Steamboat resident completes 1,000-mile Iditarod trail on fat bike
Two years ago, Steamboat Springs resident Graham Muir was stranded in Unalakleet, Alaska, hoping sea ice would reform so he could attempt to complete the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational. The Norton Sound never solidified, though, and the trail was deemed impassable, leaving Muir 300 miles short of the finish line.
Last week, Muir became one of a small handful of fat bikers to complete the race. He said he’s also the first rider from New Zealand to finish the trek, which took him 18 days and five hours.
Muir, who owns Manic Training in Steamboat Springs, didn’t allow himself to think he was going to complete the race until he had about 20 miles left in the grueling route.
“Not wanting to jinx myself was a little bit of it,” Muir said. “But there’s so many pieces to the puzzle.”
Some of the most challenging parts of the ride came in the last few hundred miles, the stretch Muir had yet to see when attempting the course in 2020. Right after leaving Unalakleet, the course aims north over the Norton Sound. A vicious wind attacked Muir and the other riders, barreling out of the north, inhibiting their speed and ability to stay hydrated.
“It was really hard to eat or drink. I think I had two sips of water in that whole time because I couldn’t get out,” Muir said. “I didn’t eat a lot of food either. Any time you open up to get food, the wind would hit and freeze you pretty quickly. You couldn’t take your gloves off. The wind was so cold, in seconds your hands would just lock up.”
Thankfully, Muir was prepared. He loaded up on food the night before and slept as best he could, knowing a tough section was ahead.
Thirteen hours and 80 miles later, Muir reached the village of Koyuk and turned west. The wind was far less aggressive, but the challenges were nowhere near over. Muir still had to navigate the blowhole, a notoriously windy stretch of trail between Topkok and Safety cabins.
Many mushers and riders have been taken out on the stretch, being blown off course and prompting rescue. Just a month earlier, a man attempted the course backwards, which he’s done nearly a dozen times. He was taken out in the blowhole when the wind blew his gear away, stripped his goggles off and blinded him in one eye.
“That was fresh in my mind as well,” Muir said. “The race is not over until it’s over. Until you pull into town.”
Muir and a few fellow riders had to push their heavy, supply-loaded bikes against a strong wind for almost 10 miles before the wind shifted and allowed them to pedal again. The shift pushed the fat bikers toward Nome at a surprising pace. Muir arrived in the city of 3,700 in daylight, with people cheering.
That moment made riding some of the race with a broken pedal and encountering multiple moose worth it. It was a weight off the shoulders, Muir said, to finally finish, especially after having attempted once before. He was proud of how he managed the most challenging bits of the course, was grateful for decent weather, and was happy that his body cooperated and hung in there through 18 days of riding for 10-plus hours each day.
“There’s a little bit of luck involved as well,” Muir said. “We got some good weather patterns. The last time we got some really bad weather patterns. … I’ve got a few dodgy, old injuries that can show up every now and again. On the long days, anything over 12, 14 hours, the knees start playing up, but they held up well.”
Muir’s done a lot of extreme races before, including the 350-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational race in 2019, but this is probably the biggest he’s ever done just based on scale and preparation.
In addition to training and planning what gear to take, Muir raised $10,000 in donations for the Red Cross before embarking on his 1,000-mile ride.
Already he’s thinking of what else he can do in the future, such as the Tour Divide, which stretches nearly 3,000 miles from Canada to Mexico along the Continental Divide. He’s also interested in doing the Baja Divide course in Mexico, which is about 1,600 miles of challenging terrain, but in warmer weather.
“There’s definitely some stuff out there,” Muir said.
Shelby Reardon is the assistant editor at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach her, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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