Per tradition, my friend Mike brought me to the start line as he has the past 3 times I’ve done the ITI. He took some pictures but as I mentioned I did not bring a camera this time. My setup was as light I could get it without taking too many risks. I had two insulated liter nalgene bottles as well as a 100 oz water bladder in my ghost pack. I brought 3 liters total on the first leg because usually the fist checkpoint has a good trail and riding. 2 liters in the nalgenes is usually plenty and the liter in the bladder as an extra. I should have known. The ominous “severe” winter storm warning” that was depicted prior to the race start should have been a clue. I heard there was some snow falling around Skwentna but didn’t think…. the joke was on us.
When we all lined up and the race director said “go!” it was weird, no one jumped off the line. I ended up going out ahead for the first mile. The past 3 ITI’s I always took the road turnoff up to Point Mac store and the trail always turns to mush so I decided to take the “traditional” trail to Flathorn. It was in the trees most of the way so I rationalized the trail should be better protected from the wind. This actually turned out to be true as I was able to ride all but the last 5 miles into Flathorn. However, there was only one other biker that went this way, Dario. Once I passed him the downside was that I was breaking trail myself. Once I hit the swamps I was wallowing in snow with no other help. That sucked.
|Pushing across flathorn|
This leg I had my HR monitor going and it was amazing how hard it was to hold back. The HR were spiking up to 170 without a hitch and I wanted to keep it closer to 140. I can see how easy it is to explode without realizing it. I kept it tuned back and plugged away. When I had to push the last 5 miles to Flathorn, about a mile out two skiers passed me. Whoa, that didn't feel good. Once I hit Flathorn it was dark, no trail and a complete blizzard. Oh yeah, I was out of water. I followed the north coast and plugged away blindly. Once my foot went down a bottomless pit I knew I hit overflow. When I pulled my foot out and saw water fill in the hole I gladly took my liter water bottles and top it off. Two more liters and I was happy. If I had chlorine tabs I would have been happier but I didn’t have much choice. I saw the skiers make a wrong turn going left across the lake. I kept the coast to my right and kept going till I saw the runway. Once I hit the runway I was up to my waist in snow breaking trail. I turned around and saw 5-6 lights following my trail. I looped around to meet them and it was Geoff, Tim Hewitt, Anne and more. The walkers caught up already!! I was glad to see people but demoralized how slow I was going. The benefit? They broke trail for me right through feet of new snow. Once the trail converged with all the others at the end of the lake there was a biker party. We were all in the same boat.
The walkers out front and a train of bikers behind taking turns breaking trail. We went like this all through dismal swamp and right before the drop down onto the Susitna most everyone had bivied, except me Pete and Tim Bernston. None of us were tired enough to bivy and there was a thought that snow machines may have cut a trail on the river. We stopped to make a fire and use a metal pot to make more water. It took an hour and 40 minutes but we were all topped off and continued on to the Susitna. We were now 15 hours into the race breaking trail only around mile 40. We took turns breaking a deep trail until Craig Medred came through on snow machine at around noon. Once he passed at least there was a trail to follow and we made better time but it was around then we started getting passed (again) by the walkers. Lots and lots of them, all having bivied. It was laughable. We pushed on to Luces’ where we took a room had food and rested. I slept 2 hours, Pete barely slept and was ready to go around 11pm. I joined him while Tim stayed a little longer. We were finally able to ride a little bit to the Yentna checkpoint. We ate a little and then moved on hoping to ride more to Skwentna. We rode off/on off/on & tire pressure up, tire pressure down for about 3-4 miles until it was back to: 1) pushing and 2) getting passed by walkers (again) who had rested in Yenta. Arrrggghhh.
|Here's what Hahnah drew which is an accurate depiction of my mind at this point|
Tim Bernston caught up to us by now and it was something like 4 am. We decided to do a longish bivy to get some rest since we all felt like this was counterproductive. We slept a few hours and eventually pushed to a cabin with an open invite for racers. They made soup, bread, coffee and even cookies. It was a nice warm up. Tim’s feet were blistered quite bad and he decided to stay behind. Pete and I went on and were able to ride portions of the last 10 miles to Skwenta. There we had food and were gearing up to a supposed fast trail to fingerlake, or so we heard. The tires were aired up and off we went. I should say off Pete went like a bat out of hell. Unfortunately, after a couple of miles we realized the trail was mush and it started snowing hard again. The miles of swamp to the trees was a grunt and we ended up bivying again. Eventually we made it to Shell Lake lodge to dry out and grab another cheeseburger. I had spent almost $200 in food restocking my dwindling trail food and meals I would normally ride right by. By 1pm we were on the trail, pushing. The trail had not set up and we were passed again by walkers. At about 10 miles out of fingerlake the trail, finally, was firm enough to ride and we motored into Fingerlake at around 10pm. It was now 3 and ½ days into the race and only reached the 1st drop at 130 miles. Pete won the race last year at this time.