Friday, March 15, 2013

A man's search for meaning on the iditarod Trail

Segment 2: The author’s reprieve from moral decay is short-lived…
Part V: From Finger Lake Lodge to Rainy Lake Lodge, located on the Puntilla Lake (Mile 165) and beyond...

As alluded to above, hills start to play a more prominent role in ones quest to make McGrath as one leaves Shell Lake, but the REAL hills come as the racer leaves Winterlake.  Lindsay and I departed Finger Lake Lodge around 9:45 a.m. in perfect conditions, sunny, a firm path, and spirits were high, even though neither of us had enjoyed any real sleep. We had only stayed a little over three hours and yet I was more than ready to leave.
                                                                 the big burn....note absence of camelbak

Immediately upon leaving the checkpoint, one has to push his or her bike up a long hill and then descend a long way down, down, down to another lake or river.  The descent was steep enough that even Lindsay, who is simply amazing at riding steep, scary descents, elected to walk the bike down to the lake.  I suppose we were riding on a solid track for forty or so minutes when Lindsay realized that he had left his damned camelbak back at the lodge.
I think I have already established that Mr. Lindsay Gauld is a gentleman of the highest order, while my irrational actions at the Fingerlake Lodge speak to the level at which my moral or ethical code was operating.  Lindsay handled the oversight with grace and candor, exclaiming with honorable resignation, “Itz my fault, but I must go back and get it as I will surely need it when we cross Rainy Pass.”  My initial response to this predicament was to curse his camelbak and to begin in earnest to try and convince him to leave the damned thing.  “I told you at Irene’s that camelbaks are tools of the devil! I absolutely loath camelbaks, I hate camelbaks, camelbaks are unreliable, camelbaks leak, camelbaks make a guy sweat and chap.  Leave the dam camelbak! You can have a couple of my waterbottles! Forsake the camlebak! I know for certain that you have had major problems with camelbaks in the past because I have witnessed them with my own eyes!! Admit it…Admit that the camelbak has betrayed you in the past!!! Renounce your camelback!!!!”
Note: I really do hate camelbaks, and finally on this trip, for the first time, as a Man should, I acted on my conviction and went without the camelbak and it was great, no regrets—more on this in the gear segment…Lesson #8: Tell Lindsay to leave his left-leaning, immoral, unreliable camelbak at home next time he tries the Iditarod Trail w/me.
                           this man weeping? No...just a stick in the eye

The stoic and peace-loving former Canadian Olympian and all-around good guy calmly listened to my little tirade and then in a tranquil voice instructed me to continue onward whilst he would return for the camelbak.  I followed my instructions, but sheepishly, perhaps because I was feeling a hint of guilt—before we parted, I promised to walk a lot and ride slow, so as to allow him to catch back up in good time.  It must be pointed out that while I am not above treachery, I had no intentions of trying to ditch Mr. Gauld for he a solid plan and the plan was working.  Even by my “fuzzy” math calculations, we were well ahead of schedule. We had even begun to openly speak of finishing the course in less than four and one half dayz. Plus it was a great sense of comfort to travel with a competent guy that had been on the trail just twelve months before…

Actually it was a good section of the trail for a guy like Lindsay to catch back up to me in reasonable time as he was much more able to descend the many steep, even “bobsled” like descents, than I was.  When he did catch back up to me, in something like three hours, I marveled at the daring speeds he would gather as he flew down the many very steep narrow ramps.  Yet on one such speedy descent, he missed a tight corner and went flying off the trail and into about six feet of fluffy snow.  Having witnessed the crash, I was sure that he would be injured. He was full of snow, totally stuck, and would still be there today had I not pulled him out, but thankfully his little body was unharmed.

In my world, the world of a pure Cyclist, the trail segment from the Happy Steps to the Rainy Lake Lodge on Puntilla Lake was the most appealing of the course to McGrath. It was beautifully remote with huge mountains in the distance, tightly lined with gigantic, majestic evergreens, very hilly, the trail was hard and smooth, and thus the riding was a blast.  I remember thinking, “Wow this is truly awesome, but how in the hell do the mushers get their dogs to run up and down these tight curvy climbs and drops?” Riding the first 350 miles of the Iditarod forced me to concede beyond a doubt that the guyz and galz that run dogs the full 1000 miles to Nome are truly special people…and the dogs are über-special athletes…I thought of my beloved Hondo (and Loki too) and I smiled…

