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Sports This Week: Challenging Iditarod trail on a bike!

“Someone told me once the only thing tougher than finishing is quitting,” said Jessie Gladish.
Jessie Gladish has taken on Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra which follows the Yukon Quest trail,, and now the Iditarod trail on a fat tire bike.

YORKTON - Growing up in the Yukon put Jessie Gladish in close contact with the land.

“Growing up in the Yukon forced me into wilderness types of things,” she said.

Her career as a geologist continued that connection.

So too does her passion, the sport of ultra-racing.

It started in Gladish’s 20s, a half marathon or two, then a full one.

Then Gladish took it to a whole new level challenging herself by taking on the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra which follows the Yukon Quest trail, with those going the 430 mile ending up in Dawson City.

The first year Gladish ran – well admittedly such long distances are basically steadily walked by participants – the 430 miles. That was in 2015.

But why take on such a daunting athletic challenge?

“It’s the whole package of things,” offered Gladish.

Gladish said being from the Yukon she has always been “interested in seeing as much of the Yukon as possible.”

The race was initially “just a way to see the Yukon.”

There was also the allure of the race course which follows the trail of the famous Yukon sled dog race.

“I grew up knowing about it,” said Gladish, adding being in the race “got me out on the trail myself, and experiencing it.”

Still, the race is to say the least difficult.

“The finish rate in these types of race are relatively low,” said Gladish.

Gladish said goal one is always about getting through it.

“It’s how I handled myself,” she said, but then added you want to do well versus other participants too.

“You’re entering a competition, so there’s always an element of that.

“But, you try not to think of that stuff until you’re a couple of days into the race.”

With such endeavours there will be times a participant will consider giving up while on course.

Gladish said at such time she might think about being home and warm and eating a sandwich, but also realizing at the moment she’d wish she was back on the trail.

“Someone told me once the only thing tougher than finishing is quitting,” she said.

Gladish enjoyed that first race, returning to the trail in 2017.

Then she went looking for a new challenge. The race allows participants to walk, ski, or bike, so in 2019 Gladish put on her cross country skis and hit the trail.

“I grew up cross country skiing . . . It was the sport I started out with when I was two, or three,” she said, adding with it being her first sport she wanted “to see what it was like (in the long race).”

The result was not a satisfying one.

“It was awful, but I did it,” said Gladish.

When taking on the race on skis the trail conditions play a huge role.

Gladish said temperatures were around minus-40 and that made the snow “really grippy,” so she wasn’t get any glide out of her skis.

Since it was a weather issue Gladish did add in a different year and conditions “skiing would be great.”

Then in 2023 Gladish took on the trail on her fat tire bike – becoming only the second participant to compete in and complete the race in all three modes.

So which way would she suggest for a first-time participant?

“I would tell them to do what they want to do,” she said, adding participants need to be comfortable with how they attack the trail.

They also need to truly want to do it and not just do it as something to check-off on a life list.

“You need to really want to be out there,” said Gladish.

For Gladish bigger challenges await too.

There is a similar race associated with the famed Iditarod sled dog race.

The Iditarod Trail Invitational is the world's longest running winter ultra-marathon, and like its Yukon cousin offers varied challenges.

“I did that one back in 2018,” said Gladish, adding it was the 350 miles portion of the trail she took on on foot.

Starting Feb. 25, she’ll take on the same course – this time on her bike.

But, the Iditarod is a mile longer trail in its entirety – 1000 miles.

“My hope is to try 1000 miles, all the way to Nome (Alaska) . . . (But), who knows if the opportunity comes up,” said Gladish, adding the bike effort in February is sort of a warm-up to see if she really wants to take on the 1000 miles in 2025. “. . . I’ll see how the bike goes on the trail this year, then make up my mind after that.”