Last March marked my fifth return to the Iditarod Trail Invitational. I remember feeling that the start could not have come soon enough.
Last March marked my fifth return to the Iditarod Trail Invitational. I remember feeling that the start could not have come soon enough. The week leading up to the ITI, I had to control my excitement to conserve my energy!
Once again, my sweet and amazing man, JayP helped me get my Salsa Beargrease “Fly-Mingo” all setup and my gear dialed in. The bike with gear and food weighed 45lbs. My clothing choices for that run ended up great. Up top I wore a compression tank, long sleeve thin wool hooded base layer, a wind vest, and arm warmers. For my feet, I chose thin wool socks, a vapor barrier, thick wool socks, 45NRTH Wolfgar boots, and Bergraven gaiters. On my hands, I wore regular, full finger cycling gloves. My extra layers were comprised of a long sleeve jersey, Montbell Alpine Light Parka, rain gear, neoprene socks, buffs, and 45NRTH Sturmfist 5 gloves.
Photo courtesy of Kathi Merchant/Iditarod Trail Invitational...
The pace for that edition of the race was blazing fast to the first checkpoint at Yetna Station, 55 miles in. I felt great and was having a stellar time. I was so pumped to be on the trail and to be riding in Alaska! One of the neat things about the ITI is that even though this was my fifth run, I knew it would be different from years past.
In the past, I have stopped and resupplied at Yetna. The first year JayP and I even slept here, but there was no time for that this time around. My plan was to make it to Skwentna, see how I felt, and decide what to do from there.
When I arrived at Skwentna at mile 90, I thought it would be a good idea to eat some lasagna. Not a good choice! My stomach swelled and hurt, and it felt like I swallowed a watermelon whole. I use to be able to eat any and everything during a long distance race, but my body has changed, and I have to be careful about my food choices. I don’t think I spent an hour there as there were other racers heading out, and I wanted to keep up.
I made it to Checkpoint 3 at Finger Lake. 130 miles in 13 hours and 24 minutes from race start! This was crazy to me and very unexpected. I felt great! Even more unexpected was catching JayP briefly bivvying under the kitchen table. Within minutes JayP was up, although a bit disheveled and getting ready to leave. I debated leaving with him. Even though I knew it would be brief, the thought of riding with my man at this point in the race was exciting. I opted to rest and refuel for what turned into 5 hours knowing that the next section included the Happy Steps and several other taunting hills. However, if I could turn back time, I would have gone on and bivvied on the trail.
The 35-mile trek over to Puntilla/Rainy Pass Lodge was tough. I was alone and there were approximately 15 miles of bike pushing due to soft trail conditions. I don’t think it would have made a difference when this section was done. To me, this was just an 8-hour slog. When I got there, a few other racers were getting ready to leave. I wanted to ride with someone to have company so I gave myself 1.5 hours to dry out, eat, and hydrate. My intention was to catch the racers in front of me. There was only one person in the cabin at the time and no others expected for another 2 hours, so I probably should have slept. Oh well.
Quoted from the ITI website- “The next section from Puntilla over Rainy Pass to Rohn, is potentially the most dangerous. The Pass is subject to the extreme’s of Alaska’s winter storms.”
I left the cabin at 5:45 p.m. This would be my second year heading over solo, and this time would be with less sleep. I wanted it, though - I wanted to catch the racers in front of me. The trail was slow going. I was having trouble clipping in and out of my pedals and falling a lot, alternating between walking and riding. It was somewhere around 11 p.m. when I ran into the Happy River crossing, open and flowing about calf deep. I backtracked a bit to get away from the cold river and broke out my bivy and sleeping bag to put on my neoprene socks and get some rest. Just as I settled in, another racer named Kyle rolled up. I am sure he wished he had a piece of cheese to go with my whine. He offered to wait and cross the river with me. I wrapped up my sleeping kit as quickly as possible, threw my rain pants over my bomber 45NRTH Wolfgar boots and Bergraven gaiters, and went back to the river. We made a deal if one of us fell in we would take care of each other.
Kyle went first and made it safely. I hoisted “Mingo” over my shoulder and went for it. Whew! We both made it to the other side DRY!! Kyle said, “Everything looks good here, so I’m going to carry on.” I tried so hard to keep up with him, but I was too exhausted and watched him pedal off. I pushed on until midnight. It was near the bottom of Rainy Pass where I found a deep snowmobile track off the trail to lay down in. The zippers on my rain pants froze and I could not get them off, so I got in my sleeping bag, boots and all. I slept for a nice hour. My transition was pretty smooth upon waking, and I was back at it.
It was still dark when I reached the top of Rainy Pass, and the wind was blowing and covering up the tracks of those in front of me. I could see the outline of the roofless cabin where we spent the night in 2009. It brought back good memories and I’m sure it always will. As I headed down, I eyed up a few places thinking how nice it would be to sleep. I enjoy this section and have a few great memories here also. The trail twists and turns and winds through the willows, eventually dropping down to the Dalzell Gorge and onto the Tatina River that would lead me over to Rohn.
I was stoked when I arrived in Rohn! I had been on the move for around 14 solo hours. I knew I was going to see the great checkpoint volunteers, and boyeee was I looking forward to those bratwurst! I popped my head in the tent and said “The party is here!” humoring myself. And what did I hear? “Hey Champ, you ready to leave? I’ve been waiting for you.” OMG! It was my man JayP!! My eyes and heart lit up! I had planned on taking a nap, but it was daytime and oddly I wasn’t sleepy. I ate one bratwurst and took one to go. I was finally able to get my rain pants off, packed my resupply, and within two hours, we were off!
It was like I had a new pair of legs, and my spirit was soaring! I definitely rode way faster with my great company and it was a lot more fun. This section to Nikolia is awesome with big rollers and great views. Riding over the Farewell Lakes is a freaky but a beautiful experience unlike any other. Looking down I could see thick cracks and bubbles through the ice. There were times when the trail became off camber frozen overflow, but the 45NRTH Dillinger 4’s stuck like glue! I had to keep checking if I was wearing a super cape they made me feel so RAD!
We arrived Nikolia in 11 hours. 300 miles and 55 hours into the race on only 3 hours of sleep. I may have performed better with more sleep, but this was a reminder that I can do more than I think I can. We were warmly welcomed into the house of the Petruska family, had a hot meal, and I crashed for three hours. It was 2 a.m. when I heard other racers enter. Time to GO!
We got back on the trail and headed to Mancakeville, the finish in McGrath. Riding on the swamps and Kuskokwim River, the temps dropped a bit, and I had to run a few times to warm up my toes. JayP and I switched off leading, which was weird but fun to me; I am so used to riding behind him! This section is beautiful and my energy was high knowing I was going to complete the ITI for my fifth time, and for the second time with my man by my side.
Photo courtesy of Kathi Merchant/Iditarod Trail Invitational...
I couldn’t wait to see Kathi, Tracy, and Peter, and all the finishers, to hear their stories, to sleep, eat, relax, and welcome other finishers. Within two hours of finishing, I was on a snowmobile with Kathi, and doing an interview at the McGrath radio station. A listener called in and asked “Why do you do this?”
My reply “Because I can.”
Interested in someday taking on the challenge of the Iditarod Trail Invitational? We wholeheartedly suggest you make taking part in JayP's Fat Pursuit 200k or 200-mile fatbike ultra a part of your training and preparation regimine. Check out the video below for a taste of that fantastic event. -Kid