As stated above we had perfect riding conditions, some of the best snow-biking I have ever experienced, and thus rode into the checkpoint cabin at Rainy Lake Lodge in good physical condition and high spirits. I’d guess that we arrived to the checkpoint around dusk, I remember that it was still light out, but it was fading fast (Christmas lights were festooned across the entrance to the little cabin and it looked wonderfully inviting). So maybe it was perhaps 6:30 p.m. when we made Puntilla Lake and subsequently, we left the following morning at 1:00 a.m.  I am pretty sure about the departure time-frame as it has strangely remained stuck in my limited, dysfunctional brain. The idea surrounding the 1:00 a.m. departure timeframe being to get up and over the notoriously cold Rainy Pass during daylight, so as minimize the time spent out in the open as well as decreasing the changes of getting lost.

Lindsay had suffered severe frostbite crossing this high alpine pass last year, so he had some demons to deal with, which worked in my favor as he was highly motivated to get an early start…which meant that he would not oversleep our departure time of 1:00 a.m. (as I surely would).   As far as all the checkpoints go, my six+ hours at that little, cozy cabin on the shores of Puntilla Lake were by far the most restful [by comparison Buffington stayed three hours]. The old log cabin was not too hot, nor too cold, but just right. Just as the bed, in which I slept soundly, was equipped with not too clean, but not too dirty sheets and blankets, but instead with just the right amount of dirt on the sheets and blankets. I was in heaven! The little tribes of mice scurrying around my head were not too big nor too…You get my drift…I was about as close to heaven as I guy like me can hope for, once he leaves this world…

At Puntilla, the unsupported “serve yourself” race protocol regarding the food and drink was provided for in the form of an assorted box of Sam’s Club “bargain basement priced” canned soups, chilis, and the like situated under an old table, a tub of semi-used, slightly moistened orange-flavored Tang, next to two big jugs of water.  There was a big metal bowl on top of a 50 gallon oil-drum stove with six or seven of the cans bobbing, axillary labels floating alongside willy-nilly, in the tepid water.  The stove was warm, but not hot, thanks to Dave Johnston, the only other resident at our arrival.  He was sleeping on a near by bunk, so we spoke in whispers. Given the arrangement, momentarily, I was confused until Lindsay grabbed a can, broke it open and downed the contents, chasing it with a gulp of old-school Tang.  Never one to worry too much about table etiquette, I enthusiastically followed his actions, grabbing what I surmised to be a can of low-rent chili.   My problem was that, as is often the case in my life, I was not content to stop with knocking down just one can of “the affordable” chili.  Lindsay ate a can and then went to prepare for a good sleep. But, the way I figured it was that if this was the meal that I was being given in conjunction with my entry fee, I was gonna dam well get my fair share! So I sat there and knocked down three more cans of various pastas, noodles, and beans. 

Shortly thereafter, I climbed into a very comfortable bottom bunk and passed out, enjoying the first and really only solidly refreshing sleep of the whole trip from start to finish.  When we woke up, Dave was gone…what an amazing person.

When Lindsay roused me up from my sweet slumber around 12:45 a.m., I felt refreshed and motivated to tackle Rainy Pass and head for the beautiful Emerald City of Rohn, Alaska.  Lindsay had taken pity on me and thus waited to the last fifteen minutes of departure time to wake me. He was packed and ready to go, so not wanting to let him down, I packed up as fast as I could and was ready to leave right at 1:00 a.m. The problem was that while my heart and soul were both ready and able to tackle Rainy Pass, to do my part to being honor to our noble effort, my intestinal tract was still very much asleep. 

At home, I awaken my hard to awaken intestinal tract each and every morning in the same manner, every day it’s the same routine, I am very regular, which the doctors tell me is a good thing.  Basically, every morning during the work week, the alarms goes off around 5;20 a.m., I ignore it, and then my wife kicks my sorry butt out of bed.  I then obediently stumble to the shower. Once out of the revitalizing shower, my heart and soul are up and ready to go, but my intestinal tract is still fast asleep, but that’s okay.  I descend our stairs to the family room and head for my chair, where the dog has taken up residence.  As I kick the dog out of my chair, he half-heartedly snarls at me, and I grab him, leash him, and then we head out the door.  He does his business in due time and then we head back inside.  By that time the coffee is ready, so I grab a big cup of coffee and knock it back in fast order.  The coffee immediately wakes up my intestinal tract and so I move back upstairs to do my morning business.  Then I head off to work. Been doing it this way for nearly twenty-five years.  I got me a routine… Men are instinctual creatures. 
So here’s the root of the problem…At our very early a.m. departure time from Puntilla Lake, me mind and me soul were good to go, but in the excitement I had forgot that the third rail was still fast asleep.  We had been warned at the pre-race meeting that this alpine passage would more than likely be coldest on the route and thus to dress accordingly at the cabin, because there was nowhere to get out of the constant winds that fly through the mountain pass. Last year, Lindsay had made the mistake of not dressing warm enough before leaving the cabin and once on the move, had waited too long to add clothing, the result was that he got bit bad by the frost…

