Monday, March 21, 2016

Think mushing to Nome is tough? Try pedaling it

Author(s):    Craig Medred
Staff Date: April 13, 2008  Section: Outdoors
Kathi Hirzinger-Merchant didn't even warrant a mention on Sports Illustrated's silly list of the toughest athletes in sports, but she'd kick your butt any day.
Yeah, I can hear a bunch of you now mumbling, "Who the heck is Kathi Hirzinger-Merchant?"

Kathi -- it's pronounced Kay-tee; she's German -- is a wisp of a former farm girl who came to Alaska from Bavaria around the start of the new millennium, got hooked on adventure and never left.
Now 31, she became the first woman to complete an Iditarod Trail mountain bike race to Nome last month. Though the pitfalls of pedaling a fat-tired bike over 1,000 miles of snowy trail from Knik to the fabled city on the Bering Sea were many, her exploits barely warranted a mention in the popular press.
"Out of sight, out of mind'' is the term that comes to mind.
Kathi is not much of a self promoter. In this regard, she is like a lot of other Alaskans who do way more than they say.
Ask her what she did to train for the ride to Nome, and she'll tell you about a winter spent riding all over the frozen and uninhabited corners of the Susitna River basin and the Talkeetna Mountains where Tiger Woods would likely have frozen his putter off in the minus 40 to minus 50 degree temperatures.
Not to belittle Tiger, who SI declared the toughest athlete in sports. Mentally, golf is a supremely difficult game, no doubt.
Physically, though, it's a different matter.
Iditarod and Yukon Quest champ Lance Mackey -- SI's No. 2 pick -- can certainly make a better claim to true, physical, tough-athlete status than Tiger, though there's no doubt that in any kind of human aerobic competition, Hirzinger-Merchant would hand Mackey his lunch.
Lance had his dogs to help him. Hirzinger-Merchant had only hubby, Bill, who, though he biked north with her, wasn't necessarily all that much help.
Bill and I go back a bit. I remember his first outing on the Iditarod.
An adventurer from the Wind River Range of Wyoming by way of Fairbanks, he skijored the Iditasport race of the 1990s up and over the Alaska Range to McGrath before better judgment kicked in and he realized bikes are easier to maintain than canines.
Bill's first Iditarod trip was notable for the left he took off the trail near Farewell Lake, where the trail starts into the desolate Farewell Burn. Richard Larson, who was providing snowmobile support for the Iditasport that year, found the ski and dog tracks heading off parallel to the spectacular north side of the Alaska Range on an old trail running toward the Federal Aviation Administration's long-abandoned Farewell Station.
There was a discussion about what to do about this. Larson decided he should follow the rest of the Iditaracers down the proper trail, while I tracked Bill.
He and the dogs led me and a snowmachine on a merry little romp for miles before Bill finally decided that the Iditarod Trail really shouldn't be running east and west at this point, it should be running north and south.
So Bill ordered his dogs to "gee'' and went bushwhacking across the Burn, past skeletons of charred trees and over willow brush before, sure enough, reconnecting with the Iditarod Trail
Bill's trail-finding skills have improved since then. Along with skijoring the Iditarod Trail, he has run it, mountain biked it and ridden it on a snowmobile in support of the Iditarod Invitational, heir to the Iditasport.
In fact, he and Kathi took over the organization of that event some years back when Kathi got seriously interested in winter mountain biking. She promptly set the Invitational's female record for mountain biking 300 miles over the Alaska Range to McGrath, with a time just under 5 days, 8 hours.
But that wasn't enough.
Having already driven a snowmobile from Knik to Nome, she decided this year she had to go by mountain bike, so she dragooned Bill into riding once again. Off they went.
It was not easy.
Here is a bit of what race director Dan McDonough posted to the race Web site:
On their approach to Nome, Bill and Kathi faced "immense winds and cold temperatures. At one point, when they were protected from the constant wind, Kathi looked at the temperature and saw minus 30 degrees ... Bill described pushing the bikes at a 45 degree angle to prevent the wind from blowing the bikes away.
"After 25 and a half days Bill was looking forward to having a beer upon his arrival. Instead, when they arrived at 2:58 a.m. they were greeted by one woman on the street who was heading to work.
The only place open for food or drink was a coke machine.
"They celebrated with dehydrated food in Styrofoam coffee cups."
And Sports Illustrated thinks Tiger Woods is tough?
I won't even go into how Alaska mountain-biking phenom Peter Basinger beat the Merchants to Nome in the process of pedaling to another Invitational win, despite battling illness much of the way.
Bill noted Basinger's "finish time was amazing in way less than ideal conditions. ... Pete's time from Shaktoolik to Nome was only 5 hours slower than Iditarod winner Lance Mackey's with his dog team."
As for Kathi's accomplishment, Bill could only observe that "she managed in spite of having to drag a worn-out, old senior citizen behind her."
Worn out? Not quite.
Old? Well, certainly beyond middle-age even by the measure of four-time Iditarod champ Martin Buser's New Age declaration that "50 is the new 30.''
But still tough.
Tough as shoe leather.
Tough enough to trounce any Sports Illustrated writer putting together silly lists of the toughest athletes in sports.
That goes for both of the Merchants, and Basinger, and runner Tim Hewitt, and all the rest who managed to go 1,000 miles under their own power on that infernal trail this year.
Because everyone who has done time on the Iditarod agrees none of us could hold a candle to the toughness of the people who pioneered that route or to the aboriginal people -- arguably the toughest people anywhere ever -- who were traveling the route when history was recorded only in stories told by one generation to the next.
Outdoors editor Craig Medred is an opinion columnist. Find him online at or call 257-4588.
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Copyright (c) 2008, Anchorage Daily News

