Monday, February 25, 2013

Iditarod, again

Anne and Beat on the Iditarod Trail
I was going to write a personal blog post about arriving in Alaska, the lead-up to the Iditarod Trail Invitational and the race start at 2 p.m. Sunday, but I have to admit I'm a bit emotionally drained right now. More than an hour after the race started, I loaded up my fat bike and pedaled out the Iditarod Trail. It took me longer than I hoped to put my bike together, but I wanted to catch up to Beat and other foot racers as they marched over the rolling hills and frozen swamps of the Susitna River Valley. Temperatures were on the warm side — near freezing — and the trail and melted and churned up to a mashed potato consistency. It took me ten strenuous and maxed-out miles to finally catch Beat, who appeared shaken. He told me, "It's all starting to set in now, what I'm doing here."

It was a warm day, with temperatures in the high 20s to low 30s, and the trail was soft
I pedaled a bit farther and thought about all of the memories and emotions I have wrapped up in this trail, how it's still so intimidating and unpredictable, and yet familiar and comforting, like a small piece of my identity. And I thought about this thing that Beat is setting out to do, this thousand-mile walk to Nome — all of the inevitable hardships, the unnerving dangers, the strong beauty and raw emotions that will no doubt change a piece of his own identity, regardless of whether he makes it or not.

Tim Hewitt, Beat, and me at the start
I passed Beat, who was traveling with our friend Anne Ver Hoef, for the last time at Burma Road. It occurred to me that this was likely the last road he'll cross that's still connected to the North American road system, for a thousand miles. Beyond this he is off the grid and out of reach — and it's hard. It's harder than I even expected. After I had passed the last of the foot racers, I indulged in a few tears. Then, at the top of a long hill, I stopped to catch my breath and unintentionally broke out into a blubbering mess for two or three minutes. I really just had to let it all out. It's a big weight, this churning ball of excitement and pride and fear; and this felt like big place, this birch canopy hill that is only the smooth edge of a vast and uncaring wilderness.

But I love this, too, in a different but still deep and visceral way. I feel strongly that Beat will get through his adventure just fine and emerge with every part of himself, including his emotional health, intact. But life is as fortuitous and ever-changing as this wilderness, and there's no way of knowing or understanding the future until it's already deep in the past. But I have hope, and that's one thing humans can hang onto, the one thing life can never take away unless we let it.

If the weather is good on Monday, my friend Dan and I hope to fly over the Yentna River and see Beat and other foot racers. If it's not, perhaps I'll write a lengthier blog post. For now, I posted some more pictures and a bit of a report at Half Past Done