new ITI logo

We have moved! Our new website is found here:

www.iditarodtrailinvitational.com

 

2013 race stories, race reports & news articles:

http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/20130327/forget-lance-alaskan-badass-perfect-beer-commercial

MountainBike Radio Interview with winner Jay Petervary

Girls & Gears on Mountain Bike Radio Interview with Eszter Horanyi

Outside interview with Jay Petervary

Alaska Dispatch by Craig Medred who was on the trail by snowmobile during the event.

www.alaskadispatch.com/article/iditarod-invitational-veteran-leaves-gadgets-behind-long-cold-walk-toward-nome Feb. 23, 2013

www.alaskadispatch.com/article/iditarod-trail-invitational-endurance-race-away-civilization
Feb. 23,2013

www.alaskadispatch.com/article/iditarod-invitational-winter-smacks-racers-bikers-push-ahead
Feb. 24,2013

www.alaskadispatch.com/article/iditarod-trail-invitational-surviving-first-night
Feb. 25, 2013

www.alaskadispatch.com/article/defending-iditarod-invitational-champs-run-rest-strategy-keeps-frontrunners-guessing Feb. 26, 2013

www.alaskadispatch.com/article/iditarod-trail-invitational-why-would-anybody-race-it
Feb. 26,2013

www.alaskadispatch.com/article/jay-petervary-wins-human-powered-iditarod-ultramarathon-across-alaska Feb. 27, 2013

www.alaskadispatch.com/article/after-nasty-frostbite-last-year-canadian-cyclist-returns-iditarod-invitational Feb. 27, 2013

www.alaskadispatch.com/article/20130303/hows-alaskas-iditarod-trail-year-call-it-snowy-superhighway-nikolai March 3,2013

Anchorage Daily News

www.adn.com/2013/02/27/2805463/idahos-jay-petervary-smashes-iditarod.

Fairbanks News Miner by Tim Mowry

Cyclists on track to smash Iditarod Trail Invitational record
Feb. 26,2013

Idaho cyclist sets course record in Iditarod Trail Invitational win
Feb. 27,2013

Idaho cyclist pulls away to win Iditarod Invitational: Fairbanks’ Oatley, Breitenbach tie for third place
Feb. 27,2013

Fairbanks riders could break Iditarod Invitational record
Feb. 27,2013

http://www.newsminer.com/sports/iditarod/less snow meant less walking
March 1,2013

Half Past Done by Jill Homer

http://halfpastdone.com/2013/02/15/run-thousands-the-persistence-of-tim-hewitt/

http://halfpastdone.com/2013/02/20/a-brief-history-of-iditabike/

http://halfpastdone.com/2013/02/25/iditarod-trail-invitational-launches/

http://halfpastdone.com/2013/02/26/iditarod-trail-flyover/

http://halfpastdone.com/2013/02/27/jay-petervary-shatters-iti-course-record/

http://halfpastdone.com/2013/03/01/david-johnston-wins-iti-foot-race/

http://halfpastdone.com/2013/03/10/iditarod-racers-press-on-toward-nome/

Eszter Horanyi's blog

Steve Ansell blog

Joe Grant's race recap part I

Joe Grant's race recap part II

Charlie Farrow's race recap

Jason Buffington's race report

coverage by Mountain Bike Radio Colorado

APRN Fairbanks Emily Schwing

www.alaskapublic.org/2013/02/25/first-6-cyclists-check-into-winterlake-lodge-checkpoint-on-iditarod-trail-invitational/

 

2012 news articles & race stories:

Great report by runner Beat Jegerlehner

http://beultra.com/wordpress/ Awesome map with sticky notes!

Geoff Roes first runner race report:

http://www.irunfar.com/2012/03/geoff-roes-2012-iditarod-trail-invitational-350-miles-race-report.html

Cyclist Louise Kobin's race recap:

http://www.larutalou.blogspot.com/2012/03/iditarod-trail-invitational-2012.html

Phil Hofstetter's (2nd place) reflections:

http://nomemisadventures.blogspot.com/2012/03/iti-2012-knik-fingerlake.html

http://forums.mtbr.com/fat-bikes/iditarod-trail-invitational-2012-a-769003-post9010891.html#poststop

interesting thread on the fatbike forum on MTBR with lots of input by race veterans such as Mike Curiak.

Alaska Dispatch articles:

http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/iditarod-invitational-king-alaska-adventure-races-kicks-sunday

http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/iditarod-invitational-fat-biker-carries-dads-ashes-toward-alaska-interior

http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/slow-going-iditarod-trail-ultramarathon-cyclists-hikers

http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/epic-snow-along-trail-defeats-iditarod-invitational-veterans

http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/aging-attorney-limps-rainy-pass-leading-iditarod-invitational

http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/human-powered-iditarod-foot-soldiers-put-fight-bikers-will-win-again

http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/chase-finally-alaskas-iditarod-ultramarathon

http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/iditarod-invitational-alaska-ultra-distance-running-legend-geoff-roes-leads-across-farewell-

Frontiersman:

http://www.frontiersman.com/sports/willow-endurance-runners-conquer-miles-of-iditarod-trail/article_7fb2d944-69b3-11e1-8ddf-0019bb2963f4.html

Fairbanks News Miner:

http://www.newsminer.com/view/full_story/17791903/article-Invitational-becomes-Idita-ordeal-for-Fairbanks-competitors-?instance=home_features_lead_story1

http://www.newsminer.com/view/full_story/17703734/article-Fairbanks-cyclists-pull-out-of-Iditarod-Trail-Invitational?

