IDITAROD TRAIL INVITATIONAL 2012
The following is my highly fictionalized account of my recent adventure in Alaska. A more accurate accounting of the event will be forthcoming from my faithful manservant Andy.
How did I get to this point? I’m at the 210 mile checkpoint at Rohn and I’m coming to the realization that my dream of getting to McGrath is coming to an end. I’ve just seen a picture of my frostbitten face and know that to continue would risk some serious long-term injuries. I then slept for 6 hours before pulling the plug but the reality is that I was hoping for some kind of fairy tale miracle cure that wasn’t about to happen.
The event had started 6 ½ days earlier in the town of Knik on Sunday the 26th at 2 pm. The day started with loading our bikes in a van to be transported to the start and then a 1 ½ hour bus ride to the start. At Knik, we all gathered in the bar & grill and it seemed to be a part of the right of passage that most of the racers had a big greasy burger and fries as our pre race meal. Not the norm but then again most races don’t last any where from 4 – 10 days. It wasn’t going to be a mad sprint off the line.
In the days before the start I’d met a number of the other competitors. There was a pre race party on Friday evening sponsored by Greg Matyas at Speedway Cycle. Greg is the owner and designer of Fatback Bicycles as well as an outstanding racer who came in third in last year’s race.
I had hitched a ride with Tim Hewitt and Rick Freeman. They are runners from Pennsylvania and Tim is has completed the 1000 mile trek to Nome a record 6 times. Tim is a 57-year-old lawyer and this is his idea of a nice relaxing holiday. As my wife Lynne would say I truly was with my own kind of people.
At the hotel, I ended up meeting Frank Janssens and enjoying several breakfasts with him. Frank is formerly from Belgium and now lives in Vancouver. He was in the foot/ running division. We thought of ourselves as Team Canada. Frank got to the 300 hundred mile mark and then came down with a bad flu and was unable to continue. Great effort but it must have been very frustrating to get that close to the finish and then be forced to abandon.
Back to the low-key start where we gathered at the edge of the lake and then at the word from organizer Kathi Merchant we were off on our adventure. They were predicting a heavy snowfall but there was none at the start and I was hoping the forecasts were wrong. However, we weren’t very far into the event when the snow started to slowly drift down. Little did any of us realize what was in store for us over the next several days?
From the start we have to make our way to Flat horn Lake but one of the challenges is that there are multiple routes to the lake. I ended up following former champion Jeff Oatley, his wife Heather Best as well as Erik Warkentin and Louise Kobin. Eric is one of the most experienced ITI racers and Louise is the women’s record holder. I thought I was in good company as they would know the best route.
The snow continued to fall and at the 15 mile mark we reached the point where we could no longer ride and were reduced to pushing our heavily laden bicycles. I truly didn’t realize that this would be my exclusive form of
START LINE AT KNIK
transportation for the next 75 miles. Perhaps this lack of realization was a blessing as I just took it as it came and kept hoping that good riding would eventually be ahead.
After, 11 miles of pushing over almost 6 hours I reached the edge of Flathorn Lake. A number of racers had chosen to bivy there but I chose to carry on across the lake, as I knew that I wasn’t yet tired enough to sleep. It was 5 miles across the lake and the track was good for the first several miles. Gradually it became more blown in till I reached the point where I had 2 miles to go and I was moving at about ½ mile/ hr. I was looking at 4 more hours to do 2 miles.
Then magically, some lights appeared behind me. It was the four leading runners with their sleds trailing behind. They were my lifeline as they packed the trail so that I was able to up my pace and get off the lake in less than 2 hours. What followed was a stretch of 2 miles on a trail through the woods. It was still hard going but at least the trail was not blowing in.
I reached the edge of the Dismal Swamp that was another open run of 5 miles. I thought I’d cross and then look for a place to bivy for 2 or 3 hours. I started out into the open and realized that it would be another slog through a blown in trail so I turned back and bivied in the first sheltered place on shore. This involves making a trench in the snow, breaking off some pine bows, and laying out my sleeping pad and sleeping bag and bivy sack. I settled in and found I was comfortably warm. I still wasn’t ready to sleep but it felt good to be lying down and resting my legs. The walking was already getting old.
