Alaska UltraSport Entry 2: Fingerlake - Rainy Pass

Day 2 (hours 24 – 48)FINGERLAKE – RAINY PASS: 55 miles

It was nice to sit in the warmth of the lodge. Three riders were there, Jacques B and his riding partner and Rocky. He was getting ready to head out but not before saying the next 30 mile section to Puntilla will be one of the hardest going with lots of hills. He wasn't kidding but it was far from the hardest on this trip. After warming up with checkpoint food of beans and rice, a soda drink I left the back way. The majority of my food drop I simply gave to two women who were there skiing to McGrath (but not part of the race). In most places on the McGrath leg I was pleasantly surprised to eat at the checkpoints and didn’t have to carry the weight. This section to Puntilla was particularly difficult for me. There was a lot of loose powder snow drifts and it was not the same trail as Iron Dog so it was not packed down. Not only that, but my knees were actually in intense pain because most of this I had to walk. The steep hills and descents were brutal. I had to turn my leg sideways to be able to go up or down. I was alone and the walking was battering my knees, it was hard to go fast. I tried riding and got stuck or spilled many times. The previous bike rider’s tracks created “ruts” that my wheels fell into and spilled me a bunch of times. Around 10 miles after Fingerlake and many steep hills of bike pushing I ran into trail breakers for iditarod. They actually made the trail worse because they were turning over fresh snow and it hadn't set up. The next hill I climbed after Shirley Lake was tremendously steep and I was amazed mushers are able to go up it.

The scenery was nice and the trail easy to follow so other than the knee pain I was enjoying myself. Mentally and fitness-wise I felt great and was not overly exerted or tired ….just limited because of those darn things below the thigh. The wind picked up once I crossed Finbear lake and saw a sign that welcomed Ultrasport riders for a warm meal and coffee. I stopped in to rest, it was around 7pm 5 ½ hours since leaving Fingerlake and couldn’t believe it was only15 miles! That seemed terrible. The man greeted me warmly and I ate salmon and hot chocolate with coffee (I suppose that’s a mocha). I didn't stay long though with still another 12-15 slow miles to Puntilla. It was frustrating, the deep snow and steep trail. I kept crashing now and was tired. I noticed a head lamp on behind me and watched to see who it was that could travel so easily through this fluff of hills. Pete B! He caught up in amazing time. I lowered the air pressure on my tires again and we chatted about the trail and if there was an established trail over Rainy Pass. I followed him for a little while but kept crashing on the descents down the hills to Puntilla. It was tricky and I was getting really worn out with the cold creeping through my damp clothes. I had to add my puffy coat for a little more warmth. I was -10 to -20 and the wind started kicking up.
The time was getting on to about 9-10pm. I was wiped out, slow and the darkness was dizzying seen through a headlamp. The wind whipped up some blowing snow and my head felt funny, I began having strong feelings of dejavu.

Finally, I dropped down a knoll and saw the checkpoint in the distance! Yeah! I rode up to a small lodge and a sharp pain nailed me in the knee while dismounting the bike. I was pissed off at my body and just went inside to warm up and sleep. Seven racers were sleeping already and no one left yet for the pass. The checkpoint person had a nice hot stove and gave me a ravioli meal and hot chocolate. It was delicious. I took my outer layers off to dry and realized there was a frozen cheeseburger in my pocket. I stared at it, the start of the race felt so long ago. Needless to say it looked disgusting and I threw it away. The checker said the trailbreakers left that morning for Rainy Pass and the next part to Rohn over the pass should be a nice hard trail. I slept poorly for 3 hrs and left at 4:30am. All seven riders left already while a few bikers had filled in their spots while I had slept. It was windy and cold. Right away I could see the trail was soft and punchy, not hard at all. I was tired and sleepy and it was hard to maintain focus in the early morning darkness.

I decided to make some coffee with my Jetboil stove—its first race use and a little different from my tried and true MSR stove. It sold me on the ease of using a screw-on canister directly to the heating cup. The heating cup had neoprene so I could literally hold the cup and stove in my hand while it boiled. The down side was major though, it works poorly in the cold. The isobutene turns liquid in the cold so I had to put my hands on the canister to get a good boil. This sucks at 10 degrees or colder. My grand idea of an insulator for the canister with heating pad was a joke and didn’t work. I had to put gloveless hands on the canister to warm the isobutene and it worked but barely. The wind was blowing stiffly on the flats toward the mountains. I boiled some snow and threw a coffee packet in. It felt great and I woke up more while the sun rose in the valley. I immediately felt at home. The valley is above the treeline and the Alaska range from this elevation looked exactly like the smaller Kigluiak mnts at home in Nome. It was a beautiful day and the sleepy mind started to wake. Unfortunately, it was still mostly a push to rainy pass but at least I had tracks to follow and wasn’t post holing. I rode, walked and pushed 20 miles into the pass and then a five mile climb to the top. It was quite impressive and I stood on top after a steep final 100 yard push at around 1 pm and marked the end of my second day.