Moose, bear and beer, oh my!

Annual Kluane-Chilkat bike race challenges locals

Story and Photo by APRIL BUSCH

Solstice time in Haines – wind, rain, dancing and bicycles. Just before summer turns the corner, 1,150 bicyclists pedaled through last Saturday’s long daylight hours in the eighth annual Kluane Chilkat International Bicycle Relay from Haines Junction to the Fort Seward Barracks in Haines.
Riders in this 156-mile race competed for a statue made out of tiny bike parts that will have each year’s winning team engraved on it before it’s displayed in their hometown. The first three places in each category received ribbons and the overall last-place team won red lanterns to help them find their way in.
The 10 competing Skagway teams completed the eight-leg course between eight and a half hours, for Jan’s Brothel Boys, to Slowly Smiling’s almost 12 hours. The first place team, Yellow Jersey Cycles, a four-man group from Sitka, sizzled across the finish in 7:28:18, a full minute and 13 seconds faster than last year’s winning time.
Skagway sent two four-man teams to Haines – Jan’s Brothel Boys and Sockeye Fry and two eight-man teams, Ever So Much More So and White Pass Express. Skagway entered six, eight-person mixed teams – Family Jewells, Sockeye Funky, Itjen Poked West, Wind Valley Wheelers, Captain Stubin’s Illegitimate Children and Slowly Smiling.
The two- and four-person teams started the race at 8:30 a.m. Yukon Time under a cloud cover that looked as though it could either continue to dump showers, as it had throughout the week, or break into clear patches of sky.
By 9 a.m. when the eight-person teams lined up beneath the persistent gray skies, the threat of rain gave way to building winds.
“The weather was definitely better than last year,” eight-time racer Thomas Pickerel, Ever So Much More So team captain, said. “It was a little colder this time, but last year was driving rain and wind.”
You Say Tomato health food store owner Donna Snyder experienced borderline hypothermia after her leg last year, but it didn’t stop her from coming back for another try.
“I threw up for a couple of hours (last year) then felt all right,” Snyder said. “I didn’t get medical attention, but my teammates didn’t really want to be around me.”
Several other cases of hypothermia were reported after the race last year. Despite predictions from Kluane Chilkat board-member Steve Williams that 1999’s race weather would keep return racers away, only 15 out of nearly 300 people identified themselves as new riders in the pre-race meeting Friday night.
For $33 each, team members got a snazzy red T-shirt, a barbecue dinner after the race, half-price entrance to the solstice dance and were able to ride between 11.8 and 24.5 miles per leg. The terrain ranged from calf-aching inclines to head-tucking downhills, including two 20-mile stints that were relatively flat and curvy.
“By the end of leg four, our three-and four-rider (Greg Voyels) had an absolute face of misery,” Jan’s Brothel Boys rider Bruce Schindler said. “He had snot and fluids coming from everywhere.”
All of the legs fought a headwind, but legs three, four and five were brutal. These sections would be grueling enough if the riders weren’t competing; with added race anxiety they were a cramp-inducing, sweaty mess.
“It’s always chaos on race day,” said former Skagway resident Katy Prime. “It seems like it’s so relaxed but then you get here – the energy and everything is so tense.”
For the Skagway teams, competition took second place to fun. None of the teams claimed to have officially trained much, though the top teams were fairly athletic in other ways. Schindler rides up to Pitchfork Falls or the bridge two or three times a week, Pickerel ran up to Lower Dewey Lake for the last 35 days and Christophe Noel works for Sockeye Cycle doing bike tours.
“We tried to just have fun and not be competitive,” said Sockeye Fry rider Noel. Even without trying, they gave the other riders plenty to compete against. All four of Sockeye Fry’s riders, Noel, Tom Ely and brothers Chad and Darren Carl, placed in the top 15 with an overall twentieth-place time.
“We had very little training,” Noel said. “We rode when we had a chance, but we’re all pretty busy here.”
Sockeye Fry rider, Chad Carl, was knocked over in one of the race’s two major accidents. Part-way through the first leg a pack of riders went down like dominos. One rider had a cracked helmet and was checked for head injuries.
“His helmet did its job and he didn’t have any serious injuries,” race coordinator Sue Meikle said.
Carl tumbled off his bike but just got some scratches.
“More damage was sustained by his bike than his body,” Noel said. “But riders are pretty serious about their bikes.”
Schindler said that if Sockeye’s rider hadn’t been caught in the massive fall they might have beat his eleventh-place team.
“I heard these bikes tumbling behind me,” Schindler said. “I just thought don’t look back. Stay focused. It got the testosterone pumping.
“In all fairness, I think both teams are pretty much there at the same place. When you’ve got a big pack like that, everyone takes their pull. Once you lose that lead pack it’s hard to catch up again.”
Schindler found that racing in the two- and four-person division was more competitive than the eight-person.
“It was fun to be with the super competitive people,” he said. “I’ve been riding a lot just to have time to think, but recently started riding with a friend who has ridden competitively. It’s taken me to a whole different level.”

