With temperatures dipping to nearly 20 below zero and the powdery snow knee deep, conditions hardly seemed ideal for a bike race.
Yet Jill Homer had little choice but to soldier on through the extreme conditions of the Alaskan wilderness as she competed in the Iditarod Trail Invitational.
Homer, a Sandy native and Alta High graduate, spent many sleepless hours hunkered down in a snowbank trying to rest, keep warm and muster up enough energy to push through a few more miles at a time during her 350-mile test of endurance physical and mental before she finally crossed the finish line at McGrath.
Her time of six days, two hours and 20 minutes is not exactly something to impress the folks at the Tour de France, but this race is nothing like the speed exhibitions on skinny tires. Homer's odyssey started out with a quick pace as she arrived at the 165-mile checkpoint of Puntilla Lake at record pace.
After that, the weather, terrain and conditions deteriorated and so did her pace as she tried to climb Rainy Pass.
"My bike weighs more than half what I do and I struggled with the slog," Homer wrote in her blog, arcticglass.blogspot.com. "I eventually bonked and had to bivy several miles below the pass in a kind of deep cold I have never before experienced for that long. I was well prepared for the possibility, but it's a different experience when you have run out of energy and you are nested in a snow bank, huddled in a sleeping bag and cuddling with your ice water."
Homer had to cross mountain passes and ice-cold rivers. Still, she found the strength to carry on despite setbacks that would have stopped most in their tracks.
"I came to an open stream crossing that was running knee deep, which at subzero temperatures, is a big deal," she wrote. "But I was in a hurry so I wrapped my garbage bags around my legs and quickly duct taped the tops, then hoisted my bike and stepped right into the creek. But the bike's weight and rushing water were too much for me to handle, and I dropped the bike. In my panic to keep it from falling over I leaned into the stream and water rushed down one of my legs."
After blazing what might have been a record finish for female racers in the event for the first two days, Homer was forced to rethink her strategy while recovering from the monumental effort.
With virtually no contact with the outside world and only spotty communications with race organizers, Homer needed nearly three days to cover the next 135 miles. The lack of news coming from the Alaska interior had loved ones and supporters worried and concerned.
But when she finally checked into Nikolai at Mile 300, the cabin had internet and phone service and she sent a message to the thousands of concerned people following her exploits online.
"I am doing the best that I can" she wrote. "It probably seems that I have slowed way down but that has mostly been my way of dealing with the cold and being out here in Interior Alaska by myself, which is causing some anxiety and has made it hard to sleep even when I am stopped."
Her adventure took longer than some expected and caused plenty of worry from family and friends. But it ended safely and well, she said.Of the nearly 50 racers entered in this year's competition, Homer was the 17th to complete the 350 mile journey from Knik Lake to McGrath. Many athletes, though, are continuing on to Nome a whopping 1,100 mile trek.
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