It was the Year of the Headwind on this year’s Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay. But more than 1,100 riders managed to complete the 150-mile event from Haines Junction, Yukon, to Haines. As it does every year, the 24th annual race featured teams of eight, four, two, and solo riders – some out for the glory and some in it just for fun.
Whitehorse’s Don Roberts turns 75 this week. On Saturday he finished his 20th Haines to Haines bike relay. Despite the 20 grueling miles of Leg 5, up to the Haines Summit, with the wind in his face, he dismounted at the finish and started cracking jokes.
“Biking and drafting with women, that’s the secret right there!”
Roberts’ positive attitude was better than a few who got off their bikes wobbly-legged, cursing the relentless climb to the checkpoint. But after two decades of cycling in the popular event, he knows what to expect. And he loves the challenge.
“I start biking in April and I think it’s another goal to work for, and I think getting with the group and the family,” he said. “My daughter just took off, and my son-in-law will do that last two legs, so it’s a bit of a family thing as well, that’s the real motivation. And keeping fit, that’s one of the key things.”
A few minutes later, Skagway’s Jen Larsen skidded into the checkpoint greeted by her Skagway Superheroes teammates. Saturday was her first time cycling the relay.
“It was awesome! Gorgeous day, a little windy, but it was beautiful.”
In all, 277 teams finished the race, including the solo riders. Whitehorse’s One Ball Short, made up of Stephen Ball and Ian Parker, took top spot overall, completing the hilly, windy route in around seven hours and 10 minutes. Three solo men and one solo woman rounded out the top five. The top Haines rider was Sean Asquith with the team name Captain Crunch. He finished seventh in the solo men’s category and 10th overall. The top Skagwegians were the duo of Two Guys, One Ride, also known as John Thomas and Spencer Morgan, who finished fourth in the two-man category and 25th overall.
Race official Joel Luet, who lives in Carcross, said Saturday there was an incident early in the race that sent one Canadian rider to the hospital in Whitehorse after she caught the tail end of a pile-up. But, he said, she was standing and talking when the ambulance took her away.
“We’ve got a gorgeous day, hardly a cloud in the sky and just enough of a headwind to keep the riders from overheating and, yeah, things have been going really well,” Luet said.
A curious black bear was hanging around the border 40 miles outside of Haines, but there were plenty of savvy volunteers on hand to help avoid any encounters.
For Haines cyclist Stephanie Yard, Saturday marked her second Haines to Haines. She was one of eight women on the Chilkat Chicks crew, which finished 241st overall. Yard finished Leg 5 and afterward called the climb to the summit “gruesome.” But, she added, she had a lot of support along the way.
“I love it! It’s the scenery and camaraderie and the tutus.”
Along with tutu-clad bikers and superheroes, one team from Whitehorse decided to incorporate their favorite veggies into their getups. Leg 5 rider Noah MacFadgen came in with several stalks of rhubarb taped to his shirt. The team was Veggie Trails, a spin on Veggie Tales, a kids’ TV show.
“And we had a Facebook group chat and everyone was picking their vegetables and I said ‘rhubarb,’ but everyone was like ‘no, that’s a fruit’ but it’s actually a vegetable,” he explained. “So, basically the shirt and rhubarb is just to bring more exposure to the fact that rhubarb is a vegetable. And I thought the harder I rode, the better chance I would have at getting vegetable exposure for rhubarb.”
Despite the jovial team attitude, Veggie Trails managed to finished 15th in the mixed eight-person category, in just under nine-and-a-half hours.
Further back in the race, Mosquito Lake musher Jim Stanford swapped his dog sled for a bike. He’s been involved in the event for all 24 years, running the 5-Mile Creek checkpoint for the first 10, and riding in the event since then. Like many, his goal was fun and fitness – and to make it the finish in time for the salmon feast Saturday evening.
“I love feeding off the younger crowd, they’re just so wonderful – all the Yukoners and the young people from Haines that are just going for it in this race,” Stanford said. “It’s hysterical. It’s just a fun atmosphere.”
And it’s not just the riders that come back year after year. Haines volunteer Marian Carlson has been heading up the Haines Summit checkpoint for more than a decade.
“There’s good participation, it’s fun to see everybody and everybody’s in a good mood and cheering each other on,” she said. “It’s just fun.”
As the race continues to gain popularity, it’s getting harder and harder to secure a place on the roster. This year, the event filled up in just eight days.
Find results here.