Good friend and fellow Fairbanks endurance cyclist Kevin Breitenbach shared some incredible memories from last year's Iditarod Trail Invitational on his Facebook page and I told him they needed to be shared elsewhere, in a searchable & linkable place on the interwebs, so they were not lost forever.
I am sharing his unedited, raw and sleep-deprived memories, one per day for three days, matching the time frame of the race and when he will approximately be in the places where the stories happened. I wish all the racers warm appendages, clear minds, a happy stomach, and a good trail. And for 'K-Bear,' go get 'em, buddy!
2013 ITI Day Three:
"Might as well do a write up of the finish from last year before this year's finish makes it a bit less relevant. Disclaimer....I was fucking exhausted and spent much of the previous day trying my best to capture reality and avoid hallucinating, so the accuracy of these events could be lost to time anyway...
'Get up man'... 'Huh? What the fuck? Where am I?'
I opened my eyes to see I was lying in a bunk bed. Where the hell am I? Shit! I was in Nikolai at the Petruska's house. This is a race and this was the second time they tried to wake me up.
It was a nightmare, I over slept. Well, I slept period. Something I knew was a mistake an hour and a half earlier before I fell asleep. The group of 5 of us had arrived in Nikolai at around 11:30 pm after riding 14 hours from Rohn 90 miles back up trail towards the mountains. The last 12 miles of that ride took us 4 hours, a wind had come out of nowhere and blasted us in the face. It took a toll on all of us, we spent the time alternately imagining things that were not there at all. John Lackey was asking if we take 'that road' out of the village...there was no road or village in the middle of the swamp. Several of us were convinced that Greg Matyas (owner of Fatback) was riding with us. I was impressed by the physical prowess of the 3 women that had magically joined our group. This after I spent much of the day trying to convince Oatley that he and I had been on this trail together often in the past. 'I have been on this trail often in the past... you have not' he told me. Turns out he was right. But back to the story at hand.
When we got to Nikolai Tim's feet were killing him. He hadn't let his boots dry out in Rohn and now he was in quite a bit of pain with his boots freezing up. He was frantic to find the Petruska's house. Jeff and Jay calmly lead us through the sleepy village and past the runway. Inside we were met with a great meal of pasta bread and coke. While we sat at the kitchen table contemplating what to do Oatley calmly passed out behind the table and Jay calmly put his boots and jacket back on to head out on the trail. I thought those were both mistakes. I needed rest but not much. I couldn't see Jay going any faster than the 4 mph that we were sustaining just 45 min. ago. I remember John saying 'I could use an hour or two.' I said I could use about 15 minutes and Tim suggested a moderate 45 min rest. Group think had taken me over and I agreed.
I hope this doesn't come off as arrogant but that was dumb. I should have known myself better. I knew I could win. I really felt pretty good. But in my defense I was in the middle of Alaska 50 miles up river from the finish in Mcgrath with no knowledge of the trail beyond me (that might be why it's tough for a rookie to ever win this race). I didn't want to leave with Jay on no rest. But I should have known I can just follow his tracks until I caught him...
Lackey and I got up and we helped convince Oatley to get up too. Turns out Tim had woke up on time 45 minutes ago and was long gone. It's the only real 1.5 hours of sleep I had in the past three days. We got out the door quickly, I was so freakin' angry with myself, rolling out of town slowly and warming up our stiff bodies. I wanted to just ride fucking angry. We got on the river and the trail was hard as a rock. All three of us stopped to put more air pressure in our tires. Jeff asked me 'are you going to ride this hard the whole time?' 'I'm going to try' I told him... 'Well go man, if you keep this pace up you'll win.'
We were at least 2 hours behind Jay and probably an hour behind Tim. Following Jays tracks, they were all over the place. You could tell he was battling the sleep monster as he calls it. Tim's were straight and strong. I took off from the guys, my tire set up was a huge strength on the River compared to what they were rolling with. I was waiting for this advantage for a couple days now. My gps kept a steady reading of 12 mph. That was my goal. If I could do that I'll have a chance.
I rode across open swamps under a nearly full moon. I rode so fucking mad for a few hours. I over heated at one point and took off everything but my base layer, but quickly realized it was -20 out when I totally froze moments later. I was still out of it and my decision making skills were poor at best. I started getting sleepy again, maybe a bit depressed and my feet were cold. I just want the sun to rise, i looked over my shoulder a lot hoping to see the eastern sky brighten. '5am, 6 am, 7am where the hell is the light!!!' I thought. Then I realized, we're now 300 miles west of where we started. The sun wont rise for a while.
In this time Jay's tracks had straightened and Tim had trouble with his feet. He had to get off and run... you could tell he ran, his strides were huge. As the sun finally brightened the sky their bike tracks had wolf tracks over them. I knew they were just off the river spying on us it was eery. I imagined they heard me pedaling just around the bend and they'd hopped off the trail just to go back and smell my sent after I left.
On that flat stretch of trail to the finish there's a radio tower visible almost the entire time. It looks so close just above the tree line. It wasn't until the sun lit up the horizon that I saw it was actually atop a mountain probably 5o miles away from when I first saw it. What a mind fuck that was. I looked back over my shoulder again... a headlamp back up river a mile or so. I tried to go faster. Who was it, Jeff, John, jason Buffington, Pete Basinger? I was convinced it could be anyone.
I'm sure my legs were dead, but my bike was skipping in it's highest gear too. I could sit and spin at 7-8 mph but I couldn't get out of the saddle and crank out speed. My smallest ring just wouldn't hold my chain. As it got brighter the biker got closer. I tried to put more air in my tires again, but my hands wouldn't work and I just let more air out. FAIL! I stopped again and actually got the pump to work. but it was too late.
With about 8 miles left the trail leaves the river to head into Mcgrath. I stopped and ate some food, I couldn't stand being chased anymore. It was Oatley, he came up and told me 'You're doing awesome!' (or something like that). I think I gave him a hug and had him lead us into town. I settled behind him just like I had for the last few days and just like I had for so many training rides throughout the last couple of years. It was so familiar and surreal that after 68 hours of riding we were still riding together. I've never matched paces with someone as much as I do with Jeff. (Don't let anyone know but I'm pretty sure I openly cried a bit while we rode together.) I couldn't imagine a more fitting way to finish. Jeff has always been there to help me become a stronger smarter rider, it's a friendship I really value, and I felt pretty fortunate to finish with such a guy.
We hauled ass into town, and discussed how we're just chickens with our heads cut off. I was pretty sure if I was dead, lying in a grave my legs would still be moving. We never caught Tim or Jay. (Tim finished about 15 min ahead, and Jay another 40 minutes ahead of that, all of us breaking the previous record by around 10 hours.)
Too much to remember and so much I'm sure is forgotten from last year. But that race was special and only made better by the people I got a chance to race with. Super lame but I remember thinking its not the I-ditarod, it was the We-ditarod last year. I'm still convinced none of us could hold that pace without the help of the other 4 guys. That's a record that will be tough to match ever.
My time 2 day 20 hours and 7 minutes."
Follow the racers on the ITI website