Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Apprehension

This has been a rough few days for me. Even with copious hours of help from Geoff, it seems like all I have done is work on my bike. I’d wake up in the morning and do the washing, the gear prep, the tinkering, then come home from work at night for more gear prep, more tinkering, then wake up the next day and do it all again. I was relieved when I finally hoisted my boxed-up bike across the wet ice that was once the FedEx parking lot and watched an all-too-cheery delivery guy haul it away. I half hoped I’d never see it again.

That’s another thing I’ve been struggling with since, oh, about Monday - a vague (or sometimes very acute) sense of dread. The kind of dread that gurgles up from my gut, casting a gray pall over the already dreary gray days, telling me that I would rather do anything than slog across Alaska tundra on my bicycle. This isn’t wholly unexpected. I struggled a lot with a similar sense of foreboding before the 2006 Susitna 100, although I wasn’t willing to admit that to myself at the time. It is all part of this great game, and that part that makes be long to wish away these next 10-odd days. Of course there will still be flashes of excitement, but I’m worried that all I may do for the next week is slink through my routine and brood.

I finally received the panic call from my dad the other day, who has been doing way more Internet research about this race than I would prefer. He informed me that, as he spoke to me, it was 43 degrees below 0 in McGrath. “Yes, yes I know it is, Dad,” I said.

“Do you know what that means?” he asked.

“Well no,” I said. “No, I actually have no idea.”

But what little I can imagine about -43 degrees on the cold side of the Alaska Range is completely lost on my friends of co-workers, well-meaning as they are.

“So, when’s your race?” they ask. I want to tell them that it’s not a race, it’s a full-on expedition with the added pressure to go fast, and I want to tell them that anxiety about performance is nothing compared to anxiety about perseverance.

“How long is it? 350 miles?” I want to tell them to take their Juneau concept of a mile and multiply it by at least four, that’s what a mile means in Interior Alaska wilderness.

“And you’re riding your bike?” And I want to say, I am taking a bike with me. I will use the bike when I can. But I have to expect the possibility that the bike will be more of a burden than a tool. That I may spend as much time pushing my bike as I do riding it. Maybe more. I want to ask them if they can understand the eternity of 2 mph when it’s spread out over 350 miles.

“And they’ll have checkpoints for you with food and stuff, right?” Checkpoints that are as much as a day apart, yes. That if you aren’t self-sufficient out there, you might as well be a couch potato with a solid training schedule of TiVo for how likely it is you’ll succeed.

“So I bet you’re getting really excited.” And I just nod, because I don’t know what to say.

But the truth is, I am excited. The Iditarod Invitational is a guaranteed grand adventure. Even if I slip on Knik Lake ice and break my arm less than one mile into the race, I will always be able to say, “Well, I dreamed it.” The most difficult step may just be showing up at that starting line. Hopefully I will be able to use some of these next 10 days to assuage some of my anxieties and get out more on my mountain bike, because this month has had entirely too much time off the bike. The Pugsley is gone and there are only a few small things I can do to prepare. The only training hump I have left to tackle is my fear.