Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) is a “human-powered” race across Alaska in winter. The route follows the world’s largest dog sled race Iditarod and by foot, by bike or on skis.“Beginner-distance” is 350 miles (560 km) while the big boys and girls follow the dogs to the door on the 1000 miles (1600 km). There is free route choices as long as you stop at the 6 official checkpoints. The route is not marked and handed out no maps or GPS tracks for the participants. There is also no mandatory equipment as it is up to the individual to assess the degree of risk you are willing to take.
Usually I have always chosen growing challenges but after completing ITI 350 foot last year I wanted to try cycling route instead. Both to try something else and not to be smashed all year for, as was the case last year.
Adam Erritzøe at Lodbjerg lighthouse on the trip to Skagen.
Adam Erritzøe who cycled ITI last year was a great help in finding the right equipment and together we drove any long trips. Among them, the 376 km long ride on the beach from Blåvand to Skagen on the danish westcoast in late June. My primary training was to commute back and forth to work (26 km) as often as possible.
Adam at Thorupstrand on winter trip from Agger to Skagen.
The final preparations was a spontaneous you spend the night on the coldest winter night with biviarkering of minus 15 degrees at Farum Lake and a planned training trip to Norway. But when the temperatures were on the wrong side of zero in Norway the weekend we cycled instead from Agger to Skagen along the beach in the rain.
The flight via Iceland and Seattle went smoothly and my fatbike came out safe and sound. The remaining two days before the start was used to pack the bike, make last-minute (impulse) purchases and to meet with some of the amazing people I had met during the course of last year.
Adam Erritzøe and I at the start of Knik.
The very beginning, from the bar in the town of Knik, is as laid back as it can be. There was kicked little carbon rims and pulks while otherwise was fun talking and thrown hand signs. In contrast to the quiet start walking was however driven cycle race from the start and after 10 minutes they were fast rabbits slipped and there was a big gap behind me. Unlike last year I had now been bartered me a GPS track to follow, so I was comfortable with running my own race.
Cody Johnson headed for Flat Horn Lake
Over the first lake I accompanied local Cody who was actually here with his his wife Amy. But they had agreed to start separately. When we turned down the Susitna River I let Cody drive and rolled alone toward the first depot Yentna at mile 57. There was the sickest tailwind up the river so I just stuck his head in and said hubbub before I rolled on. Reasonable stupid – shortly after whacked me straight into the wall and had to fight my way to the second depot without a shred of energy left.
Checkpoint in Skwentna at mile 90, I reached after 8 hours of driving. A trip that took me 36 hours on foot last year and in 2012 took the fastest 62 hours. Yes situation varies greatly from year to year and were quick this year by bicycle. Got quickly tossed the clothes to dry over the stove and hopped in the bunk with earbuds in. When I woke up by myself 4 hours later I felt fresh again and rolled on through the night with a Coke in the stomach.
Photo: Kyle Durand
After 140 km. flat terrain, mainly on frozen lakes, swamps and rivers are tracked some more entertaining for Skwentna. I had a good start and rolled a few hours later past Shell Lake lodge where some bikes were parked outside. Across the swamp to the Finger Lake overtook I Pole Bartosz as easily befuddled and clearly tired asked for directions while he was shaking his head trying to get his GPS to make sense.
Winter Lake Lodge at Mile 130
Just after dawn, I reached the checkpoint at Winter Lake Lodge at Finger Lake (mile 130) is simultaneously the terminus of the short 130 mile race which was run for the first time in years. 3 participants on the brief were already crossed the finish line. One of them was tough Nina from Norway who said that she had run the last bit with Adam, who was running for a top 10 ranking. The place is a luxury chalet in just the expensive end of the scale where we sweaty cyclists would most graciously allowed to enter through the back door and eat in the kitchen. The breakfast consisted of a large smothered breakfast burrito which was washed down while I went through my dropbag. As you must not import the products in the United States, I had gotten my wife’s cousin Jenni in Virginia to send my 2 drop back to Alaska in time to be added out with skifly. Therefore, I was excited about it all was. But of course it was so.However, it was gone so quickly to come up that I did not need much from the bag and most smoke in the recycling box.
Breakfast in the Finger Lake Checkpoint
After a half hour pitstop he went on the ice, literally. But on the ride of Shirley Lake was suddenly water under the snow on top of the ice. This was a preview of the pieces of open water that waited ahead. But with Berghaus Goretex of boots outside the boots were fortunately never really “exciting” 🙂
The next section was probably the one I had had the greatest fear of home, namely Happy River Steps. A series of mega-steep climbs which commands respect even for experienced sled dogs-people and snowmobile riders.
