Monday, October 22, 2007

Pulling the trigger

Date: Oct. 22
Mileage: 25.9
October mileage: 477.0
Temperature upon departure: 42
Rainfall: 0.49"

I entered the 2008 Iditarod Invitational.

I was hoping to wait until the end of the year to do so, after my bad knee had at least two months of cold-weather training behind it. But this race is becoming irritatingly popular, and a nearly full roster forced my hand. It's a big commitment ... securing a lot of time off work, sending in the entry fee. Backing out now would be like giving up on Everest. Backing out now would only happen in an unforeseen emergency, or if I decide I am truly incapable of attempting this race. It's a big commitment.

Geoff recently entered the race, too, so we are in it together. He entered the "foot" division as a runner. I entered the "bike" race. We're both likely in for a lot of walking, but at least I'll have the option of riding a big-wheeled bicycle when the going is good. But Geoff, as crazy fast as he is, will still probably finish the race before I do.

As far as I can tell, there are no other women entered in the bike-to-McGrath division, yet. A couple are slated to ride to Nome. No woman has ever taken a bicycle the entire distance to Nome during the race, so this could be a historic year. In my opinion, the 1,100-mile race to Nome is probably the hardest competitive mountain biking event in North America, if not the world. I do not think the Great Divide Race would be harder, even though it covers more than twice the distance. The natures and challenges of these routes are so different, though, that they're hard to compare. Either way, I'm rooting for these women, even if they beat me to McGrath.

The race to McGrath is 350 miles of fairly well-traveled Iditarod Trail. But because it is two weeks before the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, it's possible the trail won't be broken yet, or will be blown over from recent storms. In 350 miles, it crosses no roads. It's true wilderness. Route-finding is a skill I need to work on as much as I can this winter. Cold-weather survival knowledge also is crucial. Because I won't have many chances to test my gear in below-zero temperatures, I'm going to have to rely on learning as much as I can about it. I also have to learn all I can about the symptoms of frostbite, hypothermia, and how to avoid and treat them. The reason I am reading so many books about dog mushing and winter mountaineering is because these people experienced some of the conditions I might experience. I retain anecdotal knowledge much better than I retain textbook ramblings.

The race itself is a bit of a vacation, with (very) rustic lodge stays, warm meals and a couple of food drops. Adventure travel at its finest. I'm really looking forward to it, with an edge of unhealthy obsession that is quickly pushing into the forefront of my thoughts and dreams. I may never sleep again. But it will be fun to approach the winter with an goal that's both ridiculous and overwhelming, and see if I can whittle it down to something manageable. It's not unlike the leap I took in 2006 with the Susitna 100. The Iditarod Invitational race director, Bill Merchant, has been quoted many times for saying this, but it's fitting:

"We go into the Alaska backcountry to find cracks in ourselves. We go back a year later to see if we've done anything about them."