Andy Heading outlines the '02 race

Frozen seas become slippery cycle tracks in the -40

GETTING FATTER pre-race is the last thing most bikers would ever want to do. But then again, maybe riding across Alaska is the last thing most bikers would want to do.

In the final couple of weeks before the inaugural 2002 Iditarod Trail Invitational (, we’ve been trying to add a few pounds in the certain knowledge they’ll be put to good use when the start-gun goes on Feb 24th.
After both losing a couple of stone in last year’s event, Al Sheldon and I have been practising our 'eat and drink, then eat and drink some more' regime with a vengeance. I t worked for us in 2001 - when we finished 3rd and 4th in the 360-mile Extreme race, and then 1st in the Impossible race to Nome – and we’re hoping it’ll work for us again.

So, first stop on arriving in Anchorage on Feb 17th will be the 24-hour supermarket Carrs, where last year we ran up a $1000 grocery bill to stock 12 en-route drop bags. This year, things will be a bit different. The ‘Invitational’ – starting one week after the long-standing Iditasport race – is a ‘no-frills’ race with no prize money, and drop bags will be air-mailed ahead by ski-plane to villages and pre-arranged checkpoints. We’ll be packing food, fuel and spare thermals into boxes and bags in the week before the race-start – and hoping that 7-8,000 calories a day will be enough to tackle the 1,097 miles.

Andy in his sleeping bag. When it is -40 outside you just don't want to get out of it.

Weather conditions have been good so far. The big winter freeze, which arrived late in 2001 and meant the race-route rivers froze just two weeks before the start, has been more punctual this time – so hopefully the trail will be hard-packed and fast. Mike Curiak - winner of the 2000 race who was forced to scratch last year when he fell through river-ice and felt the water dragging at his legs – will no doubt be as pleased as we are. Temperatures, which dipped to nearly –60C in the latter stages last year but were mostly around –20C, have been consistently low.

In the next few days, we’ll be trying to cram a mountain of equipment (see below) into two bike boxes and duffels – crossing and re-crossing the kit lists which began life (for the second time around) on the flight home from Alaska last year! This time, we’ve got to find space for the –40C rated bags we collected in Anchorage last year – so there could be some serious zip-straining and gaffa-taping going on. As well as clothing, we’ve got 80 packs of freeze-dried energy food to fit in – all of which looks suspiciously like Columbian Marching Powder – plus tools, spares and essential kit like Nalgene plastic spoons (I lost mine last time and ate with a whittled stick for a week…) and pee bottles.

We’ve just heard that a foot of fresh snow has been dumped on the Anchorage region, bringing back bitter memories of the 400-mile ‘death march’ endured by competitors last year. Trailbreakers for the Iditarod dog-sled race took four days to traverse the 90-mile Kaltag Portage at the weekend – on turbo-charged snowmobiles. There’s still two weeks-plus before the start, so hopefully it’ll get packed down. Long term forecast is for more snow, however…

Also discovered that the ‘no frills’ element of the race extends to making your own plans for despatching drop bags – which could mean arriving in a tiny village at 8pm and finding the post office is closed until 10am next day. Just ploughed through the US Postal Service website picking up phone numbers etc, and will be making a few calls in the hope of ‘extending’ opening hours. Greased palms could be the way forward…