5 local fat bikers are competing in the Iditarod Trail Invitational starting in Knik Lake, Alaska beginning this Sunday, Feb 26 at 5PM Central Time. The race has a 350 mile and 1,000 mile option and is the world's longest running winter ultra-marathon. Hear from the 5 local riders competing and follow their dots on the embedded map.
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Track Leaders Map
About the Iditarod Trail Invitational in Alaska
The Iditarod Trail Invitational is an annual ultra-endurance race that takes place in Alaska and is considered the oldest event of its kind in the world. The race follows the historic Iditarod Trail, a 1,000-mile route that runs from Anchorage to Nome. The event is open to both runners and bikers, with participants either completing the entire distance or the shorter courses that finish at the 350-mile mark.
The ITI is known for its brutal conditions, which can include sub-zero temperatures, strong winds, and deep snow (read: hike-a-bike). Participants must carry all of their own gear, including food, water, and shelter.
Sound fun? Here's where you can follow their dots starting on Sunday at 5pm Central Time
Follow Their Dots on the Interactive Track Leaders Map
2023 ITI Racers from Wisconsin & Minnesota
Leah Gruhn: Duluth, MN [1,000 Miles]
Jere Mohr: Duluth, MN [350 Miles]
Amanda Harvey: Minneapolis, MN [350 Miles]
Kendall Park: Madison, WI [350 Miles]
Matt Fluegel: St. Paul, MN [350 Miles]
Interview with racers from MN & WI:
How did you get to this point and what made you interested in biking the Iditarod Trail Invitational?
I want to ride my bike to Nome in the winter, across the Alaska Range and along the coast of the Bering Sea because it sounds like a terrific adventure. The Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) is the longest, oldest, and most prestigious winter bike race that there is. For many years I have raced the Arrowhead 135 (in northern Minnesota), which was inspired by the ITI and is similar in many ways. The ITI is the event that many Arrowhead 135 racers look to as the next step in longer, more remote, more challenging winter racing adventures. I raced the ITI 350 to McGrath seven years ago, and I was struck by the beauty of the landscape and the camaraderie of the racers. I have wanted to go back ever since. This year I am looking forward to many of those same experiences and more – my husband Jere will race in the 350 mile ITI, and then I will continue on for another 650 miles to Nome. In that last 650 miles, the new experiences that I am most excited for include the feeling of the energy of the famed Iditarod sled dog race, traversing new (to me) terrain, and passing through numerous Native Alaskan villages.
Many of the racers on bike in this event have a background of bike racing, and then they add on the element of winter camping in order to do races like these. My background is different from that model, in that I was going on long and remote canoeing and winter camping trips long before I ever thought of participating in a bike race. After I participated in my first bike race 13 years ago, I was able to utilize my winter camping background to be successful in biking winter ultras.
Finally, long trips are special to me because I find it easy to be immersed and live in the moment. On shorter trips, I’m often thinking about what came before the trip, or what will happen after the trip. But long trips becomes more of a lifestyle than simply a trip.
Getting to the start of the ITI 350 has been a years long process. Going from track racing to winter ultras was a bit of a pivot. But I love adventures and riding my bike, so it makes sense for me to go on big rides with my bike. Wanting to complete the Arrowhead 135 was my starting point. So I worked on my qualifier for that race, did the St Croix 40 to prep and make sure I actually enjoyed racing in the winter. Turns out these races are just my speed, a mix of riding, camping and a lot of planning.
I haven’t been racing bikes for very long, but I’ve been an athlete most of my life. I used to play football in the WFA and a bit of rugby during the off-season. These days I’m too beat up for high impact sports, so I picked up cycling. It was no surprise that I gravitated toward the more extreme end of the sport. The past two years have been a whirlwind of escalating races. My first race was a local Wisconsin gravel grinder, the Ironbull 85. Last summer I completed Unbound XL and the North South Colorado.
When I learned about the Iditarod, I had to do it. Even when I was training for the XL, I was looking past Unbound towards the ITI. My first winter ultra was Actif Epica 2022 during a blizzard. Riding through bad conditions is a great way to stress-test equipment and winter cycling skills. I recently wrapped up a four-day, 200-mile bikepacking trip in Minnesota's North Shore region, led by Alexandera Houchin and Ben Weaver. The temps rarely rose above 0 during the day and dropped down to -30F at night. It was an invaluable experience in many ways, including being the best possible ITI shakedown I could get in the lower 48.
I saw a fat bike outside a bike shop for the first time the Summer of 2014 and I was instantly drawn to it. After a test ride and some rentals of fat bikes that Winter I decided to purchase my first fat bike in the Spring of 2015. Because of the time of year I first used my bike for ripping up the local single tracks. The more I rode the more I became interested in the sport and all that it has to offer. Soon I was Bike-packing in the Summer and competing in my first Winter fat bike race that following season. I kept pushing myself to train and race in longer races and now that hard work has brought me to my rookie attempt at the 2023 ITI.
