Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

2017: A blank page in the history of the KCIBR

 

June 22, 2017



On the eve of Saturday’s scheduled Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay, race officials had a contingency in place in the event of snow accumulation at Chilkat Pass.

They envisioned having riders skip those legs, then restarting the relay farther down the road.

“We went through this five years ago when we had a similar forecast for legs 5 and 6. The ride would stop and resume one or two checkpoints down the road,” race director Mike Kramer said this week.

“We were surprised as anyone when we looked out the window at 5 a.m. and saw snow in the Junction,” Kramer said.

Three to four inches of slush that fell on the starting line in Haines Junction, Y.T. and extended in spots to about Dezadeash cancelled the race for the first time in its 25 years. Temperatures early Saturday were below freezing.

“It came down to an issue not only of bike safety, but of car safety and volunteer safety. But the primary thing is if there’s snow accumulation on the road, it’s just not safe for riders. It was not an easy decision to make but it was the right decision to make,” Kramer said.

Holding the race start at a different checkpoint wouldn’t work because many riders – who arrive after the start – couldn’t be reached in time. Rescheduling for the next day wouldn’t work because government permits for the event and rentals of items like porta-potties were good for one day only.

Permits take weeks to secure, Kramer said.

“We walked through it in a matter of minutes. We couldn’t think of any clear, logical way (to change the race) on such short notice,” Kramer said.

Team registration funds won’t be refunded because most of that money already has been spent on rentals and logistics to set up the event. Thirteen different nonprofits help put on the race, including ones that do set-up, Kramer said.

“The set-up crew had already done their work. Most of that money had already gone out. We’re honoring those commitments,” he said.

The storm exposed one race shortcoming – the difficulty of reaching media early Saturday morning. Kramer was hoping to stop about 100 vehicles leaving early from Whitehorse for the race, but the CBC in Whitehorse was being hosted out of Yellowknife, N.W.T.

“We didn’t have a good, direct way to reach the media. Something we got out of it is we need a better map of who to call at odd hours.”

Most racers were philosophical about the cancellation, he said. “We do know that in Alaska and the Yukon you can get snow any day of the year. This year it just happened we got it on June 17… I’ve heard people say, ‘I want to take my (commemorative race) shirt and get some snowflakes put on it.”

Race officials tried to retrieve electronic “timing sticks” from teams at makeshift stations around Haines Junctions. About 100 of the 330 devices are still outstanding. They can be left at Lutak Lumber in Haines.

Kate Boor of Haines has entered the relay at least 20 times. She was awakened at 3 a.m. Saturday by teammates.

“I heard this squealing and laughing and someone saying, ‘Look out the window, look out the window.’ It looked like Christmas… I have a picture of this tent completely covered with snow.”

Even without an official cancellation, her team members were dubious, she said. “I rode in the race the year that people got hypothermic. This would have been worse.”

Although the cancellation was disappointing, “It was neat to be part of history, and an intense, Mother Nature event,” Boor said.

Although some Canadian participants decided to make the trip to Haines – dozens elected to ride their bikes on dry sections of pavement along the second half of the race course – the cancellation amounted to an big economic loss for Haines.

Mountain Market owner Mary Jean Borcik said she closed early Saturday and started sending extra staffers home Sunday afternoon. “It was pretty devastating for us. We were ready for an onslaught that never came.”

Sunday on bike race weekend is one of the store’s biggest days of the year, Borcik said. Receipts that day were a bit more than half of what typically comes in, she said.

 
 

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