Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The first of several entries: Devolution on the Iditarod Trail


For immediate public release
To whom it may concern:

The secretive and exclusive DBD Adventure Society has broken from itz recent tradition of offering membership to worthy candidates only posthumously and instead has inducted the still alive, albeit sufficiently aged, Lindsay Gauld into the Club.  Note: Dr. Andrew Lockery was also inducted so as to be able to continue in his role as Mr. Gauld’s Man-servant.

Mr. Gauld’s induction into the DBD was finalized upon his honorable completion of this year’s Alaskan Iditarod Invitational Race. A race that involves presenting both cyclists and man-haulers with the worthy challenge of negotiating the first 350 miles of the remote and historic Iditarod Trail from Knik to McGrath [Note: Nine of the registered fifty participants plan on continuing onward to Nome, which involves yet another 650 miles of wilderness travel]. Immediately following Mr. Gauld inception in the DBD, along with his trusty Man Servant, Dr. Andrew Lockery, both men received the full benefits of DBD membership including a locker at the exclusive DBD Club House located on the third floor of the Kitchee Gammi Club located in old Duluth, a DBD smoking jacket, and a requisition form for obtaining a fully detailed 1917 Webley Mk VI Revolver to be used by Dr. Lockery on Mr. Gauld in the event of an act of potential dishonor. 

Due to his forced abandonment of last year’s race, in which Mr. Gauld’s nose went missing due to severe frostbite, this recent competition acted as the final DBD opportunity for assessment of Mr. Gauld’s mettle.  Initially, both Buffington and Farrow were charged with conducting the assessment/fact –finding process , but due to Buffington’s real potential for a high finish even amongst a very talented field of cyclists, Farrow was tasked with the role of primary assessor.  Essentially, Mallory and his people felt that Buffington’s quest for Honor trumped his role as Assessor, whilst Farrow, with his recent record of dishonorable acts, was generously given the dual role of Gauld’s official chronicler (and photographer) and also the chance to reconcile his own tainted image by completing the race without resorting to any dubious acts or unsavory tactics. 

Therefore the final plan called for Buffington to be sent ahead to Anchorage to co-mingle during the pre-race phase with the most talented of the hardy Alaskans, whilst Farrow was assigned to reside at the Alaskan European Bed & Breakfast (B&B); the chosen lodge for several participants, all of whom were clearly a few steps below what could be called super athletes, with the exception of the young Italians, who were heading for Nome.  In others words, due to advanced age or average skill sets or lack of experience with arctic cycling or all these factors combined, the residence of the Alaskan European Bed & Breakfast were mostly not vying for high finishes.  The collective goal amongst these brave, but mortal souls was to simply survive the 350 miles in good time and in noble style.  These were men that knew such an ordeal would test their psychological resolve and physical capabilities to the maximum….

For a full briefing on Buffington’s amazing effort in which he finished in 7th place in a stunning time of 3 dayz and 5 hours go to http://thebuffingtonpost.blogspot.com/.  

The following is Farrow’s report.  A simple recollection of an aged man well past his prime and yet still chasing a wanderlust and zest for life that will hopefully remain with him until he draws his last breath…In short Buffington went to Alaska in search of glorious deeds and victory amongst Men; Farrow went to Alaska because he had to…before the onset of age renders him homeward bound. A condition of which is almost too difficult for to bear.  There is a sense of urgency to his adventures now; an urgency that anyone over the age of 50 can relate to…Too many adventures, but too little time.  Such is the inspiration of characters such as Lindsay Gauld, nearly 65 years old and still planning the next great challenge.  Mallory wept quietly the tears of honor, when he heard of Gauld’s triumphant effort.

Submitted by E. Shackleton on March 7, 2013
 

To: DBD Honor Board

From: CPF

Concerning: The completion of the Alaskan Iditarod Invitational and the subsequent awarding of DBD status to both Mr. Lindsay Gauld and his trustyworthy Man-servant, Dr. Andrew Lockery. 

2013 Iditarod Invitational Race Report

Part I: The Pre-race

After a hectic Friday at school, I left Esko and arrived in Minneapolis around 5:15 or two hours before my departure for Seattle. Several hours later, due to problems with the plane’s navigational system, I arrived two and a half hours late into Anchorage, at 3:00 a.m. (via Alaskan Airlines) on the Saturday before the start of the big dance, which would commence at 2:00 p.m. on that Sunday. By the time I got to the B&B it was past 4:00 a.m. thus beginning an eight day stretch defined by a systemic lack of any semblance of quality slumber. 

