Cyclists weren’t scared off by the canceling of last year’s Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay.
The 148-mile cycling relay from Haines Junction, Yukon to Haines — which summer snow showers halted last year — sold out within a couple of days of registration opening March 15.
Juneau’s Rob Welton is the president of the KCIBR board and has participated in almost every race since 2000. He said there 24 Juneau teams (teams captained by a Juneauite) entered in the relay this year, making up just a small subset of the roughly 300 teams and 1,220 riders.
“I attribute the popularity of the race basically to all the social connections people make,” Welton said. “I guess it’s not a lot different than a softball team that goes up to Whitehorse to play tournaments where you all get to know each other, you travel together, make teams and go do the event.”
The course is broken up into eight legs between 11 and 24 miles in length. Many riders choose to conquer two or more legs as a solo rider or on teams of two, four, six or eight.
Juneau’s Jim Ustasiewski began cycling seven years ago and has participated in the Kluane since then. For five out of the six years he’s raced, Ustasiewski, 54, has biked in the solo division. Ustasiewski finished 15th in the men’s solo division in 2015 and third in the men’s two-person division two years ago. Both times, Ustasiewski’s teams have finished in under eight and a half hours.
“It can be a long day in the saddle but if we have a day like we’re having in Juneau today, it’s spectacular,” Ustasiewski said. “I’ve been on the highway in the race when it’s sunny and a little bit of a tailwind and you just feel like there’s no place on earth you’d rather be, it’s beautiful.”
Dave Ringle, 56, is racing in is 21st Kluane relay this year, having only missed four races since competing in the inaugural event in 1992. He’s raced as a solo participant four times but mainly races on teams of two or more. Ringle prefers racing on four-person teams in which everyone cycles about 40 miles.
“The camaraderie is part of the fun of it,” he said.
One thing Ringle and Ustasiewski agree on is the breathtaking terrain that makes this event one-of-a-kind.
“It’s a race like no other because it was started by the Chamber of Commerce as a tourism thing but people didn’t know about cycling back in ‘92,” said Ringle, who was one of only about 300 cyclists in the first relay. “All types of people can participate in it, you start out in a national park and you end up on a glacier fjord, you go through wilderness. It’s just a beautiful ride.”
The Alaska Department of Transportation is doing road construction between Mile 8 and Mile 10 of the Haines Highway, according to Welton, and cyclists are advised to bring a bike with wider tires or use a support car to traverse the section.
Welton said to check the race website www.kcibr.org for updates on the road construction.
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.