While I sit and trampling derudad sticks a horse suddenly head forward 20 meters in front of me. It takes a split second before it dawns on me that it’s a moose. Moose each year kills more people in Alaska than bears. Before I have time to think about the idea to the end I ask it nicely on taking action. The spinning and chug back down the trail while it completely shatters the otherwise fine snowmobile tracks. Several times stops the moose up to I gently approaching me until it finally disappears into the deep snow to the side. Later that afternoon was the moose, however, been little more grumpy and reel Spanish Antonio down. Fortunately no other consequences than to his camara took a flight and had to be dug up by løssneen.
The fully loaded bike was heavy to push up the evil hills. It was getting mid-afternoon and I was starting to get fed up. I remembered only too well the stretch last year and how completely knackered I had been when I finally reached ckeckpointet in Puntilla.So far in the basement I would for any price avoid driving myself.
My bivi spot for Happy River Steps. Photo: Jay Cable
So when I I saw an obvious bivi spot under a tree I jumped in the bag a few hours after I had melted the snow and made a good time risotto. Although everyone who stomped past just to tell that it was a great place I had found, I managed to get rested a little.
Again I was recharged when I rolled on and overtook quickly Jill (only woman at 1000 miles distance) and another participant. After nightfall overtook me Leah from Minnesota who was well excited about right that had seen a Wolverine (Wolverine) between the trees. When we arrived at the checkpoint at Rainy Pass Lodge at Puntilla Lake found myself I was right Gallant when I let her get the last available berth. But after his eyes had vendet to the darkness in the little log cabin, it appeared that there was a bed space more over in the corner.
Again I went on the shield with earbuds in and without setting the alarm. When I woke up after 4.5 hours I had a trip to the loo in the back cabin. Probably the last time I go to the toilet in Alaska without a down jacket. Nåååååhh it was cold … It was 2 am and the breakfast consisted of a big lump of instant oatmeal and a can of lukewarm (but surprisingly good) chili con carne directly from the can.
Morning in Ptarmigan Vally. In areas without trees used these “tripods” as landmarks in the terrain and the left on the track throughout the year.
Surprised me a little about the place name – Happy River Crossing … Somewhere there a week later caused many of the participants in the Iditarod (sled race) big problems.
The tour continued up to Rainy Pass was for me a long hike pushed the heavy green pigs of a bicycle. I’d be lying if I said that the ego did not suffer a small crack when two girls came cycling past up the hill, all the while chatting away. Damm it …
Bill Flemming on the way to Rainy Pass
Alaskan snow angel … Bill was here 🙂
It was like while I slowly came over the tree line and was moving up through Ptarmigan Valley. The bike dealer Bill from Anchorage whom I had chatted a bit with the first day came later also rolling over and made a solid face flush with good entertainment value ahead. Short led the top of the pass, I met again Bartosz as easier tumultuous asked the way to the checkpoint in Rohn. The lack of sleep was pronounced.
Bartosz from Poland shortly before the top of the Rainy Pass
The fat goat on top of Rainy Pass
After the obligatory photo with the sign in the passport was up on the horse and full throttle down on the other side. Where last year I had to go down from Rainy Pass with snowshoes in the deep snow, I could now just roll without spending any effort.Sweeeet …
On the “back” of the Alaska Range on the way to Dalzell Gorge
The ride through the infamous Dalzell Gorge went smoothly thanks to the herculean Iditarod’s “trailbreakers” had put up low bridges down through the gorge which last year had been little more than just exciting to pass. Although the play on Tatina river was a lot easier in daylight. Same place was my friend Peter Ripmaster a few days later fortunate to survive a swim with his pulk when the ice broke and he went down into the icy river. More on that drama here …
The next checkpoint was Rob’s Roadhouse in Rohn at mile 200. The place is merely a spot on the map contains a primitive airstrip and a shelter hut built in the 30s as shelter for pilots who are stranded on this side of the Alaska Range. But when Iditarod’s people use the cottage for dog sled race keeps ITI instead of in a tent close by. For the first time along the way is the race’s own people manning the checkpoint and it shows.Service level is top notch and although lying on a pile of snow covered fir branches in a small tent with a stove, so it feels like lavish luxury. While I lay in my sleeping bag and was waited on, I was torn in between taking me time to enjoy the ride and race the last 150 miles to the target in McGrath. The company of my friends in the depot pulled and I wanted to spend the night in Rohn before I continued. But now it is a race, not an all-inclusive cycling tour so shortly before sunset I rolled off again. Before them was the race’s longest stretch between checkpoints. Namely, 120 km to the village of Nikolai.
