The full (it’s long!) write up of our 2017 Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra 430 miles race. There is a lot of detail in here, which I hope some people will find useful in preparation for their own YAU or similar – good luck!
If at first you don’t succeed…
Extract from 2015
It was 04:00am and I needed to stop. I was hurting so much. I pitched my tent and rested, without setting an alarm, hoping to see if it was possible for me to continue in the morning. I felt done, defeated, sorry for myself and just incredibly low– a feeling I had never experienced in the outdoors before.
I got myself out of the tent at 08:00am after a four hour sleep and knew instantly that my race was finished. My feet and ankles were so stiff, swollen and painful it was an enormous struggle just to get my trainers on. At around 118 miles I had a further 182 miles to go and for the most part it was forest with small parts on lakes from time to time. I made a decision, reached over and pressed the help button on my spot tracker sending a signal to the race organisers that I had scratched. I fell back into my sleeping bag a slept properly for the first time since in days. I felt total and utter relief that I was done.
Immediately afterwards I couldn’t see it. I needed time and perspective to understand and appreciate that there are actually more lessons that come from failures than successes. To make that decision was one of the hardest decisions i’ve ever had to make, but as usual, in hindsight, it was the right one.
For my full report from 2016 including videos from each day click – here
The 2017 Yukon Arctic Ultra
It happened with out me really realising but I had signed up for the 2017 race with my friend Tom as a Team – and we had entered the bi-annual 430 miles! Tom is a good friend and very fit runner having done a few big ultra race including the UTMB. He also had a good CV a big cold mountains so I knew he could look after himself well. He was the perfect partner in crime for such huge race.
In the months leading up to the race we talked so freely of all the training we would do together and preparation we would put into the race but with his family commitments and me being away all the time we suddenly found ourselves with just weeks before the race and little of the aforementioned complete. I knew we had both been out training a little individually and I just hoped that with last years experience and my general high level of fitness that I had done enough not to let the side down.
We spent quite a few evenings preparing the kit and food and discussing calorie intake (Tom loving his spreadsheets) and me explaining what pieces kit we needed and passing on all the little details I had learned from 2016. As a Montane athelete (for mountaineering, not ultras!) I had all the kit I need but they kindly agreed to provide Tom with all his clothing too and we entered the race as TeamMontane proudly matching our attire. We borrow snowshoes and extra warm sleeping bags, discussed stoves and clothing and doubled checked the required kit list to make sure had it all.
The time came for us to leave for Whitehorse and I think we felt pretty ready. We had a shopping list for our arrival, bits and pieces to buy and sort, food to get, briefings to attend. An old family friend of Toms lived in Whitehorse and kindly put us up for a few days. The generosity and kindness shown to us from Peter and his family was above and beyond and made us both feel incredible welcome to the Yukon. We zipped around Whitehorse buying and collecting all our bits and pieces with out own personal driver (!) and then spent hours weighing out and seperating the food and packing our sleds. Over a beer in their hot tub we mussed about the pros an cons of bars vs rope for hauling the sled and I gave him my experience from 2016. Unable to bare the heavy cumbersome plastic bars we opted for the super light string option.
Pretty much set we joined all the 2017 athletes for the final briefings and group meal at the Goldrush Inn. There was an air of excitement in the room and at my table I got to meet and chat with Pat (who later finished the 430 on her bike for the second time! Incredible effort!) and Steve (who went on to win the 300 miles race). Tom disspeared for 30mins to sign up to a medical research project taking place and came back wth huge arm band which he had to wear to the entire race. An admirable deed but non the less I couldn’t help laugh at him for the huge arm band he now hand on. After a huge feed we heading back for some more faffing and an early night with one last sleep in a bed before the race.
arrived early and positioned our sleds near the back of the start
banner and disappeared off to Tim Hortons (a Canadian fast food
place) for a breakfast muffin (think Mcdonalds). I devoured the
burger and took two more as takeaway for the sled – ideal race food
for the first few hours! Back at the start line it was a hive of
activity and we had just missed the group photo – whoops never
mind! The count down was on so I nipped around and wished luck to all
the folk that I knew in the race. My friend Matt was back again
having completed the 100 last year. Scott was also in the same boat,
and there a few others we had got to know during the past few days.
It was quite possible that I might not see them again during the
3, 2, 1 and we were off! We had discussed race tactics extensively and I was adamant that the first few hours and first day we would take it pretty easy. It was a busy start with nearly 100 competitors across all the race distances (marathon, 100, 300, 430). We fell in line on the trail and strode out on the Yukon river and it felt fantastic! Pretty soon the competitors from the marathon had run off and the rest of the field slowly began to stretched out. This was a 430 miles race so there was no need to start rushing off anywhere. It was a cold day (around -22) and my hands a feet instantly went cold. This was partly down to the Tim Hortons in my stomach steeling all the bloody from my extremities and partly just because I had started exercising. I made fists within my gloves and wiggles my toes and soon enough my numb feet and hands warmed up and life was a whole lot better.
The route to Riverndall Check point at around 22 miles was normally on the river but due to bad ice the first 12 miles was in the forest to the right and quite undulating. Just about enough that we got to test out the sledging potenital of our sleds for the first time. Keeping with the same name as 2016 I was pleased to see that Betty was excellent at sledging! After some time Tom decided to call his Shackleton, which provided some laugher. Matt had caught us up and we walked as a 3 for 5 miles or so until we dropped down a steep trail (superb sledge) on to the Yukon River and shortly after turning onto the Takini River.
The going was much easier from here and we picked up the pace a little enjoying the relatively flat hard trail in the river. The evening sunlight was beautiful and just as night fell we arrived into the checkpoint. It was a hive of activity and with a little confusion we negotiated some hot food, water and a fire. Yann and Thilo were the race film crew and as it is a Montane sponsored race I felt oblige to give them the time the wanted to ask questions and see how we were getting on. Tom and I were in good spirits here and our self designated 30 mins soon came round and we descended the slope back onto the river and into the darkness.
We agreed to keep the first day sensible and I knew that after around another 10 miles we came off the river and headed into the forest. We agreed we would find the first sensible place to stop and bivi for 3-4 hours. The temperature had plummeted since the day time and I could feel it still dropping. At some point we had stopped and put our primaloft trousers, an extra top layer and warmer mitts. We darting around quickly putting the small single skin tent up and bundled inside. It was tiny and right nightmare, and with two of us there was very little spare room. Once in we tried to sleep but it was cold and uncomfortable. This tent arrangment could be a huge mistake. I lyed awake, tired and chilly but unable to really sleep.
At around 02:00 we got up and quickly packed everything away. Everything was frozen. We didn’t stop to eat or drink or rest and hit the trail to get our bodies going. It worked, as it always does, and we were soon much happier are warmer although it was still very cold so stopping wasn’t an option. Normally dry cold doesn’t feel too bad but the air was incredible moist and this gets in your clothing and makes you feel much colder. At around 5/6 oclock in the morning we felt the temperature drop even further and we decided it must have been pushing -40 or more. I was desperate for a number two an after holding off and holding off I had no choice but to go. As fast as I could I went about my business but I had braces on my trousers which meant taking off my 3 warmer top layers to access them. Having spent a huge amount of time in very cold mountain environments the cold temperatures didn’t concern me too much, I knew I could look after myself and manage myself in these conditions – as we were both doing that morning. But by the time I was done and put all my layers back on I was quite cold and shivering and desperate to get moving again. I wore everything I had and pretty soon was warming up again. Normally there might be an end to the cold once the sun comes up or once you are back at basecamp – but not in this environment.
