Before taking on the menacing 240 km Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay solo race event on June 15, the only other long distance race that 17-year-old Dalton McLeod had participated in was a five kilometre run.
“I feel proud of myself for what I did. I was thinking about stopping multiple times throughout the race but I just kept on going,” said McLeod, who will be entering his senior year at Inuvik’s East Three Secondary School in the fall.
The Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay is an annual racing event that draws in thousands of cyclists from around the world who ride from Haines Junction, Yukon, to Haines, Alaska.
From the Yukon to British Columbia and then Alaska, the terrain of the 240 kilometre ride consists of mountain valleys, sharp descents and steep climbs.
McLeod was one of more than 70 riders to compete in the solo race, where he ended up finishing in 46th place. It took him a total of 11 hours to complete the entire course.
“I proved a lot to myself during the race. Going over 240 kilometres – I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do it straight,” he said. “But I was able to just go along with it and keep moving from one check stop to the next, one section at a time.”
Battling vicious winds and steep inclines, he said that he went through a bit of a “mental roller coaster” just trying to push through.
“The incline was insane. You started relatively low and you biked your way up. The incline and altitude towards the mountains – it just chunks of climbs,” he said.
It was the view of riding across Alaska, he continued, that kept him motivated.
“I knew that if I just kept on going, I eventually would hit a downhill part which I was praying would come soon,” he said.
He credits his years of experience in speed skating, soccer and track and field for helping him to develop his mental toughness.
“I’ve done competitions before, and the mental training aspect is something that I’ve built up from doing sports all my life,” he said. “The mental part was hard, but I was still able to get through it.”
McLeod began training for the race at the end of February with his speed skating coach, Paul MacDonald, who also participated in the solo race.
“I came 52nd. He was about 40 minutes ahead of me. That’s how good in shape he is,” said MacDonald. “I just couldn’t catch him. He was good. It’s great when the kids outrun the coach.”
MacDonald – who had been McLeod’s speed skating coach for five years – asked him at the beginning of the year if he was interested in taking part in the race.
“He’s committed. He would go to the gym and do the spin bikes. No concerns about him going down. I knew he would be ready,” said MacDonald.
Once the snow began to melt, the two would take bike trips to the airport, to the Gwich’in territorial campground and even out to Tsiigehtchic.
“He’s super easy to coach. He listens, he researches himself as well. He asks questions and then he does it,” said MacDonald.
McLeod said that the race was his favourite trip of the year, and he would love to participate in the event for a second time.
“It was quite the accomplishment. I’ll always remember me just chugging along the mountains and the whole 240 kilometres,” he said. “It was a trip from Yukon, to BC, to Alaska. It was basically me biking across that section of the country, through one time zone.”