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Showing posts from March, 2013

In search of deep seas

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The morning after Beat finished his journey across Alaska, he took a well-deserved nap and I used the opportunity to steal away for one last outing in Nome. The cold snap was easing but far from broken — it was still 15 below, and the north wind was picking up strength. Phil pointed out a small peak called Anvil Mountain where I could hike, but warned me that the wind could be fierce up there. And as Beat observed after 28 days out in the weather, "Wind is everything."

"Give me 50 below over 10 below with wind," he told me after determining that all of his layers need to be windproof if (and when) he attempts such a journey in the future. When it's calm, cold air hangs like a curtain that can be brushed away. But wind is knife that tears open every tiny crack in the armor and pierces the skin, driving its chill to the core. With this in mind, I geared up substantially ... wind-proof tights, wind-proof shell pants, Beat's primaloft shorts, gaiters, polypro …

The finish

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During Beat's final night on the Iditarod Trail, the temperature dropped into the minus thirties. Beat and Marco left the Topkok cabin at 1 a.m. under a bright moon to make the final push through the wind-sharpened cold. I received my final sat phone dispatch from Beat in the late morning, after he and Marco stopped near a ghost town called Safety. They planned a breakfast break there, and while seeking a lee from the wind near a locked cabin, managed to hunker down in a spot that was both in the shade and still brushed with wind. They attempted to hurry through the breakfast-making motions, but the urgent grip of the cold sank in first, until they had no choice but to pack up with numb fingers and keep moving as core heat painfully returned to their extremities. Beat's voice sounded ragged and rough on the phone. They were twenty miles out; but it still seemed so far.


Back in Nome, Phil's 5-year-old daughter Hannah glanced out the window and announced that it was rainin…

Nome

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Beat finished his thousand-mile journey across Alaska on Sunday evening, side by side with Marco Berni of Italy as they dragged their sleds up onto Front Street in Nome. They hoisted them under Iditarod's burled arch at 7 p.m. on the dot, for a finish time of 28 days and 4 hours, adjusted for Daylight Savings Time. And just like that, the ongoing battle against extreme cold, wind, ice, blowing snow, overflow, isolation, and desolation that had become Beat's life ... was over. He finished to walk to Nome. I can hardly believe it.

I wanted to write a proper post about that final day, which is why I haven't updated my blog for a couple of days. There's been little time, but I wanted to post a quick update for the friends and family who may have not seen my Facebook posts. Beat is doing well — some frostbite and windburn on his cheeks, a few blisters on his feet, and superficial muscle soreness along with fatigue and hunger. But he's otherwise not worse for the wear. …

The longest miles

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On Friday evening, I got on a plane and flew to Nome. Part of me is in disbelief that this Alaska adventure has reached this point. I always had faith that Beat would complete the entire distance to Nome, but even he readily admitted the odds were against him during his rookie year. From those early calls where he expressed doubt that he would make the first hundred miles, to the incredible and yet disconcertingly anticlimactic achievement of McGrath, to the horror slush and rain of the Shageluk hills, to the deep cold of the Yukon River, to the wind-blasted coast, to here. Nome. He's only forty miles away and resting as I type this. I expect he'll finish sometime Sunday afternoon.
 This is my first visit to Western Alaska. I bought a cheap air-mile ticket and had to take a milk run flight into Kotzebue, which was awesome in itself. "Wow, I'm in the Arctic!" The flight over the Seward Peninsula to Nome was surreal — just a tree-less expanse of white hills and fr…

Active recovery

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By Sunday afternoon, my feet were just as swollen as they were after the 2012 Susitna 100 — which is to say, very swollen. I didn't take a photo like I did last year, but you can really only take so many pictures of sausage toes before they all look the same. I'm really not sure why this only seems to happen to me during winter ultras. I ran several long races during the summer — sometimes in very wet (UTMB) or rapidly fluctuating hot and cold (Bear 100) conditions — and did not experience anywhere near this level of edema. It's a puzzling mystery. 
I did try to take precautions to avoid skin maceration and swelling. My shoes were GorTex Montrail Mountain Masochist, sized 1.5 sizes too large to accomodate extra socks. Because of the "warm" forecast, I opted to go with two layers of DryMax socks: a trail sock and a larger winter sock — mostly to fill out the shoes,  but I expected the socks would move the moisture away from my skin like they do in summer runs. I …

Odyssey

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There are moments when time seems more circular than linear, like a minute hand ticking its way back to twelve o'clock. The midday sun lights up a sheen of snow across the Caribou Hills, sparkling on a frozen swamp I'm trying to cross. I've forgotten my sunglasses, again, and the reflection is fully blinding. I have to close my eyes. They remain closed as I jog along, listening to the crunch of my steps and the scraping groans of my sled.
In that moment I feel fully present, but when I open my eyes again, I see the Caribou Hills in a different light — dawn's twilight. It's mid-January, and the sound I hear is the squeak of studded tires rolling over cold-packed snow. My memory sharpens; I see the ski gloves clinging to handlebars, a cheap Cateye headlight, feet clad in three pairs of socks and hiking boots, turning pedals, and a sharp chill surrounds everything. 
It must be about seven years ago. I'd set out down the Caribou Lake trail for a day-long training …