2010 Iditarod Trail Invitational
Day 2, Part 1
Shell Lake to Finger Lake
As we killed time at Shell Lake Lodge, stretching, eating, drying clothes and resting, riders came and went. Eventually I put my wet shoes back on and headed out to catch Tim, Chris and Kyle(Phil might have been in that group as well), who had left a minute ahead of me. Brij, Big Nicola and Bill had left a while earlier and were well ahead of us. We had been warned of some overflow and open water in the first meadow out of the lodge by Mike Schoder, and soon enough found ourselves at a big, wet rift in the trail. It looked deep enough to go around, so we walked and occasionally crawled through the deep snow skirting the edge of it. I’ve found that when I punch through into deep snow it’s easier and more efficient to just proceed by ‘walking’ on my shins till the trail looks like it firms up. I was walking in front of the procession, so rejoined the main trail before the others. I mounted my steed without pause and pedaled away. Mike had been grooming it all morning, so despite the fresh snow the night before, it was hard packed and rather fast, especially with the tracks of several riders in front of me.
Last years travels through this section had felt like a bit of a slog, but actually ended up taking about the same amount of time as this year. I think the difference could be accounted for in this years slog from Skwentna to Shell, my gear woes in the middle of the swamp, and perhaps a longer rest at Shell. The swamps and meadows did seem to fly by under my tires this year, and I took no photos on this section. So I’ll add a few from last year to keep your attention.
Around the time it became justifiable to put my headlamp on my head, I spotted a brief flash of light a couple of hundred yards up the trail. Often, at night on winter trails, you won’t see another racers headlamp in front of you unless they look back. The headlamps we use are light and small, and usually not more than 100 lumens due to the reflectivity of the snow. Combine that with the trail being in somewhat of a trench most of the time and a rider could be 200 yards in front of you and you might not even know it. Squinting in the fading daylight, I was able to make out the shape of two riders not very far up the trail. I pressed ahead to see who it was(and to pass them, this being a race after all)… It was Lou and Eric, a couple of pros from California, who had done this race numerous times before. I had remarked at some point after last years race that getting myself to McGrath before a racer as accomplished as Louise Kobin would be a nearly insurmountable feat. Catching up to her and Eric on the trail gave me a bit of an adrenaline surge, and I pressed on at a quicker pace than I had been traveling at, thinking about my chances of maybe catching a few more racers.
It wasn’t long before I saw more headlamps and came upon Bill, Brij and Big Nicola. They were happy to see me as they had been setting in tracks through the churned up trail for quite a while. Craig Medred was on the trail reporting on the race, and unfortunately had a paddle track on his snowmachine, which really makes a mess of the trail and is difficult ride behind. So far it seemed like myself and the other racers mentioned so far had been playing leap frog with him since Yentna Station. It was only starting to get a tiny bit annoying at this point. By a stroke of luck, the point where I caught the three B’s was also the point where Craig had caught and passed Dave Pramann from Minnesota, so I had a track to follow for a bit. Unfortunately I was just coming down off the adrenaline fueled overexertion I had been cruising on, and my pulls were feeble at best as the trail continued to get softer for the last handful of miles into Winter Lake Lodge on Finger Lake. Brij summoned up his powers of levitation to calmly pedal away from the pedestrian travel of Bill and I, while Big Nicola fell off the back a bit, encouraging us to press on without him. Had a good chat with Bill as we made our way in to the checkpoint about 15 minutes behind Brij.
I had planned on pressing on a few miles before bivying, remembering the discomfort of trying to sleep in the weatherport last year at Finger Lake. As we sat eating our dinner, we found out that there were TWO heated tents this year, and that changed my attitude. Bill, Nicola, Brij, Lou, Eric and myself went to check out the second tent, with Dave sleeping soundly in the weatherport. It was warm, the floor was dry, and there were no fumes or odors, so I made the decision to join the group on the floor. Lou and Eric expressed the desire to leave around 2am, and I considered departing with them. I only had about a half hour of sleep so far though, and a good night’s rest proved too appealing when I heard them pack up and head out in the middle of the night.