Geoff Roes’ 2012 Iditarod Trail Invitational (350-miles) Race Report

Going into the Iditarod Trail Invitational, my primary focus was on savoring and embracing whatever experience the trail threw my way. My secondary focus was to do whatever it took to make it the full 350 miles to the finish in McGrath. In two previous attempts (‘ 08 and ‘09), I had dropped out, not having made it beyond mile 150. This time around I really wanted to start much slower, and speed up only if I was feeling good later in the race. Therefore, I was actually relieved the day before the race when looking at a weather forecast brought up statements like, “blizzard warning” and “10 to 15 inches of new snow.” I figured it couldn’t be that bad, and anything that helped me stick to my plan of starting slow would be a good thing.

[Editor’s Note: Geoff has also posted some videos as well as his food and gear list from the race.]

Day 1
Strangely though, on the morning of the start, there was very little new snow and the winds were calm. Had the storm bypassed us completely or was it just running late? We had no way to know, so all we could do at 2:00 pm when the race director said, “go,” was to begin our journey down the trail into the unknown.

I never really had an answer to the question, why am I doing this race? I guess in many ways I was as baffled by why I was doing it as other people were. I just knew that I really wanted to do it, and that this time I was going to do it “right.” But when we hit the first stretch of trail I wasn’t so sure anymore. The trail was softer than usual, and almost right away my hamstrings and hips were overworking to address the extra drag of pulling a sled through such soft snow. How the hell was I going to drag this thing for 350 miles if I was already feeling pretty worked over just a few miles down the trail?

Iditarod Trail Invitational 2012 - Knik Lake

Runners making their way across Knik Lake just minutes after the start. Photo: Geoff Roes

As we moved West toward the Susitna River the snow became softer and deeper. Out of stubbornness, I had kept from putting on my snowshoes, but finally at about mile 12 I had no choice but to put them on. In hindsight, I probably should have put them on at the start. In good years this trail can be so firm that you don’t wear snowshoes at all, and here we were putting them on at mile 12.

I was travelling in close proximity to several runners, Tim Hewitt, Beat Jegerlehner, Anne Ver Hoef, Dave Johnston, Andrea Hambach, Frank Janssens, and Rick Freeman, and really struggling to find any kind of rhythm. Darkness had set in by the time we reached Flathorn Lake (mile 20), and I was not doing well. The soft snow was making forward progress really slow, and I was already wondering if this whole thing was just one big mistake. Was I ridiculously underprepared for this challenge? It’s funny now to think back to this part of the race because these first 20 miles were some of the best 20 miles of trail we would have the entire race. Yet at the time, I was certain I would not make it unless the trail got much better.

Instead of getting better though, the trail quickly got much worse. It began to snow quite hard as we travelled across Flathorn Lake, and the wind had kicked up enough that it was almost impossible to find the trail. We looked for a shortcut that would keep us off the lake, out of the wind, but gave up after wasting 20 or 30 minutes looking for it in waist-deep snow. On the lake things continued to deteriorate. We were breaking trail through 15 or 20 inches of new snow and visibility was so poor that with every half dozen steps we had to stop to make sure we were still heading in the correct direction. Somewhere in the midst of this we ran into a lone biker, Phil Hofstetter, who was making his way back toward the Eastern end of the lake. When we asked him where he was going, he said that he couldn’t go any other direction because the snow was too deep so he was headed in the only direction he could move, even though it was taking him directly back toward where we had started the race 6 hours earlier. With our snowshoes we were eventually able to break a trail across the lake and on into Dismal Swamp. Somewhere, in the midst of this chaos that was Flathorn Lake, I began to feel a lot better. My hips were finally loosening up and I began to let go of the stress of how slow the trail was.

We spent the remaining several hours of that night, until 4 am, covering perhaps 5 or 6 more miles – maybe less. Eventually our group of “runners” caught up to a group of about a dozen bikers, and we all pushed forward through Dismal Swamp at a pace that was slower than 1 mph. Eventually, the snow was so deep that I picked my sled up and carried it on my back for a few hours, a feature of my sled that I had hoped I wouldn’t have to use. When we finally stopped to bivy for a few hours before dawn, we had covered perhaps 35 miles in 15 hours, and unless some snowmachines came through in the night and broke a trail, things were likely to get worse before they got better.

Day 2
The amazing thing about day two was that it was even slower than day one. We hit the trail around 7 am, dropped onto the Susitna River, pushed up river a few miles, and headed up the Yentna River. All the while breaking trail through 30+ inches of new snow that had fallen in the first 24 hours of the race! We took turns leading the way and continued on at a snail’s pace. At about 3 pm Tim and I made it to Luce’s Lodge (mile 50), meaning we had covered only 15 miles in 8 hours that day. I was trying to stay away from doing the math, but it didn’t take any actual math to have a very complete understanding of the fact that we were moving ridiculously slow.

