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Unity couple to tackle Iditarod winter marathon

| Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015, 5:29 p.m.
Steph Chambers | Trib Total Media
Tim and Loreen Hewitt will compete in the Iditarod Trail Invitational, the world’s longest winter ultra marathon by mountain bike, foot and ski. It begins Sunday. The course follows the historic Iditarod Trail in Alaska from Knik over the Alaska Range to McGrath and Nome. The 350-mile short race finishes in the interior village of McGrath and the 1,000-mile race finishes in Nome. Participants must have completed the 350-mile race in a previous year before they can enter the 1,000-mile race. Just 50 participants are invited take part in the challenge every year. This year for the first time, Tim will do the trek by bike, even though it’s his ninth trip to the tundra. Loreen is the only woman registered for the 1,000-mile trip, her second time going that distance, but sixth trek overall.
Steph Chambers | Trib Total Media
Tim and Loreen Hewitt demonstrate their training on Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015 at Twin Lakes Park in Greensburg. The couple is competing in the Iditarod Trail Invitational, the world’s longest winter ultra marathon by mountain bike, foot and ski. It begins March 1. The course follows the historic Iditarod Trail in Alaska from Knik over the Alaska Range to McGrath and Nome. The 350-mile short race finishes in the interior village of McGrath and the 1,000-mile race finishes in Nome. Participants must have completed the 350-mile race in a previous year before they can enter the 1,000-mile race. Just 50 participants are invited take part in the challenge every year. This year for the first time, Tim will do the trek by bike, even though it’s his ninth trip to the tundra. Loreen is the only woman registered for the 1,000-mile trip, her second time going that distance, but sixth trek overall.
Steph Chambers | Trib Total Media
Tim and Loreen Hewitt is leaving next Saturday for the Iditarod Trail Invitational, the world’s longest winter ultra marathon by mountain bike, foot and ski. It begins Sunday. The course follows the historic Iditarod Trail in Alaska from Knik over the Alaska Range to McGrath and Nome. The 350-mile short race finishes in the interior village of McGrath and the 1,000-mile race finishes in Nome. Participants must have completed the 350-mile race in a previous year before they can enter the 1,000-mile race. Just 50 participants are invited take part in the challenge every year. This year for the first time, Tim will do the trek by bike, even though it’s his ninth trip to the tundra. Loreen is the only woman registered for the 1,000-mile trip, her second time going that distance, but sixth trek overall.

When Tim and Loreen Hewitt begin their 1,000-mile trek Sunday across Alaska, she will be making her sixth trip on foot while he will be heading into the wilderness for the first time on 4.8-inch-wide tires.

Tim Hewitt has made the trips eight times before, but always on foot.

The Unity couple has been training for the Iditarod Trail Invitational since December despite recent frigid temperatures in Western Pennsylvania.

Loreen Hewitt, 58, said 30 degrees below zero is the coldest they have encountered on the trail, which cuts over mountains, across sea ice and through tiny villages.

Between 10 above and 10 below zero is the best temperature range for the trek, she said.

“Usually you're moving, you're OK, but when you stop and it's really cold, that's what makes it hard,” Hewitt said.

Tim Hewitt, 60, said that although the couple has gained a reputation with friends for the cold weather treks, he's just like everyone else when it comes to attitudes about winter.

“I love the cold, but I don't love being cold,” he said.

Hewitt will push through the snow and ice on a “fat bike” with a carbon-fiber frame and carbon-studded tires, loaded with his sleeping bag attached to the handlebars, packs and stove fuel along the frame and gloves and “pogies,” or mitts, to cover his hands.

He said he'll try to load the back of the bike for the best riding conditions.

“The more you put on the bike, the more likely it is you're going to crash into the snow,” he said. “After the front tire has compressed the snow a little bit, you can get by with more weight on the back.”

Loreen Hewitt, the only woman registered for the 1,000-mile race this year, will pull a 30- to 40-pound sled.

The large bike tires must be deflated a great deal, Tim Hewitt said.

“They're almost flat in order to get the best traction,” he said.

Weather in Alaska has necessitated some changes in the race, which has followed the Iditarod sled-dog race since 2000.

Last week, organizers announced that rather than use a less-often-trekked south route, passing through the town of Iditarod, participants will follow a northern route.

Hewitt said the southern route did not have enough snow last year and the pair had to trek 30 to 40 miles across dirt.

The announcement was unexpected for the pair as Loreen Hewitt was looking forward to 1,000 miles on the southern route after setting a record last year as the third woman to complete the entire race at 26 days, 6 hours and 59 minutes.

Tim Hewitt was hoping the weather would work to his advantage. Now he's not as optimistic.

“That threw us for a loop, and the advantage I thought I might have outworking the ‘real' bikers disappeared last Thursday,” he joked.

New this year, both racers will use optional GPS trackers that will relay their location online to trackleaders.com/iti15.

The idea is to be safer than one-way emergency trackers that sometimes would be activated accidentally by participants, Loreen Hewitt said.

Overall, Tim Hewitt's goal is to finish a little over 15 days. His wife aims to finish in about 26 days again.

“Everything's shaping up for it to be a little bit slower this year,” she said. “I'll just be doing my own thing. We'll see.”

Tim Hewitt will add to his collection of notes and stories from his earlier eight trips published in the book, “8,000 Miles Across Alaska: A Runner's Journeys on the Iditarod Trail,” co-authored with fellow endurance racer Jill Homer of Los Altos, Calif. “I was just happy to get the story told,” Hewitt said, after handing over 500 pages of notes to Homer.

The writer trekked alongside the Hewitts in 2009 and 2014. The book is available at most book outlets.

This time, Tim and Loreen Hewitt will set out separately and may not cross paths again until the end of the race.

“If I see him, it means the trails are in really bad condition,” Loreen Hewitt said.

“We'll say our goodbyes at the start line,” he 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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