I walked in the door at McGrath to a great welcome as usual. Peter and Tracy are really incredible people, hosts and I think of them as a role models in the true Alaskan spirit. When it is difficult for our little family house to host Nome racers I think of the way we are treated in McGrath and try to emulate that spirit (or ask others to:) as best as possible.
McGrath was full of 10 other racers at the end of their race, which is hard to be around when you have to move on. I have finished 3 times with McGrath as the endpoint and this was the 3rd time where it was not. The section from McGrath to Ruby has taken almost 5 days both times I have done it previously with horrid conditions each time. The Innoko is nothing but a wasteland in my mind and I was preparing to rest a bit before getting out the door. Aiden said he was leaving right away which I brushed off as a joke. I started getting some of my gear together but I was not really in a rush. I walked upstairs where the drops are stored and began looking for mine.... but it was not there. It was the beginning of racing dropless. I searched and re searched but no drop. Before I had a chance to go the store, multiple racers offered their leftovers to me. Thank you. I was able to pull a decent drop together though it was tough for me to calculate how much it was or I needed. The mind was fuzzy.
Nome (rural) Alaska Postage:
Mail deliveries in rural Alaska have no time frame, it could be overnight or weeks. No rationale. I have often ordered from Amazon in one sitting with same postage and received one item in 2 days and the other about a month. Ahhh Nome postage... To travel to McGrath, which is directly on the way to Anchorage but it has to go to Anchorage first. Get sorted. Wait. Wait some more. Then get shipped to McGrath. Fortunately, all my drops were returned to me in Nome... which was fun too.
I went to sleep. A couple hours later it was around 2pm, Jeff I could tell was getting anxious to leave. I asked about Aiden and he was gone! No joking there. Jeff and I got our gear together and we left around 4-5pm together.
As we rode out of McGrath I forgot my rechargeable light and had to go back. I got the light (whew) and caught up to Jeff on the river. My butt hurt incredibly, each time I tried to sit I could see my heart rate monitor on the GPS rise 10 BPM before I sat down. When I did sit, initially it was like the seat had sewing needles waiting for my butt to make contact. Immediately I would jump back up. I would repeat this multiple times before I could actually sit. I was OK for a little while until I stopped or if I stood up. The chamois was stuck to my butt and then peal away in some kind of oozing infection (which I treated with antibiotic ointment). Lovely. At least it kept my mind off of the knees.
We took turns leading our way to Takotna. A couple of decent climbs got our mind out of the gray fog of funk that accompanies leaving McGrath. The 900 ft ascent before Takotna brought back memories. A rather fun fast 18 miles later we hit Takotna. As soon as we pooped into town and passed a house with dogs barking, two residents came out of the house. We stopped to talk and explained they just returned by snowmachine that day to open the Ophir cabin for Iditarod but no one was there yet. He said we were welcome to stay there. The temps were balmy in the 20's and we both seemed to have fun climbing out of Takotna-- a steep 5 mile grunt. The next 30 miles were a blast. So much different than previous two times. It was downright fun, we were climbing and bombing descents looking forward to ophir. The trail was excellent. Jeff said he hasn't slept since Nikolai and would probably need to sleep soon. As the night wore on I didn't feel tired but.... started hallucinating things. First it was a moose and Jeff almost ran me over when I stopped suddenly on a fast decent. The moose was a tree. Then about 20 min later I stopped rapidly on another decent and just stared 20 yards ahead at about 20 glowing eyes. I was afraid to say what I saw.
Jeff came alongside and said "what's up?".
I said, "What is that?" pointing to the 20 eyes staring back at us.
"Those reflective lathe?"
To which I let out a relieved, "Huh...."
"What did you think they were?"
"Ummm, a pack of wolves..."
I obviously needed some sleep too... When we started passing old buildings Ophir cabin was approaching and then, there it was. Except it wasn't empty the lights were full on, generator humming and clearly occupied. We searched a bit and I was a little gun shy of knocking on the door. This is a private cabin and we reluctantly moved on. The weather was perfect, no wind nice temps.... We made the small runway and saw a nice stockpile of wrapped bales of hay. Wow, this was cool. We arranged the bales and made a bivy on them. Yeah this was comfy. My feathered friends bag was warm and I was out in a heartbeat. It was only midnight or a bit later,(?) not bad since leaving McGrath.