I had been to Alaska before, but never in the winter. Odd weather conditions have been the theme this season. A shift in the jet stream brought arctic conditions to my Minnesota home at the 45th parallel, and spring-like conditions to the area around Anchorage at 61 degrees north. Their early winter snowpack melted in the warm weather and later froze, resulting in hard-packed, icy trail conditions for this year's Susitna 100 race.. I was glad I had studded Dillingers on my Mukluk.
Race day started out in spectacular fashion. While driving to the start at Happy Trails Kennel in Big Lake, I noticed an unusual sight, at least for a lower 48er. The nearly full moon was setting at the same time as the sun was rising, on the same side of the sky. No wonder; I was way up north.
As has become common in winter endurance racing, the field was comprised of skiers, runners, and fat bikers. At the start the bikers took off at breakneck speed with the skiers and runners following closely behind. The cool light of the rising sun on the racers and distant mountains was a beautiful sight. I lost several finishing places trying to get a good photo.
The initial wide-open trail through frozen marshland turned into narrow roller coaster hills through pristine forests. Apparently the local moose population enjoys these cleared paths as much as we do. Large holes made by their hoof prints dotted the trails, making for a bumpy ride.
After many miles we wound our way over to the Susitna River valley, with great views of Mt. Susitna and other peaks in the background. The low angle of the northern sunlight bathed the peaks in a hue of perpetual twilight.
As we made our way upstream along the river valley we passed many remote wilderness cabins. These are accessible via snowmobile in the winter and float plane in the warmer months. The occupants seemed to enjoy our presence and cheered us on enthusiastically. After many miles of river rambling we were back on narrow snowmobile trails through the woods, with frozen swampland here and there. The racecourse meandered through many different types of terrain. There was always an interesting change of scenery at every corner.
Eventually, after a big 100-mile loop, we found ourselves back at the kennel where we started. Finishing racers were greeted with a hero’s welcome. You can’t beat that.
This was a well-organized and friendly event. The post race party felt like a family reunion. Many thanks to race directors Kim and Erin Kittredge, and of course their army of helpful volunteers. It was great fun and I hope to be back someday.
ABOUT THE GUEST BLOGGER
Mark Seaburg is an experienced fatbike racer and former mountaineer. He is a physican and lives in Minnesota. He was 21st overall in this year's Susitna 100 with a finish time of 12:04.
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