A week from today, I’ll be on the Iditarod Trail. Four or so hours into it. Me. My pony. And all the food I can eat. (And that’s a lot of food) The start time period has just started peeking into the 7-10 day weather forecast period, and while I try not to obsess too much about weather, (Because, really what can you do about it besides deal with it?) I’ve been stealing glances at it on a daily basis. And it looks good.
There’s always a switch that flips coming into these events where I go from ‘There’s no way I can get everything done in time’ to ‘I wish it were time to line up at the start.’ As it stands, I could probably be packed and out of the house within three hours and on my way to AK, as long as I had my computer on the flight to make my final cheat sheet. I’d also need to rustle up some clear glasses since the Tour Divide apparently killed my only clear lenses. But the prep is done. And it was done well.
Last weekend was to be the final shakedown for ITI. The weather forecast looked…not good. Snow all Saturday for Bunny Ears Pass. Snow all night. Snow all Sunday. We went out with the knowledge that something would happen, but as with everything in the past month, we really had very little idea what that ‘thing’ was. New area. New maps. New boots. New tires. What could possibly go wrong?
After a peaceful first day of riding, (once we oriented ourselves after a little bit of Hike-a-bike and the swallowing of pride that we should probably just turn around and return to square 1.47) we found ourselves a little grove of trees to call home for the night. I could have ridden forever that night, dusk falling beautifully, but I’d been watching the numbers on the GPS tick over the ‘recommended’ ride time for a while already and my stated goal was not to overcook myself with riding during the weekend. We stomped out a hole part of the way up Buffalo Pass, the far point of our loop and watched small snowflakes come down from a starry night.
And then before I knew it, I was awake. My watch said 5:30 and I’m fairly sure it was my grumbling stomach that roused me from the dead. I made just enough noise to wake Scott up and convinced him that by the time we cooked two breakfasts, the sun would probably be up. Truth be told, I was just worried that if I didn’t eat really soon, I’d pretty much wither away and starve to death. So it was okay when, after sharing two breakfast meals, the sun still wasn’t up. At least I wasn’t going to die, though I was still hungry.
I knew that it had snowed at night, but I wasn’t really prepared for how much it actually accumulated. So we walked. Scott pushes his bike from the right. I push from the left. We’d switch sides pushing whenever we’d switch leads. We pushed. And pushed. And pushed. I watched the recommended ride time come and go, still a solid double-digit milage from the car. Well, when LW said ITI race pace, I guess she didn’t specify whether it was race pace riding or walking. I braced for another 5 hours of walking given our average speed.
But it wasn’t bad pushing. I knew that with my full ITI gear and food, I could fairly happily survive another night out if it came to it. I didn’t really have to be back in Boulder until Monday afternoon. And really, as long as we kept moving, the car would get closer. So we talked. Told stories. Laughed and commiserated. Made feeble attempts to ride. And pushed some more, switching off the lead whenever we got sick of pushing from our ‘wrong’ sides.
And eventually, as she always does eventually, the Universe smiled. The sun broke through the clouds as the trail became rideable and the river valley we were following turned magic. Like, unicorn magic. Sparkling snow. Sun. Ponies being ridden instead of pushed. Snow coated trees. The world, all for us.
Eventually, we found our way back towards civilization, as marked by increasing sled traffic from Bunny Ears. I found myself wanting to dawdle, to not actually make our way back to the highway, to extend the magic. But dusk was falling, pizza was calling, and by all metrics, the weekend shakedown had been a success. And, surprise, I was hungry.
I won’t say I’m prepared for anything that AK can throw at me, because I know that’s a foolish statement, but I feel like I’m as prepared as I can be. I know how to ride a bike. I know how to bikepack. I know how to eat. I know I can push my bike for hours on end. And I know that the -20 degree bag on loan from DaveB can save my butt if things get truly dire.
Is it Thursday yet?