Note: if you are serious about a top finish in this race or any kind of multi-day race, you need to be able to go without sleep. Sleep is the great decider, folks that can stay on the bike for dayz on end without sleep win these races, whereas people like me, that need at least a few hours of sleep every twenty-four period will not contest for a top finish.

 I was to share a room with two compelling characters, Klaus Pusl (a cyclist) from Germany and Marco Berni (a man-hauler) of Italy.  Both men are veteran endurance racers, committed snorers, nice guyz, and both had already completed the route to McGrath, with Berni (a snorer in possession of a staccato-type snore ensemble), having also been twice before to Nome.  Pusl (57 years old), whose snore repertoire including a kind of desperate choking sound that reminded me of the last grasps of man hanging from the gallows, had made McGrath and then, in an impressive effort, continued onward for Nome in 1997, but was force to abandon his effort in Shaktooluk (a small village on Norton Sound) due to serious frost bite.  Adjacent to our comfortable room, Lindsay Gauld, the iconic Olympian Canadian stalwart and James Hodges of Virginia, a remarkably fit looking guy and a two time finisher of the Tour Divide, took up residence. Farther down the hall, the stoutly built Donald Wood of Michigan bunked alone as the other bed belonged to the Brit, Allan Tillis, who had, at the last minute, been forced to delay his arrival due to a family emergency.  As a testament to Irene’s compassion (she owns the B&B) she held the bed on the off chance that the Brit would make it (and he did, although he had to start nearly a four and a half dayz late; Irene drove him to the start line).  The two upstairs bedrooms were occupied by Irene and a young charismatic Italian couple, Ausillia Vistarini and Sebastiano Favaro.  This dynamic duo had completed the route to McGrath in 2012 (on single-speeds) and were back this year to make an attempt on Nome.  They have beautifully Italian hand crafted titanium frames, this time equipped with gears.  They were delightful young people, always happy and cheerful. 

The B&B had a heated garage for our use and so with the help of Woody, I was able to build up my bike in short order.  Woody is a very capable bike mechanic and since I am worthless at anything mechanical, I was very lucky to have him willing to assist me.  Woody is built like a nose-guard, not like an endurance athlete, but he finished the race in an impressive effort, an effort that should act as a source of inspiration for all larger men out there.  Bravo Mr. Donald Wood, by far the largest man in the field!

I highly recommend staying at the Alaskan European Bed & Breakfast if you plan to do this race. Irene is an amazing host and the whole ambiance of the place is geared for the adventurer on a budget.  The rates are very reasonable and the meals were very good, plus it is centrally located… It cost me $16 cab fare from the airport and it is only a short walk away from the race meeting place and a nice bar.  I plan on staying there again as soon as I get a chance to head back up to Alaska. 

We wiled away that Saturday, visiting Speedway Cycles (home of the FatBack, the bike of choice for most of the fastest Alaskans) and REI.  I had forgotten to bring straps to attach my various packs to my bike frame and so I went in search for this item at REI.  Once at REI, in a rather spur of the moment rationalization, based on solely on pricing, I made the decision to forgo the straps in favor of the cheaper bungee cords.  It turns out that it was a mistake as the bungees did not work as well as straps to hold the gear in place on the often very bumpy Iditarod Trail.   On more than several occasions I came to curse the bungees as they were difficult to deal with when clad in gloves and they also tended to skew the rear stuff sack, which was an ongoing source of irritation for me as I was constantly “punching” that rear stuff sack back into itz proper alignment.   Lesson #1: Use stout straps to affix gear to one’s frame, bungees don’t work nearly as well.  

In the late afternoon, all the racers were required to meet at a motel that was very near to our B&B so we all walked over together.  The meeting was short & sweet and essentially drove home the simply message that the event was unsupported and that in order to do well, one would have to be smart and not cavalier about protecting oneself from the elements.  I found the lack of a long drawn out lecture on safety to be quite refreshing.  The prevailing attitude was that if you are signed up for this race, you should be ready to do it on your own with no outside help. I liked the idea conveyed, that one was responsible for his or her well-being.  Too me, the less support the better, I embraced the minimalist dogma years ago and so I tend to be attracted to races that fit with the old idiom, “You've made your bed (and you'll have to lie in it).” Thatz why I find races like the Trans-Iowa, the Colorado Trail Race, and the Tour Divide to be such special races. Case-in-point, there is a Man-hauler, Tim Hewitt of Pennsylvania (a legendary veteran of this race) that is hauling a fully self-contained sled, weighing 100+ lbs., all the way to Nome.  His plan is to travel the whole route with no outside aid.  BRAVO TIM HEWITT! 