Capitol City Weekly:

http://capitalcityweekly.com/stories/030712/out_965513941.shtml

Huffington Post by Kirsten Dixon:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kirsten-dixon/a-humanpowered-race-throu_b_1304331.html

 

2011 news articles & stories

Louise Kobin's 2011 race story

Jay & Tracey Petervary on the Iditarod Blog

Billy Koitzsch video on the Iditarod Insider

Alaska Dispatch by Craig Medred

Iditarod Invitational: Blowhole blasts cyclist on way to Nome March 21, 2011

Iditarod Invitational: Senior woman sets record for hikers March 7, 2011

Iowa' tough guy' ends up in hospital after Invitational March 6, 2011

Iditarod Invitational:Basinger wins Kobin sets new women's record March 4, 2011

Iditarod Invitational: Call of the wild under aurora borealis March 3, 2011

Anchorage man scores 5th win in Iditarod Trail Invitational race March 3, 2011

Human-powered Iditarod reaches Rainy Pass March 3, 2011

Iditarod Invitational: 'The Fingerlake one lap penalty' March 2, 2011

Iditarod Invitational: God smiles on competitors March 1, 2011

Iditarod Invitational:Some racers struggle to stay on the trail February 28, 2011

An invite to the Iditarod Invitational February 26, 2011

Anchorage Daily News by Mike Campbell

Kobin lops 20-plus hours off Iditarod Invitational record March 3, 2011

'Unbeatable' Basinger does it again March 2, 2011

Petervary's trek begins with Iditarod Invitational March 26, 2011

Fairbansk News Miner by Tim Mowry

Basinger takes home Iditarod Invitational title March 2, 2011

Basinger and his bicycle lead Iditarod Invitational March 2, 2011

Basinger leading, Oatley chasing in Iditarod Trail Invitational March 1, 2011

Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman by Andrew Wellner

Ultimate Challenge

Racer's 2010 write-ups:

Sean Grady

Louise Kobin

Phil Hofstetter

Dave Pramann

2010 PRESS

All the way to Nome, by foot, bike or snowgo March 30, by Craig Medred AK Dispatch

Mark falls in Iditarod Invitational March 22, 2010 by Mike Campbell ADN

New record set in human powered Iditarod March 5, 2010 by Craig Medred AK Dispatch

Defending champ defeated in Iditarod Trail Invitational March 4, 2010 by Jill Burke ADN

Anchorage cyclist Basinger wins Iditarod Invitational March 4, 2010 by Mike Campbell ADN

Basinger headed toward finish line March 3, 2010 by Mike Campbell ADN

Human powered Iditarod reaches Rainy Pass March 3,2010 by Craig Medred AK Dispatch

Warm trail punishes Iditarod ultramarathoners March 2,2010 by Craig Medred AK Dispatch

Basinger puts the hurt on Iditarod Invitational field March 2, 2010 by Mike Campbell ADN

Human-powered Iditarodders reach Skwentna March 1,2010 by Craig Medred AK Dispatch

