My dream goal is to one day participate in the Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) in Alaska; the oldest and arguably most challenging winter ultra in the world. The “shortest” race is a 350 mile trek on the famed Iditarod Trail from Knik Lake to the town of McGrath; the longer event stretches all way to Nome. This is the human powered Iditarod where participants must decide before the race to either ski, bike or hike. Depending on the year one mode of travel is favored over another.
In order to be eligible to participate in the ITI applicants must first have finished at least three different qualifying winter ultras. A finish of the Actif Epica 162km would earn me my first qualifier.
My winter ultra-experience has been a mixed bag. I dropped out of my first two winter ultras.
The first was at the Susitna 100 mile in Alaska; a warm winter meant a major course re-route due to the various river crossings, lakes and swamps not being frozen over. Unfortunately the alternate course was a series of out and backs along some very chewed up snow mobile trail with a lot of exposed dirt and rocks and frankly just quite boring and difficult to drag our sleds full of required survival gear through. So my wife Kathy and I decided to stop after 40 miles as this was not the wild Alaskian winter experience we’d expected.
The second was years later at the Arrowhead 135 mile in Minnesota; yet again a warm spell meant soft snow surface that made it difficult to pull our sleds efficiently and to avoid overheating. We decided to stop after 35 miles at the Gateway Store checkpoint. This turned out to be an excellent decision because shortly after we got a ride back to International Falls it dumped almost a foot of wet snow creating a chaos on the course with rescues and drop outs; only a hand full of very experienced foot races finished the race!
However, at my third attempt at a winter ultra, I finally finished! The race was the Tuscobia 80 mile in Wisconsin. While it was not an ITI qualifier (the 160 mile version is) it was a wonderful and challenging experience and did instill in me a lot more self-confidence that I could safely continue doing winter ultras successfully.
So now it was time to finally finish my first ITI qualifier; the Actif Epica 162km!