Zen On Dirt

Iditarod: Slow trail = unhappy Ez

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I left Skwentna fully alert, energized, motivated, and an hour ahead of when Lou had left in 2011.  Unfortunately for me, she’d slept for a solid four hours while there while I was still running on my first push.  I thought of Jefe’s amazing CTR run in 2012 when he slept for under two hours in four days, but in the same breath, I thought of Ethan’s same sleepless CTR run and his cratering on Indian Ridge at 12,000 feet without a sleeping bag or warm clothes.  The sleep deprivation line is a funny one to walk.

I continued on, following the tracks of those in front of me, grateful for their presence, not just for their company, but for the reassurance that I was, in fact going in the right direction.  Before the race, Scott (aka GPS man) had put together what we deemed a correct GPX for the ITI.  He called me on Friday morning, before their departure, to inform me that the track past Skwentna was most likely wrong for about 15 to 20 miles.  The ITI is pretty easy to navigate, but without the little red line to follow, I was a little nervous.  And then, of course, within minutes of leaving Skwentna, a snowmobile came by and wiped out all traces of snow bike tracks.  D’oh!  On the plus side, he left a firm track across a giant swamp that make the trail ride like asphalt.  I glanced back a few times until finally the first signs of the day started to appear.

IMG_4680Climbing into the Shell Hills, the sunrise was nothing short of amazing.  I stopped to watch for a handful of minutes before I reminded myself that the sooner I got to Finger Lake, the sooner I could sleep.  And I really wanted to sleep.

Once the sunrise had finished its colorful artistry, things went downhill pretty quick for me.  I’d love to say that these races are all unicorns, rainbows, and happiness, and I think at a touring pace, it could be, but knowing that I was just flirting with record time, slow forward motion was frustrating and I found my head going to some dark places.  The trail traversed several wide open meadows that looked ridable, but had a habit of continually throwing me off trail and into the side snow, making snow angel after snow angel.   I could see most had ridden in front of me, but the side of the trail showed signs of carnage as bike/human shaped craters dotted the landscape.

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Eventually, the trail improved and I got to the top of large meadow where I could see straight, firm-ish trail ahead.  And then I heard the unmistakeable whine of snowmobiles.  Please, please, please don’t wipe out my track.  Please. But sure enough, the lead snowmobile came straight up the center, obliterating any sign of snow tires.  I very nearly cried and I made a few attempts to ride the freshly churned up snow before eventually giving up and started to walk.   The next several hours constitute the lowest I felt out on the trail.  Again, I danced with sets of tracks that had made attempts at pedaling only to be ended with footprints and body craters.

By the time I made it to the final meadow, where I could see Finger Lake Lodge at the far end, I was so wasted, I didn’t even have to suck up any pride to push my bike across and up to the lodge on the snow mobile trail.

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I stumbled into yet another oasis somewhere on the order of 4:30 in the afternoon, a hair over 26 hours since the start.  Finger Lake Lodge, when it’s not acting as host to stinky ITI racers, is an amazingly posh resort in the woods and the food is legendary.  The burrito that was served up within minutes was delectable and I finished it off with a soft and gooey muffin and some cookies.  Immediately, I felt life returning.

‘There’s a sleep cabin down the way, there should only be one other person in there,’ the checkers told me.  ‘Drop bags are in there too.’  I checked the sign-in to see that it was Phil from Nome who was sleeping and I made my way quietly into the green cabin, found my drop bag, and laid down on the bunk in the empty room.  The fire was roaring and I crawled into my sleeping bag, set my alarm for four hours later, and closed my eyes.

IMG_4688Unfortunately, the -20 degree bag was a bit of overkill for the sweltering cabin.  Every adjustment was accompanied by a groan and I could hear that Phil was having similar luck with sleeping in the next room.  I drifted in and out of a semi-sleep state, heard another rider come in, had a half asleep conversation about how boys were stupid, and tossed and turned until I bolted awake and looked at my watch.  7:30, I’d been horizontal for an hour and a half, and for whatever reason, I was wide awake.

I crawled out of the sleeping bag, figuring I could bivy on the trail later, but this cabin sleeping clearly wasn’t working out for me.  I immediately crawled back into the sleeping bag.  It’s cold out there!  I laid there for a few more minutes, giving the Motivator a few good kicks before the engine roared/sputtered to life.  I loaded the bike back up and wheeled it back to the check-in cabin.  Food production was still going and Dan and Kevin had just arrived looking about as broken as I felt when I had first arrived.

We commiserated about the condition of the trail before they headed off to bed and I drank some coffee (coffee!!!!) and had a nice little chat with a man who thought that I should change the spelling of my name since I wasn’t in Hungary any more, but instead, in the middle of the Alaskan bush.  He asked me why I did things like this, told me I was looking better than all the bikers that had been through, and seemed to just shake his head at the lunacy of it all as I declared my check-out time and walked out the door at 7:30, back into the Alaskan night, ready to push my bike to the Rainy Pass Lodge.

Note: Turns out, this fellow I had a nice chat with was Craig Medred of the Alaskan Dispatch, and I’m pretty darn lucky that he chose his quotes of me with discretion because I’m pretty sure I said some entertaining things.  Articles here and here.  I should learn how to keep my mouth shut.

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