Dé Céadaoin 23 Nollaig 2009

09 Alaska Ultrasport Rohn to first bivy.

continued from: http://seansalach.blogspot.com/2009/12/09-alaska-ultrasport-rohn.html

Riding out of Rohn I was a man on a mission, I had ground to cover and I wanted to cover it fast. I decided that I needed to be in Nikolai by the following afternoon at the latest, ideally the following morning.


Riding across the Kuskokwim was fantastic. My tires squeaked as I glided across the ice. I even got to ride on some exposed gravel bars.



The trail ducked into the woods and rolled some firm trail for a while, occasionally popping out onto icy expanses where creeks crossed and descended down to the Kusko.


I was making good time, being careful to eat and drink at an appropriate rate. At one point, pushing up a too steep hill, looking down at the undisturbed tracks from riders who had come through the previous day, I noticed one set of tracks in the ski track from the snowmachine that had cut the trail. It was a weirwolf(tire) track, which meant it was Louise Kobin and/or Eric Warkentin, the only racers that year with skinnier tires than me. What confused me about this, was that I couldn’t even push my bike in that track without constantly getting it hung up on tree branches and even trunks. Were they riding it?!?

After a few more rolling, rideable hills, I rounded a bend and descended into a deep snow drift. I stopped, got off my bike and looked up to see the infamous ‘Post River Glacier’. It’s not really a glacier, as far as I can tell, but a seep coming out of the ground or a small creek feeding into the post river. In summer, I would imagine it cascades over the rocks that it were buried beneath inches, maybe feet of ice before me. I had read horror stories from previous year’s races of riders needing to tie their pedals to their feet to use as crampons, or chip small pieces of gravel off the walls of rock on either side and use them for traction. This must have been a good year for it though, because I was able to follow an easy path up the left side of the ice, stepping mostly on snow and dirt.


Once to the top, I pushed up the side a bit before hearing the drone of snowmachines approaching from the direction I had just come.

I saw them descend the drifted snow with ease. They stopped and looked at the ‘glacier’ for a second then simply gassed it and charged straight up it like it weren’t even there, popping out on top with a sled in tow. I stood watching in awes of how quickly and efficiently they were doing their job, breaking in, grooming and marking the Iditarod trail for dog teams that would be through in a matter of days. I didn’t move, just stayed out of the way. It was really impressive, and I now knew what Dee was talking about with regards to her trail crew.



They darted into the woods to the west of the glacier, but below the marked trail I was following, so I continued on to my first pleasant surprise, DIRT! Rideable dirt!


I would go back and forth from dirt to rideable snow for another couple of minutes before I heard the crew approaching from behind again. I got as far off the trail as I could and as they passed, most waved, nodded or smiled. I put my bike back down onto the trail, swung a leg over from the snow bank I was stood upon and pushed down on the pedal with the intention of propelling myself forward. But I went nowhere. The rear tire slipped and I put my other foot down on the trail to catch my balance. The trail beneath my feet had been churned up and reduced to sugar. My heart sank. I thought back to the tales from other riders about the trail only needing a few hours to setup again after a snowmachine pass. Sometimes people would just bivy and wait. It was too early in the day and I was too determined to press forward for that to happen. I walked on. And on. And on. My steps had no stability. It felt like I was getting nowhere. The trail rose and descended and twisted and turned, and still the snow refused to allow me to ride.

After what must’ve been a couple of hours of pushing and cursing everything, the snow began to thin out. I could see dirt and grass.

The only blurry photo of the trip, but it get's the point across:

I got on and rode. It was the strangest thing going from pushing through seemingly bottomless snow to riding on frozen and firm dirt, but there I was. There were even a couple of whoops and rollers that were pumpable and jumpable, though air time is frightening and fleeting on an overloaded and falling apart bike. For the rest of the afternoon, I would pass from dirt, to ice to more of the same sugar snow. I could ride some of it, but it was mostly a push. Then the dirt ended all together, and while the snow was getting a little bit less difficult to walk in, it was nowhere near trail that I would consider suitable for walking. I told myself that I would just keep marching on till I saw the right group of trees with the right amount of space underneath for me to stomp out a bivy and wait it out. It came eventually, of course,

It wasn’t even dark when I found it. I stomped out a spot, gathered my spruce boughs, laid out my sleeping pad, bag and bivy, and crawled in with my water and food. Disappointed in my progress and wondering if George and Roger would catch up to me in the night. I intended to wake up in a few hours. I should have brought a watch…


to Bison Camp: http://seansalach.blogspot.com/2009/12/09-alaska-ultrasport-bivy-to-bison.html


Michael O'Hara said...

Glad to read about your fortunate finding of dirt/ice/solid snow! This story is exhausting me!

sean said...

It was unbelievably thrilling to find dirt and rocks!