I woke up inside the Unk school the next morning. Sleep had been fitful. As in McGrath, I felt stifled by the heat and lack of a breeze on my face (I know, I know--too hot, too cold, too windy, blah blah blah) and as a result had tossed and turned incessantly. Still, to wake with a bare head and bare feet and be able to walk around with only a base layer and socks on--sheer bliss.
Until I stepped outside. There's something about 'stopping' (whether it be prematurely or when actually finishing a race) where your body effectively shuts down. No more heat production, no more tolerance to wind or cold, no more thermoregulation, period. I wore every layer I had and all three hoods were up--I hadn't been this bundled even once over the last 18 days. Yet walking less than ten minutes over to the airport left me shivering to the core and with numb fingers. I marveled at how quick and complete the shutdown had been this time.
Booking the flight back to Anchorage was simple, I needed only to wait 2 hours to board and then, through an odd stroke of luck, I'd have a very brief window in Anchorage before hopping a Colorado bound jet. If the schedule stuck I'd be home less than 24 hours after leaving Unk.
Despite my sudden inability to tolerate cold, I went for a walk. There isn't much to Unk--a cluster of buildings surrounding the airport, then two parallel main drags running north/south along the spit. The rest of the town consisted of a handful of homes, post office, community center, seemingly more buried-in-snow boats than people, a grocery, radio station, one open restaurant and one closed, and the school. Plus a whole lotta space in any direction you chose to look.
Bet your school parking lot doesn't look like this:
I stepped inside of the one open restaurant and sat savoring the heat, a hot chocolate, and a cookie. Stir crazy, I walked back outside and came face to face with Tim Hewitt. Don't tell him I said this, but man did he look awful. More tired than a person has a right to be, but still with a somewhat upbeat attitude. I tried to lure him inside to talk but he just wanted to get back on his way. When I told him I was headed home (I tried, but couldn't hide my happiness when making the announcement) he said nothing but his face told that he'd been considering doing the same. He looked like he'd lost his puppy. Although we talked for less than 2 minutes Tim started shivering and needed to move. I wished him luck and with a wave over his shoulder he walked north.
Shivering myself, I wandered back toward the airport, sat inside, and started writing 'the list'. Everything that needed to be changed, tweaked, resewn, redesigned, or simply rethunk got scribbled down. By the time I arrived in Anchorage I couldn't think of anything else to write.
By the time I got back to Colorado I'd forgotten about the list.
I ignored that list while enjoying the soft, sensual warmth of spring. I spent time with family, ate, rode bikes, ate, napped in the sun, ate, roadtripped a bit, and then consumed some food. It took almost 2 months to gain back the 17 pounds I lost on the trail. Not that I was trying...
Sometime in July I started thinking about the list, making phone calls and sending out emails to get things rolling. All through the fall and into the winter I tinkered, sewed, fiddled with recipes, rode a bunch, and tinkered some more.
It took until this morning, but every item from that list is now checked off. I'm back in Anchorage, the bike is here, the gear is loaded, and Eric Parsons will drop me off in Knik to get started in the morning.
Scott Morris posted from-the-trail updates right here last year. He has graciously offered to do the same this year. Scott is a Class-A tech geek with a map fetish, whom also happens to have oodles of experience with multi-day riding and racing. He'll be updating this blog with my progress as it happens, adding insights of his own as well as sharing a bit of what was on 'the list' as I make slow but hopefully steady progress up the trail.
I'd be lying if I said my chances at success are any better this year. The trail is long, the temps are cold, the wind is up, and I'm a year older and a year softer. I'd also be lying if I said I was anything other than anxious, jittery and yes, a bit scared right now. That slim chance of finishing and the butterflies have always been a good indicator that I've got a whopper of a challenge ahead.
How will I respond to this looming challenge?
Frankly, I wish I knew.
Stay tuned here to find out...
All the best,