Threesome leads pack at Iditarod Invitational March 1,2010 by Mike Campbell ADN

The call of the wild Feb. 27, 2010 by Craig Medred AK Dispatch

April 2, 2009 Velo News by Robbie Stout

Snow machine: Jeff Oatley's Rig for the Iditarod Trail Invitational

Great 2009 race reports by

Sean Grady, biker

Cory Smith, skier

Phil Hofstetter, biker

Louise Kobin, biker

Aidan Harding, biker

Press 2009

Anchorage Daily News

Checkpoint of Iditarod offers glimpse into past

March 15, 2009 by Kevin Klott

Invitational cyclist rescued

March 13, 2009 by Craig Medred

Oatley wins 'short' Iditarod Invitational race

March 10, 2009 by Mike Campbell

Missing endurance racer rescued

March 8, 2009 by Craig Medred and Megan Holland

Iditarod Trail Invitational cyclist has been missing since Tuesday

March 7, 2009 by Craig Medred

Wilderness race leaders power through pass

March 6, 2009 by Craig Medred

Storm traps wilderness racers on Iditarod Trail

March 5, 2009 by Craig Medred

Oatley rolling rapidly in Iditarod Invitational

March 3, 2009 by Craig Medred

Oatley plows through snow for race lead

March 2, 2009 by Craig Medred

Oatley captures Iditarod Invitational

February 27th, 2009 by Mike Campbell

Basinger swaps bike for skis in race to Nome

February 23, 2009 by Craig Medred

The loneliness of the long-distance winter race

Fairbanks Newsminer

March 7, 2009 by Matias Saari

Melburnian Yair Kellner rescued during Iditarod race in Alaska

March 9, 2009 Herald Sun Australia by Carly Crawford

Press 2008

race report by racer Tim Stern

Anchorage Daily News

Iditarod Trail Invitational ready to roll January 19th, 2009

New York Times

Sport Meets Survival: An Iditarod Without Dogs December 24th, 2008

by Mike Brick includes Video

Nome Nugget

Idita-bikers finish grueling trip to Nome April 3, 2008

Anchorage Daily News

by Craig Medred

Think mushing to Nome is tough? Try pedaling it April 12, 2008

Iditarod Trail Invitational promises a slog Feb.24,2008

Camraderie comes before competion in Invitational March1,2008

Redington broke more trails than just Iditarod March 2,2008

Nome-bound bikers exit McGrath March 2,2008

Visitor sets record March 4,2008

Suffering on the trail March 9,2008

Fairbanks Daily News Miner

by Tim Mowry

Rocky Reifenstuhl, Alaska's pedaling patriarch, is riding to Nome February 21, 2008

Reifenstuhl, other bikers reach Yukon River March 6, 2008

Pain forces Reifenstuhl to pull out of Invitational March 20, 2008

Jackson Hole News & Guide

Petervary finds limit in Alaska March 19,2008

Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Iditarod race a gigantic test of perseverance January 27,2008

Runner Hewitt finishes third Iditarod March 28,2008

 

1908 Goodwin expedition report

Press 2007

Anchorage Daily News

Anchorage cyclist is on record pace Feb.27, 2007

Race leader Basinger falls, gets up 100 times Feb. 28, 2007

Mountainbiker Basinger sets  Invitational record March 1, 2007

Mushing trail looks slick, bumpy or bare March 2, 2007

Fairbanks Daily News Miner

Anchorage rider leads human Iditarod Feb. 27, 2007

Basinger on verge of human Iditarod win Feb. 28, 2007

Basinger breaks extreme record March 1, 2007

Fairbanks cyclist finish tied March 2, 2007

Rocky Mountain News

Athletes odometer rolls past miles of trials Feb. 3, 2007

Mother turns back from Alaskan race March 7, 2007

Radio

APRN Radio KUAC listen to new race record set in a different Iditarod

Radio Praha Interview with Nome winner Jan Kopka 4/25/07

The Iditarod Invitational 2007 - Tri247

Enjoying The Ride-Lou Kobin's Iditarod Invitational 2007

by Louise Kobin

Alaska Ultra Sport 2007.pdf

write up_2007

by Barbara Schwarzmann

Rennbericht Iditarod Invitational 2003.pdf
 


www.athinwhiteline.com  2001

 

by Andy Heading 2002
Iditarod Invitational 2002 - Andy Heading and Al Sheldon

Preparing for the '02 Iditarod Trail Invitational - BIKEmagic Features

 

by Andy Wilson 2004
Race diaires from EventRate.com

 

by Allan Tilling 2004
- JustRidingAlong.com - Iditarod 2004 - Iditarod invitational bike race
http://www.slickrock.co.uk/adventure/adventure.html

 

on Mountainzone 2005
2005 Alaska Ultra on MountainZone.com

Interview with Carl Hutchings on MountainZone.com

Interview with Kathi Merchant on MountainZone.com

 

Frostbitten 2006 By Carl Hutchings

                                                                                                                       Endless Google searches would deliver no end of gear listing and success stories on the Iditarod Trail but try as I did stories of failures were eluding me. My logic was to learn from other’s mistakes but I quickly learned that other than an account by Mike Curiak one of the trails most accomplished athletes my searches were fruitless.

             2006 was my third visit to Ultra Sport. Its probably fair to say I’ve had a colourful time on the trail. In 2004 descending through the Dalzell Gorge I crashed crossing a frozen river and nutted the ice above my right eye. 7 miles later I’m sitting in Rohn with Bill Merchant who’s telling me he can see the bone and I’m not advised to continue. The Iditarod volunteers joked had I been there a week later and gone down on all fours then an Iditarod vet would have stitched me up. 8 weeks before the race I had an arthroscopy to remove some meniscus from my knee. They also removed a beyond repair A.C.L. I had worked my butt of trying to rehabilitate my knee and make race day. I had bought a fat bike, expensive backcountry gear, not to mention the airfare from the UK. The words of Andy Heading rang in my brain, “This just wasn’t a good enough reason to quit”. Bill allowed me to fly to McGrath to get stitched up, 9 stitches later I’m back on the trail. Although I was grateful for the chance to finish the race and be recognised as a finisher it didn’t seem right.

Returning in 05 I planned to make the holy grail of the trail, front street Nome and not to be such an attention seeking drama queen. With a 2 inch scar above my eye as a reminder I made it through the Dalzell gorge and I won the race to Nome establishing a new southern route record despite being without a trail for 4 days.

It was with this experience that I find myself on the start line in 06 entered for Nome via the northern route. I had found an inner confidence. Well aware how unique the race is and how the Alaskan winter has the last say I was going to Nome. I would have bet on myself making it. Packing my bike identical to last year, using the same winter gear I had confidence in it felt in a bizarre way like I was setting of from Nome for lap 2. I didn’t feel like I was in an alien environment but rather a place I felt very comfortable in. I was looking forward to some solitude and the vagary of the trail.

