Multisport Magazine Issue 22 - Page 20

FEATURE STORY 9am the next morning after riding through the night. The trail meanders through mostly White Birch and Spruce pine forest, over snowy meadows, on frozen lakes and rivers. The trail surface varies from firm, compacted snow, to bottomless ‘sugar’ snow, glare ice, tussock, overflow and open water on certain rivers. The Iditarod trail only exists in the winter, as the frozen rivers and lakes are the only way to traverse. The checkpoints are like an oasis in the desert providing basic food or a warm place to sleep for a few hours, to travellers and racers alike. There are also small shelter cabins should the weather turn truly hideous. The first three nights I camped out as this gave me the best control of where and when I stopped. I found a suitable spot off the trail under a big spruce tree for cover, stomped down the snow and let it set for about 10 minutes, laid out my foam insulation pad and sleeping bag, ate in the bag then slept. I sleep in my riding clothes and I carry extra insulated pieces to boost the bag as needed. Nights were around -25C, average daytime temp was around -10C and a hot day was -2C. Even at these temperatures you sweat and you have to balance staying warm, dry and moving forward efficiently. I wore the same clothes for nearly three weeks with one swap of knicks and two sock changes – this is another aspect of body conditioning you won’t find in a training handbook... At Rainy Pass, my fatigue had accumulated due to dehydration, loss of appetite and the exposure shock of camping out each night. I slept for eight hours to recover and virtually clawed my way up Rainy Pass under a cloud of 20 | MULTISPORT MAGAZINE exhaustion, but the positive side was an amazing sunset and an aurora show as I camped out on the Ptarmigan flats. The following day I crossed asegment of the Tatina River that had some nasty looking shelf ice. It was only a day later that a good mate of mine, Peter Ripmaster, an ultra-runner from North Carolina, fell through the ice and was totally submerged in the river and was only saved by his sled floating on the surface. In Rohn I had my one and only mechanical fault where my rear valve had gummed up with sealant and wouldn’t seal properly – strange things happen at -20C. In McGrath (day 5) I’d planned a 24-hour rest to plan out the next phase of the journey and resupply from my posted food cache. Two racers had left the day before and I was eager to catch them, and with a day’s rest in my legs it was possible. It was a ‘no chain’ day on the climb out of Takotna and I could see their footprints in the snow as they walked up the climb. This spurred me on even more. At about 10pm I called it a day after 15 solid hours, ironically only half a mile short of reaching the two racers at a cabin! I rode with them the next two days, sharing the trail and enjoying the camaraderie, as ITI is like an extended family. The 150-mile segment of the Yukon River is where I hammered down to breakaway from the other two racers. It’s a broad expanse of glare ice, exposed sand/ gravel bars, open water, sugar snow and sastrugi. I had some prepatellar bursitis that caused me grief, but I was able to self treat with a clean A and B sample and breakaway solo down the Yukon. I recall at one food drop, I was there with Tim Hewitt (the foot race winner), we were tearing into our bags like rats, stowing the food and rummaging through other racers’ discarded options, finding items we liked and feeling like hobos. We sure looked and smelt like hobos. I had stowed some chocolate bars in this cache, so it felt like Christmas dinner! On the portage after Kaltag, the first of the lead sled dog teams slid silently by, yet all of a sudden my solitude was invaded by helicopters, private planes and snow machines all out to capture their moment of the race. I paused in Unalakleet to enjoy the best pizza on earth and lost about 70% of my lung capacity stuffing it in. When the wind blows hard NE on the coast, it can concentrate in areas called ‘blow-holes’ and I encountered them head on during the 50-mile stretch overland and across the Bering Sea ice to Koyuk. Ride or walk – it didn’t matter – the speed was the same and no-one can hear you swear. I took shelter in the Iggugnak safety cabin for the night to prep my food packs and get a solid rest. I’d heard racers taking 14 hours to cross the ice the day before, so it was crucial to have an efficient strategy for the crossing – you don’t stop for long