That being said, this year was different than last. We found the money this year to fly the wife up to Alaska as well, with her and I spending some alone time before the race. We had an amazing amount of fun in a short amount of time, with Becky set to fly out after the start of the race.
The race would start this year at the historic Knik Bar. Historic in the sense that this is where almost every edition of ITI has started. The bar itself has the classic family style atmosphere....
|Animals for the kids.|
|People eating, I had me a chicken sandwich. Last year I had a way cooler sounding Reindeer sausage.|
|Racers and spectators everywhere inside and out.|
The temps for our race did not look impressively cold, in reality they looked fairly warm with highs predicted in the mid 30's, lows in the teens. There had been a warm up in the area and a subsequent cool down, so ice was to be present pretty much everywhere.
|Near the start line with Bill Fleming, super cool guy, co-owner of 9:ZERO:7. Stayed with him and his wife Sheryl, both phenomenal hosts.|
Well, the race started across the slick and icy lake. The start was fairly low key and I found myself in front rather quickly, HOLESHOT! There is no set course for the race, only set checkpoints, so the fastest route for the first section includes some gravel and paved roads. After the first 20 miles though, we would not see another accessible road for the the rest of the race.
|HOLESHOT! Followed by John Lackey, sworn enemy, super nice guy.|
|Not the Iditarod trail, but faster.|
|Uh yeah, still not the Iditarod trail|
After awhile we finally reached Flathorn Lake, 30 miles in. The lake was mostly a fresh inch or 2 of snow and a slight headwind as we dredged across.
|The money shot.|
|Jay Petervary just after taking a selfie. He was admiring my sweet bike.|
|The boys know who pulled across Flathorn, laying fresh tracks and providing a wind break.|
|There was plenty of ice out there, including the Dismal Swamp.|
|The drop in onto the river.|
Into the Yentna checkpoint 59 miles in I would see Kevin and Jay making their way out (we got there roughly an hour faster than last year's record pace). I would grab a couple of cokes as I figured it would be quicker than trying to fill my camel bak as I wanted to head out with the "lead group". Well, Ben and I were headed down the river, Ben in full on mode still until I asked him if he planned on driving that pace through the night. With that we dropped our pace some. Kevin and Jay were up river, out of sight, and I think the rest of us were together at that point.
"Ben, do you plan on keeping this pace all night?", Ben- "No"
Soon, we would see a light slowly approaching in the night, too high to be a snow machine. Kevin would meet us, showing off a finger on his left hand that was now sideways after he dislocated it falling on ice. He was thinking his race was done, trying to figure out whether to head to Yetna and Skwentna to get pulled out. I consider Kevin a friend and a super tough guy, so it was hard to see him so frustrated as he thought his race was over. We convinced him to go to Skwentna, the farther of the 2 checkpoints. I voted and the group agreed to all ride in together, effectively neutralizing the race for a bit. As we rode along, I spoke with Kevin, reminding him who he is and what he is capable of. Sometimes we just need a reminder of how bas ass we are. Then I changed the subject and soon found out that French Toast Crunch cereal had been discontinued because of the French's stand on the Iraq war, but it was now back in production. Yeah cereal! Take that Obama!
Into our second checkpoint, Skwentna, 90 miles in and I still was feeling good. Jay would already be laying down sleeping somewhere as he was headed to Nome (despite his really aggressive race tactics early on). I would chow down my chicken noodle soup and bread roll then start getting my boots on as others were still eating, they were a bit in shock I was headed out already.
So onward I went, feeling good through the Shell hills and past Shell Lake Lodge. The swamps after had been a slushy mess a week ago and it was evident that before that slush froze, the snow machines of the Irondog race had chewed it up. So I headed through the lumpy icy swamps. When you are out front by yourself you can't help but think of taking it to the end, but I knew darn well it is a long race and this was only the beginning. The last 5 miles or so before the checkpoint I would slow some as no matter what I did my breathing was labored.
Over Fingerlake,and I was first into Winterlake Lodge at 2:30am, a few hours faster than the record setting pace of last year. The owner would wake from his slumber, and I would be given instructions on where our first drop bag was and what cabin to use for rest. After sorting out my drop bag and having a run in with the loose sled dogs that howled like a pack of wolves, Lackey would roll in closely followed by Kevin. I was pumped Kevin was there, still in the fight. I would eat, and then lay down in the cabin with my legs up and a timer set for 45 minutes tucked into my hat. When I woke I felt pretty good. The chamois butter I applied stung like a thousand needles, which would would be an indication of things to come.
As I went to check out, Ben and Kevin were still there in the lodge, Jay had just rolled up, Lackey had just left, with Andrew and Logar leaving quickly after eating. Headed out to tackle one of the toughest parts of the course, I was still with the front group and had the advantage of a few z's. Upward I went into the hills with my headlamp lighting the way.