At this point we both began to feel very small niggles creeping in. My right calf was twinging a little and my left knee and for Tom his ankles. When it is this cold it feels like it gets inside your bones and joints and makes them ache reguardles of exericeing or not. We took some painkillers during a break a carried on. We decided to keep to our routine of a quick break every hour or so, but instead of sitting down for 5 mins, we stood, quickly opened the flask, had a drink, nibbled something and got going again. We were both starting to feel a little rubbing and pain from our shoes (Hoka high top) so we stopped and swapped to our lighter softer warm weather trainers. They were so much more comfortable but then we both had to spend all our time thinking about and keeping my toes warm. The only way to get through the race is to be on top of your personal admin. The second you feel something is wrong, or you feel a hot spot coming on you have to do something about it. If you wait it is often too late. It can be frustrating stopping and starting at the beginning but it will always save you time in the long run.
The trail goes on and on and we were moving well. Periodically I swapped between music and podcasts conscious of not wanted to use up all my podcasts this early on in the race! Desperate to reach the checkpoint Tom stuck his gps on and found out how far it was the Dog Grave Lake Checkpoint – and it wasn’t too far. This was such great news and we pushed the pace into the checkpoint arriving around 15:00.
At the checkpoint we met lots of other competitors from both the 300 and 430. Scott was just leaving and Jessie had arrived just before us, and 4 or 5 others sat around the fire – including Jim a legend of a guy at 70 something years old and here for the 3rd time I believe! I wasn’t to know it at the time but we would spend a lot of the race with these guys becoming a mini family ‘at the back’.
Whilst it had been really cold in the night and the desire to be forward thinking is diminished, my only water bottle – a 1L nalgeen – had frozen, as had Toms. We handed in our Thermos flasks and our frozen nalgeens for them to kindly filled up with hot water. One of the volunteers decided to come and educated everyone of how we should plan our water carrying better and it’s stupid to carry frozen water etc. I knew this of course, but it is sometimes easier said than done. He ha a fair point but the way it explained it going on and on for about 10 minutes was so frustrating that I was keen to get going asap and move on up the trail!
We gathered our flasks and re packed our sleds and said out thank you’s to the volunteers at the checkpoint. There were two large tents at Dog Grave Lake Checkpoint but only for staff or medical issues. We set off up the trail as the sun had began setting, it must have been around 16:00. At the checkpoint Toms down jacket got knocked too close to the fire and had melted a large whole in it. It seems that ducktape doesn’t work so well in very cold conditions either so there were a few feathers on the trial that evening. From last years race and double checking with a skadoo driver I knew there was a small wooden cabin 5 miles out of the checkpoint. We aimed for this with hope and promise. The skadoo drivers were a huge part of the race for the competitors, often being the only friendly face you might see all day. They are also our safty back up should we require assistance. By the sounds of it they had had a busy day extracting people from the race who had scratched for various reasons such as frost bite, hypotermia and lung problems. It had been brutally cold first 36 hours but Tom but I were surprised so many had scratched. Selfishly it seemed to raise out spirits a little.
The cabin came into view and we couldn’t help ourselves. We shot up the short slope and went inside. Jackpot. Within minutes we had the fire going strong and stripping off all our layers and hanging them up to dry. It was only a small cabin and soon it was toasty warm, we both felt a million times better about everything. With bunkbed type wooden playforms we agreed to sleep until midnight before setting off again for the 100 mile checkpoint at Breaburn around 40 miles way. God it felt good to be warm.
We left the cabin around 12:30am (two other competitors had joined us through the night) and stepped into a perfect calm crisp night. We new that most people would have probable pushed on further but would now be sleeping so it was possible we would probably pass them in the night. We were not bothered in the slightest about winning the race, simply surviving and getting to the end seemed like an insurmountable challenge at this point in time.
I remembered this section from last year and prepared Tom for a long 15-20 mile section that all looks very similar before finally dropping down onto a lake near the checkpoint. We put our music in and our heads down. Around 07:00 we spotted a head torch in the distance and wondered who it was. Its amazing how much it boosts moral when you get to speak to someone new or see something human. Eventually we caught up with the torch and realised it was Scott! We exchanged a very welcome but brief hello and trundled of into the darkness. It was still very cold at around -30. Scott never seemed to actually stop for a break so we leap frogged each other for a few hours before he then remained in front of us for a while. As with each day the sunrise eventually came and by around 10 ococlk we felt the suns rays on our face. Tom and I stopped in a little suntrap between the trees and took a moment to enjoy this warmth before plodding on into the cold shaddows once again. A short while later we bumped into Yann and Thilo which means we had to be close. Strategically they were filming just before the lake when most people are at their lowest point having just done mile after mile of same same long straight forest trail. It was so good to see them and have a chat. They filmed a mini interview and Tom sledding down the step hill onto the lake, which both made it into the daily videos they were making.
The lake was a very welcome change after what felt like forever in the trees. The vast frozen expanse disappearing in each direction as far as the eye could see and the sun bouncing of the flat crystal white surface was absolutely magical. I spotted Scott on the far side of the lake and decided to try and catch him up and walk in together. The last few miles through the forest dragged and with short sharp steep ups and downs it caused both Tom and I some substantial discomfort in our legs. Carefully dodging the sled so it didn’t slam into the back of our ankles and then running up the other side to try and make every inch of ground possible before it slams onto your hips becasme I trick we mastered over the course of the race. At almost exactly midday, nearly 52 hours after starting we crossed the finish line for the 100 mile race. I could help but think that I wished that was my race complete. We were not even a third of the way!
It was busy at the checkpoint – a local cafe in Braeburn with legendary food – and most the drying spots near the fire were all taken. We pealing off our layers and hung them up as best we could before opening our drop bags to see what we had. I’m not sure what I was expecting as I had packed it myself but I was disappointed to see 2 bags (days) of food, one pair of clean underpants and some pain killers. Since the second day Tom and I had been taking some anti-inflammatories and pain killers when needed so a resupply was much needed. Matt was here and a few others we new. Check points soon became one of my favourite parts of the race as we got to catch up with everyone and see how they were getting on. I crossed the room to study the race sheet on the wall for a while gobsmacked and the times of the front runners and interested to see how other folk in the race were getting on. A lot of people had scratched from the race it and after chatting with the medics it seems the cold 48 hours had caused heaps of people to withdraw with various injuries. We were now towards the middle back of the group but could not care less – our aim was to finish the race, if we could.