When I had come on the back of the Alaska Range was not much snow. The mountains ensures that not many snow reaches over on this side. So stretch through the Farewell Burn which is a huge area that burned down in a forest fire in 1978, had virtually no snow. But in return lots of polished ice where it was in force to keep the tongue in your mouth. On the steep way up the Post River Glacier, I was once again grateful that Adam had insisted on putting screws during our bike boots. Without them it would have been really difficult.
Weariness came quickly creeping along with the dark and I was annoyed already not to have spent the night in Rohn. Eventually, I reached a point where I was so tired that decided me to biviarkere RIGHT HERE. But when I jumped off the bike and everything was quiet was the first I heard a few wolves howling nearby. Looked up at the door again and leave. Only 3 hours later and many icy lakes later I found quiet enough to lie down.
I was beginning to cough before Rohn and I knew that it would get worse when I got to lie down, so I lay down to right on a slight slope with bear-spray within reach. The bears sleep usually at this time of year, but the week before the race was spotted bears south of Anchorage because of the mild winter. Furthermore, I gambled on that pepper spray also works on other intrusive animals. Most, however, probably much more afraid of people than vice versa.
As I lay there watching the starry sky through the small opening in my sleeping bag, it dawned on me that it was after midnight and now was my 40th birthday. Better gift I could hardly have given myself.
It was not a cold night. The thermometer showed only -15C but because the shooting had not got something hot to eat before I jumped into the bag I did not sleep particularly well. I was back on the bike when it began to brighten and were soon promoting the trail goes tingle straight through the countryside about 30 km. A bit surreal to see the white trail in the trees disappearing into the horizon far ahead. Now there was fortunately snow again covering the large tufts of grass we had to fight us over the last year.
Sulivan Creek 45 miles from Rohn is the first place to get water on this section and sven though there was not much back to Nikolai I filled both my 3 liter Camelbak and thermos up. Earlier in the trip, I was repeatedly run out between checkpoints as the intensity and the warm temperature had given greater need for fluid. The sun shone from a cloudless sky and the snow was soft and heavy to come through. After passing the abandoned fishing location at Salmon River, I met a local snowmobile or “snow machine” as it is called in these parts. He had been in McGrath day before and be able to report good conditions along the river. He also told that the track was better at night, by providing temperature, which of course gave super good sense.
On the way to Petrushka family house in the village Nikolai
On the Kuskokwim River just before Nikolai came Nick Petrushka meet me on his snowmobile. We welcomed and I forsikerede him that I knew the way to the house where Nick and his family for a number of years has hosted the ITI in the small “native” -village. When I reached the house I was only “races” and I could spread my wet clothes good around the stove. The family wished me a happy birthday (yes they also have facebook in this little corner of the world) and Stephanie made fresh spaghetti to me. I had already decided to run the last 50 miles to the goal of the night when the trail was the hardest, so I had plenty of time to eat and and rest. My cough was obviously much worse from lying down, but at least got the legs a little rest. In the evening arrived Jill Homer (whose boyfriend Beat I went last year and I had met several times).When Cody and Amy had arrived while I was asleep and now rested in the other room, I packed together so Jill could have my bed to lie in.
Church of Nikolai
As Petruskas housing are notoriously hard to find for rookies which is here the first time, just as it may be tricky to get back on the track. But using GPS it was easy and when I could smell “dump” (the city dump where they burn waste) I knew I was on the right track.
There were unusually many animal tracks along the river; Wolf, fox, elk and lynx. I concentrated me to follow cycle tracks which constantly shifted from side to side for the best conditions. It was obvious that there had been soft snow for those who had gone here earlier in the day. The temperature dropped to below -20 degrees and I had for the first time having my Arcteryx puffy jacket on while I cykelde. Above me shone the stars and northern lights waved and beamed across the sky. It was an amazing sight when I stopped and turned off the forehead light for a moment.
Although one of my goals was to run the race with some profits, with the intention of wanting to try their hand at long distances in the years ahead, I was about to be good tender. The cough associated with rattle was not improved. As soon as the track narrow lead into the trees and the snow was loose, I had to and push the bike. Later, out on the river was my toes really cold. Adam’s small thermometer I had borrowed showed -25. I was considering to stop and lie tåvarmere the boots but decided that the best solution was just to go toes warm when they were cold from sitting and spinning around on the pedals. I might well have driven to goal with cold feet but I wanted to take care of myself and take the good decisions throughout.
Finally it turned the little cardboard sign on a wooden stick up out of the river as field leaders that there are now only 10 miles to the finish. When I a few mil later turned to the river, I could see a few head lamps come flying off the back. Shortly after Amy and Cody rolling past with broad smiles and shrouded in condensed ice around their faces.I told them about the tricky left turn at 5.3 miles again, how many have previously run incorrectly and had a longer trip into McGrath. I tried briefly to hang on to them, but got off quickly when I did not have a snowball’s chance in hell of running to the goal at the pace. I ærgerede me, but was simultaneously happy for them to see the end the race that way.
