ITI 2010 (1); Pressure and Time

...a quote from a great movie and also the mantra I repeated over 17 days to reach the seemingly endless sections of Iditarod trail. Pressure on the pedals and let the hours pass.

It’s hard to process all the experiences that began almost a month ago at the start of the ITI on February 28. The difference this year, for me, was the mood; it seemed somber unlike last year's fun time feeling. My attitude was quite positive ever since I biked up Haleakala and realized the past years "training" proved my legs and knees were solid. But there certainly was a daunting serious undertone associated with the billion uncertainties I knew would occur biking 1000+ miles to Nome.

My indecision on how hard to push to McGrath was answered for me in Rohn when my body shut down. One of my main issues the past two ITI;s has been a form of edema or the retention of water. Consultation with physicians and research endurance sports physiologists indicated no clear answer other than an indirect correlation to kidney function. They gave me the usual list of things to monitor in an ultra event (i.e. NO NSAIDs, hydration, electrolytes, rest, bladder function).

The start was similar to last year: fast riding deteriorating to slow riding then some pushing over Flathorn followed by riding again on the Susitna. Eventually I rolled into Yentna around midnight clearly wishing I had something other than my 65 mm rims. I rested a few hours but couldn’t sleep and finally hopped on the trail to Skwentna around 3 a.m. It was snowing quite a bit and warm. My memory of these sections are a little vague. I just recall there was a lot snowfall and something like 80 miles of pushing after Fingerlake to Puntilla over Rainy Pass to Rohn. By the time I reached Rohn I was without sleep for 26 hrs, my smartwools had rubbed a complete layer of skin off the bottom of my feet (from pushing, post holing in 40 degree heat). When I finally stumbled into the Rohn checkpoint tent it was a relief. I found out later it was also around the same time Pete was getting into McGrath for the win!

Rob, the checker was awesome. He fed us hot food and drinks. I was super tired and looked forward to a long 6 hour bivy outside only to wake up an hour later with difficulty swallowing, coughing up chunks of phlegm, and feeling really really poor and swollen. I stayed up with Rob for a little while chatting, hoping my body would settle down. It seemed to help and Rob even gave me his down booties and offered up his cozy bivy spot. At this point I felt like a complete mess but finally was able to sleep till 8 am. I woke up and looked unrecognizable, my face/body was swollen. Similar to last year, I needed to wait drink coffee (diuretic) and hope that the swelling goes down. At least I answered the one question about NSAIDs as a cause since I didn't take any meds the whole race. I consistently recalled Tim Hewitt's words from last year that your body is just getting warmed up to McGrath and will get better as time goes on.... he said this again when he walked into Rohn with a hurt ankle. He was also right.

Throughout the morning I watched the bulk of the bikers and a few walkers leave and even Tim H. go back up the pass to meet up with his wife who was walking to McGrath! It wasn’t till 2 or 3pm that I thought about leaving. Swelling was down and I felt pretty good. It was a 16 hr rest with 7hrs sleep, a lifetime for the fast McGrath race. However, I left Rohn in good spirits and even more so since the rest of the trail to Mcgrath was hard and fast. Thanks to Eric Johnson for giving up his moleskin for the worst of my blisters which I drained, cleaned and covered. By the time I hit the burn I was feeling excellent and was hoping to make up time. I bivvied about 10 miles from Nickolai since that checkpoint is difficult to sleep at and if there was any hope of catching anyone I would need to go in and out. I got about 3 hrs of sleep and checked in to Nickolai around 10am, ate a little then pulled out of Nickolai at 11:30am. Something happened on this leg and I felt incredible. I motored in to Mcgrath at 5pm, my stop watch indicating a time just under 6 hrs from Nickolai and 25 hours from Rohn. It was something like 17th place at 5 days 3 hrs but I still felt good.

In McGrath it was cool to see Jeff and Pete who stuck around to welcome all the other racers in. Pete gave me an extra pair of fresh Patagonia socks for Nome... this turned out to be a really really good thing. I rested, packed my drop gear for Nome and left with the Petervary’s at noon the next day. I felt somewhat like a third wheel but we all were intent on getting to Ruby. This section is long, desolate and with the exception of Iron Dog and Clinton the trapper, is untravelled before Iditarod (which was days away). It is also the section where I had an epic struggle 2 yrs ago.

As if to emphasize the serious nature of the next section, the temperature dropped down to -34 that first night out of McGrath and there wasn't a day it did not dip below -30 in 9 straight days. We hit Ophir that first day out of McGrath in about 10 hrs and turned the corner to trail magic...


sean said…
Great to travel with you for a while on the trail this year, Phil! Congrats, and I can't wait to read the rest.
Phil said…
Sean- sorry I wasn't great company this year heading up the pass. Should have rested more at Puntilla.