Waking up in a bivi bag on the top of Rainy Pass having slept uncomfortably for a few hours is one of those experiences you don't
forget in a hurry and if you're lucky won't have to repeat too often. It was dark inside the bag but I knew it was light outside,
there was a funny mottled pattern of weak light seeping through the snow that had built up on top of the bag. I slapped the bag
from the inside several times so as not to get a face full of snow when I unzipped. I opened and stuck my head out, it was white
everywhere. I saw a ptarmigan flash by, it's white body picked out against a black rock outcrop. We had failed to make it to Rohn
in one go and this was the punishment, trying to get everything together in the bitterly cold wind was going to be a challenge. I
got the stove going and tried to get into my boots, frozen, both of them. I punched them to try and get some degree of malleability
back and eventually squeezed my feet in pressing on the blisters on each foot as I did so. I put on the luxury of the Patagonia DAS
parka which worked so well to keep the body heat in and set about getting everything else ready while the snow melted in the pan.
After what seemed like an age we finally had the bikes loaded again and set off pushing down the slope. It was the same as before,
sinking deep and having to throw the bike forward a pace at a time. This was just not funny, having slogged all the way uphill, not
unreasonable, we were now having to fight our way downhill. I had thoughts of maybe not reaching Rohn until dark, worse still another
night out would be unwelcome.
The weather was cold and misty, it was barely possible to make out the elusive outline of the mountains. As we moved down the mountain
I kept looking behind and gradually the weather cleared and it was possible to make out more clearly where we had come from and better
still where we were going. After maybe an hour or two and several turns in the trail the gap between the surrounding mountains closed
and the snow became firmer underfoot as previous travellers had been forced along the same route. It was tempting fate to get back on
the saddle and the first effort was rewarded by maybe 10 metres riding, but that 10 metres felt so sweet, a small payback for the previous
As the weather cleared further we rode more and more until we passed through the tree line and the trail became well defined and hard
packed and we began to have to brake and think about the riding again. The creek that we now rode next to had open water in places
and this was a good opportunity to refill. The trail crossed the creek in several places and their was evidence that some snow bridges
had been recently built. I stopped to take photos and Carl disappeared for a while until in the distance I saw him talking to someone
on a snow machine going the way we had just come. As I got closer I could make out Bill Merchant, I stopped and chatted, in between
sentences I stuffed chocolate into my mouth. Bill was going back up the pass to try and leave a trail for those that followed, he
asked us if we objected, not if he lead them a merry dance I replied.
We moved on and again Carl with faster descending skills soon pulled away. We were now entering the Dalzell Gorge and the sides of
the mountains closed in again, more picture taking and I fell behind even further. I was in no racing mood though, Rohn checkpoint
was only and hour or two away and this was some of the best scenery we had passed through so far. Quite happy to be riding alone I
rounded a corner and just ahead lay a short steep drop in the trail, I slowed up and saw Carl at the bottom urging me to slow. I
stopped at the top of the drop, jumped off and could see things were not quite right with Carl. I walked down and as I got closer
could see the right side of his face was dirty. Within a few second it was apparent that the dirt was blood and Carl was not looking
The story unfolded, across the trail ran a side creek from a frozen waterfall and he had punched some rotten ice and catapulted head
first onto more solid ice, the result was a deep gash just above his right brow. He couldn't see how bad it was, I could. As I cleaned
him up with some wipes the skin parted and the wound must have been half an inch deep, all I could do was put on a sterile dressing
and tape him up. I think he must have been sitting there for five or ten minutes, he was a little subdued and the obvious thoughts of
maybe having to quit were going through his head. My telling him that stitches were mandatory didn't help, he dismissed that with the
idea that if it wasn't stitched within four to six hours then they couldn't stitch it anyway, so there was no problem!
We got back on and Carl rode as fast as ever and within a short time we exited the gorge onto the Tatina River. We had to turn left
downriver and Rohn would be at the junction with the Kuskokwim River. The Tatina had to be the slickest river so far. Most of the
snow had been blown off leaving polished ice with not much snow machine travel to rough it up and give it some bite. I walked
sections that Carl rode, I couldn't believe he was chancing it, but that was Carl all over. Within a couple of miles of the checkpoint
Bill caught me up on the snow machine and as he stopped he looked me up and down and couldn't understand why I wasn't covered in blood,
he had seen the red snow back in the gorge and had assumed that I had crashed, after all Carl had ridden forty miles of slick ice a week
prior to the race and had been the only one not to fall off. I related the event and with concern on his face he rode off to catch up
Carl who was probably 400 metres ahead by now.
We arrived at Rohn, Carl just ahead. This would have been an otherwise great moment having just finished the hardest section so far.
Rohn consisted of an airstrip, a cabin and a couple of tents for our use, one of which had a stove in. I made my way to the tent and
dropped the bike. I was hungry. The food bags of those that had scratched had been opened and emptied into a communal sack, I reached
in and pulled out a mixed bag of nuts and M and Ms, it must have weighed a pound. I made my way to the cabin, said hello to a couple of
hunters getting ready to take off and went in. Inside was warm. The cabin had the obligatory stove, a couple of bunks and shelves of
food. Jasper was the man in charge, he came out here at this time each year to oversee the Iditarod racers going through. Carl was
sitting on a bench drinking, expressionless. I sat munching the nuts and M and Ms, the mixture of salt and chocolate was so nice, thanks
to someone. Between them Bill and Jasper convinced Carl he needed stitching, the ice where he crashed was particularly dirty and there
was a chance of infection. I think it may have been me who suggested he could fly out, get stitched, fly back in and continue. There
may have been a slight flicker in Carls eyes. Bill without hesitation said that as long as he wasn't advanced down the trail he would
still be in the race, it was decided. Jasper was on the satellite phone and spent the next hour leaving messages with pilots in McGrath
in an attempt to get a bush plane flown in. I strolled back to the tent and busied myself opening my drop bag and getting ready for the
next stage. Around four pm Carl flew off, I wasn't quite sure when I would see him again but I did say to everyone left in Rohn that
he would be on a mission when he returned, don't write him off yet.
I wasn't sure whether to push on straight away for Nikolai or get a nights sleep after the recent slog, maybe the racing instinct
had softened but as other racers drifted in, Roc and Rajko from Slovenia and the three Matlock boys, I decided to rest up and leave
in the morning.