A DREAM came true for Katherina Merchant when she won a Green Card and moved to Alaska in the spring of 2002. It was here that she found her passion for outdoor sports and began to ride a fat bike.
The rest is history and she has since finished the Iditarod Race twice on a fat bike and has also become the first woman to ride a fat bike the entire 1,000 miles on the Iditarod Trail.
In this exclusive interview Katherina talks to us about adapting to life in one of the world’s most extreme climates as well as her passion for fat biking and role as the organiser for the Iditarod Trail Invitational.
When did you first find out about the Iditarod race and what were your original ideas about it?
I came to Alaska in the spring of 2002 after a previous backpacking trip there in 1996 and after winning a Green Card I had plans of moving to Alaska. My future husband had participated in the race since 1998 and then took over the race in 2002. When I went back to Alaska he had just organised and finished his fifth race.
Tell us about your move to Alaska and how different life has been compared to your life in Germany?
I grew up on a dairy farm in Bavaria in the foothills of the Alps. I did not do much for recreation or in the outdoors. I used a bicycle to commute and ride to school and the time at home was spent working on the family farm. When I moved to Alaska in 2002 I started many outdoor sports and guiding wilderness trips with my husband and began to ride a fat bike in the snow in 2003 before fat biking was popular. Only a handful of people had fat bikes back then.
What have been your own personal experiences of the Iditarod Race and in which way are you involved in the race today?
I finished the 350-mile race from Knik to McGrath in 2005 and 2006 and I rode to Nome with my husband Bill in 2008 becoming the first woman to ride a fat bike the entire 1,000 miles on the Iditarod Trail.
I have been organizing the ITI race with my husband Bill since 2002. I manage all aspects of the race after the start since Bill heads out on the trail to put in the trail with his crew of snow machines a few days before the start and he is on the trail for two weeks.
Do you plan to take part in the race as a competitor again?
I am doing other ultra endurance mountain bike events in the summer such as the Breck Epic in Colorado and La Ruta in Costa Rica and the Fat Pursuit in Idaho in January and the White Mountains 100 in March. The last two are ITI qualifiers. During our race, I am too busy with logistics and managing the race, there is no time for me to race in the ITI anymore. I would like to, but it seems impossible now with the race being so popular.
Tell us more about the history of the race and the involvement your husband has played in its creation and success?
The former race was called the Iditasport and was inspired by Joe Redington Sr, the founder of Iditarod. Iditabike has been around since 1987. Bill founded a new race in 2002 called the Iditarod Trail Invitational to keep the race going. He had been a competitor in the previous Iditasport events since 1998. Bill is very passionate about this race and when competitors asked him to continue this race at one of the check points in Rohn in 2001 he said yes he would continue it.
When did you start fat biking and could explain more about the sport and its growing success?
I started riding with my husband Bill when I moved to Alaska in 2002. I bought my first fat bike in 2004. Surly produced a fat bike and tires and rims in 2005. Before that there were only a few fat bikes available from smaller builders. Fat biking really took off in 2010 and in the last two years it has gone global. There are now over 100 brands of fat bikes world wide. When people ride fat bikes they have a huge smile and they do get a lot of attention when people see them. Fat bikes are really fun to ride.
How can people find out more about fat biking and get involved in the sport themselves?
There are many websites today where you can find information about fat bikes, related gear and fat bike events as well as social media and local bike shops carry fat bikes now.
This year will be our 15th annual event, which we are celebrating with a Fat Bike Expo and the Big Fat Ride in Anchorage Alaska before the race starts on Sunday February 28. We are hoping fans will travel to Alaska to experience this event firsthand.
What is it about your life of adventure that keeps you so motivated and happy and do you have any exciting projects or plans set for 2016 and beyond?
I like to go places, meet people and travel. My racing keeps me traveling and the race in Alaska brings people from all over the world to Alaska once a year.
I am planning to do several of the races I did in 2015 again and there is a list of a few others I would like to do in the future on different continents. Never stop exploring.