Rolling into the first check point at Luce`s I was aware we were in for a cold night. I put an extra pair of socks on as a precaution before leaving. I was later told it was –35 F on the Yentna River that night which surprised me. I made Skwentna by 6 am which I imagined and after sleeping for an hour noticed my toes on my right foot were cold. With warm dry socks and boots and probably some pushing on the trail to come I was sure my feet would warm up. Later that evening at Finger Lake I became aware I had frostbite.

Continuing to Puntilla in denial I arrived to learn there was no easy recognizable trail going over Rainy Pass. I delayed my departure having learned that some bison hunters were snowmobiling up the pass the following morning which would give me a trail to follow. Later that evening a wave of cyclists arrived which included Bill and Kathi Merchant. Bill took one look at my foot and told me Nome was out the question and at the risk of losing toes I could make McGrath. It was what I knew but hearing this from Bill was a crushing blow. I barely slept that night .I thought of friends and family reading I scratched on the race updates. The humiliation, I don’t quit I kept telling myself. Failure was talking to me and I didn’t want to listen. I was surrounded by racers, some I could say were friends from previous years but I hated the company. I was the lame Iditarod dog who was being left behind whilst the rest of the team continued to Nome.

There’s a dignity and accomplishment in reaching the 350 mile finish line in McGrath. Despite this McGrath was a check point for me and my goal was Nome. Realising the impossibility of nursing frostbite on the trail for 3 weeks and a foot that would fit in my boot only with discomfort I waited for a plane whilst I watched the racers head for the pass. What happened over Rainy Pass, the Farewell Burn and the Kuskokwim River will be talked about for years. I wish I had experienced it. Flying high over the frozen tundra I reflected on reaching Nome last year and suddenly it meant so much more to me. I thought of our friends Jasper, John, Peter and Tracy I wouldn’t be seeing this year. I also realised my mistake I had made the first night at Luce`s, putting on 2 pairs of thick expedition capilene socks. I had squeezed my foot in my boots and restricted the circulation. I hadn’t realised my feet were getting cold. Usually I would double up with a thin base layer sock then an expedition weight. Why I had deviated from a tried and proven set up is anyone’s guess but it’s a lesson learned. You never stop learning on the Iditarod Trail its just some mistakes are costly. It’s a trail which gives so many experiences. If you play on it often enough I think it’s given that failure will be one of them.

Iditarod thoughts 2006 by Adam Bartlett

It's taken me a while to go through my photos and write this up. All I remember about this year’s Iditarod Trail Invitational is the 20 hours between Puntilla and Rohn. I remember the pass with bits and pieces of memories before and after the pass.

Here’s what happened before the pass.

          At the start we, the racers, had fresh snow. The cyclists pushed across Knik Lake but once we hit the trees everyone was off and pedaling. The trail was good, firm and fun. The trip up river to Luce’s was quick. At Luce’s I ate, put on some warm clothes, and then headed up river. The river felt unusually cold. Even though the drinking tube from my camelback was nestled in my clothes next to my body, it froze solid. This part of my ride was uneventful, but cold. I took a 4 hour detour but lots of folks took wrong turns in this part of the race so it all worked out. It just threw off my early rest cycle a bit.

           The next checkpoint was Skwentna Roadhouse. I got to Skwentna, had breakfast with some snowmachiners, dried my gear, laid down for a little bit and then left as the next group of racers came into the checkpoint.


          Skwentna to Fingerlake was a highway. The Shell Hills rolled away. And the trail from Shell to Finger Lake was hard and fast. Last year I walked this section. It took forever. This year the good trail made me want to ride faster and faster. I don’t think I walked an inch this year. It wasn’t just good it was self perpetuating. Every bit I rode made me want to ride the next bit, every time I went a little faster, it made me want more. It was good. It was fast. I got to Finger Lake Lodge had a great meal, slept and then overslept.

            As I left Finger Lake, headed to the next checkpoint Rainy Pass Lodge at Puntilla Lake. The combination of oversleeping and wasting 4 hours in the beginning of the race started to get me down. I made up as much time as I could by riding hills that I would normally walk. Again the trail rolled away fast and easy. Eventually I realized that in a race like this there are far, far worse things than oversleeping. Was I really upset about getting too much rest? Is it even possible to get too much rest on the Iditarod Trail? I had made a conscious effort to put these thoughts out of my mind. It was a nice day,  sunny and hard trails, so I enjoyed it. I didn’t want to get bogged down in random mental detritus.

              Last year, between Finger Lake and Puntilla, I found a Fig Newton, just lying in the trail. I picked it up, popped it in my mouth and ate it before I could think. What’s a Fig Newton doing lying in the trail?  Am I sure that’s a Fig Newton? The year before  I had found an unopened can of beer and an unopened bottle of Yukon Jack on the side of the trail in the Susitna 100. I thought about that Fig Newton and kept an eye out for other bits of trail food.

