If 'forever' was to be redefined, 'monotony' was to be revisited, frequently. The stretch from Luces to Skwentna Roadhouse followed the
wide Yentna river in a fairly consistent North Westerly direction. The GPS, my insurance policy if I became seriously lost, was used
to measure the straight line distance to the next checkpoint, that distance reduced very slowly.
The whole concept of distance and time was turned upside down and I adopted the 'Alaskan Miles' strategy of measurement. One Alaskan
mile equalled about four 'normal' miles. The reality dawned that I was averaging about 4mph. Bill was right, I would have to take more
seriously some of the other things he had said, little clues dropped into casual sentences, if only I'd been listening a bit
Carl had long gone into the distance and I fully expected not to see him again until the end. I was eventually overhauled by the
distant lights of Tim and Tom who could walk faster than I could push. I would then ride and catch them and try to overtake but
as I moved off the trail to pass I would hit soft snow and grind to an ignominious halt, curse and drop in behind again. Every
few attempts I would get past but a mile further on they would take me again. This cat and mouse was probably played for no
more than an hour until headlamps receded and they finally faded away, I was now truly on my own. That was the last I was
to see of Tom but Tim was another story.
It was during this long drag up the wide river that inanimate objects began to take on strange characteristics in the half light
of my headlamp. Large rocks some 50 metres away would track the bank parallel to me and take on the shape of a bear on all fours,
smaller boulders would crouch low and dare to be called wolves. There was a lot of looking over my shoulder in this early part of
the race, an insecure baptism of isolation. I was reminded of someone asking for advice on their first solo night ride at home,
'just don't look over your shoulder' came the witty reply.
Dawn broke and I passed a string of cabins at McDougal, the river narrowed and I came close to the left bank and along what seemed
to be an airstrip. Glancing around I saw a shape on the far side of the river, off the trail, a local? No, it was Carl and I hadn't
a clue what he was doing way over there, maybe he had slept, very unlikely, lost? also unlikely. As he tried to cross back over to the
left bank through deep snow he was checked by open water and had to double back and try further down, even from this distance I could
see that he was not happy. We met further up the trail and little was said as we progressed together towards a common goal.
Some hours later, during one of those casual glances over the shoulder just to make sure no one was there, I made out two faint black
shapes probably a couple of miles away. Tim and Tom perhaps? We kept moving and entered a twisty part of the river, I succeeded in
getting to a distant bend without the two shapes appearing around the last one. Slowly but surely the shapes got closer and closer
until two bikers could be made out. I guessed it must Heading and Sheldon and within a short while was proved correct. We stood
still for a few minutes as the two Idita veterans told how they had gone the wrong way when they dropped onto the Yentna the previous
evening and had wasted a couple of hours having to retrace their tracks. This had been at the point where I had made my decision partly
on a single tyre track going right.
We rode on as a foursome and as each individual stopped to eat, adjust or walk we switched order several times. After watching the
Matlock pair ride stuff that I just couldn't cope with I decided to let major air out of both tubes to the effect that life became
more tolerable as the trail became more rideable. As probably the lightest rider in this small party I pulled back the gap that had
opened and sneaked in first to the Skwentna Roadhouse by at least a minute!
Now being a non meat eater (I avoid the word veggie as I do eat fish) I had foreseen possible diet challenging moments when
looking for calories but I was not disappointed when one of the ladies offered to quickly knock up a clam sauce for the obligatory
pasta meal. As she went off to the kitchen we moved into the lounge and roadhouse routine was becoming apparent. Off came the boots,
socks, leggings and outer shell and they were hung by the ubiquitous wood stove to smoulder beautifully into dryness. I looked around
and all three 'endurance athletes' were draped like objects from a Dali painting over pieces of furniture, asleep. I fell down myself but having always been useless at
power napping just wearily glanced around the room which had within the space of ten minutes been transformed into a makeshift home.
As I lay there I thought back to previous Idita stories where dozens and dozens of racers has descended on small cabins simultaneously
and some had the frustration of not being able to get in. In contrast this was luxury and I felt pleased that by pushing on and keeping
in the top six or seven racers we had for the time being secured our own little oasis.