TORTOISE OUTRUNS HARES - SAUNDERS CAPTURES
Anchorage Daily News (AK) - Tuesday, August 15, 1995
Author: CRAIG MEDRED Daily News outdoors editor ; Staff
After a 21/2-day-long game of cat and mouse through the wilds on the north side of the Alaska Range, Clark Saunders of Girdwood emerged at McKinley Village last week to claim victory in the 14th running of the 130-mile Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic.
Only two hours back, having encountered problems with a recalcitrant brown bear, were runners-up Kevin Donley and Marten Martensen, both of Anchorage. Martensen, a threetime winner of the Seward Mount Marathon, and Donley, a 35-minute 10-K road runner and seasoned mountain runner, stalked Saunders for 130 miles but failed to catch him.
The 36-year-old Saunders credited his past experience on the route along with rafting skills for his narrow victory over the two men in their mid-20s.
''It was sort of the tortoise and the hares,'' Saunders said.
Donley and Martensen were faster hikers, particularly on the uphills, Saunders said, but they lost some time trying to find the fastest routes into and out of several mountain passes. They also had to walk around rapids on the Yanert River. Martensen and Donley also had a little run-in with a grizzly bear in the dark, and that turned to Saunders advantage. The incident, Saunders said, came just after he was passed in the night about halfway through the race.
Saunders was by then sitting next to a fire, exhausted and hoping to lure the younger men into taking a break with the promise of warmth on a cold night. They resisted the trap, but went only a little farther before running into the grizzly bear in a creek bottom.
That brought them back seeking advice. Saunders said he didn't know what to do and didn't really care because all he wanted to do was sleep. ''They ended up going about 300 yards away and camping and building a big fire and drying out,'' Saunders said.
The bear stayed, too, however. '
'Somewhere around 1:30 or so, I hear some rustle, rustle, crack, crack,'' Saunders said. ''I see this large, hairy mass. I could see it was a bear, but it wasn't a huge bear. But I could see by its head it was a grizzly.
''It was on all fours sniffing under the tree-slash-bush where my food was. I was just thinking, 'I'm too tired for this."''
Saunders thought about yelling at the bear but decided that might scare it into charging. He wasn't, however, going to let it have his food. So, he said, he decided to run his fingers over the nylon on his 2-foot-high, one-man tent to produce a subtle but totally unnatural sound.
The bear heard it, got visibly nervous, ''and swayed on out of there,'' Saunders said.
He went back to sleep in seconds -- only to oversleep. When he woke at 4:45 a.m., Martensen and Donley were gone.
They didn't have much of a lead, however, and Saunders caught them when they struggled in thick brush he knew to avoid. He briefly gave the lead up one more time, but led the race down the Yanert River and sealed the victory there.
An experienced paddler, Saunders ran the Yanert River rapids in his tiny, one-man inflatable raft. Most other competitors decided to portage, and one of the handful of others who ran the big water ended up complaining this year's race was too easy.
For the first time in the history of the race, everyone who started finished. Twenty-six men and women entered.
''We need to move the course,'' former champ Brant McGee of Anchorage said. Traditionally, the classic has lasted no more than three years on any one course. The idea from the beginning was to move the race periodically to keep the route-finding aspect challenging, said organizer Roman Dial.
The race began as a 150-mile Hope to Homer race across the Andy Simons Wilderness Area of the Kenai Peninsula in 1982. It moved to a 245-mile course on the north side of the Alaska Range from Mentasta to McKinley in 1985.
From there it was on to the Wrangell Mountains and a 145-mile route from Nabesna to McCarthy in 1988 through 1990. In 1991, with McGee organizing the always informal competition, the race went north to the Brooks Range.
Last year, for the first time, it settled into the 130-mile, largely brush-free route across the north side of the Alaska Range from Donnelly to McKinley.
The route requires competitors to cross two glaciers, climb over a 6,000 foot pass, and float about 25 miles of river in little rubber rafts, and 26 people this year proved they could do that.
''It's not a wilderness race if everybody finishes,'' McGee said. ''It should be damn difficult to finish. The achievement should be in finishing. If everybody finishes, that diminishes the achievement.''
McGee finished third this year about two hours behind Martensen and Donley. As usual, Alaskans dominated the competition, but for the first time people from Outside the state faired well.Racers from Seattle; Boise; Reno, Nev.; Hanover, N.H.; and San Diego all managed to follow the unmarked, wilderness route from start to finish.
ALASKA MOUNTAIN WILDERNESS CLASSIC
1) Clark Saunders, Girdwood, 2 days, 12 hours, 20 minutes
2 & 3) Kevin Donley and Marten Martensen, Anchorage, 2:14:21
4) Brant McGee, Anchorage, 2:16:10
5 & 6) Roman and Peggy Dial, Anchorage, 3:09:03
7) Michael Martin, Seattle, 3:09:49
8) Dave Lucey, Anchorage, 3:10:15
9) Jeff Mailloux, Boise, Idaho
10,11,12,13,14) Skip Kula, Steve Daigle, Mike Wayt, Brent Widenhouse and Shane Metcalf of Anchorage, 3:15:43
15) John Lapkass, Anchorage, 3:19:15
16 & 17) Greg Tibbetts and Eric Sachs, Anchorage, 3:23:05
18) Mark Ross, Fairbanks, 4:02:10
19 & 20) Jeff Gedney, Reno, Nev., and John Sisson, Hanover, N.H., 4:04:37
21,22,23,24,25,26) Dick, Barney and Bobbie Sue Griffith of Anchorage, Brian Hall of Anchorage, Sue Ellen Christiansen of Fritz Creek and Tim Gillis of San Diego, 5:09:25.