This would be my 5th return to the Iditarod Trail Invitational. The start could not come soon enough. The week leading up to the ITI, I had to control my excitement and conserve my energy!
Once again my sweet, amazing man, JayP helped me get Fly-Mingo, my Salsa Beargrease, setup and gear dialed in. bike/gear/food, total weight-45lbs. I was stoked I nailed my clothing choice: compression tank, l/s thin wool hooded base layer, wind vest, arm warmers, thin wool sock, vapor barrier, thick wool sock, 45NRTH Wolfgar boots, Bergraven gaiters, regular full finger cycling gloves (extra layers) l/s jersey, Montbell Alpine Light Parka, rain gear, neoprene socks, buffs, sturmfist 5 gloves.
Photo courtesy of Kathi Merchant/Iditarod Trail Invitational
The pace was blazing fast to the first checkpoint, Yetna Station, which is at mile 55. 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, even though this was my 5th return, I knew it would be different from years past. Photo Courtesy of Angie Glover
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. My plan was to make it to Skwentna, see how I felt and decide what to do from there.
When I arrived Skwentna, mile 90, I thought it would be a good idea to eat some lasagna, NOT! my stomach swelled and hurt, 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 CP3, Finger Lake, mile 130 in 13 hours and 24 mins from race start! this was crazy and very unexpected. Even more unexpected was catching JayP briefly biving under the kitchen table and how good I felt! Within minutes JayP was up, 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 5hrs, knowing that the next section, which included the Happy Steps, along with several other taunting hills awaited. However, if I could turn back time, I would have gone on and bivied on the trail.
The 35 mile trek over to Puntilla/Rainy Pass Lodge was tough. I was alone, there was approximately 15 miles of bike pushing due to a soft trail. I don’t think it would have made a difference when this section was done, to me, it was an 8 hour slog. When I got there, a few other racers, were getting ready to leave. I wanted to ride with someone, have company, so I gave myself 1.5 hours to dry out, eat, hydrate and no sleep. 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, I should have slept-ugh.
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 5:45pm. This would be my second year heading over solo, this time with less sleep. I wanted it, 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 11pm when I ran into the Happy River crossing, open, flowing water about calf deep. I backtrack a bit to get away from the cold river, broke out my bivy and sleeping bag to put on my neoprene socks, with the intention of sleeping. Just as I settled in, another racer Kyle rolled up. I am sure he wished he had a piece of cheese to go with my whine. He offered to wait for me and cross the river together. 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 “well everything looks good here, 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 nice for an 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, the wind was blowing, covering up the tracks of those in front of me. I could see the outline of the roofless cabin we spent the night in, in 2009, which brought back memories, I think it always will. As I headed down, I was thinking how nice it would be to sleep, and was eyeing up a few places, wholly willpower. I really enjoy this section (and have a few great memories here also) The trail twist and turns and winds through the willows eventually dropping down to the Dalzell gorge onto the Tatina River which leads over to Rohn.
I was stoked when I arrived in Rohn, I had been on the move for around 14 solo hrs. I knew I was going to see the great CP 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 lite 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 2 hrs we were off!
It was like I had a new pair of legs, my spirit was soaring! I definitely rode way faster with my great company & it was way more fun. This section to Nikolia is fun to me 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, and the 45NRTH Dilly 4’s stuck like glue! I had to keep checking if I was wearing a super cape they were so RAD!
We arrived Nikolia in 11 hours. 300 miles, 55 hours into the race with 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 3 hours. It was 2 a.m. when I heard other racers enter the house, it was time to GO!
Back on the trail and headed to Mancakeville! The finish in McGrath. Riding on the swamps and Kuskokwim River the temps dropped a bit, 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 use to riding behind Jay. This section is beautiful and my energy was high, knowing I was going to complete the ITI for my 5th time, and this 2nd time with my man by my side.
Photo courtesy of Kathi Merchant/Iditarod Trail Invitational
I couldn’t wait to see everyone! Kathi, Tracy & Peter, all the finishers, to hear their stories, to sleep, eat, relax, welcome other finishers. Within 2 hours of finishing, I was on a snowmobile with Kathi, and interviewing at the McGrath radio station. A listener called in and asked “why do you do this?” My reply “because I can.”