Monday, December 3, 2007


In 1996 I got a bug to go do this low-key and not-often heard about race called the Iditabike. No one I knew had ever heard of it, done it, nor knew of anyone that had done it. The totality of my knowledge of it came from a three-sentence blurb in a magazine, where I learned that it was run in February on a chunk of the Iditarod Trail. In hindsight, the lack of info could have been what was so intriguing about this race. Where I lived at the time (Crested Butte), there was no 'internet' available and researching anything meant asking lots of questions then heading down to the local library. With respect to the Iditabike, that approach netted me precisely zero information.

So I had no idea what to expect, very, very limited budget (well, no budget at all, really) and figured that my single speed would be as good a bike as any. I became obsessed with planning for this race, mostly because the harder I looked the more I came up empty for info. Paranoid! One winter night about a month before the race I had dinner with a few riding friends. After dinner we adjourned to their 'bike room' where I spied a fascinating set of wide bike rims hanging from the ceiling. Snowcats! We finagled some sort of a trade, I relaced them with my SS hubs and fresh spokes, and then 'trained' on them for another few weeks before flying north for my first adult-sized step into total immersion learning.

Leaving the start and intensely relieved to be moving.

Up to about mile 50 things were going well--I felt great on the bike, the day was gorgeous, and I could often see the 5th and 4th place racers just ahead. The track deteriorated over the next few miles, leaving us no choice but to walk and posthole along. About 60 miles in I tore my MCL and meniscus thanks to a careless step into a hole left by a moose (I was running to get warm at the time), then hobbled another ~20 miles before realizing I was off-course, borderline hypothermic, and pretty damn scared. In my infinite wisdom, I decided this was a great time to test out my never-before-used sleeping bag!

I shivered uncontrollably for a few hours in my bag before realizing things weren't going to get better, and it was still 6+ hours til sunrise. Got up, packed up, and started hobbling back down the trail. My torn up knee had tightened considerably while I 'slept', so I flagged down a snowmachine (that was out looking for me...) and took a ride *back* to the next checkpoint: In my lostness I had taken a different trail that cut north of it... Stubborn and stupid, I took a few hours' break, refused to accept my knee woes, then shuffled/stumbled (knee was too stiff and weak to pedal) the remaining ~30 miles back to the finish.

With hindsight it is SOOO easy to see all of the mistakes I made, not just in action during the race, but in judgement and assumptions made leading up to that point. It took a few more races with my steep learning curve to come to the conclusion that a bad race was infinitely more valuable (from a learning perspective) than a race won. And a few more races still until I understood that the process of making mistakes, learning from them, then getting back out to make more mistakes was a lifestyle in itself, and the races were merely a far flung goal to work towards.
Cantina ad published after that race.

I've never lost sight of that--it's the learning process that matters most, and the results will always take care of themselves.



  1. 5, 2007 at 3:07 PM

    Oh my god - THAT was you? Me and Fred Bull were chasing down the "pesky singlespeeder", I think we caught you going into the first check.

    Then I remember getting to the cabin at the back of the course and it all getting rather warm, and the trek back to Hartley Beach(?) getting rather slow.

    Me and Fred got 6th in the end.

  2. Brant--Funny that you remember so much detail about that race. Being my first time in AK, most of the ~24 hours I spent on-course are indelibly etched in my mind. I remember going a wee bit too hard for sustainability out to Flathorn, then ratcheting back into an all-day pace from there to Eaglesong. I remember very well chasing you and Fred towards Hartley Beach until I folded my knee the wrong way. Then I rode for a bit of the way down the Yentna with Mike Madden before it became obvious I was in sad shape and getting worse, and he was soft-pedaling waiting for me. I told him to catch you guys (and I think he did?) for both of us, and off he went.

    Shortly thereafter, I made a wrong turn off the Big Su and earned my place in Idita-history as 'one of them': the distinguished few that follow a side trail off-course. C'est la vie.

    Any plans to head back to AK for more 'sploring?



    P.S. I also remember finding a roll of film along the trail to Hartley Beach. No one claimed it at the banquet, so I took it home and developed it. All were shots of the two Euro's that schooled everyone and set the course record that still stands. Some of the shots led one to believe that they were getting hand-ups from the snowmachine driver too. Plus ca change...

  3. in the advert pic does the discription say Big Lake? as a kid my Dad & I used to snowmachine there. lots of good times at the Call of the Wild and doing 100mph on a snowmachine. lots of fun for a 12 year old!

  4. Hello Mike!

    I hope all is well in CO. If you're in Detroit for the holidays and want to ride, let me know.

    "The totality of my knowledge of it came from a three-sentence blurb in a magazine"

    Was that the VeloNews article on endurance racing? That article made me sign up for my first Leadville in '96.

  5. I don't remember 24hrs on course as I wasn't out there that long.
    The section from Big Su to Eaglesong rocked - I remember almost bermed corners, and Fred was buzzing off a "pocket rocket" caffeine gell. Very funny.

    My 2 trips to AK were funded by the magazines I was working for/editing at the time - now it would have to come out of my own (or on-ones) pocket, so that, along with my 4 children and work means I won't be over for a while I'd have thought.

    I still have dreams of coming back one day though, and it'd be a great excuse to make a new frame, which I always did.

    Mike didn't quite catch us - I'd ridden with him a lot the year before when the race went up to Skwentna and back - but me and Fred were silently overtaken by another racer coming across Big Lake. Just went past, never said a word. We were still happy with the joint 7th place that would get us, so we sat up and calmed down and let this guy ride off.

    Anyhow - this guy was obviously suffering and kept turning around to look where we were. "He can see us because of our lights" said Fred. "So let's turn them off" I said... and next time he turned around, saw nothing, he stopped for a toilet break!

    We put the hammer down and passed him - he wasn't happy :-)

  6. >I don't remember 24hrs on course as I wasn't out there that long.

    Clearly I missed a smiley off the end of there :-)