Valdez and the surrounding mountains and waterways are a classic venue for such an event. The area features gorgeous scenery, a late season snow pack, a long smooth highway with wide shoulders, a deep ocean fjord, a bounty of shore side launching and landing sites, and looping city streets and trails. Of course, the area can also pack a punch with rain, fog, snow, or wind—even on Memorial Day weekend. Competitors in the 2011 event got a healthy dose of both the finer aspects and the challenging characteristics of the area.
Cycling through fog was exciting, especially on the steep downhill. I could see about 20 feet ahead and pulled the brakes here and there until I descended below the fog line around the 2,400’ elevation. From there, the coast was clear and I hit 35 mph on the glide down. Behind me, volunteer, John Engels, drove a truck with flashing lights and a sign that read “CAUTION: Bikes in the Road.” Cars passed safety and slowly. My support vehicle, driven by Karen and our runner, Bonnie Cudnohufsky, leap-frogged me all the way to Allison Point.
Carol, dressed in her dry suit and spray skirt, met me at Allison Point. She tagged me and slid away from the shore onto the steel gray waters of Port Valdez. For kayakers, the weather was perfect. Overcast skies here almost always mean calm waters whereas sunny weather typically indicates that a strong sea breeze will be pushing up whitecaps by noon. The Port of Valdez is a deep water fjord and from the Allison Point beach, you can see town and the small boat harbor. To aid in navigation and safety, numerous boatloads of U.S. Coastguardsmen and volunteers marked the way.
By the time Karen and I arrived at the kayak-runner transition, Carol was visible in her sleek yellow kayak paddling towards the dock. Bonnie, bundled up in her warm-ups, stretched and chatted with the timers. The transition zones were somewhat confusing and I expect that by the second Summit to Sound, race organizers will have the hand-offs for teams and soloists smoothed out and better defined. In this first event, each transition zone was managed a bit differently by the volunteers in charge. For some relays, physical contact between the two racers was required and at other zones, such as at the ski-bike relay point, the skier just had to cross her finish line and a volunteer would yell to the outgoing racer to “go”. The timing was also somewhat indistinct. We heard some volunteers telling soloists that they could take their time in the transition zones because their transition times weren’t counted while other soloists weren’t aware of this, so blasted through the transition zones. These types of bumps are to be expected in a first year event and, based on the high standards obvious throughout the race, I’d expect these things to be settled by the time the race kicks-off next year.
|Bonnie Cudnohufsky sprints the Dock Point Trail|
At the small boat harbor, Carol pulled up to the beach and Bonnie sprinted off on her 5K run through Valdez. We caught up with her as she turned into Dock Point park where she ran along a trail lined with blueberry bushes, Sitka spruce, and cow parsnip. The rain had stopped and the roads were dry for her final leg of the race – up and over a hill and down the wide paved street toward the John Kelsey Dock. Raucous spectators, event officials, and other racers cheered Bonnie on as we watched her stride across the finish line and pull the clapper to ring the heavy brass bell.
The event continued on that day with a free fish fry, door prizes, awards ceremony, and live music. Racers milled about that afternoon, comparing experiences from the day: skiing in the fog, cycling at break-neck speeds down from Thompson Pass, paddling across the bay and hitting the beach seconds before another competitor, running through Valdez. Racers from Valdez commented to one another how great the event was for their town and participants from out of town swore they’d be back for more next year.
Where to Stay: Blueberry Lake State Park campground is the closest developed car and tent camping to the starting line. Located at mile 24 of the Richardson Highway, it has RV and tent sites, a covered pavilion, and outhouses. $12/night. Allison Point campground (also $12/night) is located at the bike-kayak transition. This campground is a large gravel pad with RV/camper sites and outhouses. Most bed & breakfasts and hotels in Valdez are open on Memorial Day weekend.
Gear: Be ready to switch ski gear at the last minute if conditions change. Though it is possible to use a mountain or touring bike, to be competitive you’ll want a road bike. Use a kayak you’re comfortable with.
Clothing & Weather: Be prepared for anything from 45 – 70 degree temperatures. Be prepared for rain and wind. Bring layers and be ready to change your clothing based on race day conditions.
Communications: Two-way radios were banned for racers. Cell phones can be used almost the entire route, with the exception of a few short sections such as at the start line on Thompson Pass.