We devoured the enormous burger and went to rest and sleep for a few in the cabins around the back. Jessie was already alseep on one of the beds so Tom kindly took the floor and I took the other bed. Although basic it was a dream to have a snooze in a warm dry room. My legs felt swollen and achey and I slept with them elevated and iced for a few hours.
Although we had time, there was always a pressure not to hang around to long. Up, faff, fill thermos, eat more, toilet, faff, and 6 hours after arriving we were ready to go. You cant help but feel positive and upbeat when you leave a check point – all the volunteers and everyone in the race were always so helpful and generous it was just wonderful to be apart of.
I new of a small cabin/sauna about 18 miles from the Braeburn checkpoint which weas just under halfway to the next remote checkpoint at Ken Lake. Last year I had camped just 2 miles from it (without realising) before pressing my help button on the spot. We were going to aim for this for a short rest before carrying on (and purhaps a cheeky sauna!).
From Braeburn it is about 10 miles of undulating track and forest trail until you hit the first lake. We sat on our sleds and tobogganed all the down sections including a steep one and almost directly into an Italian team who were stopped at the bottom!! My memory was hazzy here from 2016 but I remembered walking out across some huge lakes in substantial amount of pain but having a really special moment watching the northen lights and hoped it might happen again. As with each new section the first 8-10 miles seemed to pass relatively quickly and then time simply slows down, or maybe we did ,but it because a daily feature. The lakes kept on coming intersected with short pieces of forest. The changes were welcomed but personally I liked the open lakes as I got to look up and enjoy the views a lot more. I recognised almost all of the route well once I was there and kept tell Tom about what was round the corner or where I had camped the year before etc. I expect he probably didn’t careless but was kind enough to at least pretend to be interested. From Braeburn I had decided to use my GPS in order to make sure we didn’t miss or overshoot the cabin and by midnight we were closing in. Just as I recognised the final step entry down onto Cognan Lake we came across a racer just getting in his bivi, we stopped and ask if he was all good and appart from being pretty cold and tired he said he was all good and needed a rest. We whizzed down the step descent and with great excitement and confidence told Tom ‘this was definitely the big lake with the Cabin…it’s just about an hour or so over there!’. As we walk out into the lake we turned our head torches off, the moon was bright enough to se easily with out it. The moon was almost full and cast our shadows strongly on the lake. I often stopped momentarily to look behind me to take it all in – this lake is absolutely massive! Being stood in the middle of a such a vast lake isn’t something I did very often and it felt bazaarly exciting. Either the urge to reach the cabin or the fact we had just noticed 2 head torches (probably the Italian couple) at the entrance to the lake behind us we increased our pace a little and made good time across the lake.
At around 1am we stopped and enjoyed a 5 minute break and Tom elbowed me and said ‘ey lad look up there’. Classic northerner. We stood in silence for a while as the green band grew stronger and danced freely across the sky in front of us. Over a period of 20 minutes or so it got better and better. I felt so lucky once again to experience this mythical show. Behind us the bright moon was so clear you could see the bumps and scars on its surface and all around the biggest stars were shining bright against the dark sky…and in front of us the northern lights! A truly magical moment in the race I will never forget. Straight out in front of me on the edge of the forest I caught a glimps of an outline that looked like a roof and knew it was the main cabin that where we were aiming for. Feeling excited and slightly selfish at the idea of another fire in the a small cabin we kept our torches off as not to let on where we were heading. There were 4 or 5 cabins but I knew the little one at the back was a sauna and should be unlocked. Bingo – we were in luck. It was a pretty cold night, so as quick as we could we grabbed our stuff and got inside. My feet had got wet in the last 50m through the snow and were absolutely freezing num. I wasn’t overly concerned for frost bite as long as I got them warm relatively soon. Tom got the fire going with a bit of huffing and puffing and we smiled at our good fortune. This was amazing!
On arrival at the cabins we has seen 3 other racers having a sleep out the front of the main cabin including Matt. It was clearly quite a well know spot! I wanted to go and wake him but I expected he was pretty close to leaving anyhow and there really wasn’t any room inside. Moral went sky high and we lay our sleeping bags on the floor for a few hours sleep. I attended to my feet and mentally noted how pleased I was that they were doing well, no blisters for easier of us yet, just general swelling an pain.
In the morning we sorted ourselves pretty slowly, neither of us really wanting to leave the safety and warmth of the little cabin. Either that or I think the enormity of what still lay ahead had truly set in and we were both massively apprehensive about it. We were only 118 miles in and 430 miles felt a very very long way off. We ate a freeze dried meal, melted a little snow for water on the jet boil and left the cabin clean and tidy as we had found it (minus a few logs). As we left I noted Jessie was biving by the main cabin. She stirred as we passed and I told her it was still warm in there!
So much of this race is done in the dark and for most racers alone. Tom and I talked about this often and how challenging we thought we would both find it if we had entered individually. I’m not suggesting being a team is easier, it comes with its own challenges and potentially problems, but it certainly helped us reduce the mental strength required to deal with such long dark periods of time on your own.
Shortly after leaving we passed the place where I had scratched the year before. It was weirdly emotional and it felt great to walk straight past it. Whilst I was hurting substantially it wasn’t anywhere near the pain and discomfort I was in at that spot last year. At that moment in time my right calf was hurting a lot and I had a sharp pain inside my left knee but they seemed to have reached a level. Tom seemed to be suffering too although I think his was more achilles and ankles. The sun was soon up and we felt like we were making good progress but we had a long day ahead. Lake after lake after lake was the order of the day interspersed with short sections on forest. Every now and then we would come across a smiley face or a note to another competitor drawn in the snow. This small sign of human life was always great to see and made us feel better so we did some of our own from time to time for anyone behind us to read. As the sun descended and we entered the final 10 miles of the day Jim came marching through the forest. Jim was in his early 70s and had been in the race a few times before. At this point Tom and I had already discussed that anyone who does this race more that once must be nutter or a glutton for punishment. Jim seemed it such good spirits and was moving really well. We had a little chat and he carried on ahead of us. What an inspiration. A short time later he took a break and we pass him again. Not before long he caught us up and I asked if he would like to pass. Rather sweetly he asked weather he could carry on behind is for a while as it was nice to have some company. We were delighted.
One thing we learnt was it didn’t really matter how far you were hoping to go that day but the final 10 miles was always brutal and never ending. Today wasn’t any different. It was still cold, and the lakes seemed never ending, moral was pretty low as night fell and time kept on ticking by with no sign of the check point. A second wind was pushing me faster towards the checkpoint but I could see Tom was suffering and there is nothing worse than feeling like you are holding someone back. We were a team and I need him with me to the end. Through out the race we would peak and trough with tiredness, love/hate for the race and general enjoyment. But simply having Tom there to talk to made such a huge difference to me and I hoped he felt the same.
A little broken we eventually crawled up the brutal steep slope into Ken Lake and straight into the tent. Jim had left us during one of our regualr breaks as he was part of the only 3 breaks a day club! We were greeted by a lovely volunteer called Bernard who actually owned the sauna we had stayed in and already new we had been in there! Thankfully he didn’t seem to mind and he joked about him sending us an invoice for it! (it was a joke right Bernard?). We demolished our luke-warm meal that the checkpoint provided (i’d have quite literary eaten anything) and hung our damp clothes around the tent as best we could hoping the log burner would do its magic whilst we rested. Sleeping was all outside and there were quite a few racers around. We had a compulsory foot and hand check before heading out to make our bed of the night. We were both pretty shattered so we just laid the tent down flat and slept on top of it.
