2010 Iditarod Trail Invitational
Day 2 Part 2
Finger Lake to Finn Bear Lake
I woke at some point during the morning when I heard a disk brake squealing down the hill out of the checkpoint. No one else was stirring though, and I was fairly comfy, so I shut my eyes for a few more minutes. The next time I opened them, I could see Bill and at least one other racer(Nicola? Brij?) stirring and/or sitting up. Wake up time. Packed my gear, strapped it to my bike. There was about 5 inches of fresh, new, fluffy snow on the ground. I went off to pillage my drop bag. It really wasn’t so much pillaging as picking through. I took full advantage of the 10 lb limit on the bags, and since I arrived at Finger Lake in under two days, I had a lot of extra. The temps had been warm all race so far, so all of my hand/foot warmers got left behind. I had forgotten to take out cash to bring with me for the race, and only had about $45 with me at the start. Everyone was talking about getting breakfast, and I was worried that we only got one meal and had to pay for any additional ones. It was a great relief to find out that there would be no charge for breakfast. Food and lodging are included at each checkpoint from Finger Lake to McGrath, I just wasn’t sure how much food and lodging that would be.
I knew I had slept quite a bit, and was anxious to get on the trail before Craig on his snowmachine. The light fluffy stuff looked somewhat rideable, but I had a feeling that wouldn’t be the case after he passed. After I ate and filled up on water, I headed for my bike. Bill was the only one outside, and was packing up his bike. I asked if he was ready to go, and he said “5 or 10 minutes”. I thought about waiting and taking off with them while walking to my bike. Everyone else had parked their bikes up by the lodge. I rolled mine down to the tent the previous night and parked it right outside. Once I had double checked everything on the bike, I stood and looked up the hill toward the lodge. It didn’t look like anyone was coming, and I was ready to move, so off I went.
I was right, the trail was about 50% rideable, even with the new snow. Phil from Nome had been the squealing brake I heard a few hours earlier, and his tracks certainly helped. It was gorgeous out, with all the fresh snow covering everything. The only visible tracks being those of a bike and occasionally it’s rider’s footprints. Phil is a much more experienced snow rider than I am, and between that and his multiple gears, he was certainly able to ride a bit more than I was.
I pressed on at a fairly quick pace, working up a sweat. I wanted to get as far down the trail as possible while it was still rideable. I had fantasies about making it to FinnBear before the trail got churned up by snowmachine. I hadn’t reached gotten to the Happy River Steps though before I heard the whining sound of a motor behind me. When I ran into Craig at the checkpoint the previous night, I had said to him, “I know you can’t help it, but your track tears that trail up…”. He said he knew it, and felt bad about it. He was out here on a job though, reporting for the race. “It is what it is”, as someone once said. Once Craig had come past, the trail was what it was, and that was a slog. Even the downhills where sketchy at best. Some of them I didn’t even bother trying to ride down.
The pushing became a lot more strenuous. I was working harder, sweating more, and drinking more water. I got the notion that I might run out before reaching FinnBear Lake, so I started supplementing my water with snow. It was warm enough that hypothermia wasn’t going to be a problem, but those snow crystals do tear up one’s mouth.
Craig was stopped at the bottom of the last of the Happy River Steps. Passing him, I stopped to ask if he had seen Phil(he had), and see if he had a way to get some water going for the group of racers behind me. I figured at that point that I had enough to get me the handful of miles to FinnBear, but that if I was running low, so might some of them. My hopes shot up again that I might be able to ride the flats and downhill parts from there to FinnBear.
After the steps, you come down onto the Happy River for a few hundred yards, where you intersect the Skwentna River, again traveling a few hundred yards before climbing up off of it. The hill after it is probably the single most strenuous pitch of the course. It starts with a 8ft or so near vertical wall up the river bank. Last year I had to alternately lift and set my bike, and kick in footholds. This year, with all the new snow, I was able to wheel my bike right up, while quickly kicking in my footholds. Mike Schoder passed me right before the wall, no paddle track on his machine. For somewhat of a perspective on what each do to the trail, especially soft trail, I took a photo of his track, and a photo of Craig’s nearby. You'll have to forgive the quality, as it's the only way to get the definition to show up.
Neither are rideable where the photos were taken. Both tracks break down the structure of the new snow, but Mike’s doesn’t affect the base, and the resulting track sets up more quickly into a generally nice trail. If it’s warm out, the paddle tracks will dig down, occasionally disrupting the base and making an unrideable trail. And when that churned up, scrambled trail sets up, it’s far from smooth and far from fast. Not that it would set up in those temps until night time anyway.
So, after the wall, It was a bit of a slog up the long steep hill, but I think maybe easier than last year. Last year it was icy and difficult to get a foothold, but the bike rolled easier. This year, foot traction wasn’t a problem, but the bike rolled a bit slower. 6 of one, half dozen of the other I guess.
On Shirley Lake, I took a sucker trail because the main one was all but completely blow in, and it looked like Phil had postholed down it. It eventually led back to the main trail, but added a little bit of distance.
Up over the next rise, I knew I was really close to FinnBear, so I went ahead and drained the last of the water in my hydration pack.
When I got down onto the Lake, It was blowing pretty hard and the trail was drifted. The mid-day, overcast sky cast a very flat light that, combined with the drifts, made riding futile for me. When I got to the sign for Mike and Ingrid’s, the cutoff trail to their cabin was completely blown in. Just gone. No signs of it at all. I thought about heading to the other side of the lake to melt snow, but knew that the cutoff trail generally runs in a dead straight line from a few feet in front of the sign to the cabin, so I went for it. I postholed maybe up to midcalf for a little while before eventually finding signs of the trail again and making it up to the cabin. Mike and Ingrid greeted me outside, and to my surprise, remembered me from the year before, despite the fact that it had been dark the only other time they had seen me. It was very comforting to see some friendly faces, and I planned to stay about half an hour or so, to chat and fill up on water.