I got to Rainy Pass Lodge, took a brief stop, which became progressively less brief after I gave in to the “temptation of the checkpoint”. That is I got chatting with other racers as they came in instead of heading out the door. I left for Rainy Pass at midnight, in a storm.

Here’s what happened on the pass.

         The first bit of the approach to the pass is mindless. All you have to do is follow these huge tripod markers. You can’t miss it. Unless of course, there is cold wind blowing and the trail is drifted in, then anything can happen. The wind picked up and beat me like Ike beat Tina. I couldn’t always see the trail but I knew when I was off it because I would sink up to my thigh, or hips. I spent a good amount of time route finding, wallowing and wandering. The wind got harder and colder. When I stumbled it knocked me down. There was no where to stop. But I felt good, so I didn’t need to stop and I didn’t want to stop. The cold was amazing. In fact the wind didn’t even feel cold it felt hot and would burn any exposed skin like fire.


         During the pass crossing I thought about Bill Bryson. In my first draft of this account I put a long section here about my thoughts. But, I think all that needs to be said is that Bill’s suicide hit me like a punch in the face and I think about him whenever I’m alone and things are quiet, which isn’t often. There were lots of quiet alone times on the pass. In the end, what I took from all this is to always enjoy everything, even if I have to stop and consciously think What is good and fun here? Some people don’t enjoy much and the world has no mercy on these people, it just closes in and crushes them. Here is a web link to an ADN story about Bill, if you are curious about who he was.
http://www.adn.com/news/alaska/story...-7264604c.html

The actual pass went by quickly. I snapped a few pictures and started heading down the back side. I wanted to cover as much ground as I could before I lost the daylight.

        Once I started down I felt a little tired and I relaxed a bit, sort of like I’d just stepped off a roller coaster. Then I came to the spot where an avalanche swallowed Richard Strick on February 14, 2006. The spot is marked with a moderately sized cross made of sticks lashed together with parachute chord. The arms of the cross have Strick’s name and dates written on the bare wood with a sharpie marker. The head of the cross reads “Big Rock Candy Mountain”. There’s a button with a picture of the Rohn Roadhouse in the middle. The cross is on the left edge of the trail. All around are avalanche debris and the obvious signs of a search. It was overwhelming.

         Eventually I made it down to the flat lands and started rolling the last miles toward Rohn. The sunset did its thing and the weather turned dark and cold. Coming into Rohn was relatively uneventful. I dunked my bike, feet and gear in a slushy creek crossing and froze the rear derailleur into my lowest gear. I noticed that the slushy water froze before soaking into my pants or shoes.

          I can’t really describe how special crossing Rainy Pass during a storm in the middle of the night was for me. It was magical. A few years ago when I started doing things like this, with the Soggy Bottom 100, I was describing the experience to some friends. Now these friends are east coast artsy types who “feel” things when they experience art, music or nature. They are good and special friends of mine, but over the years our lives have charted different courses. Back in the day I always had a unique capacity for making jokes during the most serious and serene of moments. I never quite “got it” when everyone else would “feel” stuff. In trying to describe being alone and exhausted in the wilderness to these guys I called the experience a “spiritual jackhammer”. In other words “I get it now” but it took a lot. Being out there alone in extreme conditions makes me take life, myself and my place in the world seriously. It quiets all the noise and lets me think, focus and relax. My mind wanders and thinks big thoughts out there. The kind of thoughts that could either be a gift or a burden if you thought them everyday. In fact if a person was in this mindset every day they would, move to the south of France and paint sunflowers, or move somewhere secluded in New England and write poetry about falling snow or if all else failed they could go hang with my buddies in New York. It’s special out there and it’s magic and I can’t tell you about it because I’m not able to put the words together.

And here’s what happened after the pass.

             After the pass I had done all my deep thinking for the year and I was now able to get back to focusing on making  jokes.
Two bicyclists Pierre Ostor and Rok Kovac came in a few hours behind me despite starting almost 8 hours after I did. I slept good and hard that night.
 Rohn was cold. The next morning I stayed in my bag and waited for it to “warm up” to 18 below before trying to move out. In Rohn I heard about all the racers dropping out, so I rode much more conservatively from there on. I made sure to sleep and eat as much as I needed to keep myself strong and motivated. I also picked up two traveling companions in Pierre and Rok. It was good to have a couple other folks to decompress with at the checkpoints and to chat with from time to time, on the trail.
I spend most of my time training alone, riding the tail alone, camping alone, or just mindlessly riding the trainer in front of the TV (alone). I spend alone time in my cluttered garage, or “man cave” as my wife calls it, looking at tools and fiddling with gear. I think it’s this way for a lot of the racers. This year there were about 40 racers from 10 different countries. I imagine we all had similar experiences preparing for the race, and explaining why this stuff is fun to our friends and families, then POW on February 25 we find ourselves on a trail with 40 other folks who think this sort of fun is a good idea. You just can’t shut us up sometimes. All of us solitary caterpillars turn into social butterflies when the race starts. Racing butterflies.