It was a cold cold night around – 25/30 and pretty noisy around the checkpoint with some impressive snoring and general noise from other racers coming and going. Exhausted but unable to sleep I laid awake staring at the stars between the tips of the pine trees wondering how much further I could go in this race, I felt pretty broken. I managed a bit of snoozing I think, and a few chilly hours later I woke Tom and we set about getting on the move. Over the past few days I had developed some minor chaffing between my bum cheeks which needed some seeing to. Nothing that Sudacream couldn’t sort out..when the Sudacream isn’t frozen. I slung it in an inside pocked and resided to having to do it on the trail later on.
Feeling tired and feeling a bit low we descended the step slope and hobbled slowly out on to the lake. We took the first few miles pretty steady to warm up the muscles that were sore and hurting. It was going to be a pretty big day miles wise but at the end was Carmax – the race cut off point and a community center where we could get indoors and have a shower! The thought of a shower was incredibly appealing right now.
The morning was tough and one look in Toms eyes told me that he was hurting as much as I was. Thoughts about quitting the race were swimming around our heads. I just couldnt se how I could keep this up for another 250 miles or so. Tom seemed to be struggling to manage is body temperature getting cold then hot, then sweaty and unable to rest for long of fear of getting too cold. I told him to go in front and set any pace that felt comfortable. Classically he shot off at a great pace and held it constant which seemed to go the trick. It is such a small thing but ‘being at the back’ can have such a damaging effect on you physiologically if you feel like your struggling to keep up or not feeling 100%.
It was another long long cold night and with our achilles hurting we were both wearing our lighter trainers which meant constantly having cold toes. Wriggling and a bit of leg swinging whilst moving brought them eventually back to life, but then we would stop for just a few minutes for a quick hot drink and bit to eat and they would get cold again. Neither of us were concerned for frost bite at this stage it was simply more of just a pain to keep managing them.
Around 12 miles in the lakes finished and so began a brutal 15 mile forest section along the edge of the Yukon river. The weather had began to turn and it had got much warmer and began to snow too. As if our moods were not low enough the snow simply makes the sled feel 10 times heaver with the resistance the fresh snow causes when pulling it. We passed a few racers sleeping which always makes you feel better, double checking their names but didn’t recognise them. Hour after hour passed and our speed had slowed down substantially and was desperately slow. The going was really tough. The trail here was undulating and really soft and hard work on the legs and ankles. After what seemed an eternity of dragging the sled Tom and I sat down for a break feeling utterly deflated and done for. We joked about the race and how stupidly hard it was and how all we wanted to do was stop – based on how much we hurt and how exhausted we were. I told Tom that I wasn’t enjoying myself at all, and I was being honest, I wasn’t, at all. I have never wanted to stop doing something so much in my entire life I told him. He agreed completely and for the first time we vocalised our thought of scratching from the race. We promised each other that no matter what happens if either of us ever said we were entering the race again we were not allowed to let them – and we shook hands on it. I never want to go through this again I laughed. I knew only to well that once the race is done my brain would do this wonderful thing of forgetting all the pain and unpleasant experiences and enhancing all the good bits.
As always the last few miles were mentally the hardest and I remember begging the checkpoint to come into view, banging my walking poles on the ice and screaming inside for the day to be over. A few miles earlier we had over taken Jessie who seemed in good spirits although she must have been going slow and I think she said she was hurting a bit too. She caught us up again and we walked the final miles in together (well, I tried to keep up hobbling). This girl is a machine I thought, and totally bonkers as this was the 3rd time she had been in the race and second time in doing the 430!! Why would anyone ever want to come and do this race again, its insane? I asked her this exact question and she said the first of many wise things that helped both Tom and I through the race. ‘It will get easier and the best bits are yet to come. You’ll get used to the pain in a few days time’.
Eventually we made it into Carmax and the hive of activity at around 18:00. There were lots of competitors here and all sorts of things happening. We were now 175 miles in to the race and we had made the cut off point. As usual the staff were above and beyond kind and helpful and understanding that we were close to breaking point. I sat down with Tom and said, lets just take as much time as we need, shower, rest, sleep and make a decision in the morning. One thing I would suggest is always try and make the next checkpoint even if you think your slower than slow and never quit the minute you arrive at the checkpoint. Take some rest.
Matt was just about to leave when we arrived so we caught up with him and wished him the best of luck. Both his ankles had tendonitus and were crackling when he moved them. It reminded me of last year but Matt is obviously much tougher than I am and seemed ready to head out in to the darkness for more suffering. After a pretty extensive faff and shower we sat down to hot meal provided at the check point. It tasted amazing but I could have eaten it twice over. I made a conscious effort to rehydrate with tea, hot chocolate and water and then hobble up the stairs to try and find a space to sleep on the floor. Tom disappeared off for 30 minutes to do his medical science with the research students. It was warm and noisy and I tried to sleep with my legs elevated on a chair and ice packs on my ankles. I moved the ice packs from my knees to my achilles and then round to the front of my left ankle. This seemed to help a lot with the pain and swelling.
In the middle of the night I saw Jessie and Scott get up to leave and wondered if I would see them again in the race. Everyone seemed to be moving so much better than we did. I just couldn’t see how I could make it the end in my current state. After some light and broken sleep I woke at 4 and set about sorting my stuff. My knee and calf were in substantial amounts of pain and I felt really tired. Sat chatting to another competitor called Marcello who asked if I had taped it? Ermmm no? I said slightly confused. He convinced me it would help a lot and offered to tape my calf and knee. I couldn’t see how it would possibly help but I was willing to try anything. Robert (race organiser) came over for a chat and his never ending positivity about the race picked up my mood. The time restraints are easier now he said, you can take your time a little and rest a little more at check points and still make it to the end in time.
Tom finished his medical tests and we had a chat. I was feeling super tired and after some research had found out that the local shop opened at 07:30 and we agreed we would leave then and buy some fresh goodies. Pretty much ready to go I just grabbed my sleeping stuff and hobbled back upstairs. It was now pretty empty – other than Jim who seemed to always sleep well – and I found a quiet dark corner and got an amazing deep 2 hours sleep. As I bent my knee it screamed at me, feeling a lot worse than before. I lend over and pulled the tape off and with it all my leg hair. Strangely though my calf felt slightly better so I left that tape on. I hobbled down the stairs feeling a bit low about it all.
We never really discussed what we were doing, we just got ourselves ready, said our thankyous to the volunteers, Robert and the medics and walked out into the darkness. It was not too cold and the stars were out once again. It was over 12 hours since arriving at Carmax and we were now the last people to leave the checkpoint, but we simply didn’t care.
