Community Sports

Annual Bellingham Traverse supports community tradition

Runners take off from the start of the Bellingham Traverse race on Saturday, Sept. 19, in Bellingham.
Runners take off from the start of the Bellingham Traverse race on Saturday, Sept. 19, in Bellingham. The Bellingham Herald

Nearly 400 people participated in the 14th Bellingham Traverse, some reviving annual traditions that have stood for over a decade while others pushed themselves to reach new fitness goals.

“It’s a very well-loved community event and people make a tradition out of it,” said April Claxton, who helped organize the event.

The traverse is a five-part relay followed by a short team leg to finish the event. Runners began on Railroad Avenue, by the farmer’s market, and made their way to Lake Padden where the race transitioned into a mountain bike leg, road bike, trail run, kayak and team trek back to the start.

The first team to cross the finish line, Birch Equipment, completed the course in 2 hours, 35 minutes.

Over 30 registered groups were single-person teams or tandems, Claxton said.

For Casey Diggs, the entire 37.15-mile course was a challenge he wanted to take on solo.

Last year Diggs, a member of the Boundary Bay Brewery family, raced on a relay team and ran the 3.4-mile trail run leg of the race. Boundary Bay has partnered with the traverse since it began and participating, rather than only supporting, has been important to Diggs as a way to be involved in his community.

Preparing to complete the traverse solo was daunting, Diggs said.

“It was running and not giving myself time to rest,” he said. “Just jumping on the bike and making sure I can do that back to back.”

On the other hand, some teams are less competitive. Belly Up is a team of friends who have done the traverse for the past 11 years.

For them, the race is a chance for friends to get together and enjoy the ritual of a pre-race dinner and a fun after party in the beer garden, Christoph Reitz said.

“It’s competitive partying, not racing,” he said.

Julie Smolkin has been on team Belly Up since the beginning and said it is a highlight of her year. She appreciates what the event stands for and how it brings people together.

One goal of the Traverse is to raise awareness about the life cycle of wild salmon, an indicator species important to the Pacific Northwest.

“As Belly Up we managed to get a fish and a beer theme in the same title,” Smolkin said.

Some teams use costume themes to raise awareness for different causes during the traverse.

The Be Local Bees, a team of competitive racers in bee suits, stripes and wings included, run every year in support of Sustainable Connections.

“They like the attention they get out on the course,” said Michelle Grandy, the bees’ manager. “They’re a recognizable team.”

The other teams don’t like to be passed by the bees, Grandy said. However, that competitiveness is what brings the buy local campaign notice.

“People have the impression that if you wear a costume then you aren’t a serious racer,” she said, “which is not the case with us.”

The last three years the traverse has been organized by Recreation Northwest, a charity foundation created by Claxton and Todd Elsworth, who initially began the race.

Under the banner of Recreation Northwest, the traverse can reach farther into the community and fund trail work and other events, Claxton said.

“Our motto is stewardship, education and fun,” she said. “We already had the fun part down.”

The traverse happens in the areas of Bellingham that the organization most wants to highlight — the parks and the greenways. Racers begin on the South Bay Trail, go around Lake Padden, to Lake Samish, into the Chuckanuts, to Marine Park and then Cornwall Beach.

Numbers of racers have been steady for years and the majority of those who participate are returners, Claxton said. The traverse is designed to be an event that promotes community among all levels of athletes.

“A lot of people have been racing together for a long time and coming back year after year,” she said.

The team name for Birch Equipment was corrected Monday, Sept. 21.