SlickRock

Iditarod Invitational February 2006

Planning

A Choice Of Equipment

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My first Idita race in 2004 by bike was a tough week in soft, warm conditions. After that race I didn't see myself going back to Alaska for a few years and in the summer of 2005 I took part in an early edition of the Great Divide Race. That race was desperately disappointing for me as I scratched in Pinedale having ridden less than 1000 miles. Frustrated, I considered going back to Alaska for the 2006 Idita race but riding was not going to be an option. I hatched a plan to prepare myself for racing on foot.

Winter travel in Alaska is not a cheap option and you end up with items of kit that really don't get used elsewhere; -40 sleeping bag, snow bike, super warm jacket and boots. Having procured most of this stuff in 2004 I didn't have too invest too much to get myself ready for foot travel. There was of course one fairly important bit of kit that I would need to acquire and that was a sled. Bizarrely, rather than having to turn to a Scandinavian or US manufacturer I was able to obtain the perfect article from Gloucestershire based supplier Snowsled. Their blue plastic pulk at just under 5 foot long cost 40 and was just what I wanted. I then searched the internet for poles and a harness and found what I wanted from Ed Bouffard. Ed was able to supply a set of rigid glass fibre poles that could be broken down into short lengths for easy air travel. They came with a set of fixings including a steel universal ball joint mechanism at the sled end which I thought was the best solution. Based in Minnesota Ed was able to ship the poles and harness direct to Anchorage where I could fit them a few days prior to the race. When the sled arrived I then had to work out a system of carrying my gear. A lot of racers would simply lash a bag to the sled and remove it when necessary, usually when going inside at a checkpoint. This seemed like a sensible way to go and should in theory be a lot easier than spreading gear all over a bike. One concern I did have was the possible accumulation of snow on top of the sled and having to clear it before opening the bag outside and getting snow inside. I decided to make myself a spraydeck which would fit over the sled and pull tight with shockcord. I found a supplier of ripstop nylon and within a few hours had what I thought was a pretty good set up. Footwear was my next consideration. When biking the feet get pretty cold, there is little flex and blood just doesn't seem to be too willing to travel all the way down there. When on foot however there is more flex and most walkers use an off road training shoe. I decided to use a pair of Montrail desert running shoes which came with a neat neoprene gaiter that pops onto the back of the shoe and clips underneath and cinches on the top. To these I added some fast lock laces which would hide below the zippered tongue. I bought about 2 sizes too big in order to accommodate some smartwool mountaineering socks. Not to leave myself without some contingency I also decided to carry a pair of NEOs overshoes which would add warmth if I did get cold and would be useful for crossing any stretches of open water.

So, I just needed to get fit and test my equipment. Easier said than done. I could pack my sled optimally but there was nowhere to drag it and test whether my harness and poles would work. First because there was no snow in England in Autumn and secondly my poles and harness were still being made in Minnesota. So I walked and ran and made sure that at least my legs were fit for purpose. Historically I had occasional issues with my legs, probably from overuse when younger, and I had to be careful not to aggravate any old injuries, the engine was strong and in good shape, the chasis was getting on a bit! My training usually consisted of frequent 10-15 mile runs and occasional 20-30 mile walks. I considered that this would be adequate.


The Sled, Pole and Harness Setup


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