Alaska's Iditarod Trail challenges Unity couple

| Tuesday, April 22, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

During her fifth trek across the Alaskan wilderness, Loreen Hewitt said her biggest challenge wasn't the 30-below-zero temperatures or whipping winds, but her stomach.

“My motto was not to get upset about anything that happened the first week,” she said, unsure if her body had trouble adjusting to the exertion of pulling the 30- to 40-pound sled with supplies or her change in eating habits during the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational.

Despite that, the 57-year-old Unity woman traversed the length of the race in record time: 26 days, 6 hours and 59 minutes.

The trail follows the path of the famous sled dog race, over the Alaskan Mountain range with a 350-mile leg from Knik to McGrath, then continuing on to Nome.

This was also husband Tim's eighth 1,000-mile finish.

“She had the mental resolve — I don't think she ever thought about quitting — but it was a physical challenge,” said Tim Hewitt, 59.

While her husband normally trudges ahead and each goes at their own pace, this year they decided to stick together, which may have contributed to Loreen Hewitt's record-breaking time on the trail completed March 21.

“I just decided to stay with her, and it paid off,” he said.

Without enough snow, a 40-mile swath of the trail was extremely difficult to pull across, while many sled dog teams were going too fast, causing injuries and crashes, Loreen Hewitt said.

Dogs started March 1. The foot race began Feb. 23.

During other parts of the race, the Hewitts had to contend with freshly fallen snow and to work harder by using snowshoes.

“When I'm out there, I'm doing 100 percent of what I can at the time,” said Loreen Hewitt, adding that having Tim by her side pushed her more with shorter-than-usual rest periods. “He helped me as much as he hurt me, I think.”

He agreed, adding that his wife finished with a faster time than his first trek in 2001.

“She pushed pretty hard,” Tim Hewitt said.

And for that she was rewarded as the third woman ever to complete the 1,000 miles across Alaska, even though there is no cash prize.

“It's an unbelievable state. I just was really happy to do it,” she said. “It's like anything else hard: The more time passes, you look back on the positive things.”

Loreen Hewitt has entered for the 350-mile leg next year and plans to “take (her) sweet time,” but won't continue on to Nome.

As for Tim, he's toying with the idea of trying the race by bike instead of foot next year.

“The race wasn't tougher than I thought it would be, it was harder on me than I thought it would be,” Loreen Hewitt said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or sfederoff@tribweb.com.

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