Cyclist surprises as Yukon Quest winds down and racers reach the finish

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Yukon Quest teams continue to make their way to the race’s finish in Whitehorse, but mushers and their dogs aren’t the only athletes on the trail. An ultra-cyclist from Fairbanks peddled the thousand mile trail.

Jeff Oatley at the finish line (Photo by Molly Rettig - KUAC)
Jeff Oatley at the finish line (Photo by Molly Rettig – KUAC)

As fans gathered to cheer on dog mushers on Sunday, a surprising sight came down the trail.

Jeff Oatley cruised into the Braeburn Lodge on his fat-tired bike ahead of all the mushers. He was wearing a black jacket, ski pants, and camouflaged hunting boots.

After cycling 900 miles, he sat down at the restaurant and ordered a massive burger.

“I’m gonna eat the whole thing I think,” said Oatley.

Oatley rode his bike from Fairbanks to Whitehorse on the Yukon Quest trail. He left a week ahead of the mushers, and finished with the front-runners Monday afternoon. The Fairbanks engineer has followed the Quest for years, and thought biking the trail would be a fun challenge.

“I just like getting out and kinda just living on a bike for a few days,” Oatley said. “Everything’s real simple, you just ride and eat and rest and that’s it. There’s nothing else to do.”

It’s not his first 1,000 mile trip on two wheels. Oatley has biked the Iditarod Trail Invitational several times, and won. He said the trip had been amazing so far, enhanced by great northern lights and lots of wildlife.

“Coming up the Yukon it was just me and 10,000 wolves out there,” said Oatley. “There was just wolf tracks everywhere.

In Braeburn, he opened a box of food that he’d mailed to himself ahead of time.

“Good, I’m almost out of Cheez-its,” Oatley remarked. “That’s the one thing I can eat the entire time no matter what.”

Oatley has been riding about twelve hours a day. He had a few brushes with trouble along the way. His bike chains were wearing out, and his knee was bothering him. Plus, there was a moment of panic when he showed up in Canada, unannounced, and tried to check in at customs.

“They told me I was most likely going to be arrested and deported,” said Oatley. “They were sure talking like they were gonna arrest me for awhile, so that was a little challenging.”

Another exciting moment was coming down Eagle Summit, a steep section of the Yukon Quest notorious for crashes and white-out conditions. It was a nice day as he climbed the mountain off the Steese Highway. But when he got to the top, he realized why it instills fear in some mushers.

“Then you drop off the back side of that, it’s like coming down a wall,” Oatley said. “The steepest part of it I don’t even think I rode the steepest part.”

As the biker crossed incredibly tough terrain day after day, he said he could sympathize with the mushers and their teams.

“I’m just one tired dog.” said Oatley.