Three Legs Inspire 4×2

This is just what hundreds of cyclists will be doing next week, as the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay celebrates its 19th birthday.

Teams ranging from one to eight riders will attempt to traverse the 238 km between Haines Junction and Haines, Alaska.

A competitor myself, the first time I rode this race I got chased by a bear. The fourth time, my team rode a chopper – two bikes cut apart and welded back together.

The brakes were questionable at best. Shifting required manually grabbing the chain and praying – not for the faint of heart.

Last year I was covered in pink feathers. This year I’m on a team called “Belle and the Dragon”, a name I can neither justify nor explain, but I wound up designing dragon T-shirts for the occasion.

This list of experiences is a typical set of stories for veterans of the race – well, except for the bear. I don’t want to cause anyone unnecessary panic.

Take this year’s team sponsored by Tippler’s Pub, for example.

“I’d Tap That” will be towing a trailer bearing a keg behind their bikes as they climb the summit en route to Haines, courtesy of the Yukon Brewing Company.

And I caught up with another group, “Team Tricycle”, on a recent Sunday to get a sense of the psyche of a few riders who will step onto their pedals on June 18.

Team members Ryan Hennessey, Alanna Bennett and Karen Furlong joke that they would have called themselves “Amateur Hour” if it weren’t for the team’s mascot and inspiration: Hennessy’s three-legged dog, Leroy.

Furlong is the only race veteran on the team, having taken part in three previous events. She has tackled legs 4, 5, 6 and “9” (the local Alaskan watering holes).

In preparation for taking on the first two legs this year, she spent the winter spinning at Icycle Sports, until she picked up a bug travelling in Tanzania.

Since then, she laments, her training has been much more sporadic.

Her novice teammates joke that their training regimen is motivated by terror. Hennessey tells me about running in the Klondike Road Relay a few years ago.

“I got shin splints at about 3 am. As I crawled towards the end of my leg my Dad leaned out of his car window and offered to run it for me. My team fell from 33rd to 68th by the time I finished,” he admits.

“It’s an experience I would love not to repeat on my bike. I’m just hoping that the scenery doesn’t break me.”

The fourth team member, Catherine Lamarche, has had to confine her training to running until she returns from a trip to Peru just before race day.

Even with three Kluane Chilkat rookies, the Tricyles are each throwing themselves into two legs of the gruelling course.

The arrangement, apparently, was a bit of a fluke. They were trying to rope together enough people for two eight-person teams and they couldn’t find enough.

“We became a splinter cell,” jokes Furlong. “Our friends formed an eight-person team and we were left with four, so we thought why not?”

Before I left the Tricycles for their training ride I asked if they had any advice for others strapping on helmets for the June 18 event.

Hennessey laughed.

“Nope – I’ve never done this sort of thing before. Does anyone have advice for me?”

As I strolled away I overheard them debating the merits of taking their training ride to Burnt Toast for brunch.

I wished them luck.

Amber Church is a painter, writer and sports enthusiast. You can reach her at [email protected].

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