             Anyway I don’t know what to say about the Farewell Burn. It’s flat, except for the hills and generally open except for the bits in the trees. It’s just there and we all moved through it. I let my mind wander during this stretch then I started thinking about food. After that I got the song “Squeeze me Macaroni” by Mr. Bungle stuck in my head. Then “Egg” by the same band. I was hungry and for better or worse I had hit the “weird food songs” button on my mind’s jukebox.
In Nikolai I had a big dinner a good night’s sleep and a big breakfast, then I pushed my bike the last 50 miles to McGrath. In the last 10 miles I wanted to quit, but I didn’t. It was good.

Submitted by Steve Reifenstuhl 5-8-05


The Iditarod Invitational or Alaska Ultra Sport Race, formerly known as the Iditasport Extreme, begins in Knik, Alaska and follows the Iditarod sled dog trail to McGrath, 350 miles to the northwest across the Alaska Range. Race rules are simple: finish with the gear you start with, food excepted, sign in at checkpoints, no outside help, and no mandatory layovers. Also there is no mandatory gear requirement, but if you go light, know that rescue could be 24 hours away.

The Race Saturday, February 26 I am up at 4 a.m. to catch the 6 a.m. flight from Sitka to Anchorage. The race starts at 2 p.m., which is harsh because I have already been up for ten hours and I know I will not sleep for another 40 hours after the gun goes off. My brother Rocky is racing on a bike and his wife Gail on skis so I try to divert my nervous energy visiting with them. As the time approaches noon I am more than ready to spend my anxious energy on forward motion rather than using my teeth like a mortal and pestle to transform adrenalin into pleasant conversation.

The race is limited to 50 racers for all categories, but only 43 show-up by start time. A race this long doesnÕt begin to separate the wheat from the chaff well into the event, perhaps at 100 or 200 miles, so it amazes me when even professional and experienced racers bolt off the start line as though they will see McGrath some time soon. The way I approach this race is to plan, plan and plan some more. I carefully consider exactly what I need, calculating the margin of error, and then list everything I will take and exactly where it will be carried Š food for 24 hours inside main pocket of fanny pack, food for second 24 hours in green stuff sack inside sled; or wire, tape, & mole skins in small zip pocket on my camel back. I calculate how fast to walk, when to run and approximate arrival time at each checkpoint. I keep all my calculations and thoughts on a computer word document so I can modify as needed. During the final two weeks of preparation I pour over all the details so now at race time I can recite all the minutiae from memory.

As everyone charges off the start line I continue to repeat my mantras of correct pacing, perspiration regulation, hydration intervals and caloric intake. The main thing I need to be cognizant of is how many runners are in front of me, so I count. This way, if I am lucky, I can tick them off as I rein them in over the next 100 miles.

Daylight diminishes to dark near Flathorn Lake (25 miles) and I don my LED headlamp with 125-hour battery operating life. I check in at LuceÕs cabin at 1 a.m., just 11 hours into the race, I feel tried and have trouble eating much. I am pushing a little harder than planned because there is at least one-foot racer ahead and one just behind me with definite plans that donÕt reconcile with mine. At the checkpoints I get a fix on how far ahead the lead runner is, but the position of racers behind me remains a mystery. At Yentna Station (55mile) I decide to stop for a couple of Cokes to see if they will settle my stomach, it is 4 a.m., and I need to get my stomach under control or I will soon be in desperate trouble.

I see Martin Buser at the bar with an empty stool next to him and I ask if I may sit down. I acknowledge Martin, while the bartender makes some snide comments suggesting I am a pesky tourist from Hoboken, New Jersey. Martin, however, is quite interested in what I am doing so I chat with him longer than I should. When I answer Martin's queries he just sits there saying "Wow", and shaking his head. I offer that I am like his dogs, and he shoots back "that is for sure". He continues to shake his head as I leave. As I harness myself to the sled I know Martin Buser is one person who truly understands what this race requires to win.

Daylight is a welcome relief after the long night, but I am still having some difficulty getting food and water down. I am working at a greater deficit than I should and it is going to catch up to me. I force down a handful of salty almonds, perhaps 150 calories, and chase it with some water from my Camelbak. At 10 a.m., ~80 miles, I think I can discern from the tracks a shortening stride of the racer in front of me. This makes me realize that I need to work harder at getting more food and drink down. By noon I am closing in on Skwentna (90 mile) and I spy Tom a _ mile off. As if a switch trips in my brain Š the food, drink, and self-flagellation I have been imbibing finally takes hold. I increase my pace to catch Tom and as I pass he posits that he wasn't able to keep anything down and has pushed too hard.

There is a fine line between one's maximum sustainable effort and the abyss beyond, Tom crossed it and would drop out of the race. I continually listen to my internal feedback and sort the real warning signs from the constant background of pain, fatigue, need for sleep, and hunger. Experience helps, but is no guarantee for staying out of trouble. I have dropped out of one race and had to rest/sleep for 12 hours in another due to crossing that crippling threshold.

