Saturday, February 24, 2018

Following the 2018 Iditarod Trail Invitational

 On Tuesday morning, less than 40 hours after Beat and I rode bikes in 61-degree sunshine, the temperature at home plummeted 72 degrees to 11 below zero. Six inches of new snow blanketed the forest, and wisps of fog skimmed the hills to the south. Pink hints of sunrise were just beginning to show when I stepped onto the balcony. Wearing only socks and a T-shirt, I stood still for as long as I could muster — three minutes maybe — and breathed. The air had a sharp, crystallized feel, a sweet aroma, and a raw taste, so visceral that I could almost believe those wingnuts who claim to derive caloric energy from air. It's difficult to describe why cold air evokes such strong sensations — perhaps it's the shot of adrenaline one experiences while swiftly freezing exposed body parts. But it felt wonderful to me. 

"This is a good omen," I thought.

The rest of the week in Boulder continued to be just perfect — crisp and cold, but with brilliant sunshine that made 15 degrees feel almost summery, in the weird way that only high-altitude sunshine can. I didn't get outside nearly as much as I would have liked — save for a mellow two-hour hike with my friend Wendy, it was an indoor week filled with final preparations and work catch-up. But I felt content, both with my surroundings, and in my own skin, finally ... for now at least.

The sensation of transitioning from "less comfortable" to "a little more comfortable" in my own skin is clearly impossible for me to explain. No matter how much I complain to Beat about my physical slumps, even he responds to questions about how I'm doing with "she's great!" But I've found some success in comparing my body to an unreliable car. Sometimes you can drive this car across the country without issue, and sometimes it breaks down in your driveway. Your mechanic has outlined a number of problems, but none of them quite add up to an easy fix. Since you can't get rid of the car, and you can't predict what it will do, you make up superstitions. "Well, it's sunny, and I'm wearing my lucky driving socks, so we'll make it today."

During the last full week in February, winter finally arrived in Boulder. Then I hopped on a plane to Anchorage, Alaska, where it looked more like winter in that city than I've seen in a number of years. And I felt at home ... lucky ...

I am lucky. I can hardly believe it's been ten years since the first time I walked these snowy streets on the final Saturday in February, anticipating the 350-mile journey to McGrath. I swear I am no less frightened now than I was then — perhaps more so. I've traded the naivety and youth of a 20-something for the wisdom and experience of a somewhat-more-broken woman in her late 30s. It doesn't feel like a fair trade. But has anything changed, that really matters? I wonder at the strange cycles of a linear life. I wonder why I keep rotating back. I am ready to try new things, so much so that I am asking friends to hold me to a promise to bike tour somewhere warm next March, rather than return to Alaska. And yet I crave these experiences with a zeal that I'll never adequately explain. I'm so excited that my heart is buzzing (hopefully that's excitement, and not life-threatening palpitations.) I'm so anxious that I want to curl up in a corner and hug a pillow.

I didn't actually come here to write a rambling blog post. (Well, I did want to archive pretty photos from "that one week of winter in Boulder.") Really, I just wanted to post the tracking links that I promised Mom I would post. On Sunday, Feb. 25, at 2 p.m. Alaska time, I'm heading out on the Iditarod Trail again. My intention is to walk the 350 miles to McGrath, at as efficient of a pace as I can reasonably maintain. "Reasonably" meaning I have no intention of being lax about the race, but I do intend to maintain control at all times, if at all possible. This means higher focus on self-care. This means stopping for longer breaks if my breathing becomes shallow, even if it's not the most convenient spot, and being prepared to safely do so. And it also means moving well as long as I can move well, and foregoing sleep and comfort if I'm feeling strong.

I acknowledge that, with the exception of the 2016 Iditarod race to Nome, I haven't had a great experience with an endurance race since I wheezed my way into a long-overdue DNF in the 2015 Tour Divide, nearly three years ago. There have been *many* days since then when I admitted to myself, "I'm just not a race person anymore, and need to let this go." But the race to Nome was one brilliant exception, enough that I continue to cling to faith that — with the help of lucky driving socks (or a stuffed husky named Bernadette) — I can do well in the 2018 Iditarod Trail Invitational. I couldn't ask for a more beautiful venue in which to take another shot.

Race tracking: 

If you want to track my thrilling progress at sub-three-miles-per-hour, the Iditarod Trail Invitational will be tracking the race at this link:

The direct link to Trackleaders:

And some possibly interesting social media links:

The Iditarod Trail Invitational Facebook Page:

• Kevin "OE," a volunteer in Rohn, plans to post updates from this remote wilderness tent camp at mile 200:

• Craig Medred, a freelance journalist in Anchorage, often writes articles about the ITI:

• Iditarod Trail Invitational news page:

• My Facebook page:

• My Twitter page: (I may send out a brief text from my Delorme if I need to communicate something more important than "My feet hurt." Otherwise, I will probably not update this.) :


  1. Have been following your progress every day. Congratulations on your finish in McGrath!!!

  2. I haven't been following every day, but I've checked most days and have been heartened that everything looked good and you were making consistent progress. Looking forward to the report!

  3. I just stumbled on this blog and wanted to comment on "Be brave, be strong" I bought it (audio book )and listened to it many times, first in a focused fashion, then as background while doing remodeling projects and on brevets. I'm really glad to express to you the thought provoking enjoyment I've experienced. I "read" of your adventures and am encouraged to have some of my own after working most of a lifetime. I sympathize with a fuzziness of how to be "comfortable in my own skin" having that experience myself. I'd like to add that I found your book just as my wife was battling cancer and it was a welcome addition to my brain. Thank you for putting yourself out there. TH


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