1st of March – The start

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We notice each other with respect, peaceful soldiers in a war against ourselves. We will win it.

Woke up around 3am, hardly slept. I have to leave the hospitable heat of my AirBnB. A taxi brings me to the hotel around 9am, the meeting place for the shuttle departure. When I arrive, I see that my pulk is significantly larger than those of most competitors. Probably heavier too. I meet Chris (on foot in ITI350) and help him load his gear which must be 10 pounds lighter than mine.

11am, departure by bus to Knik, 1.5 hours of travel. I take this opportunity to eat my lunch prepared early this morning, my mind already on the trail. The ambiance is good. Many competitors from all around the world: 20 countries represented. The start takes place in a large parking lot in front of a bar, “trapper cabin at the end of the world”. It’s very gray, a snowstorm is forecast for the afternoon. It’s not cold. It is snowing lightly, I stay outside to prepare my things. It’s complicated with all these waterproof bags. Where did I put this? And that? I spend my time opening and closing bags. Is pressure clogging my mind?

We are 78 at the start, including 24 registered in the ITI1000 to Nome. I notice that there are mostly bikes. Only 3 competitors (out of 24) will cross the finish line in Nome. The exceptionally hard weather this year will make a ruthless selection. There are 54 of us trying to reach McGrath (600km) in a time limit of 10 days, half of us will see the finish line.

We notice each other with respect, peaceful soldiers in a war against ourselves. We will win it.

I enter the bar to drink a coke with Lars who finishes a tray of french fries. Not really stressed, just in a hurry to leave. Like him, my plan is to ski 80km in one shot to Yentna Lodge, CP1. Very ambitious objective, perhaps too much. I have had time to learn from my various adventures that things never go the way we imagine; you have to be flexible in your head, not block your mind.
I’m here. I am ready for that. I wait.

The last few minutes are getting nerve-wracking.

The start arrives at 2pm. After 1 km, the bikes leave the trail preferring a road, with a detour of 10km. There is no imposed or marked route on this race, just the obligation to go through 6 CP (checkpoints). The weather forecast announces a lot of snow for the first two days of the race followed by a sudden drop in temperatures with -40 °C for the middle of the week, with a strong wind. Perfect. I like these extreme conditions.

The track is soft, covered with lots of powder. There has not been a winter with so much snow and so cold in more than 20 years in Alaska. The pace will not be fast. I find myself in front with the skiers (5) and the walkers. It begins to snow heavily, everyone’s progress is slowed. The walkers put on their snowshoes.

I stay with the leading group so as not to get lost. For this start of the race, many paths go in all directions, I am afraid of taking a wrong track. The route is not marked out. So I’m following Forest, a young Fairbanks skier who skis with a backpack, and 2 runners, an American and an Irishman. Their pace is very strong, these 2 guys are pace as if in a 10km race: I look at my GPS: 9km/h on the flat with snowshoes and a pulk! Soaked, I drop all my layers of clothes, the trail goes up and down constantly. Some steep bumps force me to take off the skis, go up on foot. Forest, in front, seems to know the route well, we pass the walkers. Adrenaline, endorphins are flowing through my veins, I feel good.

Before 7pm, we take out our headlamps, it continues to snow, it is not cold. First big “down” for me, I want to sleep at the edge of the trail, the jetlag probably. I arrived late Wednesday night from Europe, it is Sunday. Too short for an organism to adjust. I think I did not eat enough for this start of the race. Maybe hypoglycemia.

Adrenaline, endorphins are flowing through my veins, I feel good.

By participating in this adventure, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. My hopes are fulfilled.

At the NOME 1049 sign, I noted that we had to take a track to the right. Forest, in front, leaves on the left. He’s already far away, I can’t talk to him about it. I don’t see a track on the right, but I’m not seriously looking. Mistake. I should have looked better, taken out my GPS, taken more time to analyze the situation. I had the ideal track on this one. The route requires an almost 5km extra on a hellish track. Lars and Greg went to the right.Best choice.

The track continues with “Up and Down”, we are still sinking as much. I join Forest and decide to stop to eat. We take this opportunity to talk about the race. He leaves a few minutes before me. It takes me over an hour to catch him.

The progress is really slow, the skis sink into the “deep”. The pulk is not really an advantage. Around 9 p.m., we reach the swamps of Flathorn. A dozen bikers have already passed and have plowed this track. They are on foot, pushing their bikes which weigh between 30 and 40 kg, terrible, transforming the track into a narrow trench. I’m happy to be on skis. My pulk, too wide, turns into a snow plow bulldozer. Skiing becomes a real fight, I’m sweating despite the -5 ° C. I barely overtake some cyclists.

Around 11 p.m., the 2 leading runners caught up with me. The terrain leveled off, we crossed frozen lakes of overflows (the water passes between snow and ice) which nevertheless went well on skis. It is midnight, I have traveled 51 km, an average of 4.25 km / hour, including stops. Not really what I imagined. This upsets all my plans: at such a speed, I will have to cut back on my sleep to finish on time.
This race will not be very fast and it will take looooonnnng days to cut down the kilometers. With a hard trail, we would go much faster.

No way to go to Yentna. I’m exhausted. I decide to pitch my tent at the edge of the trail. The snow is soaked, heavy. Not very lucid after this trying day, I forget to cook dinner and fall asleep quickly, all dressed in wet clothes. It’s -10 ° C. I am warm, however, in my down bag rated for -40°C. By participating in this adventure, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. My hopes are fulfilled.

I’m here. I adapt. I fight.

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D2 – Flathorn to Yentna