With fall colors swaying in the breeze, Ben Seale of the WP&YR Highballers gets a drink from Andrew Houle during leg 8 of the Klondike Road Relay.
Great weather for Klondike Road Relay
Northern lights add to nighttime excitement
Story and Photos by Kelly Roberts
A flux of muscle-bound runners descended on Skagway Friday, Sept. 5. They came in vans and motorhomes from Whitehorse, Juneau, and Anchorage even as far as Vancouver with a single goal in mind: to race.
White Pass steam engine 69 sounded the start of the 26th annual Klondike Road Relay at 6 p.m. outside the National Park Service building. The beat of leg-pumping music boomed from the starting line as wave after wave of racers headed for the edge of town and up the White Pass.
Each 10-member relay team made their way from Skagway to Whitehorse, running through the dead of night and into the next morning over 110 miles of road in total before crossing the finish line in Whitehorses Rotary Peace Park. The 10 legs varied in length from 5.6 miles to 16 miles. Alternatively, walking teams started from Carcross at 2 a.m. and race-walked the last four legs and 44 miles of the course.
The energy of the race continued from leg to leg. Many of the change stations (where runners tag their next team-member) had large fires burning for spectators to keep warm while awaiting a racers arrival.
Every tag-off (was) like this burst of excitement, said WP&YR Highballers team leg 2 runner Andrew Houle.
Houle was a newcomer this year to both the Highballers team and to the race.
Ive wanted to do (the Klondike Road Relay) since before I even came up here, but the team was full last year so I got lucky this year, said Houle, a coffee barista for the WP&YR, which sponsored his team.
Its fair to say the WP&YR Highballers got lucky to have Houle this year too, he moved the team from 22nd place into 14th in the uphill 5.6 mile climb of leg 2, finishing with a full-out sprint to the tag-off at the international border.
Skagways four running teams varied from seasoned veterans to first-timers. The Highballers participated in the event for the 12th straight year. This year, leg 3 Highballer John Briner, who has been with the team since the beginning, celebrated the completion of the final leg he had left to conquer, having run the other nine legs in previous years.
The Skagway Pizza Station Team SNAFU celebrated its ninth year in the race and, true to the teams name, they faced some down-to-the-wire challenges.
Finding the team a few runners short, and worried that he would have to end up running two legs himself, Team SNAFU captain John OD ODaniel used every tactic of persuasion he could think of to sign runners up the week of the race. When Patrick Johnston stopped by the hardware store for supplies, he left with more than he bargained for.
I wouldnt let (Johnston) check out until he said hed do it, said ODaniel.
Johnston not only ran the 13.9 miles of leg 5 in the middle of the night, he did it without a support vehicle, and he made it home in time for work the next morning at 6 a.m.
Rosemary and Karl Kluper joined the team the week of the race, and Valerie Jensen and Tom Lux joined Team SNAFU the day of the race itself. Lux, in fact, agreed to run the half-marathon distance (13.1 miles) of leg 4 just two hours prior to the start of the race.
Even with the last-minute changes, Team SNAFU brought in the time of 17:53:09, with a star performance by leg 10 runner Teresa Wilson. Having never run farther than eight miles, Wilson stormed through 12.1 miles to the races finish line at a pace of almost eight minutes per mile.
This year also welcomed the addition of two new Skagway teams: the Gold Rushing Rangers and the Skagway Brewing Company.
Although the Gold Rushing Rangers were not officially sponsored by the National Park Service, the team chose its name to represent 8 of its 10 team members who are rangers for Skagways Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. Gold Rushing Rangers leg 1 runner Marc Divall had a knock-out performance, putting the team into fifth place by the end of his leg.
The Skagway Brewing Company decided to form a team and enter the race in order to embrace a good-spirited rivalry with the Yukon Brewing Company. Although the Yukon Brewing Company ended up not participating when all was said and done, the Skagway Brewing Co. celebrated their finish with a Yukon Brew Co beer. Skagway Brewing Co. team member Curt Tweedy finished the lung-busting 5.6 mile uphill leg in an impressive 47:50, and leg 6 runner Nathan Weiler delivered a strong time of 2:02:54 for the longest leg of the race: 16 miles. Neither of these runners had much previous running experience.
The Skagway Brewing Companys SMART shuttle support van drew a lot of attention along the route, but none more than in Whitehorse, where the team stayed the next day to celebrate their finish.
When we would stop in Whitehorse, people would ask us for a ride, said team captain Mike Healy.
Skagway was represented remarkably well in the walking category this year: Of the 15 walking teams, four were from Skagway. The walkers started in Carcross at 2 a.m. Alaska time. Walking teams, comprised of four team members each, walked the final 44 miles of the course over legs 7, 8, 9, and 10. Dottie DeMark organized all four Skagway walking teams this year, all of them womens teams.
Skagway teams Windwalkers and Walk Wont Run took 5th and 6th place respectively in the Walker category. Denise Caposey of team Walk Wont Run took 1st place in leg 7 (8.8 miles) with a time of 1:53:01, and Christie Murphy of the Skagway Windwalkers took 2nd place in that same leg, arriving just nine seconds later and finishing with a time of 1:53:10.
Every Skagway walker who participated in last years race improved this year, shaving from 5 to 12 minutes from her time. And it was nice out there.
This year was probably some of the best weather (years) weve had for the race, said John ODaniel.
It was a year of natural splendor too.
Northern lights delighted racers and supporters alike around 2 a.m., when most running teams were about halfway through the race in legs 4 and 5, and walking teams were just starting their race at Carcross.
The Brewing Companys Danielle Sakry had a close encounter with a bear that crossed the road in front of her toward the end of leg 7. When asked if Sakry stopped running, team captain Mike Healy responded, No! She sped up to check it out, but the bear moved on.
After almost 20 hours of non-stop excitement, runners and walkers collapsed on the grass of Whitehorses Rotary Peace Park and awaited race results next to the finish line. The day turned warm and even hot for those runners finishing the race in the early afternoon on Saturday, and participants were delighted with crisp blue skies and brilliant fall-colored foliage all around.
Most racers agreed on their plans for next year: well be back, said Mike Healy.
Click here to see more KRR photos from the Friday night Skagway Starting Gallery