The 2009 Iditarod Trail Invitational is underway and things appear to be progressing as well as can be expected. For those of you unfamiliar with this event, it is actually two races. The first event is the 1100-mile Iditarod sled dog race which should be familiar to most of us. The second event is the 350-mile bike/ski/walk race formerly known as the Iditasport. Participants can choose either to bike, ski or walk the 350 miles from Anchorage(well, Knik) to McGrath. The length of this event used to be about 170 miles, but I guess you couldn't lose enough fingers and toes in that distance so it was doubled.
There are 24 bicyclists, all riding mountain bikes because they really aren't totally crazy, with about 40 pounds of survival gear. There are three skiers, I believe that are required to tow a sled or carry a backpack with survival gear as well and 17 walkers who are carrying a backpack with survival gear. Why the emphasis on survival gear? Did I mention that Anchorage (well, Knik) and McGrath are in Alaska? Did you forget that this is winter? With 40-50 miles between checkpoints there is a very real potential of getting stuck in a blizzard or benighted when the incredible cold causes your gear (pick a piece of gear, any gear) to fail.
Anyway, I am following the 350-mile event as two of my friends Lou Kobin and Eric Warkentin are participating and doing rather well at this point. Jeff Oatley is way out in front, I believe he is part caribou, but unlike sitting in the pack and getting a free ride during a bike race, there is no drafting and no free rides out in the frozen Alaskan wilderness. That means that all the competitors are busting their humps and repeating the mantra 'never again, never again.'
ps - in a year of winter competition firsts for the USA, Steven Holcomb piloted a Geoff Bodine designed sled to America's first ever gold medal in the 4-man bobsled at the World Championships. For those of you good old boys, yes, Geoff Bodine is the same guy who drives and owns a NASCAR team. A NASCAR link to bobsledding? Now that's cool runnings.