It’s the first day of June and as spring officially trickles into its waning days, I couldn’t help but flip through some old local travel photos and recall how June once… sometimes… began for me for a few consecutive years as the week of the most epic travel race I’ve ever run.
for whatever one photo is worth:
For four years in a row a small group of fourteen friends and I formed up a team and ran the epic Banff-Jasper Relay race.
One photo hardly does this endurance relay justice, but it can try,
Picture this instead: a ribbon of twisting, undulating highway follows a course northward through the Rocky Mountains for a distance of two hundred and sixty kilometers. On its way it passes through thick forests, expansive lakeside vistas set at the base of mountains, to the foot of a glacier, cresting at elevations many people will never experience let alone run, dodging wildlife and encountering unpredictable weather from fleeting snow to pounding sunshine. Runners tackle varying distances of as much as twenty kilometers each of asphalt highway shoulder, each section a unique challenge of solitude, terrain, or pacing as support vehicles leapfrog the highway providing water and nutrition and keeping tabs on each participant.
I took this photo in 2016 with a small camera I carried with me that year. I had hoped to document not just the spectacular views but the spirit of the race as hundreds of runners and support crew set up bases at transitions, cheered from the highway, and embodied an experience that would be impossible to replicate outside of sports like this.
We are so lucky to live so close to this.
Yet, I call this a travel photo because as much as these mountains are a mere four hours of by car away from my house, the effort to participate involves days of adventuresome driving.
The day before the race we would spend the day driving nearly five hours from home to the start line headquarters for the race in scenic Lake Louise, just North of Banff, Alberta.
The morning of the run our support vehicle would drop runner one off at the muster point for the very beginning leg of the South portion of the race. The race used to be run as one loooooooong day but due to concerns about running along a highway in the dark was later divided into a North and a South portion. The start line was about thirty kilometers out of town at the proper beginning of the highway.
For the bulk of the morning and early afternoon, each runner would run their leg of the mountain road while the others paced along the shoulder of the highway in the car. This meant driving slowly, parking, supporting, and repeating for upwards of six to eight hours.
As the South portion concluded, the North portion with three additional legs, was still in full swing, so the participants from the South portion would drive a hundred kilometers of long, cellular-service-free mountain road, the same stretch run by members of the team just hours prior, to catch up and try to find the remaining crew.
As those last still-racing runners completed their legs, the whole of the team would drive to the finish line in Jasper to cheer on the runner bringing in the fifteenth leg of the relay, followed by celebrating, food, and toasts all round.
The next day, for those who chose to make but a weekend adventure out of the race, yet another four to five hour drive back to the city awaited, completing a loop of nearly eleven hundred kilometers over about three days.
This year the race is purely virtual, but I’ll be thinking of those mountains as I continue training through the hills near my neighbourhood this June.