I’m going down on the Susitna river. The trail is flat until Yentna. I ski like a zombie, slowly. I’m catching up with Greg, an Alaskan skier who slept on the course. He has great wilderness experience: he sleeps in the snow, without tent or bivouac bag, just in his goretex sleeping bag. He chose back country skis, larger and heavier. It makes him slower than me but however we arrive together at Yentna. We will have roughly the same rhythm for several days. I’ll realize later that what matters most to go fast is not the pace of progression, but the time we spend on the trail. You have to limit stops, don’t sleep too much, don’t stop or waste time … to save time. Skiing fast is not the main factor. The day is endless, the Susitna river endless, CP1 seems unattainable. I overtake many competitors on foot or by bike who have spent the night without sleeping on the trail. The start of this race is rather difficult, I wonder: what am I doing here? This question, I asked myself in my previous expeditions. I know that the answer, for the moment, buried deep inside me, will gradually rise to the surface and will seem obvious, clear once my goal is reached.
Why this desire to start again, if not?
Leaving early in the morning in the snowstorm for 40km when I have not had enough sleep or food will not remain my best race memory. I arrive in Yentna, it is 4pm. It makes a good excuse not to leave. 40km in 10 hours, not really a feat on this entirely flat part. No record in Alaska.
Yentna is a big log cabin on the banks of the river, run by a large and welcoming family where 3 generations live together. A good beer, a sandwich, it’s starting to get better. It is very hot (+25°C) and I can dry my clothes, recharge my batteries, literally and figuratively. I take my dinner and go to bed early, to leave early. That’s the plan tonight. At around 7 p.m., the boss, a 73-year-old young man, delivers a high-quality “rock” concert to match the hospitality of the place. Surreal. There is quite a scene: a grizzly bear skin hanging on the wall, teenagers playing video games on TV, runners eat, others sleep in armchairs, and the voice of the boss’s Bruce Springsteen… … I find the Kiwis, Asbjorn and a dozen other competitors. Lars, Greg and Forest, all 3 on skis have already left in the direction of Skwentna, CP2. I’m lagging behind.
But the strategy of this race is complex: where to stop to rest? What do you do when you arrive at 4pm in a cabin or lodge? Do we enjoy a warm place and waste some time? Or leave after a stop and bivy in the cold in the middle of the night? Tortoise (pulk?). We all know the end of the story: for this night, I will be warm in a real bed … The rest will prove me right.
I’m here, I’m fine, I have time.