PT- ITI 2015

It’s been a month since this year’s grueling Iditarod trail invitational experience.  Processing, 'debriefing' on the phone or email with Jeff, night sweats, 15 lb weight loss, energy fluctuations, body temperature fluctuations and staring into space make it seem more like PTSD than a post race recovery.  Physical recovery this year was actually much better than last year but it’s been hard to merge back into ‘the real world’.  I think I am finally ready to write about it and hopefully can do it in one sitting so I don’t abandon another write up. 

Last Year
It’s been a long time since I sat in front of my computer to write on this site.  I can hardly believe that I left last year’s ITI race hanging as well as the ironman write up and the Deering Trip.   

While last years ITI, a virtual speedway ice course, was my fastest time into Nome at 12 days and change I was plagued with physical ailments.  I had granulating oozing saddle sores that only let me ride standing up, my typical horrible edema, bad hand numbness and yes, I got ‘lost’ for a wee bit during the ocean ice crossing in a blizzard to Koyuk.  I would like to write that up in detail sometime because it was a good lesson.  I was complacent with the familiarity of the coast, a dangerous place to be comlacent and the experience humbled me.  I had retreated to the shelter cabin by reindeer cove 14 miles outside of Shaktoolik shattered, vision failing (thought I frost bit my eyes) and assured I would have to lay in my sleeping bag till someone found me.  Certain it was race-over. But I recovered and ended up in Koyuk- a 24+ hr ordeal that almost initiated a search party. 

That was last year. 

This Year
This year I wanted to recoup another trip to Nome. I wanted to place better than 3rd. I wanted to try the southern route. And I wanted to start in better physical shape. I ended up with 2 of the 4.  

I was healthier this year, had longer rides and felt in better shape, thanks to LW.  I also managed to get a new bike—a last minute decision based on finances BUT Greg at Speedway worked wonders and my new Corvus was ready to roll.  The bike was insane and rode like a dream.  Huge Thanks to Greg! Although in typical 'me' fashion I did not ride a mile on it before the race…. You’d think I’d learn. 

Eric the Great at Relevate Designs made me a frame bag and saddle bags from ultralight cuben fiber. They were unbelievable. Light and roomy. I was able to pack my bike to the point where I didn’t have to trim because of room but had to trim because I HAD room and wanted to reduce weight! AND I didn’t have one thing strapped to the handle bars. Thank you Eric!

The saddle bags were a dream to put food and bulk in and out easily during the course of the race.  My setup was so much better than last year, I was pleased.  The only decision I had to make was which saddle to take. I previously used the Adamo saddle with cutout but all my training rides were on a traditional road saddle.  I never made the switch because oddly I found that the road saddle caused no soreness.  When I did switch to my adamo it was uncomfortable.   So I kept the road saddle.  The best decision ever.  Along with Greg’s recommendation of bag-o-balm and the saddle I had NO problems.  I could ride all day seated if I wanted.  A first.

Good Decisions:
Other good decisions:
·      two different bike shorts.
·      a pair of light micro-puffy shorts made by LaSportiva.  I always find my light bibs give me a cold butt but I don’t want to add a base layer. The shorts have side zips too and between the bib zips and short zips I can ride in … lets say 40 degree heat of mid-winter (like outside of Rohn) down to -40 with only an additional base layer and zipped up  (like on the Yukon).  I only had to pull my puffy pants for bivies.
·      I also padded the heck out of my handlebars with pipe foam—5 layers instead of my usual 2 or 3.  BEST decision, no hand numbness at all. 

This winter in Nome was the best riding season I have seen because a couple of early storms in November dropped some snow cover, followed with cold snaps and then, basically, no snow.  The trails were hard packed, fast and allowed good rides.  Not as good as Fairbanks riding but still good for Nome.  About a month before the race the temps started rising and… uh-oh it was weeks of above freezing temps, rain, overflow galore. Iron dog was a glorified mess of open water and raw tundra and dirt. Iditarod moved their race to Fairbanks for the start and that left the ITI to assume the northern route following irondog.  The reassurance of a full battalion of dog mushers and trail breakers will not be there this year. A snow storm in the wrong spot during the ITI (pre-ruby) and one could really be snowed in.... which became a reality to a few.

Many ITI racers were talking about rain gear and wiggies up to the hip.  Luckily the temps started dropping, froze overflow and the trail.  The race lineup was heavy with fast fast fast racers.  Raceday was glorious and thank you Dave again for driving me to the start line and Mike for hosting me. 

