Here we are again…winter has arrived and around the corner is another opportunity to compete in the Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI).
This will be my seventh year of traveling to the big state of Alaska to wheel my bike down that famous Iditarod Trail. Yep, the same one the dog mushers use. Notice I said ‘wheel my bike’ and not ‘ride my bike’. Pushing the bike is a reality and part of the ITI adventure. Some years you push ‘a little’…some years you push ‘a lot’. With two distances to choose from, this year I will be attempting the full journey to Nome, 1000 miles, for the fourth time. Out of my previous three attempts, Ive made it to Nome twice so far.
Some people…okay, a lot of people, ask why? Why would you attempt to ride your bike across Alaska in the winter? Why would you deal with temperatures and conditions that can go from -40 to +35-degrees F and raining? Why would you push your bike for endless miles for days on end? Why would you do something that risks frostbite or the loss of digits or worse? Why would you suffer when you're not even taking needed medicine to Nome, as the mushers the race honors did so many years ago? Are you crazy?
I sometimes think people who ask “Why?” just don’t understand, but let me take a shot at explaining the insanity!
The basis of these questions are actually what keeps me motivated and on my toes. I wish I heard, “Why, that sounds like an incredible thing to do! Good on ya!” instead, but I don’t. The ITI is a challenge that no other event can reproduce. There is bigger risk in this event than any other that I have participated in. This is a very serious endeavor that can have serious consequences if you do not prepare properly, have the necessary winter survival experience, or if you get lazy with regard to taking care of your bike/body/gear. These challenges excite me! It's an extreme sport of a different sort; one without the immediate rush of adrenaline. It is ten or 20 or 25 days of living and performing on the edge, constantly gauging yourself, your fitness, health, hunger, thirst, psyche, gear, the trail, and your competitors.
I enjoy and embrace the challenge and the journey. Sure, it is a race and I am competitive, but time and placing don't mean a whole lot to me. Sure, it’s a bonus to do well, but I recognize it is also a bonus just to finish some years! You cannot look at and compare times from previous years. One year the 350-mile distance may take three days, another year it may take seven. For me, the competition is not against the competitors, although I love playing that game. The real competition is within myself; against the terrain and weather. Every year is so completely different; it’s NEVER the same, with the biggest wild card being the trail conditions and weather that gets dealt to us.
The event holds a close place in my heart by providing me with challenges that I have not been confronted with anywhere else. Burning a cord of wood in a campfire would not allow enough time to get through all the stories, learning experiences and memories this event has given me. The friends I have made - people in the villages, dog mushers and dogs on the route, other race participants, the race organizers, the people in charge of the checkpoints – these are all people I look forward to meeting again, and hopefully new ones too. I describe these people as ‘my ITI family’. My ITI family don’t ask ‘Why?’ They understand!
The happiness I feel on the Iditarod Trail is unbelievable; words cannot describe the feeling of completing such a journey. Even if I don’t complete the whole course, the experiences that I take away are so real, incredibly satisfying and beneficial to me. After missing last year, I just can’t wait to get back out there come March 1st.
Share this post: Tweet
"I do not train,” Jay Petervary says. “I ride my bike a lot because I love to!" Jay first discovered cycling post-college, but was immediately prepping for a 500km multi-sport event. He’s logged many races in 18 years, everything from cross-country mountain bike to a cross-the-country time trial. Nowadays he rides for adventure, the longer the better.