The chicken gets a hex before the start.

Rituals run afar in Klondike Road Relay

Notes from the field and photos by Jeff Brady

A couple of familiar bookends are visible again at this year’s Klondike Trail of ‘98 International Road Relay.
Mike Wagner, longtime member of the Yukon Ski Patrol, is greeting team members and race officials on Broadway before the start of the 22nd annual event. He’s one of two men who have volunteered for every relay. The other is veteran Yukon broadcaster Ron McFadyen, one of many ham radio operators keyboarding and calling in results throughout the night.
“You should see Ron around here somewhere, or up the hill,” Wagner says. “I do a lot at the beginning, show the colors, you know. But mostly I just like to come down here to Skagway and mingle.”
The ski patrol is in charge of first aid at every station of the event.
“The most memorable is when nothing happens,’ Wagner says. “That’s what we want. The worst was eight or nine years ago when we had 22 injuries. They just didn’t want to quit.”
He’s hoping for an uneventful night. “You feel useless, but that’s okay.”
Useless? An hour and a half later as the first teams approach the end of Leg One, Wagner is there directing traffic and keeping people out of the chute area.

Mike Wagner displays media control.

•••••
The razzing has begun among the Skagway runners. Team SNAFU, sponsored by the Pizza Station, and the Dead Salmon Heads, sponsored by Fairway Market, are in the first starting group.
An argument ensues about the merits of registering last, and then some strategy slips out. Team SNAFU’s John “O’D” O’ Daniel tells Leg One runner Matt Smith to just “get behind Julene (Fairbanks of the Dead Salmon Heads) and enjoy...”
SNAFU captain Beth Winslow says no one on her team trained, except Leg Three runner Jaime Bricker. “She’s a rookie, she didn’t know better.”
A chicken man steals the show at the start, getting in a track stance in front of the runners and performing several false starts. He gets plucked when the real whistle blows from Engine 73.
Fairbanks and Smith are looking good but the first big hill takes its toll. By the time Fairbanks hits the second hill right by the incinerator, she’s walking. Power walking, that is. Pumping those arms.
“Do I look like I’m running?” she says to the photographer.
Smith eventually passes Fairbanks and gets to the checkpoint just 10 seconds ahead of her, passing off to fleet-footed David Knapp. But Fairbanks gets the better reward. The Dead Salmon Heads’ Leg Two runner, Jeremy Butzlaff, holds out a bottle of Yagermeister for his teammate. A few seconds later, he’s off and the ceremonial baton is chugged.

•••••

Team SNAFU’s Jaime Bricker gets ready for the handoff from David Knapp at the summit;

It’s a beautiful night with just enough cloud cover to keep the
temperature just right for running. Knapp is flying, but as he rounds the bend by the bridge, the north wind starts blowing about 10 mph. His goal of a sub-45 minute run up the hill to the border is going to be tough to beat.
When Knapp gets to the summit, he has passed all but one runner, but his time of 47:12 is a bit of a disappointment. Still, his time is the fourth best of the event.
Meanwhile, that wind has made it to Skagway, and John Briner has started his leg for the WP&YR Highballers, in recent years Upper Lynn Canal’s fastest team. They expect to win the “Skagway Cup” and grind up the Haines team en route, says captain Jeremy Simmons.
As Briner approaches Black Lake, he starts to feel the wind.
“Right there, the downhills became uphills. It was right in your face,” he said later, and all he could think about was getting to the end.
“The best part when the race is over is the shower,” he says.
It’s a long night, especially for the Leg Three and Leg Four runners who have to contend with the wind in their faces, but great times are turned in by representatives of the windy city. The best Skagway time for Leg Three, 1:06:30, actually is turned in by high school cross-country runner John McCluskey, who is picked up by an Anchorage team at the last minute. On Leg Four, Ben Seale, O’Daniel, and Pete Lucchetti put their teams in cruise control.
By Leg Five it’s just cold and dark. Team SNAFU’s Mike Moe gives his team a big lead over Dead Salmon Heads’ Paul “Mike” Korsmo.
“I tried to gain as much ground as I could, knowing (Mike) Catsi is on Stage Six, but he still passed us,” Moe says later.
Korsmo is just proud his team made it to Carcross in the dark for the first time ever. “It helps to start at 6 p.m.,” he says. “We figured that out.”
Members of both teams had been hoping for a Fairbanks vs. Fairbanks start in Carcross, but it turned into a “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” situation. Despite his slower time, Dead Salmon Tim never let SNAFU Rod catch up. They will have to race around the market.
•••••

Dead Salmon Heads’ Philip Clark streaks past the red-headed arch, just missing a frisbee.

