Local athletes sweep top honors during annual Bellingham Traverse race

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 22, 2013 

As befitting a convincing ad salesman and manager, Rusty Dodge had no trouble selling four talented local athletes on the idea of representing The Bellingham Herald in the 12th annual PeaceHealth Bellingham Traverse.

You couldn't blame these five guys if they felt like putting out an "extra" effort to take the team title by about 15 seconds in spirited competition with the defending champion MRSAneries on Saturday, Sept. 21.

"But there wasn't any drama," Dodge said, figuring the victory alone was enough of a headline-winning effort. "Everything went smoothly."

On a day when local athletes swept the top honors, Bellingham's Dave Deschenes defended his "Chinook" (individual) championship in 3 hours and 3 minutes.

Both "chum" teams -- who raced 37 miles on a pretty last day of summer in honor of the life cycle of wild salmon -- were awarded times of 2 hours, 35 minutes and were given an ovation at the finish line adjacent to the Bellingham Farmer's Market. The cheers were richly deserved -- both were well ahead of anyone else.

"I could hear the guys pushing me on along the boardwalk," said Herald kayaker Paul Clement, who finished his 3.6-mile leg and then joined the other four for a half-mile trek through town to the finish.

Since the MRSAneries were close behind, The Herald's team couldn't relax until the final turn onto Railroad Avenue.

Matt Cummins, who was a runner in the Southern California Intercollegiate Conference while attending Harvey Mudd, opened with the 5.5-mile Greenways run. Logan Wetzel, a former club cyclist at Western Washington University, did the 6-mile mountain bike leg, followed by former WWU runner Dodge on the 18-mile road bike stretch.

Pat McBride, another former WWU runner, then picked up the 3.6-mile trail run and kayaker Clement steadily stroked 3.6 miles to victory.

"We thought it would be really close," said Dodge. "We all hang out together and do Ski to Sea (on different teams). Logan gave us the lead on his leg and we held it from there."

Cummins, in fact, was a key member of the Whatcom County division champion Beaver's Tree Service at Ski to Sea in May, giving him something of a unique local distinction to both start and end summer.

Clement, though, said he "felt like taking a nap" after his second kayak race of the day. He finished third in the morning Salmon Row on Lake Samish.

Since The Herald is one of the event's sponsors, Dodge couldn't help but advertise his delight in winning.

But all the runners on both teams agreed with MRSAnaries kayaker David Jacobson.

"In the spirit of celebrating the salmon and Bellingham, the last team is just as important as the first," he said.

The MRSAneries -- like The Bellingham Herald's team, an all-local squad -- also included road racer Kyle Carrick, mountain biker Matt Studley, road biker Matt Oswin and trail runner Hendrik Kok.

Only 20 minutes behind came the first master's team (all 40 or older) -- road runner Mike Holz (the Meridian High coach), mountain biker Dave Anana, road biker John Diefel, trail runner Paul Frazey and kayaker Jamie Klein.

"It feels great," said Diefel. "I think we did expect to win. We have a good group."

Holz pointed out that he was filling in for standout Alain Salomon, who was injured.

Solo winner Deschenes, who recently turned 40, was a high school and college baseball pitcher who also got in a lot of running in high school cross country and while training for mound duty.

"But what really helps me," he said, "is that I've become addicted to kayaking" -- which is the sport that trips up a lot of runners and cyclists in this unique event.

Former Gonzaga University runner Beth Hartsoch, 37, won the women's "Chinook" title in 3 hours, 18 minutes in her first solo Traverse, but not without crediting her husband, Jake Hartsoch, "with going swimming."

It turned out that Jake needed to wade into the water up to his chest, clothes and all, to quickly adjust the kayak for his 5-foot-2 wife when she was initially forced to turn back to shore.

"The big difference is about a dozen people who helped me," said Beth, a successful runner and cyclist since joining the Bellingham scene about a decade ago.

The "coho" tandem title went to the Lakeway Inn Lounge Lizards, Jon Ralston and Brent Detta, who have been training partners for more than four years but did this race together for the first time.

"Jon had a flat in the mountain leg," said Detta, admiring how his teammate overcame adversity.

"It happened about two miles in," said Ralston. "I had to run and carry the bike the rest of the leg."

The women's tandem title went to the appropriately named "Will Race for Beer" team -- after all, we are in the midst of the second annual Bellingham Beer Week -- as Jessica Yoos, 40, and Kristen McKenzie, 37, prevailed while making a fashion statement in bright green tutus. Between them, they have six children.

In the spirit of an event in which everyone feels like a winner, Yoos let out an excited squeal when told she and McKenzie had won their division.

"We did?" Yoos said. "Wow!"

"We just competed for fun," said McKenzie, remaining humble in her garish garb.

Race official April Claxton, aka "Salmon Queen," said interest in the Traverse is as strong as ever.

"We had 628 'spawners' participating and 170 different divisional entries," she said.

In fact, this can no longer be called an "only in Bellingham" event.

"We had our fourth Traverse in Olympia in July and next June, we'll start one in Winthrop. Now we have a Traverse series."

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