Jeff Oatley recently won the Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) 1000 mile route, he finished in 10 days, 2 hours, 53 minutes. Not only did he beat the previous record held by Mike Curiak at 17 days, 2 Hours…He Crushed It. Here’s what Jeff had to say about the race and more.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Lansing, Michigan and moved to Madison, Alabama when I was about 14. I sort of consider myself to be ‘from’ both places.
When did you pick up mountain biking / fat biking?
I started riding a mountain bike in 1989 or 1990 in Alabama. Started riding on snow in 2000 when I moved to Fairbanks. First on a snowcat bike, and then on one of the first titanium Fatbacks.
When was your first ITI experience and how did you do?
My first snow race was the 2002 Iditasport 130. That was the last year of the Iditasport under Dan Bull. I finished 3rd. I started doing the ITI in 2005 and have done it every year since then.
How many ITI’s have you been apart of?
2014 was my 10th ITI.
Fatback is my only real sponsor. Greg (Matyas…Fatback owner) and I are more like family than anything. I got to know Greg in the early days of Fatback and we’ve become close friends since then. If there is something that I think I want for a race Greg does way more than he should to make sure that I get it.
What bike did you use this year?
A Fatback Corvus. I got mine about a month before the ITI and put 400-500 miles on it before the race. I’ve got about 1500 hard miles on it now. All of them with that thing loaded heavy. It weighed as much as 65 lbs at times during the ITI. It’s a great ride!! I can’t wait to get a little recovered, get all the gear off it, throw some carbon hoops and lighter tires on it and just go ride some fun spring trails up here.
What bikepacks did you use this year?
I’ve got a Revelate front pack, mountain feed bags, and gas tank. A Becker Sewing frame bag that Tupps custom made for me on two days’ notice. I used Sea-to-Summit stuff sacks front and rear. An Old Man Mountain rear rack. And at the last minute I threw a small dog backpack over the rack to carry a little extra food and be able to have quicker access to a few items that I didn’t want in the stuff sacks. My packing system worked better than I could have hoped for in the ITI.
I went with Dillingers. I think that was a good choice, especially with the big crosswinds on glare ice along the coast.
What made you decide to go for the 1,000 mile route this year?
I’ve wanted to do it from Day 1. But it’s tough for me to take three weeks off from work. I guess I also got a bit caught up ‘racing’ to McGrath. Typically that race has more competition than the race to Nome, so it gets a little addictive.
When did you know that the course was as fast as it was?
All you really know is that the course is fast right now or it’s not. Because its fast now doesn’t mean it’s going to be fast in 50 miles. But when we hit the Yukon River in right at 5 days, I started thinking that there was a chance to put up a very good time. When I was done with the Yukon in less than 36 hours I pretty much knew I had to keep the hammer down to the end or until I imploded. Which happened close enough to Nome to not cost me a ton of time.
What was on your mind once you got to McGrath?
Mostly just getting out of there. The McGrath finishers were having a great time telling stories and slapping each other on the back. I was jealous as hell. I love that part of the race and I was way too uptight about the remaining ride to take part in it. I felt like the odd man out. I washed some clothes and ate two meals and got out of there.
What was your biggest challenge this year?
I guess I’d say the wind from Unalakleet to the finish was the biggest challenge. Being from Fairbanks I don’t deal with much wind in the winter and it seemed like when it was calm out there it was blowing 20 mph, and it got up to 40 mph at times.
How many hours in the saddle / hours of sleep did you average?
I went into it planning to sleep a minimum of 4 hours per night. Pretty much stuck to that except for the last two nights. I’d been riding really hard for days and it was starting to get cumulative. I needed more sleep those last couple nights. It worked well for me. I pretty much maintained the same pace until about the last 95 miles.
So that left about 20 hours per day to be awake. I’d guess that I was riding about 18 hours a day. It would take some time to fix food, melt snow, re-supply at places. But I was pretty efficient. I scooped a lot of water to keep from having to melt. When I’d hit a re-supply point I’d re-pack my bike before I did anything else so it’d be ready to go right away.
What was your biggest reward?
The biggest reward is just completing something that you started. Something that might not have always been easy, and was maybe sometimes tougher than you thought it was gonna be.
You must be proud of your wife, Heather, both of your records may never be broken…
I’m proud of her for a lot of reasons independent of the record. Mostly because she rode her own race the whole way. I rode with her to Shell Lake (100 miles) and she was freakin’ hammering. I slept there for several hours and caught up with her later and we rode together most of the way from Finger Lake to Nikolai. She set the pace and made every decision. The only thing I did was tell her with about 70 or 80 miles to go that she was in good shape to take a big chunk out of the record. I’m not sure she realized that. Then at Nikolai she told me she couldn’t sleep and was going to McGrath. I was pretty excited by that because it was a total ‘racer’ move. She rode from Puntilla to the finish with no sleep and only a couple of short breaks. She wasn’t waiting for me or making decisions based on what I was doing. She was pushing herself hard and I think having fun too.
Records are always broken and always will be. That’s the point I think. These might last a decade and they might fall next year. I think that for both of us, the records are nice, but they are secondary. When they get broken it won’t diminish the satisfaction that we took away from putting forth our best efforts in these races.
If you had to decide if you would race in the ITI again, would you? 350 or 100?
I’ll be doing the ITI again. I do it pretty much every year. I don’t know if it’ll be the 350 or the 1000 next year. I’d guess I’ll be doing both of them again in the future.
What do you have planned for this summer?
Summers are pretty busy for me. I work a lot and I’ll probably try to fit a few backcountry hiking, packrafting, kayaking trips in. I don’t have big rides planned. I just ride when I can these days. I want to do the Tour Divide one day, but it won’t be this year. Most of my serious riding is done in the winter these days. It just fits better with my lifestyle and job here in Alaska.
Check out the interview of Jeff Oatley on Mountain Bike Radio…