Sunday, December 26, 2010

current conditions along Iditarod Trail

So far there hasn't been a lot of snow. Early December had a lot of rain and warm temps all over the state. Temps have been cold for a while now. The wind has been blowing and the snow has blown away a lot of places. Below is a short report by Invitational volunteer, trail groomer, Rohn& Shell Lake checker Michael Schoder.

" If the race was today it would be the fastest ever between Swentna and Fingerlake. Trail is hard, wide, smooth and not very brushy. There is almost zero snow at Fingerlake, .the wind blew it away. I will be trying to punch up to Puntilla on Wednesdy or Thursday. Trail broke to Happy steps now."
M. Schoder
current conditions along Iditarod Trail

Monday, November 29, 2010

An Iditarod highway

Hello All,

I just read an article by Craig Medred .
It makes me feel like I was just kicked in the belly by a horse and thought I would share it with all of you. I understand the Iditarod trail I first saw in 1998 was a far cry from the one that the first Iditarod mushers faced on stretches of the trail resurrected from decades of little or no use.
What I did see though was an adventure for human powered racers worth preserving that has become a passion for me. I have been on the trail for the last 13 years either as a racer or trail breaker. I have made bad decisions, wrong turns, been disoriented in blizzards and had my ass kicked badly as a trail breaker on Rainy Pass but never once have I felt the need for an "improved" Iditarod Trail.
I have held my ground all these years against the "gentle folk" who would have me change our race to make it more visible, more suited to the average "adventure tourist" and more profitable but I have lost every time I tried to prevent more urbanization of the trail by the powers that be ie: more markings, shelter cabins etc.
In the trail user meetings organized by the BLM and attended by Alaska Ultra Sport, Iditarod, Iron Dog and the Serum Run I am known as an anti-progressive when it comes to sanitizing the Trail and when decisions about improvements are announced they just look at me, smile and say, "I know this won't make you happy Bill but---."

When you compare the measly few thousand dollars our race brings to Alaska to the bone Donlin can toss the state I guess the writing is on the wall.
Hello Iditarod Highway. I am really not looking forward to going to McGrath on a pipeline pad.
Hope you're getting out and having some fun.
Bill M.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Freeing rain from Anchorage to Barrow

Once again one of these warm weather patterns has hit Alaska. All the way from Anchorage to Barrow, there are reports of freezing rain. Roads and sidewalks are a solid sheet of ice. Schools were canceled in Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley. We have seen this before in previous years. I remember 2003. I found the best means of transportation is a bicycle and really good studded tires such as the Nokian studded tire.
This is an article in the ADN today.
Some of our friends in Anchorage and Palmer are finding ways of coping with this fluke of nature.
We hope this crazy weather pattern doesn't last much longer and we return to real winter and great trails.


Monday, October 25, 2010

New winter bike race called Sheep Mountain 150

This December the inaugural winter bike race Sheep Mountain 150 will get underway.
Sponsored by Arctic Cycles the race follows the dog mushing trails of the Sheep Mountain 150 race.
There will also be a shorter 100 mile race.
This will be another qualifying event to enter the Iditarod Trail Invitational race.
The race roster of the Invitational has been full since May, but there are still spots left in these other races to qualify for the 2012 event.

Susitna 100
Arrowhead 135
White Mountains 100 FULL wait list!

Kathi Merchant

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Winter Bike Training School on the Iditarod Trail

Join us for our winter bike training school on the Iditarod Trail. 6 spots left.
Dates: January 29- February 2.

Learn how to ride a snowbike and travel on the Iditarod Trail human powered multi day.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fall in Alaska

Hello All,

The Fall colors here in Chickaloon are at their peak. A sure sign summer has come and gone. I guess the only way to explain what happened to our Alaskan summer is "Time flys when you are having fun!"
Kathi and I have had a great if a bit wet summer guiding season. Our guided trips took us from camping with the big brown bears of Katmai in southwest Alaska to watching the Caribou migration in Gates of the Arctic National Park north of the arctic circle and many places in between. We feel lucky to have Alaska as our playground and our workplace.
Now with cool mornings and a frosting of new snow up high it's time to get ready for what I hope will be a real Alaskan winter. Plenty of snow with a good mix of clear and really cold to set up the trails and keep it interesting. As all the vets know I will be sending out my by now infamous trail reports as soon as the trail grapevine sends them to me. There may be terms like "knee deep river wide overflow", open water and glare ice in the gorge", "they blew the trail up so bad you can hide a volkswagen in the craters" . The conditions reported from The Trail on any given day may or may not exist during the race but you never know. Before all of the "From the Trail" reports begin here is a link to the latest attempt to "urbanize / civilize" The Trail.
Just as every year around this time we begin looking forward to seeing all of you both local and from around the world, old friends and new. We have another good field of competitors for the 2011 race which includes a tough group of trail hardened veterans and a strong field of rookies. February seems a long way off right now but I suspect just like summer that time will fly by and race time will be here before we know it. I will be on the trail this year helping put in the trail over Rainy Pass and through the Dalzel Gorge. I should see most of you somewhere on the trail. Kathi will be race central keeping friends and fans up to date with your progress from a location yet to be decided. She will get to see all of you at the pre race and starting line and hopefully from somewhere on the trail.
As always if any of you have questions don't hesitate to ask.
We hope all of you have a colorful fall and even better winter.
Bill & Kathi

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Graveyard of Dreams-Shattered Hopes and Aspirations on Alaska's Iditarod Trail -new book by Craig Medred

We have finished the first two guided trips here in Alaska and are getting settled into our summer routine. Yesterday I took some relaxation time and read Craig Medred's book "Graveyard of Dreams, Dashed Hopes and Shattered Aspirations Along Alaska's Iditarod Trail". I didn't close the book until I was finished. He did a great job presenting the history, geography, weather and the people that make the Trail what it is to all of us. The story is about the dog race but take away the dogs and it could have been written about all of us who come back year after year to enjoy life in its simplest form eating, drinking, sleeping, moving, facing and hopefully overcome the challenges the Trail throws our way. The book made me want to be back on the trail today! If any of you are interested you can find the book at Palmer Fireside Books or at

Bill Merchant

Saturday, April 24, 2010

2011 race roster

We published the 2011 race roster today. The race is limited to 50 racers.
We also established a waiting list.
2011 roster

Friday, March 19, 2010

2010 Racer's write-ups 2011 Entries

We will start accepting entries for the 2011 race start date Sunday, February 27th, 2011 starting April 1-7, 2010 for race veterans (racers who have finished the race before)
April 8, 2010 for rookies (new racers).

Great race stories by these racers about the 2010 race which just finished.

Dave Pramann cyclist from Minnesota, USA
Sean Grady cyclist from Palmer, Alaska, USA
Louise Kobin, cyclist from California, USA
Glenn Mackie, runner from Texas, USA

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The drop bags made it out on the trail today.

Today was the day to fly the drop bags to Fingerlake and Rohn, as well as our tent, food into Rohn and food into Puntilla.
Bill called me from Willow from where we fly with Denali Flying Service at 3:00 PM that they made it in and out of the checkpoint locations on the trail.
This is great news. We are always sweating this every year if the weather cooperates for flying in the week before the start of the race for flying.
It is still warm out there on the trail, it was 42 F in Willow today.
The Irondog snowmobile race started today in Big Lake.
They go to Nome and then to Fairbanks.
More trail reports when Bill gets back this evening.

