The Iditarod Trail Invitational follows the historic Iditarod Trail from Knik (home of the Joe Redington Sr.) to the interior village of McGrath, across the Interior and along the Yukon River and to the coast all the way to Nome, The famous sled dog route runs 1000 miles through frozen Alaska every winter since 1973 in memory of those brave individuals who brought the important serum to Nome in 1925 during a diphterie outbreak and was started by the famous Joe Redington Sr.
This race was formerly known as Iditasport (until 2001) and the Iditabike.
The holy grail of winter ultra events, the Iditasport was the world’s longest winter fat bike and running race. Inspired by Joe Redington Sr. and brought to life by Dan Bull, this human-powered event was first held in 1987 as the Iditabike, a 210-mile mountain bike race. In 1997, a 350-mile race to McGrath, Alaska was added as the Iditasport Extreme, and in 2000 the Iditasport Impossible, a 1,000-mile race to Nome was incorporated into the event as the world’s longest winter ultra marathon by fat bike, foot and ski.
Racer Peter Basinger continues to run a website with the name Iditabike linking back to our current event the 350 mile and 1000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational race since it was founded by Bill Merchant and Pat Irwin.
Today it is a thin white line in the snow that only exists for about two months during the Iditarod Sled Dog Race and the Iditarod Trail Invitational races and crosses swamps, lakes, rivers and frozen tundra, mountain passes, across roadless wilderness in Alaska.
Using bicycles as a means of transportation on Alaska's frozen rivers and tundra might seem a little odd and a crazy idea, but men looking for gold around 1900 that couldn't afford a dog team actually used what was then called a "wheel" and followed the gold rush from Dawson City to Nome on the Yukon River on bicycles.
Documented in Wheels on Ice by Northwest Publishing 1986 by Terrence Cole.
At a time when dog mushing was fading, a man that lived in Knik, Alaska had the idea of a dog mushing race from Knik to Nome. His name was Joe Redington Sr. often called the father of the Iditarod
He started the Iditarod Sled Dog Race in 1973. A small event at first it has evolved into the world famous sled dog race it is today inspiring millions.
He also encouraged Human Powered races on the Iditarod Trail as well with the foresight that "The Trail" would live on.
The first snowshoe and cross country ski races were coordinated in the early 1980's.
Chris Kostman's account's of the early Iditasport events.
In 1987 Joe Redington Sr. suggested the idea of a 200 mile bike race from Knik to Skwentna as a challenge to the Arctic Bicycle club of Anchorage. And so they did, the Iditabike was born.
Charlie Kelly cronicles the first Iditabike here
Jill Homer has put together a great time line on the development of the Iditabike history on the Iditarod Trail on HalfPastDone.
In 1989 Dan Bull did the first trip to Nome on mountain bikes with three other riders in 21 days. Dan Bull was involved in the human powered events on the Iditarod Trail known as Iditabike, Iditasport and the Extreme and Impossible for more than a decade since the mid 80's until the last year of Iditasport in 2001
In 1991 the different divisions were merged into one race called the Iditasport.
That year also included a triathlon division. 1992 a runner division was added.
Later those races merged in to one race and the Iditasport bike , ski or run race was born.
Very little was known about winter biking gear and everybody made their own.
Today several different fat-tired winter bikes are produced by different makers as well as bike shoes and other gear.
The Susitna 100 is a qualifier event for the longer 350 mile and 1000 mile races on the Iditarod Trail held in February every year.
Susitna 100 took over the former race format know as the Iditasport 100 and the course has changed a bit over the years, but still offers the 100 mile qualifier on the Iditarod Trail held every year in February.
The race startet attracting athletes from all over the world.
1997 was the first year of the 350 mile race from Knik Lake to McGrath in the Alaska Interior.
In the year of 2000 the race followed the entire length of the Iditarod Trail to Nome on the Bering coast.
Mike Curiak holds the overall record for the fastest time for the 1000 miles: 15 days, 1 hour, 15 minutes, set in 2000.
Mike Curiak's account of the 1000 mile race
Mountain Bike Hall of Fame legend John Stamstad dominated the early Iditasport 350 race winning the Extreme 4 times. In recent years Anchorage cyclist Peter Basinger has won the 350 mile event 6 times and this year in 2013 Jay Petervary from Idaho set a new course record and broke the 3 day mark.
Rookie Eszter Horanyi set a new female course record for the 350 mile distance in 2013 as well as a new foot record by Anchorage runner Anne Ver Hoef. Another record in itself is the fact that all 48 racers that started the 350 mile event in 2013 finished in McGrath with 8 continuing on to Nome.
The Iditasport race format included a mandatory overnite 30 miles into the race at Flathorn Lake.
The last year of Iditasport was 2001.
The race is now a straight through race with 7 checkpoints on the route to McGrath since the Iditarod Trail Invitational was formed by Bill Merchant in 2002.
Nome racers check in from the local villages and mail packages to the villages post offices along the way. They find accomadations in the village schools.
In 2003 extremely warm weather prior to the race and during the event forced organizers of the Iditarod Trail Invitational and the Iditarod Dog Sled Race north to the original Serum Run route from Fairbanks to Nome.
The Iditarod Trail Invitational started in Nenana and followed the trail 776 miles to Nome.
This is the most remote and longest winter ultra race in the world.
Competitors in the human powered event go through an interview process with race organizers Bill & Kathi Merchant. Bill Merchant has been involved witht the race since 1998 as a competitor, trail breaker and race director. He has completed the 350 mile race 8 times in 3 different modes: ski, bike and foot. He completed the 1000 mile course with his wife Kathi in 2008.
Since then he goes out on the trail every year and trail breaker and Rohn checker
Tim Hewitt is the only person that has finished to Nome seven times (2001, 2004, 2008,2009, 2010,2011, 2013).
It is a superhuman achievement!
The trail is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, but also crosses State Lands and Native Lands. The BLM acts as the trail manager of the historic Iditarod Trail. They build & maintain the shelter cabins and clear & mark the trail with trail grants, etc.
Iditarod Trail History:
Col Goodwin report from 1908:
1908 Report on the Seward to Nome Trail “Sirs: I have the honor to report of the Winter Reconnaissance, Seward to Nome, just completed, under written and verbal instructions of Captain Pillsbury, dated January 4th, 1908 as follows: After having two basket sleds and 18 sets of dog harness made and assembling provisions and camp outfit at Seattle, I sailed on the SS Northwestern on Jan. 16th and reached Seward onâ€¦” Download hereâ€¦
Iditarod Trail Manager
BLM-U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT