I must have looked like some big, green worm all night in my bag. I was doing ab crunches, side raises, back extensions, leg extensions and hamstring curls in the bag to generate heat. Sure, it was cold out, but not that cold. My gear choice was solid, location good. It was all due to the time gap between my last major feed and bivvy down - I should have fed right before sleeping - simple as that. Lesson learnt - but to be honest I'd never been able to field test this exact scenario to experience it - so I saw it as a positive. Plus the body was still going through significant thermal adaptation and acclimatisation - it still thinks that its summer...
Only a few hours sleep, brekky done and back onto the trail. I saw a few racers go by while I was eating, so was eager to get moving and make ground. The green waves of the Aurora was now replaced by a fireball moon, my only companion.
TECH - HEADLAMP: the headlamp I chose was a Black Diamond Icon Polar. 200 lumen max, 4 lumen minimum. Runs on regular AA batts. Reasons for choice: the battery compartment can be remotely mounted (connected by a generous cord length and has a sealed, threaded connection) so I stowed the battery pack in a warm chest pocket. The brightness is infinitely adjustable via the top multi-function button, and switches between the high power single led, the two white side leds (you can see both modes in these two images) and the red leds. Flash function on white and red low power leds. Excellent lighting adjustment and battery economy for close in work (like cooking and around camp) and great brightness for trail work. Battery indicator is on the bottom of the head unit, so when you power it on it illuminates a small led - an appropriate colour to match battery remaining - you see this due to the position just above your eyes.
Jim was nice enough to let me know he had passed by a few hours before. He was taking medication that had the amusing side effect of turning his urine bright blood orange - one particular deposit, one could be fearful a racer was losing a considerable amount of blood, until one saw the artistic and quite talented manner in which it was deposited on the snow. Humour is never far away.
I spent the next few hours chasing that moon - even howling at it just for giggles - until the sky bruised purple with the hint of a sunrise in a few more hours.
Here are a few of the challenges along the way - this is what you white knuckle the bars against - chunked up river trail that is difficult to change ruts once you are in them - the tyre slides on the edge of the rut and you go down.
...and then there is the glare ice/overflow. Can never get complacent on this - you don't know how thick it is, how fresh the flow is, and just because you see snowmachine tracks over it, doesnt guarantee it is structurally sound (but is a good indicator of safety) for smallish point loads like bike tyres - still apply your common sense, look for rotten spots and above all, take calculated risks. Nothing is perfect and you have to accept responsiblity for your actions. (this was fairly mild overflow - there was worse to come)
The entrance to Skwentna Roadhouse CP2 appeared, the signs indicated 3 miles. This is where you encounter certain humour and things unique to the ITI - 'Bill Merchant Miles' - where a mile isn't really a mile as we know imperial miles. But I won't ruin the surprise - that's just part of the rookie experience. Bill has a lot of fun things in store for his racers.
Inside the checkpoint were a few racers catching a quick snooze, and Jim, Mike and Adam tucking into a hot breakfast. We shared a laugh or two and trail stories, but I was eager to depart before 'checkpoint suck' set in (to me, checkpoints can be like a vortex that sucks you in with the warm fire, dry timber floors and food aromas - all nice things that are best savoured post-race). Plus I was going to be off the river for a while now onto buff trail and into the Shell hills:
TECH - GOGGLES: I chose goggles over glasses. I wouldn't say my eyes are sensitive - they are just average eyes - but they are Aussie summer eyes that don't have an acclimatisation to this winter environment, so I wanted to create a positive microclimate for them to do their job day after day. I chose 2 lenses that easily changed out - the goggles are Oakley Airbrakes - from the fire iridium for high glare, to the high intensity yellow for ultra-low contrast days and night running. On previous trips I trialled photochromic lenses in my Jawbones, they worked well but the cold does affect the lighter range of the tint (they stay darker than they do in a warmer climate) - found them a little dark for night riding as the lens isn't totally clear in the absence of UV stimulation.
With regards to fogging - it certainly is something that you have to manage. The vents on the goggles must be kept clear of snow and your headgear must direct your breath away from the vents. On my headgear I stitched in a small length of insulated electrical wire with gear cable crimps on the end, to make a mouldable nose bridge to ensure a positive seal and also to cover exposed skin from windburn/frostnip.
The steady climb into the Shell hills is rewarded with some of the best pump track trail you'll find on the race. The descent to Shell Lake was fantastic afternoon fun - almost no pedalling required - as I pumped my way through each section I was whooping! I'm told the runners hated it due to the random push-pull on their sleds. It was hot through here too, 5 degrees C.
I dropped into Shell Lake Lodge and chatted to another racer Thomas. He was feeling a bit broken down at this point, by the sounds of it he was ready to pack it in. I'd also heard that several racers missed the turn at the lodge and continued along the lake for several miles, caught in the red mist and not looking for vital trail clues back up into the hills.
See the trail in this shot below? It's barely there, the lighting is so flat with the low contrast of sky and snow revealing no trail texture - this is where the high intensity lens really proved itself, being able to highlight the subtle shading of trail contours. This was the last long descent into Winterlake CP3.
Winterlake Lodge is the chance to get a meal, replenish supplies from your first drop bag and have a nap in the hut. Talking about drop bags - about now is where I was starting to pay the penalty of the classic rookie mistake (first evident when I compared the size of rookie and veteran drop bags over a week ago at the B and B). Another of Bills' sayings is 'You always pack your fears'. I had overestimated my food consumption, and spent a while re-sorting my food into what little space I had left - given that I'd only made it halfway through my existing rations. Needless to say every Bonk Breaker bar was packed and a lot of other non-performing food was left behind.
Night was coming so I was eager to exit the CP in the light of day - there are quite a few sharp descents and ascents here that are easier to assess with good lighting. At the bottom of some descents I saw lots of imprint carnage - where riders had binned it and spilled their lollies. Literally. Frozen trailside gummi bears are a rare treat that I happily munched on for the next hour or so.
Several points along this section required a fair amount of pushing up ravines and icy chutes - I used a pair of Hillsound Trail Crampons for much needed traction. On one of the sections, I overbalanced and fell over into a 2 foot snowbank - the bike fell over on top of me and the crampon spikes punctured the face of my carbon rim.
Second night on the trail, light snow falling, silence. I was having a great time.