I became interested in doing the ITI in 2019 while I was preparing for Tuscobia 80 in early 2020. Once I finished Tuscobia I could put the qualifying races for ITI in my short term goals and the ITI in my long term goal. Everything came together really quickly. I’m always looking for the next big race to take on in my life and the ITI is the perfect challenge for me right now.
Looking ahead at the race, what are you feeling most challenged by?
In events like these, anything can go south at any moment, whether it’s something that is easily fixable (e.g. flat tire or broken chain) or is an insurmountable issue. For me, keeping moving on the trail will be all about careful and thoughtful work before and during the race to reduce the chances of problems, being my most resourceful problem-solving self on the trail when issues arise, and being grateful for every moment that I am not having problems.
From past long-distance cycling trips, namely racing Tour Divide in 2017, I am anticipating that I will be careful to pace myself, balancing moving with resting in order to be as efficient as possible. I also know that I will be pushing myself hard, with little margin for error.
First thing I'm most challenged by is some persistent knee pain that flared up before Arrowhead this year. I've been working on it with my coach and my PT, but I'm still apprehensive. The other big thing is just the unknowns, mainly the weather. Anchorage has gotten a lot of snow, so will the trails be packed in enough for riding? I hope so. If there is a lot of hike a bike, then getting my mind ok with that will be something to work on.
My biggest concerns are major mechanicals, getting sick, the airline losing my bike, and other uncontrollable, race-ending mishaps. I want to say that I feel prepared, but I feel it’s better to approach the ITI without expectations. You have to respect the Alaska wilderness.
I think the most thing I feel challenged by is keeping my fingers warm and frost bite free. I had some challenges at Tuscobia 160 with frost nip and I came away from that race more concerned about temperature regulation in my hands then I ever had before. I have planned a more complete glove and expedition mitten layering system for the ITI. I will also not only bring along chemical hand warmers on the trail, but I plan on proactively using them.
Do you have any gear highlights you want to mention?
I will be riding a 2023 Salsa Mukluk with studded Dillinger 5 tires. On that I have a set of custom Cedaero bags, which I love due to their quality construction / durability, light weight, and customizable nature. Cedaero is based in Two Harbors, Minnesota and they have been absolutely wonderful, working with me to create a set of bags for this event. Some of the bags that I have are standard patterns (e.g. Custom Full Frame Pack made for a Large Salsa Mukluk, a Tank Top Bolt-on Pack, and two Devi’s Draw Packs). Other bags have been customized for me include a lightweight handlebar bag that will hold my puffy jacket, panniers sized to my needs, and a padded bottle holder that will securely hold my thermos yet keep it easily accessible. All of these bags are color-coordinated - grey with trim in Bordeaux to match my bike frame.
My wheels were built with Onyx hubs, made in St. Cloud, Minnesota, which are considered to be the best for cold weather. With only a few exceptions, everything on my bike has been made by Minnesota companies, which I am proud to ride to Nome.
Firstly, I love my bike Aurora. She's an Otso Voytek. We're gonna see the aurora together in Alaska or I'm camping out until it shows! Second, I'm gonna shout out my -40⁰ Marmot CWM. It's the coziest sleeping bag that makes snoozing when it's below zero something to look forward to. Third, I'm looking forward to riding with my Sturdy Bags XL Cargo bags. They have patches for inspiration and a reminder that I can do hard things.
Amanda Harvey's gear setup
I design and sew a lot of my own gear. The centerpiece of my kit is my mid-layer, which keeps me warm and dry in a wide range of temps. It has minimized the amount of layering/delayering I have to do during a race.
This sport is a niche within a niche. Very few companies make gear specific to winter ultra fat bike racing. Racers are forced to cobble together a mix of equipment designed for skiing, mountaineering, cycling, etc. Drafting my own gear takes a lot of work, but it is worth the advantage of having equipment made specifically for me and the demands of the sport.
I made a lot of gear updates to my system for the ITI. I’m excited to race in my new 45NRTH Wolfgar BOA boot. I’ve always raced with 45NRTH boots before but the Wolfgar is their extreme Winter cycling boot. My sleeping system got a big o’ upgrade on the temperature rating when I brought along my Sea To Summit Alpine Ap3. With a temperature rating of -40 I won’t have to worry about sleeping cold if the trail is my lodge for the night. Finally two of the most important pieces of equipment with me during the ITI will be my Garmin eTrex 22x for navigation and my Garmin inReach Mini 2 for satellite tracking and emergency communications. My Mom sleeps better knowing I have those two Garmin products.