The goal in front of Tracy and Peter Schneiderheizes house in McGrath. Photo: Bob Ostrom
Usually feels known distances shorter but the last piece to Tracy and Peter Schneiderheize’s house in McGrath felt inconceivably long. After 3 days, 17 hours and 18 minutes, I came into the net just before sunrise and was received with applause in front of the house of the many who had already come forward. A huge contrast to last year when I came creeping into the middle of the night without anyone was awake.There were well over 25 people in the house and after a few days alone in the wilderness, it felt like stepping into a zoo. Peter, originally from Berlin, was behind the stove and baked a proper pile of his famous “mancakes” or “eierkuchen” as he calls them.
Unlike last year, I wanted to continue the journey and regretted already that I was not going all the way to Nome. The trip was almost over too soon in relation to the many months of preparation. But given the pneumonia I had been shaved to me and diarrhea that followed was probably fine timing anyway. Jill came a few hours later on his trip to Nome and subsequently made new female record on the 1000 miles.
How was the difference on the trip on foot in relation to the bike?
I thought it would be easier on the bike. It was not. As Adam and I talked about has run far down the road as hard as you yourself make of it. I could definitely have had an easier ride if I had taken it more with peace and paced myself a little better at the start.But it was also great to be able to traverse distances much faster. Down the hills, it was actually really fun to fatbike’n and I felt that the many hours of training gave me good control and profit on even the most technical passages. The biggest difference is probably the fact that it looks a lot more when moving on foot, where you have more time and opportunity to look around. On the bike you are very focused and see only that which is right in front of one. But it is quite sure not my last long bike ride …
Iditarod Trail Invitational 2015
In the short term I’m looking forward to get the running shoes again and run some great races here in the summer. The legs are certainly not as shattered as last year. So it bodes well for the coming season. Next winter I will try to go skiing, to Nome on the Iditarod Trail Invitational, which is not popularized before. Only 16 people have no side completed the 1,000 miles on foot. No one has not previously completed ITI on foot, bicycle and skiing. But my motivation is not to be the first, but to experience the adventure of the long trip, visiting the remote villages along the Yukon River and on the coast at Berring Strait and to experience nature, people who live here and not least dogsled race at close team.
After the race, I was out and experience the start of the Iditarod which was a great experience. Not least to meet and chat a bit with one of them inspires me most namely Lars Monsen from Norway who drove his first race in Alaska.
Equipment for the ride
Canyon Dude fatbike with 45North Dillinger 4 “8 studded tires.
2 X CEP Ultralight shirt
POC wind west
Camelbak 3 liter military version
Aclima Anarjohka Crew neck shirt
Aclima Anarjohka Long underpants
OR Trailbreaker Pants
OR Trailbreaker Jacket
Atcteryx RHO Balaclava
Aclima Lightwool beanie
Aclima Head Over
Aclima Anarjohka headband
Fleece balaclava with face mask
Aclima liner socks
Aclima Anarjohka socks
Lake winter bike boots with skrews in the outsole
Berghaus GTX of boots
Behind the handlebars …
OR Power Stretch gloves
Ortovox Wool mitts
Hestra GTX mitts
Revelate poggies (mounted on the bike)
Spare clothing (in saddlebag):
CEP Ultralight shirt
Spare Aclima socks
Aclima Anarjohka Warmwool shorts
Solomon Soul Quest GTX Jacket (never in use)
Salomon Soul Quest GTX pants (never in use)
POC Octal helmet
2 X Gemini Duo headtorch + batteries
45North Merino cycling cap
Gear on bike:
Spare headlamp – Petzl Myo
Garmin gps GPSmap62 incl. the track
Energizer AA Lithium batteries X 10
Suunto Ambit 2 Sapphire
In apparel pockets:
Handwarmers (never in use)
Canon S100 camara
Sudocreme (it freezes) (never in use)
iPod shuffle with headphones
One saving headlamp battery (never in use)
Revelate M framebag
Esbit Alcohol stove with MSR Titanium pot
Food (in various places):
Bacon jerky, freezedried meals, Reese peanutbuttercups, Almond butter, Rawbite etc.
Atcteryx Atom Puffy pants
Arcteryx Nuclair Puffy jacket
Barfly behind Downunderbag
2 spare tubes
Repairkit including gear drop
Spare headlamp + spare batteries
Revelate Harness on BarYaks
Exped Endura dryback
Exped Waterbloc 1400 Sleepingbag
Exped Synmat5 sleepingpad
Exped Down booties
Exped Typhhon 25 waterproof backpack
Nathan stobe light
First aid and hygiene kit
Firestarterkit including matches (never in use)