From the shop we bought a small pizza and 4 sausage rolls and heated them in the shop micro wave. This was possibly the greatest thing in the world at the time and instantly Tom and I had a smile on our faces. It was definitely worth waiting the extra few hours at the checkpoint for! We set of with a new bounce in our stride and disappeared into the darkness towards Mcabe Creek 38 miles away.
The trail shortly turned into a snowy road so the going was easy enough and it seems after a slow mile or so to get warm both us agreed our niggles and pains felt a bit better…although it might have been the drugs kicking in. After a few hours we were surprised to come across Marcello and another 300 mile competitor I hadn’t met before who seemed to be moving slowly but in really good spirits. We pushed on enjoying the relatively flat trail and the GPS slowly counted up the miles. Around 12 miles in it changed to a thinner forest trail but this was equally flat and the change in scene was very welcome. Pretty much from start to finish we stopped roughly every hour for a quick break, sometimes just a minute to grab a quick drink or a wee and sometimes of 5 minutes for a proper rest. I think this did us wonders in the long term and meant we grazed on our 6000 calories throughout the day and kept our hydration levels up too. Looking back I think we did this perfectly throughout the race. (Details on our 6000 calories at the bottom).
As normal the afternoon began to drag and as the sun went down and the temperature plummeted and the miles seem to take forever. We had been going for nearly 14 hours and we we’re both semi keen to bivi down. The forest came to an end and the edge of a huge river which unlike most we had seen was a heap of jumbled ice blocks. With my head torch on its brightest mode I could count 10 markers reflecting back at me heading out into the middle of the river through the ice. We looked about for a bivi spot but it was all overgrown a bit scrappy.
It was at this exact point I left my left foot twinged exactly like it had the year before and my heart sank. I had come to terms with the pain of my current injuries and seemed to be managing them and i’d really hoped that the tendentious on the front of my foot/shin wouldn’t come back again. I told Tom and felt dispare spread through my body as we descended down on the river, I couldn’t believe this was happening again. I expressed my concern and we agreed to look for the first good bivi spot. The river stretched out and I could vaguely see an island of land which I hoped would house a good bivi spot. It is always much colder on the ice so we really need to be in the forest if possible. Eventually we reached the island but it was pretty clear there was nowhere to bivi. I really wanted to stop and rest it. We had no choice but to keep going and keep going until eventually we came off the river again. The GPS suggested it was around 6miles/10km from this point and just as we were looking for an expectable bivi spot suddenly out of know where Marcello appeared at 100mph looking startled and clearly a little confused exclaiming that the check point was here, or at most 1km! We were pretty convinced it was around 10km further but the doubt was seeded and we carried on a little just incase. After another half an hour someone had scribbled 6km in the snow. We stopped and had a good 10 minute break and took on some food and water and decided to keep pushing to the checkpoint. I ate all the sweets I had left. It was a long, desperate and challenging 2 hours, but I am really pleased he did push through in the end.
As we crawled into the checkpoint – once again totally broken – we were greeted with warm, friendly and welcoming hugs. What a difference this makes when you are at the end of your tether. A amazing lasagne, chocolate brownie and two hot chocolates later and we both felt much better about life. The room was lovely and warm and 5 competitors including Scott, Jessie and Jim were sleeping at the back. I quickly hung up anything that needed drying and brought in my thermos’s and sleeping stuff. The medic had a chat with us but there was very little they could offer either of us and I set about my evening routine of icing my knees and ankles for half an hour whilst elevated on a chair before crashing out for the best 3 hours sleep I had in the entire race.
We left feeling generally better about life. It really is amazing how a little human interaction and 3 hours sleep can make you feel so much better! The next checkpoint was Pelly Crossing – the eventual finish for the 300miles. It was going to be another big long day and we were aiming to make to the checkpoint some 3?? miles away. The trail straight out of Mcabe was a straight 6 miles trail following the Pilons. I didn’t enjoy this section as it was perfectly straight and it never feels like you are getting anywhere. After a while it changed to quite pleasant forest and we seemed to holding a pretty good speed.
After around 6 hours in the weather started to change it began to snow quite a lot. Although the trail was still obvious hauling the sledge instantly becomes much harder work. The day seems to slow substantially and the changing lakes and forest seemed to go on for ever. I was trying desperately to maintain positive and upbeat but finding it hard. I was reaching my limits both physically and mentially. In the latter afternoon my legs begin to feel like they are really swallon, describing them to Tom as one long phat sausage. When we paused for a break I lead on my back with m y legs in the air and watched the snow fall silently outo the sky. It was quite hypnotic and although I doubt it was happening it felt like the fluid in my legs was draining out with every second a lay there upsdie down. I repeated this a few times though the afternoon and it seemed to help a bit.
Our pace had slowed down substantially and even the churpy skadoo drivers were struggling to raise our sprits. The trail was tough and slow going and we were both suffering substantially. I really wanted this day over but I knew we had miles and miles to go. Mentally I just didn’t know if I had it in me, so I began talking to myself, sort of interview style, which made me smile and passed a few minutes.
So far on our journey I hadn’t seen a single animal but I has seen foot prints and signs of elk, moose, hares and wolves. I was pretty keen to see a wolf and knew that Marcello and seen some the day before and apparently they were back again tracking him today. We nick named him wolfman for now as I kept forgetting his name. Earlier in the day the trail had an inch of fresh snow on it so all the foot prints were covered but there was a fresh set of wolf prints on the trail. They must have bee only minutes old which we both thought was really exciting. But we had no luck in spotting one.
Darkness engulfed us once again and so did the desire to sleep. To keep me awake and moving forward and shouted out loud every now and then, usually some sarcastic comment about how id rather be nowhere lese in the world right now, not even on a beach. Or simply make some silly noises that would give me a sudden boost of adrenalin. As with everyday the final miles dragged on and eventually we saw the lights of the town and the main road leading in. The markers had been moved so we guess it was striaght on and as we looked about for any signs of markers or people 2 skadoos came out to great us. It was always without down the best feeling to see these guys and over the last few days I had grown to really enjoy our chats with ???? and ?????. The two medical ressearch students ???? and ???? came and greeted us to and walked the last 300m into the checkpoint.
The gym was a busy place. The new HQ of the race was set up here and I sneaked on Roberts wifi to send a quick message home. We sat around for a while unwinding and laughing about the day and enjoying some warm tasty food, which again I could of devoured 2 or 3 times over. Tom managed to blag some extra bread rations which felt like a small victory. Even still it wasn’t the Macdonalds we had spent the last 1km talking about. We decided to take a reasonable rest as it seemed most other folk were too and set our alarms for a 5 hour sleep. There were quite a few folk at this checkpoint when we arrived including Mal and ???? who had planned to fat bike the 200 miles. I chatted to Mal for a while and then blagged a bit of his food he no longer needed. It wasn’t that we necessarily needed it, I was just keen for some variety! Like Jim it seems Mal was hoping to survive on baby bells – so we kindly accepted a few of these and tucked them away in the sledge!