After only 1 ½ hours I heard a group stopped in front of me and talking about whether to stop or go on. I snuck a look and realized it was a group of 3 or 4 runners. When the decided to carry on across the swamp, I quickly decided to get up and follow them across. It seemed to me that if I rested for several more hours I might end up with no trail.
I packed as quickly as I could and set off about 15 minutes after them. It worked out well, as the track was still open. The sleds make a narrow path for a person pushing a bike but it felt like a freeway to me. I made my way across the swamp and then back into the trails in the bush. Shortly after getting off the swamp my saviors pulled over to bivy and I found myself back following a bike track. This works better as you roll your wheel along the track and for the most part follow the footprints as best as possible.
MY WHOLE WORLD BECAME THE TRACK AS I TRIED TO KEEP MY WHEEL ROLLING AS WELL AS POSSIBLE
After a short while, I came across Phil Hofstedder, Pete Bassinger and Tim Bernston as they had a fire going to melt snow to fill their bottles. They had bivied and would be on their way shortly but in the very short term, I found myself in the scary position of being in the lead in the race. I pointed out that a 63 year old really needed to follow them and slowly headed out breaking trail. I found it very difficult and fortunately they came by after I’d gone about a ¼ mile. I’m glad I had the opportunity to do that to feel how difficult their task was but I’m truly happy it was for only a short while.
After a short while, we descended onto the Susitna River. By this time, I was starting to have some sharp pains in my left knee. I had already done more bike pushing than I’d done in probably my whole life so I just popped more Aleve and tried to baby the knee as much as possible. Hard to do as we were now in the part of the course that had received 34 inches of snow.
I was running short of fluids as I’d now be going for about 20 hours and still had a long trek to Luce’s where I could replenish my supply. I got out my Esbit stove, threw on my down jacket and melted enough snow to fill my 2 nalgene bottles. I still had water in my Hydro Heater so I knew this would set me up to get to keep well hydrated. While I was stopped a big group of runners passed me. You spend a lot of time alone so it was great to see them for a few minutes.
After turning onto the Yentna River where it met the Susitna, I had been told that it was 9 miles to Luce’s resort. It was warming, the track was becoming even softer and my knee was throbbing. I was passed by more runners as well as cyclists
THIS SUMS UP THE RACE FOR CYCLISTS THIS SHOWS DAVE KELLY, ONE OF MY SOULMATES DURING THE RACE.
Pavel Richtr, Russell Worthington, Jeff Oatley, Heather Best and Tim Stern. It’s amazing how unobservant I’d been. When Jeff came by he pointed out that they all had their left pedals off for pushing the bike. He stopped and we tried to take mine off with his 8mm Allen key but I’d cranked it on with a pedal wrench and we couldn’t get it off . As a rookie, I came to realize how many things I didn’t know.
After 5 hours on the Yentna River, I arrived at dusk at the resort at Luce’s. Just before I arrived there I was caught by Robin McAlpine. Robin is an Alaskan from McGrath so he was heading for home. In an interesting side story, Robin was carrying the ashes of his grandfather. His grandfather had bee one of the early competitors in the Iditarod dog sled race and this was Robin’s tribute to him. He didn’t make it this year but he’s a strong guy and I’m sure he will in the future. Robin was the first guy to mention how heavy my bike must be. As he was coming up behind me he saw the bike fall over several time because it overbalanced and was too heavy for me to correct.
MY BIKE AND RUSSELL’S AT LUCE’S. TOO TIRED AND LAZY TO DRAG IT UP THE HILL
At Luce’s the weight of my bike affected my next decision. It’s a steep hill up to the resort and I chose to leave my bike on the river and carry only my bottles up to the restaurant and cabins. There was nobody who was going to steal it and at that point I just didn’t care. There was a large flotilla of bikes up at the resort and one last cabin was available which I shared with Russell Worthington from Australia. I had a burger and fries an order of chili and cheese and then hit the bunk for about 5 hours. My plan had been for shorter rests than that but the extreme slow going had changed my perspective. I was no longer so much racing as trying to survive.
Got up at 3 am and got myself organized to head for the first checkpoint at Yentna Station. It was only 8 miles but this of course took almost 4 hours. The great treat with this section is that were brief stretches where I could actually get on the bike and ride. They usually lasted anywhere from 50 yards to 150 but they gave my legs a break and gave me some hope.
