Alone Time: Ana Jager’s Solo Ride on the Iditarod Trail

On March 13th, 27-year-old Ana Jager rolled into Nome, Alaska, finishing a harrowing 19-day solo ride on the Iditarod Trail. Conditions this year were extraordinarily difficult and slow, but she maintained a pace that was in step with the fastest ITI racers. After the ride, author and fellow endurance athlete Jill Homer caught up with Ana to discuss her monumental effort. Find the full story here and a collection of Ana’s photos from the trip here…

Words by Jill Homer; Photos by Ana Jager and Nelson Brown

If a single moment could epitomize Ana Jager’s incredible ride across Alaska, it would have to be a video captured by a surprised Iditarod Insider reporter after Ana arrived in the village of Koyuk. It was just before midnight on March 11. She’d completed the harrowing traverse of 35 miles of sea ice across the Norton Sound. Temperatures had plunged below zero degrees, and the wind was howling as she stood astride her loaded bicycle. The hood of her red puffy jacket was coated in frost, and she looked dazed as the reporter summoned her.

  • Ana Jager 2024 Iditarod Trail
  • Ana Jager 2024 Iditarod Trail

“Come over here biker, come to me,” the reporter called. As Ana approached, the female reporter said, “Oh, it’s a woman. This is even better.”

The reporter asked Ana how her race was going, so Ana clarified. “I’m not even a competitor. I’m just riding it on my own.”

“No, not true, not possible,” the reporter exclaimed loudly. “Why would someone do that to themselves?”

Ana just laughed.

“When are you going to finish in Nome?” the reporter asked.

As her eyes lulled sleepily, Ana replied, “I don’t know. I don’t know what day it is. I don’t even know where I am.”

A group of spectators standing near the reporter laughed and clapped as though they could hardly believe what they were seeing. When I first heard about Ana’s ride, I had a similarly incredulous reaction. A solo cyclist pedaling all the way to Nome in one go? And not just a solo Nome rider, but a 27-year-old woman? And she was riding a pace that rivaled the top racers in the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational. How could she be so fast? How could she be so brave?

Ana Jager 2024 Iditarod Trail
  • Ana Jager 2024 Iditarod Trail
  • Ana Jager 2024 Iditarod Trail
  • Ana Jager 2024 Iditarod Trail

As soon as I placed Ana’s name, I was no longer surprised. Ana was just 19 years old and a bikepacking novice when she took a semester off to ride the 1,700-mile Baja Divide route in Mexico with hand-sewn bikepacking bags. She returned to Western Washington University and started the Bellingham POWER Program, a middle-school bike commuting program for girls, trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming students. In 2022, she became only the second woman to complete “The Triple Crown of Bikepacking” in a calendar year, racing the Tour Divide, Colorado Trail Race, and Arizona Trail Race in a single summer. Between the three races, she covered more than 4,000 miles in 37 days, 14 hours, and 23 minutes. She won the Tour Divide, placed a close second in the Colorado Trail Race, and rode away with the win in the Arizona Trail Race. Of course, Ana is fast and strong. But how did she decide to pedal the thousand-mile Iditarod Trail solo and self-supported?

Ana was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, to an adventure-racing family. Her father, Jim, raced the 350-mile route to McGrath several times. To this day, his 2002 ski record of 4 days and 8 hours still stands. Ana’s brother has been part of the U.S. ski team.

“I’m surrounded by a lot of skiing,” she said. “That’s my main winter hobby. But I’m lucky because my family has always been getting out and biking.”

In 2017, Ana learned of a women’s bikepacking scholarship and applied for it. She didn’t receive the scholarship, but she “was feeling aimless and decided I would go ride this route anyway. Everyone was so cool. Everyone was so kind. After that, I was like, dang it’s cool to cover ground on your bike.”