One big sleep later and I felt much better. I am not sure if it was something in the food or a good sleep but a little more positivity had come about. Much to our surprise Marcello had found the close wolf encounters all a bit too much and reached his limit and decided to scratch from the race. We were disspointed for him but equally found it a little ammusing (sorry Marcello!) as we had previously nicknamed him the wolfman! As we went to leave in the morning I noticed a sign on the wall that said 232 miles…and it suddenly dawned on me that that was all we had done! We had another 200 miles to go! This race was insain. Thats not even possible. I pointed it out to Tom who just shrugged and in his usual wonderful banter, said come on big lad lets go.
This day turned out to be not only the closed day I considered scratching from the race but also the turning point for the whole race for me. It was snowing heavily when we left and my ankles and knee were refusing to loosen up. The pain in left foot was there from the off and I simply couldnt go any faster. It was supposed to be a straighfored day – a 32 mile road all the way to an incredble place called Pelly Farm. There was no trail and just deep snow to drag the sled through. The only was I can discribe is is like tying a 20kg kettle bell to a rope, trying it your waist and dragging it along the beach, it the dark and cold for hour after hour. Sole destroying. In the night we passed Steve who went on to win the 300 mile race who seemed to be flying along and a little disspointed he wasn’t in the 430. For a while we followed another racers foot prints in front of us. It was clear the the sleep monsters were getting the betetr of him as the wondered and zig zagged all over the place. Eventually we came across the culptrit having much need sleep at the side of the trail – it was Scotty! The pace was slow for me today and whilst the hours past the miles didn’t and I felt aweful as Tom was clearly having to wait for me all the time. By the middle of the day it was a really pleasnt temperature and for the first time in the race and I was down to just 2 layers. On one of the really long hills Robert came past in his truck and said hi. I expressed my feelings and he kindly brushed them a said and told me to keep going. Trying to find the hardest surface to walk on I zig zagged a little mostly staying the tyre tracks that had now compressed the snow alittle.
After what felt like an eternity of constantly going up all the time and dragging betty behind me the terrain seemed to begin descending. We passed ???? one half of Italian team who was heading to the 300 finsih who confirmed that it was mostly down hill all the way to Pelly Farm but it was still about 20km. I wanted to cry. At somepoint in the afternoon it was time for some more drugs and a descent break. I took 10 minutes and ate a tone and drank some tea. I asked Tom if I could go in the front as I mentioned before this helps a huge amount physcologically. The later part of the day was quite beautful – the huge pine trees bowing under the weight of the fallen snow dropped all around us and the sunset was cutting its way through any gaps in the forest. It really was a beautful place. After 6 miles out I began to feel a bit better, my legs seemed to be feeling better and I decided to just give it some and see what happened. Tom was hurting to but seemed good to keep up as I opened up the tank and stormed off at full walking speed. It felt incredible to be smashing down the road pretty much as fast as I could walk – around 4 miles an hour. We stopped briefly as per normal but otherwise with music on we practically smashed out the final miles. We passed Robert heading back out again and he confirmed it was just over 2 miles left. My legs felt swallon and over used but I wasnt going to stop now we pushed on toghere into the most beautioufl and inspiring location for a house I had seen in a long time. At the end of the road, far far away from anywhere, perched on the edge of a huge frozen river was Pelly Farm.
Although felling pretty broken everything in the race was up from here for me. On arrival we parked out sleds amongst 4 or 5 others and were ushured into a warm and welcoming home. All our wet frozen wet kit was taken away from us and kindly hung up to dry. A huge lasagne and a cold beer was placed in front us and for a brief moment everything seemed all ok. Chief medic Dianne was around and was her usual upbeat and happy self, Scott was relaxing in a very comfortable looking arm chair and Jessie was heading out to grab some sleep. All racers had a compulsory 8 hour stop here and I could see why some people stay longer. After food we were taken to a small cosy cabin with a huge log fire in it which housed 5 or 6 beds, most were taken with other racers but we found the spare ones and crashed out. I noticed all our frozen kit was dryinging nicely hanging up around the fire.
For the first time in the race both Tom and I slept really well for around 5 hours and felt much better for it. At home I regularly sleep 8-10 hours and need it, so I had no idea how I was able to opperate out here having had practically non since the start. After the breakfast of champions (pancakes and eggs!) we collected our thermos flasks, bid farewell and trundled of it to the darkness. My calf had now all but stopped hurting thanks to the magic tape and my knee had also substantially reduced its discomfort. I think Tom and I were now in a similar boat with both achilles incredibly tight and sore and and ankle. I had no choice but to wear my lightweight low cut trail shoes as this put less pressure on my achilles, and with the warmer weather this was just fine, but I was concered that if it got cold when we headed into the mountains I would get cold toes.
?????? at Pelly farm had talked me through the route from here to Scroggie Creak 66 miles away and it sounded generally fine. I knew the first part of the day was all gnerally up hill with a major hill at around half way. Going up suited me fine as it reduced the angle on my ankle and it almost didn’t hurt. Continuing in the theme of the final miles yesterday I went out front and set a blistering pace up the hills. I checked regularly to see if Tom was still with me and he was right there – boom, we were finally flying again! We stopped from time to time, but with music and the cold early morning temperatures dropping before the sunrise we pushed on and clocked up the miles.
As we blasted around a corner at 13 miles we bumped into Jessie and Scott much to our surprise. They had left a few hours earlier and I wondered if they were both ok. We sat and enjoyed a break in the sunshine with them for 15 minutes before moving off at our newfound pace. Clearly Jessie and Scott were not having any of it and very soon Scott ‘I dont stop’ Smith came flying fast and off into the distance. His gate was very short considering he was pretty tall and we joked about trying to walk in his foot prints. For two small people it seemed we had quite long strides. For what felt like the first time in the race Tom and I seemed to be actually enjoying ourselves on the trail, it was forested but open enough to look around and it felt remote and untouched. We could see mountainous all around in the distance and I wondered which ones we might have to go over. As climbers and mountaineers both Tom and I were looking forward to this final mountainous section.
We decided that in light of our good pace and spirits we would try and break the back of the day and keep pushing to around 20:00 – about a 17 hour day. So at lunch time around 26 miles done we found a suntrap and stopped for an hours break. We made a fire, had a freeze fried meal and dried our feet out. Moral was sky high and we joked about the race as normal. Jessie soon appeared and joined us for a while by the fire. I know she had said a numerous occasions that she relished the opportunity to spend some time along and enjoyed the race this way but i’m sure deep down she enjoyed having some company from time to time.
The after noon passed with relative ease as the 3 of us made steady work of the trail. Jessie informed us of a 4km hill we were about to do which took us roughly to the half way point and Tom and I smiled at each other. Heads down, music we set to work on the hill and with one short break half way up before we knew it reached the top. Scott had caught up with Uwe (a really lovely guy from ?????) and had set up there tents for a rest here, but we were pretty good to carry on and stick to our plan, and more importantly it was downhill from here!
