Monday, February 23, 2009

Endless Innoko.

I've been dreading writing about this section of my trip along The Trail, for many reasons. It's not easy to find a good place to start, for starters, then once into it I need to find a way to segue into how mentally devastated I became while out there.

I really don't have the words.

In fact, I've been sitting here typing, deleting, retyping, cutting, pasting, then ultimately re-deleting anything I manage to write. The region is so huge that it continually defies any attempt I make at reducing it to a linear progression of words.

So I'm giving up on that.

Instead, I'm just going to share a few pics and a very, very brief synopsis at the end.

I spent ~4 days traversing from ~Ophir to Ruby. There wasn't much to see from the saddle of the bike--views like this were as good as it got. Actually, this shot is likely the best scenic view of that entire four days.


Overcast skies and warm temps dominated, with sporadic snow (and even rain) falling some of every day. Warm temps turned the trails to mush, made mushier by the fresh snow.

One of the few highlights of this section was getting to spend time traveling with Kathi and Bill. Here's the race's head honcho in his element:


The trail was such a soupy sloggy mess that we decided to stop midday for lunch and to melt some snow for dinner later on. Our hope was that we could do some chores in the heat of the day so that later when things froze up we'd be able to spend more time riding.


It didn't really work out that way--long after sunset the snow turned to rain and further mucked up the trail.

In the above pic we've essentially set up our stoves right *on* the trail. Generally speaking this is inconsiderate--if a snowmachine or a musher were to come along they'd have to slow up as we scrambled to get out of the way. We hadn't seen a machine in over 24 hours and knew that the mushers were over a day behind us, so we didn't worry much about it. Truthfully, a machine coming along would have made our day because it would have at least made a dent in the unconsolidated mush we were slogging through. I'd have jumped at the chance to toss my lit stove into the woods!

Once lunch was made and thermoses were topped up we headed up the trail. I couldn't push as fast as the others so they slowly pulled ahead, leaving me to push on alone.

I bivied solo that night, falling asleep while listening to a light rain drumming down on the tent walls. On my two previous trips through the Innoko I had minus 35 and minus 55 degree temps for 3+ days. Never expected +40 and rain. Who would?

The next day was a blur of bike pushing and fighting off depression. My lowest lows of the trip came here--I couldn't muster up motivation to cook, eat, move, or anything else.

Somehow I caught up to Bill and Kathi near Wolfkill Slough and we ended up bivying together that night. Really neat to wake to the faint sound of tinkling collars and tugline snaps, then open eyes and look out into the dark to see the lead teams of the dog race trotting by a few meters away. Many teams passed us that night, taking advantage of the relative cool of the dark hours to keep their teams from overheating.


Morning broke somewhat clear and hope was renewed for a rideable trail. Never happened. I think we totaled about 25 miles on this day--and that was pretty much constant movement throughout daylight hours and into the dark.


Mid-day I noticed that my rear tire was disintegrating along the sidewall/bead interface, so I stopped long enough to do a wheel swap (front to back and vice versa) so that I had a somewhat fresh tire out back for the second half of the trip. Probably should have done this sooner.


Although we were never far apart (probably less than 2 miles) for days on end, Kathi and Bill traveled at their own pace and only when they stopped for any reason would I be able to catch up. Here they've stopped in the late afternoon to dry out their insulation and just generally take a break. It was a treat to spend time with them out there, and really, really impressive to see how comfortable they were (individually and as a unit) just progressing up the trail regardless of conditions.


One of the mid-pack teams overtaking me somewhere near Sulatna Crossing.


Jeff Schultz is one of Iditarod's official race photogs, and he snagged the following pics on the way up to Ruby. The one of the plane is great--it gives some sense of how integral the bush pilot is to the race and to the Alaskan way of life.












All in all I felt drained and demoralized throughout this stretch. Some of that overall feeling may have been lingering effects from the 2+ days of struggling with weather and equipment into McGrath. Or it might just have been cumulative effects from the effort of simply traveling and existing in the manner I had chosen. I'll never be sure, except to say that my spirits were low throughout and I wasn't enjoying the effort or the hours. I thought of quitting almost constantly, and couldn't pull my head out of the negative cycle it had spiraled into.

Arriving in Ruby I tried to put it all behind me and refocus on what lay ahead: ~150 miles of the Yukon River. As if one could ever wrap their head around *that*.

Thanks for sticking with me here...

MC