Gustavus trio completes Chilkoot Trail marathon

Sebern, Lesh and Wilson will compete in Klondike Road Relay this weekend

Posted: Friday, September 05, 2003

Gustavus runners Michelle Sebern, Dave Lesh and Steve Wilson have all run in past Klondike Trail of '98 International Road Relays - races that touch on the spirit of miners' journeys during the Klondike Gold Rush.

In July, the trio got even closer to history with a more-than-marathon run of the real thing - the Chilkoot Trail.

Sebern, Lesh and Wilson completed the 33-mile trail from Dyea, Alaska, to Bennett, British Columbia, in about 10 hours, while carrying little more than "hydration packs, Power Bars and ambition," Sebern said.

Most backpackers take anywhere from three to five days to cover the route, according to the National Park Service, which administers the American portion of the trail.

None of the runners had ever hiked the trail before, and the decision to run it was at the spur of the moment, with two days to plan.

"We all knew we could do it," Lesh said. "We just had to decide what to carry."

The team started at 5 a.m. and finished in Bennett by late afternoon.

"It was easier than I expected," Lesh said. "The first section was just regular Southeast trail running. ... (On climbs), since you aren't carrying a pack, it's relatively easy (though) you have to watch your footing."

While the trail is very scenic, the pace and weather limited opportunities to enjoy it.

"It wasn't conducive to sightseeing," Lesh said of the run. "You're looking down 98 percent of the time."

"When we went over the Scales (near the top of Chilkoot Pass), it was totally socked in" by fog, Sebern said. "We were following each other's voices."

While Sebern, 31, and Lesh, 52, are both marathon runners, Wilson, 37, was in uncharted territory.

"It was twice as far as I've ever gone before," he said, "but it worked out pretty well."

The trio said that given the success of the Chilkoot run, they are looking for other opportunities. The Cottonwood Trail in Canada's Kluane National Park - nearly 50 miles long - may be next.

In the short term, the three runners will turn their attention to the Klondike Trail of '98 International Road Relay, a 10-stage, 110-mile relay race that starts Friday in Skagway and ends Saturday in Whitehorse. Teams run all night along Klondike Highway 2.

Sebern, Lesh and Wilson will run for the Glacier Chasers team, formerly known as Gustavus Roadrunners.

Lesh said he enjoys the camaraderie of the race, "the whole team aspect of it. The party starts when we leave Gustavus."

Sebern and Lesh will be running legs 10 and 6, respectively, this year. That's a flip-flop of last year's race. They are going to compare times in a bit of intrateam competition.

The Chilkoot and Klondike Road Relay runs provide a welcome change-of-pace from running in Gustavus, Sebern said.

The community has a couple of races each year, but its flat terrain can get boring. Sebern said there is only one hill of any size to provide variety.

"We have to run that silly hill up and down, up and down again and again to get any kind of hill workout," she said.

But running seems to be catching on with local residents.

"It's turned into a popular thing," Sebern said. "We have way more runners than go to the Klondike."

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