We had mastered the art of sledging by now and I smiled at Jessie as we pulled our sleds and sat down. She had fixed bars on her sled which meant it was a bit more time consuming and faffy to sled down but I had no doubt she would catch us up…she always did. It didn’t matter how short or slow the sledging was it always felt like winning but this was something else – it was steep and fast and absolutely amazing! Steep descent after step descent continued around each corner and we zoomed down effortlessly for what seemed like ages! Tom had adopted the kneeling up position which seems faster and I chose the sitting down version. ON the steepest section going around 20 miles pre hour I hit a bump and my entire sled was fully airborn for a brief moment, but as the groove in the trail was quite deep it remained straight and I fired off in pursuit of Tom. Finally our sleds came to a stop and we lay there laughing – it felt so good to have zoomed along the trail for a few miles and we marched off feeling on top of the world.
This part of the forest was my favourite of the entire race. An ancient pine forest with huge high trees bending and drooping under the heavy weight of the snow. Every now and then I would wack a heavily laden branch with my walking pole and watch the branch spring back up right as the snow came cascading down. As the hours drew on my body began to feel the effects of the long day, I was tired and we agreed to begin looking for a bivi spot at around 20:00. The tempertaures were very pleasant, probably only aroudn -10 and I didnt even need gloves on whilst we set up out little camp for the night. I slept out in my bivi and Tom in the tent. The moment I lay down on the soft snow deep inside my monster sleeping bag a could feel my body shutting down. Fighting against the inevitable I forced my eyes to stay open just a little longer to watched the stars above sparkle against the black sky. A shooter star tore across the small patch I was watching and I turned on my side. It was perfect.
The next day was more of the same – big beautiful forest with tracks and trail of animal life everywhere. Even though we were now 9 days in I always got a little pang of excitement when I saw wolf prints. This seemed like the perfect place for them to live. Shortly after starting my left ankle began screaming at me and I couldnt believe it. It rapidly grew in pain to the point of which I was using my walking poles of try and elvate as much of the pressure as possible. I stopped and faffed with socks and trainers to make sure there was nothing odd going on but tried to push on. It was absolutel aggony and I could undertand why. I relished nay slight inclines as it felt heaps better but ebry flat or down hill would bring me crawling down to snail speed. I appoligised over and over again to Tom saying im sorry, I cant go any faster. I hobbled the best I could and over time it seemed to ease a little and with additional drugs I was able to walk a little better in the afternoon.
The final 10km to Scroggie creak was utterly spectacular. The sun was up, sharding its way through the trees to our faces. It was warm and pleasant as we followed the edge of a the winding frozen creak. For the very time in the race we reached the check point and I hadn’t been in total dispare during the final few hours depserate for that day to end. What an mazing little place. Seemingly in the middle of absolutely knowhere, Scroggie Creak was just 2 small cabins and an outhouse toilet. We were warmly welcomed by Jessica and Sue and sat down to enjoy some hot chocolate. There were no other racers here but Jessie, Scott and Ewe would not be far behind.
The usual faffing took place, hanging kit, sorting thermos’s, planning our leaving time etc and the daily ice’ing routine before sleeping. It was noisy and hot in the hut so neither of us slept particularly well but the rest did us good. Scott had offered us some of his KT tape so Tom and I covered our achilles and my left foot in the stuff hoping it would help.
The next leg to Indian River was 50 miles and we decided to smash out 6 hours, take a short bivi then push through the check point. Jessica very kindly allowed us a second meal before we left as so many racers had scratched and she had extra – leaving a checkpoint with a full stomach was such a bonus. We literally devoured it. Boiling water here was a little slow going so we offered to have warm water in our nalgeen bottles from the pot on the fire which had been warming the packaged meals. This was a terrible idea as when we came to drink it on the trail it tasted absolutely horrrifc and almost made both Tom and I vomit. We poured this away and had some piping hot tea instead to disgues the taste. Jessicas husband saw us off in the dark (around 21:00) and down a very steep slope on to a river. I realised that my ankles were not screaming at me and the first 10km along the river was really enjoyable. Once in the forest we kept a good pace but it seemed Toms achilles were causing him some discomfort so we went ahead and we stuck together.
Suddenly out the corner of my eye I saw something started me – 4 huge JCB diggers sat silently by the end of the trail. I was so confused as I called out to Tom. We looked around and could see a number of cabins, old disused caravans, and forgotten about cars and trucks. We knew it was part of the old gold mining error but non the less in the night time it looked pretty scary and we decided not to hang around. It looked like the perfect place to film a horror movie. 03:00 came around and we were pleased with our distance, covered so we quickly bivi’d down next to the trail. Once again I lay there watching the sky, it was an amazing display of stars but the moon was bright and hidding the millions more from view. I felt my body relax and sink into the ground and I was gone. In the night Jessie, Scott and Uwe passed us having left a few hours after we did and going to Indian creek in 1 push. We were at the back of the group again, but we honestly didn’t care.
We woke and natured called, I had now got this process down to an art, pre warming my wetwipes and sudacream and ensuring that I didn’t get too cold in the process. Today we new we had to make a huge climb of Black Rocks Hill and it was going to be uphill for most of the day….but then a huge down hill on the other side which only meant one thing!
Shortly after leaving we came across Scott bivi at the side of the trail – I knew he had trouble staying awake sometimes on the trail in the early morning and a quick hours nap seemed to sort him out well. The trail followed the old mining roads and we passed dozens of old diggers and machinery and dilapidated buildings throughout the early morning. Scott caught us up and we travelled as a 3 for the most of the day. Gradually going up and up the trail seemed never ending but enjoyable (I was still preffering to go up) and I was waiting for the zigzags I had heard so much about. With a reasonable amount of mountain experience Tom and I were both looking forward to getting in the mountains and whilst we joked about these being small hills the incline was long and steep and took hours. It was really hot today, maybe even around 0 degrees and pushing hard up the hills was sweaty work. We both relished the chance to push heart rates high and feel our legs screaming as they wokred hard pulling the sled up the long steep incline. By the time we reached the top we were both down to just leggingss and 1 baselayer! Uwe, Scott, Tom and I all reached the top around the same time which was quite sociable and Jessie was just ahead. The views were breath taking and all the hardwork rewarded with speciatular 360 views across Canadas vast empty wilderness.
With layers back on quickly we headed across the top ridges of the mountain for a few miles before the first big descent came into view. Tom called his wife from his satphone and she informed him of her 20 week scan and they were having a little boy. Tom was obviously delighted and a tad emtional and this lifted our spirits even higher. Excited for sledging we new we were in for a treat as Idiani River check pint was at the bottom of the valley. The intial descent was outstanding and we reached new personal best top speed of 23mph according to my GPS. It seemed to go on for ever and ever and was probably in the top few moments of the race. Mile after mile seemed to race by and on every corner the trail just carried on descending into the distance. I could hear top laughing in front of me and I to had a grin from ear to ear, this was amazing!! Scott was just behind me and Jessie and Uwe behind him and at one point we all sat together laughing and reliving the tabogen ride – these were the really great parts of the race I thought. When you get to share the experience in the moment with other racers.
We bumped into Yann, Skaddo 1 & 2 (put names in) and off loaded all our exciting tales of the summit and the descent. It was always so good to see these guys, but I knew we had another 4 or 5 hours head of us before reaching the checkpoint. I know they hate us asking how far it is to the check point but you just cant help yourself. They confirmed it was as far as I feared but it didn’t matter, it was warm and sunny and we had had such a great day.
