Monday, March 2, 2009

Unkle.

If someone has found a way to relax and rest inside of a wind-whipped tent I'd like to hear about it. Although I wasn't using ear plugs I tend to think it'd take quite a bit more than that to block out the sound of tent fabric flapping and wind-driven pellets of graupel and snow slapping the tent.

So to say, I awoke exhausted and ravenous, and didn't get any better through the day.

The only comparisons to be made between yesterday and today need to be drawn as contrasts: Bluebird vs. whiteout, alpine vs. swampland, fast, exhilarating riding vs. slow, demoralizing pushing.

Many mushers and a few snowmachines caught and passed me. Because we were burrowed into our clothing to protect faces from the wind and stinging snow, a simple nod or half hearted wave were all that could be called communication. 'Alone, with others' seems somewhat apropos.

As I trudged through the morning and into that afternoon I slowly came to grips with the fact that I was done in. Every person that has pushed themselves physically for long enough knows that when the mind has gone the body stands no chance of continuing on. Yogi Berra had it wrong--the game is more like 190% half mental.

Over the last two decades I've learned a thing or two about my mental state, physical capabilities (and more appropriately, limitations), and how to plan and prepare for multi-day rides, races, trips, and tours. Staring me in the face was the simple fact that, on this trip, my arrow had fallen quite a bit short of the target.

Half a day (something like 7 hours of nearly non-stop movement) of schlepping the Snoots over and through drifted snow brought me to the edge of the lagoon.


Standing on that teeny little rise, looking across the drifted slab of ice at Unk, I confess to feeling little other than relief. It was finally, blessedly over. Less than a mile to walk until I could lean the bike against a structure, any structure, then walk inside to feel genuine heat. And minutes after that I'd be eating food. Glorious, hot, real food in any quantity I desired.

Weeks ago I'd guarded against this temptation with the simple knowledge that to step inside of any building, to take any sort of outside support at all would be a failure of the objective, followed by the need to start all over a year later. Looking back at the failure of the tent poles, the contaminated stove fuel, the poor assumptions on food quantity and type, the disintegrating tires and lately the seized bottom bracket made it clear that I needed to come back regardless. Too many mistakes. Too much unfinished.

Unwilling to end on a sour note, I started across the lagoon while mentally putting the trip into perspective. I'd achieved an enormous feat, if only in my own mind. Leaving Knik on that 140+ pound monster I gave myself about a 10% chance of making it into the foothills, and virtually no chance at all of crossing the Alaska Range. Mistakes aside, I had managed to get myself through the mountains, across the Interior, down the Yukon, then pedaled/pushed/dragged the rolling gear pile all the way to the coast. I had a lot to be proud of, and a solid foundation on which to build for next year.

I rolled up the ramp, pushed through town and out the other side, then snapped this self-portrait with the sea ice behind.


The moment was neither touching nor memorable. A humid offshore wind cut right through me just as the camera battery died. I stashed the camera, rolled a few blocks to the community center, then stepped inside to call Lenore.

MC