Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Marissa Tiel

FALL SPLENDOUR – Runners approach Emerald Lake during the Klondike Trail of ‘98 International Road Relay on Saturday. More than 180 teams took on the race this year with 164 starting in Skagway and the rest in Carcross.

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Photo by Marissa Tiel

NEW MEMBER –Whitehorse’s Jenn Roberts runs past Bove Island on Leg Six of the Klondike Road Relay early Saturday morning. Roberts has completed all 10 legs of the relay and her name was added to the Senator’s Cup.

Tales from Klondike Road Relay’s checkpoint six

At half past six, the checkpoint is all piles of rubber, plastic and a lonely canvas tent.

By Marissa Tiel on September 11, 2017

At half past six, the checkpoint is all piles of rubber, plastic and a lonely canvas tent.

The blackflies are starting to swarm, but the rain promised by every weather forecast is holding off – for now.

As white blobs of sheep graze high above, we set out to plan the layout of checkpoint six. Tucked in between B.C. and the Yukon on the South Klondike Highway, the checkpoint is the last stop runners have before embarking on the 25.6- kilometre-long Leg Six, which finishes in Carcross.

More volunteers drive up and we set to hammering in signs along the highway – no parking, no passing, slow down – which will serve to control traffic in the wee hours of the morning when a couple hundred vehicles and their drowsy runners siphon through.

Pylons are assembled and arranged, creating a chute into and out of the checkpoint.

Christmas lights are hung with care as flashing lights are taped to posts. As we prepare our chutes, the first wave of runners starts in Skagway. They’ll continue to start every 15 minutes, until each of the 164 teams doing 176.5 kilometres has begun the climb towards Whitehorse.

With the sun dropping quickly behind the mountains and dusk settling in, the checkpoint is as ready as it will be by 9 p.m.

Our team digs in to chili and cookies and we retire to our cars and trailers in an attempt to grab a few hours of sleep before the masses arrive. I set my alarm for 1 a.m.

I wake up disoriented, my phone buzzing its alarm and a light stand shining into my car.

I slip into my rain gear, grab a pre-made thermos of coffee and head outside.

The generator clicks on and the Christmas lights lining the chute blink on.

We are ready.

The checkpoint opens at 2 a.m. and we wait for the first runner to arrive.

Their team does first, huddling around the metal fire barrel for warmth.

The radio crackles. Our volunteers one kilometre out have spotted a runner.

A handful of others trickle through and then the runners start arriving in waves – two, three, four at a time.

At the checkpoint, each volunteer has a task and our force of about 13 volunteers springs into action.

For the next four hours, my entire existence focuses on highlighting runners’ names as they pass through the checkpoint.

In the dark, it’s impossible to tell, but the first thing to greet runners in the Yukon is a giant hill. If it were daylight, they’d be able to look to their right and see the autumn trees, shaggy as velour kissing the shore of Tagish Lake.

But in the dark, all they are able to see is the metre of space in front of them, illuminated by headlamp.

The crowd gets thick around our tent as more teams arrive to support their runners.

I glance at my watch a handful of times and before I know it, it’s almost dawn. We made it through the night. Our last runner passes through the checkpoint to begin Leg 6. Many runners thank us as they pass through. Without the volunteer force of more than 200, the race would not happen.

The checkpoint comes down easier than it went up and in the inky light of dawn, we get into our vehicles and drive off along the highway.

Comments (2)

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Patrice Metcalfe Parker on Sep 15, 2017 at 11:02 pm

I just completed my 23rd Klondike and I'm still amazed at the work done by the volunteers. Thank you for all your hard work and enthusiasm in the toughest conditions.

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Alanna on Sep 12, 2017 at 4:53 pm

I hear there was a bear on leg 5. I ran this leg. Someone told me there were bear guts on the road where we were running where a bear had been hit. Is his true? I didn't see anything! It was so dark and I had a headlamp but I was focused on running, and the feeling of the freezing rain hitting my skin. lol. Thank you for volunteering!

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