“Everyone was in a great mood for the race,” Schindler said. “We’re competitive but only if we’re having fun.”
Some of the teams balanced their competitive edge with silly names. Kate McNatt of Captain Stubin’s Illegitimate Children claimed a stiff rivalry with the White Pass team before the race started.
“Our support drivers are going to tell us if one team gets ahead of the other,” McNatt said laughing. “If one team pulls in the lead, they’re going to drop back until the last leg so we’ll be neck-and-neck. Then we’ll see who’s really better.”
The two teams fulfilled their goal until the last track when McNatt gave Express rider Lisa Thoe a smack on the rear as she passed to pull Captain Stubin’s Illegitimate Children’s final time in 15 minutes better than White Pass Express.
Ever So Much More So team captain Thomas Pickerel felt pretty confidant about his teams standing.
“We basically kicked butt,” Pickerel said. His team placed 38 overall, fourth in men’s 8-person, and the fourth-best team from Skagway. His team was a good mix of enthusiasm and confidence.
“We were absolutely hoarse by the end of the race,” Pickerel said. “ We cheered everyone on. We’re fairly ragtag but we’re very loud. And we only drink beer out of bottles, none of this canned crap.”
Pickerel is particularly pleased that his team refuses to be sponsored by a business so they can make up their own name. He chose his team name from a children’s book in which a traveling salesman sells cans of magic dust to adventurous kids. The dust makes anything it’s shaken onto “ever so much more so” –whatever it is. Food tastes better, books are more interesting, toys more fun. The contents of these magic cans reinspires the whole town.
By the end of the story someone has pried the lid off one of the cans to discover... they’re empty, of course. It was the attitude of the townspeople that made everything “ever so much more so,” not some elusive magic dust.
Pickerel was impressed with how this positive attitude pervaded the race. When one of his team members cramped up and started to get off his bike, another racer came by and warned him that stopping would only make it worse, then let the ESMMS rider draft off him for awhile. The ESMMS rider recovered and passed his helpmate in good-natured competition.
A few riders passed more than just their competition. Schindler saw a moose with her calf.
“She was beautiful,” Schindler said. “But no one really wants to see anything like that when you’re on your bike. They can be wily.”
A grizzly and her two cubs lumbered around the leg four to five exchange. The police were seen pulled over blaring their horns, trying unsuccessfully to convince her to eat elsewhere.
Further down the road, the sixth checkpoint 1-kilometer warning sign was missing. A black bear had decided to play with it and wouldn’t give it back. Eventually, the timekeepers found the mangled sign, propped it up along the road and hightailed it in case the bear decided to return for its toy.
Joshua Gatherum, who rode for the White Pass Express team, saw a black bear.
“We saw a bear really close. Too close,” he said. “Overall, we didn’t see a lot of wildlife but the view was beautiful, the sun was shining, it was amazing.”
After the long ride, both on the bike and as support for other team members, riders danced at the solstice party, ate and drank beer at the barbecue or just slept.
“We went down pretty fast,” Schindler said. “We wimped out early. We wanted to go to solstice, but were too wimpy for that.”
By the next morning the exhaustion, snot and sweat had faded away.
“With a full nights sleep and a beautiful sunny morning, I woke up feeling great, a little sore but great!” Schindler said.

