France has the Tour de France. Italy has the Giro d’Italia. And here in the Yukon, we have the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay.
The relay sees cyclists ride the spectacular 238.3 km from Haines Junction, Yukon, to Haines, Alaska.
The race is split into eight legs and can be done as a relay by teams of two, four or eight people, or for the extremely ambitious, as a solo ride.
Now in its 24th year, the race is more popular than ever before.
“We sold out in less than a week,” says Mike Kramer, who has been one of the principal organizers of the relay for a number of years. “We cap it at 1,200 registrants, and this year we were already at 800 within 24 hours of opening registration.”
While this is certainly not the first time the race has sold out, it is a new record. “People are putting the date in their calendars months ahead of time and planning around this event,” Kramer says. “It’s a hot ticket – maybe not quite as hot as a Tragically Hip ticket – but almost.”
The organizers of the relay hope to keep the momentum going as they plan for next year’s big 25th anniversary race. Among the special events that will help celebrate this milestone will be some extra recognition for relay’s numerous volunteers. Volunteers have been at the helm of the race since the beginning and as the event has grown, so too has volunteer involvement.
This year, more than 250 volunteers will be pitching in. This includes members of six different community organizations, each of which will be responsible for running one of the eight checkpoints along the route. Every year, the relay invites community organizations from Whitehorse, Haines Junction and Haines to run a checkpoint in exchange for an honorarium for the organization.
“It is a really great business model,” explains Kramer, “because it gives community organizations the opportunity to get involved and do some fundraising. We can cover our operational needs and, at the same time, put money back into the community.” Community groups are also behind the satellite events on race day, namely the kids’ fishing derby and the post-race 9th Annual Fishermen’s Community King Salmon barbecue, which is sponsored and hosted by local and regional fishing industry businesses.
While the top three finishers in each race category are recognized, the primary focus of the event is on having a good time while challenging yourself and celebrating your community.
“We want people to push themselves, but also be able to walk the next day,” laughs Kramer. “Above all, we want everyone to have a safe, fun time.”
Safety is of course paramount in a road race like this, Kramer points out.
“We may not be able to control the weather or the wind direction, but we can control our driving and our safety on the road.”
Participants are being encouraged to buddy-up and share support vehicles and to carpool within teams as much as possible in order to cut down on the number of vehicles that will be on the road during the race.
For more information go to KCIBR.org or email [email protected]