Right now though, as I enter Skwentna at 1 p.m., I am feeling a convergence of all the right feedback loops. I have been going for 23 hours, but spend only 2 minutes to transit the checkpoint; I am almost hovering as I depart for Shell Lake, 20 miles away. I am ahead of my game plan, feeling no need for sleep at the moment, and believe I can make it to Finger Lake, 40 miles and 13 hours away without rest. It is sunny, relatively warm and daylight - making it easier to navigate the knot of snow machine tracks radiating from Skwentna. In retrospect the next 10 hours are the most enjoyable of the race because the weather is ideal, the sun is in my face, sleep deprivation has not caught up with me, and I am eating and drinking adequately.

I figure there are at least two racers who have a chance of catching me as I head for the Alaska Range. The current record holder (2003) who I had edged out in 2001 was somewhere behind me but I will not learn where until two days later. I don't want to get caught but I mostly concentrate on maintaining my pace and getting to Finger Lake for my first sleep of the race. As I near a checkpoint I review exactly what I need to accomplish and how much time I will allow for each task Š foot repair, sleep, eating hot food Š even though I am exhausted and it would be easy to slip into a dazed stupor.

It is a dark, starry night as I gain elevation into the foothills of the Alaska Range; traversing snow covered frozen muskegs and weaving in and out of dense spruce coppices. As I exit one of the numerous spruce thickets I am shocked to see a dense green band of light on the horizon far in the distance. The band is thick, and not shimmering like the northern lights, and also I see what I think is the curve of the earth as the band of green light bends away from me, far on the horizon. I have not been hallucinating, that will be tomorrow night, and immediately think Saturn is crashing into the earth. I know this can't be true but it resembles Saturn more than any northern lights I have ever seen. I continue to walk hard, but can't take my eyes off the collision of earth and space. Finally, after a couple of minutes the dense green band begins to shimmer and they take on the appearance of the Aurora. Still the affect of these lights low on the horizon rather than emanating from above is new to me. The northern light show that night and the next are outstanding. If I had a tripod and single-lens reflex camera I would give ten minutes of race time to photograph the scene; I don't but fortunately it will be forever etched in my mind. Such penetrating scenes are a large part of the allure and fascination of this race

Trail conditions are punchy and uneven the final 10 miles into Finger Lake, and walking takes all my concentration to maintain a good pace. At 1:30 a.m. to my relief, I see the dim lights of the checkpoint cabin, so I give a final mental review to how I will use the next 3 hours. I wake up the race official so I can check in; losing these two minutes feels like a set-back but I shake it off and quickly doff my outer clothing, shoes, socks, and hang them up to dry. I fill a plate with beans, rice, chicken breast and garlic bread provided by the Winter Lake Lodge; the warm food is like a potent revitalizing elixir. I know it is imperative that I eat as much as possible while at the checkpoint. Although I am eating on the trail, the input is far below the calories I am expending which I estimate at 400/hour or about 16,000 calories since the start of the race. If lucky, I consume about a third of that amount on the trail, but it is more likely to be only 25%. Proper training allows me to get away with this; my body learns to utilize body fat efficiently. Each pound of fat yields 3,200 calories and by the end of the race I trade approximately 5 pounds of this high calorie energy store for 150 trail miles.

Thirty minutes of eating, drinking, drying and I lie down for two hours of sleep, but I am restless and the noise of bike racers wakes me even though I am exhausted. Two hours passes much too quickly and the wrist watch alarm goes off next to my ear where it is stuffed in my balaclava so there is no chance of oversleeping. I estimate I slept for only one hour of the allotted two, although horizontal rest counts for something. I get up quickly, dress, and eat another plate of food; last, I re-supply stores from my drop bag, one of two drops flown out ahead of time.

I sign out at 4:30 a.m. and begin to work out the stiffness and pain in my legs as I find my way up the trail that leads farther into the heart of the Alaska Range. The trail conditions are terrible; high ridges and narrow troughs laid down by a snow machine sled are frozen hard as rock due to below zero temperatures. These irregularities from the Iditarod Trail's idea of a frozen bundt cake twist and pull at my ankles. Over the next 10 hours my feet get worked so hard that blisters erupt on the sides of my big toes, heels and sides of my feet.

At 2:40 in the afternoon I pull into Puntilla Lake checkpoint (165 mile), 3 hours sooner than I expected; the one-hour sleep back at Finger really helped. Based on the way I am feeling, time of day (4 more hours of light), and desire to not lose any of the precious time I have gained, I make efficient and quick use of the checkpoint. After 20 minutes I am headed for Rainy Pass, 20 miles away. Rohn is the next checkpoint at mile 210, forty miles away.

The trail to Rainy Pass is difficult to follow due to 30 mile per hour head and cross winds that blow snow and cover the snow machine markings. Worse, this large valley is a playground for local snow machine trails that look like the venation of a deciduous leaf. I study my map carefully and check my compass several times to assure myself I am on the correct route; a wrong turn now will be devastating. I will not only loose time but daylight. Added to this, exhaustion is creeping in at the fringes. Finally though, just before dark, the trail I am following arrives at the base of Rainy Pass and I stop worrying.