Recall petitions clear City Hall, election date set

School Board consults lawyer in executive session

Recall petitions for Skagway School Board members Veronica Bush, Glenda Choate and Lynne Cameron were certified by City Clerk Marge Harris on June 12.
The recall petition for Lynne Cameron received a total of 108 signatures, of which 98 were registered voters, meeting the minimum requirement for submission; for Veronica Bush, 112, with 102 registered voters; and, for Glenda Choate, 103 with 94 of those being registered voters.
The petitions were then submitted to the Skagway City Council to select the date for a special recall election. The council met in special meeting Tuesday night and set the date for August 22, the same date as the Alaska primary election. This will save the city money, Harris said, as the state will already be paying for poll workers to work that day.
The recall is a result of a vote by the school board this spring to retained the current superintendent, Richard Lee. Over 90 people attended that school board meeting, with many asking that the board not extend another contract to Lee.
Afterwards, a group of parents formed the Concerned Parents of Skagway group, began to circulate a recall petition ad hired a lawyer.
The petitions’ reasons for recall were that the board members failed to perform prescribed duties by: engaging in misconduct in office by disrespectful refusal to hear the concerns and testimony of citizens, specifically cutting off testimony at board meetings and refusing to receive communications in person and by mail; by not requiring prior board approval before major purchases over $5,000 by the superintendent, specifically, a van and computer equipment; failing to enforce the policy barring weapons in schools, including an instance in which the superintendent was involved with weapons on school grounds; and, by failing to enforce the laws against use of public property for personal uses, specifically, the use of school vehicles by superintendent and staff.
This past Monday, the school board went into executive session with its lawyer, Ann Gifford of Faulkner Banfield law firm in Juneau.
Jeff Brady, publisher of the Skagway News, attended and voiced his concern that the meeting was not legal because of the short amount of notice time given to the public. Lee said the post office and other sites had been posted the day before. Harris said City Hall had been notified by fax at 7:58 a.m. Sunday morning. At least 24 hours notice is required for a public meeting. The radio station was not notified, and neither was the newspaper office. He also questioned the legality of the executive session, as under Alaska statute it would not have an adverse effect on the finances of the school board, would not prejudice the reputation and character of any person, did not discuss anything that is confidential under city or state law or dealt with government records that by law are not subject to public disclosure.
“I have serious questions about the notice of this meeting,” said Brady. “It was posted on Sunday, which is not a business day. I notified our lawyer in Anchorage and he also has serious questions about the reason for executive session. Whose reputation would you damage in a public meeting? If it was Mr. Lee, I can see where it may be necessary.”
But Gifford claimed client-attorney privilege and said they were meeting to discuss the reasons for the recall petition, and how that would impact the financial entity.
“We’re meeting to discuss legal consideration of strategy and for clients to make informed decisions,” Gifford said.
Board President Bruce Weber said there would be no action after the executive session, but it may be discussed it at the next meeting.
“If they fight this, we’ll have to pay for a lawyer to fight it,” said Michelle Carlson of CPOS in the hallway outside the meeting. “We’ve already paid a lawyer $2,000. My concern is they’re in there getting legal help for free.”
The meeting was not tape recorded, as is usual, because the school secretary was on vacation, Lee said. Instead he took notes. He said the other people in the office did not know how to run the tape recorder and neither did he. However, Marsha Berry, the school bookkeeper, who was in the office at the time, when asked said she did know how to run the tape recorder as did the other person in the office. She also said she wasn’t aware of the special meeting until called about it by the this reporter.
What did come out of the executive session between the board and its lawyer was the lawyer’s findings that several state statutes cited in the reasons for recall had been off the books since 1985.
Also, she wrote in a letter to the city council, that there were many “serious questions about the recall petition’s legal validity,” and that it owuld appropriate for the school district to protest the petitions’ certification and request that it be rescinded.

