Today is the start of the Alaska Ultra Sport and for the past 5 years I have been lined up with varying goals, on my bike. First year to McGrath, second year I made it bout 600 miles trying to get to Nome, third year I traveled with Tracey to McGrath, fourth year to Nome with Tracey and the fifth year to Nome.This year I am not lined up, so to help with my jealousy of not being there, the depression that will set in, and just flat out missing such a great adventure I will reminisce here often till the first rider reaches Nome. Sharing my experiences, offering tips to get through such terrain, talking a bit about gear and give a sideline/inside view of what is currently taking place on the trail. This will help me cope with such withdraw, till next year.
We have heard "the hardest part is getting to the starting line" and when it comes to an event like this and it's location the saying is not more fitting. A few things come to mind in making it to the start. Remember this is coming from a bikers view and experiences.
Time - The time commitment is huge. The event alone, depending on if your doing 350 to McGrath or 1100 miles to Nome will take all your vacation time. At an average of 5 racing days to get to McGrath (can easily be 7) and 20 days to get to Nome (can easily be 25) throw in some travel prep days before hand as well as a few on the back end and your pretty much talking about your typical 2 week American vacation and you will need to plan at least a month off of work to get to Nome. This is only the actual race. What about the training and prep time it takes to make sure one is ready to travel in -30* temperatures day in and day out while being self-contained in some very remote terrain? Are you ready to take care of yourself in case of an emergency, like falling waist deep into overflow? Some have been preparing for years! All the late nights fiddling with gear, researching on the web, traveling to ride on snow or to a cold environment, testing each and every piece of gear in similar conditions, the list goes on and on. Even as a veteran who thinks he has it figured out, I will spend all winter leading up to this day with the event on my mind daily, still doing the things I did the first year when I knew nothing. This takes away from all other life focus's , family, work and friends. Don't forget about the post race pleasure's. My first year I came home and was in a daze, hands and feet numb for weeks, literally. I have personally felt a bit more at ease this year and have reaped some of the other take away's that I have repeatedly put off cause of my addiction for such an adventure. Warning: It becomes infectious.
$$ - Yes, this can become a fairly expensive journey, especially for the first timer who does not already live in a cold/snowy place. There is a fair amount of gear one must have and then to know how to use it. An inexpensive fat bike is 2 grand, a -20* sleeping bag is $600, the clothing/jackets, the bags/racks to attach the gear to your bike, GPS, stove, and the list can can go on and on depending on your comfort and experience. Depending on where you live, getting to AK can be a costly expense. There are several lodges and villages along the trail one will pass through or stop at where food/services are available but at a high cost. The hotel and food costs before and after the event. The flight back to Anchorage when and if you do make it to one of the finishes. We won't even go into what it can cost if you have to quit early or got in a bad situation. The race entry itself, is very expensive, and I will keep the rest of this opinion to myself...The time away from work is money lost, I know for me if I am not working I am not getting paid. Even as a budget minded individual it is not cheap.
Commitment - After committing to the time and money there is the real commitment of what it is going to take to finish. This is not an event you can go to half ready or decide it is not for you 2 days into a week long expedition. This means your preperation, training, and mental fortitude have to all be there 100%, this is the commitment!
It helps greatly if you are truly passionate about such an endeavor and are not doing it just to do it, or to say "yea, me too". The most successful people I see out there truly do love it and are smiling (most every picture of Tracey shows nothing but teeth). Yes, we have tough challenging times but we do enjoy it and I understand to some that it may not seem that way. With that I will say, the worst day on the Iditarod Trail is better then any day at work.
Those are just 3 things that I see very important to make it to this day, the start, and also reasons I have opted out this year even with having a free entry!
Here are a few pics getting to the start and the first ~90 miles to Skwentna Roadhouse.
|preparing mail drops for the villages on the way to Nome, as you are on your own when you continue the journey from McGrath|
|Knik Bar, the start of the race. A smoke filled, missing teeth type of place that takes care of us with plenty of fries, burgers and pops before we hit the trail.|
|Making way on the frozen swamps before the Susitna River and then onto the Yentna River where the first 2 checkpoints are.|
|Yentna Station, first checkpoint, ~60 miles. Most front runners will make this a quick in-n-out.|
|Some of the best sunsets and sunrises will be had.|
I look forward to the days ahead, reminiscing...