Saturday, March 07, 2009

Watching from afar

I finally had a chance to go in to see a doctor in Juneau this afternoon. I wasn't sure who exactly to see in town, so I just browsed the Yellow Pages and became more perplexed with the choices before finally just calling a foot and ankle specialist (with the reasoning that, well, toes are part of the foot.) I was lucky to find an older doctor who had dealt with frostbite before (much less common in Juneau than you would expect in an Alaska city. People here are more likely to get trench foot.) Anyway, he informed me that "at worst," I'd lose the tip of my big toe. Most likely, I'll just lose my toe nails. The worst-case scenario isn't ideal because it will involve an outpatient surgery and prolong my recovery, but all in all, the prognosis is looking good.

Every single employee in the clinic crowded around my chair to take a look at my foot - apparently frostbite is a major curiosity. One woman brought out the clinic's brand-new camera and asked me to rotate my foot in various positions, giddily snapping shots like a fashion photographer. "We need to track your progress," she told me. But I somehow suspect a picture of my disgusting, blistered toes may turn up on some hidden wall of fame in the supply room. (They look way worse now than they did in the emergency room picture I posted on this blog.)

As I explained to my audience how I happened to come down with a case of frostbite, a younger doctor interrupted to say, "Wait ... do you have a blog?" When I told her I did, she said "Oh, I think I've seen it! I moved up from California six months ago and everyone told me I wouldn't be able to ride a bike up here. I Googled "Juneau bike trails" and landed on the blog of this woman who does all this crazy biking in the snow. That's you?" I nodded. "I showed it to everyone on my floor," she continued, "so now most everyone at (this hospital in California whose name I've forgotten) has read your blog!"

They carved off the latest blisters, wrapped up my foot and sent me on my way with a new bag of antibiotic goop and bandages. It will probably be at least another week before I'm able to put any weight on my foot, and another chunk of time before I'm really walking. Having frostbite is not unlike sustaining a serious burn. The pain, treatment and recovery are very similar. Fire and ice.

In the meantime, I am continuing to watch the progress of the racers still in the Iditarod Trail Invitational, and am in awe of their progress in continually tough conditions. The leader, much to my amazement, is still a cyclist ... Jeff Oatley of Fairbanks. He's on the homestretch to McGrath, looking like he may finish in just under six days. The lead woman, Tracy Petervary, who is traveling with her husband, Jay, is not far behind, which also is incredible. Even more exciting are the two skiers hot on their trail, including Ed Plumb, who is one of the nicest guys I've ever had the pleasure of letting examine a set of frozen toes. If the trail is blown in by high winds as has been reported, will the skiers catch Jeff? Stay tuned!

Tracking this race on the Internet has been cathartic, and helped me stay upbeat over the course of this week, where disappointment and regret still loom. Even though there is nothing I can do to change what has happened, it's also been theraputic for me to imagine scenerios in which I could have saved my race and stayed on the trail, where I still wish I was and feel I belong. In my gear on my bike, I had one pair of extra Smart Wool socks, several foot warmers and a pair of down booties. I've imagined this scenerio where I stopped right on the lake, removed my boot and wet socks, placed both dry socks and some warmers on my right foot, pulled the bootie on and wrapped the whole thing in duct tape to keep the down bootie from shredding. I'm not sure this would have been enough to get me through seven hours of pushing and pedaling in what was likely a -40 degree windchill, but it surely would have been better than a wet boot, even with all the insulation I believed was helping me. Live and learn.

It's interesting because I still really believe that the tough conditions this year would have favored a person like myself, who is not fast but who has been working to master the art of the slog, and who really believed she was mentally prepared to handle it. Like I said, nothing I can do about it now. And it's not like I really even know what's going on out there. But, for therapy's sake, I'm going to let myself believe that I could have caught up to the main pack bottle-necked at the pass and kept pushing on toward McGrath.


  1. Look on the bright side, you may have lost the race, but you've probably gained a whole new audience among the foot fetishists !. I'm sure Dicky from Bad Idea Racing will stay tuned in to your foot's progress.

  2. I've had bad luck with foot doctors, although some are comforting and there's a place for that. Podiatrists are not medical doctors. They're licensed under subprocesses separate from physician requirements in your state. This comment is intended as a heads-up, the health of your toes being kinda important. Maybe the guy you met is what you need or want and maybe he's perfect.

  3. I keep picturing Robert Falcon Scott lying in his inadequate tent in his inadequate sleeping bag with his inadequate cooking stove writing his final entry: "For God's Sake Look After Our People..." Frostbite seems somehow old fashioned like diptheria or brain fever.

  4. It is sooo hard to watch at times for sure!

    have far to much experince on that :)

    gald there's no real long term damage... follow the doc orders and don't push it!

  5. I end up 2nd guessing when I make mistakes in races but I know decisions made on the trail are made while fatigued and with the advantage of knowing the result. You do the best you know at the time and then learn for the future if it doesn't work out.

    I'm glad the damage isn't any worse than it is. I'm sure you'll be back out there soon doing what you love.

  6. You don't need any sticking toenails. Your now lighter and wont wear holes in you socks as much :) I (no we) beg you. Do not ever post photos of the injury like so many other bloggers do. Heal up and I hope you can find your way to the saddle again.

  7. Toes are magically delicious!

    So sorry this happened to you! Rock on crazy legs!

  8. You're a humble person, I am convinced.

    Everything happens for a reason, the trick is to figure out the reason.

    I would be interested to hear your discernment in the next few months, if possible.

  9. "the art of the slog"

    I'm glad someone respects it. It is almost a forgotten art.

  10. Jill-Glad you are safe!
    You could always be a "fitness model" while you conviless! Allbest, Ken

  11. Jill - Awesome job getting yourself back in one piece. I read your book on a plane into Salt Lake City today, and it was like I was transported 3000 miles northwest in the middle of the race that was happening again right at the same time I was reading the book.

