Iditabike '89: Arctic Conditions Meet Ultra-Marathon Mountain Biking

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in the UMCA Newsletter, November 1989

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The third annual Iditabike Mountain Bike Race took place on the Iditarod Trail, Alaska on February 18, 19, and 20, 1989. With a starting line temperature of 8 above and nighttime temps hovering at 15 below, this was the coldest and fastest race yet. During the previous two races, racers were forced to walk as much as 50 miles of the 200 mile course because of higher temps (up to 30 above) which caused the trail to be too slushy and soft to ride. Once again racers were required to carry an extensive list of survival gear with them at all times, including a sleeping bag, shelter, stove, flares, etc. This additional weight of 10 to 30 pounds, plus bike, plus water, plus rider, combined with two inch tyres inflated to perhaps 10 psi, along with the unique terrain and weather conditions, serves to demonstrate why this is considered the world's toughest mountain bike race. This is also the only NPC event which is awarded double points!

53 riders rolled across the starting line at Knik Lake, the same number as in '88, indeed many of the same riders were competing again. These riders were tougher, more intelligent, and much better prepared, though, which attributed to a remarkable 45 riders crossing the finish line. Eventual men's winner was Mike Kloser of Vail, Colorado with a time of 25:11, which includes the mandatory six hour break which everyone served at the halfway point of the race. Kloser races for Malcolm Smith Racing and is the current UCI World Champion as well as the '88 Iditabike champ. Women's winner was Amy Maclean of Anchorage, Alaska, the first Alaskan to win either division in the history of the event, with a time of 41:36. Three UMCAers who competed included Bobby Fourney (4th, RAAM '87), Eric Hansen (#782, Who's Who '87), and myself (#55, 9th, RAAM '87).

Bob was the highest UMCA finisher, placing 5th with a time of 28:58 in his first Iditabike attempt. Bob was lucky enough to travel to Alaska early and ride much of the course before the race and learn from the locals. He even spectated the Iditaski and Iditashoe races and visited the home of some sled dog teams. Because of his ultra-marathon background, Bob felt he might have placed higher if the race had not had a mandatory six hour break, but he has a great deal of respect for Kloser and the other top finishers, Roman Dial, Rocky Reifenstuhl, and Carl Tobin. Bob did finish the race with frostbite on his big toes, but still commented that "Iditabike was a great experience."

Eric is a 35 year old electrician from Glendora, CA and he admitted that he "just wanted to survive". He encountered numerous problems and dilemmas, but in great UMCA style overcame them all and finished respectably and comfortably. At one point he ran out of (non-frozen) water and tried without success to melt snow with his stove. He was forced to bivvy out and wait for sunrise to defrost his stove. He also flatted four times and at one point ran out of tubes and so continued riding on a flat tyre for ten miles to the next checkpoint. After his fourth flat he realized that the cold was keeping his tyre from reseating into the rim, so he installed plastic zip ties around the tyre and rim to hold it in place. This seemed to do the trick, but of course made using his front brake impossible for the remaining 60 miles. Said Eric, "My ride turned to shit, but what with the lunar eclipse and northern lights the scenery was beautiful."

As for me, in '88 I placed 11th with a time of 45:54 and came home with a big dose of humility. I vowed to return in '89 with a less talk and less lofty ambitions. My goal was to walk less (50 miles of it in '88), finish sooner, and place higher, in that order. Well, two out of three ain't bad. I only walked about 15 miles (due to the trail being trashed out by preceding riders; snow trails are very fragile), finished the course with a time of 41:20, and ..... placed 21st. Being a Southern Californian with no snow experience except for Iditabike '88, the temperature posed the biggest problem for me. At 15 below even boiling water in a covered bottle will freeze solid in less than 90 minutes. Since I use a liquid Unipro diet, this was a real problem which caused me to severely overextend and dehydrate myself. With a lot of perseverance and by using the buddy system with friendly Anchorage rider Amy Maclean I survived and had a great time. I reccomend the Iditabike to anyone. It's a great event put on by great people, much like RAAM.

Thanks to my sponsors, Moots Cycles, REI, Scott USA, Emily K, Unipro, Wheelsmith, and Kostman Sport Group and to my Alaskan hosts Dan and Laurel Bull and the wonderful Mountain Bikers of Alaska.

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