Sunday, March 15, 2015

Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI).

Wow...It's almost been two weeks since I've finished the 2015 Iditaraod Trail Invitational (ITI).  I'm still playing catch up both at work and home, but I'm seeing the light...almost there!  It truly is hard for me to justly describe this race and the experiences it provided.  It really is one of those events you need to experience to "understand" it...if that makes sense.  

I wasn't 100% sure what to expect of the start or of myself.  On the hour long bus ride out to the start at Knik Bar I decided I would follow the leaders as long as I could and reassess as needed.

 At Knik Bar we grabbed some food and soda before the start at 2:00 pm.  They can still smoke in Alaskan bars...interesting!  Check out the bear on the back wall!

 At the start the riders head to a road that is much faster than the Iditarod Trail.  We are only required to go to each checkpoint.  How we get there does not matter.

The race start was pretty mellow and controlled.  Eventually we would hit a gravel road and then pavement.  Once on pavement the pace started to move up but nothing crazy.  What was crazy was a bunch of fat bikes, all with studded tires, riding on pavement.  Such a nice hum.  The group eventually thinned to about 7 (maybe 8) riders.  The road turned into trail which eventually dumped us on to Flathorn Lake then the Susitna River.  Because of the relative lack of snow, previous warm up, and eventual cool down the going, for the most part, was blazing fast!

Studded tires helped! 

Almost to the first check point (Yentna Station, about 57 miles in) some small attacks were made and the group of 7 split into two groups.  At Yentna Station everyone was in and out quickly.  I just filled up a small thermos I had with cold water and was back out, chasing JayP and Kevin.  I was joined by the other riders and we fell into our own pace.  Kevin would rejoin us with a dislocated finger.  He pushed on without a complaint to a second place finish...stud!  We would roll into the second checkpoint (Skwentna) almost all together, mile 90ish.  Everyone would sit down here and eat some food...the group of seven were all here.  JayP upstairs catching some Z's as he was heading to Nome (1000 mile race) and the remaining 6 of us sat around a table and ate.
Charly was the first to leave in about 20-30 minutes time.  Eventually John Logar and Andrew Kulmatiski would ready themselves to leave.  I was anticipating a bit of a longer stop so wasn't too sure what to do.  I opted to head out as I knew the other two were much faster than me.  John, Andrew, and I would (for the most part) ride together to the third checkpoint at Finger Lake and our first drop bag.  We would sometime ride apart but would always seem to come back together.  John Lackey would pass us like we were standing was ridiculous how fast he went past us!  Kevin too would eventually over come us as well.  Now Charly, Kevin, and John were ahead of us.  I'm not sure on the time but we arrived but it was early morning.
I got busy drying out some clothing by the furnace and figuring out what I needed from my drop bag.  Thus fat it had been a pretty warm race.  We did see -10 coming into this checkpoint, but that would be the coldest.  I only used one hand warmer the entire race.  I left all my warmers behind and a lot of food.  I put my head on the table a bit but decided I wanted to push on as others were gearing up to leave as well.  I do believe it was 4:30 am.

 This is inside the cabin where I attempted to get some sleep for the first time since the race started.  I believe it was around 9:30 am.  John Lackey, Kevin, and Charly were already laying down.  Andrew had already left.  JayP would arrive shortly as well as John Logar.  

My attempt at sleep failed.  I was behind the other riders and they started to stir by the time I started to lay down.  Plus as other riders came in (JayP and John) I heard them drying out, making soup, etc.  Plus the caretaker of the place came in wanting to talk about everything.  Guessing it's been awhile since a new face was there!  As the others started to leave I made the decision to head out too.  Rainy Pass was the next section and I wanted to do that in the day light if at all possible.  I had a can of soup and geared up for the next push.  I was the last of our group to head out, I believe around 11:30 or so.

Rainy Pass started off easy enough but would become wind blown in sections that gave me wicked trouble.  I was getting pretty damn frustrated I wasn't able to ride through these section.  Being sleep deprived only exasperated this I'm sure.  I did take some comfort when I would see other foot prints.  I soon came upon Charly who was having crazy saddle sores, preventing him from sitting.  Riding most of this section standing was all but impossible...thus he walked a lot.  I would pass him but soon he caught back up and we rode the rest of Rainy Pass together.  I was stoked to have someone to ride with and someone as cheery as Charly!  Good times for sure. 
 Heading to the Pass.

 Yep, we dealt with open water.  

