It was a little bit of a shock to the system, walking into Peter and Tracy’s house in McGrath. I’d been intently looking for tire tracks on the hardpacked snow road, hoping that I hadn’t missed the legendary finish of the Alaska Ultrasport when I saw the giant white banner and the unmistakable tracks of the snow bikes of the boys in front of me diving off into a driveway. It was still dark when I stumbled into the house to find Peter in the kitchen, the house dark. I’m sure he said something, but all I remember is sitting down at the table, still fully clothed, to tired to do anything about it. I so desperately wanted out of my clothes, but I couldn’t muster the motivation. Within minutes, the entire house was up with offers of congratulations and high-fives everywhere. I just remember sitting there, a broken little girl in the corner, wondering what the heck I had just done to myself. My mouth was filled with sores, I hadn’t eaten or drank for the past 12 hours on the river ride from Nikolai, my sleep since waking up at 6:30 on Sunday morning had been limited to under eight hours in over three days of racing, and my experiment of only taking one pair of chamois had backfired so severely that it was almost comical. Almost.
I swore: Never again. I swished my mouth with salt water and choked down an omelet before moving to a chair in front of the fire, armed with a mancake soaked in maple syrup, apple butter, peanut butter, and whipped cream, where I promptly fell asleep. I woke up, gently ate the saturated mancake, mini-bite by mini-bite, and moved to the dog bed on the ground, where I again, promptly fell asleep. The boys set off the fire alarm but I didn’t notice, waking only to hear Dan and Kevin finishing a few hours behind me. Asleep again to wake to Mike, Brian, and Scott finishing midday. More food, more sleep. Never again. That was stupid.
Then slowly, the never ending stream of food started to work its magic. By night, when Kevin talked about coming back next year, I was to the point of only shaking my head and calling him crazy. By the next morning, I was considering the possibility myself.
I’ve always maintained that I don’t go on these rides for spiritual enlightenment, that they are in the end, very simply, long bike rides. But I guess that with only a week of hindsight to work with, I can’t say for certain that spiritual enlightenment didn’t happen. All I know is that I have never mentally cracked as hard in a race as I did during this traversal from Knik to McGrath. Much of it was due to physical breakdown, but I have never stood on a trail 12 miles from the finish and had it seem as impossible as 1,200 miles. I bivied less than three hours from the finish in temperatures that were approaching -25F.
Maybe I did find my physical and mental limit this time. Maybe I just made some rookie mistakes that cost me in the end. Either way, now that I’m back to being able to sit on a bicycle seat, I’m finding myself intrigued by the trail that took me in, chewed me up, spit me out, and blessed me with some of the most magical moments I’ve ever experienced on a bike. I’m intrigued by a trail that just doesn’t care, that visits villages that don’t have roads going to them, that visits places only accessible with snowmobile in the winter, or boat in the summer. I’m intrigued by the dark places where my mind went when I was slogging through dismal swamps and how connected my physical well-being and mental well-being really are. I’m intrigued by the moments where I was convinced I was riding with unicorns through the Happy Steps, being spit out on open alpine lakes in the middle of the Alaskan Range under a full moon with the most perfect trail conditions I’ve ever ridden on.
I’m intrigued by the fine tuning that I know I could do, the mistakes I could remedy. I’m intrigued by the possibility of doing it more gracefully, not necessarily faster, but more zenfully. I now understand the sparkle that ignites in peoples’ eyes when they talk about the Ultrasport and while I will eventually post more about it, I think Scott said it best when he explained his reasons for wanting to go out on the trail: “Mike and many others are so enthralled by the trail and keep coming back, year after year, that there must be something there. Something that can’t be described in blog posts, in photos or videos, no matter how well done.”
It’s true. So very true. There is magic out there, just waiting to be found.