The weather was forecasted to warm up on Wednesday, but temperatures plummeted again on Tuesday night. We hedged our bets with a later start on the 40-mile day. Our car's thermometer registered 36 below as we drove past the low-lying Chatanika River. The hilltop trailhead was -8, but the warmth was relatively short-lived. After six miles of rolling along a broad ridge, the route plummets into another low-lying area, Wickersham Creek, where temps were still in the -20s. Descending the "Wickersham Wall" at these temperatures feels like plunging into a glacier lake, ice-cream headache and all. My body was all over the map with thermoregulation. I would sweat while wearing minimal layers, then suddenly feel a chill and continue to shiver after I bundled up. Then the heat would suddenly return. After a few costume changes I decided that as long as my feet and hands felt warm, I'd just ignore the chills and go with the lighter option.
All of these solutions were overcompensating, of course. It's not like I was having a heart attack. But I was overdoing it. I know that. I do well with two-to-four-hour efforts. Even my endocrinologist said exercising shouldn't be an issue as long as I take care not to push myself, and as long as I avoid stressors. A few seconds of road rage would be worse for me than days of pleasant biking. But these long efforts — especially the kind that are challenging no matter what I do — need to be deferred until I'm healthy.
It's difficult not to be greedy, though — to long for the limestone spires that rise above Fossil Creek, which you can only see if you're willing to venture thirty-plus miles away from the nearest road, which itself stands alone in an expansive and often inhospitable wilderness.
It's difficult not to be greedy for that sensation when, after 12-plus hours of slogging until a crushing darkness arrives, you arrive at a cabin. It's small and simple, but it's a place where you can spread your sleeping bag across a wooden bench, lie down, and breathe the rhythm of satisfaction and relief.
Eleazar's was a nice cabin — stocked with firewood, matches, and propane for a brand-new lantern. The cabin sits on a bluff high above Wickersham Creek, but sadly it was still too cloudy for aurora viewing. I started a fire, moved armfuls of firewood inside, gathered fresh snow for melting, arranged my meager belongings, and waited for Beat to arrive. After a day mostly traveling alone, it was a spirited reunion — Beat ranted about the crappy trail. I quietly insisted that if a hiker thinks it's bad, imagine how a biker feels. Beat lamented his poor training. I lamented my crappy body. Beat asked me if I saw the sundog. I asked him if he saw the 7-year-old girl driving a snowmachine. We shared kisses and ice cream cones, then fell asleep on hard benches. I'm definitely not of the school that believes all good adventures need to be shared, but I was grateful Beat came back from the Iditarod Trail early this year.