By Carol Horner-
They came early this year to Seward, side by side and nose to tail, circling and seeking again their starting place. From hundreds of miles away they return to us each year flashing their colors, driving waves before them, dashing in by schools and singles. The pinks are in town.
I had seen signs of their return the night before in the Yukon Bar. These new arrivals were fit and full of adrenalin as they crowded into our normally calm backwater on 4th avenue. They agitated and overflowed our watering hole with their sheer numbers and spooning gyrations. I could hardly get a toe in the water with all of them on the dance floor. The band members were in combat formation elbow to elbow on the high bank of the tiny stage. In fact, three of them were forced to wade out into the school of churning pinks to cast their sounds among us. We were all wild and free that night but reduced to frolicking like too many fish in a rain barrel.
I saw a more serious side to these newcomers the next morning as they came together to perform their three feats of endurance in the annual Pink Cheeks Triathlon at Seward Middle School. First they thrashed back and forth in the pool as if their life depended on it, THEN they jumped out on shore to run and bike as if grizzlies were in hot pursuit.
On race day I was with them, having snagged the best volunteer job possible, a bib stringer! From my vantage point at the start-finish line I watched the runners speed away and quickly return to their beginning point where they would try to slipstream past me to get to the bike yard. They brushed against me goggle-eyed and determined to overcome any obstacle in their way, five in a cluster with four more on their tails. My job was to catch them as they came, rip the number tag off the bibs, and push those cards onto my stringer in order of arrival. With a wad of nine tags in one hand, I would then attempt to skewer them (in order) with the pointy end of my stringer. I dropped some; and when one drifted downstream and was handed back to me, I thrust it on the string, flinching as if I had been seen snagging in broad daylight…now they weren’t in sequence. I consoled myself knowing that I was simply a back-up counter to the magnetic system triggered by the finish line machine. Still….
And here you have been thinking all along that fish don’t need bicycles! The hot pinks threw off their running gear, attached cleated biking shoes and hooked into their pedals. They were instantly transformed into a new type of pink, faster, smoother, taller. The bikes departed like torpedoes back downstream in a longer loop around town. I easily caught and released the final runners and stared at my stringer, aflutter now with the evidence of all that energy and enthusiasm.
While fish on bicycles are a lot faster than those on foot, they are easier to catch and de-tag because they have to stop at the finish line and walk their bikes across the purple pads. They were tired and sweaty, and their cheeks were definitely pink from their exertions, but they were smiling.
The evening following the race some portion of these athletes didn’t make it to the Yukon Bar. Perhaps they were just too spawned out by this point to swim any more. Having given their all earlier in the day, they were content to simply circle gently around in small quiet pools.
The triathlon was so very like every other Seward event. The young and the old, the locals and the visitors, the fit and the brave, all blended into one wonderful school of people doing what they love, celebrating the seasons of Alaska. It was really fun being a part of this annual return of the pink cheeks. I’m glad to see them come; I love to watch them run, but wish fewer swum at the Yukon Bar.