One Heck of a Ride (or how not to get to the race!)
Okay, so buckle in, because this was one heck of a ride to get to my first Klondike Road Relay. As you might notice from my last name, I come from a family of runners. While many of my cousins, aunts, and uncles are fantastic, I would consider myself good, but not great. Or, at least not great in comparison. But running has been in my family for generations and I was excited to participate in race.
This story begins about 2 years ago, summer of 2015, when we had a family reunion in Washington State. I collaborated with a cousin who had run this race many times before to see if we could organize a team of cousins to run the race. We eventually did for the 2016 race, but supplemented it with a few honorary family members to fill out our team, Thibodeaus and Friends Unite. I was excited to run this race and I specifically took a few days off from law school in Milwaukee to fly back to Alaska just for this race.
Being a busy and broke law student, I waited to buy my tickets to Juneau until the middle of the summer. By that time, no ferry tickets were available, so I booked a small flight from Juneau to Skagway, and I saved money by using airline miles to fly to Juneau. Unfortunately, because I used airline miles, they put me on the flights with the most space, so my trip started at 7:30 in the morning, and I flew from Milwaukee to Phoenix, to Los Angeles, to Seattle, then to Juneau. I didn't arrive until almost 9 at night, 20 some-odd hours after I woke up at 4 in the morning 3 time-zones away. Lucky for me, a few of my cousins were on the same flight from Seattle to Juneau, so I had company on my final leg. By the time I reached my uncle's house and went to bed, it was almost 1 in the morning.
The next morning I woke up at about 6 because I was still on Central Time, and spent the day with another uncle that lived across the street from JDHS. Unfortunately, the rest of the family either left early in the morning on the first ferry, or lived out in the valley, and not downtown where I was. Throughout the day it looked like I might not be able to take the plane out of Juneau because low clouds started to roll in, so I frantically started calling the rest of my family. I was stranded in downtown Juneau with no way to make it to the ferry for a standby ticket. They left on the afternoon ferry, and my last hope was to take the bus to the airport to take the smallest plane I thought I could book a ticket for at about 4:30.
When I made it to the airport, unfortunately for me, basically all small flights were on a weather hold because the clouds rolled in, and visibility was exceptionally low. I explained to the airline that I needed to get to Skagway for this race, no matter what the cost. Luck was on my side, as one pilot was willing to fly me, despite their dispatch telling them it was on him, and the only way was if I paid for 2 tickets. For me, this wasn't even an option. I forked over the money, and hopped in this small 4 seater plane and we took off.
To be honest, visibility wasn't that bad. It wasn't good, but between flying to the Slope and back, this was really nothing. But, the airlines have FAA protocol for paying passengers, so I wasn't surprised at their lack of willingness to fly me. But we were in the air, so I was happy. I was going to make it!
Until, about halfway through the flight, we get a call on the radio, telling us to return. Apparently the GM of the airline thought it was a waste to fly one passenger, and the profits weren't worth it. My pilot (who was absolutely fantastic, and an all around good guy) explained to his boss that we were almost halfway there, and that I paid for 2 tickets. The GM wasn't happy, but he let it slide, especially since it was cleared by their dispatch. I'll be honest, I think I might have had a small heart attack when we started to turn around, but I'm so glad that we were able to continue. I really have to give some major thanks to my pilot because he understood my plight, and was willing to put his career on the line for me, even though (in his opinion) the hold was merely because the senior pilots didn't want to fly anymore that day.
I met up with my cousins and we had a fantastic time! It was basically one non-stop party all night! We later learned that usually the runners would try to get some sleep, but we were ecstatic because this was our first relay! Our start time was at 10, and we all basically stayed up until at least about 1-2. I tried to sleep a bit during that time, but between the time adjustment from Milwaukee to Alaska/Yukon, and the excitement in the RV, I only got about 2 hours of dozing, rather than good ol' sleep. I ran my leg just like any one of us did, and it was great. I spent some time in the Yukon in my youth, and it was nice to be back to a familiar place, running through the woods (albeit, on a road). My times weren't as great as I would have liked them to be, but considering I hadn't had a good night's sleep in 3 days, I'm satisfied.
After the race, we were all quite tired, but we were satisfied with our 5th place finish, and partied with the best of them. I eventually returned to the RV at about 12:30, only to wake up at 5:30 so we could make it back to Skagway for the the 9 am ferry. I wasn't booked for this one, so I wandered around town the whole day, and didn't really nap, like most of my cousins. However, as many of you might recall, the ferry's were backed up that day, and instead of leaving at 3, we left at about 4:45. This was bad news, since I had a flight out of Juneau at 8, and this was going to cut it close.
We docked at about 7:35ish, and I remember sprinting on my wobbly legs while carrying my bags up the ramp with my uncle to his truck. We booked it out of there as fast as we could, and I got to the airport about 15 minutes before departure. I just barely made my flight, and napped all I could back to Seattle. I had about an hour there before I had a direct flight back to Milwaukee, where I got in at about 9:50 in the morning. I hopped the first taxi I could find, and made it to my 10:30 am class in time. Later that day, I took a good long nap, and then I started preparing for an 8K I was running that Saturday (but that's a story for another time).
All in all, given headache, heartache, triumph, and tribulation that I endured to make it to this race, it's a wonder I would enjoy any minute of it. But it was by far the best race, and the best experience I have ever had. I wouldn't trade a single second of it for anything in the world! I had a great time with old friends and family, and made new friends and family all in one go! While my trip was a lesson in organization (or more like, how not to make it to the race), it was a delight to be with family, running through the hills, seeing the mountains and oceans again (after being in the flat Midwest for the past 3 years) and partyin all night. This trip was incredibly meaningful because our plans started years ago, and came to fruition through the most haphazard ways. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world, because these are the moments that define you, that make life worth living, and give color to life. It also provides great fodder for elaborate stories, and lessons in life. Thank you to everyone for making this happen. And a special thanks to my teammates for never giving up on me, and making this a trip of a lifetime. Thanks!