Another thing I really appreciated about this event was the genuine and sincere willingness of the veterans to offer important tips and advice to the rookies on how to do the race in an efficacious manner. Jay Perevary and Jeff Oakley, top racers and amazing endurance aficionados were especially helpful to me personally and I would like to publically thank them.  Salsa’s sponsorship is well spent on Jay Petervary as he is truly a grand ambassador of adventure racing (he won the race in an outstanding time of two days, nineteen hours, and fifty minutes!  It was a record breaking effort!).  Jeff Oakley is a major legend of this epic event, having been at the top for many years, and he is also a very amicable and unpretentious man. When Lindsay and I finished the race at something like 3:45 a.m. on that Friday morning, Jeff Oakley got up from his slumber and shook each of our hands.  It was incredible act of gracious and sincere benevolence and nearly brought me to tears.  Although Jason Buffington was a rookie in this race, he rode with the top racers (7th place) and finished the event in just over three dayz and five hours!  He is a very good friend to me and he was the first person to rise from his berth and offer Lindsay and me a heartfelt “congratulations” upon our finish.  He also procured a victory beer for me which was like drinking nectar from heaven…given the context of our situation having been on the go for nearly thirty six hours with no sleep and just two hours or so of non-movement.

After the short pre-race meeting, a group of us including Lindsay, Woody, Dan Jansen, and Jay Petervary headed over to a close-by drinking establishment for a few good homemade beers and pizza.  We retired early; presumably Lindsay, Woody, Dan and JP for a good night’s sleep in anticipation of the great dance; whilst I took a position of agitated repose to listen to a symphony of grunts, snorts, chokes, coughs, and accentuated with frequents act of flatulence.  Lesson #2: Ya meet some really cool guyz at these things, but most of them snore and they snore with gusto….

Lesson #3: Bring earplugs and strong sleeping pills when you do things like this…

The Alaskan Iditarod Invitational Race did not disappoint.  After a scenic bus ride from Anchorage to Knik, we all gathered in or near a bar to nervously await the start, which was to commence at 2:00 p.m.  I enjoyed the hour or so of the pre-race time for it allowed me to re-connect with Jason and to visit with several other folks that I have met over the years, including Jill Valerius, who was a friend to my wife back before she moved to Wasilla to begin as a family physician some six years ago. It also allowed me to meet and exchange pleasantries with several of the top riders including the young and speedy Kevin Breitenbach and the indomitable Tim Berntson, who has direct ties to Duluth having graduated from the College of Saint Scholastica; they finished third and second respectably (Kevin rode in with Jeff Oatley for a third place tie). The fact of the matter is that apart from Jason and me, several of the competitors have direct ties to Duluth including Matt Long, a man-hauler and super nice guy and John Storkamp, another great guy and Minnesota stalwart in the man-hauling division.  But Storkamp and Long would be attached to sledges designed and manufactured by Chris Evavold of Black River Sleds.  Chris works right down the hall from me at Lincoln High School in Esko, Minnesota.  Other Minnesotans included super fit, Dan Dittmer, (who had a great race finishing in 11th place), Ken Zylstra and Mike Criego (both super nice guyz that made my race even more enjoyable by allowing Lindsay and I to share in their camaraderie during several encounters during and after the race).  Lindsay and I had the pleasure yo-yoing back and forth with Ken and Mike and Bob Ostrom (who is going on to Nome) for most of the race; a better bunch of guyz would be hard to find, as they were funny, generous, and totally competent. 

Part II: The first 57 miles or from Knik to Yentna Station. 

Like I alwayz do— I started off way too fast given my ability, living the illusion that I’d be able to, by some divine miracle, ride with the top guyz.  I nestled in behind the speedy, Eszter Horanyi (who would go on to break the women’s record in three dayz and sixteen hours). Clearly, Eszter Horanyi is an amazing cyclist with many great achievements but I also found her to be a most delightful and bright young woman that hopes to one day become a full time writer within the genre of travel literature.  She also has a great sense of humor and more than held her own in McGrath when surrounded by a bunch of unruly and boisterous men finishers.  In short, I found Ms. Horanyi to be a most impressive young woman. 

