Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Being Schooled (study time)

Luce's - Flathorn

Lesson 14: Necessities are anything but bare

Back at Luce's tired faces filled the room. All seemed to be moving slowly. Day was breaking. The fire was going. I was hungry. Other than during the freezing wind the previous evening, I'd been eating pretty well throughout the race. I'd consumed both of my frozen snickers, eaten through my various gummy candies, all my turkey jerky, even finished off my Hammer Solids. Unlike other races, I never felt even the slightest stomach discomfort. Even right after scarfing down a bunch of food at once, there was no sense of heaviness. I don't know whether from the lack of jostling due to a slower pace or simply another side-effect of the cold, but it seemed my body would process as much food as I could stuff into it. In fact, the one thing I regretted was not eating more during my previous visit to Luce's.

After sorting myself out in the lodge, I was about to order a nice big plate of spaghetti when I saw someone carrying one filled with eggs, sausage and pancakes. It wasn't listed on the white-board, but apparently they had a breakfast special that included all this along with orange juice and a bowl of fruit for only $10! I had a 20 left in my pack so I offered to buy for Hernan as well. Breakfast never tasted so good. It felt as if my digestive system was running on overdrive. I imagined the food converting instantaneously to warmth and energy reviving me as the glycogen-filled blood moved through me. Sitting in the cabin watching the sun rise over the Yetna river mad it easy to let oneself be lulled into a sense of complacency. I could picture myself simply sitting by the window staring at the peaceful white terrain all day.

Shortly, activity in the cabin began picking up. The Iron Dog snowmobile race would be running across the river before heading up to Nome and Luce's was a popular place from which to watch. We decided that we'd better get going before we'd have to share our trail with machines traveling 90mph heading in the opposite direction.

Lesson 15: A day can pass in the blink of an eye

When I headed out of Luce's it was still quite early in the morning, but by the time I would arrive at Alexander Lake it seemed the day was already gone. Sunday was a beautiful day and I retained a sense of it along with a few specific memories. However, it was one of those periods--not uncommon in a long race--when it felt as though I moved past time rather than through it. Hernan and I stuck together for the bulk of this section and talked more than we had over the previous 24 hours. For the most part, our pace was rather leisurely, but the miles seemed to pass rather swiftly.

While we'd managed to get off the Yetna before the main race pack came through, we couldn't avoid the dozens of spectators riding to and fro. For some reason, it seemed that whenever we found a descent line in the snow, a rider would come through and turn it to mush. The river was a mile wide in parts and I couldn't figure out why they insisted on sharing the tiny section of firm snow on which we were trying to travel. I spent a lot of time staring down, looking for solid bike tracks. It was at this time that I noticed certain tire patterns appeared as a series of words. I tried to make out what each of the 4 letters sequences was supposed to spell: "SPAK", "PLUT", "DOFT", etc. None of it made any sense. Eventually, rather slowly, I realized that these couldn't be actual words as the pattern didn't repeat. There were far too many unique "words" for one rotation of a tire. It was clear my eyes were playing tricks on me, but I kept looking as I found it somewhat entertaining.

My mind in something of a trance-like state, we were standing at the base of the Wall of Death in no time. Making it up The Wall turned out to be much more of a challenge than going down had been the day before. About half way up, I had to dig my gloves into the snow to keep from sliding backwards. However, once at the top and moving again, Hernan and I were through the woods without incident finding ourselves quickly back on the Dismal Swamp. We picked up the pace a bit knowing that Flathorn was approaching. A little ways before the end of the swamp, Hernan said he needed to make a pit stop. I decided to keep going as I was now feeling some drive to get to the final section and have this race done. I pushed on.

The next few miles were nearly the first were I actually recall being "in a hurry". I decided that I wanted to finish this race on my own. This meant either putting a gap between myself and Hernan or let him go on ahead of me. His need for an off trail excursion gave helped make the decision for me. I walked fast and shuffled along the next couple miles then out onto the lake. I was focused and moving well, carefully picking my line in the snow in front of my feet. Before I knew it, I was approaching the end of the lake. I stopped and looked to my left realizing that the entrance to the checkpoint was behind me. I'm not sure how I missed a marked turn out in the middle of a large expanse of frozen lake. I guess that's what happens when you become lax in your studies.

Post-holing across the snow, I cursed at myself. Here I was approaching the final miles, forgetting one of the most first lessons I'd learned in doing any long-distance events. Don't finish your race before its done!

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