by Phillip Manning ~ July 19th, 2013
Unlike the world’s best-known cycling event, the Tour de France, the Big Wild Ride is not a race. It is an unsupported endurance challenge called a “randonée,” (ran-don-NAY), a French word that means “rambling journey.” Kevin Turinsky is the founder of Alaska Randonneurs, the group that organizes the event. He describes the route the cyclists will take when the race begins at 11:59 on Sunday night.
“They’ll be departing the shores of Prince William Sound from Valdez on a 1200 kilometer journey, that’s about 750 miles, from Valdez, up through Fairbanks, and down into Anchorage. It finishes at Ship Creek. We’ve set up three overnight checkpoints, we call them controls, one in Delta Junction, one in Healy, and one in Talkeetna. If riders do want to catch a few hours of sleep or have a few repairs they want to do on their bike, we’ve set that up.”
Cyclists will have less than four days to complete the daunting course.
Since it began in 2011, Turinsky says the Big Wild Ride has drawn participants from around the world.
“We have riders from Canada, all across the United States, from Japan, from Germany, New Zealand. In the past we’ve had riders from South Korea, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, the UK, so it’s a very international group of people coming up to ride this.”
All but one of the cyclists are from outside of Alaska, and will be briefed regarding wildlife such as moose, bear, and caribou. Turinsky has been fielding questions from riders who are concerned about attacks from a much smaller animal, however.
“There’s a lot of nervousness, a lot of anxiety, at this point with the riders. I’m getting emails every day asking specifically what kind of mosquito repellent they need to use. I think they’re more concerned about our canary-sized bugs than the moose and bear.”
While the Big Wild ride is the longest and most challenging of Alaska Randonneurs’ events, it is far from the only one they put on.
“We put on anywhere between twenty and twenty-five rides each summer all across the state, from as far south as Homer to as far north as Delta Junction–the Denali Highway, Talkeetna. Our rides are typically 100 to 600 kilometers in length. They are all timed events, so they can be very challenging. They’re extraordinarily scenic and interesting courses. They’re a lot of fun to ride.”
The Big Wild Ride lasts through Thursday, when the fifty cyclists will have until 6:49 pm to reach the finish line in Anchorage after covering over 750 miles of Alaska highways. In order to finish, Turinsky says that riders will need determination, self-sufficiency, and camaraderie.