Pulling the trigger

Date: Oct. 22
Mileage: 25.9
October mileage: 477.0
Temperature upon departure: 42
Rainfall: 0.49"

I entered the 2008 Iditarod Invitational.

I was hoping to wait until the end of the year to do so, after my bad knee had at least two months of cold-weather training behind it. But this race is becoming irritatingly popular, and a nearly full roster forced my hand. It's a big commitment ... securing a lot of time off work, sending in the entry fee. Backing out now would be like giving up on Everest. Backing out now would only happen in an unforeseen emergency, or if I decide I am truly incapable of attempting this race. It's a big commitment.

Geoff recently entered the race, too, so we are in it together. He entered the "foot" division as a runner. I entered the "bike" race. We're both likely in for a lot of walking, but at least I'll have the option of riding a big-wheeled bicycle when the going is good. But Geoff, as crazy fast as he is, will still probably finish the race before I do.

As far as I can tell, there are no other women entered in the bike-to-McGrath division, yet. A couple are slated to ride to Nome. No woman has ever taken a bicycle the entire distance to Nome during the race, so this could be a historic year. In my opinion, the 1,100-mile race to Nome is probably the hardest competitive mountain biking event in North America, if not the world. I do not think the Great Divide Race would be harder, even though it covers more than twice the distance. The natures and challenges of these routes are so different, though, that they're hard to compare. Either way, I'm rooting for these women, even if they beat me to McGrath.

The race to McGrath is 350 miles of fairly well-traveled Iditarod Trail. But because it is two weeks before the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, it's possible the trail won't be broken yet, or will be blown over from recent storms. In 350 miles, it crosses no roads. It's true wilderness. Route-finding is a skill I need to work on as much as I can this winter. Cold-weather survival knowledge also is crucial. Because I won't have many chances to test my gear in below-zero temperatures, I'm going to have to rely on learning as much as I can about it. I also have to learn all I can about the symptoms of frostbite, hypothermia, and how to avoid and treat them. The reason I am reading so many books about dog mushing and winter mountaineering is because these people experienced some of the conditions I might experience. I retain anecdotal knowledge much better than I retain textbook ramblings.

The race itself is a bit of a vacation, with (very) rustic lodge stays, warm meals and a couple of food drops. Adventure travel at its finest. I'm really looking forward to it, with an edge of unhealthy obsession that is quickly pushing into the forefront of my thoughts and dreams. I may never sleep again. But it will be fun to approach the winter with an goal that's both ridiculous and overwhelming, and see if I can whittle it down to something manageable. It's not unlike the leap I took in 2006 with the Susitna 100. The Iditarod Invitational race director, Bill Merchant, has been quoted many times for saying this, but it's fitting:

"We go into the Alaska backcountry to find cracks in ourselves. We go back a year later to see if we've done anything about them."


  1. Go Jill!

    Now don't over train! Remember to have fun!

  2. I'll be rooting for you Jill. I know you can do it. You have an incredible will to push yourself beyond what most humans can do. Bet you never thought you'd hear that said about you. But face it, it's true.

  3. ahhhh!!! so cool!! good luck!!!

  4. You know we'll be glued to the computer constantly looking for updates!

  5. I suppose you know this brand, but in any case...


  6. Holy crap, that sounds epic! And really cool. Definitely a worth goal!

  7. You know we're all behind you Jill. Good luck to you and Geoff out there.

  8. You know, the next time I hear Sean Penn going off about his movie and how... (and I quote) "There are few people in Alaska who have done anything comparable to what Chris did."
    ... I'm going to point him to your web site to remind him what a frickin' Cheechako he is.

    You and Geoff are the real deal.

  9. Hi Jill,

    I just wanted to say that I really enjoy your photos and stories. I don't suppose I could pursuade you to move your site over to Terapad? We have just created some free cycling templates and your site would look great using them. Plus you could sell prints of your photos in the shop that comes with it...Just an idea. Keep up the interesting blog.

  10. And you thought your sleeping bag was too extreme.

  11. Congratulations Jill! I'll be rooting for you and Geoff too...

  12. oh... i love your Bill Merchant quote at the bottom of your post - i had never heard it before. I might just have to borrow it.

  13. That IS a memorable quote by Bill Merchant. You're right about being a cyclist and needing/wanting a winter goal. Now, you definitely have something large and great for which to look forward. I, for one, will enjoy reading about your experience, as well as seeing pictures, when all is said and done. Best wishes.

  14. Jill...
    "In 350 miles, it crosses no roads." i find that to be a fascinating perspective .... enjoy that space, Jill.... Enjoy getting ready for that space! Enjoy all of it!

  15. I thought somebody would say this before now, but YOU ARE TOTALLY NUTS!

  16. Lisa Cannon10:22 PM

    Congrats on getting invited to such an exclusive, yet insane race. You started with the susitna 100 and I was sure you were crazy, but then that wasn't enough so you are doing the Iditarod-350 miles of insane-ness. Next thing we know, you and Jeff will be doing the absolutely psychotic 1100 mile race, though I hope you come to your senses (unlike some of the other people on that roster). Even though you are crazy, I am so proud of you! Take care of yourself and make sure you are well trained and educated for the Alaskan wilderness. I love you!

  17. PS Sorry I was typing so fast I meant Geoff instead of Jeff. Tell him I'm sorry! Love you too Geoff!

  18. Jill (and Geoff),
    I am VERY EXCITED for you:)
    I know you have been thinking about this race and to enter is the first step into another great achievement in your life!!!!! Whatever the outcome will be, and I know it will be a great one, you guys will have biked and ran on your path of dreams.

  19. you may be nuts, but your my favorite rock star, so what sound bite will you need for this.

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  21. Have fun! You seem to be living like someone who never wants to look back and say "What if..." Good for you. We need more people who live that way.


    Jason Crane
    "Nothing To Lose But Our Chains!"

  22. Wow! Can't wait to read ALL about it! You go, girl!

  23. I'll be here nearly every day reading about your experience. It's totally cool you've chosen this challenge to test yourself. You have my every confidence.


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