The Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay is a Yukon institution, returning each year, maybe a little bigger, or with some new rules about gear to consider — but it remains essentially unchanged. The relay is what it is.
This year is an exception.
One team of Yukon athletes, dubbed Ynklude is breaking down a barrier that some might have never considered.
Under the guidance of the Yukon Association for Community Living, a 15-strong contingent of disabled and non-disabled riders will tackle a modified course from Haines Junction to Haines — an experience that will be something brand-new for them and for the Relay.
And with hand-cycles, various trikes and even a modified BMX, they’ll have some of the coolest bikes out there.
Megan Gates, with her 21-speed recumbent three-wheeler, is pretty much guaranteed to have a one-of-a-kind ride for Saturday’s relay.
“I just thought, why not?” said Gates, when asked why she signed up. “I get to meet people and join in with everything else that’s happening.”
And that’s what the whole thing is about, according to the association’s Julie Robinson, who spearheaded the idea alongside team captain and Yukon Association for Community Living president Joanne Stanhope.
Robinson said that people with disabilities are often shut out of mainstream community events, like the Bike Relay, confined to specialized activities which segregate them.
“To be there, to get over the starting gate is, in many ways the biggest hurdle to get over — just being invited to the party is the hardest part,” said Robinson.
“I think it’s wonderful, actually — it’s like we’re all equal and anybody can do it,” said Carrie Rudolph, who plans to use her wheelchair to participate.
The team’s starter, Julien Richard, is no slouch on two wheels.
“He wanted to do the whole race himself — it’s nothing for him to hop on his bike and go to Carmacks,” said Robinson.
Richard will ride as far as he likes, before the team’s modified course will see David Skelton ride leg six into Alaska.
After that, the rest of the team will work together to finish the last 80-kilometres into Haines.
Riders will switch off when they’ve had enough.
“This is a test-run; we want it to be positive for them,” said Robinson. “You know those typical people who do one leg and say ‘never again!’ — we want to minimize that as much as possible. We want to keep the energy up so that next year, people will want to go longer.”
It seems like that won’t be a problem, with more interest in joining the team than Stanhope could accommodate.
In the end, Stanhope, Robinson and the Yukon Association for Community Living hope to make inclusion of disabled people in the bike relay and other community events a regular part of life in the territory.
“I look at it this way, this year it’s a news event — next year it’s not,” said Stanhope. “It’s a new standard that’s set.”