By now, the railroader vans have caught up, thanks to strong running by Rose Perotto and Heather Stevens on Legs Six and Seven.
The “red-headed brigade” of Nan Saldi and Beth Cline share Leg Eight for the Dead Salmon Heads.
Saldi says she had a blast during her first relay, even though the gillnetter admits that when captain Tim Fairbanks brought her a form to sign in the market, she thought he was wanting to buy fish.
Drivers Cory Thole and Dean Anderson in the red salmon bus cheer them on.
Dean’s looking beat after a long night of driving, and Cory, despite being up sick most of the night, is ready to take over. He proudly notes that the team is on its second baton of Yager, but they haven’t picked up any extra riders.
“Dean’s catch and release program has not been successful,” Korsmo says. “He needed a longer rope.”
On Stage Nine, Korsmo and Catsi are throwing a frisbee on the side of the road. Highballer Josh Gatherum started the leg in the lead, but Dead Salmon Heads’ Philip Clark has passed him. The women in the bus soon spot Clark and run across the road to form an arch for Clark to run under. Clark ducks under them, and then makes a gallant leap for a frisbee that comes sailing across the road, but just misses in mid-stride.
He never slows down.
And to everyone’s surprise, at the banquet later, the name Philip Clark is announced as the fastest Leg Nine runner in the event with a time of 1:07:10. Teammate Amber Bethe, who had an excellent anchor run, picks up his plaque and delivers it to Clark the next day.
“I had no idea,” Clark says later, “but I’ve added it to my wall of fame.”
The runners also pass Buckwheat Donahue, who, after seeing everyone off at the start in Skagway, has just spent about four hours walking his leg for Whitehorse’s EBA team. Later, while taking a ride in his truck, he explains how he screwed up the time change and missed his start by a half hour. “I never do that!” he says and mutters something about letting his team down but is happy someone is able to drive for him. “I love my truck.”
•••••••••

Highballer Matt Russell enjoys a post-run moment.

Bethe is the first Skagway runner to meet the finish line banner in Whitehorse, just behind the Haines team. Grrrrr. Then there’s a long wait until the Highballers come in, but due to their hour and a half head start, the Haines team still wasn’t fast enough to earn the Upper Lynn Canal crown. It goes to the Highballers again.
With some prompting from the announcer to do something fun, WP&YR’s Adam Baldwin kicks his heels on the approach and gets a roar from the crowd.
After he catches his breath, Baldwin and fellow coffee caboose guy Matt Russell light up cigarettes.
“It’s kind of like stretching your muscles after you run,” Russell says.
Ron McFadyen, the other 22-year volunteer, is interviewing teams for Whitehorse’s CKRW radio at race end. That’s his job, but through the night he has been a volunteer assisting fellow ham radio operators with getting results updated from the various stages.
Oh, and he also ran a leg, his 20th in 22 years. Pretty stalwart for a man in his 60s.
The last Skagway runner is coming in, just as it starts to sprinkle lightly with something that’s frighteningly close to snow. It’s Team SNAFU’s Kyle Fairbanks.
He does not smile for the camera as he enters the last turn by the river and heads under the bridge to the finish line. It hurts too much.
“I run like a Fairbanks,” he mutters.

22nd annual Klondike Trail of ‘98 International Road Relay
Sept. 9-10, 2004
Skagway, Alaska to Whitehorse, Yukon

Race team winners by category: Open- Take No Prisoners, Anchorage, 11:23:52; Women- Sportees Timed Travelers, Whitehorse, 13:55:24; Mixed- Vestigial Appendages, Juneau, 12:27:16; Masters Open- Smokin’ Old Geezers, Juneau, 13:01:20; Masters Women- Lady Gudivas, Douglas, 13:44:55; Masters Mixed-Peak Performers I, Anchorage, 12:40:34; Walkers (Legs 7-10)- Aurora Geo-Walkers, Whitehorse, 9:23:29; Corporate- Skinny Ravens, Anchorage, 14:41:20.
Skagway team times (place/class): WP&YR Highballers (19/mixed), 16:07:34; Dead Salmon Heads (37/mixed), 16:53:09; Team S.N.A.F.U. (60/mixed), 18:11:59.
Times for runners (place/sex) on the three Skagway teams: Leg One, 8.8 miles: WPYR-John Briner (60/men), 1:30:47; TS-Matt Smith (69/men), 1:44:14.DSH-Julene Fairbanks (46/women), 1:44:24. Leg Two, 5.8 miles: TS-David Knapp (4/men) 47:12; DSH-Jeremy Butzlaff (25/men) 55:41; WPYR-Jeremy Simmons (39/men) 1:00:02. Leg Three, 7.6 miles: WPYR-Karen McDonald (14/women) 1:07:06; DSH-Jim Chioffe (23/men) 1:12:19; TS-Jaime Bricker (78/women) 1:33:57. Leg Four, 13.3 miles: WPYR-Benjamin Seale (15/men) 1:38:42; TS-John L. O’Daniel (19/men) 1:42:46; DSH-Peter Lucchetti (29/men) 1:46:22. Leg Five, 14 miles: TS-Michael Moe (32/men) 1:56:33; WPYR-Matt Russell (53/men) 2:12:10; DSH-Paul Korsmo (56/men) 2:17:42. Leg Six, 16 miles: DSH-Mike Catsi (51/men) 2:24:18; WPYR-Rose Perotto (24/women) 2:25:35; TS-Britney Blomgren (50/women) 3:00:20. Leg Seven, 8.8 miles: WPYR-Heather Stevens (16/women) 1:15:04; TS-Rodney Fairbanks (38/men) 1:32:49; DSH-Tim Fairbanks (42/men) 1:42:48. Leg Eight, 12.3 miles: WPYR-Curt Dodd (19/men) 1:32:54; TS-Mani Wimmer (43/women) 1:59:32; DSH-Beth Cline (50/women) 2:09:10. Leg Nine, 11.1 miles: DSH-Philip Clark (1/men) 1:07:10; WPYR-Joshua Gatherum (24/men) 1:29:09; TS-Beth Winslow (53/women) 1:51:07. Leg Ten, 11.9 miles: DSH-Amber Bethe (9/women) 1:33:05; WPYR-Adam Baldwin (63/men) 1:56:05; TS-Kyle Fairbanks (68/men) 2:03:29.

For complete results, go to www.sportyukon.com