Here's the Rainy Pass extravaganza. Obviously, this is my point of view, others may have perceived things differently. Since I was with a group I apologize ahead of time if I misrepresent your thoughts.... for example, I thought we were all having a good time.
The morning on top of Rainy was stormy one minute and clear skies the next. It seemed like the eye because eventually a blizzard of sorts blew in that reminded me closely of a Nome storm. I was milling about outside the newly made cabin with the blown-off-roof, drinking some of Bill M coffee (thank you Bill!) and chatting with Jeff a little bit. I think he said he was holed up there for at least 12 hours or so maybe more like 20 given the lead he had. Breaking trail solo would have been virtually impossible in the heavy snow so we sort of agreed to break trail as a group. Initially, Jay, Tracey, Jeff and myself left the cabin to make our way to the top of the pass. That memory is kind of blurred but James Leavesley, Chris Wrobel and Alec Petro joined us not long after we descended down the pass. It actually wasn’t too bad if we stayed up high to the right and made ok time for about a mile. Then we hit the snow, the real snow. At first knee deep it rapidly became waist deep. We made our own trail by guessing where the least snow piled up, sometimes we guessed well and sometimes not so well. But the further we descended it didn’t really matter, it was all waist deep and even deeper. We came together in line formation and took turns leading through the quagmire of snow until exhaustion or too slow a pace made us step aside and return to the end of the line for a rest. Exhaustion wouldn’t take long in the lead since the bike was lifted up over the snow or pushed a yard at a time followed by wading through the snow or plowing through thick willows.
On we went, occasionally one of us would laugh and shake our head in disbelief at the ridiculous almost comedic situation. I dare say it now but it was actually fun. Personally, I have never been around such an extreme, great attitude and fun bunch of enduro freaks (I mean that in the best sense). Let's take a look who I was surrounded by: Jeff Oatley- need I say more, not only is he insanely powerful but he's one of those people you know everything will be ok if he's around; Jay P and Tracey- wow incredible pair! When Jay was breaking trail I couldn't believe he tore his ACL a month before. And Tracey, what a force- now we really know where that Petervary strength comes from! Chris Wrobel- everyone knows who Jeff and JayP are so I was wondering who this mellow and knowledgeable person was that seemed pretty comfortable traveling this way. It was later I found out he is a frequent racer & winner of the winter Alaska Wilderness Classics which certainly shined through with his (and James) gutsy (and already legendary) move after Rohn. And of course James Leavesley, the endurance cycle racer from the Uk, who for some reason constantly makes me laugh.
Enough of the bios but it's hard to otherwise describe in words the feeling of positive determined energy around you. It also made me more concerned about slowing down the pack when it was my turn to lead than I was about anything else, so the time flew by. Single file down the mountain into the worst pile of snow imaginable. Two skiers, Ed Plumb and Cory passed us during that day. They practically laughed at how ridiculous we looked (that's probably not really true, I am transferring how I would be laughing at us in their position). They seemed 10 feet tall as they skied (relatively) on top of the snow while we were 4 feet beneath it. The snow fell so much our tracks were actually disappearing behind us.
Day turned to night with hours and hours of post holing, snow swimming and mentally willing the trail to firm up. The worst was stepping on top of the snow and sometimes it just almost holds your weight and you think "maybe if I step gently it'll hold" then you slowly sink to your waist. Repeat. It was cartoonish. After 16 or so hours (6 miles?) the group started to split up to bivy, still an unsure amount of mileage to the Dalzell or any sort of snowmachine trail. The Petervarys, Jeff and I went a little further but without the full group effort the lush evergreen trees looked so welcoming and enticing for a bivy (at least to me). We stomped off our spots and made a raging fire to dry out.
I believe Jeff and I had the most wet feet and only managed to thaw our boots to make them wetter. I literally wrung my socks out before I crawled in my sleeping bag. We slept 4 hours and got up around 6:30 am to do it all over again.
I followed closely behind Jeff and we found ourselves passing the skiers who passed us yesterday, they had bivied since the trail was narrow and difficult to break trail. It turned out the another 30 yards up hill we saw where a snow machine turned around! Jeff suddenly took off at a fast walk. It was amazing to feel such ease at walking a bike even in ankle deep snow with a firm base. I tried my best to stay with Jeff and we made our way through the Dalzell and popped out on to the Tatina river in a raging pseudo blizzard. Jeff went out ahead as I put my pedals back on. It felt great though because part of it we could ride. Another 5 miles of easy fast walking (comparatively) and some riding brought us into Rohn at 10:30 or 11 am.
I really pushed this leg over Rainy and wasn’t even paying attention to my completely soaked feet and throbbing legs. When I took my gear off in Rohn, uh-oh. My feet and legs swelled. Bummer. I wanted to leave soon but knew I should not get caught up in someone elses race. As much as I say I'm not racing that's really the illusion because consciously or subconsciously it can't be helped. Experience and a reality check insured that I had to feel this situation out and it was with dismay I watched Jeff leave alone around 2 pm. I could tell he was a motor on fire and there was no way I was going to keep up with superman anyway. It was race-on and I know he was extremely motivated to put some distance in front of the skiers. I put my feet up and walked on the snow to keep the swelling down. I watched as Jay, Tracey, James, Chris, Cory, Ed and Pete leave Rohn throughout the day. I hung out with Jasper the checker and we shared some common ground knowing similar people in Nome. One of the checkers was an EMT and looked at my legs. So far I’ve heard everything from trench foot, to heart, to kidney, to electrolyte imbalance to just simply pounding my legs. This is exactly what happened last year but last year I kept going and going with swelling, knee problems, sleep deprivation, cold bivies, numb hands and ass until Ruby. Hmmmm, it couldn't really be that I pushed a bike through miles of snow? Nah. In any case I couldn't sleep, drank coffee (diuretic) and didn’t leave until 7pm when the swelling was reduced and my boots and gear dried out.