After a burger, a sandwich, and some fries at Luce’s, I hit the trail and pushed up river to the first official checkpoint of the race at Yentna Station (mile 57). For a few miles in this stretch the trail was actually not too bad, but still all in snowshoes, and still all walking. In my two previous attempts at this race I had run about 80% of the trail to Yentna Station. This year I ran about 50 feet of this 57-mile section. Even though it was only 8 pm I decided that I needed to stop and get some sleep at the checkpoint. I had been racing for 30 hours and had only slept one. I also knew that if I slept for 4 or 5 hours that the trail might be in better shape when I got back at it. The temperature was dropping and the trail seemed like it might be on its way to setting up more firmly.

Day 3
The amazing thing about day three though, was that the trail was even slower yet again! While I slept at Yentna Station, the winds had kicked up, and 30 inches of fresh snow instantly made any trail that had existed almost useless. Every now and then I could actually find the trail, but for the most part I was breaking trail all over again, and this time I was doing it solo. Tim had pushed ahead, without sleeping at Yentna, but everyone else was now behind me, resting up to hit the trail a few hours after me.

For some reason though as I plodded up the Yentna River I was in a really good mood. My body was slowly feeling better, and I began to find humor in the whole thing. We were nearing the 48th hour of the race, and all of the bikers, who often finish the 350 miles in just a bit over 72 hours, were less than 75 miles into the race. Those of us on foot were having a slightly easier time than the bikers, but not a whole lot. In 2008, I had covered 150 miles in the time that it had taken me to do 70 this year. I’m not sure why, but somehow I took a lot of solace in this miserably slow pace. I think part of me felt really excited knowing that I wasn’t going to get cheated; that if I actually made it to McGrath I was going to have to work my ass off to do it; and that it was probably going to require being out there for several days longer than I had anticipated. The idea being that the only thing better than spending 5 or 6 days trekking across the Alaskan wilderness, with all my survival gear in tow, is spending a few more days than that. Or at least this is what I told myself to help me emotionally get through these first few days.

And somehow this bizarre approach was working really well. I was in a great mood when I made it to Skwentna (checkpoint number 2, mile 90) sometime in the mid-afternoon of day three.

For me, leaving Skwentna is when the wildness of this route really begins to sink in. The trail leaves the Yentna River and begins to move through the Shell Hills, winding through beautiful forests and open meadows, with large mountains looming in the distance. Leaving Skwentna was also the point when I truly began to know that I was going to finish this race. I’m not sure why, but for some reason I felt all of my fear and apprehension slip away as I made my way up into the hills. I could feel myself becoming more and more connected to the trail with each step. Subsequently, this would be the first time that I would cry uncontrollably out on the trail, but far from the last.

Iditarod Trail Invitational 2012 - Skwentna

Day 3, leaving Skwentna and heading toward the Shell Hills. Photo: Geoff Roes

Day 4
I slept for a few hours that night at Shell Lake Lodge (mile 110), and then hit the trail at about 2 am, figuring I would cruise from there over to Finger Lake (checkpoint 3, mile 135) by a bit after day break. Once again the trail was nowhere near as good as I expected. It was very soft and punchy, and in many places wind drifted. Combined with this was the fact that I had not given myself enough sleep at Shell Lake. My hope was that I could push through the day on just a few hours of sleep, make my way up to Rainy Pass Lodge (mile 165) not too long after dark, and get 5 or 6 hours of sleep before hitting the trail over Rainy Pass the next day. That was the hope.

Back to reality: by 5 am I was falling asleep as I walked slowly down the trail. I told myself that if I could just make it until daybreak I would perk up. I passed Tim who had decided to bivy on the side of the trail. I knew that I needed to do the same, but I was being stubborn. Finally, it began to get light and instead of perking up I felt even more tired. I had no choice but to stop. I was stumbling sideways with very little forward momentum when I finally pulled out my bag and slept for an hour. When I packed up my stuff to hit the trail, the lone skier left in the race, Andreas, skied past me and into the overall race lead. Tim was still bivied about a mile back, and all the bikers had either dropped out or were several hours behind us pushing their bikes slowly along the trail.

When I finally rolled into the Finger Lake Checkpoint at noon, I was a mess. My ankles hurt, I needed rest, I was insanely hungry, and I was completely humbled. Just 15 hours earlier I had had this huge burst of emotion and confidence, feeling certain that I would finish this race, and now I was a total mess, unsure of everything. I walked into the checkpoint and sat down with my head on the table. I needed to cry, but I felt embarrassed to do it in front of other people (by the end of the race I stopped caring who I cried in front of). They brought me a giant plate of rice, beans, chicken, and tortillas that I ate within seconds and ordered another. While eating I emptied the trash from my jacket pockets and noticed a piece of notebook paper in the pile in the trashcan. I pulled it out and saw a drawing from Elle and a note from Corlé. The timing of this was amazing. I was having the toughest time I had had all race and just discovered a note my family had left in my pocket for me. Of course I cried again; and then I rested.