    Remarkable what you all are able to drive yourselves to do.

    Great work on the book and taking on these adventures. You're an inspiration to the rest of us.

  12. We all mess up. Keep on pushing on. We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at stars. Keep on star gazing Gill Horner.

  13. See, I am sad that we didn't get pictures of the worsened state of your feet. Though I say this only believing that you're going to be fine foot-wise. And as a distance runner I can tell you toenails are pretty useless.

  14. I'm curious to see what your foot looks like if it is worse than the picture! I hope you don't lose the tip of your toe!

    I think you can always look back at life and see what you could have done better. But don't beat yourself up over it. Crap happens. I am just so glad you pulled out and took care of your self. That is what is most important.

    Take care of yourself and all your little toes!!

  15. That really sucks! I've been following your progress for the last few months and admirering your tenacity. What can I say...
    "Tough break kid!" I hope you just lose your nail and can keep all your digits.

    JFK once said something to the effect of,
    "We choose to do these things and the others, not because they are easy, but because they are hard".

  16. Maybe it's just me, but it definitely sounds like you are working through all the disappointment in the right way. I've said it before and I will say it again: you inspire me Jill. You really do. No BS here. You are even more inspiring as I read how you work through this stuff in the best way you can. Take care,


  17. Hi Jill,
    Its sad you didn't see that little water spot. It is about 10 or 12 inches deep and is always there. Most of us walked a few feet to the right and avoided it. I suspect your toes will be better in short order. Hope you have a speedy recovery from the rookie mistake. We have all made them

  18. From West Australian newspaper

    Aussie rescued from Alaskan snow cave
    9th March 2009, 8:15 WST
    A 53-year-old Australian cyclist competing in a winter endurance race got soaked in a stream and lost his way, but survived by hunkering down in his sleeping bag and building snow caves to block chilling wind.

    Rescuers on snowmobiles carried Yair Kellner to safety on Saturday.

    Kellner was racing in the 350-mile (563-kilometre) Iditarod Trail Invitational from Knik to McGrath. The race began March 1 with 50 participants. Kellner lost the trail Tuesday but remained confident he would be found.

    "I didn't feel psychologically broken down, I knew what I was doing was the best I could be doing," he told the Anchorage Daily News.

    Kellner was last seen by another competitor near the Finger Lake checkpoint about 130 miles (209 kilometres) into the race. Exhausted after 40 hours of pushing through deep snow with little sleep, he went down a wrong trail and into Red Creek Canyon.

    Kellner said he had started to turn his bike around when the snowy ice under him suddenly gave way and he found himself in the creek. He tried to pull himself out, but "it kept collapsing," he said.

    "It was scary enough that I wasn't scared," he said. "I didn't have time to be scared. The adrenaline kicked in."

    He thought about ditching his bike but it had all his gear and he knew he'd be in worse trouble if he walked out with only the wet clothes on his back. He eventually made it to solid ground with his bike.

    From mountaineering experience, he knew he was in serious danger of hypothermia.

    Kellner removed his wet clothing and got into his sleeping bag to warm his body.

    "I stripped down to nothing and wrung out the clothing one piece at time," he said.

    No matter what he wrung out, the clothes still grew icicles.

    He lit his stove to melt snow to drink and spent the first night trying to dry his clothes, one piece at a time, with his body heat.

    The next day, he decided to back track, which meant climbing a steep hill. Using the serrated pedals on his bike to wedge his way along, it took him three hours to zigzag up about 500 yards (meters), he said.

    At the top of the canyon, he looked for his tracks but the wind had swept them clean. He concluded he was lost.

    Moving kept his body warm, but he didn't know where he was going. The batteries in his global positioning system unit were dead.

    For the next two days, he divided his few slices of cheese and four energy bars into squares and fed himself every few hours. He poured orange Gatorade on the snow to mark his location in case someone came by, and propped his bike at the entrance to the snow cave, hoping the bike's reflectors would catch the attention of someone flying overhead.

    To stay alert and to monitor possible hypothermia, he sang songs.

    "I tried to think of more obscure songs, where I had to remember the words," he said.

    Organisers Friday alerted Alaska State Troopers but a trooper helicopter found no sign of Kellner that night.

    On Saturday, airplane pilot Michael Schroder, who has a cabin in the Shell Lake area, and Ken Peterson spotted Kellner under a spruce tree about five miles north of the trail.

    They dropped the cyclist a note on the back of a flight chart, weighted down by a pack of batteries. The message said, "Stay put, we'll come get you."

    Back in Anchorage and in good condition Saturday night, Kellner described his rescuers as "fantastic."

    "People here did exactly what people back in Australia would have done if someone was in trouble," he said.

    Kellner was not the only racer who experienced problems. Earlier in the week, one competitor dropped out with serious frostbite. Others struggled to fight through deep snow to make it over Rainy Pass.

    Fairbanks cyclist Jeff Oatley made it to McGrath on Saturday to win the race and about 20 racers remained on the trail.


  19. Anon 5:20 ... Yeah, the spot where I fell is was completely obvious. The lighting was so flat when I went through, however, that I did not recognize it as a trench. It's funny to look back because just the day before, after spending the day with a friend who had frostbite and asking her a million questions about it, another friend drove his truck all the way up a six-foot-tall pile of snow in the middle of a culdesac because he could not distinguish it from the road in the flat evening light. "Rookie mistakes" can happen anywhere, to anyone.

    I can tell you that the water was a lot deeper than 10-12". I'm not exaggerating when I say that I punched through the ice all the way up to my crotch.

  20. Marty ...

    I did read that article about Yair in the ADN. I'm so glad he's safe.


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