Frontier rider — Native Utahn trains for 350-mile endurance test in Alaska

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 19 2008 12:00 a.m. MST

With bright sunshine in her face, Jill Homer rides across the frozen Mendenhall Lake on Jan. 10 in Juneau, Alaska.

Photo provided by Jill Homer

"I slipped out the door at 12:31 a.m. and pedaled beneath the orange glow of suburban street lamps. Blasts of hard wind amplified the already tiny temperature, but only the crackle of rubber on ice betrayed a bewildering quiet. I rode toward the black mass of mountains that would swallow me for the night. I was consumed with the loneliness and awe of the conditions I was simulating. I had to keep reminding myself I was only a few blocks from my house."Jill Homer, Jan. 29

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Jill Homer has been called a lot of different things.

Strangers call her daring, yet crazy. Friends think she's bordering on insanity, but brave. Family members think she is amazing but worry openly for her safety.

But of all the adjectives Homer has heard to describe her, one fits best.

"I kind of like 'adventurous,'" the 28-year-old Alta High graduate said. "I think it defines doing crazy things without being crazy."

Homer, indeed, does some crazy things. The craziest, though, comes on Feb. 24 when she mounts her bicycle and embarks on a journey few would feel confident, or competent, enough to attempt.

On that chilly afternoon, the adventure-loving cyclist will leave the shores of Knik Lake near Anchorage, Alaska, on a 350-mile journey that will take her through the wilderness of the Last Frontier with little more than her backpack and bike to keep her company.

As one of only 50 participants in this year's Iditarod Trail Invitational, Homer will pedal mostly in solitude as she meanders her way to the Kuskokwim River and the tiny village of McGrath.

"When I tell people about it they all tell me they think she must be crazy to do something like that," her mother, Sheri Homer, said. "But I've grown to just accept it. In fact, there's a little part of me that really admires her.

"She loves to do things to the fullest."

Her story didn't start in Alaska and almost certainly will not end there. Homer, a University of Utah graduate and journalist working for the Juneau Empire newspaper, enjoyed long bike rides for years before heading off to the Land of the Midnight Sun. It's just that Alaska is now home to her greatest adventures.

"I never really raced my bike, but I used to take long rides out by Salt Lake," she said. "One summer, Geoff (Roes, her boyfriend) and I rode across the country. So I guess it isn't that weird that I like to ride for hours now."

As one might expect, attempting a race such as the Iditarod Trail Invitational has earned Homer a share of attention and notoriety. Her blog, arcticglass.blogspot.com, is one of the most popular cycling blogs on the Internet. In it, she details her life on two wheels amid the beauty and isolation of Alaska.

The stunning photography and descriptive writing earned her a nomination for best sports blog in the 2008 Bloggie Awards.

"Her blog has been a great blessing," Sheri Homer said. "We don't get to talk to her every day. But we can read her blog and we feel pretty connected to her."

Her almost daily posts include pictures of the routes she rides and detailed memories of her day. Some days are rest days; others include relatively short 25-mile rides.

Then there are days like Dec. 27.

On that day, Homer began her ride early in the morning. Long before the sun decided to poke its head out for its brief December appearance, Homer hit the road at about 8:30 a.m. Ten hours and 111.5 miles later, she rolled back to her home to celebrate a long day (and night) of cycling through the cold, dark beauty of southern Alaska.

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