I arrived to the doorstep of the Iditasport Extreme event just less than 3 weeks removed from my Arrowhead 135 effort. I hadn't done anything since the race, but a couple of walks and lots of stretching. I was flowing with optimism though because I was going to be adventuring with my friends and it was going to be an adventure, not a racing environment. I arrived to Anchorage almost a week prior to the event so I didn't feel rushed in getting any additional items and having time to spend with friends. Soon enough it was race brief time and I got to see Naomi, Shawn, Anne, Tony, and Jorge! I spent the rest of the weekend at Shawn and Tony's place, with Naomi. Come early Monday morning on the 19th, we headed off to the start line. That morning I found out that Naomi had a severe case of the flu hit her like a freight train. She was unable to sleep, keep either food or liquids down throughout the whole night. She was determined to still give it a go.
At the start line Naomi and I were prepared to go on one hell of a journey together, even if we were one friend short from our original planned team. As we began working our way to checkpoint 1 we talked and laughed and we were moving well. About 8 miles in Naomi began to labor a bit more and need a rest. We agreed to meet up at Yetna Station at the latest for our first break. I got into CP1, ate, changed socks, and waited for Naomi. As I waited the cutoff time fast approached and I was getting nervous for Naomi, I had left her. I went out to the CP captains and asked if they had heard anything. They said no, but were sending someone out to check on her. They said they would update the next CP on her situation so that when I arrived I would have info. I headed out to Yetna Station with thoughts that the sickness was going to be too much for her to overcome. If it was I was going to be sad for her because I knew how much she wanted this adventure. I made it into Yetna station just before Shawn headed back out for her last 32 miles. I came in and found out that Naomi had to scratch from the race due to illness. I felt lost... I talked to Shawn about this and she posed the question, "You didn't come out here for them (Naomi and Eric) did you?" The one question I didn't want to know the answer to...
With no beds available at Yetna Station (filled up) I slept for about an hour and a half and then headed out for the long stretch to Skwentna Roadhouse. I left at about 3 am and by about 4... I had my answer to Shawn's question. I had indeed been there for them, not me. I wanted an adventure with friends in such a location and was convinced of it. Now, I was alone and scared in the vastness of Alaska. Not in the fact that I felt alone from others or the organization or scared/fearful for my life. I felt alone because the Team of three was now just me and I was scared because I came to realize that I wasn't there for my own motivations. It left me angry with others and filled my head with questions and doubt. I continued on and just kept moving forward. Thoughts swirled of just going to the 200 mile turnaround point and doing that or continuing on to a location where I could fly out of. I was able to speak this out with my friend Katie for a good bit of the morning and afternoon. One thing she said that before I made a decision was to say what my reason was out loud. When I said, "because my friends aren't here." That just didn't fit the bill for me. I had to continue on and to think of that reason if I was going to make such a decision that did fit the bill for me. Soon enough I arrived to Skwentna Roadhouse, grabbed some food, took a shower, and laid down on a nice bed for some much needed rest.
I woke up after about 5 hours of sleep, ordered more food, packed and hit the trail again within an hour. My head was still full of doubt, but I kept moving forward. Also, knowing that Anne was at Shell Lake and she may be able to give me some direction with my feelings. My trip to Shell Lake was good and consistent. I still remembered it well from the year prior. I was able to catch up to Martha (first meeting) and the lovely Italian couple of Roberto and Laura. I jogged into Shell and was ecstatic to feel the warm embrace from ANNE!!!! I told her that I don't know why I'm here and she said we all do that, haha. After some food I was able to get a spot in the cabin on a bed and got about 4 more hours of sleep. Upon waking up I had some breakfast with my thoughts for switching to the 200 mile event. I would wait until I got to that intersection and make a decision then.
I headed out of Shell Lake Lodge with a decision to be made and man did that intersection come fast. Soon enough I just blew past it and continued onto the path to Finger Lake, I could always get a flight from there or Puntilla if I wanted. I soon caught up to Martha again and spent some miles with her. This would soon be our ritual for the rest of the journey to McGrath. On the way into Finger Lake the was just a special Sunset that was happening right before us. I began to become more present. I stayed in the CP for a couple of hours, which would become the least at a least, to dry some clothes/socks/shoes, eat, and nap if possible. Soon enough I was the only one there so I headed out into the night. I moved continuously up and down the steep hills and soon enough I passed a good group of people bivouacking along the trail. I walked until the Z's hit me hard so I found a spot on a lake and crashed in the wee hours of the morning (around 4-430 am). It was nice out which makes bivouacking so much easier. When I woke up Jan and Jorge were walking by. Also, in that moment I saw the mountains... The Mountains Gandalf! Mountains! In that exact moment I knew why I was there and why I do what I do. I was in love.
At that moment from thereon I was moving with complete and utter joy! I was living in the moment and was so appreciative for what I was doing. I even had moments of having the nostalgia of being on the PCT again. Smiles were bright and wide! I began to B-bop on down the trail with no worries to be had. I rolled into Puntilla feeling good and ready for a bit of a rest before heading into the Rainy Pass range.
