Unalakleet - Elim, ~150 or so miles
I was on the way to Shaktoolik by 10 am, later than I wanted but able to cruise with the solid hard packed trail beneath my tires. I aired up those endomorphs as hard as my little pump would allow. The 40+ miles to Shaktoolik I know well. When I lived in Unalakleet I traveled regularly by snow machine to Shaktoolik and Koyuk. This section is hilly but fast with good ups and good downs. The last 10 miles as you pop out onto the flats is usually the hardest, from boredom… and wind. Typically, the hills are well protected with tress but once you drop down onto the flats it’s exposed all the way to Koyuk. It’s rare to have no wind. That day was rare. As I got closer to Shaktoolik the snow turned a little punchy but managed to roll into town by 6 pm. I went to the store in Shaktoolik to load up. Directly across from the store is the clinic and next door, the school. I stopped in the clinic to warm up a little and say hello to fellow NSHC employees. My platform was to raise money for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society for a friend of mine who beat Leukemia. She is a physician, originally from Unalakleet, who also works at NSHC. NSHC has always been a supporter of my events and this cause. It was a good idea to show my face and in the process eat my food. I planned to either sleep in the shelter cabin at mile 12 before the ice crossing or continue on to Koyuk across the ice throughout the night. The wind is notorious and out on the sea ice a guarantee. Since arriving into Shaktoolik the northwind picked up to 15-20 mph (headwind) and when the sun went down the temps dropped below zero. Yet another -20 with ridiculous windchills; however, it could've been much worse. I decided to get a move on, home was beckoning.
I left Shaktoolik around 9 pm. The next twelve miles were a solid headwind with increasing winds the closer I came to Reindeer cove. I arrived at the shelter cabin by midnight. I left my GPS on for this leg to get a better sense of distance. On the backtrack it showed 15 miles, a little longer than I thought. It was good to get out of the wind, it seemed to pick up pretty hard and didn’t realize how chilled I was when I stopped moving. Stopping was a conundrum; I either had to keep moving or warm up the place. Unfortunately, I chopped some wood and made a fire.Warm food and the woodstove got the better of me but I was undecided to sleep or not. I put some food on the woodstove and warmed up my water. Hot drink and food encouraged droopy eyelids. The plywood bed was looking good... screw it, I thought and kept going. While it was a good rest and food intake I kind of felt like I wasted the 2 hrs it took to warm up the cabin. It’s a great shelter cabin but I almost wished it wasn’t an option.
This section is monotonous by snow machine. By bike it was h-o-r-r-e-n-d-o-u-s, especially with no sleep. The Koyuk lights were visible since Shaktoolik and never seemed to get closer. The pressure ridges were massive this year therefore the trail wound mercilessly an additional painful meandering 10 miles. It is usually 30 miles from the cabin but it was closer to 40. I left the cabin at 2 am and rode and rode. The wind died down, thankfully, and the stars were brighter than any planetarium. With my sleep deprivation and the cold night clarity I found myself stopping and staring at the sky with a sort of drug induced type of stare. The northern lights started dancing around 4 am, lots of reds, greens and whites. A couple of times I found myself sleeping that way for a few minutes or hanging on the bars. The Patagonia Parka strapped on my front Epic Design "rack" made for a really comfy pillow.
At some point I glanced behind me and could see Shaktoolik lights and then closer behind me a headlamp. Oh no! Did I mistakenly fall asleep long enough for JP to catch up? I couldn’t quite clear my head so I hopped on the bike and kept riding. My tracks probably looked drunken, I was weaving so bad until I began to see the sun rise an hour later. The headlamp caught up to me and passed. Oh yeah, the Iditarod was going on and the musher waved hello. Koyuk was elusive with those additional miles, typically the trail is beeline direct. I couldn’t believe how winding it was almost completely across the sound to Isaacs Point and back until I made Koyuk by 9 am. I was tired, about 100 miles since leaving Unalakleet 23 hrs previously. I stopped at the store and loaded up on goodies. I popped in at the clinic to say greetings and was delighted to be able to crash a few hours in the bunk room. I gathered my gear and food then was on the trail to Elim around 4pm.
It was hard packed with fabulous conditions. The 3 hr sleep was perfect and I could feel the closeness of home and it was stand up riding all the way to Elim. I had this shiteating grin on when Jason Barron (a musher), passed me outside Moses Point, he probably thought I was a lunatic. The trail was so fast that when he passed me I was able to keep up with him all the way to the Moses Point road. Well at least until I jumped a little ice ridge and landed my front tire in a rim-crevasse ( a crevasse the perfect width of your rim). If I didn’t have the sturdy large marge rims I think it would have easily been a taco. I went head first over the handlebars and landed 5 feet away flipped over on my back. Scary. Shook it off and rode into Elim Iditarod checkpoint at midnight. I ate and slept till 3am and was ontrail for the final day by 3:30 am. The Little Denali hill climb at walla walla 15 miles outside of Elim was not so little. Another sweat laden quad burning climbing fest.
I was so close to Nome, I felt on fire. During such ultra events my mind and body go through countless emotional / physical highs and crashing lows but since Unalakleet I have been riding what was probably a full on adrenaline high. I kept waiting for the huge crash. Luckily it didn't happen. I was almost home, almost home.