Iditarod Trail Invitational 2012 - Geoff Roes Finger Lake

Finger Lake Checkpoint, trying my best not to look as bad as I feel. Photo courtesy of Geoff Roes

I couldn’t sleep (a common problem of mine in multi-day races), but I took a lot of time to tend to my feet (ankles needed taping), organize and dry all my gear, and mostly just get myself emotionally ready to head back out on the trail. It’s a shame to spend 5 hours at a checkpoint and not get any sleep, but in this case I needed every minute of this time just to build up the courage to take one more step down the trail. Finally, at about 5 pm I felt like I was ready. Not confident, but at least ready to give it a try. My revised plan was that I would push onward for a few hours and then bivy for 5 or 6 hours to try to catch up a bit on the sleep I hadn’t gotten in the previous 24 hours. This was one case in which I was able to stick to my plan perfectly. I went about 4 hours up the trail (which was still in pretty miserable shape with lots of drifted snow), and eventually passed Andreas and caught up to Tim, both of whom had left Finger Lake a bit before me. Andreas had stopped to bivy and was really struggling with a badly injured arm (he would later need to drop out at Rainy Pass Lodge), and when I caught Tim we decided to bivy there together. By this point of the race it was becoming really obvious that Tim and I were likely going to be around each other for most of the race. I was generally moving faster than him while we were on the move, but with the trail so rough in spots the difference was very small. Any time I could make up on him on the move, he would always make up on me by being much more efficient with his stopped time than I. He has likely traveled more human powered miles on the Iditarod Trail than anyone ever, so to say that he had things pretty dialed in and running smoothly would be a huge understatement. It was somewhere around this bivy at the end of the fourth day that I began to realize just how lucky I was to be traveling so much of this trail with Tim. I began to watch everything he did with a keen interest, as I slowly realized that everything he did had a purpose and a benefit in helping him get closer to the end.

Day 5
And so it came as no surprise that when I woke up 5 hours later to hit the trail that Tim was already gone. I was very content with this though. I really needed the sleep and I knew I could catch up to him pretty easily on this hilly stretch of trail up toward Rainy Pass Lodge. Also, as I was packing up to hit the trail, Andreas and two foot racers (Anne and Rick) passed by me, and another foot racer (Frank) had done so in the night. It was really nice to hit the trail with other racers close by. After the previous morning of trying to stumble on my own to Finger Lake, it felt reassuring to have some company. Five hours of sleep is, however, a lot more than 2, and almost immediately I knew I wasn’t going to be doing any stumbling that morning. I was feeling great and within a few minutes I passed Anne, Rick, Frank (bivied), and eventually Andreas. Also somewhere in here I passed by the Happy River Steps, which is the furthest point I had ever been down the trail previously. I recognized the exact spot where I had turned around in 2008, and couldn’t help but cry once again as I passed it. I was further along the Iditarod Trail than I had ever been and I was feeling great. Sometime in the late morning I caught up to Tim, and Andreas caught back up to us around this time, as this was a really fast stretch for skiing. It was also better trail for foot travel than we had had all race. We were still wearing snowshoes, but you could actually get in a rhythm and click off 4+ mph.

Andreas, Tim, and I all arrived at Rainy Pass Lodge (checkpoint 4, mile 165) within 30 minutes of each other. There Tim and I readied ourselves for the trek over the pass. Andreas decided to stop here as he had fallen and injured his arm quite badly on Flathorn Lake, 145 miles earlier. This race draws some really tough individuals. Andreas had just skied with one arm for 4 days. And we’re not talking about a minor injury. I’m pretty sure it was broken.

As usual Tim left the checkpoint about an hour before me, but I felt like I needed that extra hour with my feet up to hopefully have the energy to make it up and over the pass, and down into Rohn before sleeping again. The trail out of the checkpoint was good for a while and then it became almost comical. The wind had done its thing here also, and left in its wake some amazingly hard sastrugi drifts. It wasn’t the surface that was the comical part though; it was the lighting that was so flat that I couldn’t see what I was walking on. Numerous times I would walk off 2-foot ledges without having any idea that they were there. At times I was crawling on all fours just so I could feel what was underneath me. It was so difficult and absurd that it was funny. And so I walked, crawled, and inched my way upward toward the pass.

