Race Report: Iditarod Trail Invitational 2021Jul 06, 2022
What a difference a year makes. Standing on the finish line of the 2021 Iditarod Trail Invitational in Alaska, I was not the same person who finished the ride in March 2020.
2020 on the trail taught me the forcefulness of the natural environment, the depth of my strength and also the power of love.
At the finish line in 2021, I felt overwhelmingly content and satiated, knowing I’d crossed a threshold that stretches so much further than the 350 miles of the event. My husband, Greg and I were on the trail for 5 days and 8 hours self supported. It was an escape from distraction and an immersive journey of mind and body. So many thoughts, feelings, revelations appeared along the trail and it takes time for me to process what it all means. I already embody what happened on a cellular and energetic level, but to understand the experience consciously takes longer.
I can tell you that I executed this expedition ride exactly as I would have envisioned a perfect race. It’s insane to even write this because something so big unfolding this well is just not what you can plan for or expect to happen very often. In decades of being an athlete, this is the most perfect expedition I have ever executed. I do not say that lightly.
I didn’t enter into this expedition with the goal of a certain placing or an expectation of how it would unfold. Winter endurance cycling just doesn’t lend itself to having a rigid plan. I went in prepared, excited, mentally and physically at my best. I have learned that all you can do is go there prepared as possible so the experience can unfold naturally and you will be strong enough to respond to whatever the trail delivers and ready enough to receive the gifts you might find out there.
Focus is required in high commitment environments, but also openness and acceptance. Things will change, weather will happen, the trail appears and disappears. But the goal remains the same...to finish safely. And you have to be resilient and adaptable as the path unfolds. This year the path unfolded beautifully. Mother Nature was fairly kind. More importantly, my physical preparation and emotional mindset were rock solid. This was the first event in a year. ITI 2020 and ITI 2021 book-ended the COVID year for me. We came out to the pandemic escalating last year and this year return vaccinated, with hope on the horizon for the world.
The Iditarod Trail was my teacher at a moment where I was receptive, open and curious. The frozen landscape and connective trail provided an intimate backdrop for that phase of life’s exploration. The cold, intimidating intensity of the place took me to a physical level I never thought possible. I have never been good in the cold and believed I was physically incapable of taking part in winter expeditions. Alaska is precisely the place I needed to continue consciously exploring a personal transformation that ignited years ago in the remote jungles of Laos along the Ho Chi Minh trail.
When I stood by the tree near Ta Oy, Laos, on March 8, 2015, I promised my dad that I would follow his instructions to “be good.” Finding him in the place where he died was not closure. This discovery unlocked a blockage and my heart burst open that day. My mind and body have followed and blossomed in the years since that ride. The big rides and long trails that followed Blood Road have been a continuation of what I now call my Dirt Dharma...the clarity of my path and my progressive journey to be good.
The Ho Chi Minh Trail was my teacher. The Iditarod Trail also took that important role.
I found my dad on the trail and have continued to learn about myself out there, too. I continually meet other trail mates...people who are also exploring and endeavoring to be good. We are all connected by the trails that bind us and show us the way. The trails show us how to navigate, point us where we are bound, guiding us to our own Dirt Dharma. The 2021 Iditarod ride for me was a pinnacle experience because I finally understand why I choose to go way outside my comfort zone.
I know you came here to read about the Iditarod Trail, but I felt I needed to express the why before I talked about the how. Now, I’ll give you a little look into how it went.
My husband, Greg, and I rode for 5 days 8 hours, 350 miles, self supported, which means we didn’t use any shelters or cabins or outside food/water. For the full duration we were under our own power and own support and completely immersed in the Alaskan environment. We finished 6/7 overall. I was the first female to cross the finish line and we were the only riders in the event this year to complete the course self supported. We slept about 17 hours in 5 days. We melted snow for our drinking water and navigated along the first ever out and back course of the ITI.
They altered the course due to COVID-19 precautions to eliminate passing through remote villages. My decision to attempt to ride self supported was partially motivated to be as responsible as possible during the pandemic, but also to elevate my experience and challenge myself to ride in a style that was self reliant. I’m extremely proud of the achievement not because of the rankings, but because of the style and grace in which we executed this adventure. This ride is truly a career highlight, a lifetime pinnacle and a validation of my chosen path.
I won’t go through mile-by-mile descriptions here or specifics on what food I ate or gear I used. You can find those expedition details elsewhere. But I will list some of the highlights and differences that made the 20th anniversary of the Iditarod Trail Invitational the second most rewarding ride of my life. Blood Road was obviously the first, and there is a direct relationship between the two.
Here’s a list of trail magic and things that made this ride so fruitful and amazing:
- I rode the entire ride with my husband, Greg Martin, and we gracefully moved as a cohesive team.
- We executed the ride self supported, and I am so proud of my progress and growth in cold environments. Just using my stove every day to melt snow for drinking water was next level for me.
- My fitness was at a higher level than it had been in years, and my mental preparation was also at an all time high. Feeling well prepared is a rare and comforting feeling.
The trail conditions were near perfect for most of the ride, with temps not dipping lower than -20F and not above 20F. We had some snow, but not too much and the wind was literally almost always at our backs.
I used newly found breathing techniques for energy conservation, staying warm, and staying grounded, and they really worked!
I used mindfulness techniques to attune to the natural environment, to absorb energy from those who were watching the ride digitally and to maintain awareness of my physical body. These techniques also really worked, and I totally got energized by all of you back home.
I loved the out-and-back format and being able to see my trail mates face-to-face after we reached the turnaround point.
- I practiced gratitude regularly on the trail, even when we were pushing our bikes through knee deep snow and searching for the trail. This simple positive mindset made for a really fun, enjoyable expedition, even when we were physically suffering.
- Aurora Borealis came out with a full moon at the same time. Even more amazing is that Greg captured a photo of that moment (below).
- During the most challenging weather and a difficult part near the end of the race, the sun was coming up through a whiteout storm, and it made this insanely beautiful glow. Greg, who rarely takes photos, also captured that moment, and it is one of my favorite photos of all time (above).
- The vastness of the Alaskan wilderness made me feel small but also intimately connected with and part of nature.
- We built huge bonfires every night to stay warm while we set up our little camps and ate dinner. This was so festive and fun and warm! Yay for firestarter and a tiny saw that we carried!
- At one point along the trail at sunset, Greg was riding in front of me, and his lone tire track was surrounded by about twenty sets of wolf tracks that were as big as my hand. This was not scary; instead I felt lucky to be there as guests in their home.
- Because of the altered course, we got to ride over Rainy Pass twice and had great conditions both ways. This is my favorite part of the course and can also be the worst weather. Being gifted two good crossings was a double bonus.
- Being able to complete the course self supported is validation of my skills, and I’m proud of us for taking on this challenge and executing it safely. I learned and practiced so much.
- My friends and fellow Idahoans, Jay Petervary and Jacob Hora, were on the course racing together, and it was so fun to be near them and see them a few times. Four Idahoans finishing in the top seven of the event is surely a new record, too! Go Idaho! Jacob took an Idaho flag and flew it on top of Rainy Pass. I love this so much.
- Greg paid me a compliment about three quarters of the way through that brought tears to my eyes. He told me that he was impressed at how I was executing the expedition with such grace. That respect and that word coming from this person is more validation than any trophy I could ever earn.
Thanks for tuning in and sending me your energy while we were on the Iditarod Trail!