Iditarod Biker Heads to Anchorage

Jill Homer starts the Iditarod Trail Invitational this Sunday - and she's hoping her bike will come with her. Stay tuned to the BPP blog during the eight-day race.

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The time has come. The moment of truth just around the corner, the world's longest human powered winter race. Okay, that's not the official name. The official name is the Iditarod Trail Invitational and it starts this Sunday in Alaska. Complete with three divisions; runners, bikers, skiers.

For months now, THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT has been following Jill Homer as she trained for the race. She spoke with us on the radio, she blogged for us on our Web site along the way. She was very candid about the cold, about the workouts, about her fears, about eight days worth of exertions to make it 350 in some extreme weather. But perhaps her biggest nightmare has come true just days before the race. Okay Jill, tell us what happened.

Ms. JILL HOMER (Snow Cyclist): My bicycle that I shipped out last week is missing in route to its destination Anchorage. And so right now, I'm just kind of waiting and hoping that it shows up.

STEWART: What do you mean missing? How did it go - I mean, how did you send it? What happened?

Ms. HOMER: Well, you know, Juneau is a small area. It' kind of hard to get anything shipped out of here very easily and I shipped it FedEx. But they have such a small office that their employees in Juneau don't do any scanning. They just give it to a driver. He ships it to Anchorage and that's when it first officially shows up on the radar. So it sat in Juneau and then supposedly a driver came and picked it up and took it somewhere but it never scanned in. So, it's just off the radar and sort of just in this vortex of packages. It's just a little disconcerting because it's, you know, it's hard to do a bicycle race without a bicycle.

STEWART: Yeah. And this bicycle is close to you. It's called Pugsley.

Ms. HOMER: Yeah.

STEWART: Tell us about how you had to actually work on the bike and create a sort of the perfect bike for you for this race?

Ms. HOMER: Well, yeah. I mean, that's what's so great about this bike is that I, you know, I ordered a frame and I custom built it up from the ground with all the parts that I like and things I'm comfortable with and things I know how to fix. And now, you know, I might be able to obtain a rental bike before the race, but it's just I'm worried because this rental bike wouldn't be nearly as familiar and comfortable as my bike.

STEWART: And I have to imagine it might be more dangerous to have an unknown bike and a bike that could break down and you never really dealt with that before.

Ms. HOMER: Yeah. It definitely could be a problem if I have a big mechanical that I haven't really worked on and don't really know what to do with this new bike, so.

STEWART: All right. How much heck did you give FedEx?

Ms. HOMER: Well, you know, I put in about six calls and about a similar number of e-mails, but I started to feel like I just was running around in circles and getting the same answers from different people. So I gave up on that for a while and now I'm going to take in an approach of wait and see and maybe start putting in more calls later today if it still doesn't turn up.

STEWART: What's the absolute latest that your bike can arrive in Anchorage with enough time for you to feel prepared and settled before this race?

Ms. HOMER: Well, you know, I've got this bike shop in Anchorage waiting to receive it that was going to do some work on it. They wanted to get it early this week to give them enough time to do just a little bit of work because I need it to get done, you know. So I would say that if it doesn't get there by tomorrow, it won't be able to get the work but at least I'd still have it, you know. And then if it doesn't get there by Saturday, I wouldn't be able to use it in the race.

STEWART: I'm going to think positively that your bike is going to show up on Friday.

Ms. HOMER: That's what I'm trying to do.

STEWART: Yea. We're just going to say Jill's bike is showing up on Friday and let's just move forward with your thoughts about the race on Sunday. How has the weather been? That's been a big issue for you. And over the course of the past few months, we've talked about the snow, the cold. What do you think about the forecast for this Sunday?

Ms. HOMER: Well, you know, the weather this week in that area has been warm and snowy, which, you know, warm in a 30s which is a bad thing because it puts the trail on a bad condition for the bikers, makes it too soft and mushy. Sometimes it's hard to do biking at it at all. So that's a little concerning that we may start out and the trail is bad. But at the same time, it's suppose to cool down and I'm feeling optimistic about the weather forecast because it shows pretty mild temperatures but not too warm and also less snow which is good.

STEWART: Now bike issues aside, how are you feeling about your own level of fitness for this race?

Ms. HOMER: I'm actually feeling really strong right now. I've been tapering for the past couple of weeks. And so, you know, after training really hard and then cutting back quite a bit, I feel just really amped-up and ready to go.

STEWART: How did you get past certain fears you had because you've been really candid about being scared sometimes out there?

