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When the Trail Goes Cold

RJ Sauer’s epic account of the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational race from Knik to Nome, Alaska. A must-experience piece complete with maps, hallucinations, introspection, and exquisite detail of a monumental journey.

RJ Sauer

Nothing says Hello Alaska like my cold hands lathering diaper cream over my private parts in the darkness of a winter morning along the Iditarod Trail.

The warmth from the snuffed fire is almost entirely sapped from within the walls of the shelter cabin as I crawl out of my sleeping bag and pack my bike for another day on the trail. Every surface of the outside world and the gear tethered to my Salsa Mukluk fat bike is encrusted in frost. It was another severely cold night, that frigid and dangerous place beyond where Celsius and Fahrenheit collide.

This was my second time competing in The Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) on bike, a one thousand mile race along the northern route of the historical Iditarod Trail. With the Iditarod Sled Dog race committed to an official restart in Fairbanks, our race paths would not cross until the Yukon River and the village of Ruby, half way through the race. This meant some anxiety about trail conditions through the more remote sections of the course where we depend on Iditarod trail breakers to carve out some semblance of a trail, specifically through the unvisited and unpopulated areas between Ophir and Ruby. There was also a new section of the race before Rohn, bypassing the traditional Rainy Pass and Dalzell Gorge for the longer passage through Hell’s Gate and Ptarmigan Pass used by the Iron Dog snow-machine race several weeks earlier than the ITI.

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