We had to have two ten pound drop bags ready in Anchorage on 22nd February and because of this most non American
racers had arrived one week before the race. A popular choice for many European racers was Earth B and B conveniently situated in the heart
of Anchorage. So it was on a very early Sunday morning, several hours after having arrived, I crept from my bedroom into the dimly lit
dining area to bump into one of the races more famous participants, Roberto Ghidoni from Italy. This 6'6" shaven headed giant of a man
in a black string vest looked down at me with his one good eye and in a soft voice welcomed me to Alaska. At 52, Roberto had finished
four previous races and held the foot record to Nome in 22 days. In the pre dawn darkness a sense of the seriousness of the whole thing
sent a shiver through me. However by mid morning and having met 2 other Italians, two Slovenians and 3 guys from Matlock I started to
feel a little more comfortable, the rookie element
was around 50%, safety in numbers!
The week that followed was too long by about 2 days. The drop bags went off to the wilderness on Sunday and then began daily visits to REI in the
constant quest for that last piece of essential kit. By Thursday most of us now just wanted to start. Each day the weather report was
the focus of attention, with unseasonably high temperatures, around 0c, there was worry of more snow and the trail not 'setting up',
developing a hard crust on which to ride.
I had bought my bike from Mark Gronewald owner of Wildfire Cycles in Palmer about an hour north of Anchorage. Mark has the steel frames
built in Oregon and had built this one up already with lightweight components. When I walked into his shop I spied the beast in the
corner and the size of the wheels brought a smile to my face, they were huge. A spin around the block, a change to a slightly longer
stem and the fit was good.
On the Wednesday a few of us drove out to Knik to ride the first 15 or so miles of the Iditarod route. With Bill and Kathi Merchant as
race organisers and our hosts for the morning we were in capable hands. With a lightly loaded bike the trail was a joy to ride, being a
much used section the snow was hard packed and fast. We rode double track through forest, crossed mile wide lakes and the snow covered
Mt Susitna provided a constant bearing for us. We averaged about 10mph and Bill remarked how fast this was with 4mph being a good race
speed, at this point that comment seemed hard to believe. I was very impressed with Rajko Podgoinic, one of the Slovenian skiers who was
able to keep pace with the bikes whilst carrying a full pack. If trail conditions like this carried all the way to McGrath then this was
going to be a blast of a ride - oh how na´ve I was.
Overflow and how to cope with it
One of the weeks recurring topics of conversation was 'overflow' and how do deal with it. Overflow has a few manifestations but
essentially is when water sits or flows on top of the river or lake ice. It's cold, very cold, and to be avoided at all costs.
A thigh high set of fishing waders would deal with it wonderfully but this wasn't really an option. The use of rubble sacks duck
taped to trousers above the knee was most peoples solution despite Bill indicating that ice floating in the water would rip the
plastic. Roberto came up with an original solution, cling film wrapped around the boots and up the legs and Italians were seen
putting the theory to test in the shower. I'm not sure if they did take rolls of the stuff with them or not.