Friday, February 19, 2010

trail update February 19th

Hello All,
We just got back from a 5 day winter bike school based out of Flathorn Lake. Trails were a little soft during the day and with the warm temperatures all the normal places were starting to overflow on the lakes and rivers. With temperatures up to 40 degrees and rain in the Susitna valley things are getting a bit soggy. Word from Shell Lake they got 17 inches of fresh wet snow. Olene Petruska said her grandson had been moose hunting from Nikolai to Farewell Lake and that there was not enough snow to see a moose track. There is a fresh burn between Rohn and Egypt Mountain that has left deadfall all over the trail. The Iron Dog has punched a trail around it and back up the Post river . Not sure yet if it will work for us so don't forget to pack your saws.
There is a production crew making a reality show for television about the Perrins boys at Rainy Pass Lodge. They will be there when we go through and ask about filming all of you. I told them they could not bother any of you but if you wanted to be a star I had no problem with it. If you don't want to be bothered do not hesitate to say no thank you. You will have to sign a release to be on TV.
Craig Medred will be reporting from the trail so don't get caught doing anything you don't want someone to read about. He doesn't need a release. He has also said he will pitch in and help with trail breaking chores if needed. Journalist/Trailbreaker are not 2 words you would expect to see together. We are glad to have Craig back on the trail with us.
Phrase of the day, "waterproof to the knees"
More after I fly the drops

Bill Merchant
Race Director

Monday, February 1, 2010

trail update February 1, 2010

Hello All,

In just 4 weeks many of us will be at the starting line for the 9th annual Iditarod Trail Invitational. The trails are hard and fast here around Chickaloon and so it seems everywhere else too.

Michael Schoder sent word that Iron Dog racers have made it to McGrath and said there is very little snow on the Burn.
Kathi has contacted the village schools beyond McGrath and it has been a low snow year so far all the way to Nome with gravel bars showing on the Yukon.
Nick and Olene Petruska have just told me they will be our checkpoint again in Nikolai despite Nick still being weak from his fight with bladder cancer. They have opened their home to us since the race began welcoming trail weary, smelly racers like they are family. Thanks Nick, Olene and Stephanie. It wouldn't be the same without you!

Craig Medred the Outdoors Editor for the Anchorage Daily News for many years is now writing for the Alaska Dispatch. If everything comes together he will be on the Trail covering our race and Iditarod. He will be using a sat phone and data link to Tweet and Peep and whatever else modern journalists and networking buffs do. Craig has written dozens of articles about the race and even helped break trail one year. He should be able to do better than most covering the race from the trail. Craig asked me to pass this on to all of you: "but as a test-run, i'm trying to get to go for full on coverage of the invitational. along those lines, it would help if you all sent the racers an emailing saying we're hoping to cover and Twitter the race from on the course, and if any of them have any contacts at publications or websites -- especially in Europe or Outside -- that would be interested in coverage, send them to".

For the third year Greg Matyas and the gang at Speedway Cycles are hosting a pre race party for all racers. It will be held at Speedway Cycles (Home of the Fatback snow bike) on Friday, February 26th at 6:00 PM.
Thanks Greg for getting everyone together before we hit the trail.

Drops are due at Alaska European B&B by noon on Saturday, February 20th.

The Pre Race meeting will be at 2:00 pm on Saturday, February 27th at the Golden Lion Best Western.

We will begin loading bikes at 10:30 AM and the bus loads for Knik Lake at 11:00 AM at the Golden Lion. Just a reminder GPS trackers such as spot,etc are not allowed in the race. Racers may use Sat phones and or emergency locator beacons as well as gps devices designed for navigation not tracking.
Enjoy your last few training runs, rides, skis.

Bill and Kathi

Friday, January 29, 2010

Trail report by Michael Schoder

"Was out to Shell and did some trail work last weekend. The irondoggers have made it to McGrath. Several teams. Lots of IronDog training going on now. Word is that there is very little snow west of Hells Gate. Burn is pretty much bare.

I went up to near Finger Lake and did grooming and cutting. Just took some nippers, and a drag. Things are really grooving for human power right now. You hardly make a print in the snow on the trail, it is HARD. So things are looking pretty darn good at this point. That is scary as we all know what the weather can do.
But the trail base up to Puntilla and around is good, so that is a good thing."

Monday, January 25, 2010

Willow backcountry winterbike class

The one day winter backcountry snowbike event in Willow this past weekend was a great success. The weather was sunny, but stayed at a chilly zero degrees.We did two rides after the inital interduction to winter biking. Thanks to Billy with Arctic Cycles there were plenty of fattired bikes available. At one time we counted 30 fat wheeled bikes outside the Willow community Center. Thanks to Pat Owens with Vmbah for organising such a great event.