RIDERS PUSHING THEIR BIKES ALONG THE YENTNA
I arrived at Yentna at 8:10 am on the second morning. This was about 32 hours behind the fantasy schedule I had for myself before the snows came. I stopped for a breakfast of pancakes and coffee and had a nice visit with Shawn McTaggart. She was in the foot division and seemed in good spirits and moving well. I dried some socks that were still damp from the day before and finally headed out after several hours.
I’d hoped to be able to ride at least some of the time but almost right away a snowmobile came towards me on the trail. They obviously help to pack all the snow but their immediate effect is to leave the trail too soft to ride. I could still see a sled track and after several miles followed it up the bank on the south side of the river. I followed the track down onto another body of water, after which I was passed by another snowmobile. At this point I could no longer see the track but continued on thinking the snowmobile had wiped it out.
I ended up going al most 2 miles down the trail until I was passed by a group of snowmobiles coming towards me. They told me I was going the wrong way, which I’d begun to suspect but didn’t want to believe. This diversion ended up costing me over 3 hours and definitely took some wind out of my sails. I’d hoped to reach the Skwentna Roadhouse checkpoint but the 3 hours wasted would make that difficult unless there were some long riding stretches.
As I got back to the Yentna I met up with Billy Koitzsch. Billy is one of the partners in the HydroHeater bladder that I use in my Camelbak. I would end up spending the next 3 days near Billy. We’d hoped for some ride able stretches althe Yentna but there were a few snowmobiles out and about and they made it too loose to ride so we trudged on. It’s easy to get discouraged at the snail-like pace but Billy had done the race many times and assured me that we’d eventually be on our bikes.
Billy pushed his bike a little faster than me and gradually pulled away and I settled in for the long push to Skwentna. I’d been up since 3 am and realized that my unplanned detour meant that I would be out over 24 hours if I hoped to reach that checkpoint. As night came on and the snow set up a bit, there were short stretches where I could briefly ride and they made me feel better things were ahead.
I passed a sign saying 13 miles (approximately) to Skwentna and it was already 20 hours since I started out in the early hours. Shortly after this I saw some lights angling towards me from the shore and it turned out to be Jeff, Heather, Jay and Tim. They told me about
Cyndi and Andy, the couple there who open their home to ITI racers and said I needed to try the spaghetti and for sure the cinnamon buns. I decided that another 7 hours required to reach Skwentna would be over the top at this point in the race and went in for food and a sleep.
I was far from alone as there were at least 6 bikes out front. Cyndi was up and made me feel welcome with a generous bowl of spaghetti and a hot cider like drink. Sebastiano and Ausilia, 2 racers from Italy, were just finished eating and headed off to the bunkhouse. Eric Warkentin and Louise Kobin came in as they had finished sleeping and were having their breakfast before heading out. Louse is the women’s record holder with an amazing time of less than 4 days last year.
I slept/ rested for about 4 hours and then roused myself and went and had coffee and cinnamon buns as well as a can of Boost. By this time, Cyndi was sleeping and her husband Andy was caring for us. I’d hoped we’d be doing some riding but unfortunately, it had snowed about 3 or 4 inches during the night so we were reduced to pushing again. Sebastiano and Ausilia had headed out shortly before me and I could see their lights in the distance. I finally passed a sign that said 2 miles to Skwentna but I guess this one should have said approximately as well as it turned out to be about 3 ½ miles. That doesn’t sound like a big deal but it was at least an hour of extra travel time. In the course of this race I found myself going from highs to lows and that last stretch into the checkpoint had me on a definite low cycle. My knee was sore and my mind was weak.
It was noon on the 3rd day so I’d been going for 70 hours to cover 90 miles. More pushing lay ahead if I carried on immediately so I decided to take a break and eat and sleep till dusk. Had a huge bowl of lasagna and even a salad. It was a great treat to have real food. Then the ultimate luxury, I had a shower. One other key benefit for me here is that I was able to buy a good supply of Aleve as my knee was inflamed and required one or two every two hours. I wasn’t going to have enough and I’d been having to take them sparingly so this was a big psychological as well as a physical boost. I rested well, ate some more and then headed out at just after 6 and magically, the track was firm and I was able to ride.