We took off at a fast pace and initially had to labor through some soft snow that took us along a tight narrow, tree lined track that eventually turned into a wider trail that followed a power-line which quickly dumped us out on to an asphalt road.  I was in the lead group of fifteen or sixteen. We motored at good speed on the asphalt for at least an hour, maybe more, as my memory is not clear, but I do remember thinking that it was weird to travel all the way to Alaska just to race on the tarmac... Yet, it was fun as I was able to hang with the fast guyz and even enjoyed pleasant conversations with several interesting characters, including Jay Cable of Fairbanks and perennial winner Pete Basinger.  Plus I knew that things would dramatically change once we got on the Susitna River. As expected due to the warm temperatures and recent snowfall, once on the Susitna, the trail turned very soft and thus difficult to ride. 
 

In a forlorn effort I attempted to follow the lead pack, but in short order, my heart rate skyrocketing, I stopped, let some air out of my tires, and watched them, with sincere admiration and goodwill, ride away from me.   I would not speak with any of them again until McGrath. In dramatic fashion, I called out to them, “Godspeed, Brave ones!” and smiled the smile of a contented man, comfortable in the subservient role that he would play in this unfolding drama across the Alaskan wilderness.

Truly the evolutionary tenet of survival of fittest was at play here.  The disproportional talent between the top five to eight guyz and their abilities to ride the straight line in such tenuous conditions and the rest of us was stark.  A perusal of the results depicts a clear and definitive performance gap that existed between the top twelve or so riders and the rest of the cyclists (the gap between the runners is perhaps as definitive and significant, but I did not take the time to calculate it).  The top seven finishers broke the old record, Buffington is included in this special group. Jay Petervary (JP) won the race in a record time of sixty-seven hours and sixteen minutes; Tim Berntson was only thirty four minutes back; and then Kevn Breitenback and Jeff Oakley were approximately an hour back from JP.  John Lackey was very close behind Team Oatley. These five to seven  guyz represent the cream of the crop and were clearly a cut above the next group. These guyz essentially rode through without any real substantial stops or rest-periods and when the rest of us pushed our bikes, they rode them.

The pursuit group composed of the next nine riders was lead by Nome resident Phil Hofstetter and Duluthian, Jason Buffington (seventy-seven hours or ten hours back from JP), Mid-pack rider, Dan Dittmer at three dayz and eighteen hours and with Jay Cable and Eric Warkentin, who both finished in the thirteenth and fourteenth positions; bringing up the end of the second chase group, doing the route together in about ninety-two hours or about twenty five hours behind JP.  These guyz represent a strong committed chase group that rode very fast, but had to stop a few times and/or were perhaps not able to ride as many lines up the hills and/or the soft snow as the amazing top five. Then there exists a significant gap of fourteen hours before the other cyclists start to arrive. These are the guyz that formed the third tier; the rookies, the citizen enduro-racers, and/or the aged; collectively a group that worked incredibly hard, but simply could not continually go go go without a couple significant rests along the route or if rests were denied to them, many were reduced to walking after long periods of stressful movement. This was the group that I was a part of and included Ken Zylstra, Bob Ostrom, Mike Criego, Lindsay, and Mike Beiergrohslein, Steve Wilkinson, Dan Jansen, etc.  During our last effort from Nikolai to McGrath, Lindsay and I were so overcome with the extreme, unrelenting, and essential desire to sleep that we were forced into taking little mini-naps in the form of resting our heads on the handlebars (more on this later in the report). Both of us, on several occasions, this was a first for me, fell asleep while riding our bikes, lost control, and then pitched head long into the snow.  At one point, I watched from behind as Lindsay started nodding off while leading out, I watched him fall asleep (his head going limp, then slumping over), and then watched as he lost control of the bike, and then watched the subsequent crash into the snow.  I remember laughing and then taking a few pictures of him digging out of the snow bank. Such is the twisted humor of the Iditarod racer…

Many of this group may well move up the hierarchy of talent if they choose to return to the event in 2014 as the learning curve is steep; A race which requires a myriad of logistical considerations. A person like Dan Jansen comes to my mind. A guy that has the talent and now with a finish under his belt, he will return to looking to finish in the top ten.  On a related point, I would not at all be surprised to see Buffington return in 2014 sans bike, equipped instead with a sledge and/or maybe even skis.

