Monday, July 23, 2007

The 2007 Skidegate Totem to Totem Marathon

Thanks for the notes regarding my absense, and my apologies for the huge lapse between posts. I have been away, in a place where it felt like I was in a different world.

The next time you see a race volunteer, give them a high five. The next time you see a race organizer, give them a hug. Chances are, if they are organizing a community event - from scratch - they will need it, and they will most assuredly deserve it.

Back in 2003 my good friend David Seymour and I were up in Haida Gwaii, and we were granted the rare privelege of witnessing the ground-breaking ceremony in Skidegate of Kaay Llnagaay or Qay'Ilnagaay - the Haida Cultural Centre. With it's completion in May, 2008 it will soon be a ground-breaking piece of architecture as a fusion of form and function. Aside from being a world-class Museum, historical and educational facility, the Qay (rhymes with 'guy', but with a 'K' sound, as it is known to the locals) will be so much more than a breath-taking collection of Haida art and artifacts. The Qay will be the ultimate expression of a living, thriving Haida culture in an extraordinary period of a contemporary cultural revival and renaissance. Even ten months from completion, the Qay facility takes your breath away.

So in 2003, David Seymour, or just 'Seymour' as he is known to the world, and I were trying to think of ways to get people to come to the Queen Charlotte Islands/Haida Gwaii and Skidegate and witness the extraordinary. As a devout traveler and marathoner, I thought that Skidegate would be an amazing venue for a truly unique destination marathon. A place to travel to, run a marathon and to see and do the kinds of things that make up one of those rare 'once-in-a-lifetime' kind of experiences. In an island landscape as much art as geography, the name for the event came to me in a flash, a 'Totem to Totem' Marathon. 'Run Haida Gwaii'.

The Totem to Totem Marathon. Seymour loved the idea the moment it bubbled and tumbled over my lips and off my tongue in a nearly incoherent babble of words. He mentioned it at the time to the Chief Band Councillor of Skidegate, Willard Wilson and to the Skidegate Band Manager, Barabara 'Babs' Stevens on that trip in 2003. During that trip I was also a guest in Babs' house and we had many conversations. Let's be frank, Willard and Babs are not marathoners, and I suspect they even think that marathoners are a little bit crazy (and let's let's face it, we are, aren't we)but both Willard and Babs are doers and they were willing to mull over the idea. A seed had been planted. Over the next few years there were many meetings and much discussion. And in the intervening years, the Qay slowly took shape and rose out of the mists that so often shroud Haida Gwaii.

Last year the Totem to Totem Marathon became as concrete as the Qay. Five runners went to Skidegate and ran the inaugural Skidegate Totem to Totem Marathon in 2006, from the Totems in front of the Qay, out 13.1 miles to St. Mary's Spring and back. It was a spectacular venue for a marathon, and on a flat level course we saw thirty-two bald eagles along the route.

This year, the 2007 Skidegate Totem to Totem Marathon (and Half Marathon) tripled in number from five to fifteen runners. When corporate sponsors failed to deliver on their promises in time, the local race organizers in Skidegate simply went ahead in their own inimitable fashion and did the race organization themselves. Special thanks must go out to Janna and Andy Wilson, Babs and Seymour - they made the race happen. And thanks to the dozens of other volunteers who made the race possible for the runners. And this year, even the eagle count was up, to thirty-seven! Nearly an eagle per kilometre. The race conditions were near perfect, cool and overcast. When the course is certified, it will be a marathon on which to run personal bests and set records.

I flew up to the Queen Charlotte Islands/Haida Gwaii on Friday, July 13th (yes, I know, Friday the 13th!) with my good friend, fellow marathoner and superb photographer, Patrick Gross for a full ten days in an attempt to see and do as many things as possible - just as if we were destination marathoners taking the vacation of a lifetime. We traveled from the very top of Haida Gwaii on Graham Island, to it's southern-most tip on South Moresby Island. Along the way we were awe-struck, filled with wonder, feted and feasted. We saw humpback whales, seals and sea lions, too many ravens and eagles to count, a black bear up close and dozens of deer. We saw a puffin and countless other sea birds, flora and fauna. In the historic southern Haida villages which are a World Heritage site, we were simply left speechless. If you ever have a chance in your lifetime, you simply must see the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. It will be one of those things you never forget.

With Pat, and later on, our friends Seymour and Kirsten, we had an unbelievably fun-filled excursion of running, eating, drinking, adventure and excitement.

I will be writing a much longer piece detailing where we went, what we saw and what we did, but during the ten days we were in Haida Gwaii, Pat and I did manage to fit in a seven mile and a thirty-two mile run to go along with our 26.2 mile marathon on Saturday, July 21. And with Kirsten we also fit in a vigorous 10K hike along the beach and a river-bank out to see a historic ship wreck. And we caught a few salmon along the way, plus a few crabs...

In the meantime, thank you again for your e-mails.

And please visit these web sites -

In addition to those already mentioned, special thanks to our Guide from Moresby Explorers, Laura, our cooks Susan and Erin, to our fishing guide, Trent and his family, and to Danny, Nika Collison, Gracie of 'Gracie's fame and her daughter Caitlin, Roberta Olson and to all the people of Haida Gwaii who have once again raised the bar on what true hospitality is all about.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Race Website:

A special thanks to Stinker for his support on the race course and driving back and forth. The runners greatly appreciated it!

9:44:00 AM  

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