Thanks to the Willow community for the use of their comunity center and WTC for awesome trails!
Everyone had a great smile in this winter wonderland and good winter riding. More pictures here on Facebook

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Riding a frozen river in Alaska

A few days ago Bill, our friend Dan and I rode a frozen river near our cabin.
In the summertime this river is a Class III whitewater stream.
Only in Alaska I thought can you ride a fast flowing river like this one.
You have to pick your time of year when to go on this river and of course you need a snowmachine trail to follow. Just because a snowmachine or severalsnowmachines had been up and down this river doesn't mean it is safe on your bike as well. They move a lot faster even though they are heavier than you on your bike, but we move along much slower.
There were several places of overflow that were still wet and still growing that we had to wade through with our Neos overboots. Neos overboots seem to be the choice of boot for many Alaskan winter cyclist.
They are warm, waterproof and have gaitors attached in case you step into deep snow.

On this river there are sections of trail on a narrow ledge where the river stays open due to the fast current and you ride next to gushing cold water. In other places you have to detour around sections that have caved in since the last snowmachine rode over it.
During the course of the winter the water on rivers drops from underneath the ice and creates hollows under the ice and sometimes parts of the ice cave in.

In one place the route used by snowmachines didn't look good and we saw an ice bridge that a small fox had used. We followed it and it turned out it was a good route.
But we all thought light and it turned out the ice bridge was solid.

In other places the water keeps splashing up against the ice and forms ice chandelliers, they are really pretty.
In some places the river canyon is narrow and there are beautiful ice falls.

In many ways these river rides keep you on your toes, you are constantly trying to pick a safe route, watching splashing cold water run right alongside of your trail and watch fascinating ice formations and animal tracks.
That day we saw fox, river otter, wolf and moose tracks.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Trail report by Michael Schoder

"Friday a friend of mine and I broke trail on our Snowmacines up to where the Irondoggers had been stopped about 1.5 miles short of Finger Lake. We cut some brush and pushed the trail through, then went on to Finger Lake and beyond a ways. Later on Friday Brad Helwig and Eric Qualm (IronDog Team) got part way down the steps to the Happy from where we left it. Yesterday (Jan 2, 2010) Brad and Eric finished the steps, and got a trail on up all the way to Rainy Pass Lodge on Puntilla Lake.

There was some rain a week or so ago, and it has really set up the snow good. There still is a lot of alders, but a big snow will really help. I expect the trail will stay in fine as there are Iron Dog teams, including Eric and Brad that will keep pushing up to Puntilla and beyond in the six weeks left before that start. This is early for a trail in to Puntilla, so that is a good sign.

There is quite a bit of overflow out there tough. Anne Ver Hoef (my wife) ran from our cabin at Shell Lake to Skwentna on Friday (this trail is the best anyone has ever seen due to the work by the Shell Lake trail grooming committee), and hardly left a tennis shoe print in the trail with no real overflow problems. On Saturday, she was running up to Finger, and postholed through our snowmachine trail and soaked her feet in overflow, and ended up turning around and coming back to Shell Lake as it was -10F. Most of the lakes around there have overflow lurking. But the trails are really set well with a base, biking or running is no problem out there now. More snow will come, but the trails have a great base right now."

Great video of the trail to McGrath

I enjoyed Mike Curiak's video presentation of his trip to McGrath.
It is hosted on Vimeo here: video

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Winter Bike Training Camp at Flathorn Lake

Bill and I just returned from our training camp at Flathorn Lake on the Iditarod Trail. The trail from Point McKenzie to the Susitna River and on up the Yentna River were as good as it gets!
We had three great folks that had signed up for our December camp.
We started out on December 27 with temperatures near 30 degrees and finished up with 0 degrees the last night under the full blue moon when our students went to the end of Flathorn Lake to spend their last night out and away from our heated cabin. It was a great time riding the trails all the way up to the Yentna River and testing gear, changing tires and more. I feel that everyone learned a lot and I am confident sending them out on the race trail. All three of them are signed up for the Arrowhead 135 in Minesota Feb. 1 as a prelude to their winter racing.
I posted images from those 5 great days under the full moon over Flathorn Lake here at
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