink all night long and it’s amazing how well they do the next day,” said O’Daniel.
The KCIBR is a test of endurance and willingness to surrender yourself to fun.
“Race is just a word,” said O’Daniel. “We’re not really racing.”
A new addition to The Procrastinators this year was Casey Dean, one of The News’ own.
An intern reporter at The Skagway News this summer, Dean was added to the team just two days prior to the race. “I’ve never ridden in a race before,” she said. Back at home in Wyoming Dean had ridden a mountain bike for commuting and occasional trail riding but had never fully ventured on a road bike until the day of the race.
Dean completed the 15.4 stretch of Leg Three in 53 minutes, a good time for most riders, a stellar time for a first-time racer. “I can’t believe I was so nervous,” she said. “It was so much fun... I can’t wait to do it again.”
Even as an event primarily meant to be more fun than competition, there were a plethora of rules that needed to be abided by. Helmets were required and all road rules applied. This year for the first time, aerobars and disc wheels were prohibited.
“We took a look around at other bike races around the country and they’ve been prohibited for a long time,” said Young. “Nothing really bad has happened yet during one of our races, but we’re being proactive. It’s just too hard to brake with aerobars and disc wheels, and there are a lot of circumstances where you might need to brake fast.”
Among said circumstances are automobiles, fellow bicyclists, wildlife, loose gravel and blown tires, said Young. A 30-minute penalty was applied to anyone caught using aerobars and disc wheels this year.
“Next year they will be automatically disqualified,” said Young.
There are a multitude of factors that make the 148.4 miles of the KCIBR a grueling endeavor, least of which is the weather. Side winds, head winds, rain, sleet, cold and scorching heat have all been contenders in the past. This year however, the weather proved to be on the side of the riders. There were only intermittent showers during two legs of the race and heavy cross winds during Leg 8 along the Chilkat River.
“There was one year that racers were dropping out because of hypothermia,” said O’Daniel. “[But] this year the weather has been pretty good.”

Tyson Ames pumps his fist as he climbs the last hill of Leg 5, and Justin Henry, of the team Soft and Supple, collapses after completing his leg, complaining of his fatigue and the painful bike seat. - Teeka Ballas

One of the most challenging aspects to the race this year was the United States Customs stop during Leg 7. This year racers were allowed one support vehicle per team. The purpose of support vehicles was to supply their teammates with food, water and any mechanical support needed along the way as well as at checkpoints. They also carried members to the next checkpoint to be tagged into the relay and to drop off their respective bikes.
At U.S. Customs this year, however, autos found themselves waiting up to two hours to be allowed entry into the country. This had a profound effect on racers hoping to re-hydrate after riding 23.4 miles and threw off final finish times.
The Procrastinators’ Leg 7 rider Michelle Calver passed her support vehicle waiting at Customs and finished her leg almost an hour later.
“I waited for 15 minutes at the checkpoint,” said Calver, who then decided to continue riding until her teammate was later dropped off a few miles into Leg 8. This decision cost The Procrastinators a 15-minute penalty. They were not the only riders to make such a decision, but for most riders the penalty was not enough to detract from the good time they had along the way.
“Riders and [their support teams] will just have to be better prepared next year,” said Young. “Next year the wait might be even longer because passports will be mandatory in order to get through [American] Customs.”
The longer wait at Customs will hardly be a deterrent for the 1,200 racers and volunteers, as the migration of bicyclists from Canada to the U.S. is proving to be an inexorable event.

Casey Dean grins from the shoulder of the Haines Road. Teeka Ballas

Cycling on the job

By Casey Dean

We can learn a great deal when we find ourselves out of our element and in unusual circumstances.
In the unfamiliar territory of a bike race and the uncomfortable setting atop a bike seat, I learned a considerable amount about the biking community and the sport of cycling this weekend.
Just a few days prior to the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay, I was seeking out a ride in a support vehicle as a reporter. After talking to Michelle Calver of the team The Procrastinators, I had my ride along the race - a bike I had never ridden - as a team member. The Procrastinators had just lost a rider, and Calver, with the help of my editor, convinced me to replace her.
Prior to our departure for Haines Junction, Yukon, I had all the experience of 30 minutes on Calver’s road bike, a never-ending list of questions for my poor teammates and a bundle of nerves that was comedic, it was so persistent.
Friday night, The Procrastinators, made up of Crystal Ketterman, Lara Labesky, Julene Fairbanks, Christy Murphy, Cindy O’Daniel, Calver, Cassandra Simpson and myself, were joined by team Soft and Supple (Tim Fairbanks, Kyle Fairbanks, Mike Korsmo, Tyson Ames, Gary Hanson, Alex King, Dennis Bousson and Justin Henry) to place bets on each leg of the next day’s relay. The two-dollar bets were established as amicable jabs flew between teams, beer was distributed and past relays were recalled with hilarity.
Saturday dawned cloudy with a good chance of wet bikers. When Labesky rolled into checkpoint two after enduring the majority of the day’s downpour, I hurriedly - but certainly not quickly - slid my left foot into the pedal cage and rolled away. My anxiety finally diminished after I maneuvered through the hectic bottleneck just past the checkpoint. Having survived this moving maze of support vehicles, people on foot and cyclists, I settled into a rhythm, recalling the first advice Calver gave me. Despite the rain and tiny shorts, my legs quickly warmed with exertion and the sun soon came out to help.
Cruising along the highway, I felt great, but immediately brought myself back to earth - I hadn’t been biking long and I had no idea what lay on the road ahead, or how much road lay ahead for that matter.
In the field of view between the road and my helmet visor, I spotted the back of Murphy’s truck on the shoulder of the road, complete with Soft and Supple’s prank artwork on the window. I rolled past and shot them a cheesy grin, only to realize they likely wouldn’t recognize me in Ketterman’s sunglasses, Julene’s shirt and Calver’s shorts.
They caught up to me quickly enough, and fellow reporter Teeka Ballas was considerate enough to shout a compliment before snapping a not-so-welcome picture of my newly acquired cycling skills. The team leap-frogged me a few times, leaning out windows with whoops and hollers each time they passed, parking alongside the road and updating me when I caught up.
I was pleased to realize cheering was not only distributed between team members, but from anyone in a support vehicle to anyone on a bike. Caught up in the spirit of support, I cheered for the bikers I passed along the 15.4-mile leg.
“Ready to throw up yet?” I asked one lady as we pedaled up a hill. I had nothing more to say to her, however, when she told me she was all right so far. Several times I ran low on oxygen or leg power, but the only lasting pain was the bike seat, a common discomfort among the approximate 1,200 entrants in the KCIBR.
The community of cyclists, which ranged from those of us with next to no experience to those strong enough to ride the whole 148.1 miles solo, also endured torrents of rain, basked in the sun, admired costumed teams, bewailed the line at customs and celebrated at the parade grounds in Haines at the end of the day together.
My day spent with Skagway’s own Procrastinators and Soft and Supple and surrounded by hundreds of cyclists was one of exhilarating new experiences in spectacular countryside, ample support from friendly, laid-back people and laughs galore. I’d jump on that uncomfortable seat again without hesitation ... well, not much.