  • Ana Jager 2024 Iditarod Trail
  • Ana Jager 2024 Iditarod Trail

Later, Ana would take over Lael Wilcox’s Anchorage GRIT program (Girls Riding Into Tomorrow). This middle-school bike mentorship program empowers seventh-grade girls to embark on bicycle adventures. Lael had moved to Tucson, Arizona, and was starting a sister program there. In 2023, Ana, Lael, and Lael’s wife Rue rode a 300-mile section of the Iditarod Trail over the Alaska Range and into McGrath.

“We had such good conditions and a really good time,” Ana said. “And I decided, I think I want to go all the way.”

She briefly thought about skiing to McGrath and trying to beat her dad’s 22-year-old record. But the appeal of the thousand-mile journey had a stronger pull.

“I thought about doing the race,” she said. “I was hesitant because it costs so much, put it off, and got on the wait list. But I realized I can’t afford (the race) anyway — I’ll just do it on my own.”

Putting together the logistics for an independent journey was daunting, Ana said, but she had a lot of help from Kurt Refsnider and his guide to bikepacking the Iditarod Trail.

“That was a huge help,” Ana said. “I picked four spots to send my boxes to. I already had most of the gear I needed. I did a huge Costco trip and bought every Costco snack that looked appealing. I used a stove with isobutane, which in hindsight maybe wasn’t the best choice, but I figured out how to get fuel out there. I used cargo shipping, and Kurt recommended schools that would accept boxes.”

Ana Jager 2024 Iditarod Trail

On her Salsa Mukluk, Ana packed a bivy sack and a sleeping bag rated to 40 below zero. She said this minimalist setup took her comfortably through the trip because she found opportunities to sleep inside shelter cabins or village schools during the coldest nights.

“I was definitely nervous about sleeping out in the cold,” she said. “But it all went fine.”

Ana started her journey on February 24, one day before a hundred racers were set to start the Iditarod Trail Invitational. She said her start date was later than she originally planned — she didn’t necessarily want to be caught in the thick of the race. As it turned out, her start date was also the start of the Junior Iditarod Sled Dog Race, which largely follows the first 50 miles of the Iditarod Trail. She landed at a remote roadhouse called Yentna Station for the night, only to discover it was packed to the rafters with Junior Iditarod supporters.

  • Ana Jager 2024 Iditarod Trail
  • Ana Jager 2024 Iditarod Trail

“It was perfect because it had been dumping snow, and the Junior Iditarod packed out the first bit of trail,” she said. “But the little roadhouse was so full. They told me there was just a recliner available for sleeping, and I said ‘I’ll take it.’”

After the ITI started, Ana continued to ride among the racers. She slept in her bivy sack in wooded areas away from the crowded checkpoints. Sometimes, she surprised locals who had been watching the race tracker closely and hadn’t seen her name. Occasionally a rider passed her, and Ana enjoyed seeing familiar faces on the trail.

  • Ana Jager 2024 Iditarod Trail
  • Ana Jager 2024 Iditarod Trail

“Mostly it was a lot of alone time,” she said. “I knew it would be a lot of alone time, but it felt more intense as I was actually doing it.”

Because she had little to do beyond ride and take care of herself, Ana fell into a rhythm of long days on the trail. Although she was touring for fun, she wanted her ride to be challenging as well. She wanted to be efficient in order to reduce the amount of time she was away from home. Her past endurance racing experiences had accustomed her to grinding out many miles on limited sleep. This strategy translated to a pace that matched the fastest riders in the ITI.

As she battled a snowed-in section of trail over the Yukon River, she fell in line with ITI race leaders Miron Golfman and Tyson Flaharty. Miron and Tyson were also reduced to pushing their bikes through the whiteout. She knew the men, who are both fellow Alaskans, and was grateful for a bit of company. This lasted for a few days before Ana decided she couldn’t “hang with these guys forever.”

“It was cool to see — they were so dialed,” she said. “They were like a well-oiled machine riding together. I was like, whoa, I can’t just hop into this.”

