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

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 19 2008 12:27 a.m. MST

"I could see sunlight on the mountain tops for most of this 'mostly cloudy' day," she wrote, "but the sun was always too low on the horizon for any light to touch the ground."

She competed in the Susitna 100 race in Alaska last year and has now upgraded her endurance ambitions to the 350-mile challenge that awaits her in late February as she pedals across the central wilderness of her adopted home state.

"I thought it would be a fun challenge just to train for it," she said.

Her father, Jed, may be the source of her adventurous spirit. The family frequently did outdoor activities like camping and whitewater rafting. But even he was surprised to see the extent she's taken her hobby.

"She's always had extreme kind of leanings," Jed Homer said. "Obviously, on one side there's concern. On the other side, we want to support her all the way. .. When she does things in extreme conditions like this, you can't make mistakes or there's a big price you have to pay. But she's always been extremely careful and prepared for everything she does."

Though Utah has "the greatest snow on earth," Homer didn't begin her frosty wanderings until she moved to Alaska. An avid recreational cyclist until then, Homer found herself devoting many hours per day to her bike. The journeys, though certainly a physical test, became therapeutic in many ways — especially during the long winter months when sunlight is rare.

"You have to get out just to keep your mental health," she said.

And that, perhaps, is what keeps the 28-year-old on her bike day after day. Accompanied by her boyfriend — Roes is an ultra-marathon runner who logs several thousand miles each year running — Homer recorded more than 6,500 miles during 2007.

During winter months, she rides a Surly Pugsley bike with mammoth-looking 4-inch wide tires. She keeps them inflated at a low air pressure to ensure they have the best traction and stability she can get. With wet and frozen roads the norm in her neck of the woods, Homer puts safety at a priority.

Still, even in Alaska, where virtually everything is extreme in one manner or another, she stands out on her bike.

"Suddenly, I've become this crazy bike lady that people recognize and feel compelled to question," she writes in her blog. "If I ride out to the lake on a semi-nice day, I almost have to put on an extra base layer so I can stay warm during all the time I'm stopped talking to people about my bike."

To cyclists in the "tropics" of Utah, her ride is a strange-looking creation. To Homer, the Pugsley is the perfect vehicle for the backroads of Alaska.

The bike will weigh nearly 65 pounds when she embarks on her journey. It will be loaded with a sub-zero sleeping bag, extra clothes, food, medicines, and virtually everything you might want — other than a portable heat lamp — while traversing the frozen backcountry of Alaska.

Jill Homer said she hopes to find a friend to pedal through the wilderness with. Company, she said, will help the time pass and create a support system in case of a breakdown or other emergency.

Some five or six days after starting, she hopes to cross the finish line in McGrath, where she will probably collapse — and begin dreaming up her next big adventure.

The Iditarod Trail Invitational

• Feb. 24, 2 p.m. at Knik Lake, Alaska

• 350 or 1,100 Miles

• Jill Homer's blog: arcticglass.blogspot.com


E-mail: jeborn@desnews.com

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