ITI 2012 Nikolai - McGrath

Another ITI I can put out of my mind, or at least try.  No photos or silly cartoons on this one. This last section was a tough finish. Reflection is hard because some things I wish I did different but I should be satisfied that I gave it my all.
When the three of us were in Nikolai my mind was fuzzy on the best race strategy.  Should I sleep a bit or should I just roll the dice and go for it.  I think about that more now, post race.  My edema was back with a vengeance, it was something I tried not to think about.  I ate a whole bunch and then attempted to sleep.  The next thing I knew Tim Hewitt and Geoff Roes were at the checkpoint.   I needed to get out of there.  Pete was already geared up to go and left.   I was groggy and my mind was misfiring.   The laydown didn’t refresh at all.  I wanted to get out of there before Pavel woke up but it didn't happen.  I gathered all my stuff together then Pavel said he would leave when I did.  He just wanted to get to McGrath.  I didn’t know what to make of him, he was quiet, mysterious and probably a stronger rider than me.  It looked like it was going to be a long night. I love chasing better than being chased but knew I would never catch Pete unless he exploded (not likely). 
This would be my fourth time on this leg from Nikolai to McGrath, only this year the course changed to spit us out 11+ miles from town by a mine.  I didn’t know if that meant the mileage changed or not. Two times it took me 12 -14 hours for this stretch. In 2010 I did it in 6 hours.  I thought I could muster a 7-8 hour finish if I rode smart.  I left Nickolai with Pavel right behind at 9pm, an hour after Pete.  When I dropped on the river the first thing I noticed was the cold.  It had to be around -30 but a firm trail.  I aired up as much as possible and put two hand warmers in my boots above the clipless metal setup.  Unfortunately, I had to walk several times to keep my feet circulated though they were cold that whole night.  Then I prepared like I was doing a road race. I set my heart rate monitor and time on the bike. I told myself I would go as fast as possible for, at least, 5 hours straight.  And I did.  With a few breaks to warm up my feet I went as hard as possible.  After 2 hours my watch LCD screen went out from the cold that seemed rapidly approaching -40. My other watch on the wrist was working but it was hard to monitor while riding.  I just went as fast as I could.  Pavel was breathing hard but he was right on my tire for 5 hours straight.  I made ok time, it was around mile 30 or 40 hard to know with a different trail (I think since GPS said 20 miles as the crow flies). At 2 am (my witching hour) 5 hours in, I started to explode.  I couldn’t get warm, the cold in some spots on the river was bad, I suspect around -50.  I had to get out my puffy Patagonia pants (something I’ve never had to do in 4 ITIs), DAS parka and my OR liner mitts to shove in the pogies.  I kept moving but I was a train wreck.  I asked Pavel to go ahead but he stayed behind.  A couple of times he moved ahead and that did get me motivated to catch up and lead again.  The trail was not as fast but I could barely ride, my clipless right pedal wouldn’t disengage, I would just fall over.  I rode like a drunk.  I walked even worse. I could barely keep my eyes open, it was bad.  I just kept moving and moving.  Did I mention, it was cold.  

Finally I saw a bright light in the distance up on a hill.  It must be the mine that never got closer. It was brutally slow to climb those hills at the end, though, at least it was warmer up in the hills than on the river.  At some point I popped out on to the road.  It was a little after 6am, about 9.5 hrs from Nikolai. A bit of a relief but I still felt so tired and it was still 11 or 12 miles into town.  That was hard.  I kept falling asleep and almost running into the snow bank.  Both of us could only go one speed, if Pavel sped up I just kept pace I couldn’t muster anything else.  I tried talking with him to stay awake.  He is a quiet guy and I don’t remember our conversation much but I do remember asking him what he did in Czech and he said, “I work a boring office job…”  I kind of laughed to myself and thought, "isn’t that code for international secret intelligence or something?"  It would make sense since I am a total wreck and he still seems well put together.  The miles ticked by sloooooowly until I turned in to Pete and Tracy’s driveway.  Wow, that last 11-12 miles took an hour and 40 minutes, almost 2 hrs?  I was just glad to be done.  Pete arrived around 3 hrs sooner around 5 am.  It was good to be finished but no rest for the weary, I had to catch a plane out of there.  As much as I really wanted to stay to congratulate Tim, Geoff and other racers coming in, especially Pete who was zonked out, I had to be home by tomorrow.  A wonderful breakfast by the host Pete and Tracy a quick shower and I was out the door riding to the airport.  I checked in for Penn Air, sat in the cozy waiting area seat and tried to process what just happened for the past 7 days. 

Thank you Bill, Kathi for putting on such a great event and all the hosts along the trail for a wonderful journey this year.  I had an awesome time and found some excellent areas I need to work on for next year, mostly keep trying to be a stronger cyclist. My edema was better controlled this year even though I gained 14lbs of water by race end-- I DO think it is nutrition/salt related.   Thanks to my wife Sarah and family for continuing to allow me to compete in this often times ridiculous event. Until next year!