Most speed records are broken by seconds or minutes. Wednesday, a Fairbanks cyclist demolished the Iditarod Trail Invitational record by almost a full week.
After pedaling almost 1,000 miles from Knik Lake to Nome, Jeff Oatly rolled across the finish at 4:53pm Wednesday, totaling 10 days, 2 hours, and 53 minutes. The previous record was 17 days and 2 hours.
“It’s fun. I had a great time the whole time,” Oatly said. “There was not a lot of times out there when I was thinking I wish I was at my desk doing work. I was having a blast.”
This was Oatly’s first race all the way to Nome. But Oatly is no rookie. He’s completed the 350-mile route to McGrath 10 times. Only this year he rode with a different goal in mind.
“The mentality going in it is, I’m going to get to Nome. No matter what. I’ll get to Nome,” he said.
Oatly is not the only one who broke a record this year. So did Heather Best, Oatly’s wife. Best completed the 350-miles to McGrath in 2 days, 13 hours, and 14 minutes, undercutting the shortest time in the women’s division by over 27 hours. This year’s shattering speeds are attributed to the lack of fresh snow. Dirt and ice—a lot of it glare ice— covered most of the trail, and the snow that did appear was mostly hard-packed. Oatly says, the trail offered little reason to slow down or dismount, an option he welcomed when it came along.
“I was not unhappy when I had to get off a few times to walk up hills and things like that. I didn’t want any snow to slow me down, because I was enjoying going fast,” he said. “But when you never get off the bike, when you’re just riding fast all the time, you get to the point where everything hurts from that, too. So it’s nice to change things up and get off the bike and walk.”
But this toll, Oatly says, is only temporary.
“Well, you do it for fun. It’s a recreation, you know. And stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. On the body or mental stress,” he said. “It’s just sort of a state that you’re in, and then you have to recover from.”
Though racers who complete the Invitational to Nome travel almost 1,000 miles of Alaska’s wilderness, winners receive no prizes, no money, no compensation. But Oatly says the race itself is its own purse.
“Like life is very simple when you’re doing that kind of racing. You’re just riding and eating and sleeping. And that’s it. And it has a very nice rhythm, and it’s fun. And you’re out in just awesome, incredible scenery,” Oatly said. “And you get out here to the coast…but it’s so stunningly beautiful, and it’s just so hostile. I mean the wind just seems like it’s just eating at you from every direction all the time. It’s an experience. It’s fun.”
And as far as shattering records goes, well, Oatly remains unfazed.
“I mean, people can say whatever they want. It’s just a record. It’ll get broken eventually,” he said.
Sixteen competitors remain on the trail to Nome. Eleven are on bikes and four on foot. They come from seven different countries.