In my case, I made some mistakes that cost me some time and wasted energy such as relying on less than optimal footwear, nevertheless I doubt that I would be able to ever move up in the standings for I raced this event as hard as I possibly could. I used every trick I have ever learned in terms of pushing the mojo to the limit, plus at 53 years of age I doubt I will get any faster, but to be a part of this motivated group is highly satisfying to me. In other words finishing with Lindsay Gauld, a hero of mine, in the 18th position, given the talent pool, was personally most gratifying.  I loved every minute of it and I will definitely go back for an attempt to make Nome. Although, due to my career as a high school teacher I will have to wait for six years (when I can retire), so the plan is to go back to the Iditarod in 2019.  In the mean time, the plan is stay hungry and to thus continue to do what climbing legend Mo Anthoine calls, “feeding the rat.” Immediate plans include the Trans-Iowa in April and a long adventure ride in Canada this summer.

Truly the evolutionary tenet of specialization within the survival of fittest principle was at play on the Iditarod trail.  The fastest riders started out the fastest and they ended the fastest…there were no surprises, no catastrophic bonks, no slow tortoises jumping forward near the end to stunningly grab the victory from the hares. …A quick digression—two thoughts occur to me as I write; #1. This race attracts confident people that know what they can do both physically and mentally, and #2. This particular year, given the state of the trail, allowed the pure cyclist to truly exhibit his or her skills, whereas the all-around hard-guy was not able to influence the race as much by overcoming very difficult trail conditions. Regarding point #1: The top echelon knows from experience how hard they can push it. Especially, the top riders, while they may not admit it, don’t race this event with the mindset that they are going to try and finish the race.  They enter the race with the goal of pushing their bodies and minds as hard as they can in an effort to win the race.  Theirs is a struggle of man versus man with the Iditarod as the backdrop. I find such a mindset to be exceedingly impressive.  Case-in-point: Jason Buffington knew he would be able to ride the 350 miles, but that was not what he was after, he wanted to try and win it.  That is a big discrepancy from what I was trying to do. For me, the plan was to get to McGrath with Man-appendages intact and in a timeframe that would allow me to get back to work on that following Monday. I was competing against the trail and a self-imposed time frame. As they quickly pulled away from me, Jason was right in the mix and I remember feeling a sense of pride that my buddy was right up there with the big boyz.  During the course of the race, when we read the check-in and check-out times of those ahead of us, I was not surprised to read that Buffington was not taking any significant breaks.  I asked the good-natured owner of the Skwentna Roadhouse to describe her encounter with Jason Buffington and she laughingly replied that, “he seemed to be in a big hurry to get going, one would never guess that he was riding to McGrath.” Concerning point #2: Given that the top guyz were able to ride the vast majority of the trail, this year’s race favored pure cyclists. Guyz like Buffington (and perhaps Peter Basinger and Phil Hofstetter, from my limited knowledge of their careers) who are equally at home man-hauling as cycling would presumably earn higher finishes in years that involve a high percentage of hike-a-bike terrain. For me, I was very happy to finish in a year that by Alaskan standards, the trail “very good.” Walking with my bike for hour after hour is not something that I enjoy doing. Looking back on it now, I realize how na├»ve I was to think that I would be able to do the race in five days no matter the conditions.  Had we gotten even as little as six inches of snow and a little wind to set up some big drifts, it would have taken me at least six dayz.

In the wider expanses of the Susitna River the track was just too soft for me to ride. Yet, I was heartened to see the foot tracks of many of those ahead of me which helped to ease my frustration with having to push the bike.  In the narrower sections and on the infrequent terra-firma sections that transected dynamic oxbows, one could ride, but only slowly and on nearly flat tires.  In researching the route I had taken heed of the warning that “Some racers in the past have made the mistake of turning right up a slough shortly after getting on the Yentna River.” But, of course, I made that mistake as I have absolutely no sense of direction.  Luckily it was dark and so I could see from the headlights of others, NOT following me that I had made the wrong turn, so I was able to right the wrong before going very far awry.  Lesson #4: Just cuz you aint gonna get any faster and there aint no way you gonna win the race, it don’t mean you cannot enjoy tremendous personal satisfaction from finishing a truly challenging bike race.

I made the first checkpoint at Yentna Station just as two of the faster guyz were leaving.  Not long after I entered the warmth of a classic log lodge, Mike Beiergrohslein entered followed by Ken Zylstra, Bob Ostrom, and Mike Criego.  I was in pretty good shape, in high spirits, feeling good, and so I did not linger long, staying about forty minutes (by comparison Buffington stayed 17 minutes and he was already nearly three hours ahead of me, while he was twenty minutes behind the top five). 

