The Iditarod Trail Invitational is the world's longest winter ultra marathon by fat bike, foot and ski and follows the historic Iditarod Trail from Knik, Alaska over the Alaska Range to McGrath and to Nome in late February every year one week before the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. The short race 350 miles finishes in the interior village of McGrath on the Kuskokwim River and the 1000 mile race finishes in Nome. Racers have to finish the 350 mile race in a previous year before they can enter the 1000 mile race.
It was in Rohn as our trail breaker in 2007 I had the good fortune to meet Joe May one of the legends and winner of the early Iditarod Sled Dog Races. The history lesson for all of us at the Rohn cabin that night cannot be bought or read in books. The stories of dog races in the early days told with a lot of humor fascinated us and kept us laughing. The more I listened the better I felt about the philosophy of the Iditarod Trail Invitational.
"When Alaska Ultra Sport was formed in 2002 with the input of several veteran racers we all agreed support should be kept to a minimum. Winning or even finishing in the extremes of Alaskan winter weather depends on how comfortable the racers are with their abilities, level of experience and amount of risk they are willing to take. We differ from other races in that we allow racers to make these decisions for themselves about what to carry, when to rest and when it is safe to travel. There is no designated or marked route only mandatory checkpoints racers must pass through. As a race organizer it would be much less stressful to have all the rules, restrictions and support offered in other races but as a racer I want to make and be responsible for my own decisions. We try to limit the amount of support to just what is necessary to prevent our race from imposing on lodges and other folks along the trail when things don't go as planned. Words from a story told by Joe May say it best and I am paraphrasing, "Some times when you offer too much support you cheat the true adventurer out of a big part of why they are on the trail. They come to race, to confront and hopefully overcome what ever is thrown their way. To solve problems for them diminishes the experience."
Listening to those stories from someone who experienced the early days of the Iditarod Trail made me sure I want to preserve this philosophy of adventure and experience for all who qualify and choose to participate in the Iditarod Trail Invitational. This race is not for everyone. A mistake at the wrong time and place in the Alaskan winter wilderness could cost you fingers and toes or even your life. At times the only possible rescue will be self rescue. For those who do not agree with this philosophy, expect marked trails and more support there are other races out there which will cater to your needs.