Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Part 2 Rainy Pass to Ruby

Pass Creek was a bit soft with granular sugary snow, we saw the signs where the Iditarod Trail brakers and our checker Rob had had a hard time getting the snow machines through. We also saw where the lead group of bikers had been braking their own trail in the Dalzell Gorge after passing the snow machines.
The trail over the pass and into the Dalzell Gorge is a spectacular section of the Iditarod Trail if not the most beautiful. You cross Dalzell Creek several times on ice bridges, some are actually put in every year by the Iditarod Trail volunteers in Rohn. Bill was there last year as our trail braker and was helping Terry, Rob and Lisa building those ice bridges. There is a really pretty frozen waterfall in one spot. In 2005 that section was all rideable with bikes and it was a lot of fun.
This year not all the ice bridges were in place and we had to wade a couple of the creek crossing with our bikes. A section of the freshly put in trail had huge holes in it from moose using the new trail. One year the trail had even bigger holes in it from buffalos using the trail in a big snow year. The sun was just setting behind us on the Alaska Range as we rolled onto the Tatina River and we had made it into the Rohn checkpoint 16 hours after leaving Puntilla.

We got another 8 hours of rest in Rohn and left there at 9:30 am at a warm 17 degrees F.
Jasper, Terry, Lisa the Iditarod Volunteers that run the checkpoint in Rohn for Iditarod and go out there early are a super bunch of folks!
Rob is our checker in Rohn in a small tent camp we fly out every year, we are lucky to have him there with the rest of the Rohn gang!

Day 5 Rohn to Nikolai 82 miles

The gravel bars and a short stretch in the buffalo chutes were the only bare ground this year all the way to Nome. The famous “Post River Glacier” was there this year.

I have heard the funniest stories of the different ideas racers come up on how to cross this obsticle on the trail. One told me about bushwhacking around, Rok who had been traveling with us since Puntilla scrambled over the top of the rocks to scout for a route since he is a rock climber as well.
An other year a racer had strapped shark bite pedals to his feet.
It is a very glaciated area sloping gently and very slick, you have to get around a rocky corner, then you have pretty much made it past the biggest issue.
The rock was loose there and I grabbed handfuls of shist and threw it on the ice which made for great traction. Another sunny day on the trail.

This area after Rohn is very interesting in that it is very different from the section before Rohn.
It is in the "rain shadow" of the Alaska Range and most times there is no snow on the ground for several miles and you ride on gravel bars and bare ground. The scenery changes so much from the alpine scenery over the pass. You are now in the Interior of Alaska and when you look back you get a last view of the Alaska Range. From the Farewell Lakes we could actually see Mt. KcKinley and Mt. Foraker in a distance.

The Farewell Lakes are often windblown and clear black ice, when it is cold your tires stick to the icy slick surface pretty good and as long as you don't make any quick movements riding across them is no problem.
Crossing them in the dark on black ice can be pretty spooky.
This year they had a light covering of snow and the track left behind by the lead bikers made for some cool pictures.

The trail was very hard and fast after Rohn with many bumps from the Irondog Snowmobile race.
It was a little technical riding but really fun. Bill, Rok and I were flying down over the hills and had a ball!
Antonio Frezza and Jill Homer were at Bison Camp with the wood stove going.
After resting for 2 hours and melting water from snow we went on to Nikolai making the trip from Rohn to Nikolai in 20 hours. Nick and Olene are wonderful people and fed us moose stew. We slept about 5 hours before going on to McGrath. The wind had picked up after arriving in Nikolai and it was a tailwind all the way to Big River.
We made the first 22 miles in about 2 hours!

We were giggling about the tail wind and thinking how fast we would be to McGrath.
Turned out that the wind had blown in the last 15 miles and made a lot of it unrideable.
The wind blown trails were going to hunt as much later in the race. This was just a little taste of it, little did we know at this point.

