In Nome, onlookers welcomed the first racers off the Iditarod trail on Monday – but not for the iconic sled dog race, these racers had wheels.
Jay Petervary, of Victor Idaho, and Jeff Oatley of Fairbanks, were the first to cross the burled arch in Nome on Monday night. But not for the race you might think.
Once called the “Iditasport Impossible,” the re-branded Iditarod Trail Invitational mirrors the 1000 mile sled dog race of the same name – with one major difference: These racers aren’t mushing a team of dogs – they’re
running, skiing or cycling across the finish line.
And, in some ways, man-power appears to have bested dog-power on the trail. The lack of snow, and icy trail conditions, that made the Southern Race Route impassable for dog teams this year actually benefited those tackling
the trail on wheels.
Cyclist John Lackey of Anchorage reached the half-way point in McGrath just 1 day, 18 hours, and 32 minutes into the race – a time four hours faster than the leading dog team on record.
Oately himself holds the current cycling record for the full course – an astonishing 10 days, 2 hours, and 53 minutes set in 2014. For comparison, if he’d been mushing a team of dogs, Oately would have placed 21st in last
year’s Iditarod race.
“You know, I just got lucky with that,” Oakley said. “That’s what it takes to do that kind of time. But this is the race that I wanted. I didn’t want to do a time trial to Nome last year. I wanted to go out and ride the Iditarod
trail. And this year we got that. I was a little bummed for the first 300 miles. I was like, ‘This used to be a winter race. But then I lived to regret saying that out loud.”
Indeed, Oately and Petervary ran into more than their share of winter after the halfway point. Petervary says the *real* weather kicked in just as the pair was leaving Tokotna.
“The trail just deteriorated from there, and speeds were slowing, and then it just dropped to negative 40 for about six nights straight,” Petervary said. And this is about the warmest day we’ve had since then.”*
After a grueling 15 days, 6 hours, and 29 minutes on the trail. Oately andPetervary pedaled under the burled arches just seconds apart – so perfectly in sync that even their fans couldn’t spot the winner.
When pressed about who actually won, Oately points to his friend and competitor.
“Jay did,” Oatley said.
“Nah. It was — everyone who comes underneath this arch actually wins in the end,” Petervary said.
Petervary adds that, much like with the 1000 mile sled dog race, arrival in Nome is never guaranteed. Since the Invitational started in 2000, only 52 individuals have ever made it across the finish line – 34 of them on bikes.
Sharing a hug – and a toast – over their two-wheeled sleds, the two cyclists have little difficulty pin-pointing their favorite moment on the trail.
“This one,” Oatley said.
“This was pretty cool,” Petervary said.
“Last year I rode in and Phil’s wife was here, my wife was here. And that was it. And it’s like, ‘Here’s a Coke.’ And that was great. I really wanted a coke. But this is better… We kind of rolled up and you can see the lights and it’s like ‘Oh they’ve got the Christmas lights for us. That’s cool.’ And then it’s like ‘Holy —. There’s people here. What’s going on? There must be something going on in Nome today.’”*