 I did this a lot adding to my frustration.  It was hard to get mad when Charly would be laughing.  It was pretty damn funny.  Any step or tire off the trail and down you would go.

 Glamour shot at the top.

 The pretty fun, but sketchy descent.  

 The last section before our last drop bag and checkpoint 5, Rohn.

Charly and I made it to Rohn, a heated tent, just around the time the sun was setting. About mile 200. We made the pass in daylight!  Immediately I was handed a brat with a toasted good!  Once again I got to work divvying out my drop bag.  Dumping all the warmers, etc.  I stocked up on more food this time as the next push was a big one.  Inside the tent JayP was already down sleeping.  They had half the tent covered in spruce branches.  Charly and I would lay down too.  The mistake I made was not getting my sleeping bag out.  I put on my puffy jacket and hoped that was enough.  I'm pretty sure I slept but not sure on how much, not enough.  Charly was wheezing from asthma, the lantern was whistling, and the volunteers were in and out.  Next thing I knew Jeff and Heather showed up and JayP was heading out.  Time to go I guess.  I was slow to ready as Charly wasn't sure he wanted to head out and I was a bit nervous navigating the next section by myself.  
The closer I got ready to going Charly opted to leave too and we were heading out of Rohn sometime around 12:30 am.  I still can't believe we spent almost 6 hours there and I got such little sleep.  I learned a lot at this stop.  As we were leaving Jeff Oatley noticed how out of it I was and told me there were a lot of good spots to bivy in the next section.

The next push to Nikolai was a bit over 80 miles.  This wind was now really blowing, some of the strongest I've ever been in.  Luckily it was at our back, for the most parts.  About 4 hours in I had enough.  I was so sleep deprived I was making stupid mistakes and having trouble not hitting things with my bike.  Despite Charly giving me his Red Bull (that he carried for 200 miles) I decided to pull off the trail and sleep, it was around 4:30 am.  Charly pushed on.

 Before I stopped I thought I had a flat and pumped it up some.

As soon as I layed down I was out and slept AWESOMELY...thanks for the idea Jeff!  I woke with 2.5 hours of sleep and the darkness breaking away to daylight!

 Glad I slept as this what we had to deal with.  Super tough to navigate and hard on the body.
Because I'm missing my ACL's I opted to walk a lot of them.

The trail eventually became flat and the tussocks became less.  Thus the rest of the way into Nikolai went by a bit faster.  Having daylight helps.

I was worried about finding the checkpoint in the village but they had signs out and it was pretty easy to find.  There I had some spaghetti, cookies, and water.  Charly was laying down but came out and sat with me.  He was in some pretty serious pain having pedaled most of the way from Puntilla Lake standing up!  I was tired but wanted to take advantage of the daylight.  There was only 50 miles left...I was ready to push on and be done.  I either got there or left there around 3:30.  I'm guessing I spent about an hour or so.

The last 50 miles were mostly flat.  A lot of those miles were river miles.  The first 10 miles flew by.  But as the sun started to set I felt like I was dragging.  I stopped to put in my music and turn on my headlamp.  The music help.  I kept looking back to see if I could see headlamps.  I figured Jeff and Heather would be coming up soon.
Coming into McGrath we pop out onto a road.  Nothing felt so smooth and fast...It was awesome!  I finished sometime around 10:00 pm on Tuesday.  The race took me 2 days 8 hours with about 4 hours of sleep.  Charly, Jeff, and Heather came in 9 minutes later.  They were closing in on me!  I was 5th among the 350 milers and 6th overall with JayP (a Nome rider) coming in before me.

 At McGrath we were treated like kings.  Never ending food and the famous ManCakes.

The crew I spent a lot of time with at McGrath.
Left to Right: Joe Stiller, Charly Tri, Toni Lund, and me.

Loved, loved this race.  I thought It would be a one and done but really hope to go back someday.  Next year is too soon as it is a huge expensive both financially and time wise...but worth it.
The biggest thing I learned is I need to get more sleep and bivying is ok.  I think if I would have gotten a bit more sleep I would have been better off.

Pictures taken by Charly Tri.  Check out his blog and write up.
Here's a link to the Iditarod Trail Invitational web page if interested.  Thanks to Kathi and Bill for a great adventure.

Someday...I will be back!


Kurt said...

WOW! Thanks for the recap of your adventure, The Amazing Ben Doom!

John said...

Thanks for the write up Ben. You are a rock star! And I agree that Rohn is an awesome checkpoint, but not a great place to sleep.