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Races That Can Hurt:
Fat Bikes in Alaska

By Adam Marsal

Do you love snow, extreme sports and cycling? Apply for the Iditarod Trail Invitational and ride a fat bike across Alaska. You would be hard pressed to find a tougher challenge on a bike.

The inspiration for this race is the Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race, which since 1973 sends competitors on a trail between Seward City and Nome along the Bering Sea coast. One of the stops on the trail is now an abandoned gold rush settlement, Iditarod, which means “a distant place” in native Athabaska. There is no support from the organizers and lost contestants have little chance of surviving. That is why the Iditarod is the last great race where it is more important to survive than to win.

Video: Youtube/frankzetankcycle

In 1983, several categories were added to the dog sleds and now contestants can walk, ski or ride a fat bike, a specialized mountain bike with fat tires that will not sink into the snow.At the end of every February, fifty contestants from around the world are invited. The first timers are only allowed to take the 350-mile long trail while old hands can race on the trail that is 1000 miles long.

Everybody must pass the checkpoints and the trail between them varies according to their decisions. They pedal, walk and push according to the terrain while carrying food, drinks, portable stoves, sleeping bags, clothes, GPS navigation and other things necessary for survival. Warm sleeves on the handlebars are a big advantage as well. Riders can resupply at the checkpoints and sometimes the provisions are even dropped by plane.

Most participants want to quit at a certain point. Hallucinations from fatigue and the cold cause loneliness and hunger strain on the mental and physical reserves of all riders. The temperatures drop below thirty or even forty degrees Celsius at times and the wind is even worse. Nonetheless,the cold helps with crossing lakes and rivers. A few years ago an early spring thaw caused the race to be quickly cancelled before the contestants had any chance of drowning.

Riders should be able to handle even the most extreme situations. That is why the organizers themselves choose the riders and even so, most of them find the conditions much worse than they expected. Anyone interested in joining?

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Photos: iditarodtrailinvitational.com