Sunday, March 04, 2012

Steady progress

I received a couple calls from Beat on Saturday afternoon as I was pedaling a borrowed fat bike along the buffed snow singletrack in the hills outside Whitehorse. In the first, his voice sounded so distraught that my knee-jerk reaction was to start panicking, convinced he was hurt. "I'm so sorry," he said in a single slurred word. "I lost my camera. It fell out of my pocket. I went back a mile to look for it but I can't go back any more. It's gone. All of the pictures I wanted to show you. I'm so sorry."

I had to pause for a second just to realize that this emergency simply was just a lost camera. I can understand, however. When I'm out for a long time alone, and my body and mind are incredibly tired, I also experienced these exaggerated emotions. I compare it to reverting to a childlike state, where small setbacks feel like the end of the world until I allow my mind to process them rationally. Similarly, good feelings become euphoria and exhilaration. Beat sounded truly distraught over the loss of his camera, and I admit I felt like a parent trying to soothe a child as I responded, "It's okay. It doesn't matter. There are still several racers behind you. I'm sure someone will find it."

An hour later, I received another call: "I have my camera!" he exclaimed with the kind of exhilaration I'd expect when an exhausted mind experiences triumph. "Some snowmobilers found it and gave it back to me."

After that, there were no calls for many hours even though he said he'd call when he arrived at the Bear Creek cabin, where he planned to spend the night. Even though I don't necessarily expect calls, especially when he arrives at a stopping point because he's so busy attending to his own needs, I couldn't help but worry some. Weather reports for Nikolai predicted temperatures down to 30 below zero overnight, which can easily drop to 40 below in low-lying areas. I knew he was simply resting, but it's still almost unavoidable. I feel anxiety.

Beat called again as he was leaving the Bear Creek cabin just after 1 a.m. Sunday. The temperature was 25 below zero with a light wind out of the east. He was still feeling tired after "a full night's rest" but felt he had slept enough and wanted to start into Nikolai, which is about thirty miles northwest of the cabin. There's little between the two besides open swamps and scraggly stands of human-sized spruce trees. The mountains of the Alaska Range still loom on the horizon, and McGrath feels too far away to comprehend. It's a difficult section of trail and I felt apprehensive about him taking it on in the deep cold of the morning, but I know he has few choices now but to keep trudging away at this until he gets it done. It's an inspiring thing he's doing, but it's still hard for me to hear his voice so tired and distraught, even if it is over a lost camera.

Meanwhile, right now (Sunday morning) I am getting ready to leave for an overnight bike tour on the Dawson Overland Trail. I probably will not be able to post any more blog updates until Monday afternoon, although I might be able to squeeze something in on my Facebook page, depending on cell reception. I expect he'll finish sometime late Monday night.

Meanwhile, I'm having way to much guilty fun in Whitehorse:

Riding miles of buffed snow singletrack.

Laughing with my friends (not at, with.)

Checking out the more quirky features of life in the Canadian North. Is this not the coolest lawn ornament you've ever seen?

Thanks for all of the support. I admit I'll be glad when this race is all over.