Thursday, February 14, 2008

Can you see me now?

While many would like to sweep the truth under the rug and act as if it weren't so, the fact of the matter is that Alaskan backcountry trails are not unlike a state highway. They get you from A->B in a relatively direct manner, they're slower than flying, they're occasionally marked (but just as often mis-marked!), and there are numerous hazards along the way.I can prepare for cold, and to some extent wind, and I *think* I can prevent getting my feet wet while slopping through a half-mile of overflow. The main hazard I'm concerned about is out of my control: slednecks. On the one hand I have nothing but thanks that they are out there, because without them we'd be playing bocce ball in our plaid bermudas: There wouldn't be a trail. Dogsleds lay down a much nicer trail to ride on than snowmachines do, but the fact of the matter is that real dogs have been rendered ornamental by the iron dogs: you'll see a hundred snowmachines to every bootie-clad dog team.

On the other hand it's a mindfuck to try to remind yourself to be thankful for rutted, icy, blown-out trenches whenever there happens to be a hill.No amount of hypnotherapy will ever get me to utter words of thanks when I'm cruising along at 4mph and get roosted at arm's length by some lobotomized cro-magnon doing 100+. And no one--not riders, walkers, skiers, dog drivers or even other slednecks appreciates the whooped-out disaster-cum-trail that's left after a handful of high-speed machines have ripped through. Like it or not, these things will always be a part of exploring Alaskan winter trails.

There is one trail obstacle that could, in a perfect world, diminish in numbers and even disappear: the drunken sledneck. Everyone has at least one story about an encounter. The first that leaps to my mind involves Pierre Ostor. A few years ago Pierre was minutes from finishing the 100-mile race, winding it up across Big Lake and smelling the barn. He was approached and then slowly passed by a snowmachine, but then the rider pulled a U-turn, grabbed a handful of throttle, and rammed directly into Pierre. Then he fled the scene and left Pierre injured on the snow.

As far as I know this has happened only once in the 20+ year history of human powered racing on the Iditarod. And probably nothing could have prevented it. The upshot is that the coward was found, charged, and imprisoned. I sincerely hope they were short on soap during his incarceration at the Eagle River Hilton. Even that couldn't make up for the psychological effect left on Pierre and the rest of us. I'm not one to live in fear of something out of my control, but out on the Iditarod I confess that I've been scared more times than I care to admit. I don't know a more appropriate way to react to what I perceive as direct threats to my well-being.

The best defense I can think of is to be as visible as possible. Snowmachine headlights run all the time, so even in daylight there's no missing this:
If it keeps even one inconsiderate, drunk, or aggressive sledneck just a few feet further away from me out there, I'll consider it worth the time and money spent.



  1. Good luck Mike.

    Thanks for the cog as well.

    Cheers, and happy trails.


  2. I'm not a violent person by nature, but someone should have taken the sled-head out.

    Best of luck to you out on the trail. I look forward to following your progress along with the others.

    Ride On!