Day 4 (72 – 96 hours)
BISON CAMP – MCGRATH
I left Bison Camp after a half hour. The next 45 mile section someone said was flat and easy. I was skeptical. My butt hurt, my knees hurt and I had to pound through snow. The trail was full of drifts. I thought there would be a packed trail since we are heading to a village but since gas prices are so steep unnecessary snow machine traffic has decreased. The trail just seemed to go on and on. Jeff and his riding buddy caught up to me and I rode with them for a little bit though I was out of sorts. The pain was really kicking in and I was getting tired. Fifteen miles from Nickolai it was cold, dark and a strong dose of vertigo with dejavu struck again. The feeling was strangely existential and just plain weird. Each hill I went up I thought I remembered being here before and knew what was around the corner. It fascinated me and actually kept me awake. Sleep deprivation affects folks in different ways and the combination of dark and cold created a drug like experience. The cold seemed to intensify while walking. My headlamp died and as I dug out the spare I noticed the northern lights flowing green through the sky. I kind of zoned out on the sky and if I had ever taken mind altering drugs this is what I imagine a ‘good trip’ would be like. I clicked on the spare light and followed the trail until I came out of yet another treeline back onto the river ice and the town lit up in front of me. Nickolai, the small village seemed huge and welcoming after such a long section. I followed the winding stake markers to the correct house. I felt very slow and my lungs burned from the cold. It was 1 am, 21 hours on the trail since leaving Rohn.
Inside the house, strewn about racers were sleeping everywhere. It felt much too warm and my lungs were full of nasty phlegm, I couldn't stop coughing. I was nervous coming down with a respiratory infection and started a five day course of zithromax. After eating moose stew provided by our gracious host I slept until 5am waking sporadically to the sweats and intense coughing fits. I left a tip in the tip jar and was out the door by 6am.
Of the lead pack of riders there were only two others left in the house, the rest were all on the trail racing to McGrath. I felt rushed but by this time my knees were so stiff I could barely move them. I knew I had a tough day ahead of me. It must have been close to -20 and I put overboots on. I rode for a while very slowly warming up my knees and legs then Pete B caught up with me. He was concerned that I was ok since I was fully layered. I must have looked cold but said I was fine and needed to take my time. He zoomed away and lost sight of him quickly. The first 25 miles I managed to ride the hard packed river trail on the Kuskokwim but the snow gradually became granular and soft. The temperature rose along with the sun and was warm enough to remove all my outer layers. I periodically pumped up my tires and deflated them trying for a good medium.
The last 25 miles to McGrath were long and I had to stop many times for my knees. This issue was taking such a precedent in my mind I hardly noticed the gradual increased tightness in my calf and achilles. About 12 miles from McGrath I took a wrong turn followed someone else’s trail for about 3 miles before turning around. That cost me about 2 hours but I did finish the McGrath (350 mile race) leg by 7pm, 4days and 5 hours. The last 100 miles I could only manage 3-5 mph, brutally slow. Pete B came out and was wondering where I had been, he thought about sending someone out to check on me. I tried to conceal the wounded knee look and just shrugged my shoulders a little embarrassed.
The welcome by McGrath Peter was amazing with lots of unbelievable food! I think I had four helpings of lasagna and even took a shower. Most of the folks were done, this was their finish line. Some actually suffered frost bite and one fellow had a huge bandage around his foot. He wrote an email later saying that he lost part of his big toe.
The next question-- when to leave for Nome. I was quite concerned about my condition but tried to suck it up around a healthy dose of denial. Of all the races, climbs, kayaks, events, ventures and epics of my life this is the most I have ever felt injured.