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The Iditarod Trail Invitational is the world's longest human powered winter ultra-marathon. The race begins in Knik, Alaska and follows the Iditarod Trail to McGrath, Alaska for the finish of the three hundred fifty mile "short race". Racers competing in the one thousand mile version will continue up the trail to Nome, Alaska.

The only support provided to the racers is three snowmachines in front of the leaders as far as McGrath insuring a broken trail once and seven checkpoints where food and lodging are available. We supply three food drops along the route:
Fingerlake (mile 130) Rohn (mile 210) and in Cripple(even numbered years) or Iditarod ( odd numbered years) for the Nome racers. Between checkpoints racers have each other. Racers continuing to Nome are completely on their own except for one food drop provided by the race between McGrath and Ruby/Shageluk.
They use village stores or send packages to the village post offices to re-supply with food and fuel for their stoves. Schools are often the only place to spend the night inside a building along the route to Nome.

CP 1 Yentna Station

After leaving Knik the race route is completely off the road system. The trail leaves Knik and traverses frozen swamps and lakes to the Susitna River. Turning right onto the river we follow the Susitna to it's confluence with the Yentna River. Turning left up the Yentna racers soon reach the first checkpoint fiftyseven miles into the race at Yentna Station. Some racers in the past have made the mistake of turning right up a slough shortly after getting on the Yentna. Stay on the main river until you arrive at Yentnta Station.

CP 2 Skwentna Roadhouse

The trail continues up the Yentna River past the confluence with the Skwentna River before turning left off the river and arriving at the second checkpoint, Skwentna Roadhouse approximately ninety miles from the start.

 

CP 3 Fingerlake Winterlake Lodge

The trail leaves Skwentna and heads into the foot hills of the Alaska Range. At about one hundred thirty miles racers reach the third checkpoint Winterlake Lodge on Finger Lake. Here they can re-supply from their drop bags flown in by the race organization with a small plane on skis.

CP 4 Rainy Pass Lodge

Beyond Finger Lake the true wilderness begins as racers continue climbing higher into the Alaska Range over what some feel is the most challenging section of the trail. After thirty five miles of steep climbs and drops you arrive at Rainy Pass Lodge the checkpoint on Puntilla Lake.

CP 5 Rohn Cabin

If the route from Finger lake to Puntilla Lake is the most challenging the next section from Puntilla over Rainy Pass to Rohn is potentially the most dangerous. The Pass is subject to the extremes of Alaska's winter storms. New or blowing snow can cover the trail making route finding difficult and gale force winds can drop visibility to zero and the wind chill off the charts. Avalanche danger can be high through the pass and each racer must determine for themselves if they should continue, scratch or wait until conditions stabilize. Rohn is just a spot on the map with a Bureau of Land Management public use cabin and an airstrip for small ski planes. The cabin is occupied by Iditarod Sled Dog Race workers during our race and we set up a tent camp for racers. If the weather has been bad over Rainy Pass the tent camp feels like the Hilton to weary racers with two hundred miles of trail behind them.

 

The trail leaves Rohn, crosses the South Fork of the Kuskokwim River and up into the Farewell Hills. On this section racers may have to yield the right of way to a herd of woodland bison which were introduced years ago and have thrived and multiplied. Dropping out of the Alaska Range you find yourself crossing the Farewell Burn the site of a large forest fire that burned over a million acres leaving a stark landscape that has inspired a variety of hallucinations in sleep deprived racers. On this side of the Alaska Range racers have entered the interior climate zone and typically the coldest section of the trail. As a racer I have seen temperatures drop below minus forty on the trail from Rohn all the way to McGrath.

marker to bear creek cabin

bear creek shelter cabin bear creek shelter cabin

The bear creek BLM shelter cabin is the only shelter racers can find between Rohn and Nikolai. The cabin is about 50 miles beyond Rohn and the turn off the main trail is well marked. The cabin is about one mile off the main trail.

CP 7 Nikolai

Forty two miles from Bison Camp you arrive in the Athabascan village of Nikolai and our checkpoint is the home of Nick and Olene Petruska. After a good meal and the warmth of the Petruska's home competitors leave Nikolai on the final stretch to the finish of the three hundred fifty mile race to McGrath.

CP 8 McGrath

This section of trail crosses miles of frozen swamps travels down the Kuskokwim River then goes overland the last few miles into McGrath to the finish line at the home of Peter and Tracy Schneiderheinze. Finishers are greeted with a bear hug from Peter a warm welcome from Tracy and enough food to kill most normal folks but if you were normal you wouldn't have just finished a human powered race through three hundred fifty miles of Alaskan winter wilderness so eat hearty and enjoy!!

On to Nome

For the Nome racers McGrath is just another checkpoint and veterans know better than to stay too long or their bodies will go into recovery mode and make hitting the trail again extremely difficult. Leaving McGrath they will soon be in Takotna only twenty miles away but after that the nearly two hundred miles to the next village of Ruby is the longest uninhabited stretch of the trail. From Ruby you begin the long trip down the Yukon River past the villages of Galena and Nulato to Kaltag. From Kaltag it is overland on a trail known locally as the portage to the coast at Unalakleet. From Unalakleet racers will travel up the coast from village to village. They will cross thirty miles of sea ice and more than likely experience the fierceness of a coastal storm or two before arriving in Nome, Alaska eleven hundred very tough miles from the starting line.

There are no material prizes for winning or finishing these races and the personal rewards of finishing three hundred fifty or eleven hundred miles of the Iditarod Trail human powered can only be truly appreciated by those who have "been there and done that." We believe there is something to be said for living life in its simplest form when all that really matters is eating, drinking and the ability to take the next step..

                                  Racer's Quotes

Carl Hutchings , 1100 mile winner 2005 on bike
 "Riding the sea ice was what captured my imagination."

Wilco van den Akker, foot racer 2005
 "Alaska is the most beautiful place I have ever seen."

Mike Curiak, 1100 mile record holder on bike
"For the challenge, the isolation and raw beauty that you get to  experience. "     

"I have been looking for years for the hardest bike race I could find. After finishing this one, I was convinced that this was the most difficult sporting event in the world."

 " I see it as a pilgrimage , an opportunity to find some clarity by substituting the hardships of life on the trail for the trivialities of daily existence."

Bill Merchant, 6 time finisher 350 mile
"We go into the Alaskan backcountry to look for cracks in ourselves. We go back a year later to see if we  have done anything about them."

Elliott McAllister, bike competitor 2005
"I think part of it is seeing everyone again. The friends you meet on the trail are friends for life."

Tim Hewitt, two time finisher 1100 mile on foot
"It's the toughest race in the world."

Craig Medred, Anchorage Daily News
"Forget the Eco challenge, the X-Games, the Raid Gauloise and the rest. They pale in comparison to this race. Those races are merely dangerous, this one is potentially deadly."

Allan Tilling, competitor on bike 2004
"I'm not sure if anything else exists that provides such a challenge and the opportunity to meet such a great bunch of people."

Julian Crabtree, competitor on foot 2003
"I was incredibly sad to finally have the end in sight. Part of me, a huge part wanted to turn around and head back into the wilderness."

 

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