During the winter of 1983, my husband Carl and I were living together along the Yentna River in a small two-room cabin. During the day, Carl would work on the construction of a new log building that would become our main lodge and I’d care for our infant daughter Carly inside the small cabin. I’d read, cook and plan for the upcoming summer. Carl would walk over for lunch, and, in the evenings, we’d play board games by lantern light. Twice a week, we’d tune our battery-operated radio into a Talkeetna station to listen to messages from town.
One day, deep in winter, a helicopter landed in our front yard. Out came Joe Redington and a woman wearing an enormous fur hat. We stood in the main room of the lodge, still under construction, and we all had a slice of blueberry pie I had just baked. I rested it on top of a sawhorse and served it on paper plates. These were our first visitors to our new life along the river.
Redington asked us if we might be willing to serve as a checkpoint for a human-powered race he was coordinating along the Iditarod Trail called the Iditaski. We agreed to participate and so began a 29-year relationship with a winter race and the amazing cast of characters we have met associated with it.
The Iditaski Race has undergone a few transitions over the years. It’s now called The Iditarod Invitational and, with Ultrasport race organizers Bill and Kathi Merchant at the helm, it is the longest and most remote winter ultra race in the world. High-tech gear has changed and bike tires have gotten fatter, but over all these years, I’ve made the same basic “racer food” for those who want to take a meal before they push on towards McGrath. I prepare black beans (infused with oranges, garlic and cumin), basmati rice (it holds up best over the long staggered hours of racer arrivals), freshly made salsa, and tortillas. In the mornings, I fry an egg over the dish. In the evenings, I serve sliced chicken breast or roasted vegetables.
We also make each year some version of our homemade “energy bars,” not that the racers nowadays aren’t loaded with their own tubes of gooey energy paste and other futuristic high-tech food sources. Our homemade, old-fashioned energy bars are popular with the racers as well as the checkers who have to stay up through the night to sign in new arrivals.
Energy bars come in two basic versions – cooked and uncooked. Ours are baked for about 15 minutes. Ingredients can be as dense, smooth, chunky or even chocolate-filled, as you prefer. We always include a variety of nuts and seeds, grains, honey, and some kind of nut butter like peanut, almond or even sesame butter. I can’t tell you the nutritional content of our energy bars, but I am pretty sure they are protein and carbohydrate-dense.
We’re looking forward to seeing that first headlamp bob across the lake in the dark. We’ll meet new friends and say hello to old ones as the racers warm up in my kitchen and perhaps they’ll try an energy bar.
- 1 cup rolled oats
- ½ cup wheat cereal or puffed rice
- ½ cup wheat flour
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons ginger
- 2 eggs, beaten
- ¼ cup apricot jam
- ¼ cup honey
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- ¼ cup flax seeds
- ¼ cup walnuts
- 1 cup chopped dried fruit (we used cherries, blueberries and dates)
- ¼ cup hazelnuts
- 4 tablespoons sesame seeds
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- Combine the first six ingredients together. Add in the eggs, jam, honey and oil. Mix well with a wooden spoon. Add in the remaining ingredients.
- Place some aluminum foil into a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking pan. Butter the pan. Spread the mixture over the pan, using your hands to pat down the ingredients. Bake for 15 minutes. Let the baked mixture cool completely before you cut into squares or bars.