Ana Jager 2024 Iditarod Trail

Back on her own, she relished the independence and confidence her solo ride instilled. Still, she struggled with the solitude and loneliness. One of her hardest days came as she pedaled over the Kaltag Portage toward Unalakleet, about 700 miles into her trip. She was low on food, and temperatures were “pretty dang cold.” She felt too fatigued to go on, but she couldn’t stop and risk running out of food.

“I thought, it’s late, I’m pretty trashed, I don’t have any food, it’s cold … I might be in a bad place,” she said. “That was scary.”

She arrived in the village late around midnight and wondered if she’d find anything to eat. A pizza place called Peace on Earth just happened to be open all night. For a week every March, the restaurant’s owners work tirelessly to serve Iditarod mushers and supporters who pass through Unalakleet at all hours. In an instant, Ana’s mood switched from frightened to elated as the owners pulled her inside the warm building and began preparing a pizza before she even sat down.

Ana Jager 2024 Iditarod Trail

Another low point came just a day later as she pedaled across the Norton Sound toward Koyuk. She left the village of Shaktoolik without realizing that this was the beginning of the sea ice crossing. It didn’t click until she passed a remote shelter cabin and continued onto a white expanse. As she battled a strong headwind, she struggled to manage her face coverings. Condensation buildup froze the zippers on three of her jackets shut.

“It was so gross,” she said. “A gross ice shield. I thought, fuck, this is so much alone time. Where am I? What am I doing?”

And yet, every time she arrived in a village, she was showered with warmth and kindness. That proved to be her favorite part of riding the Iditarod — meeting different people along the way and forming new connections.

  • Ana Jager 2024 Iditarod Trail
  • Ana Jager 2024 Iditarod Trail

“When I do this kind of trip and check out parts of the state, I like (living in Alaska) even more,” she said. “I make all these connections with people who live in these villages. I want to stay connected. There’s a strong community, a lot of women who are really strong, lots of endurance athletes, and I like to learn from them.”

After Koyuk, Ana made a big push over the final 200 miles along the Bering Sea Coast. Despite the hilly topography and windswept terrain, she wrapped up her ride just two days later on March 14. Her finishing time was 19 days, 1 hour, and 8 minutes — nearly the same time she logged when she won the Tour Divide in 2022.

“And Tour Divide is like 2,000 miles longer,” she laughed. “But this … this was the hardest thing I’ve done.”

Ana Jager 2024 Iditarod Trail

Ana was thrilled to see her partner, Gus, waiting for her at the burled arch. Although Gus is “not as much into the racing side of things,” he is an expert at adventure planning. He helped her with logistics, such as sorting maps and planning her food boxes, and was supportive of her journey. In fact, everyone close to her was supportive, which gave her the confidence to take on what for most would be an impossibly daunting challenge.

“I’m lucky,” she said. “I don’t feel like anyone ever doubted me. My mom is supportive. She knows I want to do this stuff. She knows I can handle it. She gets nervous, of course. My dad — he totally knows. He understands it for sure.”

So, what’s next for Ana, who has already conquered most of the major long bikepacking routes in North America? For now, well-earned downtime. Eating and recovering. As soon as she’s had a minute to breathe, she’ll jump back into coordinating the Anchorage GRIT program. She’s applying to nursing school. And she’s dreaming about the next adventure.

“I would like to do the Tour Divide this summer,” she said. “That would be fun.”

“For years, people have asked me if I have a bike hero and I’ve never had a great answer until now,” Lael Wilcox — who won the women’s bike division of the Iditarod Trail Invitation 350 this year — wrote on Instagram. “Rue and I considered flying to Nome to see her finish because it’s such a big deal. I’m not going to ask her today, but maybe she’ll consider riding to Nome again with me.”

Jill Homer

About Jill Homer

Jill Homer is an author, editor, outdoor adventure enthusiast, and endurance athlete living in Boulder, Colorado. She discovered fat biking while living in Alaska in 2005, and has been making tracks (when and where she can) across the Last Frontier ever since. In 2016, she completed the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational and wrote a book about the ride, “Into the North Wind.” You can find Jill on Instagram @jillhomer66.

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