(Photo: Susitna River, February 2007)
As of 10 p.m. March 1, Mike was crossing onto the Susitna River, about 30 miles from Knik. I'm not sure when he left this afternoon; I'm guessing it was within a few hours after the racers of the Iditarod Trail Invitational started at 2 p.m.
At 2 p.m., the weather in Knik was 25 degrees and overcast. Light snow started to fall later in the afternoon, with about 2 inches expected through the night. Trail conditions where Mike is are variable — relatively fresh but packed snow in wooded areas, with wind-drifted powder out in open areas such as swamps and frozen lakes. This appears to be fairly similar to conditions last year, which means cyclists are working hard in the woods and pushing their bikes through open areas. Riding on top of packed fresh powder is akin to riding through soft mud, while wind-drifted powder is more similar to a giant, infuriating bowl of sugar. You could drive 100 snowmobiles over it, and it is never going to pack down into any kind of useable trail. Meanwhile, the round granules of snow add so much friction to the surface that pushing a 145-pound loaded bicycle through it probably feels like dragging a table through sand. It's mean stuff. And judging by his pace prior to the Susitna River, it seems Mike encountered at least a little sugar on Flathorn Lake and in the Dismal Swamp (which tends to live up to its name, although on clear days it offers fantastic views of Denali and other high peaks in the Alaska Range.)
I imagine Mike will set up his tent tonight somewhere near the banks of the Yentna River and polish off one of his 1,800-calorie dinners. At 10 p.m., weather in Yentna was 23 degrees with light snow, so it should be a comfy night out on the river ice.