Friday, March 15, 2019

Nomeward bound

I'm sitting at the Iditarod headquarters awaiting the first cyclists of the Iditarod Trail Invitational, and going through piles of pictures from the week so far. This is quick photo post before future catch-up posts become too unwieldy.

 My White Mountains 100 "taper" officially began on Monday. Taper pretty much means that I'm going to refrain from exercise unless it involves an interesting adventure in good weather. I fully expect to go overboard, so I can't say this is a great plan. Monday brought hints of sunshine and temperatures below freezing, so I hoped some of the local trails might have set up. I headed out for a little bikesploration, and actually made it about 11 miles out the Nome-Teller "Highway" before my front wheel started punching through the fragile wind crust.

 I also had a standoff with a cow moose and her calf, shown in this photo as tiny dots on that mound to the left. As I decided whether to pass, she and junior walked right onto the trail and started sauntering away from me, punching postholes all over packed surface, of course. Clearly she was taking ownership of the trail. Conditions were becoming too punchy to be rideable, anyway, so I turned around.

There were still plenty of other trails to explore. I don't know where they go. I only know that the Big Lonely surrounds everything here, and I love it.

 On Tuesday morning I set out for a quick ride with Andrew, one of the local bikers. He's a lifelong Nomer. It's difficult to conceptualize spending one's entire life in such a place, but I suppose if this is what you're born into, it's home. Several more inches of snow and wind hit overnight, so any trail that was marginally rideable was already blown in again. We cheerfully took our bikes for a hour of swerve-and-walk in the blowing snow, and it was nice. I guess I could see myself getting used to this.

 On Wednesday I spent the day attending a few events, including a talk by an 87-year-old man who raced the first Iditarod. He was the epitome of an old-guy storyteller, swerving in and out of random subjects, most of which had nothing to do with the first Iditarod. But it was enjoyable all the same. He said in his 52 years in Nome, he'd never seen so much snow. Most of the icicles in town are working their way to hanging horizontally.

 Toward evening, I was able to see some of my favorite mushers come in. I've taken to following the ladies, which is only natural I suppose. Aliy is a fan favorite; she talks to her dogs in a sing-song voice and interacts warmly with everyone she encounters. Like many, I was pulling for her to win this year's Iditarod, but excited to see her come in fourth.

 It was such a beautiful evening that I headed out for a run. The trail was extra soft; at times I punched through to my knees. The unplowed road was even worse, with uneven and crusty drifts. It was one of those efforts that I've come to call a "slog-jog," because I will continue to battle the conditions with running efforts, look at my watch and realize I'm logging 22-minute miles, slow to a walk, and actually improve my pace. Reminding myself that I'm a better walker than runner is good self-knowledge to hold onto ahead of the White Mountains 100. Current forecasts make it look like we may be in for similarly warm trails, and I now know I have nothing to gain from trying to be speedy.

 In looking at the forecast for Fairbanks, I clicked through Nome first and saw something I haven't seen in my nearly three weeks here: A sunshine graphic. It was hidden behind "mostly cloudy" but it was there. Since cloudy days have shown to have a bit of sun, mostly cloudy probably meant a bright blue day. I was excited. My sleep has been terrible this week, so I was up at 5 a.m., just waiting for the sun to come up. Waiting, waiting. Then, by about 10 a.m., I finally ventured out.

 I didn't have a plan for the day when I set out, except to ride the Iditarod Trail east. For each solo adventure I'm prepared to spend all day and possibly a night in much worse weather than I expect to see, so there was an inclination that if trail conditions were good, maybe I'd ride all the way to Safety. Having punched a bunch of knee-deep holes in this trail the previous evening, I wasn't optimistic. Of course, I forget that fat tires have more float than heavy human feet, and I was able to roll along fairly well on the soft and chunky snow.

