Monday, February 27, 2017

The 2017 Iditarod Trail Invitational

The 2017 ITI started at 2 p.m. Sunday at the edge of Knik Lake. I was there, but rather than standing next to a loaded bike and bubbling with nervous excitement, I was on the sidelines. I've mentioned this before, but I'm pretty bummed about missing the race. I need to get over it. I'm in Alaska, enjoying gorgeous scenery, and visiting friends. To be honest, though, the prospect of an Idiatrod Trail adventure is one thing that's kept me optimistic through all of my issues over the past few months: Anxiety over the world's current state of affairs, increasing brain fog, poor writing efforts, and diminishing physical capacity. Now that I know the likely cause, I have a potential solution to my issues. This is reason for optimism, but I still have the anxiety and the brain fog without the release of physical activity and joy of adventure. I've been taking it fairly easy. This just makes me feel worse. 

I learned last week that I have Grave's Disease. It's an autoimmune condition that's thought to affect people with genetic predisposition, and possibly triggered by bacterial and viral infections. Like most autoimmune conditions, it will never go away on its own. Diet and a few lifestyle changes are on my radar, but Graves Disease requires treatment, one way or the other. The initial path is to experiment with medications. My hormone levels tested high enough to justify an aggressive dose of methamizole, which I've taken every morning for a week. The drug supposedly has some nasty side effects, but those haven't yet hit. To be honest I don't feel any different yet, but it's a hopeful path even if not ideal. 

Those last two paragraphs were difficult to write, and I'm am struggling to go back and read them. My brain fog is actually pretty bad today. One of the effects of hyperthyroidism is difficulty focusing for more than a few seconds. When reading, I scan through a line on a page, lose my place, and fail to find the next line. By the time I've gone searching for it, I mostly forget what I'd already read. This struggle with reading is recent and intermittent, but it freaked me out to an extent that I didn't tell anyone or even conduct a Google search — "I'm losing my ability to read" — for fear it would make it so. I worried that I was losing my mind. Maybe early-onset dementia. And that would be so, so much worse than losing my physical capacity. 

 Well ... I really didn't start writing this post to complain about my health issues. But it seemed prudent to given an update. I believe this is getting better. I'm having a bad day today, possibly because my general anxiety is up. It's inevitable when Beat starts the Iditarod. This is Beat's sixth year on the Iditarod trail, and his fifth attempt to Nome. He's seen and survived just about every fearsome possibility. But I can't help myself. I worry about him. And it sets off these lousy hormone issues that wreck my brain and my body.

But everything is fine, of course. Beat is out there plugging along and mostly enjoying himself, although the first days are always hard. He's still recovering from a cold that prompted him to bring a small pharmacy with him to the start. He frets about congestion and foot pain. Actually, he's like this initially every year, before he settles in and develops that groove that's always made him unstoppable.

 I've been involved with the Iditarod "family" for nine years now, and the pre-race activities are always a fun reunion. In this photo Beat is talking to Loreen Hewitt, who is vying for the 1,000-mile hike this year after reaching Nome on the Northern Route in 2014. She's nearing 60 and still perfectly healthy for such an endeavor. I'm terribly jealous.

Beat doing his best "Blue Steel." Behind him is Tim Hewitt, who is riding a bike this year. Tim seemed to be heavily regretting this decision while eating pre-race lunch at Knik Bar. So far trail conditions appear to be softer than recent years, but rideable. Tim is anticipating awful trail conditions beyond McGrath, which is why he's packing those snowshoes. I tried to talk him out of bringing them, then changed my mind. I've tried it, several times, and concluded that it's more annoying than helpful to push a bike in snowshoes on bad trail. Snowshoes don't help a biker in deep snow, either, because the bike still sinks, and then the front wheel has to be lifted from a higher angle. (I can only lift my own bike by getting underneath it, so the last thing I want is to be higher than the bike.) However, snowshoes could help if Tim snowshoes hikes ahead and effectively breaks his own trail, in which he could then push his bike. That's a nightmare scenario as well, but then again all scenarios are nightmare scenarios in three feet of new snow, like they dealt with in 2015.

 The start, with Pete Ripmaster forging ahead in the lead.

 Beat, looking much more relaxed than he claimed.

