One will have to endure my words, which is processing rather slowly, as I didn't take one picture from the Carson Crossing Cabin to Ruby. Sometimes it's better stored in the ole noggin' than taking pictures that can't represent, anyway. I suppose one could argue the same with words.... hmmm.
It was day 7 when we left the cabin early in the morning. It would be a long day. The temps were at least -30 to -40 at 4am and the trail was similar to the previous day. The night turned to a gray windy dusk. The trees were mostly burned out skeletons from a by gone forest fire and there were a lot of sections exposed and drifted. Add in a few protected sections with trees that were ride-able and this is the way the whole day went. It was definitely on the gloomy, feel-like-your-in-the-middle-of-nowhere, kind of cold day. The only thing that kept my mood up is that we could ride enough to make some ground and I recognized landmarks from 2 years ago. About 15 miles before Wolk Kill there are a series of ~5 miles of rolling hills with frequent exposed tops with drifts. Right before the last exposed drifted, rolling hill the snow was knee to waist deep until we were able to duck into a more heavily dense forest. The trail was better and we could ride again. Darkness fell and the next 8 -10 miles felt long. It started snowing quite heavily and it was back to pushing. Finally around 2 am we found the drops on the slough. It took another hour or two to get into a decent protected area for a cold bivy. It made for a long but satisfying 24 hour day. This is the same area as Iditarod’s cripple checkpoint but we didn’t see anything, no tracks no tent for the checkpoint, nothing. It was still days from the first musher but the tent must have been flown in and setup somewhere way off trail. Another cold night but a solid 5 hour bivy. It the morning it took some time to sort and repack gear with new drops and get moving again.
It was day 8 and I remember we had some hardpacked riding the next 20 miles until we hit Poorman. After Poorman there was another gloomy forest-fire black spruce section. This brought back intense memories from 2 years ago. A horrible section for me in 2008. It actually was pretty miserable this year too. At least a few miles of knee to waist deep snow until we hit the sulatna crossing and a “bridge” that put us on the old road. Finally, the trail was great and consistent.... and uphill. We made good time and another wash of emotion overcame me as I realized it was only 45 miles to Ruby. The last time I was here, I was in such extreme pain. A virtual survival zombie with consecutive 4-5 20+ hr days of pushing. There was a main course of severe edema, nerve damage in my hands and arse followed by a dessert of ITB inflammation and knee pain. Doesn't it sound wonderful? I don’t know how I managed to keep going then or why in the world I was doing this race again. And yet here I was 2 years later, feeling good and riding.
If you examined the topo map of this section you would think it is pretty flat but the 1,000 – 2,000 ft rolling hills are deceptively steep. You will sweat profusely the next 45 miles with lots and lots of long uphill’s. We had another cold bivy at the top of a hill a few miles before the ghost town of Long. There must be some pull to the place because we bivied in the exact same spot I did the last time. Another 3-4 hours of sleep and it was day 9. Freaking cold and a scramble to get warm. It was at least -40 and it took about 3-4 hours of riding / pushing to get warm. It turned into a clear, cold blue bird day with good riding and 11-12 hours later we topped that last steep incline that overlooked the Yukon and Ruby. It was such a great feeling to roll into Ruby around 6-7pm, 10 days 5 hrs. The time was actually not a great deal faster than pushing the whole section 2 years ago but I certainly was a great deal more rested and felt incredible. At this point I knew I had not squandered any of my body reserves and actually felt like I was getting stronger each day. The only question seemed, not if we would finish but who would cross the finish line first. I think it’s safe to say it wasn’t a randonneuring event.
Ruby, as in 2008, was a fabulous stay. The post master happened to be out walking when we approached town and even though it was after hours she was willing to give us our drops at the school. Principal Titus was the host at the school and came in to make sure we were settled. It really was magic. The gym was used to dry out gear and the kitchen for food and a rejuvenating 6 hour sleep in the kindergarten classroom. Excellent after 5 cold days on the trail!