 Jeff Dieter passed about an hour from Nome. It was shaping up to be the loveliest day. There was no wind — which is to say there was still an 8 mph breeze out of the east, and I had to pull a buff over my face even as I stripped off my hat and jacket amid the sweaty grind.

 Views from the top of Cape Nome. Just more Big Lonely, as far as you can see.

 Waving to twin sisters Kristy and Anna Berington as they passed. I think I've cheered for every woman finishing the Iditarod so far.

 A musher poling toward Cape Nome. The trail was so soft, and the dogs weren't moving much faster than me — which is to say about five miles per hour. This was a tough 5mph too, just consistent hard work. My quads were burning, and my knees were sore from grinding in too high of a gear. Some regret crept in. I hadn't even reached Safety yet, and still had to ride all the way back. But I'd made it this far.

 I think this is possibly Matthew Failer. I'm not entirely sure, as I didn't catch his number. He asked me whether I'd seen another musher. I had, but he was about two miles back, and of course we'd both traveled that distance since I saw him. "He's only about a mile ahead," I replied. I didn't mean to be misleading, I just had fatigue-fog and didn't conceptualize the distance until later. "Maybe I can catch him!" the musher yelled. "Yeah! Go for it!" I garbled the words in reply. If this is Matthew, he did end up finishing 10 minutes in front of the next competitor, having made up more than an hour in the final 22-mile stretch.

 At the 20-miles-to-Nome sign, I stopped and chatted with a Swedish man on a snowmachine. He was baffled that I rode a bike out there, and asked how I'd ever get back. "I'll ride back," I replied, and he looked at me like he was already sad for my imminent demise. He puttered into Safety with me just a few hundred yards behind him, and continued to regard me with these sad eyes as I chatted with the other folks outside. He only had a small snowmachine with no cargo sled, so he couldn't have possibly given me a ride, but I suspect he wanted to help me and was watching for others to offer.

 Of course the folks here know fat bikes now, and no one else was convinced I was going to die ... just a little weird, that's all. It was fun to return to this spot on such a beautiful day ... the weather was so much like the day I rode into Nome in 2016. The bar is only open for a week out of the year, during Iditarod. They only serve sausage on buns (reindeer dogs) for food. Usually I know better than to consume such a thing during a hard effort, but I was hungry. Sure enough, more than riding all the way to Safety, this is the decision of the day that I would come to regret.

 Perhaps it was my unsettled stomach, the breeze that had become a tailwind (with no cooling effects) or the progressively softer trail, but about five miles from Safety, I felt like I was burning up. I stripped off nearly everything I was wearing, even my gaiters — I was down to tights and a shirt with rolled-up sleeves, no hat or buff, no gloves as I placed my hands on top of my pogies. Still I continued to sweat buckets. My thermometer read 23 degrees, which is not hot even for me, so I don't know what was up ... it was uncomfortable though. I would stop just to feel the cooling relief of the breeze, only to become uncontrollably chilled within seconds. Then, with flash-frozen limbs, I commenced pedaling, only to return to sweat fest. These flashes of hot and cold in below-freezing temperatures were a new thing for me. I can only blame the reindeer dog. I expected the more gruesome effects of food poisoning to hit my body soon, but it never happened. I feel fine today.

My legs feel wrecked though. 42 miles in eight hours of moving time, at such a high level of effort that I feel worse today than I did after both the Golden Gate 50K and The Bear fat bike race, which were supposed to be my hard efforts well prior to WM100. So ... rest day today, I guess. It's been a fun day to hang around town, talk to folks, and watch more mushers come in. I was able to catch Lance Mackey finish his self-described "Snooze and Booze Cruise." I'm a big fan of Lance — for all of his comebacks amid setbacks and struggles, and his quirky laid-back personality. If this is to be his last Iditarod, it looks like it was a great one.

I expect the first fat bikers within a couple of hours. It's fun to be a spectator for these events ... but it's definitely nothing like being out there myself. 

1 comment:

  1. Certainly very few stones left unturned in your and Beat's life!


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