Times of loss have a way of expanding perspective, and Beat and Steve shared open and honest conversations as they made their way back to Anchorage. In turn, Beat and I openly addressed our relationship, joys we experience, values we share, and hopes for a future for which there are no guarantees. I recalled that adage that life is what happens while you are making other plans. All of our journeys were cut short, but we arrived at a more cathartic and meaningful destination.
In Anchorage, our friends Dan and Amy where there for us, supplying cookies and tender sympathy as we processed the events of the past few days and recovered our battered muscles and diminished strength. Beat's and my annual sojourns in Alaska would be a lot more logistically difficult and a lot less enjoyable without a network of friends across the state, and their generous hospitality and kindness. Dan and Amy's house in Anchorage has been our Alaska "base camp" every year since we raced the Susitna 100 together in 2011. We're most indebted to them for everything they've done for us, and it was rewarding to spend a few unplanned days with them during this time.
Here's Dan the professional adventure photographer, doing what he does best. The four of us went for a "hike" on Flattop Mountain that was really more of a sunset photo safari and goof-off outing. I'd embarked on two short and yet disconcertingly difficult runs since I returned from Unalakleet, and this was Beat's first venture outside since Koyukuk. Molten lava-like mud oozed down the mountain as we traipsed through slush and crossed bulletproof crust. When I lived in Anchorage for a short time in the spring of 2010, this is how I remember hiking conditions in late May.
After my Shaktoolik adventure, my own upper body was wrecked. My biceps gave out before I could even achieve one pushup (I can usually do more than zero!), my forearms were slightly tingly, the muscles in my hands were stiff and slow to respond, and my shoulders and lower back were quite sore. On top of that, I'd tried two runs that were 90 minutes or less, at a slow (untimed) pace, that still felt like they were overtaxing my leg muscles and exhausted cardiovascular system. Amid these unsettling physical assessments, I received an official invitation to the White Mountains 100. After four months of languishing on the wait list, my name had finally risen to the top and I had to decide whether or not I actually wanted to take on the challenge of a hundred-mile run on snow in the remote and hilly White Mountains. I gleefully accepted.
One thing I couldn't borrow was shoes. My pair of Montrail Mountain Masochist Outdry shoes were getting on in years, and the waterproof version of this model isn't made any more. Icy spring conditions and reports of frequent overflow prompted a desire for carbide studs. As we drove into Fairbanks, Beat and I stopped at Goldstream Sports. After jogging around the parking lot in a couple of different models and getting helpful recommendations from a Fairbanks runner, I settled a pair of Salomon Spikecross 3, men's size 9 (women's 10.) They had large lugs that seemed great for soft snow conditions, nine carbide studs in each shoe, and a water-resistant "Clima-Shield" outer. Embarking on a 100-mile run in brand new shoes, in a model and brand I've never even tried? (This is my first pair of Salomon shoes.) Why not?
Goldstream Sports was also having a 50-percent-off sale on backpacks, among them the Salomon Agile 12. I'd already decided that I wanted to avoid dragging a sled in the White Mountains 100. This pack was a fair amount smaller than the one I'd planned to use in the race (a 25-liter pack), but with the warmish forecast and perhaps a little streamlining of my food and supplies, I thought I could make this 12-liter pack work. I still planned to pack 5,000 calories of trail food, two liters of water in a separate vest, a pair of Wiggy's Waders (one BLM ranger perpetuated a lot of gloom and doom regarding "knee-deep overflow"), a large puffy jacket, primaloft shorts and knee warmers, extra socks, vapor barrier socks (in case I got my shoes wet), extra balaclava, neck warmer, extra gloves, mitten shells, small medical kit, fire starters, space blanket, two headlamps, camera, Delmore tracker, and Garmin eTrex. I decided to leave the borrowed snowshoes behind. It was going to be a tight fit, but felt reasonably comfortable and, after dragging Snoots around on the Bering Sea coast, unbelievably light. I was so excited for the race!