While many team racers found themselves riding alone a majority of the time, solo riders tend to ride in packs. By the end of race time, only one accident involving four racers has been reported. All are able to get back up and finish their leg of the race. Just past the finish line, Soft and Supple team member Tim Fairbanks laughs with a fellow rider about drafting with her.

Two-wheeler migration: Race day at the Kluane-Chilkat Bike Relay
Minimal problems, maximum enjoyment for racers during popular event on Haines Hwy.

Story and Photos by Teeka A. Ballas

On June 20, more than 1,000 two-legged mammals descended on the small town of Haines Junction for the 17th annual Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay. They brought with them bicycles, adrenaline and good-humored competitive spirits.
The only gripe that seemed relatively consistent among racers this year was all cold air. The 231 teams – many of which donned planned attire from matching t-shirts to circus costumes – faced southeastern headwinds throughout all 8 legs of the 150-mile race. The wind set everyone’s finish times back an hour from the previous year. Even though it definitely made the race more challenging, spirits still managed to stay high.
“The headwinds were pretty bad,” said Jason Welborn of Skagway’s National Park Service 4-person mixed team, Park Tools. “But it was fun – a lot of fun. The countryside is so beautiful – which helped take a little pain off the ride.”
The relay traverses what is deemed by many to be the most beautifully stunning scenic highway in North America. From Haines Junction to Haines, teams from all over Canada and Alaska ride together to a summit of 3,500 feet above sea level, along the serene waters of the Kelsall, Klukshu and Dezadeash Lakes, past numerous glaciers and alpine meadows.
“It was really something, getting to see the landscape,” said Welborn, who drove to Skagway last spring from Tucson, AZ. “And everyone was really very cool, very chill.”
Park Tools made Skagway proud by coming in first place in their division – with a nearly 4-minute lead. The team only had three riders, so Welborn rode legs 3,4,5 and 6. His teammates Heather Wetherbee rode legs 1 and 2, and Dash Feierabend finished the race with stages 7 and 8.
“We just couldn’t find a fourth [rider]… I road something like 70 miles – or 69 and some change,” said Welborn, who looked only mildly exhausted immediately afterward.
The relay is comprised of solo riders and three team categories of 2, 3-4 and 6-8, with subcategories of either all men’s teams, all women’s teams, or mixed gender teams. Racers range from the seasoned veteran to the truly green, from teenagers to those well into their adult years.
Mike Gladish, one of the two coordinators of KCIBR this year, said the race is not about setting records, but about the experience and having a good time.
“I think last year was probably the fastest – it was 6.5 hours,” said Gladish. “But you can’t really have records though, because the categories are so variable and the weather is so variable.”
This year there was a large concern that the ferry system was going to be one of the variables, that many racers would not be able to make it in time to check-in, due to the new ferry schedule.
“The ferry was going to be a disaster this year – there were going to be about 30 teams from Juneau that were going to be late for the registration [the night prior to the race],” said Gladish. The state ferry, however, agreed to bring a ferry up to Haines sooner, so racers could make it Haines Junction in time. According to Gladish, only three teams did not show up to pick up their packets.

Team Park Tools from Skagway’s Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, came in first place for the 4-person mixed gender category, at 8:08:18. From left to right: Dash Feierabend, Heather Wetherlee and Jason Welborn. With his head bent to the wind, Feierabend finishes the final leg for Park Tools.

When racers checked in on the night prior to the race, they found minimal changes to the rules and regulations from the year prior. In fact, the only new rule was a ban on the use of headphones while riding. Gladish said he hadn’t received any complaints on the new rule, but it was noted that several racers had adapted by equipping their bikes with speakers.
“And this year we also changed the way we timed the finish line,” he said. “This year we’re using the SportIdent system for the end of the race – last year we were using the stopwatch. It might add 10-15 seconds to your end time, but everyone has the same situation.”
The SI stick is a digital device that is worn around the racer’s neck on a lanyard. As the racer checks in they plug it into a card reader and then pass it on to their waiting teammate.
“It saves all kinds of headaches – it’s a whole lot less stress,” said Gladish.

Skagway Sockeye Cycle’s Jacob Freese takes rest and gander from atop the team van as they wait for their Leg 4 rider, Hollie Ernest to come check in. Many KCIBR teams dress in costume for the race, but Whitehorse’s 16-Wheel Circus, 8-person mixed gender team, definitely takes the cake.

Volunteers, who see to it that everything runs smoothly and that racers’ times are correctly noted, run all the checkpoints and finish line. Racers’ times are not only digitally recorded, but as they cross the line, their numbers are pulled and manually recorded as backup, in the event that anything go wrong with the SI system.
“The important thing with volunteers, is that they’re run by nonprofit groups (six groups),” said Gladish. “And the bike relay, through bike entry fees, gives each of the nonprofit groups $1,500 as an honorary award. So the bike race isn’t just about the bikers – it’s about spreading the money a little bit and giving it to some of the nonprofits.”
Miscellaneous volunteers, who are given a free event shirt and meal ticket for their work, run two of the 8 checkpoints, not including the start and finish lines.
Bike races and relays promote healthy living, not just for an individual’s physique, but also as a way to embrace an eco-friendly lifestyle.
Gladish said the KCIBR organizers were getting concerned that the bike race was not doing its part to encourage the latter.
“This is a bike race, but it’s not really green in terms of the amount of traffic we generate and fuel consumption,” he said. So this year KCIBR coordinators decided to do their part in changing that trend by offering a reward to the greenest team.
“This year we’re offering $50 to the team that is nominated for having the smallest carbon footprint – the greenest team,” said Gladish.
At the time of press it wasn’t certain who would win this year’s green award, but Gladish said it would most likely go to a two-person team from Whitehorse that had only one car as a support vehicle: a Smart Car.

Also at press time, finish times had not been officially posted, but the three Skagway 8-person mixed teams, Soft and Supple, Deep Fried Pickles and Sockeye Cycle had finished without any known hitches. Complete results will be posted this week at www.kcibr.org.