The Race Start
Before I knew it the race started.  Per the usual, I fell on the ice before leaving knik lake, a tradition it seems for me.  I ended up riding the route of the old Iditarod trail with Jeff and Heather instead of the road and powerline trails to flathorn.  I have tried this trail a few times and always thought that on a hard packed year the shorter traditional route would be faster.  I can say with absolute certainty this is not true.  We came out on flathorn believing we were seeing leaders crossing the lake but it was actually mid pack.  Wow.  Bad move.  I was also having problems with my drive train at this point.  I didn’t know what it was but my freehub ‘froze’ in place and turned my bike into a fixie that dropped the chain if my legs didn’t keep up.  It was weird.  I arrived at Yentna at 8:10—2 hrs behind the lead group. I moved on to Skwentna in fixie mode and got there around midnight.  Just in time to see JP leave after he slept for 2 hrs.  I was concerned about the hub and thought I should call Greg and have a freehub sent to ...well I didn't really know where.  I would just have to ride fixie till then, at least it wasn't free spinning.  Fortunately, when I left Skwentna the problem resolved itself.  I shrugged my shoulders and said “cool”.  I’m no Pete Basinger mechanic btw.  (Over the course of the race it occurred intermittently and turned out it was a broken pawl in the hub that bound it up at times.  Eventually after Koyuk I ground the piece to a pulp and voila excellent operation.)  At shell hills it was late but I wasn’t tired and kept moving. I was risking a lack of rest (for Nome at least) to keep moving but it was warm enough to bivy anywhere quickly if I needed.  Moving towards Fingerlake I saw a light heading in the opposite direction directly at me.  That was interesting.  It was a bike and when he rode up he said he was Toni Lund and missed the turn on the lake following someone else’s tracks.  He made it up on the trail but headed in the wrong direction.  I kept moving toward Finger getting there around 6 or 7am.   A bad time to try to sleep but managed maybe an hour and left around 10:30.  I was not feeling particularly strong and my stomach was upset.  The happy steps went ok, Jeff and Heather caught me at Shirley lake when I had to unpack all my gear to get my bike up a super steep hill, really a cliff that has a lot more snow typically to at least push the bike up.  We helped each other up and then traveled to Rainy lodge around 3:30 in the afternoon.  
somewhere between Rohn and Nikolai.

Leaders were blazing fast leaving puntilla 6 hrs ago! I was glad, at least that I was running around 10th instead of 21st like the first checkpoint at Yentna.  Jeff, Heather and myself left Puntilla at 4:30-ish and  rolled into Rohn midnight or 1am maybe? I actually can't remember the run to Rohn, which is why I wrote a single sentence.  Huh, weird. Still a surprising fast run considering the sketchy conditions in the Dalzell.  I had 2 awesome brat dogs and slept really well for 4 hrs.  My stomach felt horrible though when I woke and was grateful Toni Lund was there to offer up some tums.  I left Rohn sometime in the early morning.  Daylight came and the weather changed to a snow and blow.  The temps were still warm (at one point we saw a mosquito) but I felt bad for anyone heading over the pass as I think the conditions up there deteriorated.  I joined up with the Heather and Jeff and we more or less rode to Nikolai together.  When we started hitting the tussoks after buffalo camp I finally started feeling better.  My stomach was improving and I was able to ride stronger.  We got into Nikolai in the early afternoon —super fast time in comparison to “normal” years and left with Charly Tri an hour later.  The group  dropped me easily and was only able to catch up at their breaks.  I had to check a couple of times how fast we were riding and they were hitting 12-13 mph the closer to McGrath we got, while I was lucky to hit 10 or 11.  Fast for me.  We all ended together but I was certainly the slowest of the bunch.  We finished McGrath at 10pm in 2 days 8 hrs…. whaaaat??  That’s my fastest time to McGrath. I was floored at the speed of the lead group at 1 day 18hrs…?!? faster than sled dogs… insane.  The temps were insane too, high 40’s.  Next up…. The race to Nome: -40/-50 temps, snow storm, grinding, edema galore and a doggy encounter…. I guess I couldn't do it in one sitting, my mind is fried. Hopefully I’ll keep writing this one…it gets good, meaning brutal.
overflow after Rohn 


Dave said…
Hi Philip,
I'm interested in kayaking from Emmonak to Nome and was wondering if you could share your experience of the area. Have you done this route or sections thereof? Please email me back at
Thanks, Dave
Phil Hofstetter said…
Hey Dave- sounds like a fun trip. I have not been south of golsovia (a bit north of st. mike) but have a lot of experience on the coast from Unalakleet to Nome. I can shoot you an email.