Tuesday, March 02, 2010

ITI, day two

It's 32 hours into the 2010 Iditarod Invitational, and the race leaders have been established — to no one's surprise, Jeff Oatley, Pete Basinger and Jay Petervary hold the top spots. Most reports point to somewhat difficult trail conditions this year, including fresh snow, warm temperatures (which make the trail surface slushy and soft), and somewhat hard-to-picture "holes," which I imagine are either sinkholes or trenches down the center of the trail.

It's interesting to me because the three leaders are turning in checkpoint times very similar to my first three check-ins in 2008 (which, again, point to the significantly increased level of difficulty on the trail this year compared to two years ago.) But the leaders were into Yentna Station at mile 60 around 10 p.m. Sunday, into Swentna at mile 90 around 3 a.m. Monday, and into Fingerlake, mile 130, at 4 p.m. Monday — my 2008 pace up to that point almost verbatim.

This fact is fun for me because I can mine my memory to conjure up images of approximately where they are right now, and it helps me feel like I am there again. I imagine climbing into the foothills of the Alaska Range just as dusk begins to cast its long, cold shadow over the open swamps. The trail is narrow and steep, wending tightly through the woods and sometimes dropping off veritable cliffs into the Happy River Gorge. Headlamps cast a warm, yellow light on the trail, revealing a stream of snowmobile tread, Endomorph tire tracks and the occasional, unique imprints of fellow racers' boots. As the miles plod onward, these tracks begin to tell elaborate stories of movement and struggle, triumph and pain. They become as interesting as movies, maybe because there's nothing else to watch, and the headlamp beam flickers like a film projector, a soft reflection of humanity against a bewildering expanse of darkness.

But this is just what I think about, when I think about 10 p.m. Monday night in the Happy River Gorge. The reality of the race leaders is they are probably thinking about sleep, and about warm food, and constantly looking over their shoulders, watching for the soft, warm headlamp glow that signals the approach of their closest competitor. Anxious competitiveness, rather than peaceful loneliness, is probably what drives those leading the race right now.

The good thing — perhaps the only good thing — about my current position in a cubical 700 miles away in Juneau, where driving rain and wind pounds the window, and where I am perched next to a space heater with a lukewarm water bottle and a fresh orange, is that I can imagine myself wherever I'd like to be.


  1. Love the color commentary of the ITI. Any thoughts on what's ahead for the racers with the weather conditions using your knowledge of the course. Kind of a boots on the ground view.
    That photo has to be the most surreal (land,water,sky) that I have seen. The manmade object floating in the space gives me a disoriented sense of just where it "we" belong. Very cool!

  2. With the pace the leaders are keeping, I can only imagine how slowly I would be plodding over the frozen wilderness. I'm with you - enjoying my heated office, my cup of instant oatmeal and my purely imagined position in the race!

  3. You will be back with the leaders next year, Jill!

  4. Does look like tough going this year. Great writing on this post Jill (but hey, why should this one be different? ;)

    LOVE that image. Saw it on your Facebook, but it's breathtaking in the larger size. Not a bad front yard view!

  5. its nice they will have a trail over rainy pass to keep it a race.They may not be able to ride much but at least it keeps things flowing.

  6. I can't take my eyes off of that picture......

  7. The entry is great, the writing is fantastic, but the photograph...
    did you take it? It's one the most beautiful and confusing that I've ever seen.

  8. excellent blog. informative, well written and lovely pictures. What exciting times you have.

  9. What an amazing photo.
    I'm dreaming to travel someday somewhere to the North... to Alaska or Canada. It looks so silent that it makes me shivering.



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