Fifth (and last) Report from Alaska - Al and Andy reflect on the 2002 race

A safety shack along the Iditard trail.

Even in the final forty miles, Alaska had a sting in its tail. As we toiled into the penultimate Iditarod checkpoint, Safety Roadhouse, a public service announcement was playing over the radio.

"Severe weather warning with threat to life and property - residents are advised to take appropriate action."

Back on the trail, minutes later, the first gusts of wind nearly took our bikes from under us. Even after 1,057 miles, we found extra pace in a bid to outrun the storm - and finally crossed the finish line in Nome a few minutes after 4pm.

Now, as I type, the storm has arrived with a vengeance. Several racers - including Italians Maurizio, Eris and Roberto - are still out there, trying to make their way over the final couple of hundred miles. Al, Mike Madden and I took joint second place, crossing under the famous "burled arch" on Front Street just under a day behind winner Mike Curiak. Seems he got the weather patterns just right, and managed to stay ahead of the storms. A great ride...

Things went pretty much to plan after we left Unalakleet. Had a rollercoaster ride over the hills to Shaktoolik, arriving at 7pm and finding there was "no way" of bribing the postmistress to get our drop-bag.
Instead, the local teacher took pity and made us a vat of spaghetti, then watched open-mouthed (or maybe he wanted some too?) as we scoffed it in about three minutes flat. We left around 10pm and headed out for the sea ice, finally crashing out for a couple for hours in a shelter cabin on the edge of the ice at around 1am.

Up before dawn, in full face mask weather, for the nine-hour ride across the ice to Koyuk. As ever, it seemed to take an age - made worse by the fact that the airstrip beacon was visible the whole way! Got into Koyuk to find we'd caught Mike Madden, so teamed up for the night leg in Elim, which finally ended around 1.30am after a comicalsession of slalom hallucinations (I nearly caused a three-man crash by
swerving to avoid an ornate iron bedstead).

Earlier, we'd had a fantastic ride over the coastal hills, with the sun setting over the ocean towards Russia and playing cat-and-mouse with a few Iditarod dog-sled teams. At Elim, checker Jasper Bond (Minnesota potter and Fawlty Towers fan) was
there to help us out with some food (more Quaker Oats - I love 'em), and we slept alongside the mushers in the village fire station until 5am. Headed back out onto the sea ice as the sun was coming up, climbing up to Little McKinlay expecting the usual full-on blizzard. We weren't disappointed, and Al had the unique experience of being blown off his bike on glare ice and then being swept in one direction as his bike went off in another! We finally all re-grouped for the tailwind assisted blast into Golovin, and then back onto the ice into White Mountain, where we'd planned a night's sleep before heading out on the final 77 miles to Nome.

Unfortunately - or fortunately, as it turned out - the Iditarod communications guy had just got the weather report warning of the storm we'd later hear about on radio. So instead of sleeping till 6am, we were up at midnight, and back out on the trail at 1am, slogging up some brutally steep hills in the dark, we finally crested the infamous Topkok Head at dawn.

Resting for an hour at the shelter cabin 40 miles out of Nome, the first flakes of snow were starting to swirl around. We didn't hang around, especially after Al tried to set fire to the place (sorry Al, couldn't resist it).
So, we've finished - 18 days, four hours and a few minutes after leaving Knik - and a full eight days faster than last year. Now going down with sore throats, numb hands, blistered knees and cheeks etc as systems start to shut down - and still eating like it's an Olympic sport. Went straight to Fat Freddy's Cafe in Nome after finishing and ate three full meals one after the other. Wiped the last plate, sat back - and all agreed we could do it all again (eat three meals, not cycle to Nome).

The dog-sledders reckon the route to Nome is "the last great race." We'd
second that.

Andy Heading