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

2016 ITI, Alaska's first fat bike expo and the Big Fat Ride in Anchorage Alaska February 26-28,2016

We are celebrating 15 years of the Iditarod Trail Invitational with Alaska's first fat bike expo and the Big Fat Ride, the biggest fattest ride ever. We are offering a fat bike expo at the Egan Center in downtown Anchorage on February 26,27. The Big Fat Ride is for fat bikers of all ages and abilities. We are hoping to set a Guinness World Record. There are an estimated 10,000 fat bikers in Anchroage.
The ITI racers will be in town, we will have guest speakers at the expo and fat bike history display, demo bikes and fat bike rentals as well as guided fat bike tours in Anchorage and the Mat Su Valley.
Alaska is a great fat bike destination!
We have 55 racers on the ITI roster and added 15 racers in the new 130 mile race distance to Winter Lake Lodge.
Come celebrate Alaskan fat bike culture with us in February 2016!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

News articles, racers race reports archive

2013 race stories, race reports & news articles:

Alaska Dispatch by Craig Medred who was on the trail by snowmobile during the event.
Anchorage Daily News
Fairbanks News Miner by Tim Mowry

Cyclists on track to smash Iditarod Trail Invitational record
Feb. 26,2013

Idaho cyclist sets course record in Iditarod Trail Invitational win
Feb. 27,2013

Idaho cyclist pulls away to win Iditarod Invitational: Fairbanks’ Oatley, Breitenbach tie for third place
Feb. 27,2013

Fairbanks riders could break Iditarod Invitational record
Feb. 27,2013 snow meant less walkingMarch 1,2013
Half Past Done by Jill Homer

2012 news articles & race stories:
Great report by runner Beat Jegerlehner Awesome map with sticky notes!
Geoff Roes first runner race report:
Cyclist Louise Kobin's race recap:
Phil Hofstetter's (2nd place) reflections:
interesting thread on the fatbike forum on MTBR with lots of input by race veterans such as Mike Curiak.
Alaska Dispatch articles:
Fairbanks News Miner:
Capitol City Weekly:
Huffington Post by Kirsten Dixon:

