I’m sure by now everyone has noticed the increased number of runners on the roads and trails. Hopefully it is kind of hard to NOT notice us at this point; it means our safety colors and reflectors are working. Just like when the Woolly Bear caterpillars emerge in the fall, most people take a moment to stop and furrow their brows and say ‘huh, where did all of you come from?’ Hopefully May, June, and July saw sunny days and happy miles, but as we get into August, most of our running community is going to be settling in for the long and hard runs. Before I met some of the amazing women that I know now, I didn’t quite understand why there seemed to be a flood of runners in the fall; people running on trails, mountains, and roads. And sometimes they didn’t exactly seem to be enjoying it.
My father said to me one time, ‘you know, I never see a happy runner. They always seem to be scowling.’ Ron is very concerned with young ladies scowling; he says it gives us eyebrow wrinkles. So then I took it as a personal challenge to send him ridiculous selfies while running of me smiling. Anyone that thinks I take myself seriously on most things will be greatly let down. You should see the SnapChats I send.
As with training for any run, it is important to remember that here in Alaska it is out of the house and into the food chain: we share our roads and trails with predators and prey alike. Just last night I watched a black bear lope across the road from a residential area into a grassy field. Running (walking, biking, hiking…) with headphones is probably the worst thing you can do for your safety. You can’t hear other people, you can’t hear animals, and you are shutting yourself off from important cues around you. I just play my music from my phone, and sure, if I pass someone they will hear Ke$ha or Nightwish for a few seconds, but I see it no differently than a normal conversation they would hear. I have run up on deer, bear, wondering dogs, people on bikes, and other people with headphones in who never heard me coming. I’m sure the cardio spike they experience at someone suddenly behind them is quite a shock, as their facial expressions would lead me to believe.
For anyone who hasn’t heard ad nauseam about the Klondike Road Relay, it is the local pilgrimage of competitive racers, and runners who rock red dresses and tutus. Though our race is not in the name of any deity, the journey is fraught with mile upon grueling mile, and I’m sure many gods are cursed and called upon. The Klondike Road Relay is a way to ride the shirt tails of the tourist season, and basically have one last multi-town party before we all settle in for the rain and the wind that is biting at our heels as we cross the Canadian border. Expletives of frustration and bemoaning about tourists are common, but with our armor of running shoes and bright colors, we flood our tourist-occupied town of Skagway and wine and dine at our favorite summer restaurants with only the stragglers of summer wandering the streets. Whitehorse welcomes us with excitedly honking horns and dashboard waves, and they are incredibly friendly to their Sister City.* I hope that they feel as warm of a welcome from us.
The first race was six years before my parents would move to Alaska, and five years before I was born. What started off as a mere 25 teams in 1983, is now 153 registered teams. Last year we had a team from ‘Merica! that came up from Corralitos (by Santa Cruz), California. In 2015, 648 men and 1009 women pounded the 110 miles from Skagway to Whitehorse. But runners are not left alone to the roadside wilds, as most teams have between one and three support cars that leap frog them through the 21 hour race. And with 153 teams, that is quite an army of support! With some quick math, that could be an extra 459 people waiting for you at the finish line to cheer you on and cheers with beers. Some teams rent an RV and drive as one team, while other teams split up and trade off hotel keys and enthusiasm at designated checkpoints.
The Klondike has welcomed us with northern lights, as September nights are dark enough and the start of the aurora season. Snow and frost have surprised runners coming over the pass. Moose have waited patiently for a break in runners to cross the road, ambling across without much concern for the dreary trickle of people. Bear have been spotted and shooed off the road by trucks where runners will soon wind along the lake shoreline. And probably the most entertaining sightings are the dresses, costumes, tutus, crowns, neon colors, pompoms, and painted cars. Several years in a row, a truck pulls a wood fire hot tub behind them, and we all want to be their friend. Then of course, you have to respect the teams who are actually serious teams, where splits matter and training has been intense. But I would venture to say that the majority of teams are not in it to win it, but rather win leg 11.
Courtney Wendel has lived in Juneau since she was a year old. She has a twin brother and an older brother, and learned to enjoy the outdoors at a young age by following the boys into mischief. Graduating from JDHS in 2006, she attended UAS to receive her Literature of the Environment, BA English degree. When not at work she spends most of her time on the diverse trail system hiking, running, or camping with her spotted pooch and adventure buddies.