Into the Wild

You wonder why?

The winners of the 2014 Iditarod Trail Invitational are probably already back home, while others are continuing their adventure heading towards Nome. As in other sports the leaders made it look easy. Not only because they were in great shape but also because they had outstanding conditions, hard snow, no wind and cold temperatures that kept the trail firm and gripping. Now the conditions have changed. Above freezing temperatures brought some rain, and made the trail soft and mushy. The athletes that are still on the trail are the real heroes in my book. They are tired, at their limit, exposed to the elements for a much longer time. We have seen blisters and frostbite. Fatigue, hunger, and thirst.

Still, many athletes have noticed and commented on the beautiful scenery. They also expressed respect for their competitors breaking records left and right this year.

The question remains: Why? What is the motivation for these individuals to enter such a race? For some it is about winning, for others it is about finishing, for some it is an adventure, for some it is a vacation. It was a pleasure to meet these folks, especially the ones that took the time to chat with us or have their picture taken.

Passing through Puntilla Lake

Passing through Puntilla Lake

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Into the Wild

They keep on coming…

Most bikers have gone through Puntilla Lake by now, arriving at night, leaving with the first light in the morning.

Arriving at night

Arriving at night

Leaving in the morning

Leaving in the morning

Now, slowly the runners/walkers are trickling in, which makes Dave Johnston’s pace even more amazing.

2014 Iditarod Trail Invitational Standings

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Into the Wild

And the winner is…

Kevin Breitenbach

Kevin Breitenbach – winner of the 2014 Iditarod Trail Invitational

Kevin Breitenbach was the first to cross the finish line in McGrath covering 350 miles in 2 days 4 hours and 43 minutes. Tim Bernston came in as a close second just 21 minutes behind the leader. Third place went to Alec Petro. The trio was leading the race early on and never looked back.

The winning trio leaving Puntilla Lake

The winning trio leaving Puntilla Lake

Several riders coming into Puntilla Lake commented on the beauty of the place. I wonder how much time the leaders had to admire the scenery. Many riders arrived at Puntilla Lake in the dark, a few left in the middle of the night.

Some riders took the time to sleep over in the warm guide shack: “Life is too short to race”. Breakfast in the morning, waiting for the sun to warm the cold winter air. Beautiful clear skies and vistas were their reward.

Riding Puntilla Lake with a smile.

Riding Puntilla Lake with a smile.

On the Iditarod Trail

On the Iditarod Trail

Another notable event was the arrival of the first walker, Dave Johnson, running about 120 miles in 2 days. He took a nap, gave an interview and headed towards Rainy Pass.

Dave Johnson

Dave Johnston

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Iditarod Trai Invitational
Into the Wild

Iditarod Trail Invitational

After less than 24 hours the first three riders arrived at Puntilla Lake! Tim Bernston, Kevin Breitenbach, and Alec Petro were the first ones to check in and leave Puntilla Lake for Rainy Pass a few hours later. A short rest in our warm guide shack and a hot meal was all they took before heading out again.

Tim Bernston, Kevin Breitenbach, and Alec Petro heading for Rainy Pass

Tim Bernston, Kevin Breitenbach, and Alec Petro heading for Rainy Pass

Pretty amazing sight seeing bicycles in the middle of nowhere. The bikes are snowbikes with big fat tires, and metal studs! Every rider carries some required gear, such as a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, and food. 50 individuals have signed up for this year’s race, the majority riding 350 miles to McGrath. 22 riders attempt to go on to Nome for a total of 1000 miles. They follow the Iditarod trail, which seems to be very fast this year, despite or because of the low snow conditions.

Arriving at Puntilla Lake

Arriving at Puntilla Lake

So far I have seen one single speed, one bike without front brakes, no shocks, some carbon frames… I am not sure how important the gear is. The mindset is certainly crucial. This is not a race for the faint-hearted. Yes, there are food drops, cabins, and checkers along the way. Then again, there are long ours of solitude, exertion, and struggle. I am surprised how little attention these athletes get compared to the Iron Dog snowmobile racers or the Iditarod sled dog mushers.

Eyes on the trail

Eyes on the trail

Oh, I forgot. There are also a handful participants that walk or ski the distance. Looking forward to seeing those athletes to arrive at Puntilla Lake.

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