ITI 2014: Start - McGrath

Consistent with my tradition of ITI, I flew in to Anchorage and stayed with Mike and Dave.  I left Nome in a flurry of work mindedness that was hard to let go, even in Anchorage.  Sarah and the kids flew to Ariozona while I tried hard to get in a race mode. I mean I was riding to Nome! I was concerned that my preoccupation with work made me lose focus. I was not as nervous as I should be for a Nome ride.

Living in Nome I don't have access to local outdoor or bike
stores and I waited till pre race to purchase way too many new gear (without trialing) at REI and of course pre race bike tuning at speedway.  Normally, this is a huge bonus but I was determined to switch to a 1xsetup which speedway accomodated in true pro fashion.  While I like the simplicity of the setup I knew nothing on gearing and didn't train with a 1x .... thus made a poor decision with a 32 front ring on a 1x10.   This essentially removed any kind of granny gear and my knees suffered the first couple of days.  (Post race I did miss the second ring up front as it seems easier to shift on hills instead of going through so many gears on a single front chainring...and I had a number of poor shifting oopses that stalled my uphills).

With a tuned up bike, studded tires and a number equipment packing checks I was feeling pretty good about the bike.  I had nothing up front on the handlebars just the way I like it.  Most everything was on the rear rack and frame bag.  I used a combo of hydroflasks and bladder.  The hydroflasks were great for keeping things hot.  I used three of them and a thermos, a bit much. Bike weight was over 60 pounds and I believe I am one of few people who gain weight during the race in the form of edema. Nothing like adding 23 pounds of edema by race end, arrr that was frustrating.  

New equipment from previous race experience included some redundant systems: 

1. Lighting.  I always worry about being without lights and really like the a handlebar light.  I added a rechargeable one that was awesome- I didn't have to worry about batteries just a charge.  This was not an issue at villages like I thought.  A good combo with my two battery driven headlamps.  I used them all.  The spare headlamp was used a couple of times after the rechargeable and primary headlamp both died at once.  

2. Pumps. I used three different pumps- a tiny carbon, a crankbrothers and another that has a bit more volume.  (Two failed while changing a flat later in the race).

Sunday arrived rapidly and I found myself still feeling too casual. The plan to wait 5 minutes after the race start helped tremendously (see previous post)to keep pre race nerves at bay but I shouldn't be this casual.  Kathi said go and everyone was off scattering in all different directions.  I waited and chatted with some friends that came to see me off.  At the 5 min mark I took off.  It was weird.  I passed some walkers and then continued solo on the trail. My goal was to use the traditional iditarod route not the fast road powerline version. I was keeping my heart rate low as instructed by LW the first 24 hrs and felt great.  It was a nice day and the trail was good.  I caught up to some bikers who missed the powerline turn off.  I followed a while and then I think they were concerned that the rest of the pack up front was missing.  They pulled off and I continued on.  A little while later the following riders called out if this was the correct direction. I explained that it would get us to flathorn but most everyone is on the powerline.  I'm not sure which way everyone went but a rider from Anchorage, Chad, followed me and the trail eventually turned to powder, it was undridden after burma road so we back tracked to Burma road over to Ayershire road eventually taking the same route as the others, who were long gone ahead.  I believe Chad was relieved to back on the same route as the others.  

