Saturday, 25 February 2017

Iditarod Trail Invitational 2016 reference - Rohn to McGrath checkpoint

Rohn Checkpoint is a FIFO checkpoint - first in first out. As more racers arrive you may be asked to depart to make room for new arrivals.

You exit the CP directly back onto the Kuskokwim river (south fork) into some incredible countryside, with steep peaks on both sides as you wind your way down the valley. Sometimes snow on the river ice, sometimes just glare ice.

Temps remain consistently warm.

Racers leave the river into an area called the 'Buffalo tunnels'. Quite pretty through the forest, tall spruce and fertile soils create lush surrounds.

Buffalo droppings. No, I don't have a fascination with poop.

There is always a lot of glaciation on this part of the trail.

Buffalo running across Post River.

May look like trash, but often it is a code used by trappers to signal that a trap is nearby. Be careful when you take a nature break racers!

There is a large slab of glaciation on the trail, called the 'Post River Glacier;. It's not a true glacier, but just a large section of overflow that 'flows' down the hill in a similar fashion. This is looking back down it, after riding up no dabs. It is steep, so be sure to commit to riding up the full length - not a good place to stop and decide to walk up instead, you will slide painfully for some time.

The one thing that will strike you on this section is suddenly how quiet the trail becomes, riding on dirt again. Being in the shadow of the Alaska range has some drawbacks, much less snow and precipitation means poor soils and bare earth.

Glaciated trail everywhere.

You'll run into your mates out on the trail, chat for a bit, but then onwards into solitude again.

Tim Hewitt

This is a turn that is often missed. Go straight ahead and you'll end up at Farewell, a dot on the map. Racers need to cross this stream (yes, over that thin looking ice bridge) and continue to the right of the image - look for the reflective markers on the trees...

Welcome to the lakes district. Farewell Lakes. 

Perfectly safe. Honest.

Oh, but then the ice gets clear - that's when your mind starts to bend.

 Often times you'll see these signs on the far edge of the lakes. Sometimes not. Follow the ground intel over safe ice, not always what the GPS tells you!

Racers say the Farewell Burn ('the Burn) has voices at night. Mostly they are just the voices in your head.

Behind you, the Alaska range reveals it's spiny backbone - on clear days you'll easily see Foraker and Denali.

Abandoned Bison camp still offers shelter for weary travellers.

From the tallest ridgeline you can see the symbolism of 'Thin White Line'.

The trail on a good day, good coverage and fast packed conditions. Good times, happy days.

Trail on a bad day. Loads of tussock and mostly unrideable. You're gonna have a bad time.

Image from 2015 race

.9 of a mile off the trail is Bear Creek Cabin. If it's a low snow year, there'll be a lot of tussock about, making that .9 of a mile about a 45 minute detour each way.

It can be worth it though, not much shelter around these parts.

Donald Kane

Sullivan Creek is a great place to top off the water. VITAL INFO: Rookies - ensure you empty the tin and leave it upside down on the handrail.

This stand of trees is quite notable and a bit of a standalone on the trail.

Out on the swamp flats on the approach to Nikolai.

The remains of Salmon Camp.

Follow the trail some more, the river a bit and you'll come to Nikolai. The checkpoint is located in the home of the Petruska family, long time ITI fans and supporters. I won't spoil the fun of navigating to the checkpoint, it's something you just have to find out for yourself when you get there, all part of the experience!

Image from 2015 race
When gear breaks or falls into a river, racers improvise with whatever is around.

Tim 'Irondog' Hewitt
Catching up with mates. Talk about the weather.

Donald Kane

Hooray, some may say!

Sometimes a partial whiteout can be fun. Blocks out the true distance you haven't yet travelled.

Postholing on the river - it's as fun as it looks.

This is the beautiful ginger-bread house of Peter and Tracey Schneiderheinze in McGrath, Alaska. You are greeted with incredible love and hospitality here and gives all racers a chance to debrief with other racers, share stories with like minded people. This is a crucial step in rehabilitating back into 'normal' society. I'm serious. Nobody will understand what you have just been through and achieved, like other ITI family members will.

This is what awaits you - one of Peter's fabulous mancakes. Made with love and locally picked berries, this monster will fill the void that the last few days of racing has created.

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