Eventually, the trail got a little better and the lighting improved. And all the while I went up. I was still feeling good and so I pushed hard to try to get to the pass by dusk. Just as I made it to the top the clouds lifted and the moon came out. The air got really still and really dry and I felt like I had just walked into a new world. There were mountains everywhere, and they were really big mountains. The moonlight was so bright that I could travel without my headlamp on. I could see Tim’s light up ahead as I began to descend into the northern side of the Alaska Range. The moon lit up the mountains and reminded me of being in a canyon in southern Utah on a moonlit night. In short, this was one of the most beautiful places I had ever been. And so I cried again. I caught up to Tim and he decided to stop to tend to some blisters, a broken trekking pole, and maybe sleep for a few hours. I decided to rally on down to Rohn.

The run down to Rohn was awesome. I actually ran most of this “run,” and was even able to take the snowshoes off for the last few miles! I arrived at the Rohn Checkpoint (mile 210) right at midnight and was super amped up. I was in one of the most beautiful places I had ever been; I was leading the entire race – something that no one on foot had ever done this far into the race; I was feeling really good; and I got to hangout with Bill and Rob at the checkpoint. Up until Rohn the checkpoints are all run by lodge owners out on the Iditarod Trail. They are all very generous and very helpful, but for the most part they have very little idea or interest in what you’re going through out on the trail. Bill and Rob, on the other hand, not only get it, but were anxious to hear what was happening in the race up to that point. I rambled on, telling them everything they wanted to know, and I loved every minute of it. That night in Rohn was one of the most satisfying evenings one could ever hope for. If only I could have found a way to make it last.

Day 6
I hit the trail around 7 am, having only slept for 2 or 3 hours. You would think that in spending 7 hours at a checkpoint I could manage to get more than 2 or 3 hours of sleep, but not the case. It kept taking me forever to get my stuff organized, and when I would finally lie down to sleep, it would take me an hour or more to fall asleep. By this point I was moving on toward the 5-day mark of the race and I had only slept a total of 15 or 16 hours. This is more than many people try to sleep in this kind of event, but I think I do better if I focus on moving fast and resting longer – but the rest just isn’t as beneficial if I don’t actually sleep. Nonetheless, I felt good for the first several miles out of Rohn, but then I slowly began to realize that I was in desperate need of more rest. I was feeling the way I had felt two days earlier trying to make it to Finger Lake, and it was obvious that it was only going to get worse until I slept. So 3 hours after leaving the checkpoint where I had just stopped for 7 hours, I needed to stop and bivy at 10:00 in the morning. This was really frustrating to me at the time, so much so that when I did get in my bag I still couldn’t sleep because I was so frustrated by how much I needed sleep. I laid there for 3 hours, but probably got no more than 20 minutes of actual sleep. In this time Pete Basinger and Phil cruised past me on their bikes (Never thought Phil would be in this position when I saw him so deflated that first night on Flathorn Lake). I had known it was only a matter of time before the bikers would get some rideable trail and take over the race lead. Also, as I was packing up to hit the trail, Tim passed by. He, too, looked really tired, but in his usual way, just kept plugging along.

Iditarod Trail Invitational 2012 - Alaska Range

Looking back at the Alaska Range somewhere north of Rohn. Photo: Geoff Roes

Upon leaving Rohn at 7 am I held this faint hope that if the trail was really good, maybe I could push on all the way to Nikolai (almost 90 miles past Rohn) in one shot. I knew it was kind of a longshot, but on good trail it would be possible. After a 3-hour bivy in which I didn’t really get any sleep, this was no longer an option. But at least the trail was good. Perhaps I could still make a decent day out of it? Nope. The trail didn’t stay good for very long. It got soft and slow. We were now over the Alaska Range where things are much drier and colder. The snow was like sand paper, and dragging my sled across the ground took way more effort than just a day earlier. Also, my ankles were bothering me quite a bit still. Somewhere around Farewell Lakes (mile 230), I discovered that when I ran my ankles actually loosened up and felt much better. The problem was that the surface was still not very conducive to running. I ran anyway. It was the slowest I have ever run, as anything faster would have used more than a sustainable amount of energy. Somewhere in here I caught up to Tim again, and passed him. A few hours later I was too tired to continue on any further so I stopped near a place called Buffalo Camp (mile 250) around midnight to bivy. Tim joined me after a bit, and we spent the night there together. This time I think he needed a bit more rest than usual so we decided to hit the trail together in 4 or 5 hours. I had only covered about half the mileage I had originally hoped to that day, but by that point I was having an easier time accepting these shortfalls. Almost everyday we got word from someone that the trail was really good up ahead, and every time they were wrong. It took me 6 days, but now I just didn’t really care how much ground I covered in a day. I simply moved down the trail until I was too tired to keep moving and then stopped for some rest. If the trail allowed for 75 miles or 25 miles it didn’t really make a difference to me anymore. Or so I thought.

