Early in the morning on July 5, the northern sun was already high in the sky when 14 mountain bikers gathered on the gravel road that cuts through the sleepy former mining town of Hope, Alaska. The inaugural Kenai 250 — a 250-mile multi-day race through the Kenai Mountains south of Anchorage — quietly launched from there.
The race includes some 200 miles of singletrack linked with short pavement connections. The ride includes the historic Resurrection Pass Trail, Russian Lakes Trail, Lost Lake Trail, Johnson Pass and others. The trails are revered as the best singletrack in southcentral Alaska — but for those who haven’t experienced Alaska singletrack, that’s something of a qualified statement. Alaska singletrack is often so choked with Devil’s Club that large stinging leaves slap mountain bikers in the face, so overgrown with brush and grass that it’s impossible to see the trail unless crawling on hands and knees, muddy, clogged with slimy roots, rocky and lichen-coated above tree line, smeared with bear scat, littered in discarded salmon carcasses, and punched with grizzly tracks. Abusive and unnerving — that’s Alaska singletrack. Two hundred and fifty miles may not seem too arduous compared to longer bikepacking races in the south, but similar to most everything in Alaska, the miles seem bigger, too.
The rugged course also features about 30,000 feet of climbing. This self-supported event has a time limit of 96 hours. The roster includes a number of well-known fast Alaskans, including previous White Mountains 100 and Arrowhead 135 winner Kevin Breitenbach, endurance specialists Chuck Dimarzio and Michael Cipirano, Fairbanksians Jay Cable and Josh Spice, women Sharon Sell and Stacey Nieder, and a single non-Alaskan, Jay Thomas of Vermont. The Kenai 250 should provide some interesting blue-dot tracking over the weekend, as riders beat through wall after wall of vegetation in the persistant daylight of Alaska’s summer. Here’s wishing them a clean run, free of bear encounters.