What do anthropologists do when they aren’t out in the field recovering artifacts? They get out in the field—and keep searching for artifacts.
This was true of four UAA Department of Anthropology colleagues who took a few free days in July to drive north up the Richardson Highway and then tag-team a run across the mostly unpaved Denali Highway. You heard that right: They ran the Denali Highway, 135 miles between Paxson and Cantwell. For fun!
The participants were anthropology professor Diane Hanson, graduate students Aubrey Morrison and Roberta Gordaoff and former anthropology graduate student Marianne Pedersen, who finished her UAA studies as a M.Ed. and now works as a school counselor. Kathleen McCoy, the only non-anthropologist and from UAA Advancement, was along for the considerable, ah, exercise.
They call themselves the Scampering Hominids Anthropology Running Troupe (SHART for short), and they have a history. It seems they frequently found themselves at days-long professional anthropology conferences, and decided to add a novel activity to the sessions—a nano-marathon, 2.62 miles. Just enough distance to loosen the kinks and stretch the legs after sitting through many academic sessions. The most recent nano took place in Seattle this March at the 39th annual conference of the Alaska Anthropological Association.
The first time they organized a nano, the Hominids even ordered bib numbers and gave out awards. They organize and document their adventures through a private Facebook group by the same name. They list almost 40 members, but only five braved this particular 135-miler. And it was such a success, they’re already planning a future Alaska road run; perhaps the Taylor Highway (100 miles between Tok and Eagle.)
They didn’t actually find any new artifacts on this trip, though they always looked and respectfully saluted an important past worksite when they traveled by it along the Richardson.
So, did they really run 135 miles?
Now, to explain this business of tag-team running.
Two cars were involved, one with two runners and three dogs; and one with three runners and no dogs. Each car had a magnetic sign attached to the back, identifying it as a Support Vehicle for the Scampering Hominids. They even had team T-shirts in a rainbow of colors with the “Alaska 8″ (Denali Highway) sign on it.
The two-runner car was the staging zone for Pedersen and Morrison, serious and experienced runners. Pedersen came in second in her age group for this year’s Mayor’s Marathon. Morrison has other runners in her family, including a brother who runs ultra-marathons. They’d extended their long training runs up to 18 miles for Denali Highway prep. Every day on the Denali, they each ran 16.5 miles; combining that number, they daily covered 33 miles along the highway. They broke their dailies into six-six-four.five-mile segments, alternating runners and switching up dogs.
The second car carried serious but more novice runners. In their case, they ran two segments daily, six and five miles, or 11 miles each times three runners, adding up again to 33 miles a day.
In this day of hand-held computers/cameras, everyone took pictures. But Pedersen and Morrison both had real cameras with real lenses, and their images did some real justice to the amazing scenery along the Denali Highway. Check out their Flickr accounts at the two links above.
No story is complete without the dogs’ names. Morrison’s energetic herding dog is Nevi (seen here sleeping after all the fun) ; Pedersen has a long-legged, blue-eyed husky named Kona, and a sweet 12-year-old named Chevy. The dogs ran a bit each day, though never the full daily mileage.
Over four days, the runners covered the highway, camping or lodge-hopping along the way, with just a little clean-up running to round out miles on the last day.
Here’s the trail report:
- No bears (some twigs cracking in the underbrush, once)
- Moderate mosquitos
- Pavement first 20 miles out of Paxson, then 20 miles of rocky gravel, then good hardpack—almost to Cantwell
- Miles and miles of gorgeous scenery
- Enough rain on day two and three to drip steadily off the brim of team caps
- One stranded tour bus, its oil pan ripped out thanks to a menacing highway boulder
- Two days of muscle soreness that magically disappeared on days three and four
- Great roadside food, including burgers and milkshakes for some on the last day
The effort was personal and just for the sheer pleasure of accomplishment. Pedersen and Morrison are still training for the Equinox, and Hanson and Gordaoff for Humpy’s.
Gordaoff did the photo-finish honors, running the last mile right up to the red Stop sign at the intersection of the Parks and Denali highways, all to the camera clicks and video recording of her triumphant teammates, making a different kind of Alaska anthropology history!
Are you running the Klondike? Did you do the Mayor’s? How about Humpy’s? Share your UAA community team endeavors with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. With your permission, we’ll share them on our UAA Facebook page.