Flathorn came pretty quickly and I passed a few more riders and settled in to continue over dismal swamp and on to the river.  It was not even dark yet, the trail wasn't this good since my first race in 2008.  I cruised up to the first checkpoint a bit before 9.  An hour or more after the lead pack who were flying.   I stayed for a coke, soup and moved on to Skwentna.  This always takes me a long time, I do not like this section and it never fails I can hear Carl Hutchings words despising this part too in 2008. I pulled in to Skwentna around 1 still maintaining a low HR trying not to push hard.  I stopped ate chatted with Jeff before he took off. I warmed up and kept going to Shell. This is where I found out my gearing was not so good.  My first hill up shell I completely stalled. I was baffled at first and wondered why I couldn't clean these like I have in the past.  It was frustrating and I thought my leg strength was super low.  I had to walk up some parts and thats when I realized the gearing.  Uh-oh this will be a problem.  My knees were aching a bit. It's like 2008 all over again...  I arrived at Shell with a pack of racers strewn about snoozing.  I found a little spot next to the stove and slept a couple hours.  I don't remember when I left but it was getting light out.  At some point I met up with Heather and Jay Cable to ride with them for a bit.  Heather just took off though, she was on fire.  I hit finger lake a little before 11am, got my drop and rested for about an hour.  Who was there and who I talked to is a little fuzzy but it was quite busy. I left, the sun was shining, it was warm and the riding was grand.  I had great difficulty climbing though and it wasn't long before the knees went from an ache to pain. I then made another mistake... I lowered my seat to relieve the knee pain.  It worked but was the beginning of my ass-trastrophe. 

Around Shirley lake I bumped into Jeff and Heather.  We rode back and forth a while and after finbear lake  I struggled up the long climb before desceding into puntilla.  At one point I stopped for a rider who blew by me going uphill.  It was Aiden, he was keeping a groove and flying uphill on his single spped.  That was impressive.  I pulled into Puntilla at 6pm. I tried to sleep but could not so took off around 9. I actually cannot remember Rainy Pass much other it was almost all riding and that on the other side of the pass I found an awesome bivy spot about 7 miles from Rohn.  While clearing the trail the iditarod trail folks left a beautiful pile of pine boughs under a tree. It was too hard to pass up and I already knew I didn't want to sleep in Rohn checkpoint.  It was very cozy in my feathered friends -40 bag.  Unfortunately, I overslept from 2am till almost 7 or 8am! I checked into Rohn before 9-- I think-- ate some awesome brats and canned goods (thanks Rob!), loaded up my bike with the drop food and left. From here till the finish I was glad for studded tires.  Here's a video, with my wife in the background for music of course, of crossing the farewell lakes.

I didn't see much of anyone, Jeff and Heather had passed me in my cozy bivy before Rohn. It was like a mountain bike race with the conditions of no snow except the bike was getting hammered.  I saw Jay Cable on the trail, his derailler exploded or something and he had to turn his bike into a single speed.

It was a fast trail and pretty soon I was at the sullivan bridge getting water as I had run out completely.  I arrived in Nikolai around a little before 11pm.  I ate and then lay down for 3 hours.  I left after 3 am and I remember I stopped often as my butt was in quite a lot of pain since Rohn. Wait that was an understatement... I was in pain. How can I most accurately describe it I don't know... (this is where I wish I could write like the fat cyclist). I took ibuprofen to reduce the pain which helped but I was worried.  I arrived for my 6th McGrath finish and fastest time at 2 days 20 hrs.  But it was just a checkpoint this year....


veloborealis said…
Phil - Appreciate the lack of details on your asstastrophe. Ha!Kidding. I'm surprised more folks don't suffer similar problems, or maybe they do and just can't find a delicate way to discuss it. Awesomely fast ride! Followed the race while traveling in the lower 48, or would have been at the finish to see you and the others come in. Mark in Nome
veloborealis said…
Just came across this: you got a mention in the NY Times.
Phil Hofstetter said…
Oh I'll spend a whole blog post describing in detail the ass suffering, ha.
Jill Homer said…
The kind of physical suffering your are able to endure for very long periods of time in that terrifying environment both horrifies and intrigues me ... especially because you seem like such a nice and normal guy at home. ;-)

But really, amazing ride this year on the Iditarod Trail. Congratulations again and thanks for everything you do for folks at the end of the trail.
Phil Hofstetter said…
Thanks Jill, you had a great ride in the Whites this year. I think everyone experiences similar suffering in the ITI just different forms.