It was great to be on the bike and moving forward much more quickly. I can’t say I was setting a fierce pace as the previous 75 miles of pushing had taken something out of my old legs. However, it was great to realize that my knee felt fine. Better things were ahead. After 3 miles I reached a 7 mile stretch across the swamp and again it was firm enough to ride. Just when I felt things were looking up I heard the ominous sound of a snowmobile coming up behind me. It was a trail groomer that in the long term would help but meant more pushing in my immediate future. I pushed for about 2 ½ hours and could feel the trail firming up underfoot so I got back on the bike. For the most part, I was able to ride the last 3 mile across the swamp.
I then hit the Shell hills that were steep enough that it was back to pushing but my legs felt fresher for having been on the bike and it went well. After reaching the top I was back on the bike for the most part. This was starting to be fun. Not too far from the Shell Lake Lodge, I saw someone had set up in a bivy, which seemed somewhat surprising. It turns out it was Russell Worthington and unfortunately this signaled the end of his race. His freehub wouldn’t engage and the idea of continuing to push his bike all the way to the finish was far too much to bear after all we’d already faced. Hope to see him back in the future.
At Shell Lake Lodge, there were about 6 bikes out front as I pulled in at 2 am. We could sleep on the floor with our own sleeping bags and I could see Sebastiano, Ausilia, Sean Grady, Steve Wilkinson and Dave Kelley. I found a place to hang my damp clothes near the stove and found a place on the floor with a couple cushions from a couch for a sleep. I was up at about 6:30 to take in some food, fill my camelbak and bottles and head for the next checkpoint and first food drop at Finger Lake. Dave Kelly got on his way just before me but I was disappointed to learn that Sean and Steve had chosen not to continue. They have both completed the ITI before so perhaps they didn’t feel the need to punish their bodies any more this year.
This leg involved a steady climb through the bush away from the lake followed by fairly open stretches of fields surrounded by bush on each side. I had the impression of a super sized golf course. I’d hoped to be able to ride a good deal of this section but it was fairly blown in and involved more pushing than pedaling. I have to say that I could see Dave’s tracks and he was able to ride a good deal more than me. Overall though, this stretch went very well and I arrived at Interlake Lodge on Finger Lake at 5:30 in the evening. As I came across the lake, Sebastiano and Ausilia joined up with me and we rolled in together.
AT FINGER LAKE CHECKPOINT
Dave and Billy K were already there and we all joined up to eat the burritos that were supplied by the race at this stop. This was the place for our first food drops and as is the accepted norm, Dave had already scavenged through all of the drop bags of the people who had dropped out of the race. He was excited to find some local type of pizzas in Brij Potnis’s bag. We feasted on these after they were heated in the kitchen. I really didn’t need any food from my drop bag but did change up all the batteries in my lights and my Hydro Heater. I also grabbed some other people’s supplies to get a little variety in my diet.
I had a good sleep for about 4 hours then got ready and headed out at midnight just after Dave and Billy. For the first time in a number of days, I could envision a schedule that would get me to the finish well within the ten day time limit. This next section involved the infamous “Happy Steps”. They are these impossibly steep uphills and downhills up and down from the Happy River. I’d read a description by Louis Kobin where she had to push her bike for two steps and then lock on her brakes to get up the longest hill. I couldn’t even do that which speaks to the fact that she’s a lot stronger than me or that my bike was far too heavy. ( or both) My bike was 56% of my body weight. By comparison Billy K’s was 33%. The end result is that I ended up dragging my bike up the hill sideways. It didn’t exactly fly up the hill but I could literally stop with the bike sideways and rest up for my next charge uphill. A little unorthodox to be sure but I was desperate and it worked.
After the top, it was rolling terrain and it was possible to ride a good deal of the way. Again, my lack of skill showed up as I could see that Billy was able to ride a good deal more of the trail than myself. This is a combination of both strength and skill as the faster speed you can maintain; the easier it is to keep a straight line on the narrow trail. All the walking had left me without the power to keep the speed up so I was still off the bike for long stretches. I found as I headed towards Puntilla Lake that a number of planes were passing overhead on their way to Rainy Pass Lodge. I could tell I was getting closer as they became lower on their way to landing. Finally I arrived at 3 pm after a 15 hour session.