Day 5 McGrath 50 miles

Our time to McGrath was just 2 hours slower than 2005 where I had set a new Alaska Ultra Sport female record, where I had slept a total of 10 hours from Knik to McGrath.
This year, my goal was Nome, Bill kept reminding me that despite the great trails I needed to focus on Nome. I slept every night and got 32 hours of rest the first 5 days.
With the same amount of rest as in 2005 I could have shaved off 12 -16 hours of my time this year and possible set a new overall time record for women. I had to let go of it because my ultimate goal was to get to Nome.
I needed to get to McGrath strong and healthy, this was only one third of the trail.
It was hard to let go thinking how long it might be where the trails would be this good again and have that opportunity again.
This year out of my three years being on the trail the conditions to McGrath were definitely the best. Bill would agree on this that the trails in the 350 mile were the best this year out of his 10 years on the trail.
I had picked a year of the Northern Route for Nome since I had heard all the horror stories of the Southern Route which is used in odd years and the section between Ophir and Kaltag only by the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. The Northern Route however is used two weeks prior to our race start by IronDog snowmobile race and they had 99 snow machines go over the trail this year.
We took two days in McGrath since the wind had been blowing and there was a chance the trail was blown in. That way the Iditarod Trail Brakers wouldn’t be far behind us.
What followed in the next 5 days to Ruby might as well have been on the Southern Route.
It was a long walk with a bicycle to the Yukon River.

Day 8 McGrath- to Ophir 61 miles

The wind drifts from McGrath to Takotna had set up and were rideable. We stopped at the community center in Takotna and had a bite to eat. At the time Rok Kovac from Slovenia and Alessandro Da Lio from Italy were traveling with us.

This section of trail goes over the Takotna Hill and is really pretty.
After Takotna you start climbing over a long hill and at some point it started snowing on us. We past Mike Curiak on his self supported trip with his 140 pound bike.
We went on to Ophir that afternoon passing old buildings and mining quipment that is actually a road in the summertime from Takotna to Ophir.
Bill, Rok and I took a big spill on a glaciated side hill that was covered under the fresh snow with Alessandro stopping in time and taking a picture of all three of us scattered all over the ice.
Luckily none of us got hurt.
The Iditarod Volunteers in Ophir invited us to stay in an unheated tent which was nice with all the snow falling that night.

In the morning there was some accumulation, but we managed to ride a little bit to about the split where the Northern and Southern Route part.

Day 9, 10,11,12 Ophir to Ruby 170 miles

This is the most remote section of trail with no habitation.
What followed after Ophir was cloudy, snowy warm weather with black spruce after black spruce indistinguishable interior country with burn area after burn area, Farewell Burn times three.
Pushing the bike hour after hour, day after day, no end in sight.
I was prepared that it could take us 5 days and that temperatures could be extremely cold and this required sleeping outside several nights in a row.
Mike Curiak had told me that the temperature had stayed at -30 F on this section of trail when we set his record to Nome. Marco Berni and Wilco van den Akker had encountered -55 F here in 2006.
This year we got rained on in march in Interior Alaska!
We didn’t have any rain gear, but we had brought some garbage bags to keep our down gear from getting wet.
The last night Rok the Slovenain biker was with us, we had gotten soaked, we had a long day of pushing behind us and found a sheltered spot in the trees where we built a big fire and dried out all the wet clothing.
Our dehydrated " gourmet" meals with lots of butter powder tasted delicious and gave us plenty of calories.
My hands looked like I had been in the bathtub too long they were totally wrinkled up from being wet all day despite having the poagies on my bike.
Rok took off the next morning never to be seen again making up a lot of time and finishing eventually just behind the winner Pete Basinger and Carl Hutchings who placed second in the 1100 mile this year.
I think his timing was the best this year to have the best overall trail conditions.
Well done Rok!
This section of trail had a lot of overflow from all the warm temperatures and I was sure glad that my Neos Overboots worked well for that.

The next days we spent time with Mike Curiak off and on. We picked up our resupply that a pilot had dropped off right on the trail a mile from the Cripple Iditarod Checkpoint.
We stopped there briefly only to bump into one of our neighbors from Chickaloon, Danielle a pilot flying Channel 2 for Iditarod. When we got there it was sunny, the trail was sugary, the temperature must have been 40 degrees above and there was a palm tree with monkeys.
After a short chat with some of the people standing outside because it was so nice out, we moved on.
One night we bivied on a small creek watching a dozen of the lead Iditarod Dog teams coming through in the dark at eye level. All we could hear was the little dog feet, the lines clipping along and the mushers whistling and their headlights. Some of the dogs smelled us and barked. It was a view and experience of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race few get to experience, even the Iditarod tourist that pay big money to see them in the villages along the route don’t get to see the Iditarod quite like that.
Much bike pushing even after the trail brakers past us, the trails stayed soft and punchy.
It was disappointing to be on a road from Poorman to Ruby with gentle but long grades and to be pushing along a 2-3 mph. The last 55 miles we covered in 19 hours with the last 28 miles into Ruby of marginal riding.
I arrived in Ruby a tiny little village on the banks of the Yukon River very tired.

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