Day 7
And then came the 7th day, Buffalo Camp to Nikolai (mile 300). The trail seemed decent, but for some reason it was taking us forever to get anywhere. I thought it was only 30 miles from Buffalo Camp to Nikolai, but it’s actually closer to 45. Combine this with the slow trail and this became the hardest day of the race for me. I couldn’t tell if it was the trail or my body or something else, but I just couldn’t cover decent ground. It felt like we were moving pretty quickly, but we weren’t getting anywhere. Tim and I travelled together most of the day, as I couldn’t really move any faster than I was. In hindsight, I think that the snow was just so cold and dry that there was just too much drag to go any faster. When I tried pushing harder, within seconds I could feel that I was using too much energy, and I had to cut back. And so we plodded along. Sometime right around sunset we made it to the Nikolai Checkpoint. I was miserable most of that day, and decided that no matter how tempting it might be to take a quick stopover and get back on the trail to do the final 50 miles without sleep, I was going to sleep 5 hours in Nikolai, to increase my chances of finishing the race feeling something better than miserable.

After an hour at Nikolai, Tim decided that he was going to hit the trail and bivy along the way instead of sleeping at the checkpoint. Perhaps he headed out of there hoping that he had the energy to push through the whole night all the way to Mcgrath, but by this point I wasn’t thinking of this as too much of a race. Tim and I had travelled 300 miles together, each of us moving faster because of the influence of the other. We had made a great team, and if he had it in him to push all the way to the finish in one shot, I would have been nothing but super excited for him. And super impressed.

Day 8
So I stuck to my plan. I slept for 5 hours and then hit the trail at about 2 am. The trail was good. I didn’t need snowshoes, and I was able to run. I felt like I was doing 5 or 6 mph, but it was so cold I knew my sled wasn’t likely letting me go that fast. When I left Nikolai it was 20 below zero, and I could feel it getting colder by the minute. I put on more clothes and I pressed on. There were 3 bikers and Tim ahead of me. I began to see signs of struggling travelers. Lots of stops; Body prints in the snow; Lots of footprints next to bikes in spots that should have been rideable; and eventually sleeping pad imprints just off the side of the trail. And then another one. Someone had bivied at least twice through here in the past 5 hours. And then I came across Tim bivied on the side of the trail. I woke him to try to get him to hit the trail with me, but he said he was too tired to move, but too cold to sleep. I looked at my thermometer; it was bottomed out at 35 below. I learned later that it hit 40 below that night in McGrath, which means it was probably closer to 50 below out on the rivers where we were. And there was Tim just lying on the side of the trail in his sleeping bag, seemingly unaware of the absurdity of this. I guess when you’ve done this hundreds of times maybe it ceases to be absurd. It was a special thing to witness just how comfortable and capable Tim is with such harsh conditions.

After I confirmed that he felt safe and didn’t need any help, I continued on. And I continued to run. My ankles stayed loose as long as I ran, even if I was running slower than 4 mph at times. As the sun came up the temperature seemed to dip even lower. I remember one spot in which it felt like it was significantly colder than anywhere else I had been, even though my thermometer had been bottomed out for 5 or 6 hours. Who knows maybe that spot was 55 or 60 below – nearly 100 degrees colder than day two of the race when temperatures pushed into the upper 30’s. The amazing thing was that I stayed totally warm. It’s hard to get in enough food and water when it’s that cold though, so I was trying my best to stay on top of that, aware that I was also moving closer and closer to running out of food and water.

Iditarod Trail Invitational 2012 - Geoff Roes near finish

Sunrise at 40 below on the last morning, less than 20 miles from the finish. Photo: Geoff Roes

Eventually the day warmed up to about 25 below, and I hit the ice road, which makes up the last 12 miles of the race. This was another one of those crying spots. Holy Shit. I had done it. I was going to make it. In my mind I had already made it. But then of course 12 miles of road, dragging a 35-pound sled is still really damn hard. To make it even worse the road had mile markers the entire length of it. I thought I was doing about a 10-minute mile. It was actually 12, and it was not sustainable. I ran out of food and water. My miles slowed to 15 minutes per mile. I was still running. I felt like I was running fast, but 15:00 per mile is nothing more than a steady walk on a road like this. With around 9 miles to go I decided I would run every other mile hard and then take a recovery mile. This worked for about two miles, but at mile 7 when I set out to run a hard mile, I had to stop after 30 seconds. I was completely bonking and I still had to go at least 100 more minutes. I guess it was only fitting that it would end really hard like this. It would have been kind of weird if it had ended any other way. Eventually I made it. I even ran the whole way, but by the end I doubt I was running much faster than 25 minutes per mile. It was pathetic and it was awesome. I cried a lot. And then I stumbled into the driveway of Peter and Tracey Schneiderheinze, the greatest finish line you could ever imagine. Words can’t do justice to describe how incredible Peter and Tracey are; you’ll just have to do the race to find out for yourself.