CABIN AT RAINY PASS LODGE
The timing was such that I had a long rest ahead as it is considered best to leave in the very early morning to go over Rainy Pass in order to arrive at the top in the middle of the day. I was again at the cabin with Sebastiano, Ausilia, Billy and Dave and we were becoming a close-knit group. We were in places 5th through 9th in the bike division and the last survivors in the race. We were all feeling good about our chances, especially Dave and myself, as we were the only rookies left in the bike division. One of the sayings I had heard certainly seemed to apply to our group. It is “ when conditions are easy, you race each other. When conditions are hard, you help each other.”
The pass had been going very well and we were hearing that it was packed whereby people were able to ride for a good deal of the way. I headed out at 1:30 in the morning with Sebastiano and Ausilia and we talked and agreed that we would stay together. I had made my first tactical error as I had dressed for the weather down in the valley rather than for what we were likely to face on the pass. The first three miles were a gentle uphill in the trees and shrub bushes and it was all ride able.
The conditions turned around instantly as we turned and headed straight up into the first leg of the pass. The wind was blasting from the right and blowing in the trail so there was no more riding. Sebastiano took the lead as it was hard to even stay on the somewhat packed trail and he was good at finding the way. Relatively speaking, this was still steady going and we reached a plateau and actually dropped down a little before the real climb to come.
ON THE WAY UP THE PASS
It was at this point where there was still a little bit of shelter that I should have stopped and adjusted my headwear. I had goggle with a nose protector as well as a neoprene mask and given the weather that we’d already faced, I really should have taken every precaution to protect myself. I had a balaclava, a toque and a neck tube which I had up over my face as well as my Casco glasses/goggles. The neck tube ended up iced up and it tends to lose it’s thermal protection then. I think the neoprene plus the neck tube would have been the answer. We all know that hindsight is 20/20 but at the time I didn’t sense the severity of the conditions and didn’t take the necessary measures. I’ll learn and do better in the future.
VERY OPEN PASS WITH A FIERCE WIND
Sebastiano was a tower of strength on the way to the top. He not only led the way to break trail but on every steep rise he charged up and then came bake to help first Ausilia and then myself get over the tough sections. We slowly made our way to the summit of the pass and arrived after 10 hours, which is apparently quite good in order to arrive at Rohn in 13 or 14 hours.
Starting down from the top was somewhat easier as we had gravity on our side but the wind still blew viciously and the trail was still blown in. After about an hour we saw a snowmobile approaching and it turned out to be Rob who is famed as the main man at the checkpoint in Rohn. He was heading to Shell Lake for a pre dogsled race party but assured us that we’d be well cared for by OE at the tent at Rohn. He also took the time to alert me to the fact that my face had some definite issues with frostbite. It was extremely exposed where we were but about 10 minutes later We stopped and I hunted up some dry headwear and better protected the affected areas. As it turned out it was truly a case of closing the barn door after all of the cows were out.
We were now into what is known as the Dalzell Gorge, which is a narrow canyon heading down from the pass. At this point we were caught up by Billy K. Billy had left Rainy Pass Lodge 2 ½ hours before us but he’d stopped at the emergency cabin near the top of the pass to take a break and thaw out his hydration pack. Like him I’d worn my HydroHeater on the outside of my jacket and near the top of the pass I could no longer get any water. The element is designed to thaw any ice in the hose in the hose and nozzle but in this case, the bladder itself must have been frozen. Not surprising as it was -26C with a wind that must have put the windchill well below -50.
We were reaching a more sheltered area on the trail where it was possible to ride but my eyes were a problem, as I couldn’t see well enough to stay on the trail. Sebastiano and Ausilia were my protectors and wanted to stay with me, but as we got down into the more sheltered parts of the trail I convinced them that I would be fine and would make my own way to Rohn.
DALZELL GORGE WAS BEAUTIFUL. UNFORTUNATELY I COULD BARELY SEE IT
My eyes were extremely light sensitive and as it turned out. My right cheek was so swollen that it was blocking my right eye but I was able to pick some long stretches and get on the bike for about 1/3 of the time. As it got further down into the canyon the trail was along the edge of a small river and it kept crossing back and forth across from one bank to the other.