Part III: From Yentna Station to Skwentna Road House: from Mile 57 to Mile 90.  Riding under a beautiful moon, the trail had hardened with the cooler night temperature and I was pumped.  As is my usual practice on events like this I did take two wrong turns.  The first and most significant one cost me probably an hour or so and involved absentmindedly following a detour off the main trail that was (on reflection) most certainly part of the Junior Iditarod Dog Sled event (it is a big loop that starts on the Iditarod Trail but quickly leaves the historic trail and loops back to itz starting point in Wasilla (or maybe Willow, AK).  I rode along it for quite some time until the thought occurred to me that I was no longer following any bike tracks.  I tried to convince myself that the reason for no bike tracks was because dog teams had erased them all, for clearly I was on a dog sled trail. Of course this kind of thinking was incredibly flawed as we have not seen nor heard of any evidence of dog sleds traveling on the race course. Finally I stopped and checked my compass and realized that I was heading predominately in an easterly direction instead of the west-by-north leaning Iditarod trail.  Having learned an important, albeit basic lesson in last year’s Trans-Iowa; namely that really really hoping, hoping with all of one’s hoping ability that one is NOT going in the wrong direction is not a good remedy for going in the wrong direction, I stopped and headed back the way I came, finding the right way thirty minutes or so later.  My second wrong turn came just as the sun was rising and I encountered a fork in the trail, I elected to follow the trail following the right handed side of the river.  I rode this for some time until it became obvious that I was following only one other bike track.  As I turned to go back to find the proper trail which I was sure followed the left side of the river shore, I spied the bright dual headlights of a bike.  As the cyclist advanced I was happy to ascertain that it was Lindsay Gauld.  Lesson #5: If you cannot find your way out of a city park and you are looking at trying to finish a 350 mile race through the Alaskan wilderness, you are probably gonna do better if you ride with someone else and Lindsay Gauld is about as good a partner as a man could wish for.

As Lindsay and I rode along the river the sun rose providing a beautiful orange hue to a truly wilderness setting, life was incredible good, I couldn’t think of a place I’d rather be…as we rode along loving the whole experience, it reminded me of a quote by Red from the classic film, Shawshenk Redemption, “We sat and drank with the sun on our shoulders and felt like free men. Hell, we could have been tarring the roof of one of our own houses. We were the lords of all creation. As for Andy - he spent that break hunkered in the shade, a strange little smile on his face, watching us drink his beer.”

We rode into the Skwentna Roadhouse committed to riding together for the duration and I resolved to follow Lindsay’s plan to conserve energy by following a steady pace and taking a few three or four hours rests to regain our strength at four of checkpoints.  Lindsay is the master of energy conservation and practitioner of the steady enduro-pace.  Lindsay had a plan and it was a good solid, well thought out plan and when he offered to include me into his plans, I knew it was a good bet that if I rode with him, we would make it to McGrath with time to spare.

We were pretty played-out as we entered the cozy lodge for we had been on the go for twenty-one hours with no sleep and just an hour or so of non-movement. The time of our arrival was approximately 11:00 a.m. and we stayed until 4:00 p.m. or five hours (by comparison JP stayed an hour and Buffington was in and out of the Skwentna Roadhouse in 30 minutes! Simply Amazing!).  The folks running the lodge were delightful and very accommodating.  They fed us delicious plates of lasagna, after which we each took showers and then rested on bunk-beds for a few hours.  When we got up to leave, our gear was dry, and we dressed while enjoying speaking with blogger, author and highly motivated adventurer, Jill Homer, and Craig Medred, the tireless journalist that has covered several of these race events over the years.  Both are very impressive people, Medred ultimately followed us to Rohn via snowmobile and interviewed Lindsay whilst we rested on the pine boughs within a old trapper’s canvas tent and Jill continued on to follow her boyfriend Beat Jagertehner (who is bound for Nome via Man-hauling) in conjunction with several of her own adventures into the Alaskan bush.  Lesson # 6: You meet the coolest people up here…

Part IV From Skwentna to Finger-Lake Lodge on Winter-Lake (Mile 130) with a brief stop at Shell Lake Lodge to visit Zoe. 

