The last iditarod trail racer checks in under the burled arch
By Janet Ahmasuk from The Nome Nugget newspaper
Iditarod Walker Dimitri, standing under the Burled Arch in Nome at last contemplates his Alaska Ultra Sport trail finish after 37 days and 19 hours (about three times as slow as the Iditarod huskies) and 1049 miles from Anchorage to Nome.
He says he enjoyed the walk, but he won't be back next year. as he has committed to several other extreme sport competitions in far-flung places on the globe such as South Africa.
Dimitri Kieffer, Alaska Ultra Sport competitor, walked from Anchorage to Nome in 37 days and 19 hours, finishing Tuesday, April 5.
Only six Ultra Sport Iditarod Walkers have finished the 1,049 mile long trail since 1989 — five men and one woman.
As a surprise, his father, Henri, met him near the village of Solomon after flying all the way from France.
Kieffer grew up in France, but has lived in Seattle for the last 20 years working for Microsoft. He left his job and Seattle behind to pursue the Ultra Sports and extreme sports worldwide.
The last few hundred miles were rather solitary as the other walkers scratched at Iditarod when the rains began. Somehow he soldiered on to Nome through it all. He met a lot of nice people along the way and wants to thank again all the postmasters who opened up the post office when he came through after hours so that he could get his supplies. Everyone was so nice.
School officials were friendly and let him to the school. He stayed in Koyuk for several days so that he could repair the hole in his plastic sled caused from pulling the sled on the dirt near Egavik.
School Principal Lane Douglas was most helpful in lending skis for the sled repair after the fiberglass patch would not dry right. He was pulling 60 pounds of gear in the sled, which included a -40°F. sleeping bag, a tent, small stove with white gas and snowshoes, spare shoes and overshoes for the overflow. The tent fit over the upside-down sled, which served as the tent frame when he needed to camp.
Because Kieffer was so far behind the Iditarod mushers, he was at times left with no trail from the dog race. From Shageluk to Anvik, there was lots of overflow. It took five days to traverse the distance from Grayling to Kaltag with a 75 m.p.h. headwind.
Near Egavik he observed wolves catching a caribou from a large herd. Other wildlife were a bison near Nikolai, and he saw a moose in Skwentna and Tokotna.
Moose were dying of starvation around Nikolai because the snow was so deep only the tops of the trees were visible, he said.
Footgear for the trip were Gore-Tex shoes (Montrail Susitna) with special reinforced insoles and gaiters. He did not use the overshoes. Foot care was very important, and he applied a no-friction Vaseline-like salve — hydropel cream — every day, which prevented foot blisters.
His nose became frostbitten when the temperatures dipped below zero during the last days on the trail.
His diet on the trail was heavy on fruits and nuts, chocolate and also raw bacon. He did get some smoked salmon on the Yukon and muktuk at Koyuk.
Memorable moments along the trail included:
•The northern lights, which were spectacular at times — almost magical.
•The spectacular scenery.
•Seeing the first Iditarod dog team and musher at Tokotna and the last one near Shageluk.
•Hospitable villages along the route which enabled him to absorb a lot of the culture.
•Walking at night between Golovin and White Mountain.
•The nice cabins at Topkok and near Elim.
•The practicing adventurers he met along the way, especially the one near Old Woman near Unalakleet.
• Listening to a lot of different music on the trail to Nome.
The iPod he had contained a mixture of music ranging from Brazilian, French, Rap, and also comedians such as Bill Cosby. He also used the iPod shuffle so that the music or other numbers would turn up unexpectedly, which relieved some of the boredom on the trail.
Walkers sleep a lot between checkpoints, he said.
Sometimes he saw no one for three or four days. He had a GPS and maps — referred to as GPS miles. The trail markers were still there from the Iditarod Sled Dog Race for the most part, but the trail was no longer packed.
Except for the adventurers in training, Kieffer never saw anyone walking. He encourages people to do more walking or hiking between villages, as it is a beautiful country. The skiers he observed were on organized ski meets for their school. The dog mushers he saw were Iditarod mushers.
Next, Kieffer will go to South Africa to the Cross Karoo Multisport— biking 1,300 miles, running 55 miles and canoeing 140 miles.