Put simply - your stuff gets wet, then freezes. I was using several key layers in my system so I wasn't concerned about getting core wet. My outer bag was a Mont Helium 450 with gossamer thin Pertex Quantum face fabric (not a laminated waterproof membrane fabric) with a DWR. It wetted out quickly and the down clumped severely. I then had a Mont Bell down hugger bag, then an S2S reactor liner - I was still pretty toasty - and just tucked myself deeper into the bag with just a tiny breathing hole for my mouth.
I had a tarp, but didn't bother getting up to use it - I really wanted some intel on how the bags would stack up to wetting out in the field. I also had an OR Alpine bivvy - but it was back at the cabin. Alaska was always teaching us lessons.
A positive though - I stow a Clif bar in the jacket pocket each night, a nice warm Macadamia and white choc bar to eat in the morning!
I managed a 12 hour rest despite the rain. I felt refreshed, my jetlag gone and my resting heart rate was back down to sub 60. Those previous late nights with the group just weren't doing me any favours!
In this pic you can see the loft loss in my bag (sounds like an Austrian mountain town - Loftlosseinmaberg :) ) from the rain. If I had more nights out here, I would have been in a precarious position - because the down had clumped due to moisture, it then froze into lumps when I stowed it into the stuffsack - put simply I'd be continuing on with no lengthy sleep until I could dry it out. Later that day, when I unpacked it at the B and B, it was like unpacking a frozen gel first-aid ice pack! I knew this bag wasn't suitable for the full extremes, but it did pretty well in venting body moisture and keeping loft, which was the main premise for this bag choice. My Exped Waterbloc 800 or 1200 will be the bag of choice for racing in 2015.
Anything not covered got sugar frosted with ice crystals...
Down to the serious business of food. The stove is an MSR Whisperlite International, setup for white liquid fuel - runs on stove fuel, shellite and unleaded petrol. For cookware I used a 900mL and 600mL Evernew ti pot set that nests. The 900mL was used for melting snow and the 600mL for eating from. I used the 900mL pot lid as my reflective base under the stove, and the 600mL lid to scoop the snow into the pot. I had 2 x 1L nally bottles to fill for water, as well as my insulated camelback bidon. The bidon worked very well, my logic being to consume it before it froze, however a thermos with hot chocolate or soup will be a better bet for race days.
Ahh, the culinary double down delights of apple/cinnamon AND strawberries and cream Quaker Oats - a flavour fusion of epic proportions :) You won't see this on MKR or Masterchef.
Washing up time was simply stir in some snow around the pot and voila! Dishes done.
I packed my gear and got rolling, was about -15C and the wind was beginning to rise. I bivvied near the bank of the Susitna River, so still had a ways to go back to base camp. The trail was already starting to cover up, there were no other tyre tracks, just the old irondog tracks and reflective trail markers. You don't need a lot of light to illuminate the trail in snow, however the light from my 1100 lumen Exposure Diablo at full power got swallowed by the inky blackness over the dismal swamp.
That orange speck you see behind me was the moon setting, a giant fireball in the sky. Reminded me of a Neil Young song 'Goin' back'. Chorus "I feel like goin' back, back where there's nowhere to stay...When fire filled the sky, I still remember that day..." During camp I was hoping to see some aurora activity to really drive home this song.
Sorry about the blur folks, best I could do in the wind, full zoom on the compact and no tripod...
I made it back to the cabin to listen to tall tales from the previous night. The bunch made it up to the roadhouse for a burger, Renzo stood in some overflow and most of them were pretty much running on empty by the time they rolled into a bivvy site or back to base camp for a few brewskis.
This was our last morning on the trail, and many were finding it hard to leave the sanctuary of the base camp cabin...
I didn't win the beard growing contest.
Time came to leave basecamp to ride the 30 odd km back to Pt Mackenzie. The temps had been steadily falling all morning, the trail had that 'wet shaving cream' look about it and was squeaking under the tyres (so many different phases of snow) - this can be another indicator of how the temps change throughout the day - was down to about -20C at this point and the wind was picking up.
I was given the task to lead the group back through Wednesdays' navigation exercise route, basically a short cut back to the main pipeline road, without having to traverse the lake - but it cuts out some sweet whoopy trail. The overflow section had grown a bit, was super icy and great fun on studless tyres.
For sure the prettiest type of trail you'll ever ride - narrow, groomed machine trail surrounded by snow laden Spruce. Stickboy on second wheel, and displaying his healthy, outdoorsman beard.
We hit the main trail back, we had a solid quartering tailwind with flurries blowing across the trail. The temp was -30C or so with the windchill, red mist set in and the ride turned into an all out individual time trial back to the rendezvous point. It was a race of attrition - we half wheeled, we wheel sucked, we jostled for the best lines in the snow, Stickboys BB seized. As the finish got closer, the pack started to string out, I decided to hammer down for the win, by a good margin. I was elated. The prize was driving the Dodge van from the storage yard to the Pt Mackenzie General Store. I'm a simple guy of simple pleasures - and driving the van on the icy road was pretty cool to me.
We loaded up the bikes and gear, drove back to Anchorage, all chatting about the highs and lows of camp. Some of the guys were entering the 2014 race as rookies, most were flying home and another was resupplying in Anchorage then heading north, solo along the Iditarod. My travel plans from here were to Portland, Oregon, for some work conferences and a multi-day back country bikepack trip through Oregon, where I'd be putting my new knowledge and skills to the test.
Kathis' words "You don't get Bills signature on that certificate easily - you gotta earn it!"
It's now proudly displayed in my den and is a constant reminder of why I want to be back there. The Iditarod Trail Invitational to me embodies an adventure race like no other, in an environment that is as challenging as it is beautiful. The philosophy ensures its place as an extreme race, it's no mystery why it has been consistently voted in the top 10 most extreme endurance races in the world.
To Bill and Kathi, thank you for your instruction, drawing from your lifetime of experience and knowledge - it is highly valued and respected. I won't let you down.
To the readers, I hope you enjoyed chapter 1 of this Ultimate Adventure, but there's still a ways to go. For me this whole trip ticked a lot of boxes, but I aint gonna blow the chunk of the story just yet: this chapter allowed me to fly in, build my transport with a multitool on a driveway (okay, heated garage), get snow up yer crack doing snow angels on the Iditarod trail (spot the aussie), display incredible abilities at changing a flat tyre in an artic environment (you had to be there to experience the awesomeness), live out of a frozen ziplock (it's not easy staying 'regular'), bivvy out with no care about 10 of the worlds most poisonous snakes, spiders, ticks, leeches, centipedes, scorpions, wild dogs, feral pigs (but moose, elk and wolves are all very friendly), talk about vicious dropbears and boxing kangaroos (and how tasty they can be), learn an amazing new skillset and experience a new and totally challenging environment. Yeah, it was pretty awesome.
Next stop is Portland, Oregon, USA...