Monday, March 02, 2015

2015 Iditarod Trail Invitational, day one

Well, Beat has embarked on his third journey to Nome. We flew into Anchorage late Friday night and had the usual whirlwind 36 hours before the 2015 Iditarod Trail Invitational started at 2 p.m. Sunday. I'm not participating this year, which left me simultaneously relived and disappointed. I cheered for everyone at the start, then prepped my fat bike for a spectator ride out the Iditarod Trail. Trail conditions were so hard-packed and fast that I caught everyone effortlessly, even the indefatigable Dave Johnston. I ended up riding all the way to Flathorn Lake slough — 50 miles round trip — and still returned to the Knik Bar just after dark. 

It was a gorgeous day, and I was on Cloud 9 with this ride. These rolling hills of the Susitna River Valley, and this loosely distributed but tight-knit community of people, have been intricately woven in my life since 2006. Returning to this place is always intensely meaningful for me, as is participating in the "ritual" — even if only on the periphery. I don't have the time right now to write about the experience, but I wanted to post some photos of the race start: 

 Steve Ansell, Tim Hewitt, and Loreen Hewitt digest their final meals at the Knik Bar — officially "Mile 0" of the Iditarod Trail.

 Final preparations at Knik Bar.

350-mile foot racer Jason Buffington is on the right. Last March, he heated up some lasagna for me the minute I arrived in McGrath, and for that I remain grateful.

 Beat and his sled. This year he constructed a carbon pole and custom-machined (by him) titanium joints. Note his husky, Bernie, in the foreground, is along for the ride again this year.

The start of the race was warm (30F) but with a stiff breeze. Beat was prepared. 

Steve is also going for the full distance to Nome this year. Here, he contemplates 1,000 miles.

 Beat chats with Kevin Breitenbach, the defending champion of the McGrath race and holder of the 350-mile bike record.

 Jason Boon. We spent some time with him on the trail last year as well. He's one of four walkers aiming for Nome this year. There are 12 Nome racers in total.

 Dave Johnston, holder of the 350-mile foot record, racing in memory of Rob Kehrer. Rob is an ITI veteran and longtime volunteer who died last summer during the Alaska Wilderness Classic.

Saying goodbye. Note the lack of pretty much anything in Dave's sled.

 Final GPS check before the start.

 Andrea Dubenezic of Fairbanks. She accompanied Beat and me as I wheezed my way through the last 20 miles of the Fat Pursuit 200K in Idaho this past January. She's awesome ... and pretty nervous. First time on the Iditarod Trail. She'll do great.

 And they're off. The journey of a thousand miles begins ...

 Dave Johnston's son, Miles — already being indoctrinated into sled-dragging culture.

 Look at that snowless marsh. Snow cover was slim to non-existent in open areas. The surface of the trail was glare ice with a dusting of about a centimeter of powder. Further down the trail, it was sugar snow with a reasonably solid crust. Trail conditions were frequently treacherous, yet the studded-tire fat bike made riding seem effortless. I try to imagine what this race would be like seven years ago when most everyone had Surly Pugsleys with 65mm rims, and no one had studded tires. Or in the 1990s, when fat bikes did not even exist. But things pretty much don't change for the walkers. One of the many reasons why the softest spot in my heart is reserved for the foot racers.

 Jason Boon, "I'm just getting a few more things dialed in."

 3 Mile Hill, the first of many short but steepish climbs that ripple across the Susitna Valley.

 Fellow spectator Shawn McTaggart trying to catch up to her husband, Tony, and Dave Johnston. Shawn is the only woman besides Loreen Hewitt who has completed the thousand-mile journey to Nome on foot, and she's done it twice.

 Tony and Dave, looking fresh as a daisy at mile six.

 Biker and Mount Susitna.

 Jill loves these wide open spaces. People tell her that this first section of the Iditarod Trail is boring, and she strongly disagrees.

 Dave, still looking fresh as a daisy at mile 22 — three and a half hours after the start. Amazing sled-dragging pace.

 Bye Dave! I'll told him I'd visit after he returned from McGrath and that I'd make sure to bring him a six-pack of Budweiser. "Make it a margarita," he said.

 Snoots is sad because she wants to go to Nome.

 Beat and Steve, both looking great at mile 17. If all goes as well as it can, this will be the last time I see Beat until he arrives in Nome, hopefully under four weeks from now. This is always a tough but satisfying goodbye.

Bye Beat! Have a great trip to Nome. 


  1. Good Luck Jason Boon! We love you!

  2. Great photos of the start, Jill. Thanks for posting. I'm sure you do have lots of mixed emotions about not going the distance. But in the future. . .

  3. Wow I am jealous. Go Beat and Steve!!!

  4. Love the pics and words. Thanks

  5. Great photos, Jill - and welcome "home." The lack of snow over there is nuts!

  6. Wow. Just WOW. Thanks for sharing all this Jill...that last shot of Beat heading away from you on the 1000 miles is a very powerful shot.....I can only try to imagine how that makes you feel. I know how I'd feel if it were my wife...(even IF she were an accomplished outdoorsman like Beat). I'm always amazed by all of's SO far off my list of things to do (ever), quite honestly it's right up there with going to Mars. but I LOVE reading about ya'll! Be safe on your voyage too! Looking forward to pics and details as the month progresses.

  7. " Snoots is sad because she wants to go to Nome." <--This line made me laugh. When do you two leave on your own big adventure?

  8. Awesome, looking forward to following his adventure!

  9. Why skiers are so rare on this race?

    How many hours during the day they average particpant is moving? Do they sleep? What shelters? Can you describe gear list a little?

    1. Wow, that's a lot of questions that all have a lot of answers! As for the skiers, there used to be more but the numbers have declined as low-snow conditions became more common. Skiing doesn't really have the same endurance-racing spectrum as running and biking, and it's less common for skiers to seek out extreme-distance events than runners and bikers.

  10. Great report and awesome adventure.


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