The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

Valdez Star 

Fireweed 400 and shorter bicycle races rolled into Valdez Saturday

The event is designed to be a true Alaskan outdoor experience with


Steven Weber photo

Turning towards the finish line during last week's Fireweed 400 and other categories in the grueling bicycle race.

One of the toughest two-wheel races in the country rolled into town Saturday.

That's when hundreds of bicyclists made the trek from Sheep Mountain to Valdez. The first to arrive were those competing in the Fireweed 400 which began on Friday morning; Valdez served as the turnaround point. Others that were part of the Fireweed 200, which included both soloists and relay team members, trickled into Valdez starting in the early evening and continued late into the night.

The Fireweed 400 bicycle race, which has been held annually since 2003, was originally conceived by Peter Lekisch to share the world-class Alaskan scenery with all that might come.

The race is designed to be a true Alaskan experience with mountains, wilderness, wild animals, glaciers and roaring rivers along the way; thanks to excellent weather, the experience did not disappoint.

Erin and Philip Widener of Anchorage completed in the Fireweed 200 as a relay. Philip, who has been in Alaska all of his life and spent a significant amount of time packing and rafting as a hobby, was thrilled at a wildlife spotting early in the race.

"I saw a lynx around 7:30 a.m.," he said after crossing the finish line WHEN. "It walked right in front of me on the trail, care-free, no one else on the road. I thought it was a bear at first but then I realized there's a freaking lynx. You just never see them so I figured it was a good omen."

For the Wideners, the Fireweed 200 Relay was more than just a beautiful ride with unexpected wildlife.

"We brought our kids. We have two toddlers and you can do it with kids and do it family style," said Erin, who drove the RV while she and her husband took turns riding.

Jake Farber, who completed the Fireweed 200 solo, did the race for other reasons.

"I quit smoking cigarettes and drinking booze on New Year's so I signed up for this race and a thirty mile foot race later," he said. "Something to keep me focused on living a cleaner and healthier lifestyle."

Farber, who is currently a graduate student at UAA and teaches high school students, added "It is about inspiring the next generation to take charge of their lives."

Like many other cyclists, Samantha Feamster of Seward received her inspiration from a friend that was also competing in the Fireweed 200 solo. Feamster, whose longest training ride was twenty-five miles, did not train the "typical" way one would for an endurance race.

"Apparently hiking mountains is pretty good training for biking long distances," she said.

For Feamster, the real treat was being able to return to Valdez.

Steven Weber photo

Crossing the finish line together in Valdez.

"I came to Valdez once maybe ten years ago and I forgot about the canyon, and the scenery and how gorgeous it is," she said.

The Fireweed attracts roughly 500 - 750 participants per year and is the largest Race Across America (RAAM) qualifier in the World. Proceeds from the event are used to assist youth groups across Alaska, including Valdez. Donations have been made to the Torpedo Swim Club, Youth Court and the Football team.

This year's winner of the Fireweed 400 was Nathaniel King of Palmer who works at Backcountry Sports and was competing in his first ever cycling race. Second was taken by Nicholas Huber of Germany, who will be competing this Saturday, July 21, in Seward in the Alaska Man Extreme Triathalon.


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