Ms. HOMER: Yeah, I mean, I haven't done this before. And so there's a lot of unexpected out there that I'm trying to meet. And so I'm actually dealing with that by doing a lot of reading up on the trail, you know. And I've been doing a lot of research, basically, about different races in the past and what people experienced out there and trying to imagine myself in a similar situation in what I do. And that kind of helps me feel better about what might happen if I get caught in a blizzard or if my bike breaks down.

STEWART: We talked with Bill Merchant, the organizer of the Iditarod Invitational and I want you to listen to what he said when we asked him what would happen if you were to get injured. We're going to say, we don't want - of course, it's not going to happen. But should you get injured somewhere along the trail.

Mr. BILL MERCHANT (Race Organizer, Iditarod Trail Invitational): The next racer behind her, if there is one, is the first person on the scene. This race is different from all other and that we don't have a safety net put there. This is for people who know how to be self-sufficient.

STEWART: You fall on that category, you think?

Ms. HOMER: Yeah. I mean I fully expect that kind of condition. If I injure myself badly enough that I can't even walk out, the only thing I can do I crawl into my sleeping bad, get as warm as possible and wait for the next person to come by. You know, and I guess that it could be another racer. It could be, you know, a snowmobiler going through and it could be, you know, within five minutes or it could be a couple of hours. That's something that you have to be ready for and hope you don't injure yourself too badly.

STEWART: We're speaking with Jill Homer. Frequent listeners of the show know the name. She, of course, is going to compete in the Iditarod Trail Invitational. The longest human powered winter race. She's been training for this for months but so has your boyfriend.

Ms. HOMER: Mm-hmm.

STEWART: He's taking part in the race. Now, he's doing a different pace, right?

Ms. HOMER: Yeah. He's doing it on foot. He won't have the bicycle.

STEWART: Have you been communicating with each other this week, or is this just focus on the race week?

Ms. HOMER: We've been talking quite a bit. Mostly, when we talk this week, it's all about the race.

STEWART: You wrote in your blog, I believe setting too many goals such as this one will only set me up for frustration and failure. So what goals have you set, if any, or you just going to go out there and do it?

Ms. HOMER: Well, of course, you know, I have the goal to finish. And that's why, you know, I want to be as flexible as possible in the meantime to be give myself as good of a chest as possible to finish the race. Because if I set a goal saying I have to get to the first check point in 10 hours and then I get caught in a storm, you know, or the trail conditions are really bad and it takes me 20, I'm suddenly getting really frustrated that, oh, my gosh, I'm, you know, twice behind my pace. How am I ever going to finish this race. And If I get too focused on thoughts like that, I'm already going to have a hard race ahead.

STEWART: Jill, what have you learned about yourself through this entire experience training for this extraordinarily difficult race?

Ms. HOMER: Well, the benefit is - training for a tough race, even, is you do start to learn your strengths. You start to learn that you can be strong in difficult situations and I think that is a hugely valuable knowledge to have. You know I can't persevere through this. I've also learned some of my fears that still linger, you know, and those are things I have to deal with.

STEWART: All right. We're all crossing our fingers that Pugsley, your bike, turns up.

Ms. HOMER: Yeah, pray for Pugsley.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: We'll pray for Pugsley. We'll all send good vibes your way on Sunday and we can't wait to talk to you after you've crossed the finish line, how about that?

Ms. HOMER: Sounds good.

STEWART: All right. Good luck Jill.

Ms. HOMER: All right, thank you.

MARTIN: But wait, we have an update on Jill's bike.

STEWART: Apparently, crossing fingers actually works. Federal Express now telling us they have found Pugsley the bike.

MARTIN: Yey.

STEWART: Apparently he's stuck at the Juneau airport, delayed due to bad weather. FedEx says it expect to get the bike by Friday which Jill told us it was the last day that she could get it and still compete in the race. We'll keep on them. We'll keep you update.

MARTIN: It's so dramatic, the Jill story. Jeez. Poor woman.

STEWART: We'll give you all the updates on the Iditarod Trail Invitational on our blog and we're hoping to check in with what will probably be a very tire Jill Homer after the eight-day race. Happy ending, there you go.

MARTIN: Yeah. Very, very. Hey, stay with us. Next on the big show, we rundown The Most with our regular stable of producers. We like to think of them as group of fine news feeds, running free to the wild, sun-kissed fields of the Internet. I didn't write that. This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

STEWART: I feel like I have to go get them apples and carrots now.

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