Hallucinations and sleep deprivation hammer me for the next several hours as I ascend Rainy Pass. One hour of sleep in 56 hours and180 miles of hard racing. I am falling asleep on my feet and my brain is begging me to stop. I have a dialogue with my brain, promising sleep if it will let me get to Rainy Pass first. My racing self loses, I cannot stay awake and I dig a snow hole, get in my insulated jacket, pants and scrunch down in my bivouac bag for two hours of non-sleep. It must have been rest because as I get going at 1 a.m. I tear up the mountain and down into Rohn by 5:30 a.m. I go through the same routine as the previous checkpoint but this time I sleep soundly for two hours. At 8:30 in the morning I am ripping up the trail; knowing I got some meaningful rest is a big psychological boost. It is 10 below zero as I head down a branch of the Kuskokwim River, and I am sensing that breaking the course record is not only feasible but also likely. My reality check is the 140 hard miles that still lie ahead.

The Farewell Burn unfolds for the next 50 miles and is a unique landscape north of the Alaska Range; Denali is visible from here and the massive feature creates a snow shadow, and I drag my sled for several miles across frozen ground without a trace of snow. In the 1950Õs, state officials trans-located bison to this area, and the bison have proliferated. Now hunters come from all over Alaska to get a prize animal. I strain to see one but find only their leavings Š hundreds of grapefruit size, frozen scat. I visualize these dark-brown, dense turds being used for Arctic Bocce, an Italian form of bowling, and chuckle to myself.

Racing during the daylight with some warmth from the sun feels like a gift from God. Everything is easier, sleep deprivation isn't constantly weighing on my eyelids, no headlamp bobbing on my head, and the trail is a cinch to navigate. Hallucinations however are just as bad, day or night. I have a constant conversation going on in my mind, sometimes it is Rocky, with whom I did this very route in 2001, sometimes it is with an unknown person, but in any case I suddenly realize I am conversing as if someone is actually here with me. I tell Rocky dozens of stories, then realize that I couldn't have, but still in my mind it seems like I have. I find myself worrying that I will forget to tell Rocky the story later because my mind on some level believes that I have already told him. The circular thinking continued around and around. Often I see my shadow from the sun and I move left or right because I think I am crowding someone and being rude. Another hallucination that occurs several times is when I turn my head to look left or right and suddenly hear the sound of my sled trailing behind me. Simultaneously I turn further and jump with fright at the sight of it, completely forgetting it has been trailing me for over 200 miles.

Darkness comes too quickly today, day 3, and I need more sleep, so as I near Buffalo Camp (255 mile) at 11:00 p.m., I plan out my checkpoint strategy. I decide to sleep 3 hours and then not sleep again until the finish line. It is optimistic but doable. I think. Unfortunately I can't sleep the full 3 hours but I get a solid two hours and leave a half-hour early at 2:30 a.m. I feel good leaving Buffalo Camp, it is 20 below and I wear my Patagonia puffball jacket to keep the cold at bay. After a half hour on the trail, I slip into a battle with sleep for four hours until daylight rescues me near the Sullivan Creek crossing.

I cruise into Nikolai at 2 in the afternoon and I am feeling good, but my feet are shot. I have blisters on top of blisters and they are spread across the bottoms of my feet. I take my shoes off to dry my socks and take a look at my feet. I don't have any more moleskins of adequate size to put on the massive blisters. Putting my shoes back on makes me sick to my stomach. A stabbing pain rises from my feet and hurts my head, and then it descends back to my feet where it resides and intensifies. I want to scream but the checkpoint host, Nick, might report me as incapable of continuing.

I still have 50 miles to McGrath; the 14 hours it will take seems interminable, but the problem is my feet. The pain is so intense I can barely endure it. It takes me 20 minutes to get up to race pace before the pain synapses fail or maybe my mind just shuts off the torment of neuron referrals. This is a thankful threshold to arrive at and I promise myself I will not stop again, for anything, until I get to the finish line. I don't want to experience this pain threshold again. I keep my promise and in fact increase the pace for the next 15 miles to 4 miles per hour, believing that the faster I get there the sooner I can stop.

As Nikolai disappears behind me I advance toward the abyss and the finish line at the same time; I just keep telling myself I can tell the difference. I eat only when my energy level plummets, a sure sign I need calories. The change is instantaneous when I shovel some cashews in my mouth. My body physiology has changed or at least my involuntary brain-function knows there is something terribly wrong. Even though I am taking in water, my body is miserly with expenditure to defend against dehydration - perspiration, urination, and salivary glands have just about shut down. In fact, it will be a week after the race before my body comes back into a normal water balance.

The edge with which I am dancing is where the mind can make the body perform beyond what is believed to be possible. It is spiritual, it is dreamlike, it penetrates to my core and when I come back from it, I know I was there, and it beckons for months afterward. My emotional state is raw and I know I will sob when I get to the finish line, but I will not let myself cross that threshold now, not until I know it is the absolute finish. Once I allow that emotional state in, it will consume me and I will not be able to get back to the "altered state". At the finish line in McGrath, the physical and the emotional unite in a crescendo of emotion, pain, elation... and the "other" becomes a memory. This unique reality has been reached by the passage of miles, time, physical exertion, psychological strain, and sleep deprivation. It is so close to me, yet a world away.

 

 

 

 

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