After many hours, I arrived at the confluence with a larger river at which point it was much more open and I was able to ride. At certain points it was glare ice and I twice found myself skidding across the ice after my wheel shot out from under me. It was on this stretch that I had my first hint of hallucinations. I wanted to see the building at Rohn and I found myself seeing buildings all along the edge of the river. At one point I could see a whole village. When the trail turned off the river into the bush I took it to mean that the checkpoint was close. It was blown in so I was back to pushing the bike.
The hallucinations took on a new form on this stretch. As I walked along, I saw a sign on the edge of the trail that said, “ ROHN, wasn’t built in a day.” I could see it plain as day but when I went to touch it it was simply a pine sprig against the white snow backdrop. Shortly after I saw “ when in ROHN, do as the ROHNans do” and later on there was ‘” ROHN, population 300 moose” Finally I found myself on an airfield runway and imagined I could see a plane parked on the other side but in this case it was true. I was finally at Rohn and very happy to be there even if it took much longer than I expected. It was 9 PM so the trip from the summit had taken me 9 ½ hours. Time toe eat some hot food and sleep.
I was worried about the frostbite on my face and to a certain degree on my fingers as well. The hands had taken me by surprise, as I didn’t sense that they were becoming frostbitten. All of the pushing of my bike left my hands almost continually numb and as a result I didn’t really sense that they were not just numb but in fact frostbitten. I resolved to have a good amount of hot food and drink and then a good sleep before deciding my fate. I had more than 3 days left to cover 140 miles and this stretch of trail was virtually all hard packed and ride able so I really wanted my reward for all the drudgery of pushing the bike. Morning would tell the tale.
After a good sleep, I awoke to see that Billy, Ausilia and Sebastiano had headed on their way. OE was the main helper at the tent but during the night, race organizer Bill Merchant had come from McGrath with his snowmobile and packer and was there as well. OE took a picture of my swollen face with my phone and this was the first time I’d seen the extent of the frostbite. My nose was seriously discolored as well as both cheeks. My hands were swollen from frostbite as well.
I never ever like to consider dropping out of an event and won’t even consider doing so if it’s just a matter of my being tired physically or mentally. I can even accept a degree of injury and once rode the last 1200 kms of a race from San Francisco to Portland with a broken collarbone. I guess my line in the sand is that I’m not prepared to risk permanent damage for the sake of some macho image of myself overcoming all obstacles. I also don’t want to put someone who might have to rescue me at risk. SO here I was with a face that risked permanent damage and hands that weren’t functioning well enough to take care of myself over the next 140 miles. I had no choice and told Bill that I was dropping out. Bill had let me make my own decision but gave his opinion that in his mind I’d made the right and the courageous choice. My race came to an end after 214 miles. Of that distance I rode for about 38 miles and pushed my bike for 176 miles
I’ve often thought about some tough race where I’m feeling sorry for myself and jokingly said that you can’t just sit down and say, “I quit.” Well here I was in the middle of nowhere and that’s exactly what I’d just done. Bill then phoned his wife Kathi and she set about arranging my evacuation. She got back to us after about an hour to say that Michael Schoder would be flying in to take me to Shell Lake and from there I could get a flight to Anchorage. They would contact me when he was ready to leave McGrath.
At this point, Bill told me that the Iditarod dog sled volunteers had invited me over to their cabin and the nurse wanted to check out my injuries to see if she could be of assistance. It’s a cozy little cabin that for 50 months a year serves as an emergency shelter for any pilot who is forced to land at Rohn. Now it was teeming with activity as they prepared for the 60 or 70 dog teams that would be coming through in several days. I was amazed to meet a number of the volunteers and learn that they come from all over North America. Three of them including the leader at this checkpoint Jasper were from Minnesota, one from Wyoming, and another from Arizona. It’s certainly a famous event but I didn’t realize what a diverse appeal it had for the rest of the United States.
I had taped my feet with Leukotape on the first night and really not touched them since and they had caused me no trouble. The nurse suggested that I’d be wise to remove the tape to let my feet air out. In doing so I removed tape from 2 of my toes and found that the nails came off. They had given me absolutely no trouble but were now in pain. She taped me up but I couldn’t get my boots back on. I was reduced to wearing my down booties with a stuff sack taped over each foot.
