We wouldn't have gotten past the entry form for the fourth annual Iditabike race, held last weekend in Alaska. The form asked competitors to assume the risk of frostbite, hypothermia, collisions with wildlife, and other adversities that might cause "serious physical and/or mental trauma, even death." It also required all competitors to leave a $50 evacuation deposit that would be refunded to them if they didn't have to be airlifted from the course.
Nevertheless, 58 entrants showed up in Anchorage last Saturday ready to race one another over a 200-mile stretch of the Iditarod dogsled course on mountain bicycles. Yes, bicycles. In the Iditabike, competitors ride bikes through the snow—some of it packed down, some of it not—for 24 hours or more, usually in subzero weather.
The event has had many bizarre moments. Last year a lunar eclipse plunged the race into darkness; one competitor rode on with a tiny flashlight between her teeth. Other riders have suffered temporary mental breakdowns from the combination of cold, snow and fatigue. "Their minds start going crazy," says race organizer Dan Bull. "They suddenly think, My god, what am I doing in the middle of nowhere on a damned bike?"
That's what the entire field was thinking last weekend. It snowed so heavily that by noon Sunday only six of the riders had made it as far as the Big Su checkpoint, 52 miles into the course. And those riders had walked their bikes for about 50 of the 52 miles.
The six weary leaders talked matters over and decided that to go any farther would be madness. Organizers agreed to call the event over, and declared Dave Ford of Girdwood, Alaska, the winner. Ford's time of 25:01 for 52 miles was just slightly faster than the record for the full 200-mile course. At least one competitor went home joking that she had raced in the first-ever Iditapush.
She hasn't appeared on any Valentine cards yet, but she's ideally suited for it. Heart, a 2-year-old thoroughbred filly from Douglas, N.Dak., was born with a rare heart-shaped marking (above) on her forehead. "I've never seen [a heart] as perfect as that," says Jockey Club registrar Buddy Bishop, who has viewed countless thoroughbred markings.
Last year, Heart was photographed with North Dakota Governor George Sinner, who dubbed her a Centennial Princess for the state. Does she have heart out on the racetrack? No one knows. Heart probably won't run her maiden race until next year, when she turns three.
CALL HIM TO CANTON