When it was said and done, I had finished in just under one full week, and I left nothing out there. I couldn’t have possibly gone on for another day. In the days since I finished, I have tried my best to reintegrate back into my “normal” life, but it takes awhile after doing something like this to feel like the world you previously knew is the same world that still exists. It will be some time down the line before I’m able to really put the whole experience into perspective, but this event is without a doubt even more epic than I had already imagined. The satisfaction in completing it is without question the greatest I have ever had from a physical endeavor, but then again the physical is such a small part of this endeavor. In winning the foot division of this race I have received a free entry into next year’s race. I have had several people ask if I’m planning to use that entry. Right now I have no idea. The thought of doing this race ever again seems completely terrifying to me, but the thought of not doing it again seems like such a wasted opportunity to experience something so huge and profound. The good thing is that I don’t have to decide anytime soon.

There are 105 comments

  1. David

    Congratulations! Very inspirational, us Virginians are such wimps – I cannot not imagine facing those conditions. One quick follow-up question (and if it was in the piece please forgive me), what type of footwear did you use – boots the entire time or a combinations of boots & something more performance oriented?

      1. Geoff

        I just published my full gear list over on my blog. shoes were the same as always for me: Montrail Mountain Masochist (Outdry version).

        1. David

          Great, thanks Geoff. I cannot think of a better endorsement for the Outdry technology than 350 miles in snow and sub-zero temps.

        2. David

          About the Atlas Race Snowshoes – I'm guessing because it was so cold you didn't worry about puncturing thru the snow? I have no reference living in Northern Virginia but when we do get snow and I try to run with my Redfeather Race snowshoes – I just push right thru. I need a packed groomed trail to use them correctly (which is quite a drive).

  2. tam

    I was glued to your story, Geoff. I loved how you desribed so clearly your inner journey as well as the incredibly intense outer conditions. Thanks so much for taking the time to share it with us and congratulations on your win.

  3. derrick

    Huge congratulations Geoff!

    ‘Epic’ is often an overused word in the ultra world, but reading your account of the race is the one time I find myself thinking that it underestimates your race.

    I cannot imagine going through snow that deep with a pulk in places…and on snowshoes that early.

    Great race and incredible report. Thank you for sharing.

    Recover well.

  4. Dr. Thomas Redeker

    Hi geoff,

    this report is such great, that I don`t find the right words. I look up to you because you are such a great sportsman, a person who inspires me to go new ways.

    Before the Iditarod Trail Invitational with the WS 100 record you wrote already history, but after the ITI victory you are for sure one the most great ultra runner, sportsmann and human being I know.

    Hope to hear more form your runs and adventures in the future,

    Greetings from germany.

    Thomas Redeker

  5. richard felton

    wow! please anybody who reads this leave a comment and make it the most talked about entry in irunfar's history. it deserves it

  6. Phil

    Geoff – that was a fantastic read – really inspiring. Thanks for taking the time through the videos and this account to share your thoughts and feelings. Great stuff.

    Bryon – thanks for hosting it, I love these kinds of personal, honest accounts, like Joe's as well – you really get a small sense of what they are undertaking, and a little of what it has cost emotionally and physically to do. Keep them coming!


  7. Bartman


    Congratulations! What an absolutely epic adventure. I believe I speak for most of the readers that your humility and open hearted account of your struggles, joys, inspirations, low points and admiration for your fellow travelers and competitors not only quickens our spirits but humbles us as well. I have experienced enough

    -50 degree weather that the depth of your undertaking completely baffles me.

    Thank you for the splendid accounting of your event and experience.

  8. Sara

    What a read! So honest and raw. Thank you for sharing the details of your epic adventure. It was fun to follow along and now fill in some of the details. Huge Congrats!!

  9. Neal Gorman

    To me, your story definitely answers the 'why' question. If there was ever even a 'why' to begin with. Kudos on such a great achievement and experience, and for overcoming a fear. That is big time.

    By the way, I am curious what the heck you ate out on the trail in such cold temps and for so many days? And how much?

  10. Pam

    This really is so far beyond imagining, Geoff! I'm sure there's a whole library of emotions going on behind the scenes here. You make it sound totally impossible and totally enticing all at the same time. Beautiful, beautiful…..

  11. Tim Lambert

    Geoff- how do you keep finding more and more epic things to do? and then go and win them! I take inspiration as I am only 30 know and starting ultra's, just like you did. You have no idea how inspirational you are.

    Now, speak to NASA and organise that Moon ultra for 2014…

  12. James D

    I've been looking forward to this read since Bryon dropped a tweet about it yesterday. Thank you very much for the most personal account of this amazing race. And, more so, congratulations on the fine effort! Inspiring as always.

  13. Todd

    Webster's Dictionary should redefine the word "epic" and use this story!!! Wow is all I can say. Geoff, you are an incredible human being, and an amazing sportsman!!! You really showed us all what can be accomplished by simply putting one foot in front of the other. Kudos to you for realizing your dream of finishing this journey.

