Sunday, February 18, 2018

33 Below and On Your Own. 2018 Arrowhead 135. The Conclusion

Conclusion...(Part 3 of 3)

“Oh Shit!!!” I startled awake, alerted by nothing in particular, other than perhaps an internal alarm clock or an ego that was still attached to my race time and to a finish line that lay waiting forty miles away. 

There, a warm tent waited. More of a winter Shangri-La really, complete with wood burning stove, carpet—yes carpet, perhaps its best feature—and Frank’s home-brewed, super-secret (not even Frank knows the recipe) homemade berry tea! Now, understand, after thirteen to sixty hours (the time cutoff for the race) even a sock soaked in hot water would have been a welcome elixir to a body that had been in below zero temperatures for a day or more. Frank’s tea went beyond that, nearing the level of spiritual joy rather than mere refreshment.  One sip of the locally harvested, dried, and concocted juju rejuvenated body, mind and soul ... seemingly in an instant.

Time? How long had I drifted away, snug as a bug in my minus twenty rug? I had no way to know. It had been dark when I got here, it was still so. So still. And quiet. So very quiet. I could lullaby myself right back to sleep if I just let go. A tempting thought for certain. 

Perhaps, if you can recall the last morning when you had nothing pressing to do and a winter storm was in full force outside the slightly frosted windows of your bedroom, you will be able to understand my dilemma. Can you return there in your mind? To the warmth created by the perfect union of down and body heat? Even the cozy 70F temperature of a well-heated house is no match for the warmth that keeps you so firmly tucked in under the blankets. To hastily exit such a place, who would even think it?!?

The “cozy” house outside my tent that Mother Nature had provided for me was a less appealing -30F, were I silly enough to unzip the sleeping bag, leave the tent, and get back underway. There was no way to ascertain the exact temperature inside my bivvy at that moment, but I can safely say that moving from inside to out would involve a swing of some 100 degrees. I’m not proud to admit it, but do so now, grinning, that the thought did occur to me: Perhaps I’ll just stay here, a nice warm human sausage, till they figure out I ain’t gonna move and come get me.

Time is not our friend in these circumstances. The steps that had put me here needed to be reversed without many flub-ups. The cold waited for its prey to show weakness, like a wolf ready to pounce. Once I pulled down the zipper which ran down the right side of the bag, the cold which had been kept at bay for however long, would attack. Wild places like this one are without conscience. Like the predators that call them home, they simply just are. Do things correctly, and you pass through. Do things incorrectly or cut corners, and you will pay a price. Sometimes in flesh.

Sleep still had a grip on me, and I nearly botched it right from the start. Warm fingers, nice and nimble, full of blood, reached for the inside zipper-pull hastily. First rule of the cold, maybe for everyday life as well: Don’t hurry. Ever. Bad decisions are born out of haste.


A voice ... from a small bit of experience pierced through to the forefront of my mind. Step by step dude! What you gonna do first??? Then what....then what....and....then what.

The questions gave me needed pause. Reminded me that once the sand or in this case, snow, emptied from the top of the hourglass, shivering and palpable “unfun” would become my reality.

One by one, I played out in my mind the steps that would lead to me being back on the bike. Which would lead to me turning the pedals up hill twenty-six of forty-one—or wherever the hell I was—which would lead to body heat generated, which with a bit more time and effort would lead on to Frank’s hot tea.

With a plan and the necessary motivation in place, I confidently reached for the zipper and attacked with patience and precision. I was wearing every single piece of clothing I had packed. The makeshift rain-jacket pillow that had provided comfort moments before, was now my outermost layer, holding in every bit of heat possible. The cold nipped away, attempting to find a soft underbelly, a weakness upon which it could feast.

Once underway, alertness, strength, and a renewed vigor were my companion. Hill Twenty-six. Done. Twenty-seven. Steep bugger, pushed my steed up that one. Done. Body heat rising, unzip rain coat. Twenty-eight. Done. Raincoat off and stuffed away. Hill Thirty-four. Done. Suddenly I heard the words of Worsley In The Footsteps of Shackleton, crossing what should have been a soul-stealing section of ice: “Attack, Attack, Attack!”

Thirty-five, thirty-six, thirty-nine, forty-one ... ROAR!!!!!

The assault interrupted. Sounds of music. A fire ablaze visible through the towering trees. It was Checkpoint Three! I’d arrived, feeling more alive than at any point in the race. Rolling in, a teepee, complete with heating stove inside, beckoned. To heed its call would mean relinquishing the small yellow ribbon that proudly proclaimed my unsupported status. I could see that a fire burnt trail left,  just past the teepee. Volunteers greeted me. I sat on the slightly thawing ground, enjoyed the fire's warmth and contemplated the nature of things for a moment.
No longer was my mind filled with thoughts or concerns of finishing.  No, now my thoughts were of a different nature. Have I honored my reasons to be here? Have I drunk fully of the place, taken full measure of the physical, mental and spiritual opportunities these events offer?

Smoke rising from the boots on my feet, left a bit too long too near the fire while in contemplation of such things, caught my attention and signaled it was time to go.

Wake-em-up Hill, a doozy and also the last, was all that remained before I had to deal with a mind-numbing twenty-two or so seemingly, but not quite, flat miles. Frank’s tea and a giant man-hug from his finish line partner-in-crime Mike Hedtke were now just a few hours away. The Arrowhead 135 unsupported would be mine!

Raising myself from the ground, I happily planted my nearly over-toasted boots one in front of the other onto the cold and snowy trail towards my bike. A heartfelt thank you to the wonderful volunteers, a few pedal strokes, and I was away. 

Everything behind me. Everything ahead.

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