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Self Reliance Defined (on a bike in Alaska)

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I honestly thought the Primal Quest was a haul. Then a friend in the bike industry put me in touch with Mike Curiak, a 36-year-old man who has twice won a 1,100-mile bike race—through the snow—in Alaska called Iditabike.

But for this year’s race, Curiak is upping the ante.

Indeed, later this month the Colorado native will depart for Alaska to do the whole course of the Iditarod Trail Invitational (the new name for Iditabike) self supported.

That’s right. No drop bags. No outside help.

He’ll haul all his own food and supplies. . . in a trailer.

So, let me repeat this: Mike Curiak will ride a bike 1,100 miles THROUGH THE SNOW, for up to 20 days straight, hauling all his food, fuel and supplies—and melting snow for water—by pulling a trailer that will START OUT WEIGHING 90 POUNDS!

. . . wow. Puts my little list here to utter shame.

Here’s a quote from Mike on what he’s doing (courtesy of the Grand Junction Free Press):

“Doing this race self-supported is really outside of what people think is possible. Even the Iditabike racers who do the 100 and 350 mile courses use food drops. For the 1,100 mile race, there are bush planes that make food drops for racers out in the wilderness. I just came to the realization — ‘we can do this ourselves.’ That is the beauty of the race—not relying on anyone else. It is just a natural progression, removing any of the support you are using.”

Here’s a short Q&A I did with Mike last week. . .

Q—What is the trail like, how deep is the snow usually?
A—Varies from hardpacked (with a max speed of ~8mph) to knee deep and unconsolidated (walking and pushing the bike next to you).

Q—Where does the trail start and finish?
A—Starts at Knik Lake just outside Anchorage, and it finishes waaaaay northwest on the Bering Sea Coast, near the Arctic Circle at Nome. See trail description at https://www.iditarod.com/

Q—How much food are you hauling (in pounds), and what type of food?
A—Roughly 55 lbs of food. Primarily freeze-dried meals, supplemented with 5oz of chocolate per day. Clif Shot Bloks as electrolyte replacement snacks.

Q—Does all your food require a stove to unfreeze?
A—All of the freeze-dried stuff requires hot water to rehydrate/cook.

Q—How many times a day will you melt snow with a stove?
A—Just once.

Q—How much fuel are you bringing?
A—About two gallons. The general rule is ~8oz. of white gas per day for melting snow to drink and for rehydrating food. 8oz. x 25 (days) = 200oz. I hope to not be out there more than 20 days, so even with 200oz. I’ve got a three day margin of safety.

Q—How hard is it to pull a 90-pound trailer in the snow?
A—If you have to ask. . . Honestly, I have no idea how to explain the difficulty. When conditions are good it’s barely noticeable. Hills are the hardest—pretty much have to walk the bike up them, and then it gets a little sketchy trying to keep the bike moving slow on the way back down. Snow isn’t like dirt—there’s enough traction to do the basics, but once the tires break free they pretty much go wherever they please. And with a ~40lb bike and ~90lb trailer, there’s a lot of momentum to be controlled.

Good luck Mike!

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