The annual Alaskan Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) human powered race began on Feb 28th this year, a week before the more well known Iditarod sled dog race. The ITI invites 50 racers in three categories of foot, ski or bike to race in the popular 350 miler to McGrath or continue on for the longest winter human powered race- 1,100 miles to Nome. This was my third time to McGrath and second attempt to Nome. In 2008 I became a statistic as one of the 90% average dropout rate for the Nome race with a multitude of injuries that prevented me from finishing. When I biked into Ruby (mile 600) that year I was a mess of edema, ulnar nerve damage and considerable saddle soreness and perineum nerve damage. Pushing your body in the “no pain no gain” mantra is not a good idea in ultra-endurance racing. I’ve learned a lot since then and one of my improvements was an ISM adamo typhoon seat that I inaugurated last year for the 350 race. Even though I am now, likely, susceptible to repeat nerve damage there was surprisingly none. This year I took the race a step further to compete, again, in the 1,100 mile race. The event was of particular importance to me because not only was it “unfinished business” but I live in Nome. What would it feel like to compete in the longest human powered winter race and finish essentially at my doorstep with my wife and daughter right at the finish line? And to ride the last mile with my friend, Nora, who is a leukemia survivor? I compete in these races, also, to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) in support of Nora. She wanted to ride the last mile of the race with me, a vision that was not possible in 2008.
The race can be brutal- some sections are 70 to 170 miles between checkpoints or even a man-made structure. Snow conditions vary from riding, grinding or pushing. It’s a trail only passable and created in the winter completely determined by weather. Technically, it’s a one stage race but mentally, I broke the race up into four different sections: 1) Start to McGrath- 350 miles 2) McGrath to Ruby- 210 miles, 3)Yukon river, Ruby to Kaltag to Unalakleet- 270 miles and 4) arctic coast from Unalakleet to Nome – 270 miles. There is no support after the McGrath race other than a food drop. Temperatures this year varied from +40 down to around -40 or colder. Temperature gauges, especially portable ones, are not very accurate after -20 so there were some variations in reports. I was moving on the trail an average of 17 hrs/ day and (actual) sleeping/snoring an average of 3-4 hours. However, it was quite diverse as some days were 26 hrs long while the shortest was 12 hrs. The mileage was also diverse; shortest distance was ~30 miles and longest ~130 in a day.
In those 16 nights and 17 days I slept everywhere from on-trail bivies, heated tents, an unheated rundown cabin, three shelter cabins, two lodges, three Iditarod checkpoints, generous people’s homes, a clinic and once leaning on my bike (20 minutes draped over my handlebars at night on a really cold frozen Bering Sea). Throughout the race I became attached to my gear that worked well and helped me survive in extreme conditions. Items such as a pair of Patagonia socks and my ISM adamo seat were invaluable. In the mornings getting on the seat “cold” did not even bother me. In 2008 sitting was so painful I was actually glad when I had to push the bike in deep snow.
About 20 miles from Unalakleet I started recognizing landmarks and places I have been before, having lived there previously. It was so uplifting that even the sudden violent windstorm that blew in couldn’t stop me from barreling into Unalakleet. The familiarity of this region and trail up to Nome and recognizing people I knew in town was all I needed to step up my effort and kick in serious adrenaline.
It took me only a little over two days to ride the roughly 270 miles from Unalakleet to Nome. When I was 20 miles from Nome I started running into friends who were snow machining out to see me and by the time I hit an actual paved plowed road 5 miles out of Nome vehicles were driving out with cheers and honking horns. Nora met me 1 mile out of Nome and rode into the burled arch (Iditarod) finish line. It was spectacular! My wife, daughter and a large gathering of folks were applauding me into the arch for the grand win of the ITI. The feeling of riding home over a 1,000 miles into my wife and daughter’s arms was phenomenal.