The words John Thomas used to describe his first 150 miles solo bike race were exactly what you’d expect.
“I wouldn’t call any part of that fun,” he said.
Thomas and Spencer Morgan were the only competitors from Skagway to compete in the 23rd annual Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay last Saturday. Both men placed in the top 15 of the men’s solo category according to preliminary results.
Morgan placed 8th and Thomas took 12th place.
Despite the long and painful parts, Thomas said, “It was definitely a great experience.”
The race takes riders from Haines Junction in the Yukon to Haines, a seven-hour ride for some, 13 hours for others.
But the toughest part wasn’t the mileage.
“It’s probably the headwind,” he said. “You get by yourself and get in the headwind, it’s tough. Even on a flat it feels like you’re going up hill.”
The trick to avoiding the berating headwind is to get in a group. Riders take turns leading the pack and taking the brunt of the wind. After a while you slip to the back and get to rest.
After riding in the bike relay seven times in groups, Thomas knows several tricks on the tires.
Like eating. Bacon and cream cheese bagels to be exact.
“When you’re riding that long, you learn how to do lots of things on a bike,” he said.
The food has a supplier: his support crew. Wife Shauna and daughters Kalie and Piper drove about three miles ahead of him and handed out granola bars, Gatorade, water and yes, even bagels.
“My support team was awesome,” he said. “Without them I probably wouldn’t have finished.”
The race is divided up into eight legs, and Thomas said the prettiest part was close to the border on the Yukon side, gorgeous glacier views and spectacular mountains.
After the race he camped with his family in Haines and attended the awards banquet. But the real celebration came later.
“I went to sleep,” Thomas said. “When you bike eight and a half hours you’re pretty done. It was an early night.”