Friday, February 25, 2011

The Iditarod Invitational

These aren't pictures from Joe. Just examples of the machines.

A good friend of mine has a brother who is riding in the Iditarod Invitational that is starting this Sunday February 27th at 2 pm PST. For those of you who don't know anything about the race the website is here. It is run on the same route as the famous dog sled race. However this race is either done on foot, ski, or what Becky's brother is doing it on. Bike.

Bike!? You say. That's right. Giant wheeled bicycles specially designed for snow (Something like the monster trucks of the bike world.).

These are fantastic machines and the endurance race that Joe is taking on is one that has always intrigued and inspired me.

I had a chance to ask Joe a few questions not only about the race and his equipment. But I also got a chance ask him about his Grandfather "Tony" who died from Alzheimer's Disease and the charity that Joe is riding for.

I would like to apologize ahead of time to Joe and to you guys. I'm not a very good interviewer. A lot of my questions maybe had some redundancy to them. So bare with me. Thanks....

What made you decide to attempt the Iditarod Invitational? 

I guess kind of a natural progression to an interest in winter biking that started back in 2005.  My friends and I started riding more in the winter and figuring out how to keep warm, drink, eat and getting better equipment to travel on soft snow.  The winter biking had been around for a long time but I thought they were nuts and just cross-country skied or speedskated in the winter.  A few years ago my friend Greg Matyas actually started a bike shop called Speedway Cycles and developed a bike and components called the Fatback.  There has been a revolution in winter biking here in Alaska and elsewhere over the last couple years.  Its been fun to be a part of that.  I raced smaller races such as the Susitna 100 mile and 50K events and the ITI was something that captured my imagination particularly the adventure, freedom and independence of it.

How is your training going thus far? Have you had any quantum leaps or any major set backs? (i.e. illness or burnout) 

Training has been going pretty good.  Into the taper now with less than two weeks before the race start.  Big endurance efforts have been done back to back like ride long on Friday then another long one on Saturday and shoot for a combined time over the two days.  I think that will better prepare me for a multi day event where you have to get up the next day and go again.  I was sick for a while in December but nothing major.  In addition to riding, been running, skiing, lifting weights and pushing the bike to increase general conditioning.  I do find the malaise after the long rides and the training draw on other life needs is tough.  It is not a sustainable way to live. 

What type of equipment are you going to use? (bike, sleeping gear, clothing, lighting system, navigation) What made you decide on those choices?
What type of bag configuration are you using on your bike?

I ride a Fatback Titanium bike that is powder coated olive drab.  It’s a nod to an old military jeep and is anti-bling. This is my third season on this bike.  It is a lot of fun to ride on frozen swamps, rivers, etc. that you could never access in the summer.  Snowmachining is big out in the Valley and rivers are groomed or get a lot of use and you can ride where they go.  Stop at a lodge for a cheese burger and cup of coffee.  We usually make between 5 and 10 mph.  Small planes on skis will buzz you and I’ve even had them land just to stop and chat.  We also see dog teams and they are quiet and can sneak up on you.  Everyone just out having fun regardless of transportation mode. 

I have a North Face Darkstar -40F sleeping bag mounted to my handlebars and aero bars for support.  I have a bivvy sack too.  I use a Princeton Tech Apex Pro LED headlamp.  A Pltaypus 3L water bag and insulated hose in a small back pack.  It goes under a jacket to keep thawed out.  I do not have any experience in temps below minus 20F and it will be a challenge to keep water flowing.  You basically use your body heat to keep it thawed out.  I have various tights and shell jackets.  I like wool tops.

What on the trail nutrition are planning on using? Any good junk food? How are you keeping your water from freezing?

I love Ensure Plus for endurance rides but they are bulky and freeze in low temps.  Will take a few of those and then bars, candy, beef jerky, smoked salmon, nuts, bacon, peanut butter sandwiches, etc.  The pace will not be real high so you can eat different things.  Water goes in a big bladder in a backpack under a jacket.  I’ll take some kind of endurolyte tabs.
You are doing this for your Grandpa Tony who died from Alzheimer's.  Was there anything about him as a person or his struggle with this disease that inspired you to do this race?

At his request, we addressed him “Tony.”  I recognize there is no normal life, only life, but my relationship with Tony was not idyllic.  Spending most of my life 2500 miles away didn’t help (Oregon/Alaska).  I did love and respect him.  He was fiercely independent.  As he developed Alzheimer’s this quality necessarily faded and it was hard to watch.  It’s like losing someone twice.  My family struggled to find help taking care of him.  Where do we go, what do we do, are we doing enough, should he be on his own at the farm?  The last time I saw him he did not know who I was but he still had his laugh, mannerisms, hand movements, the way he carried himself, etc.  He was in a wheelchair but even at a distance you just knew it was him like seeing someone walking across a parking lot at a great distance - - you can’t see their features but you can tell who they are.  Tony would think this event was crazy and would punctuate his comments with a few choice swear words for emphasis.  For me, doing this ride is a tribute to his independence.       

What are the main things about Alzheimer's and the Disease Resource Center of Alaska that you would like the readers to know about? Where can they donate?

This group provides assistance to people and their families who are impacted by this disease.  There is a place to go to get help.  I personally know a care giver that works at the organization and a client with the disease receiving care.  I thought raising awareness and funds might do a little good.  They are also a very financially efficient organization with the 2009 Annual report showing expenses of roughly $3.1M of which 85% goes to programs. 

Where can people track your progress before and during the race?

During the race, you can hear stories from the trail and follow racer progress at 

For information about the ADRAA or to donate funds to the organization or watch the fund “thermometer” you can go to:

Thanks Joe! And good Luck! I hope the wind is always at your back and the....

Rubber side is down,

Big E

1 comment:

  1. Nice E! I can see your articles in Bicycling Magazine. You're becoming a regular pro at this.