I headed out just before sunset but could already tell things would be different. It was hard to find the trail and the winds were just crazy. Most likely around 30 mph and just whipping that snow around. Night fell and the hill kept rising with no relief from the wind. I reached the intersection in hopes that the trail conditions and wind would change... In fact they got worse, haha! The trail went down, flat, and then a never ending side slant uphill that left me dragging Havanna (sled) from the side. Soon there was no trail to follow and the markers were hard to find. Post holing became the norm and I did not bring snowshoes. Being I did make a conscious decision to not do such I accepted what came to me. Although I did find that if you crawl on hand and knees it can prevent you from post holing😁! Once I finally completed the hill I was just mentally shot and wanted to find a spot out of the wind. After about an hour or so of contemplating possible locations and holding out with hopes for a better one I finally accepted that that may never come. I found a spot and dug a bit into the snow and proper my equipment bag up to assist in blocking the wind as I slept. Now, during this sleep I had a vivid dream like out of a Jedi scene teaching his young apprentice that it is ok to breathe in his sleeping bag and help move the moisture away by using a wax on, wax off method while him constantly telling me it would be ok. It was weird but I woke up warm and rested to push to the next station. I woke up to find someone had bivyed next to me which turned out to be Martha! I headed out to Styx Camp while the sun began to kiss the mountains and it was great! The next section was a long one, just over 35 miles, so I had decided to get a good nights rest and head out in the early morning with Martha. That night two bikers returned from down river with reports of a lot of overflow. This concerned me a good bit, but knowing that most of the footers were going to be together eased this a bit.
Who could ask for much more?! Soon enough everyone else rolled in and the tent was filling up. I laid down in the rest tent while things dried and grabbed a couple of Zzz's. Soon enough I was up after the others had left and headed out to Bear Cabin Safety Shelter. This became a very long and slow movement. I began to become very frustrated with the trail because it was soft and slow, but I kept moving while frequently taking breaks. My feet were also just tired from being wet and soft. After a long 8+ hour push I had made it there with the other 6 people and 2 more on the way. I found a place and laid out just feeling exhausted after a 40+ mile day. I could definitely tell I was the rookie as everyone had grabbed stick and branches on the way in to provide for the fire in the cabin, I felt bad about not doing my part. Next time.
In the morning it was just complete chaos!!! Everyone was up around the same time trying to eat and warm water up for the trip to Nikolai. Soon enough there was like 8 MSR burners going and bodies all around. Mine began to die down so I gave it some pumps which ended up throwing excess fuel out and dropping to the table and BAM! Two stoves were on fire. I was able to shut mine off and it stopped burning but Jorge's would not go out. After a bit of time Scott
stepped in with the fire extinguisher and shut it down. Now, that left for one hell of a mess to clean up and most of it sadly was all over Jorge's stuff. I felt so bad. I began to clean up as much as I could and once that was complete I just laid back down. There was no sense in pushing to get back out there when I could just wait a couple of more minutes and do it safely. Once most were gone I picked back up where I left off and was only like an hour or two from the others. The trail was super soft, it was crazy windy, and snowing... This was going to be a long trip. I caught up to Scott and Martha fairly quickly until they put on their snowshoes and they were off never to be seen again until Nikolai. Soon enough I was full exposed to the elements, no trail, and markers getting harder and harder to find. It became just a grueling slog like I've never experience. Post holing was the only method. It just varied from either calf to thigh high. I had multiple moments of cussing up a storm to falling to my knees and asking why (so dramatic I was) to beating up snow with my trekking pole 🙈. Yes, this is all true. I would just continue on with this grudge deep in my until I found some semblance of a trail and I became thankful for those moments, very appreciative from thereafter. I stumbled into the school just so thankful to have that section done and a warm place to rest. From here we had approximately 50 miles left to McGrath. I dried my clothes in the dryer and went to sleep for about 6 hours. Upon waking up we heard there was still no trail due to the high winds and continuous snow. The staff at the school were just awesome and had made food for us throughout the day and allowing us to open some big canned fruits, so delicious! As we sat and waited for word we finally got it that Billy had paid some locals to cut a trail for us all the way from McGrath and should be done in a couple of hours. I laid back down and would wait until then.
After a couple of hours Tyler came in and telling us that the trail was clear. It's best to wait a couple of hours to let the trail set a bit with the incoming colder temperatures so that the trail is more predictable/consistent. I continued to get ready, but with no urgency. I headed out with Sean and Martha just ahead and the 3 Nome guys staying for another night of good rest. I headed out with a clear view of the stars and a bright moon shining down on me with very little wind. Life on the trail was good again. The trail was a bit soft and slower to move without snowshoes, but I was thankful to no longer be post holing. Oh yeah, one of my trekking pole broke on the way there, haha! At this point I had no worries with less than 40 miles to McGrath. I rolled into the last CP feeling wide awake a vibrant. I crawled into the tent with Billy and Martha while we chatted for a bit about the journey so far. It was good and then we slept for a few hours. When we woke up we were in no hurry as we had breakfast made for us by Billy (breakfast burrito with bacon) and some coffee. I was just jonesing to
In the end, I can say I made it to McGrath for myself even though I showed up not for my own reasons. I would highly recommend never to do this. I think I was able to because I had the support of others from afar and I am just stubborn as fuck and hate even the thought of quitting on non-legit reasons. Thank you Naomi for convincing me to join in your adventure, without you I wouldn't have been here in the first place. Maybe someday I'll repay the favor. Your support your sent after your scratch kept me in the game, thanks. Also, when someone who has done the trail many of times and says, "you're not bringing snowshoes?" You might want to bring them, 😂. I'm not sure if many others would have the thinking like I did, "you did this to yourself for not bringing them." Many thanks to all of those for following and supporting from afar. You all felt very near in my heart, Thanks.