Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The 46 Hour Day

Well I survived the adventure race from Chena to Circle Hot Springs with no major injuries or dibachles. I did get some excruciatingly painful blisters but no long term or permament ailments. Ned, Andy and I covered about 45 miles on land and 45 miles on water in 46 hours. This was not even close to the winning time but we didnt go into to this with the intention to rush from point A to point B. We kept a steady and continuous pace but still had time to soak up the scenery and the serenity of the wilderness along the way.

The winnners cruised into Circle Hot Springs 24 hours after departing Chena. I hear that one of them only carried a 12 lb pack, which included 30 Snickers bars and some water, and didnt stop for more than 30 seconds. He didnt even bring long pants to protect his legs from the endless brush and relentless mosquitos. There were some good stories from the other competitors like brief periods of being lost, a shredded boat, and a dangerous bear encounter. Here is a link the story that was in the Anchorage Daily News.

12 am Saturday:
I certainly didnt budget my time very well today. I was at out at the West Valley track way too late on Fri evening with my Relay-for-Life team and still hadnt packed up my crap for the race. I finally got started around midnight. I owe Trevor big time for assisting me by bagging my food items and dicing up cheese/meet chunks while I got my gear together. I finally got things all squared away around 2am and crawled into bed for a few hours of sleep. I was really hoping to get a few more zzzzz's before going into a long stretch of no sleep.
Here is just a sample of my food--I brought a variety of sweet and salty snacks along on the trip: cheese/sausage cut into easily chewable chunks, salty almonds, some form of chocolate (and a lot of it), sports products like goo and shot blocks, PBJ sandwiches, dried fruit, and Fritos--which are one of my absolute favorite salty fatty snack when I am feeling depleted. We didnt bring a stove so I was able to eat everthing while on the move. I have learned over the past few years what my body craves and needs in order to stay verticle during long periods of excercise. Andy just brought like 8lbs of Cliff Bars and pounded one every hour or so. I have a hard time pushing even one of those nasty things down into my gut. I am not quite sure how he can tolerate them by the dumptruck load.

My gear consisted of a base layer of long underwear to an outer shell of gortex. We planned on curling up under our boats if we got tired so we did not bring sleeping bags or tents. I also had a hat, gloves, neoprene socks, life jacket (which doubles as a great insulating layer too), bug dope, headnet, knife, duct tape, sunscreen, and the packraft. I actually ended up with extra space in my pack once I had everything stuffed in and the total weight was right around 30 lbs.

10 am Saturday:
It was obvious to the other competitors we were not in that big of a hurry this morning. We showed up at Chena Hot Springs about a minute before the start and didnt actually get moving until everyone else had departed which actually isnt a big deal for such a long distance race. I was dragging a little bit this morning too because I was a bit anxious and nervous and didnt sleep as solidly as I would have liked. I was hoping the excitement of the race and being outside would keep me pumped up...

Here is Ned and Andy leaving Chena Hot Springs. We walked down the road about a mile to the North Fork of the Chena River and then veered north to follow the Yukon Quest sled dog trail for the first portion of our trek.

In the first few miles we had to cross the North Fork several times and there were many places we jumped off of remnant shelf ice and down into the icy water. So I think we had dry feet for the first 20 minutes of our 46 hour tour.

2 pm Saturday:
Trail is a bit of a misnomer since this is a "winter" trail which traverses the valley floor where the ground is wet, boggy, brushy, and buggy. Many of the other racers followed a steep trail that took them quickly up to treeline where the ridge walking is much easier. We didnt take the most direct route but it was the shortest distance to Birch Creek and we figured this path would spare us from some bushwhacking. Much of the area had been burned so all the trees looked like toasted sticks.

The wet muskeg sucks your foot in like a vacume and nearly pulls your shoe off while making an escape.

The mud bogs are great at preserving animal tracks. I presume this track was left by a grizzly bear due to its large size. Fotunately for us we didnt run into this guy.

Another advantage to this route was the abundance of H2O. We pounded a liter at every creek crossing and then refilled and dropped some iodine and repeated this process many times. My pee was actually completely clear. The guys that stuck to the ridges had to drink sparingly and conserve liquid along the way.

5 pm Saturday:
After a 18 mile steady climb up the North Fork and a smaller tribuatary called Boulder Creek we arrive above treeline and cross over into the headwaters of the Birch Creek drainage. From this point on we followed the ridgeline northward and enjoyed some smooth and stable walking in the alpine zone.

The wildflowers were in full bloom and the birds greeted us with lovely songs.

8 pm Saturday:
The ridge walking was a nice relief from the boggy lowlands but it wasnt too long before we descended enough to encounter trees again and one of the most annoying and obnoxious vegetative features in Alaska--> tussocks!

Its difficult to explain how frustrating it is to walk on tussocks--it totally sucks! They are mounds of sedges/grasses that wobble around if you step on the crown of them and then what lurks in between are deep wet trenches that suck your shoes off. So there is basically nowhere to place your feet. Walking at a reasonable pace is physically impossible. This is a pic of some mild tussocks but is not really representative. And of course where there are tussocks...there are hoards of mosquitoes to keep you company.

To add to the torture of the tussocks we had to navigate through a maze of burned of trees and shrubs from a 2004 forest fire. Every time a tussock knocked us off balance we ended up getting pierced by sharp, black sticks. We got lucky though because this sort of torture only went on for about an hour. One of the other routes had many hours of plodding through tussocks.

1030 pm Saturday:
After 25 miles of trekking from Chena Hot Springs we reach Birch Creek at last. This is where we get to rest our legs and blistery feet and jump into the packrafts. I was really excited to get on the water at this point. We have about 40 miles of floating before reaching our take-out point at Harrison Cr.

We spent about an hour transitioning over to to travel by water.

Andy outfitted his boat with a powder blue hippo seat--her head was also a good back rest


1 comment:

Tim said...

Nice pictures! I came here to explain a scene in "To Build A Fire" to my daughter where Jack London uses an alternative word (niggerheads) for these tussocks. Your post helped a lot.
My post about issues around that word is right here: http://www.phpsolvent.com/wordpress/?p=2411