2004 Polaris "Way Out Women" Relay Alaska Leg

Apr. 01, 2004 By Doug Ogden

The Idea

It has been 20 years since is was legal to ride a snowmobile into downtown Anchorage. So when Polaris Representative, Bruce Friend, approached some of the local snowmobile enthusiasts about including Alaska in the Polaris "Way Out Women Relay for Breast Cancer Awareness", it didn't take long for all the right people and opportunities to fall into place.

The idea was to start at the base of mount McKinley and run all the way into downtown Anchorage as the first leg of the relay to Rosseau, Minnesota. This would require permits from The City of Wasilla, the City of Anchorage, the Alaska State Troopers, the Alaska Railroad, the Alaska State Department of Transportation, and the Anchorage Police Department. All of these agencies were absolutely thrilled with the idea of a women's ride and helped move the bureaucracies to make it all happen.

Polaris Rep, Bruce Friend hangs over the side to put up a banner at Lake Lucille Inn with the help of Bill Fisher of Lead Dog Helmet Light
©2004 Doug Ogden/AutoGraphs Photography

Scoping it Out

With the absence of an actual ride like this for so long and no existing trails in place, local snowmobile enthusiasts Steve Karcz of Helmetlight, Inc. and Joe Westfall of the Alaska Snowmachine Search and Rescue & Recovery Team (ASSRRT) hopped in Steve's Piper Super Cub to fly the route for a bird's eye view of what progress may have done to hamper the route.

By starting from the finish line and going backwards, the recon flight began in downtown Anchorage near the railroad yard and proceeded to scout the potential trail. Following a bike path paralleling the Glen Highway out of the Anchorage neighborhood of Mountain View through Eagle River and on to Birchwood and Peters Creek, the trail seemed fairly easy. From Peters Creek to Eklutna, the riders would be on the highway shoulder. Steve and Joe assumed this portion would be easy so they didn't spend much time looking at the conditions.

As it turned out, this was the slowest portion of the trail, as riders encountered things that would all need to be escorted by the police, like on-off ramps and bridges. The logistics of navigating through a residential neighborhood in front of driveways, streets and alleys created it's own hazards.

The Anchorage Police Department would solve the problem of bridge crossings, on and off ramps, and riding along the shoulders by blocking off one whole lane of the Glenn Highway and blocking street crossings. The APD would also provide two officers on snowmobiles to guide the group.

Flying out past Eklutna and onto the Knik Flats, the bridges over the Knik River and one railroad crossing seemed to be the last Urban impediments. Once in the Wasilla city limits, the ride would be on another bike path all the way to the Best Western Lake Lucille Inn . This would be the layover location for the second night of the riders trip and most certainly a welcome opportunity to be pampered with some rest and relaxation. Wasilla would also be the location for the planned LEAD-DOG Helmet Light Dessert Run to a local restaurant.

Leaving Wasilla and Lake Lucille behind, the surveying flight headed West to the Susitna River then North toward Petersville. Once out of Wasilla, civilization quickly disappears and you are surrounded by wilderness. More than 100 air miles later, Steve and Joe reached the rural Petersville area and the Gate Creek Cabins, 10 miles off the Parks Highway on Petersville Road. The starting point headquarters for the WOW Relay.

Just getting underway, Lake Lucille, Wasilla, Alaska - Chugach Mountains in background
/AutoGraphs Photography

Ready for the Ride

After all the cooperation and work by the volunteers, police and city officials, the necessary permits and permissions were granted and Sunday, January, 25, 2004, the day of the first leg of the Polaris Way Out Women Relay was here.

Alaska's team of three Official Way Out Women; Kim Wood, Fairbanks; Rachel Morrison, Anchorage and Sheila Westfall, Anchorage, plus one alternate rider, April Westfall, Anchorage and VIP rider Iditarod Champion and breast cancer survivor, DeeDee Jonrowe, Willow, Alaska were joined by a posse of 25 riders. Starting at the Gate Creek Cabins, the group first headed north some 30 miles to the base of Mount McKinley, the official starting point of the Relay. Recognition of the WOW Relay and Breast Cancer Awareness was acknowledged by all the riders and the Relay was officially started.

Polaris Way Out Women Relay Alaska - coming across Eklutna Flats near Kinik river Crossing - Chugach Mountains in background
©2004 Doug Ogden/AutoGraphs Photography

The weather was clear and cold with a stiff breeze that kept the layers on but didn't cool the enthusiasm of the riders. Riding in the Petersville area is the ultimate snowmobiler's experience. Miles and miles of nothing but mountain scenery, moose, eagle's nests, and, awesome snow. For those that couldn't help but detour from the leader's tracks, the opportunity to play in beautiful, fresh, deep powder was a delight. All of the riders took advantage of some recreation and made an enjoyable day of it.

That evening, a big meal was prepared for everyone by the local snowmobile club, Currier Ridge Riders, then an early night and plenty of rest.

Monday morning the eager riders left the Gate Creek Cabins bright and early. The day's ride would end up being well over 100 miles of winding trail on rivers and across lakes, following dogsled and snowmobile trails through miles of spruce woods. The only trail markings for this section would be cut down trees, reflective markers, and surveyors tape used as flagging. With any luck there will have been some snowmobile traffic to aid in identifying the trail. This is where the local talent of the trailbreakers, Joe Westfall and Craig Sieberts of Gate Creek Cabins, would successfully guide the group to the day's goal and reward of The Lake Lucille Inn, some fine dining and warm beds.