 The field crossing Knik Lake. There are 20 runners out of the field of 82 this year. The majority are participating in the 130- and 350-mile races. Six or seven plan to go beyond McGrath.

A half hour after the race started, I set out on the old Fatback bike (I brought this bike to Alaska rather than risk theft of the race bikes.). Admittedly my comfortable "non-strenuous pace" only netted about 4 mph on the mashed-potato surface, so I rode a little harder in order to catch up to Beat before hours had passed. I caught up to the only 1,000-mile skier, Moses, at 3-Mile Hill. His sled was absolutely massive.

 Another runner on the trail. Temps were warm — around 29 degrees, and the weather was cloudy with light flurries. Pretty blah weather. But better than the first day last year (when it was 38 degrees and raining.)

 Catching up to Beat, finally. This is likely to be the last time I see him for a month, if all goes well.

Bye Beat! I'm planning to spend this time in Alaska, although I still need to decide exactly what I'll be doing. I travel to Juneau tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to returning to this isolated city where I lived for five years, which in my memory will always remain the best and worst of all. This time will be great to reconnect and reflect, if I can get my brain back. If things are going well for Beat and my anxiety goes down, I think that will help.


  1. Good luck to both of you. May it be a successful month.

  2. Go, Beat! Best of luck in these first steps of getting back to a healthy you. At least you are in your element in Alaska. Even if you don't feel you can do much, you can quickly get out into the beauty of the land, which always seems to help your mind.

  3. Hyper seems a little worse than hypo, although hypo comes with its own set of issues. Im convinced this will get better for you. Hang in there.

  4. Jill - While you're in Juneau I recommend you consider making an appointment to see Dr. Emily Kane, a naturopathic doctor, re: your thyroid: When we lived in Juneau she helped my husband, Mike, effectively treat AS (ankylosing spondylitis), an arthritic condition, while other doctors told him only to take NSAIDs to relieve the pain. David Ottoson, owner of Rainbow Foods, is another person who could give you a testimonial re: Emily. He contracted malaria in Africa and it was Emily who diagnosed his condition upon his return to Juneau. (This is a link to his testimony to the AK legislature in support of naturopathic doctors and an account of what Emily did for him: Have no fear and give no power to this. I look forward to following Beat during his journey to Nome.

  5. Great pics Jill, thanks for the photo-update! And so VERY sorry you won't be participating this year...but I'm really looking forward to you getting your conditions under control and getting back out there...lots of us live vicariously thru you, you know.

    Be safe and have fun up there...Beat will be just fine...he's got good judgment and is obviously in his element out 'there'.

  6. Try to not worry about the world events. It's mostly media hyping it up.

  7. OMG....just checking in on Beat and it shows he's scratched??? (5 hours ago, it's currently 6:19pm PST)...please update us when you can Jill...sure hope he's OK...this is VERY unlike him this soon into an event! Unless they got DUMPED on with snow (again) and the trail is horrendous and he's killing himself (alone) breaking trail.

    1. Hi Mike. He's fine. The conditions weren't so bad relative to what he's seen, but his cold was lingering and his heart wasn't in it this year. Next year we may aim for something different. :)

    2. Glad to hear that Beat is okay.

    3. Was watching Beat on Tracker wondering if the cold he was battling and being on the trail knowing that you weren’t out there with him was weighing on him like a 50lb dead load of thoughts constantly looping in the hours of lonely trail time…..not that I have had that problem! Lol. It had to be hard for both of you at the start, being that plan A was for you both sharing time on the trail which turned into plan B that he would head out alone which now looks that you both are on plan C…….I've gone thru more of the “plan alphabet” in just a day then I care to admit :) so not judging! :) Being that I have Hypothyroidism I'm always in a OODA Loop (observe, orientate, decide, act) so when I feel/think I have to change my plan/goal because of body/weather feedback I “try to think of it as a gift” (stole that line from the movie 300)…..yeah it doesn’t always work... but when it does, joy fills the lost plan A bummed out hole…...unless it doesn’t.


  8. Sorry to hear you are struggling with these autoimmune disorders...everything you have faced on the trail must have prepared you to face is not simple or easy but you can live with it and thrive. Lots of great info out there and alternatives that work. Best regards....


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