Camp was going exceptionally well - we were getting to know the lay of the land, our knowledge and confidence was increasing, as well as our situational awareness and respect for the semi-arctic environment we were in.
I've never been one to sleep in. All my life I've pushed the sleep boundaries - never getting enough because I want to pack so much into every day. ITI camp was no different, I wanted to get some pre-dawn photos on the lake and just enjoy the solitude.
Out on the lake I followed some trails and sloughs to the SE of camp. I had a few hours before our 9am group rendezvous.
My regular tripod got damaged in the flight, so I MacGuyvered a makeshift UL version - my mini Joby, on top of an alloy tent pole (from my Contrail tarptent) jammed into the snow. Not great in any slight breeze, had to bracket the shot below for pot luck in getting a shake free long exposure.
It's amazing how much your eyes and brain compensate colour balance. What you may 'see' as white light, could be hued or tinted due to atmospheric conditions or ambient light sources. One of the many first things you learn as a photographer/videographer is white balance - correcting and sometimes using a false reading to your advantage in camera, instead of manipulating the image in post production. It's a real treat when the image is exactly how it was.
Kurts cabin overlooking Flathorn lake and Mt Susitna was a great base for camp and is also a checkpoint during the ITI. Many thanks for the hospitality!
Our first class today was tyre changing. Now I'm very experienced and well qualified to change tyres, however changing a flat fat, in the snow, in sub-zero conditions, was a new experience for me. Bill handed over the class to me, my mate Rob shot some video of the demo. I had a ball, and I hope everyone took away some new knowledge - sometimes the tiniest tech-tip or trade secret could get you out of a bind. So Bill, have you used that paintbrush in the bidon trick yet?
We all put our bikes back together and got moving. The plan was to head out over the lake, cross the dismal swamp and pick up a snack at the churro stand. Okay okay, there was no churro stand - should be though, calories come in handy...
Dismal swamp and a fair share of firm overflow, great fun riding with non-studded tyres - slippin' an'
driftin' an' fallin' an' hurtin'.
We stopped on the edge of the swamp to practise bivvy, cook/melt and repack again. By now, things were falling into place and the routine getting faster each time. I was refining my SOP, updating my diary and methodically logging what worked and what didn't... but in this pic I'm just taking a break to enjoy the moment.
Stickboy showed us his skills in making a fire from the basics - birch bark. The oils in the bark assist firestarting - even when wet.
Spruce on the left - shelter, bedding and needles for your tea, Birch on the right - bark for your fire. The birch reminded me of our own aussie Maleleuca (paperbark tree) and a quick scan of Wikipedia revealed some amazing uses for Birch.
We rode over the rollers till we got to the Susitna river, then we turned back towards base camp.
I came across an area of the lake where some guys had been ice fishing. I spent half an hour picking up the trash they left behind - candy wrappers, used hand warmers and general trash - filled a 10L trash bag and took it with me. Felt a little sad that someone could show such little respect.
Back on task, I turned up the slough to find a decent patch of overflow. The surface was slick and still a bit greasy in places - meaning a fresh flow and not quite frozen. Hmm, and not waterproof to the knees either. I scouted it, confirmed my line along an existing snowmachine track, poked it with a stick. Satisfied, I pinned my ears back and went for it. Nothing happened, but it was a valid learning experience - made me think more about traversing long, deep, slushy crossings and what I'd need in the future. Mental note to update SOP and equipment list.
Nirvana. Narrow, buff singletrack disappeared into the spruce forest. The trail meandered through the prettiest country I'd ever seen. Easily the best bike ride of my life.
My journey took me through some incredible backcountry on the original Iditarod trail, some twists and turns, and back onto a trail I recognised as the one we rode in on Monday. I rolled down the steep bank back onto the lake trail and startled a moose off to the side, a safe distance away. First moose! I now know what it feels like when tourists see their first kangaroo or koala.