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Alone on the Iditarod, pro adventurer found comfort in an unexpected encounter

Pete Ripmaster, the 2018 Iditarod Foot 1000 champ is taking his time reflecting on the race—including a moment of genuine connection—and what's next for him.

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Selfie of Pete Ripmaster in the snow
Pete Ripmaster is an Asheville-based adventurer, who has run 50 marathons in 50 states and just won the 2018 Iditarod Foot 1000.Pete Ripmaster

Pro adventurer Pete Ripmaster, 41, has been home in Asheville, North Carolina, for a whole month and he still can’t wrap his mind around what he considers to be the most intense trip of his life. Understandably. After 26 days, 13 hours, and 44 minutes mostly alone in the Alaskan wilderness, Ripmaster won first place of the Iditarod Foot 1000, the longest winter ultra-marathon in the world that precedes the renowned dog sled race. Out there, he met wolves, -50-degree temperatures, waist-deep snow, and serious doubt in his abilities. It took everything he had physically, emotionally, and mentally to cross the finish line. He also experienced unrelenting determination, unexpected hospitality, and pure joy in authentic connection.

For 20 years, Ripmaster has been chasing adventure, whether it’s scaling mountains or running 50 marathons in 50 states. But just yesterday, he relaunched his website in an effort to boost his public speaking career. SNEWS caught up with Ripmaster about his Alaskan journey, how authentic connection translates to business, his favorite Asheville shop, and what’s next on his to-do list.

You’ve dreamt of completing the Iditarod since you were a kid. What was a highlight?

I was about 825 miles into the route and at an absolute all-time low. I didn’t have a lot of food. I was starting to go sideways a little bit. I made it to a shelter cabin, which is a tiny little shelter made for people who are lost so they can get out of the weather. I went outside to go to the bathroom and a snowmobiler came by and stopped. He ended up being a native Alaskan, a father to a bunch of kids, a whale hunter— somebody very connected to the land and his ancestors. I invited him inside and he listened to everything I was going through. I cried a bunch. We both realized that the timing of me going outside as he was riding by was a spiritual moment. It was meant to be. He told me that he lives in the next town that I’m going through and he wants me to come by so he can feed me and I can meet his family. I end up going in right off the trail and he’s waving me into his house and all his kids are around. He’s got caribou that he hunted out on the table with bowls of rice and every condiment. They gave me everything that they had. They just let me walk in all dirty, nasty, and smelly. That type of encounter to me is more in line with what I was looking for than any number or place. Times like that are just so unique and special to that race and area. It was a beautiful moment.

That’s genuine hospitality. How does that raw, immediate connection translate to running a business?

I used to own Black Mountain Running Company outside Asheville and I romanticized opening my own business, when really, I just ended up being another shop along the road. There’s so many products out there that you have to be unique to stand out. Usually what that means is going out on your own and being your own thing. But I think a lot of times what can really hurt you is not being open to working with, learning from, and supporting other companies. I wish there was more collaboration. At trade shows, it’s all these tiny little boxes that are not connected to one another at all. But I think if brands were more communal, I think they could go deeper and in turn, see more success.

What’s one of your favorite specialty retailers?

There’s an awesome place called Second Gear in Asheville. It’s a consignment outdoor shop. There’s some new gear, some used gear, some gear that’s unused but someone had it in their garage for a year. There are signs for community involvement left and right and how they’re giving back once a month. It’s a really authentic place.

What’s your next big project?

Pete Ripmaster running through the woods
Pete Ripmaster is planning more runs for later this year, including in his backyard of Western North Carolina.Courtesy

All through my ultra-running career and mountain explorations, I though, “When am I going to find something that I can’t do?” Iditarod was the first race that punched back numerous times and made me question whether I could do it. I’m just kind of recouping from Iditarod and certainly don’t feel the need to top it at all. I do not believe it exists and if it does, it’s probably way more miserable. That said, I’m running the Leadville 100 in August and I’m thinking of doing a couple runs in Western North Carolina. One of these days, I’d like to put together a ski mountaineering trip on Denali.

My focus right now is on public speaking. I love sharing my life and my adventures. I love doing it so much that I’m really trying to put time and energy into that part of my life. I think a lot of us have gone through those talks where that person gets up and starts talking about what they’ve done and how fast they’ve done it. I just feel like if given the opportunity to express myself in a somewhat limited timeframe, I think people would be able to connect and really get a lot from the journeys I’ve been on. Book me for a speaking even at my new website,