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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

...and then what? Ophir to Nulato

When I glanced at my last post I couldn't help but over analyze the words.  So just for clarification the only reason I was bombing down the hills first was because I had a cool 700 watt kickass nite rider light. The following day Jeff dropped me like a bad date and the chivalrous guy he was he stuck with his bad date till the next evening before I said, "no you go ahead, I'll catch up to you later." Ha famous last words.   

Anywho, that next day waking up from the ophir landing strip I was amazed.  I was amazed that it was warm. Amazed at what felt like a good night sleep, though took a few hours of groggy riding to feel it. And amazed the conditions were basically perfect.  While we were going through what in past years had been a certifiable hell, Jeff turned and said "so where is this bad section you were talking about?" I was really at a loss, I just can't believe how different it felt. I swear it was bad in the past! It must have been the company for one.... and for another maybe the cabin(s) on the upcoming trail felt like added safety and the weather / trail were really awesome.  It had to be it because I started having conversations in my head analyzing those feelings-- I just can't get over how one year things could be so horrible and the same section undeniably fine.  Last time I went through here I fell in overflow over my knee at -30 and was pretty worried about frostbite.... this time was muuuuch better I fell in overflow on my back and the water came in my open side zips / pit zips but it was only 20 above so we're good.

Jeff (who made it just fine across overflow) Oatley

Innoko Cabin
As the day wore on conditions continued to be great but I started feeling, not so great.  On reflection I was eating non-stop when I left McGrath till about the first cabin at the Innoko crossing.  We ate great there, melted snow, felt good and then I decided to put butt butter on the ole tush.... and about fell over in pain.  I have never felt pain like that and just stood there cursing for about 5 minutes and knew something was deeply wrong with me.  The saddle sores would not get better over time. This was serious.  After we left I was worried and believe I stopped stuffing my face on the fly because I began riding more out of the saddle. The whole afternoon I was depleting.  I was fading on those big rollers before the second Innoko crossing and the second cabin.  If you did the northern route you know what I speak of...At that point I knew I was in a bit of trouble.  This is where Jeff and I parted, he was on fire and I wanted to sit next to one.. to dry out... at the cabin.

First Innoko Crossing
Jeff getting ready to depart Innoko cabin
I slathered neosporin on my nether regions hung my wet overflowed clothes and tried to sleep.  It didn't work and after 2 hrs most everything was dry and I just wanted to get out on the trail to catch up.  I ate a bunch and felt decent to wolf kill slough (drop point) and picked up my *only* planned drop till Unalakleet.  It felt good to have my own packed food and I just sat in the trail and ate and ate! I left, eventually, and there were a lot of sharp hills so stand-up riding did not feel awkward.   The hours flew by and around 3 am I passed Aiden sleeping in a bivy and moved on a few miles later I passed Jeff sleeping.  I called his name and shined a light but no answer, I knew I had to sleep and went to find the next patch of pine boughs about a mile up and lay down. It was around 4 or 5am.  I slept 2 hours and Jeff woke me and said I should get going.  I promptly fell asleep again.  An hour later I got up, packed and took off. It was a bit after Poorman and it was on this day that I struggled mightily with denial on my butt.  I stopped often to try to get a groove where I could sit... the pain just worsened.  I tried every possible seat position, used mole skin and all to no avail.

Poorman area (beautiful sunrise)

Poorman area

At exactly the Sulatna crossing I decided "that's it." I mentally made a decision not to sit on the seat from here on out and that's what I did.  The hills were brutal to Ruby and I stopped often but made pretty good time. I arrived in Ruby about an hour after Jeff.  I went to the school to try to get my drop but to no avail.  I didn't know what to do (heard Aiden and Jeff blew through Ruby which seemed impossible) and was led to a home, I decided to sleep for the night and make a big push along the whole Yukon.  I rested, showered and for the first time was able to take a look at my ass.  It was not an abscess (something to pop) it was something much worse.  I rested well, ate and left about 4 am a 10-11 hr stop!  My plan was a go for non-stop till Nulato or Kaltag or more!

On the Yukon
I felt good. Mostly because I simply decided not to sit and my knees stopped hurting. I made Galena by 10 or 11am went to the only store I could find (liquor store) and stocked up on food, ate and left by 1pm. No drop... again...- post office closed on Saturday. From here till Kaltag was a griiiiind.  Lots of snow machine traffic churning the trail... I lost time here, the stand up riding killed me and I was not eating and I kept stopping.  I kept going, lots of endos, punchy trail and I had no idea how far up Aiden or Jeff were.  By 1 or 2 am that night I was totally bonked and weaving badly... I would stop and glaze at the stars that looked like a planetarium-- weaving like a drunk and zoning out.... Here this is what it's like:

The weather was so mild I just wanted to sleep next to the trail.... and that's what I did.  I could see the lights of Nulato but I was toast. I crawled in my sleeping bag about 20 yards off trail---2 am on a friday night on the yukon with basketball tournaments could be dangerous with fast snow machines.  Then about 4am I heard the braaap of a super fast machine blow by me and then the unmistakable whine of fast braking.  This was followed by a the machine racing up to my sleeping bag.....

Endo on the Yukon

Saturday, April 12, 2014

McGrath to Ophir

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:
 Photo: Map
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.

Back to the race:
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. 

Ass-trastrophe (continued)
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.