Michael came and upon seeing me volunteered that he was going to fly me straight to Anchorage and the hospital. This is a very small plane so my bike would have to come later. We loaded me and my gear in the plane and he padded me up with two quilts to keep me warm. The plane seats two with me directly behind the pilot. It is a ski plane so we skimmed across the snow before rising above the trees. We followed the route through Rainy Pass and I got to look down on my nemesis. My eyes were very light sensitive so I could only look down briefly before covering face but the panorama as we flew is was simply stunning. It was possible to see the Iditarod trail as it wound it’s way through the bush. I had to keep my face completely covered and at length, I fell asleep for the last part of the journey.
We flew into Anchorage and landed at a small airfield with a snowy runway for bush planes with skis. As we taxied up to the edge of the runway, I saw an ambulance and a fire truck as Michael had phoned ahead. My payment for this great service was just the cost of fuel as he insisted that was all he wanted. We pulled up and used my credit card to fill. Cost me $134 which beats the $4900 it cost me to get a helicopter ride at the Trans Alps race 4 years ago.
Spent 2 days in the hospital where they hooked me up to IV’s and rehydrated me and fed me. I saw the local frostbite specialist, Dr O’Malley and after examining me, he said that I would recover fine. He did say that it was very wise that I chose not to go on or I would likely have lost my nose. I’d been feeling comfortable with my decision but that confirmed it for me.
Bob Ostrom is one of the partners in HydroHeater and a racer as well. We’ve become friends over the last several years at the Arrowhead race and he and his wife Katie insisted that I come and stay with them. It was nice not to be sitting in a hotel room and I had a great time with the 2 of them as well as their 3 year old son Taite and their 1 year old daughter Abbie. I also spent a good deal of time with Oddie the dog. Oddie seemed to think that the preferred treatment for frostbite was a good lick.
We went over to Speedway Cycle as my bike had been shipped back to Anchorage and I’d arranged for them to package it and send it back to Winnipeg. Greg had run out to the airport and picked it up and it was boxed and ready to go. Great service and really friendly guys. I also returned my sat phone that had allowed me to contact Lynne. It hadn’t always worked and it worked out to $70 / call but there was some comfort in knowing it was possible to reach the outside world.
I took Bob out for dinner one night and arranged for my winged angel Michael and his wife Anne to join us. Anne was the first female finisher as she completed the race on foot in 7th overall in 8 days and 2 hours. It was great to meet her. She looked far fresher than me as she actually competed in the event she had trained to do. I think one of the other differences is that we both had the letdown that comes after we finished but I didn’t have the tremendous lift that comes from finishing. Nonetheless, I was glad we could get together.
SEBASTIANO AND AUSILIA NEARING THE FINISH. I WOULD HAVE LIKED TO BE WITH THEM.
I also caught up with Pavel Richtr. Pavel was 3rd overall and just a great guy. W. e had met at the pre-race party and discussed a long race in his Czech Republic. Hope to try it sometime in the future. The group were just sitting down to dinner and it looked like a real feast. It looked pretty nice and I think I will stay there next year.
There I’ve said it. I will return. It was a great experience with not quite the ending I was looking for. It certainly let me examine my many flaws and for the most part I was pleased with my effort. I dug pretty deep into the “suitcase of courage” as my friend Brian is always saying. I clearly needed to manage my environment better over Rainy Pass and having done it once I’m sure I can make the changes necessary for a better result. They would be as follow: 1. Dress for the pass as I leave Rainy Pass Lodge – it’s much easier to remove layers when you’re too hot than the reverse 2. Put the Hydroheater under my jacket to have assured fluids. 3. Start up some hand warmers and have them ready when needed 4. Stop at the cabin if you need to take a break 5. Wear my goggles with a neoprene facemask as well as a neck tube overtop. Also consider layers of tape across my nose and cheeks under all that for an additional layer of protection. 6. Lighten my load on the bike. I took more clothes and especially more food than I needed and the extra weight proved very difficult in the push a bike sections. 7. Spend more time at Springhill pushing my bike uphill
I come out of this with no regrets. I said at the start that I chose to go to McGrath not because it was easy but because it was hard. It was all I could have wanted on that score and more. Alaska is ahead of me one to nothing. I’ll try to even it up next year.