For some, it was the steaming piles of bear scat on the trail and a small stretch of white water kayaking that put the adventure into the Alaska State Troopers Adventure Relay. For others it was overcoming adversaries like the vertical bike over Hatcher Pass at night or dealing with bicycle mechanical problems in the middle of a leg. However, it’s knowing all the efforts, aches and pains would raise money to help the children and their families facing life-threatening illnesses that made the inaugural relay truly unforgettable.
The approximately 525-mile relay challenged troopers, military, city and federal law enforcement and corrections officers, retirees, employees and their families to continuously traverse Alaska by running, hiking, mountain biking, water rafting, kayaking and even incorporated a railroad handcar to get from Fairbanks to Seward in four days. Bonds were forged between the participants with every mile and every dollar collected for the Wish Upon The North Star charity. The route was divided into 27 legs, each with its own unique challenge along Alaska’s trails, roadways, railroads, lakes and rivers. According to organizers’ research, ASTAR was the longest non-motorized, continuous endurance relay in the world.
The relay captured the spirit of determination, demonstrated the will to face challenges and symbolized the far greater challenges for those the event benefits. The relay raised more than $26,000 for WUNS, a charity benefiting Alaskan children with life-threatening illnesses. WUNS board members said the money will allow them to grant five or six wishes for seriously ill children, giving the children and their families a much needed distraction from the constant battles they face daily while dealing with the adversities life has handed them. At the end of the relay, as everyone got together to retell stories of the trials along the trail, WUNS recipient, Andrew Kurka, told the crowd how the organization helped him get back on his feet after an ATV-crash crippled him years ago. Andrew’s story was an inspiration to all who were there.
The relay started with a 10-mile run through Fairbanks at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 4 and traveled down along the Parks Hwy via bike, headed off road at Clear Air Force Station, back to the Parks Highway before diving into the woods for a 10-mile hike up the Cold Creek Trail. Day two started with a 38-mile paddle down the Susitna River to Talkeetna before runners and bikers took over the journey along the roads leading to Hatcher Pass. That night, bikers went over Hatcher Pass and runners went down into Palmer. After a short ride on a railroad handcar at the Palmer Fairground early Friday morning, bikers cruised down the Glenn Highway among morning commuters. Runners were greeted by a happy crowd after they made the soggy, cross-city run into Alaska State Trooper headquarters on Tudor Road at noon on Friday. From there, hikers hit the trails through Chugach State Park, climbing over Powerline Pass and finishing into Indian. After a bike to Alyeska Resort and up Turnagain Pass, hikers ended the third day of the relay with an overnight jaunt through bear-invested woods on the Johnson Pass Trail. While no one reported seeing a bear, many heard hair-raising roars and saw left over salmon dinners along the trail. The final day of the relay started with a 13-mile kayak trip from Trail Lakes to Kenai Lake. Two runs legs ended the relay when the final participant, Barry Wilson, jogged into Seward at 3:15 p.m. Sgt. Michelyn Manrique of AST’s Alaska Bureau of Investigations and First Lt. Aaron Anderson of the 6th Engineer Battalion at Fort Richardson ran the last two legs to do 18 consecutive miles by the time they crossed the finishing line.
Many bond were forged along the way as some participants competed against each other, and helped each other to overcome the arduous terrain along the way. The Fairbanks Police Department formed a team that will be used as a model for other teams in the future. Not only did they raise more than $9,000, they participated in every leg. To do this, many of them pushed themselves to their physical limits by doing multiple legs. Fairbanks Police Officer Kurt Lockwood tied with Lt. Col. Marc Hoffmeister of the 6th Engineer Battalion for participating in the most legs with seven. Hoffmeister led a team of brave soldiers who compiled a total of 1,460.7 miles between 66 people entered. Anderson ran 55 of the 74 miles of running legs in the relay. However, as he pointed out after compiling his battalion’s involvement, the group’s participation of running 238.9 miles, biking 684 miles, hiking 302 miles, rafting 190 miles, kayaking 39 miles and pumping a handcart seven miles is “far more impressive than any one person’s achievements.”
While the some 140 participants trekked across Alaska, numerous community volunteers cheered them along the way and welcomed the cold and tired participants at the various checkpoints at all hours of the day and night. The relay was a collaborated endeavor of epic proportions in fundraising, logistics and volunteer efforts. Even as participants were starting to rest weary muscles and sleep-deprived organizers were eating burgers at the end celebration in Seward, they were already talking about fundraising and new route challenges for next year’s relay.