Despite the pithy tone of my last post, the true reasons for tackling something like the Iditarod Trail Invitational are a bit more elusive and much more personal. Without diving into some sort of psychological self-analysis, it's difficult to discuss the forces that drive me to take on such things. However, I can try to explain some of the feelings that come out of the undertaking, the lingering effects or "what I get out of it" -- so to speak.
When hearing of these types of races, I think that all most people see is the difficulty. Certainly, the raw physical and mental challenge is an important aspect, but it has to offer more to me than that. I tend to be turned off by events that are mainly just about a specific difficult challenge (i.e. timed events). Also, if a race feels like it has been made hard just for the sake of being hard, I find it detracts from the experience. For me, something intrinsic about the event itself has to capture my imagination in some way, to provide an experience that is both unique and compelling. It has to offer the possibility for a sense of fulfillment. 350 miles on the Iditarod trail seems to have done just that.
I will write more about the race itself. I've stories in my head to sort through and many photos to upload and organize. Right now, though, I am still engulfed in absorbing the experience. Going from running 100-mile trail races to 200-mile treks through The Alps to, now, a 350-mile "sludge" across frozen Alaska, may seem like the unending pursuit of ever longer and harder events, but that's not the perspective I have. For me, the specific events themselves are self-contained experiences that leave a lasting impression on my psyche. Each one, a place to which I can return again and again as a source of inspiration.
I'm sure even some of my closest friends may find it hard to believe when I say I've always believed that, at some point, one of these experience will turn out to be "enough". That's not to say, I'd be done with trail running or give up long, multi-day treks. It just means that I won't be driven to find something bigger, harder or "more" than what I've already accomplished. It seem to me that the unbounded pursuit of ever more difficult challenges can only end in a breaking point and I'm not really interested in finding where that is. I respect, admire and even, to an extent, understand those who are compelled to such a path. But, personally, I like the feeling of satisfaction that comes at the completion of an event with nothing more on the horizon than rest, recovery and reflection. If I can make that sense of completeness last, I'll embrace it as long as possible.
So, to the inevitable question that's been asked as to whether I'll go on to Nome "next time", I have to say, right now, the answer is "not any time soon." Though I think it unlikely that I won't want to, at least, return and repeat this event some time in the future. For the time being, walking the 350 miles to McGrath, the time spent alone on the trail, the hospitality of the lodges, the sanctuary of the checkpoints and people opening up their homes in the Alaskan bush, have all provided so much fuel for thought and imagination that I don't find myself wanting more. The part of me that needs these things is presently fulfilled.
It is enough.