Iditarod Invitational March 2004

Spiral Of Torture

Skwentna To Finger Lake (About 40 Miles)



Leaving Skwentna Roadhouse after nearly one and a half hours of glorious relaxation was not too difficult as the thought of putting a few miles on those that followed made you feel good.

I was now just on the edge of my third map (out of seven) and heading across a wide open swamp towards the Shell Hills which would at least provide some variety of terrain. The line across the treeless swamp was straight and Carl, Andy and Alan slowly pulled away from me until they were probably a half mile away and I then seemed to keep pace. I had given up on trying to keep pace with anyone, it just wasn't an option and besides the topics of conversation had pretty much been exhausted. Getting into a comfortable rhythm was far more important, being cajoled into going just a little faster than you wanted to made life too stressful. I was first and foremost here to finish the ride, as well as possible, but I was well aware that these were still early days.

The swamp was rideable nearly all the way and as the Shell Hills turned from a misty shape into solidity I caught the three in front who were stationary. Andy had started having problems with his tyre and was in the process of putting the wheel back in the frame. I stopped briefly and then continued on, there was no point in me watching too, standing around in sub zero Alaska, despite the unseasonably warm weather, soon made you chill.

As I entered the lower slopes of the Shell Hills the trail twisted and started to climb through the trees. The trail was reasonable and having trees pass close by gave a sense of movement that just wasn't apparent on the open rivers. There was frequent dismounting which then turned into longer bouts of pushing until what initially looked like a not too tough climb took longer and longer to achieve. There were several false summits but eventually I reached a plateau where the trail had to start going down again. None of the other three were in sight which made me feel good in one respect but curious because although I'm pretty good at going up, I knew that these guys were equal if not better.

It was at the start of the descent that Carl caught up (I think) he said that he had left Andy and Alan trying to sort out Andy's tyre which seemed to be seated very poorly on the rim. The trail down was slow, it just wasn't possible to let fly with 30lb of luggage and the next drift off the trail into deep snow was never far away.

I think it was still light as we finally dropped down onto Shell Lake and made our way across the ice to Shell Lake Lodge on the other side. With no sign of Andy and Alan, Carl and I were now placed second and third and as we entered the lodge for some food and drink we saw we had caught up with Peter Basinger. Apart from Basinger and a snow machiner the lodge was empty. We immediately set about the routine of drying and eating whilst resting at the same time. Basinger left for Finger Lake and we started to make preparations to move on ourselves, it was now early evening and pitch black outside. As we got out warmer layers for night riding Alan and Andy came in. Andy was looking pretty low and this was reinforced when he asked the lodge keeper how much it would cost to fly a bush plane in to take three of them out. The pushing was slowly eating away and the problems with the tyre had exacerbated the situation. As Carl and I left the other two booked a cabin for the night, they would wait for Aidan and push on in the morning. A sound move, the next stretch was to be hell.

Following some markers away from the lodge lead us onto the Iditarod trail again. Basingers tyre tracks were clear and what was clearer was the fact that he was riding some stuff that I couldn't. When riding we made good time, the trail was flat and passed in and out of trees. I stopped frequently and swapped between eating cheese, nuts and chocolate. Eric and Marco passed us on the snow machine. Marco was filming Roberto and Eric was getting him along the trail on the back of the snow machine. Roberto had made it clear that he did not want to be filmed on the trail as this would interrupt his flow so Eric and Marco would leave a checkpoint either before or after Roberto and then meet him at the next checkpoint. Being passed meant that Roberto was on his way, I wouldn't be caught if I kept riding but there hadn't been a great tradition of that so far. As expected, Carl pulled away, the distance became greater not so much because Carl was the stronger rider, and he certainly was, but I found every excuse to stop as frequently as possible and eat. After a while I could no longer see his headlamp turning around to see mine.

As the night wore on I started to get tired and wanted this section to be over, it just couldn't be that much further. I made the excuse to stop and do a straightline distance to the checkpoint using the GPS, just over three miles. Good news. The bad news was that the little arrow on the GPS' compass pointed 180 degrees in the opposite direction to the trail. I had to briefly consider if I'd somehow managed to turn around on the trail but this wasn't possible, the trail was very clear. I continued on alone. The trail repeatedly crossed lakes into trees only to emerge onto another lake identical to the one I had just crossed, it was starting to become very irritating, I felt lie I was spiralling very slowly towards sanctuary.

A beacon in the far distance appeared, it had to be the lodge at Finger Lake surely only a mile away. But the beacon was flashing and within a couple of minutes I was upon it. It was Carl. I don't know how I had caught him up but here we were together again. Midnight had passed and we continued on, mostly riding, very tired. We stopped at one point and Carl pointed to a small tree and insisted that there was an animal lurking at the base of the trunk. I couldn't make out anything and as we got closer it was just a bit of old log.

The trail went on for ever and ever but finally at quarter to three in the morning we came upon Finger Lake and dropped the bikes outside the lodge in the deep snow. I popped the fast tek buckles holding my sleeping bag on the front rack and made my way inside. Basinger had been here for two hours, he had gained a little time. The person manning the checkpoint signed us in and made us some food which turned out to be dry beans and rice, down it went followed by lots of drink. Basinger was asleep as were Marco and Eric. I dropped my bag, stripped and climbed in to four or five hours of deep sleep. This absolutely mind numbing section was over, how could it get worse.