Sunday, March 1, 11AM. I was in the Westmark Hotel’s lounge with all other participants. The start was only three hours away. I was going to do something that I never, ever believed would be possible. It was an incredible feeling. These kind of moments can only be described as “defining moments”.
13.30AM, Knik Lake:
My bike in front of the Knik Bar:
Racers gathering in the start area:
9:Zero:7 team mate Charly Tri getting ready:
I had a very clear plans in my mind for my race. Plan A was to hang with the lead group as long as possible, if the speed would be suitable. My biggest concern for the beginning of the race was to not get lost. Following veterans would take care of this concern. Plan B would be to hang with a slower group, if the lead group’s speed would be too high.
Another key plan for my race was to make every checkpoint as an intermediate goal and keep my own pace.
The ice on the Knik Lake was extremely slick, with a thin cover of snow on top of it, hence the start was cautious and slow. A section of icy singletrack followed, and soon we hit a tarmac road leading to the actual Iditarod Trail.
Andrew Kulmatiski, an ITI rookie like me, attacking this early in the race!:
The first warning signal came in the end of the road section, when John Lackey, followed by the others, cranked up a nasty uphill with more speed. I almost lost the lead group at this point, but managed to get back in the following flat section.
When we hit the actual trail, the speed started to rise again.
At this point, so early in the race, it was very clear that I had to find my own speed and rhythm, but I tried to keep visual contact with the lead group because this was the place where I could get lost. The trail was like a huge fatbike highway and visibility was very good. I took all the photos on the fly.
As you can see, the views were already very spectacular and I was very stoked.
After some 30 miles in, I reached Flathorn Lake.
Followed by Dismal Swamp:
I was still not feeling like I wanted to feel, most likely because of the fast start. But things started to get gradually better as I reached the Susitna River.
Pavel Richtr, who was going to Nome, joined me for awhile:
Susitna River is really beautiful:
A snowmobile heading to Yentna Station, first checkpoint:
And then the sun was setting:
59 miles in and I reached the first checkpoint, Yentna Station:
My stop there was very short, because everything was now under control and I was feeling great. Fast conditions continued from here to next checkpoint at 90 miles, Skwentna Roadhouse, and in this section I was feeling high. I had excellent rhythm and I had that ‘ride-all-day-all-night-long’ feeling!
At Skwentna, some real food was in order, so I ate chicken-noodle soup. Bunch of other riders were there too, among them Jay Petervary who was actually sleeping, Jay Cable, Joe Stiller, Heather Best and the legend himself, Jeff Oatley.
I found myself leaving with Cable, Richtr and Stiller and we had a good speed towards the next checkpoint. Soon Stiller was dropped because he had some cramps. I continued with good rhythm with Cable and Richtr. The trail had some really fun but also a little tougher sections there, with some short uphills.
Next checkpoint, Finger Lake / Winter Lake Lodge, was still far away. We reached the Shell Lake Lodge where racers can sleep in a cabin. Cable and Richtr wanted to stop there to take a nap. I was feeling great without any sign of sleepiness, so I continued alone towards Finger Lake in the night.