Klondike. It seems like everybody’s writing about it these days, but there is a reason for that. If you don’t know what “Klondike” is it’s the Klondike International Road Relay, where teams of 10 runners (or less if you want to do it that way), race along the highway from Skagway, Alaska to Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada. The race has been around for a number of years and there are legendary people who run it and exciting things that happen along its course. Although, what happens at Klondike, stays at Klondike so unless you participate, you may never really know what Klondike is really like.
I was first introduced to Klondike when I moved to Skagway from St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands about two decades ago. My friends from the islands had spent their summers in Skagway, which admittedly, I’d never heard of, but after hearing about it for six months, I thought it was going to be heaven. And, to the young me, it was a little bit of heaven, beauty, scenery, quirky people and lots of adventures to be had. It was a summer of great fun.
A group of my friends ran Klondike that year but I didn’t think I was a distance runner at the time, so I sat out. I think it was about a year later when I received a letter from one of my Skagway running pals along with an article about him running his entire leg in Converse All Stars. I promised myself one day that I was going to run that race… And if ever I thought I wasn’t going to finish, I’d think of Peter running all that way in those clunky high tops.
Well, in 2014 I was a Klondike virgin, but I ran leg 8. I’m still not a great distance runner but I completed my leg and I’m lucky enough to be on a team that is more concerned with having fun than winning the race. My team continues to focus on fun and sometimes that means we forget things, like passports, teammates, other things we need to complete our race. But since this is a rare weekend away from our kids and families, we want to make the most of coming home with smiles on our faces and fond memories.
This year, I ran leg one and everything went quite smoothly. My team is organized so legs one through four share a car and run support for each other so we cheered on our leg two runner and then our leg three runner and at the checkpoint between legs three and four we stumbled on a little slice of heaven, what we called the “Hot Dog Tent.” During legs one and two the weather was pretty good but leg 3 got to be a bit cold and there were murmurs of “this is the coldest it’s ever been” which I doubt, but it was cold. Back to what’s important here, the Hot Dog Tent. In the cold of the night with the rain beating down, I didn’t want to even get out of the car to properly support my team, but I knew I had to. My teammate said “there is a tent with hotdogs and it’s warm in there.” I thought she was just pulling my leg to get me out of the car but I followed anyway.
At first, I thought it was a mirage. It had been cold all along leg three and I would say it was not my best support leg. I could have done better. We approach a wall tent and opened the door and inside it’s all toasty warm like there was a wood burning stove and it smelled of hot dogs. One would think that I enjoy hotdogs from all of this talk of hotdogs, but while I don’t consume them, I do find comfort in the smell of them, and the warmth, well that was amazing too. In the Hot Dog Tent there were bowls of candy, coffee, oranges and, well, hotdogs and it was all free. The Hot Dog Tent was just what we needed at the end of leg three especially for those who were living through what must have been “their coldest Klondike ever.” I looked around in awe of what I saw, but I didn’t take anything at all. I took what I needed from there in my thoughts, the little bit of heaven that was The Hot Dog Tent lived on there. After the race ended, I heard that the tent was circus themed and that there were clowns. Somehow in the cold of the night I missed all of that which was good, because I needed to go to sleep after my teammate completed leg four and I didn’t need to have nightmares of clowns chasing me.
The rest of Klondike went pretty smoothly this year. No missing passports, everybody met their runners and support seemed to go smoothly. After a few mishaps the year before, my team may have a bit of a reputation for having some, shall I say, excitement. We went off to the dance and most of our friends on other teams seemed to be pleasantly surprised at how smoothly our Klondike race went, but that was not to be the end of it.
We departed Whitehorse late Sunday morning to head back to Skagway to catch our ferry. Three cars departed with three to four teammates each, total of 10 people. We decided to make a quick pit stop in Carcross because there was a great coffee shop where several of my teammates had spent some time in the wee hours of the morning during the race, it was for all practical purposes, their Hot Dog Tent. I went to get a coffee and we all took restroom breaks, and probably stayed in Carcross for 30 minutes. One of the cars loaded up and took off. Then my car loaded up and a teammate from another vehicle came over and instructed us to go straight to the ferry terminal upon arrival in Skagway. We agreed and watched her walk off to the restroom. We took off. Car three took off.
We accidentally left a teammate in Carcross. We got her back safely and we all had a good laugh about it. While our team is not perfect in every way, it is perfect in the way that counts. We can laugh at ourselves, we have fun, we enjoy our time away from home and we make the best of things good or bad. We will never take home the Klondike title. Wait, is there even a Klondike title? Do people actually win this race? Well, that’s not what it’s about for us and that’s what makes it so great.
Susan Stopher currently serves as office manager for Stopher Construction, LLC. She’s an avid traveler, adventurer and lover of art and design. She enjoys running and outdoor activities with her husband and two kids in Southeast Alaska and beyond. She enjoys cooking, canning and the great outdoors!