After a monster day we arrived into Indian River pretty tired but in good spirits which was quickly squashed by a strict miliotary welcome to camp. What I really needed was a hug and a pat on the back but we got quite the opposite having completed the biggest day in my life. The camp was very remote and relaly quite impressive, they had clearly spent some time making it as plush as can be with pini needles covering the floor etc. We did our best to tip toe around the tent and only dry the essentials before crashing out in our bivi’s outside the back of the tent. As we settled down for a generous 4 hour sleep I turned to Tom and declared we only had 1 more day left. It felt strangley odd and almost sad saying it but equally there was nothing I wanted more than to finish this race. It occurred to me at this was the very first time in the race that I thought we might actually finish it. I had mostly been in to much pain or physiologically couldn’t comprehend finishing it that I hadn’t allowed myself to think much about it. It was still 50 miles away and I knew people had scratched during this last leg previously so knew it was going to be a huge pull over King Solomons Dome and into Dawson.
We left just before 03:00am with Scott and left Jessie and Uwe sleeping feeling confednet about what lay ahead but also in a completly different mind set. It felt weird and I dont know how to describe it but knowing that we should finish the race at the end of the day made us both feel completely different.
My memory goes a little hazzy through these early dark hours but I remember following a lot of wolf prints on the trail that morning, and for the first time seeing the bike tyres from Pat. Whether it was the change in mindset or simply 12 days taking its toll but I was really struggling to stay awake and much to amassment of Tom and Scott kept wobbling across the trail as I momentarily lapsed in consciousness. I fought against it like I had on previous days with music and singing but they kept coming for me. I forced sweets and hot tea into me hoping the sugar and caffine would help and just managed to keep moving forward. It must have been like watching some who was really drunk trying to walk and staggering home!
The sunrose as did the temperture and once again it was a beautiful warm blue sky day. Tom and I noth agreed that if you had to do this section in -40 and deep snow it would super tough going. We spotted Kinh Solomons done a few miles out and uped the pace towards the main climbs looking forward to the inevitable long steep slopes to the top. Like the day before we put our heads down and went into auto pilot smashing the main climb out in one huge blast. I cant remebver but it must have taken 45 minutes or so. The view from the top was incredible and we noticed an entire mountain range in the distance we hadnt seen before which looked more alpine and covered in snow. From here it keeps going and going on a gradual uphill and huge swtich back until finally you reach the crest of King Solomons Dome which felt absolutely amazing. From here it was simply along the ridges for a while then down down down all the way.
Knowing we still had 25 miles to go we decided to stop and take a long break and have a freeze dreid meal. During our stop all the skadoo drivers appeared and the film crew and we enjoyed some company and banter for a while. It was these little scenes that I will remember for a long time and the kindness and friendlyness of everyone involved in the race. We did our bit for the cameras a shot off in hot pursute of Scott who had carried on when we had stopped. It was a truly beautiful afternoon as be crossed the undutating ridges from one side to the other of this mountain range – it almost felt like being on a summit in Scotland as the light begins to fade.
Over the next 5 miles we did our best to sit on our sleds and skadoo the winding trail down the mountain but with the warm temperatures the snow as very sticky and was disspointly slow. I used my poles to push me along and this kept me going at around 5 mph – still much better than walking. At points we sat and zoomed down effortlessly at 12mph screaming and laughing out loud wishing it never to stop until finally it levelled out completely! The GPS said we had another 13 miles to go and after a quick chat with a passing Skadoo we understood it was 3or 4 miles to a road and then 10 or so down there to Dawson. We calculated this at around 4-5 hours, which doesn’t sounds like much but felt like a lot at the time. As we neared the road head we passed thorough more old mining buildings and a huge dredger frozen in the river. It looked so odd just sat there covered in snow in the middle of the Yukon.
The final leg was easy enough, an open flat road for miles and miles. We spotted some lights in the far far distance and hoped they were Dawson. Walking side by side for a change we chatted away passing the time reviewing the race and reliving some of the highs and lows. Its amazing how quickly your mind choses to forget some of the worst its and already they did seems ‘that bad’!! We joked about how much someone would have to pay you to turn around and go all the way back to Whitehorse and settled on £500,000. Further down the road we checked the GPS in case some miles had magically disspeared and discovered it was still over 6 miles as the crow flies so probably around 7 or so. Marching with a slight hoble we continued towards the finish line following Scotts hilariously short strides again. Trying to walk fast in his footprints made us laugh for some reason – he was walking 4 paces for every 3 of ours. A few miles out we stopped and turned our head torches off and lay down on our sleds. High above us the green northen lights were back and dancing across the entire sky. The race was done, and we knew we would finish in a few hours and I took this chance to thank Tom for being a total fucking legend for the last 12 days. I was absolutely adamant that I wouldn’t have pulled through to the end if he hadn’t been there to bully me though and visa vera. We enjoyed the moment for a short while and then headed off with another hour or 2 to go.
We were all but out of food having eaten absolutely everything we had, including pain killers. My ankle had start up again on the road but I didnt care and tried to ignor it the best I could. As we turned into Dawson the slow realse of finsihing an endurance event began creaping through my body as I thought we were almost done. I hadnt realised that we then turn off and head back into the darkness and up a river for 3km to the other end of the town! My heart sank and desperation set in as I tried to walk fast and faster. Why was the last few miles of everyday the hardest? Half way across the river I stopped and relised I was being stupid. I drank the last of my tea and ate my last shot block and decided to walk normally into the check point – it cant be that far.
One off the racers came out to meet us a few hundred meteres out and as always it was so good to see a reindly face. It was past 22:00 and quite cold but the end was insight. We snaked around the pack of a large building and down on the to the main road and there it was just 100m ahead. Tom slung his arm around me and said he wasnt let going until the end so I slung my arm over his sholder too. About 15 or so people where around and I was overwhelmed by them being there, I hadnt thought anyone would be there or care that we were finsiheing but I was wrong. This is the exact moment where I would normally well up a little but I think I was simply beyong exhaustion and dried out of any emtion.
Crossing the finish line and taking the harness off for the final time was the most wonderful feeling. Tom and I hugged each other – one of those big rib breakone ones which says a thousand words. We had endured 12 and half days of the hardest ultra race in the world, and every step of it together. I was forever indepted to him for his patients and determination and ability to inspire me to keep going when all I want to do was stop. It had been an absolute privilege to have done the race with him.
Someone had kindly arrange a pizza and a beer for us which was simply perfect and we sat around chatting to new friends and familiar faces for while in the warmth of the town hall. My friend Matt had come in many hours before us and seemed to look fresh as a daisy, and Scott an hour or so ahead of us. Jessie and Uwe were still out on the trail but moving well by all accounts. I could feel my body shutting down fast and autopilot taking over closing me down. I was totally and utterly done in, but we had done it.
The hardest and most incredible experience of my life.
‘…pick yourself up and try again’