  14. Jim, K

    Geoff….I can't put in to words what a fantastic read this was. Thank you! You are truly an inspiration. Congratulations!!!!!

  15. John M

    Congratulations on the finish. Awesome stuff. I'm with a lot of other folks on here in that the race sounds awesome. I'm not sure if I'll ever give it a go, but you've inspired me to at least think about a future attempt. Thanks for the report and the videos!

  16. nate

    no better way to avoid getting start on a monday morning sitting at my desk than reading about something I know I could never do …..

  17. Danni Coffman

    Awesome work. I was hoping the foot people would beat the bikes this year, but was also glad the trail conditions improved at least a little for awhile. This is definitely on my bucket list.

  18. John D.

    Amazing race and what a finish! This will certainly be food for thought the next time I'm hurting on a measly 20 mile run. Congrats!

  19. RC

    Thanks for making me feel so pathetic. I couldn't even get out of bed for a 3 miler in the dark this morning! (It is daylight savings you know)

    Awesome job!!!

  20. Rob Y

    So inspirational. I've been following along vicariously for many years the trials and tribulations of the human powered Iditarod athletes. I hope to one day follow in their footsteps and make my own trek across the frozen Alaskan wilderness. EPIC! Congratulations Geoff!

  21. sharon roes

    Awesome, amazing, inspirational, brave, wonderful, humble – you are all of those things and you are OUR SON!!!!! We love you, Geoff and so glad you accomplished this goal and that you are safe!!! Can't wait for Easter..

    1. Randy

      And kudos to you Mom Roes,Tenacity,Perseverance,and Resilience don't just "happen",it starts from the cradle onwards,which i'm sure Geoff will instill in his family as well.Well done.

  22. olga

    It sure does leave you with a ":I want to do it too!" idea. If only I didn't have to buy so much gear, which I can't comprehend money-wise II realize you're sponsored for a good 90% of it looking at your blog and gear list). Really, pretty cool bad-ass crying fit, love it.

  23. Randy

    Gratz to you and all the people in that race,really raised the bar for self-reliance under extreme conditions.While you are recovering,check out the book,"In the Land of White Death",Valerian Albanov.Shows how some people have that inner strength to keep going in harsh conditions,a special mind-set and toughness that keeps people going way beyond the "norm".

  24. AJW

    Dear Geoff,

    Thanks for writing such a thorough and gripping report. I hung on your every word as you described your extraordinary journey across the Alaskan Wilderness. You know, it's funny, how often these things can turn into odysseys or "secular pilgrimages" for us. I occasionally like to think that way during 100-mile races. But this event, and your own personal journey, takes the notion of a pilgrimage to a whole new level. It was honest-to-goodness inspiring to read your words and as I attempted to summon up the energy to put myself into our shoes I honestly became exhausted just sitting on the couch. I know you probably don't want to think about it too much right now but if any of your fellow Hardrock competitors are reading this I would imagine they're thinking to themselves, "uh-oh!"

    Great stuff, man. Recover well.


  25. jenn

    Seriously awesome. I used you all as inspiration on a couple of evening runs – if you guys could be out there slogging, I wasn't going to wimp out on my easy little jaunt! And Tim Hewitt is a badass. I want to be him when I grow up! 57, and still kicking ass and taking names on the Iditarod. Congratulations on a great race and an even greater experience!

  26. AMuthig

    Thanks for sharing the journey. I had put my pulk away for the season, but you've inspired me to pull it back out and enjoy another month of winter trails. Congrats and cheers!

  27. p nome

    Awesome race Geoff, killer finish! Great seeing you, Tim and others out on the trail– yes I admit it took me a while to get used to being passed routinely by foot racers. I agree, that last section had to be close -50 or colder in places. I was wondering if it was my extreme bonk but a couple places on that river the cold just took my breath away.


  28. Eric Grossman


    This is the best ultra narrative I've read. What strikes me most is your ultimate humility: you didn't know why you were doing it or whether you would finish, and only when you gave up all your preconceptions did you open yourself completely to the experience. Your account is a gift to the ultra community.


  29. Steve Pero

    Wow! That report ranks up there with my favorites, this may be it. Absolutely an incredible feat of human endurance…and this goes to not only you, but to Tim and all the others who did this. Thanks for the writeup, you will never be the same Geoff you were before this.

  30. Ian Sharman

    Amazing! It almost sounds like a completely different sport to ultra-running and I suppose it is. I can't fathom what it takes to complete that but great work doing it and in being so successful too.

  31. MikeC


    Thank you for the candid account. I couldn't stop reading it. I also get emotional in races, i'm unemotional in general so its good to see I'm not the only one.

