Thousands of skiers have participated in the Tour of Anchorage, but only one — Bruce Talbot — has completed every edition since 1988.
“I can’t believe I’m the last one standing,” Talbot said, noting that Gary Bocarde and Bob Kean were the last of the originals to fall off. “I never intended to do an unbroken series for that long. It was something to aim for every winter, a good long race to cap off the season.”
Talbot, 67, has managed to stay fit, healthy and motivated to make the Tour of Anchorage finish line for three decades straight.
By his account, Talbot has completed the 50-kilometer race or the 40-kilometer raced 13 times apiece and has also done the “mini-tours” when conditions didn’t allow for a full race. Wearing his favorite yellow and blue race suit, he always enters the freestyle race and has never opted for the shorter 25-kilometer version.
Talbot’s best result came in 1989, the Tour’s second year, when he notched 10th place in the 50K among about 100 competitors. His time was 2 hours, 38 minutes.
Talbot, a retired planner with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, became involved with the Tour even before the first crosstown race happened. In 1987 he helped cut part of a new trail in the Campbell Tract’s black spruce forest.
He recalls the Tour’s formative years when the course lacked some of the bridges and tunnels that later enabled an unbroken route through Anchorage’s greenbelts.
“In those early years there was no green bridge across Tudor Road so volunteers stopped traffic and shoveled snow across the road and onto the sidewalk leading to University Lake,” Talbot said by phone in December from the Big Island of Hawaii.
Another year the wind scoured part of the Coastal Trail down to gravel, sand and pavement.
“We had to run around the end of the airport because there was no snow,” he recalled. “I’m a runner so I made some good time there.”
Less enjoyable was the year he raced the Tour with the flu. By then he was the only skier who had never missed the Tour.
“I felt awful but I finished it," he said. "That was probably the worst year, but I didn’t want to miss a Tour.”
Talbot got hooked on cross-country skiing after moving to Anchorage in 1984 and thus never raced in college like his sons Cole and Silas did. However, his ability to maintain conditioning as he ages has instilled respect and fear into one of his best friends, Dave Blanchet.
“Bruce is very fit. He gets himself out every day,” Blanchet said.
Though he has finished ahead of Talbot in each of his 15 or so Tours, Blanchet is not eager to race head-to-head again.
“He’s way faster than me right now,” said Blanchet, who now spends winters in Borrego Springs, California. “That would be very unwise (to race Talbot). I would have to do some very serious training.”
Talbot loves to travel — last fall he and Blanchet were part of a group that completed a 170-mile trek along Bhutan’s northern border with Tibet that included crossing mountain passes up to 18,000 feet in elevation. But he knows he’ll be at the Tour of Anchorage start line on the first Sunday of March for the foreseeable future.
“I’m looking forward to competing in many more in the coming years,” he said.
Matias Saari is the Tour of Anchorage race director.