The section from Skwentna to Shell Lake is highlighted by the Shell Lake hills.  Not long after leaving the roadhouse, one begins to climb up into the foot hills of the majestic Alaskan Range, home to Denali National Park and Mt. McKinley, the highest mountain in North America.  Mount McKinley was the object of my obsessions and fears during the early 1990s, a period in my life when I participated in five expeditions to this amazing mountain range (three climbs on the various routes up southern flanks of McKinley, one effort on Mount Hunter and one effort from the Muldrow Glacier to attempt an ascent to the northern, albeit slightly lower summit of McKinley…I was to stand only once on the summit of McKinley and we failed miserably on Hunter, but the times spent upon these slopes represent some of the best times of my life).  That feeling of intense joy that I had felt on these climbing expeditions had become a distant, but cherished memory to me, but as we began to get glimpses of the majestic mountain range, my heart soared with all the fond memories of those adventures came rushing back into my psyche.

We rode into Shell Lake Lodge in good time and took an hour or so to converse with two retired BLM surveyors that were enjoying a few beers saddled up to Zoe’s bar.  They had snow-machined in from Knik and were very enthusiastic fans of the race having passed up many of the racers en route to their cabin located near Zoe’s bar. Lindsay also took time to apologize to Zoe for stealing a snickers bar from behind the bar during last year’s race.  He had arrived to this very place in the wee hours of the morning a year ago and had taken the candy bar, subsequently forgetting to leave compensation.  Ninety-nine percent of the human race would have forgotten such a snub within a few hours of the offense. But Lindsay had remembered and thus upon returning to Winnipeg, amid severe frostbite, took time to mail a five dollar check to Zoe along with a letter of apology.  Thatz the kind of guy I was riding my bike with through the interior of Alaska! I desperately wanted a beer, but I worried that a “cold one” would put me down for the count. Had a been alone I would have downed one, probably even two or three, but in the company of such a gentlemen, I exercised restraint.  The Shell Lake Lodge is a great place, an old, 1900’s styled beautifully crafted log structure right out of a Jack London novel or Robert Service poem, perhaps (along with the super cool cabins at Rainy Lake Lodge and at Rohn) this would be the place that I would strongly recommend staying for an extended vacation. 

Taking twelve hours from the last official checkpoint @ Skwentna, we arrived into Finger Lake Lodge at 3:35 a.m. and left at 9:35 a.m. for about a six hour break.  In comparison, JP and team took less than nine hours to get to Finger Lake and stayed 90 minutes.  Buff stayed @ Finger Lake for 50 Minutes! Simply amazing!

We ate quickly constructed burritos supplied by a sleepy, but dedicated race volunteer and then headed for a ramshackle building in which we found a hodgepodge of drop bags scattered along the two rooms. After some digging we each found our drop bags and took on the extra supplies that we felt we would need; I basically grabbed eight extra batteries and a little food, but did not feel too guilty about leaving the excess food as I had not sent much in my drop bags.  I must say that I was surprised by how much some of the racers had packed up for this first drop, which was only 130 miles from the start.  When I made this comment to Lindsay, he reminded me that in a bad year, one could take double or even triple the time to get to these drops as in a good year. I also rifled through Buffington’s and Oatley’s drop-bags just ‘cuz I was curious as to what they had left behind.  I did grab a seam-sealed package of cooked bacon and a small bag of jelly beans, but other than these minor items, I felt like I was good to go… the idea being that a second drop bag was only eighty miles away. Lesson # 7: Most of the time people pack way too much stuff.

The sleeping cabin @ Finger Lake Lodge was hotter than a Finnish sauna and all the bunks were occupied except a high bunk that required technical climbing moves to gain itz berth.  I made the difficult climb, then quickly, but with great effort stripped down to my birthday suit leaving my clothing, including my bibs (the only fabric separating me tender nether region from the burly woolies I was wearing as manly slacks), hanging on nails up in the rafters. I felt like one of Dante’s eternal sufferer, sweat draining off me, so very quickly, perhaps within only a few minutes, I realized that it was simply too hot to stay up there in the rafters, so I climbed down, remembering to grab all the clothes, except of course I overlooked the bibs that were hanging in the rear corner of the bunk…

As stated above, I climbed down and then tried to force my ravaged body onto a four foot tattered love-seat that looked to be right out of some trailer park “down by the Cahulawassee River.” During my sweaty languishing-time spent on that shortened stinky old couch, a truly astonishing thing happened—the first runner, Dave Johnston arrived. I greeted him with all the gusto I could muster given a severe case of cotton mouth and then further conveyed to him that I thought that there may be a high bunk available, I warned him that “it was hot up there.”  He responded in his gregarious, upbeat, and charismatic manner by saying to the effect, “no worries, I am only going to rest for an hour.” He was true to his word, for by the time Lindsay and I left around 9:45 a.m. he had been gone down the trail for over four hours! Dave is an extraordinary person. Thus with our initial meeting @ Finger Lake, began a series of several encounters along the trail with Dave, leading us to greatly enjoy his upbeat, highly contagious, wonderfully optimistic persona.  His effort in this race may well be as impressive as that of the top three cyclists; he barely missed breaking the foot record. 

