Alaskans and Yukoners braved their way through high temperatures and wildfire smoke on July 6 to run, bike and paddle the third annual Chilkat Challenge Triathlon in Haines, Alaska.
Participants began the race by kayaking, canoeing or paddle-rafting their way from Mosquito Lake through the Chilkat River for eight miles (12.8 kilometres). After reaching shore, they hopped on their bikes and cycled 21 miles (33.6 kilometres) along the Haines Highway until they reached Haines itself. They then ran 9.5 miles (15.2 kilometres) along the river to the Chilkat State Park.
The entire race is 40 miles, or 64 kilometres, long.
Gershon Cohen, the race marshal for the triathlon, said that the purpose of the race is to celebrate the Chilkat River and its importance to the local community.
“We often hear about the river in terms of its fisheries and resources and the fact that it provides a tourism economy, but we don’t often enough think about it in terms of the recreation that it provides to people,” he said.
“It’s such a unique thing to have a race that’s all along the river, especially with the paddle portion.”
Gershon noted that wildfire smoke and the current Alaskan heatwave — the strongest one in the state’s recorded history — made the triathlon much more difficult this year.
“It was tough. It was a challenge. It lived up to its name of being the Chilkat Challenge this year for sure.”
He also added that the heatwave had caused nearby glaciers to melt quicker, thereby increasing the volume of the river and making its currents faster.
“Folks were just screaming down the Chilkat river for eight miles,” he said. “Nobody had a problem with it, everyone did just great with it, but it was definitely exciting and it speeded up the times.”
The fastest competitor, and the winner of the solo men’s rankings, was Liam Greven, who finished with a time of three hours, 10 minutes and 22 seconds — a time that Cohen said was 20 minutes faster than last year’s winning participant.
Alissa Henry was the fastest competitor in the women’s solo rankings, finishing with a time of three hours, 38 minutes and 44 seconds. Among competing teams, Gunalsheesh! had the fastest time with three hours, 12 minutes and seven seconds.
There were also five competitors from Whitehorse among the 24 solo racers, along with four teams from Whitehorse among the 13 teams that participated.
Ed Gillis came fourth in the men’s category with a time of three hours, 49 minutes and 53 seconds, while Daniel Staley came 12th with a time of four hours, 51 minutes and 17 seconds.
In the women’s rankings, Iliana Stehelin came in fifth with a time of four hours, 12 minutes and 35 seconds. Tara Stehelin and Alison Landreth placed sixth and eighth, respectively, with times of four hours, 12 minutes and 39 seconds and four hours, 24 minutes and 54 seconds.
Two Brewers and a Baller were the fastest team from Whitehorse, placing sixth among teams with a time of three hours, 52 minutes and 22 seconds. Because we can/can placed tenth with four hours, 29 minutes and 12 seconds; Double Double placed eleventh with four hours, 34 minutes and one second; and Kimberly Bedard’s Team placed 12th with four hours, 55 minutes and 52 seconds.
“We had a number of folks from Whitehorse who were very sure if more people in Whitehorse knew about this race that we’d have more folks from Whitehorse come down for it,” said Cohen, “because it’s just a real kick.”
He added that something happened he’d never seen before this year: a contestant had to drop out after his paddle whacked a beehive.
“He ended up getting stung on his foot and his foot started to swell, and he couldn’t get his riding shoes on. He had to scratch from the race.”
For next year’s triathlon, the running segment will be re-routed and shortened to 10 kilometres in order to avoid a gravel field that runners struggled to breathe through due to the gravel in the air.
Contact Joshua Azizi at email@example.com