Skagway sportfishing floats till September

New regulations unfair, say local charter boat captains


While most of Southeast Alaska grapples with new restrictions on king salmon sport fishing, Skagway and the waters north of Taiya Point remain off the hook until Sept. 1.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced that non-resident and resident anglers fishing from chartered vessels cannot keep king salmon on Wednesdays between June 3 and July 31, or any day from Aug. 1 to Sept. 30. Resident and non-resident anglers can also not keep fish June 3 to June 30 from chartered vessels where more than four lines are being fished. Private angler regulations have not changed.
ADF&G determined that the area north of Taiya Point is a terminal harvest area, in which excess numbers of required brood stock are expected to return, and does not have to comply with these restrictions until Sept. 1, 2000. Starting in September, Skagway charter anglers will join the rest of the state’s fishermen in releasing their king salmon.
“When you look at what’s happened up here in terms of resource management, Alaska’s done pretty good,” Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue said. “Obviously those numbers haven’t looked as good in Canada this year.”
ADF&G reported only nine percent of the last 20-year average of fish stocks are expected to return to West Coast Vancouver Island.
The low number of king salmon this year could be an affect of El Nino and La Nina enducing mackerel populations on the west coast of Vancouver to move into salmon territory and prey on the kings, said Randy Ericksen at the ADF&G’s Division of Sport Fish.
ADF&G determines fishing regulations based on the individual needs and expectations of each region.
“We realized in early April that our allocation was going to be substantially reduced this year,” Ericksen said. “There will be some surplus fish returning to the area north of Taiya, but not a lot. We are trying to develop a brood stock from the Tahini River for both Skagway hatcheries and for Gastineau (near Juneau).”
Pat Moore, chairman of the fish hatchery oversight committee with the city, said most of this area’s king salmon return between June and the first part of August anyway.
“I don’t think (the Sept. ban on keeping Chinooks) would change much at all,” Moore said. “Most of our fish come in before that. Unless people from Haines come up (to fish). That would change our numbers.”
Though he understands why the fishing restrictions are in place, Donahue supports the needs of local charter fishermen.
“A few years ago when 400,000 people came through Skagway, shutting down was not even in people’s minds,” he said. “This summer 600,000 people will be here, next year another 50,000, the next year another 50,000. Sometimes you have to put limits.
“But I agree with our fishermen because when all you have is king salmon and nothing to fall back on, maybe special consideration is warranted.”
Local charter captain Glen Mitchell of Chocktaw Charters and Angler’s Choice Sportfishing manager Darren E. Dindinger said they believe this area should be exempt from any further chinook restrictions.
“When you talk about fish,” Mitchell said, “that’s all we have here. Consideration should be given to this area. Other areas have other fish. All we have is king salmon.”
Between 50 and 60 percent of the fishermen who charter with him want something tangible to send home, Mitchell estimates.
Dindinger said he appreciates what the ADF&G is trying to do, but his business, which is primarily booked on cruise ships, depends on giving people what they expect.
“It’s some people’s boyhood dreams to fish in Alaskan waters – people on cruise ships pay thousands of dollars to fish in these waters,” Dindinger said. “(It’s like if you) tell someone they can tour around the grocery store and not buy anything. It’s just going to make them hungry and they’re not going to come back.”
People pay around $165 for a half-day tour because they appreciate the expertise of the captains and the experience of being chartered.
“I’m no more than like a taxicab with a little more expertise,” Mitchell said. “It just seems unfair to me that some people don’t own a boat and will never own a boat because they want to come to Choctaw Fishing or Skagway Fishing, and we’re being punished for that.”