2011 news articles & stories
Louise Kobin's 2011 race story
Jay & Tracey Petervary on the Iditarod Blog
Billy Koitzsch video on the Iditarod Insider
Alaska Dispatch by Craig Medred
Anchorage Daily News by Mike Campbell
Fairbansk News Miner by Tim Mowry
Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman by Andrew Wellner
Racer's 2010 write-ups:
2010 PRESS
All the way to Nome, by foot, bike or snowgo March 30, by Craig Medred AK Dispatch
Mark falls in Iditarod Invitational March 22, 2010 by Mike Campbell ADN
New record set in human powered Iditarod March 5, 2010 by Craig Medred AK Dispatch
Anchorage cyclist Basinger wins Iditarod Invitational March 4, 2010 by Mike Campbell ADN
Basinger headed toward finish line March 3, 2010 by Mike Campbell ADN
Human powered Iditarod reaches Rainy Pass March 3,2010 by Craig Medred AK Dispatch
Warm trail punishes Iditarod ultramarathoners March 2,2010 by Craig Medred AK Dispatch
Basinger puts the hurt on Iditarod Invitational field March 2, 2010 by Mike Campbell ADN
Human-powered Iditarodders reach Skwentna March 1,2010 by Craig Medred AK Dispatch
Threesome leads pack at Iditarod Invitational March 1,2010 by Mike Campbell ADN
The call of the wild Feb. 27, 2010 by Craig Medred AK Dispatch
April 2, 2009 Velo News by Robbie Stout
Great 2009 race reports by
Press 2009
Anchorage Daily News
March 15, 2009 by Kevin Klott
March 13, 2009 by Craig Medred
March 10, 2009 by Mike Campbell
March 8, 2009 by Craig Medred and Megan Holland
March 7, 2009 by Craig Medred
March 6, 2009 by Craig Medred
March 5, 2009 by Craig Medred
March 3, 2009 by Craig Medred
March 2, 2009 by Craig Medred
February 27th, 2009 by Mike Campbell
February 23, 2009 by Craig Medred
Fairbanks Newsminer
March 7, 2009 by Matias Saari
March 9, 2009 Herald Sun Australia by Carly Crawford
Press 2008
Anchorage Daily News
New York Times
by Mike Brick includes Video
Nome Nugget
Anchorage Daily News
by Craig Medred
Visitor sets record March 4,2008
Suffering on the trail March 9,2008
Fairbanks Daily News Miner
by Tim Mowry
Jackson Hole News & Guide
Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Press 2007
Anchorage Daily News
Fairbanks Daily News Miner
Rocky Mountain News
APRN Radio KUAC listen to new race record set in a different Iditarod
Radio Praha Interview with Nome winner Jan Kopka 4/25/07
by Louise Kobin
by Barbara Schwarzmann

by Andy Heading 2002
Iditarod Invitational 2002 - Andy Heading and Al Sheldon

Preparing for the '02 Iditarod Trail Invitational - BIKEmagic Features

Monday, November 18, 2013

Looking forward to the upcoming race on February 23 at 2:00 PM Knik Lake.

It has been a while. We have had a very busy summer guiding season in Alaska and Utah this fall, a total of 106 days guiding backpacking, rafting, kayaking in Alaska and mountain biking in Utah. Now is the time to shift our focus to the upcoming race on the Iditarod Trail. The 2014 race roster is stacked with a great field of veterans and very qualifies rookies and the roster has been full since May.
We have a new website thanks to Guy Jennings and Apula Design in South Africa. as well as a new race logo.

The race roster is found here:
2014 race roster
several racers have a link to their blog, check them out.
Canadian RJ Saur film maker is entered in the race. He filmed the race in 2001 "Thin White Line".

A great blog by race veteran and Nome resident with a 2013 race report by Phil Hofstetter.

Another great blogger and race veteran from the UK, Aidan Harding.

A great resource as well by race veteran and 6 time winner Pete Basinger.!stories/c61v

More stories and newspaper articles are found here on our old race page:

Follow us on face book or twitter during the 2014 race!!

Kathi M.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Accepting entries for the 2014 race

We are already receiving a flood of applications from race veterans. Veterans can sign up for the 2014 Iditarod Trail Invitational from April 1-7. New racers can mail or e-mail their application starting April 8.
After we fill the 55 roster with race veterans we will select the most qualified rookies for the 2014 event.
Kathi Merchant

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

August 8th

Our summer is going well in Alaska guiding wilderness trips all over the state. The fireweed is blooming and fall is in the air. Won't be long before we see the first snow flakes fall in Alaska. The 2013 race roster has been full since April with many racers on a waiting list. We are planning to make a few more changes to our website this fall and winter. Anyone with ideas or interest in helping us with a new map  or image gallery is welcome to send us an e-mail or call us.

Hope everyone is having a great summer!

Kathi Merchant