So as a precaution, we both added layers of clothing to our ensembles prior to leaving our shelter.  I donned my ninja suit complete with built-in ninja facemask.  As it ultimately played out, luck was on our side, and so while the crossing was moderately cold and windy, it represented nothing beyond our capacity.  In fact things progressed very well as the trail was mostly ride-able and we were also treated to a beautiful lunar glow that spread a magical milky hue across the alpine landscape.  I love mountains, they are without a doubt my favorite geographical feature.  In any event, perhaps three or four hours into the ascent, working our way towards the divide or the apex of the pyramid that separated point A from point B, my digestive system began to stretch and yawn.  
At the initial rumblings deep within my digestive system, I reacted to the forthcoming crisis with a concerted cognitive effort at denial and then suppression.  You must remember, judgmental reader, that we were exceedingly exposed to the Alaskan elements. There were no trees and if there were some trees they were pathetic little loathsome scrub trees.  Maybe there were some trees but they were wimpy trees, good-for-nothing trees.  The effort at denial was foolhardy and worked for at best thirty minutes, the subsequent effort at suppression worked for maybe ten minutes.  I then began to panic in short-order for I had to go “Number Two” in the worst way.  Pedaling hard to catch up to my inspirational leader, upon catching him, I called out in as calm a voice I could muster given my circumstance and the winds, “Lindsay, pedal on ahead, I’ll catch back up. I need to go the bathroom.”   Perhaps sensing the potential for a grave act of dishonor, he quickly complied, but only after thoughtfully taking a second to turn on his red rear blinker so as to allow me to not get lost. 
For the present, I was warm as I was wearing plenty of warm clothes, but I was incredible exposed to a significant wind and an air temperature, that while not below zero, was somewhere in the single digits and so I began to try and work through a plan that would somehow allow me private parts minimal exposure to the cutting wind.  As I attempted to conjure a plan of action I realized that the biggest problem facing me was that I was wearing those damnable bibs.  This meant that in order to get everything into the “go position” I would have to completely strip down.  This major problem of being completely naked from my thighs upward was complicated or exacerbated by two other very significant and related issues. Namely, 1. A lack of any stout trees from which I could steady myself and; 2. The fact that I had packed no toilet paper.  I did have a package of “handi-wraps” given to me by Woody, but it was of no use to me in this crisis as I have foolishly packed them inside of my sleeping bag.  There simply was not time to access my sleeping bag for it was stoutly packed deep within my rear stuff sack. 
Quickly exhausting any and all options (my DBD revolver was also deeply packed away and thus inaccessible). So, with grim resignation, I undressed as quickly as I could.  Within seconds I was completely exposed except for the lower aspects of my legs and feet.  I did the deed as best I could and yet even before I was half-way finished I had become so chilled that I was uncontrollably shivering.  Such was my position in this world.  Desperate to warm myself, devoid of any semblance of humanity, I pulled up the bibs and ran off down the trail hoping that by getting my blood pumping the shivering would cease.  After but a minute or two I began to fill the warm blood coursing through my veins.  After perhaps ten minutes, I was lucid enough to consider my situation.  Snow was all that was available to me.  A man does what a man has to do. Numb to any emotions or thoughts associated with or inherit within a fine gentlemen, I added a healthy glob of Brave Soldier anti-chapping salve to the mix and mounted my bicycle.  I rode away towards the distant red blinking light. I remember hoping that those that would surely pass the massive dung heap left squarely in the middle of the historic Iditarod trail would mistakenly attribute it size and improper location to that of the workings of a rabid, malcontented Bull Moose.  May God have mercy on my Soul.

To be continued….


  1. Oh, poop stories. Don't we all have them... :)

  2. Opposite of my poop sory from Dirty Kanza two years ago... I also quit not so long after, you are a tough man.