Seniors on speed

The author’s 75-year-old cousin, Milt Clark, who came from Missoula, Montana, for the race

What 69-year-old chooses an activity that routinely results in numb hands, painful wrists and soreness in an area that makes it difficult to perform certain necessary bodily functions?

Well, it turns out that there are quite a number of these folks in the Yukon. I am referring to “road cyclists” who participate in the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay (KCIBR), now in its 26th year. This relay goes from Haines Junction to Haines, Alaska, in mid June, and can be done as a team of two, four or eight people. It can also be done solo (the entire 240 kilometres), and there is even the “odd” senior cyclist who attempts this feat. Personally I would rather not even imagine what it is like to sit on a bike seat for 10-12 hours! More than 1200 cyclists take part.

As soon as the paved roads are dry and the shoulders swept (or not), you will see these hardy souls pedalling along. This, itself, is not a pastime for sissies. Some of the vehicle drivers do not seem to be aware of the fragility of a road bike, and the person on it, compared to the mass and speed of their mode of transportation. And when a semi or bus-sized RV roars by, it is a matter of clinging to one’s handgrips and trying to ride a straight line regardless of the wind gusts and shock waves.

The seniors are usually the ones out during the day, when the younger folks are confined to their jobs. They always wear their helmets and dress in colourful jackets for visibility. They generally sport the prerequisite Spandex pants, despite the age-related bulges. Off the bike they may appear to be wearing diapers, but this is just the several layers of padding required to be able to tolerate the rock-like saddles of road bikes.

Then there is the wind. It seems there are far more strong south winds than there used to be, and to do a training ride, one has to either cycle north or south on the Alaska Highway. I usually choose to go south, hoping that the wind doesn’t change while I am out there. My early rides of the season are to McCrae and back (20-km round trip). I gradually work on extending that to the Carcross corner (40 km return) or beyond. It depends which leg of the relay I am riding that year.

I ride on an eight-person team of seniors, and every year we try to switch legs. Each leg has its particular challenges. These range from the mass start to the long, gruelling uphills, to the terror-inducing descents. On one of the steepest downhills, I happened to glance at my speedometer and found I was doing 69 km/hr! I didn’t dare look down again, clutching my handgrips and concentrating on not wobbling. Sometimes the scenery is so spectacular it is difficult to concentrate on riding.

The last few-hundred metres are through the town of Haines and into the famous Parade Square, hopefully to the cheers of one’s teammates. For a team such as ours, the “winners” are long in.

The entire day is a lot of fun and worth the discomforts. We follow along in our vehicles with each of the riders offering drinks, snacks, help in the case of a breakdown (and lots of encouragement). We don’t hit the bar at the end of the race and we don’t camp in the parade grounds. After dinner together at the salmon barbecue, and a glass of beer or wine, rehashing how the day went for each of us, it is time to top up on Ibuprofen and head to bed, preferably in a hotel.

In my earlier life, I was a family physician and persistently recommended to my patients that regular physical (preferably outdoor) exercise was one of the keys to health and longevity. I stick by that recommendation. Add to that the camaraderie of a team and the feeling of community, with participating in such an event, and you have more ingredients for health and wellbeing. So I will accept the aches and pains and keep doing this as long as possible.

Susan Clark out for a training ride

The 26th Annual Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay, from Haines Junction to Haines, Alaska, takes place on June 16

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