I can honestly say that I never came close to sleeping while at Finger Lake Lodge.  Perhaps as a fitting conclusion to my wretched stay there, I nearly lost my brand new Black Diamond headlight while I was scoping out the bottom of the nasty outhouse that I used in the morning just before Lindsay and I departed.  After completing my daily constitution sans cup of coffee and sports page from the Duluth News Tribune, I (like all honest men) turned to look down the hole to assess my handiwork.  Just as I bent down over the hole and went to turn on my head light, I abruptly slipped on the icy floor causing my head to jerk forward and my light to go flying into the vile abyss.  Stunned, the light shown upward from the foul abyss and into my face, causing me to shield my eyes.  As luck would have it, the strap had caught on a turd-icicle within my reach, so I was able to fish it out…As I placed the soiled headlight back onto my head…I had now officially reached that point in the event where I had been reduced intellectually and morally to the level of a immature, prepubescent gastropod.  Those of you that have witnessed this devolutionary descent know that it is not a pretty sight.  I was well on my way to complete lunacy and idiocy. Thank God Lindsay was there to keep me ambulatory. All my ties to human decency had been severed when I put that head light back on…

Immediately upon my return from the outhouse, Lindsay was ready to go and thus was on me to get dressed and moving, but of course I could not locate my cycling bibs. Lindsay, probably frustrated but too polite to let on, left to get a quick breakfast from the Lodge-keepers while I randomly and in high anxiety, tore the place apart looking for the bibs. In short order, I came to the conclusion that either Kevin Easley or Eric Warkentin (two fast guyz) or more likely both of them had participated in a most loathsome and diabolical conspiracy to steal my cycling shorts from me during the wee hours of the morning, as I had rested on the couch-of-despair.  I knew from the race record book that they had left at 5:35 a.m. At the time, in my state of mind, it made perfect sense to me that they would steal my cycling bibs especially given the fact that I knew for certain that Warkentin was from California! I even entertained the notion that Dave, the runner, had stolen the bibs, but quickly erased that concept from my troubled mind as irrational; why would an under-nourished runner want my XL cycling bibs. To my credit, I never considered that Lindsay could do such a thing, thus is the level of esteem I hold for this iconic Canadian.  Finally, emotional drained, I collapsed on the floor, lying on back, eyes on the ceiling of the cabin.  Catatonic, defeated, and yet resolved to riding the rest of the 220 miles with no chamois, I worked through a future of living the life of man in possession of a destroyed manhood.  I knew the old-school woolies I was sporting, sans cycling bib with enduro-chamois would rub me raw, rub me raw to the point of excruciating torture, and yet to my credit I resolved to buck up and take the hit. Just as I was about to turn over and stand back up, I spied the bibs hanging on the nail high above my head.  Salvation was at hand.  I quickly dressed and met Lindsay as he was putting the last touches on packing up his bike.  As we pulled out of Finger Lake we felt “the sun on our shoulders and felt like free men.” Little did we suspect that Lindsay’s full camelback was sitting on a chair inside the Lodge.

Part V From Finger Lake Lodge to Rainy Lake Lodge, located on the Puntilla Lake (Mile 165)…to be continued…

6 comments:

  1. Only a true man wears feces on his head without complaint.

    EP

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  2. Awesome - looking forward to part V!

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  3. So colorful and comical Mr Farrow, reminds me of your Stories from years past that I have missed so much.
    What an adventure!

    PS: Readers stay tuned for Part V, when Buffington blows up from stupidity and lack of sleep.

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  4. Cripes. I had to take a day off just to finish this tome. But you are still my hero, Farrow. Such an awesome account.

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  5. charlie, patrick f mcmanus was by far the greatest writer of high-class humor until you. i woke my wife by laughing so hard. you and mr. gauld were such a refreshing sight day after day...i crapped my pants trying to get to the outhouse that ate you headlamp and thank goodness i had a spare pair or i would have stole your biker shorts. i really can't wait to see you again, your friend dave j

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  6. Nice job Charlie!! Way to git R dun!!

    Karen

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