The trailbreakers, all five WOW riders and several others were outfitted with LEAD-DOG Helmet Lights. Riding in both day and night conditions, the use of the Helmet Lights illuminated any type of reflective marker even in the overcast daylight hours. And, the taillight and brake light function helped the following riders to see the intentions of the rider in front of them.

This is where photographer, Doug Ogden, joined the relay. Working in a strong wind blowing off the Chugach Mountains to the East and wind chills well below 0, Doug, Polaris's Bruce Friend and Bill Fisher of LEAD-DOG, hung banners and prepared the receiving area for the arrival of the riders. Eventually, everyone arrived in good repair though a bit trail-weary. After a fine dinner and many discussions about the day's experiences, everyone was enthusiastic about the next day's ride.

Designated riders before last day start in front of Lake Lucille Inn, Wasilla, Alaska with antique Polaris Snow Mobile L to R Dee Dee Jonrowe, Kim Wood, Rachel Morrison, Sheila Westfall and April Westfall -
©2004 Doug Ogden/AutoGraphs Photography

For a special treat, a number of participants and volunteers finished off the evening with a trip across Wasilla to Evangelo's Restaurant for the much anticipated "Dessert Run" sponsored by LEAD-DOG Helmet Lights. But, due to a long day of riding and full stomachs from dinner, it was decided that riding in something other than a snowmobile would be preferred. So, everyone loaded in a heated vehicle and rode to their dessert.

Tuesday morning the relay continued with the 30+ riders heading out across Lake Lucille on their way to Anchorage. The group was joined by DeeDee's mother (75 very spry and young years old) and the former mayor of Wasilla, Sarah Palin. The group departed Lake Lucille in high winds with the wind chill well below zero farenheit.

Unfortunately, Doug made it only as far as Fairview Loop (a couple of miles out of Wasilla) when his sled overheated and puked out all of it's coolant. Danny Wood, the husband to official WOW rider Kim Wood was following the procession in a truck and trailer for just such a situation. He trailered Doug and his sled to nearby Hartley Motor's Polaris dealership for a quick diagnosis and fix. It turned out to be a bad pressure cap. With no harm done, a new cap and coolant installed and thanks to Danny, Doug caught up with the rest of the riders at the Knik River Crossing.

Group of riders mugging while waiting to get back underway at Eklutna On Ramp, Glenn Highway
©2004 Doug Ogden/AutoGraphs Photography

Here, everyone was regrouped and the police had blocked off a lane of traffic. From this point on in to Anchorage the riders would have a police escort. The ride along the Glen Highway was met with waves and honks from the passing cars. Using the south Birchwood exit to access the Bike Path the group was greeted by Chugiak Elementary School students on recess pressed against the fence with waves and smiles.

After a brief stop at Eagle River Polaris and neighboring sled business, CC Ski-Doo, the group got back on the bike path for the rest of the trip to Anchorage. A "dry" and rather "over-heated" run through Mountain View, and along some main city streets, everyone made it into downtown Anchorage and the Railroad yard for the completion and welcome finale to the Alaska Leg of the WOW Relay.

All completed, the Alaska WOW Relay notched 308 miles in 3 days and earned the pledges of over $20,000 toward Breast Cancer Research and Awareness.

The Official Polaris Way Out Women:
  • Kim Wood, Fairbanks
  • Rachel Morrison, Anchorage
  • Sheila Westfall, Anchorage
    Alternate Official WOW Rider;
  • April Westfall, Anchorage
    VIP Rider Iditarod Champion and breast cancer survivor,
  • DeeDee Jonrowe, Willow, Alaska
Polaris Way Out Women Relay Alaska Riders at the finish line in downtown Anchorage
©2004 Doug Ogden/AutoGraphs Photography

Special kudos go out to Polaris Rep, Bruce Friend. Without his efforts this event would not have been possible. There are a lot of sponsors and volunteers that deserve many thanks as well including; Rachel Morrison, Sheila, April and Joe Westfall, Bill Rodaski, Craig Sieberts, Mike Jonrowe, Bill Fisher, Steve Karcz and many others.

Major sponsors were:
Polaris Industries, Alaska Snowmobile Representatives Alliance, Anchorage Hilton, Glacier Brewhouse, Anchorage Convention and Visitor's Borough, Marita Sea and Ski, Alaska Power Sports, LEAD-DOG Helmet Lights, Providence Imaging Center, Curriers Asphalt Maintenance, Susitna Landing, Alaska Destination Specialists, Deshka River Lodge, Curry Ridge Riders and Gate Creek Cabins.

Special thanks go to:
Dept of Transportation, MOA, Anchorage Police Department, City of Wasilla and Alaska Railroad

Doug Ogden is owner of AutoGraphs Photography, Alaska's Motorsports Photographer. Photos can be found at his website, www.ogdenphotos.com.


Editor's Note:

This is the second contribution from LEAD-DOG Helmet Light CEO Steve Karcz and AutoGraphs Photography's Doug Ogden. As you can tell, they are both deeply involved in and supportive of snowmobiling in Alaska. ORC thanks them for their time and talents to bring our readers this unique coverage.

Please do not use images in this article without AutoGraph's express permission.


Off-Road.com Newsletter
Join our Weekly Newsletter to get the latest off-road news, reviews, events, and alerts!