Wednesday, December 30, 2009

1990 Anchorage Daily News Article with 1989 Race Info

This is an article from the Anchorage Daily News that was published a couple months before the 1990 race.  It has a great summary of the 1989 race which involved some Wilderness Classic's legends:  Dial, Manzer, Crane, Possert and Comstock.  1989 was an interesting race year that made for some great stories. 

Manzer was in the lead trying to beat Dial's record time and then lost his packraft and almost drowned in the Chitistone River.  Crane and Possert found him extremely hypothermic and gave up their quest to beat Dial's record to help warm him up.  Chuck Comstock flew his parasail off a high point in the Wrangell's and narrowly avoided disaster.  This was also the first year that someone from outside of Alaska won the race. 

I've posted only a part of the article due to copyright considerations but I tried to give you a good rundown of what's in it.  You can pay to read the whole article on the ADN website or you can read the whole article by accessing ADN archives through your local library.  Here's a blog entry that tells you how to do it.


Anchorage Daily News (AK) - Sunday, July 15, 1990
Author: CRAIG MEDRED Daily News outdoor editor ; Staff

As the tiny, nylon raft hit the rock and bounced back toward the brown, swirling waters of the Chitistone River, wilderness racer Dave Manzer realized that his plan to win the 1989 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic had gone horribly, horribly wrong.

The rock was to have been Manzer's salvation. He had reached for it in the way he had reached for so many others over the years, only this time he missed. Now, stuck in a waterlogged, oneman raft, he found himself hurtling into a watery abyss, and in the timeless milliseconds that come with fear in the most dangerous of situations, Manzer knew he had pushed too far.

Every terrified bone in his body warned him the turbulent Chitistone was on the verge of swallowing his little toy of a boat and making him the first fatality in the seven years of Alaska's wildest footrace. Always there had been the fear someone would die in this race. Danger was part of the game. The wilderness classic was more than an ultramarathon across the most primitive terrain left in North America. It was a test of bushcraft, a fastfading skill in the 20th century, and a test of judgment.

Few Alaskans had the skill, endurance and gumption to tackle the race. Fewer still were those from the Lower 48 the Outsiders with the unique but necessary mix of talents, spirit and guts. Here was a race so demanding that most people were afraid to run it.

"I've talked to a lot of people, and I've had a lot of people who are interested," said classic veteran Adrian Crane of Modesto, Calif. "But they're scared off. It's too tough." Up to 50 people consider or, more properly, talk about the classic in any given year. No more than a couple dozen ever show up.

Always they are a weird bunch guys like 61 year old wilderness adventurer Dick Griffith, who'd been on more crazy trips than most people could dream about; Roman Dial, a doctoral candidate in biology who'd spent his life careening between civilized universities and wilderness areas; Tom Possert, an ultrarunner who made his reputation by trotting from Death Valley to the top of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in California; and Brant McGee, a fellow seen most often in suit and tie directing the state Office of Public Advocacy. Why bother? "It appeals to my ego," McGee said. "It's a challenge not all that many people can do."

Nobody ever shortchanged the challenge no matter what route the race ran. And the course kept shifting, from bad to worse to not so bad. But always tough. Racers wanted the classic moved around the state every few years to keep any route from becoming standardized. That would prevent the fastest runners from gaining an edge on those best at orienteering and wilderness survival.

So, for a time, the race crossed the length of the Kenai Peninsula. Then it moved to the flanks of the Alaska Range, where the remoteness terrain and the thickness of the brush humbled everyone. And then it found the Wrangell Mountains. Experienced racers such as Dial, holder of the course record for the Wrangell route, liked that area because there was little brush to battle. A man could travel quickly through the boulders and scree. And there was exhilaration in floating the many whitewater rivers in a tiny, one-man, nylon boat or jogging through the Chitistone Canyon on the so called Goat Trail.

Trail, at least as applied to the Goat Trail, "was an euphemism for a faint shadow across a distant hillside that could be used to glean a route," observed Crane from his postrace vantage point at home in California. Racers debated if it was possible to slip off the Goat Trail and escape without serious injury. Such discussions scared off potential competitors and kept the race from becoming anything more than a curiosity.

Possert knew something about that. He would show slides of the classic at ultrarunning clinics around the country and talk about the exhilaration of wilderness competition. People would ooh and ahh at the slides, but nobody would step forward to sign up. "They'd say, "Those were nice slides,' " Possert said. "I think people are missing out on a lot."

What they were missing was America's toughest crosscountry competition. Of the 13 starters last year, 8 finished. Two of them Manzer from Anchorage and Chuck Comstock from Valdez could easily have wound up dead, if not for tenacity and a little luck.

A halfdead Manzer dragged his battered and hypothermic body out of the Chitistone River and onto a beach after his raft sank. Mumbling and incoherent from the freezing water, he was trying to make a fire when Crane and Possert stumbled upon him.

Comstock tried to climb 12,000 feet over the Wrangell Mountains and then fly to McCarthy with a parasail. The first leg of his flight ended in a glacial crevasse. Comstock crawled out to find himself on a ledge from which there was no way down.  He rigged a pair of skis to hold his parasail open and jumped. Luckily, the sail flew. Eventually, Comstock made it to the finish line.

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