Petervary's trek begins with Iditarod Invitational

Mike Campbell

When Jay Petervary joins 44 other extreme bikers, runners and skiers in Knik on Sunday for the start of the Iditarod Trail Invitational, the Idaho cyclist's push for Nome will just be a sliver of his 2011 biking agenda.

In an effort to raise awareness of air pollution worldwide, Petervary plans to pedal 7,000 miles on three rugged rides that will take him across Alaska, down the spine of the Rocky Mountains and coast to coast in the Lower 48.

That's farther than pedaling from Anchorage to Lima, Peru.

Can you say seat rash?

"I've been competing in adventure races and bike races for more than 15 years," Petervary, 38, said. "The Invitational is just something I love to do. It is always so different every year, which is the beauty of it.

"This year I wanted to challenge myself a bit further and take on a project that also raised environmental awareness."

Sunday will mark Petervary's fifth Invitational. He and wife Tracey completed the 1,000-mile race on a tandem bike last year.

Petervary is one of 11 of the 45 racers who plan to travel all the way to Nome. For the rest, the finish line is 350 miles away in McGrath.

In a decade of Invitationals, only 33 racers have crossed the finish line in Nome -- a far more exclusive club than successful Mount Everest climbers or athletes who complete the Iditarod or Iron Dog races.

An unvarnished test of humans moving through nature at its wildest, the race offers minimal support.

"We differ from other races in that we allow racers to make decisions for themselves about what to carry, when to rest and when it is safe to travel," Bill Merchant, race organizer and trail manager, said in a press release. "There is no designated or marked route only mandatory checkpoints racers must pass through. We try to limit the amount of support to just what is necessary to prevent our race from imposing on lodges and other folks along the trail.

"This race is not for everyone. A mistake at the wrong time and place in the Alaskan winter wilderness could cost you fingers and toes -- or even your life."

Before the 1,000-mile racers reach Nome, they'll be passed by Iditarod mushers and their dog teams.

"Alaska's a crazy place to race on a bike in winter -- there are so many variables and anything can happen," said Petervary, who won the 350-mile ride to McGrath in 2009.

The race to McGrath has drawn several of Alaska's top endurance athletes. Among them:

• Anchorage biker Peter Basinger, a four-time and defending champion who is also the record holder (3 days, 5 hours, 40 minutes) for the ride to McGrath.

• Fairbanks cyclist Jeff Oatley, the 2009 winner and runner-up last year.

• Janice Tower of Anchorage, holder of the women's record in the Fireweed 400 time trial.

For his part, Petervary may barely break a sweat by the time he reaches McGrath.

The final two racing legs of what he's calling his No Idle Tour will be the 3,000-mile Race Across America (RAAM) road bike race in June and, two months after that, the 2,745-mile Great Divide Time Trail from Banff, Alberta, to Antelope Wells, N.M., near the Mexican border. Four years ago, Petervary set a Great Divide course record of 15 days, 4 hours.

One issue is whether Petervary can recover between events. In past years, it's taken him up to six weeks to recover from the Invitational.

"But last year after Nome, Tracey and I jumped onto the tandem for a several-hundred-mile gravel grinder less than a month after and we felt great."

Reach Mike Campbell at or 257-4329.

Iditarod Invitational Records

Since 2002

350 miles (to McGrath)

Men's bike -- Peter Basinger in 2007: 3 days, 5 hours, 40 minutes

Women's bike -- Tracey Petervary in 2010: 4 days, 18 hours, 52 minutes

Men's foot -- Steve Reifenstuhl in 2005: 4 days, 15 hours

Women's foot -- Loreen Hewitt in 2010: 7 days, 10 hours, 58 minutes

Men's ski -- Jim Jager in 2002: 4 days, 8 hours

Women's ski -- Gail Koepf in 2005: 7 days, 6 hours, 18 minutes

1,100 miles (to Nome)

Northern route

Men's bike -- Mike Curiak in 2002: 17 days 2 hours

Women's bike -- Tracey Petervary in 2010: 18 days, 6 hours

Men's foot -- Tom Jarding in 2010: 20 days 14 hours, 45 minutes

Southern route

Men's bike -- Carl Hutchings in 2005: 22 days, 47 minutes

Men's foot -- Tim Hewitt in 2009: 25 days, 9 hours, 29 minutes