PUBLISHED: 5:22 PM on Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Rippin' up the relay roadway
I tumbled out of our van shortly after midnight while nearing the U.S.-Canadian border 3,000 feet above sea level. The fog was thick, the air was cold and my heart was racing.

Time to run!

"This is so crazy," my teammate had said after we began the Klondike Road Relay in Skagway a couple hours earlier. Crazy, yes, but that was why we were all here.

Katie Spielberger photo
  Gregory Wong of Sitka close on the heels of Hanne Hoefs of Whitehorse during leg nine of the Klondike Road Relay. More than 1,200 runners and walkers participated in this year's race.
We were among 1,279 people on 139 teams who participated in this year's 116-mile relay from Skagway to Whitehorse the first weekend in September.

The names of the 10-person teams reflected the range of motivations for the run, from the champion "Skinny Raven: Take No Prisoners" from Anchorage to "Crawl If You Have To" from Whitehorse and "In it for the Party!" from Juneau.

I found myself the lone Juneauite on "Sitkan Twisted." Most of us had never run the Klondike before, but before the race was over, we were discussing strategies for next year. I have a feeling it's hard to do the Klondike just once.

Katie Spielberger photo
  Runners start out in downtown Skagway during the Klondike Road Relay. View more photos online at Race results can be found at
The relay is appealing in its strangeness. There are about a dozen different start times and a five-hour stretch in which teams finish. Runners who see the entire race most likely end up delirious with exhaustion. Everyone else will miss something - or a lot of things - as they try to find a few hours to sleep. But trying to catch up on sleep is as difficult as trying to catch one of the "Skinny Ravens," who won every single leg and finished over three hours before the second place team.

Klondike veterans often try to run every leg at least once, as each of the relay's ten legs presents a different challenge. The first two legs climb 3,200 feet during a 14-mile stretch. Leg six is 16 miles long. The first seven legs are often run in the dark, with support vehicles lighting the way.

I began leg three in a dark, foggy, no man's land between the Canadian border and Canadian customs. Starting out, I could see about 10 feet in front of me.

I could have been running near any border. I imagined I was in the desert thousands of miles south. My shadow on the road looked like a cactus, I thought.

After a mile, I heard the squealing brakes of our support van behind me. Later in the night, teammates would wave off the support van to run alone under the dancing aurora borealis. In the morning, support vehicles offered water and cheering for runners turning bright red in the warm Yukon sun.

I'm just beginning to understand the lore of the race. Most of the stars of the Klondike are in the masters category. There was an upset this year in the men's masters category when the "White's High Flyers" from Whitehorse beat the defending champions, the "Smokin' Ole Geezers" of Juneau. "Ole Geezer" Glenn Frick, 68, has run in every Klondike since the race began in 1982. The fastest women's team, the Lady GUDivas of Juneau, had an average age of 49.

Our team, with an average age of around 27, was a young one, but I think we'll be back. I'm pretty curious about the other nine legs.