Saturday, March 25, 2006

Congratulations, Wilco

Date: March 24
Mileage: 31.3
March mileage: 247.2
Temperature upon departure: 34
On the iPod: "Waiting for Something" ~ Sense Field

This is Wilco van den Akker, and he's someone you've never heard of. Google his name, and all you'll see is references to a site called Sleepmonsters and a bunch of stuff supposedly in Dutch. But don't be fooled by his obscurity. This guy is one hardcore adventure racer.

This morning, Wilco won the 1,110-mile Iditarod Invitational march to Nome in something just shy of 27 days. He's one of only two people who attempted to finish the race past the 350-mile mark, after nearly two dozen dropped out. He's spent nearly a month hiking through this godforsaken Alaska wilderness, watching dogsledder after dogsledder go by - and seeing few other signs of civilization. When he finally arrived in Nome, at 12:04 this morning, the only people there to greet him were two local police officers - who were probably more concerned about the motivations of this punch-drunk, frozen stranger stumbling into town in the middle of the night than they were interested in greeting the man who quietly won the "other" race to Nome.

I continue to be amazed just how little attention this race receives, even locally, when this has got to be one of the toughest - if not the toughest ultramarathon in the world. In the modern world, we like our races bigger, badder, faster, longer. We like to watch athletes push the extreme until there's nowhere to go but over the edge. These guys have reached the edge. It really doesn't get a whole lot harder. So why the disinterest? A local columnist made a good point about it recently:

"And we, who sleep in warm beds almost every night, think the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is a spectacular challenge," Craig Medred wrote in the Anchorage Daily News. "That would make the Invitational a truly unbelievable event. Maybe that's why it gets so little attention."

So I just wanted to give a shout out to Wilco, even though he's a runner in a race I wanted to see go to the cyclists. But all the cyclists quit. And Wilco didn't. That's saying something.

Speaking of laboring in obscurity, I also want to encourage anyone who has a soft spot in their heart for acoustic punk rock to check out Hamell on Trial. I interviewed this guy today and he's hilarious. Imagine what would happen if the Dead Milkmen sold their bitchin Camero and tried to raise a toddler (a child who happens to feel righteous indignation against the current administration) - and you have Mr. Hamell. His show should be hours of fun.