In the first 13 years of the Iditarod Trail Invitational—a 1,000-mile race on foot, ski, or bike from Knik to Nome, Alaska—no woman had ever completed the race solo on foot. Not until Shawn McTaggart of Anchorage, Alaska, came along.
McTaggart recently established the women's solo record for the grueling race by finishing in 30 days, 18 hours, 10 minutes.
Only one other woman had completed the race previously, but it wasn't solo. Janine Duplessis and her new husband of Washington did it together in 41 days, 10 hours, 30 minutes in 2000—on their honeymoon.
Fact is, not many men or women attempt the difficult ultra race over the same trails used by the famous dogsled race.
Since the inaugural race in 2000, only 42 people have finished the 1,000-mile race from Knik to Nome, out of roughly 168 who set out to try. Only five finishers were women–three by bike and two by foot, Duplessis and McTaggart. Only three other women have tried but never came close to completing the race.
"More people summit Mount Everest in a good day, than have ever gone to Nome human-powered," said race organizer Katharina Merchant, who was the first woman to complete the race on a bike. "To cover 1,000 miles human-powered in the wintertime through remote wilderness is really impressive."
McTaggart encountered a lot of wolf tracks but never saw the wolves, she wrote in an e-mail to GrindTV Outdoor on Thursday. She listened to three Stephen King books on tape, listened to music, often replayed the events of the previous day, and constantly ate along the trail to fight off sleep and boredom.
At one point while crossing the Bering Sea ice on the way to Koyuk, McTaggart enjoyed a surreal moment.
"That was a really cool night on the sea ice–nearly a full moon on my left casting my shadow, and then the Northern Lights on the right side of the trail–really bright and unearthly," she wrote. "It felt like I was on the surface of the moon."
For the record, Bob Ostrom from Alaska was first to the finish line on a bike with a time of 20 days, 16 hours. Tim Hewitt of Pennsylvania was first on foot in 24 days, 20 hours, 31 minutes—his seventh finish in Nome.
So, will McTaggart be back in 2014? It sounds like it.
"I kept thinking to myself, 'If I try to sign up for the 2014 race, someone should throw me in the back shed and throw away the key,'" she wrote. "But there’s something about the friends you make on the trail, all the hosts at checkpoints, the families who open their homes to you in the villages, the freedom of being on the trail and not having to think about anything—it calls you back, and you don’t really have a say in it!"
Photos courtesy of the Iditarod Trail Invitational Facebook page.