Sunday, March 22, 2009
Date: March 20 and 21
Mileage: 22.1 and 26.7
March mileage: 105.8
Temperature upon departure: 41 and 35
My blog has been a bit boring as of late, so I thought I'd point everyone to some great links on the Web. First is Geoff's exclusive interview with Jeff Oatley, the winner of this year's Iditarod Trail Invitational. The second is the blog of Cory Smith, who competed in the race on skis. He offers a three-part race report full of gripping detail.
Since I returned from Anchorage, several people have asked me what my future is with the Iditarod Trail Invitational. Everybody has either assumed that my frostbite has scared some sense back into me and I'll never return, or that my failure in this year's race will only fire me up more for next year. Both assumptions are untrue. My answer is I'm "probably" not going to enter the ITI in 2010 (emphasis on probably.) This was a decision I had made several months before I froze my foot. My obsession with this race dates back to early 2006, and it's had a strong grip on me ever since. I've never quite been able to pin down the reasons why. The extreme nature of the race never really fit my personality in the beginning, but my individual growth in the past three years has been largely shaped by it. When old friends of mine asked me how I could have possibly found my way into endurance cycling, I would jokingly blame my direct descension from Mormon pioneers. My great-great-and-so-on grandparents dragged wooden handcarts across the untrammeled American plains. If ever there was a gene for enduring a good slog, I inherited it from them.
But in my mind, that wasn't a real answer for why the Iditarod Trail had such a forceful grip on my imagination. I thought I'd find my reasons by finally just lining up with the race in 2008, but my experiences on the trail largely created more questions than answers. I recall several times while slogging through the sugar snow on the Kuskokwim River, long after I had taken to holding out-loud conversations with myself, saying, "This is absurd. This is the bone-dry-desolate-frigid-middle-of-nowhere. What are you doing out here?" So I spent a good portion of the summer writing personal experience essays based on that exact question, which I eventually turned into a book. That helped usher the race out of my head for a short period of the wet, gray summer. But come September and the first hint of cold weather, I was itching to get my name on the ITI roster again.
The grip of my obsession started to loosen somewhat shortly after I made the commitment. I think part of the problem is I was having so much fun training. I started to ask myself, legitimately I believe, if having that same big scary goal at the end of it all was really necessary. I truly enjoy the focus, drive and energy involved in preparing for a race like this, but I started to wonder if I could direct that focus toward something new. As I looked to make changes in my life and "something new" became more of a possibility, I began to divide my focus, and it was freeing. In doing so, I actually became more excited about the ITI, the "grand tour" of the stunning Iditarod Trail and a tough expedition that stood to further boost my body and mind toward my new goals. From that point, I approached the race much more in "tour mode" with less pressure on myself to finish than I felt last year. But because this race still takes so much intense focus, gear prep and hard training just to survive the thing, it felt right to tell myself the the 2009 race would be my last, at least for a while. Then next winter could be more about unwinding - snowboarding more often and actually taking the time to learn to cross-country ski, and bike train to get the sub-20-hour Susitna 100 finish that I really deserve. :-)
Then came the big failure of 2009. I certainly don't blame the race for it. I'm pretty much done even blaming myself for it. Fluke things happen every day, everywhere. After I worked through the initial pain and disappointment, I was left with this inexplicable but plain sense of closure ... a sort of, "Well, this is how the ITI chapter ends. Now what?"
It's all a bit complicated and hard to explain. And of course I'll never say that I'll never go back to the Iditarod Trail. I may even end up back there next year. But for now I'm thinking dirt and sand, heat and elevation, and even though my emotional involvement so far doesn't rise to the level of obsession, I'm happy with my goals.
I've been somewhat cryptic about my summer plans thus far because the fact is I'm still injured, trying by not quite succeeding to keep a holding pattern with my pre-race fitness, and still unable to commit 100 percent. (I learned the hard way with the 2006 Susitna 100 that once something goes up on the blog, it's a done deal.) But, either way, I've put the wheels in motion to go back to the roots of my cycling obsession, which took hold years before the ITI obsession and 24-hour mountain bike races and daylong training rides in snow and ice. In the beginning, all I cared about was traveling between two far-away points on my bicycle. I look forward to being a bike tourist again. And who knows? Maybe those Mormon pioneer genes will pull me through.