WHITEHORSE, Yukon - For 24 years the Klondike Trail of '98 International Road Relay had been providing challenging conditions, entertaining team camaraderie and even more interesting stories.
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This past Saturday wasn't any different, as some 1,300 runners and walkers took on the event for its silver anniversary. Fog, rain, wind and patches of sunshine ensured a mixed bag of weather from Legs 1 through 10 as teams displayed themes ranging from the always popular rubber chicken to crazy afro wigs.
It was one of those "chickens" who walked, or ran, away with the year's top story.
"I was doing Leg 2 and it was really misty," explained Eagle River resident Kevin Slayden, a member of Team Chicken Run. "I was rocking out to my iPod and when I got over the bridge, some motor homes passed me. One of them stopped and came back.
"I thought he asked, 'Do you want a beer?', so I said, 'No, I'm good.' It turned out it wasn't a beer he was talking about, but a bear. I didn't find that out until about 10 minutes later."
The grizzly bear spent a portion of the leg running beside Slayden and wasn't being harmful. It appeared as if he just wanted to run and play, said Slayden, who was alerted to the bear by a fellow competitor who ran past him.
For full results from the Klondike Road Relay, check out www.ouryukon.com/race2/.
For more photos from the race, go to spotted.juneauempire.com.
"At one point, I stumbled and I felt his whisker on my thigh. I could feel his breath. After that, I was gone. I ran faster than I've ever run."
Slayden, who was in his fifth year as a participant of the relay, thankfully escaped the situation unscathed.
There were a total of three bear sightings during the event, but that was the only one which hit so close to home.
"It's absolutely frightening," said race director Trevor Twardochleb. "They're so used to the tourists on the highway during the summers around here, so they're not easily scared off.
"You just have to make a lot of noise and have your support vehicles stay close behind you in those circumstances."
Slayden's is one of the many stories which will go into the folklore associated with the international road relay. Twardochleb has been involved with Sport Yukon's largest event since 1998 - the year the event drew its largest starting field ever at 163 teams.
There were 20 teams in the inaugural event in 1983.
"My first year was the biggest ever because of the 100th anniversary of the gold rush," explained Twardochleb. "At that time, the rules of the road were a lot less restrictive. There were motor homes which had trailers with hot tubs, people just hanging out and partying. It was really quite congestive and dangerous on the highway.
"Now, it's a lot more controlled. We're doing our diligence to make the highway as safe as possible. Back then, it was a free for all."
Twardochleb said it started as a fairly competitive race and while there are still some competitive teams, the emphasis is a lot more on fun. It's a social atmosphere.
Juneau resident and member of the Smokin' Ole Geezers, Glenn Frick, is the only one who can claim he has run in every single road relay. He started his first one at the age of 44, and 25 years later he's still going strong. He had the third fastest time unofficially on Leg 3 (52:46).
"I hadn't run that leg since 1984," said Frick. "I've done every leg at least twice. It's something to do. It's fun. I like you guys."
In 1983, Frick traveled to Dawson City, Yukon Territory, for the Dome Run and it was there he was approached about doing the inaugural Klondike road relay later that year. He loved it so much he just kept coming back.
"Every race has been exciting," he said. "I was probably out of shape once or twice, but I never, ever, in 25 years walked any part of the relay."
Frick would have been joined this year by friend and longtime relay teammate Alan Graves, as the only two to have run every race, but Graves is at home in Oregon with health problems.
"We regret he's not here. He would have been 25 with me."
Twardochleb hopes participants like Graves and Frick can pass on their enthusiasm to younger generations, in order to keep the race going. This year there was one junior team, as well as several junior runners involved in mixed squads.
"This year, the registration actually dropped by 10 teams," said Twardochleb. "I think everybody's getting a little older. We're hoping we can do a better job of promoting it to the younger age group."
Twardochleb said it's the runners from Alaska who really keep the event going with their dedication and enthusiasm. As long as organizers keep the event positive and bring in some new ideas, he believes it will grow.
"I think it will go on forever, for as long as we make it fun. It's one of those totally unique events."
For the sixth year in a row, it was Anchorage's Take No Prisoners posting the best overall time, at 10 hours, 49 minutes and 19 seconds. That was nearly two hours ahead of their next closest competitors, Smokin' Ole Geezers from Juneau (12:35:22).
Twardochleb was asked is there was end in sight to Take No Prisoners' reign of dominance.
"I would probably make a wager that one of these years, they won't be first across the finish line. But it doesn't look like that's going to happen anytime soon, does it?"
Vince Fedoroff / Whitehorse Star
Echo Ross / Whitehorse Star
Echo Ross / Whitehorse Star