Into the Wild

The First Man to Walk the Iditarod Trail

This is a great story by the man, who walked the Iditarod first. Oh, there are a few hardy souls these days that walk parts of the Iditarod  to McGrath, even fewer go on all the way to Nome. This year’s Invitational was especially challenging with temps around -40, Fahrenheit or Celsius, your pick.

Last Frontier Magazine

Denis between Iditarod mushers Joe Runyan and Doug Swingley.

Denis Douglas made it to the Yukon River (Ruby) two days before Iditarod front runners, Joe Runyan and Doug Swingley.

Booty Road – The First to Walk the Iditarod Trail

by Denis Douglas


The sun got hotter as I walked, and sweat rolled down my back soaking my shirt… No. I must be hallucinating again. Actually it’s about 40 below zero and I’m trudging down the Yukon River with a twenty-mile-an-hour wind blowing in my face. Such was my first walk from Knik to Nome.

Let me back up a little here. Two years earlier I was asked by a hunter to fly from Anchorage into the Farewell area just on the far side of Rainy Pass. The man was from Texas and had drawn a permit for a buffalo during the spring hunt. He shot a cow at about twenty yards and soon we had the animal field dressed…

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Into the Wild

In their own way

Today, Peter Ripmaster, the last runner in the Iditarod Trail Invitational left Puntilla Lake with blisters on his feet. In obvious pain, but otherwise in good spirits.

Robert Loveman spent the night at Rainy Pass Lodge with four Siberian Huskies on his way to Nome. He is not participating in the Iditarod race allowing him to set his own pace and playing by his own rules. He is mushing a small dog team, which he supports by being on skis. This year’s icy trail conditions may support his ambitious goal.

Robert Loveman and his Siberian Huskies

Robert Loveman and his Siberian Huskies

Good luck to both of you.

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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

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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