When the Klondike "Trail of '98" International Road Relay started in 1983, Juneau runners Glenn Frick, Al Graves and Jerry Buckley were members of the Taku Striders team that won the 109.8-mile relay race from Skagway to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.
Frick, Graves and Buckley, now members of the Smokin' Ole Geezers, are riding the ferry to Skagway this morning, heading north to run in the Klondike for the 19th straight year. According to officials with Sports Yukon, they are the only three runners who have competed in the race in every year of its existence. The only other people to have been involved in every Klondike are three volunteers from Whitehorse.
"We've done all 18 of them, and they've all been so fun I can't sort them out," said Frick, 62, who is the captain of the Smokin' Ole Geezers.
"Jerry and I just want to get at least 20 in a row, but Glenn just wants to keep going," said Graves, 57.
There are 133 teams entered in the Klondike this year -- teams can range in size from six to 10 runners each, with most having nine or 10 on the roster -- and 35 of those are from Juneau, Douglas or Auke Bay. Other Southeast teams are from Sitka (three teams), Skagway (four), Petersburg (two), Gustavus (one) and Haines (one team).
The relay starts at 6 p.m. tonight, and teams will leave the starting line in 30-minute staggers with the fastest teams leaving about 11 p.m. The top teams should be arriving in Whitehorse about 10 a.m. (Alaska time) on Saturday. A race wrap-up story will run in Monday's Juneau Empire.
The Smokin' Ole Geezers took third place overall last year, losing second place to when they took a five-minute penalty by replacing a struggling runner during the middle of a leg. Take No Prisoners of Anchorage (which featured Juneau runners John Bursell and Paul Pusich) won the race in 11 hours, 18 minutes, 52 seconds, followed by the Juneau mixed team Vestigial Appendages in 12:20:37 and the Geezers in 12:26:04.
The Smokin' Ole Geezers have won the masters title for 10 years straight, and in 1992 and 1993 they also won the overall title. With an average age in the mid-50s, the Geezers aren't expecting to win the overall title this year. But they do want to keep their masters streak alive.
"Our team gets slower every year, but we've never been beaten by another masters team," said Buckley, 58. "I'm surprised no one's ever put together another top masters team. I think Whitehorse (North 60 Aviation) will be our main competition."
The Geezers actually have 11 runners on their roster right now, but one of them will probably fill a slot on another Juneau masters team. Besides Frick, Graves and Buckley, the Geezers also have 17-race veteran Jim Douglas (52), Guy Thibodeau (51), Steve Davis (55), Andy Grossman (52), Bob Marshall (53) and three young bucks -- Keith Levy, Brian Goettler and Tom Meyer -- who are all in the mid- to late-40s. In 1999, the Geezers went by the name Smolderin' Ole Geezers because all 10 runners were at least 50 years old.
"We figure someone on the team might have an injury by the time we get up there for the race," said Buckley, who is still recovering from a nasty wreck in the Tour of Juneau cycling race.
"There are so many of us who are shaky enough in our health, it's probably a good idea to have an 11th guy," said Graves, who has been battling a painful heel condition known as plantar fasciitis. "This year I'm probably shakier than ever. There have been so many things wrong. I started biking to save my body, but I don't enjoy it as much as running."
Frick said he thought about getting the Geezers team t-shirts saying the team is sponsored by Viagra. The group runs every Sunday morning, then goes out for a late breakfast.
"It's an honor to be a Geezer," said Frick, whose father still goes jogging at age 94 and one time ran from his home in New Hampshire to Boston to compete in the Boston Marathon (he finished 15th, then ran and hitch-hiked home). "We're still smokin', even with our age and injuries. It's still an adventure."
Besides the Geezers, Juneau teams to watch in the overall competition this year include mixed teams Darwin's Tribe and the Vestigial Appendages. Another Juneau team to watch is the Lady Gu Divas, which is hoping to set the women's masters record.
Darwin's Tribe, which is captained by Bursell, is given the best chance to win by several Juneau runners. Darwin's Tribe includes Bursell, his wife Jamie Bursell, Paul Pusich (who now lives in California), Tom Casey, Kelly Flathers (of California), Don Eagle, Shawn Miller, Merry Ellefson and a runner from the Lower 48 Bursell said he only knows as "Dodge."
The Vestigial Appendages are captained by Tracy Rivera and he said the team includes his wife Kim Rivera, Dave Pusich, Layne Brant, JoAnn Quigg, Robert Sowers, Gary Smith of Sitka, Shasta Smith of Sitka, Ken Arriola of Ketchikan and Sue Doherty of Ketchikan. The Lady Gu Divas are captained by Dawn Rider-Walsh, but no roster was available.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.