The Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay is set to hit the highway next weekend with around 1,200 riders signed up. This year, the event filled up in a record eight days.
The dust has barely settled from the influx of Beer Fest visitors a couple of weeks ago, but Haines is once again bracing itself for the next big event. The bike relay is celebrating 24 years next Saturday. Cyclists from across Canada and the U.S. will saddle up in Haines Junction and take to the seemingly-unending climbs and glorious descents on the way to the finish line in Haines. Judy Ewald is on the relay board and has done the race nearly 20 times. She says almost three-quarters of the racers are Yukoners, with many of the rest coming from across Alaska.
“I think it’s the fun,” she says. “Anybody can do it, really. We’ve got people who roll their bikes out the day of the race and pump the tires up and do it. We’ve got diehards that train hard to do it on a four, two, or solo team. It’s a family event, too. We get a lot of young kids.”
The race is capped at 1,200 riders and this year’s event filled up to capacity in just over a week. Usually registration is open for a few weeks or longer before it fills up. By comparison, when the race began in 1993, about 200 riders took part. Racers pedal the 150-mile course in eight-, four-, or two-person teams, or by themselves. Along with the race as a whole, the solo category has seen a significant boost in interest over the last decade or so. Last year there were 70 solo riders, and for the past two years, single cyclists have won the whole thing.
Ewald says the race is capped mostly because of the vehicle congestion on the highway. Over the last few years, race organizers have taken more precautions when it comes to controlling the backcountry traffic jams.
“Some of the drivers get carried away and think ‘Oh, I gotta be up there’ and they drive a little recklessly.”
More volunteers directing traffic and RCMP on the Canadian side are being used to control the vehicles.
“Several Mounties on the road, they help us with traffic control – stopping the traffic and any bears if we’ve got bears on the side of the road,” Ewald says. “And in the past, they’ve brought their reserves out to help us.”
The relay does not maintain a waiting list for teams, but there are some last-minutes spots opening up, according to the race’s Facebook page. Friday, June 10 is the deadline for making online changes to team rosters.
“Those who are not participating in the race, remember there is a race going on,” Ewald says. “There will be a lot of bicycles and traffic between about 1 and 8 p.m. on the Saturday of the race. They start hitting the border about 1, depending on the weather. Just remember, it’s one day a year. Be careful out there.”
The race starts shortly after 8 a.m. Yukon time in Haines Junction on Saturday, June 18. More information at kcibr.org.