    Congratulations on finishing the race, sounded like a tough 2011 was tough, I for one was rooting for you.

  32. kendra olsen

    geoff – i love it! i cried at the part about the note from corle and elle's drawing. beautiful account of an amazing adventure.

    you are my hero !!

  33. mayayo

    Amazing race, and amazing report, Geoff.

    It was a true pleasure to read your story and share into such a truly epic adventure.

    Enjoy those memories. and take good time to recover. You sure earnt it :)

  34. ken michal

    Amazing report, Geoff!!! Thank you for being candid about the emotions you felt out there!! I think that this is what really makes the whole thing worth it!

    Congratulations again!!

    Al Day!


  35. Steph


    Excellent race report.

    So inspiring! I kept finding myself cringing at parts.

    Curious, I noticed the headphones, what were you listening to the whole time?

  36. Jeremy

    Incredible! I am completely inspired! What amazes me even more than the fact you completed such an extraordinary feat, is that you were able to keep it together mentally. It's nice to hear that such an accomplished athlete is still human enough to be broke down. Thank you for this race report.

  37. Anne VH

    Hey Geoff, great write up – I totally understand the highs and lows out there – having experienced some of them with you. You did an amazing job, that's for sure. This race is such a physical and mental challenge – you rose to meet it and came out on top. And, I TOTALLY empathize with the question of returning next year – I hate the thought of doing it again but there is something so compelling about the feeling of completing the darn thing that you want to capture that again. I should probably leave "well enough alone." You are an incredible athlete, Geoff, and a wonderful, special human being. I'm glad to know you! Rest up, eat heartily, snuggle with your loved ones.

  38. Brad G.

    Extraordinary and transformative to read. I can't imagine what it must have been like to experience. Congratulations on achieving your goal.

  39. Anthony Waller

    I have been an avid reader of your ultra journey over

    the last few years. I was eagerly following the updates

    on the Idatrod website and willing you on. This adventure

    is truly incredible and the writeup is as pure as the

    trail through which you travelled. Keep inspiring us!

  40. Mike McM

    This report is going to inspire swarms of people around the world to get out and challenge themselves. Thank you for sharing such an incredible, life-changing experience. This really puts a whole new perspective on the concept of endurance. Congratulations!

    ..I'm going to go enjoy a run on this 70+ degree spring day now :)

  41. Frank

    Great and honest description of the race. I was begining mine when I found yours and yours says evrything better than I could do. Sharing the trail with you was a pleasure and a feeling I will never have on any mountain trails in the future :)))).

    The stomach flu bug caught in Rohn have had the last word on my race forcing me to return to Nikolai after being out for 2 hours, I guess after 50 years of age the level of wisdom is somewhat different :|

    After 3 days back in anchorage I was still sick so the frustration to have to stop so close of the finish line is somehow diluted by the reality. But I would have loved to catch up with you and Tim at Mc Grath to celebrate a great epic edition. It was nice to meet you you are a great athlete with that little plus that keep you "human": emotions and feelings.

    Happy trail and nice recovering.


    1. geoff


      i was super bummed when i heard you had to pull the plug. i think i got through rohn just in time to avoid the stomach thing… although they were starting to talk about it when i was there. would love to read an account of your adventure. if you write something up let me know:

      hope you're feeling better.


  42. Christen B

    A more than inspiring story. Thanks do much for sharing it. Such perseverance is something to aspire to, and the story a spark to keep tucked away for when the trail seems challenging and I need a "no excuses" fire to light under me.

  43. Anonymous

    Hey Geoff,

    Great write up. I should blog but you do such a nice job it is unnecessary. Your descriptions took me right back to the trail. Pete and I considered going on to Nome but with 5 feet of new snow in the interior and the dogsled trailbreakers being 3 days back it would have added too many days to the trek to justify (especially since McGrath took 2 days longer than planned). I really enjoyed your companionship on the trail and look forward to when our trails merge again. All the Best and thanks again for your race report. Tim

  44. J. Arzie

    Very good report of your journey. Inspiring and completely honest. It takes a real man to admit his emotions and on a journey like this Im sure there would be many emotions and feelings that words couldn't describe. The fact that you finished the race is exciting the fact that you did so in first place is the icing on the cake! Congrats!

  45. Robin Zando


    Your family is all so proud of you! I was with your mom and dad on the last day as they were waiting for updates. Knowing that you made it to each checkpoint was the highlight of our days. Thanks for your report of the journey, it gave us just a taste of your adventure. Can't wait to hear more.

  46. mike arnstein

    nuts, just off the charts crazy awesome. I was surprised the 'cold' wasn't more of an issue for you. I've been in -30F and done climbing in -20F with strong winds, and it was almost impossible for me to deal with. I'm putting this race on my 'to do list', look at how many people want to suffer just like you have, bravo!

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