3rd of March – Yentna to Shell Lake Lodge. 80 km
I feel good, ready for a big day, ready to change my pace too, and catch up with the skiers, far ahead.
3:30am. Standing. Breakfast, washed down with a liter of coffee, with Kiwis. I feel good, ready for a big day, ready to change my pace too, and catch up with the skiers, far ahead.
4:30am. On the trail! It is colder (-24 ° C) but no snow is expected for the next few days. The trail is harder, faster, easier. The NZers are on their bikes, they overtake me quickly. I’m happy for them. Skiing at night is special. I love it. Concentrated on the trail and the skis, I advance faster, focused on the beam of my headlamp, breath and silence. Only landmarks, halos of lights in the distance: the other competitors.
I quickly caught up with Hendra, an Indonesian walker. He progresses more slowly, dragging a very heavy pulk. He was not at the lodge last night. Where did he sleep. Did he sleep? The flag of his country floats on his pulk. He seems really motivated to go to the end. I catch up with Greg, he bivouacked next to the trail. He breaks camp. Minimalist: a big hole in the powder.
8am. The day breaks, gray. Almost 20 km. A strong headwind further lowers the temperature. As for the feeling … My cheeks are starting to freeze. I turn to the Mc Dougall’s lodge located 300 m from the trail and I have a hearty breakfast: bacon & eggs accompanied by a stack of “French toast”, all washed down with 5 mugs of US coffee. We consume between 8000 kcal per day. The “boiler” must often be fed.
Fantastic and nice, welcome here. I give 2 ibuprofen to an English cyclist who suffers from knee pain. I will learn later that he has have given up. Alaska doesn’t bother with casualties. 1 hour later, my batteries are recharged, I leave.
I ski faster, a real pleasure. I don’t see anyone on this stretch. The track follows the Yentna river, climbs on the bank then continues in a pine forest. That’s wonderful. The amount of snow is impressive: I advance in a trench. The roofs of huts, summer houses, are loaded with 1.50m of snow. I arrive at the lodge (Skwentna / CP2) around 3pm. Already 50 km covered since the start. I find the Kiwis who finish their meal and other competitors on foot or bikes. The welcome is rather cold (I am used to it…) and impersonal, but the food is excellent. I swallow literally a dish of lasagna and take the opportunity to dry shoes and clothes. I skied fast and got soaked.
The weather is gray but the sun is not far away. It’s not cold. Departure from the lodge around 4 p.m. Objective: spend the night at Shell Lake Lodge, where they serve food all night, and sleep there in a cabin. There are 27 km to go and a lot of elevation to cross the Shell Hills. I accelerate the pace, I feel good. But the euphoria I feel again makes me lose the right track when I leave. Return to the lodge, 30 minutes lost. I’m waiting for Graham and George who set off and show me the way. They were there in 2019. The trail crosses a very large swamp swept by a strong wind. The snow is so powdery that it is impossible for cyclists to progress other than on foot.
I overtake the Kiwis who painfully push 35kg (15kg of bike + 20kg of gear). My skis sink deep. Sometimes I have to cross snowdrifts 50cm thick. Impressive but beautiful.
The trail crosses a very large swamp swept by a strong wind. The snow is so powdery that it is impossible for cyclists to progress other than on foot.
The sun is on the horizon, the doubts of being here have been blown away. I am well, I am serene, this wild landscape is so beautiful. So wild.
The wind has swept the clouds, the weather is magnificent. You can clearly see the whole Alaska Range and Mt Mc Kinley (Denali) in the background. I take many photos, the trail can wait. The sun is on the horizon, the doubts of being here have been blown away. I am well, I am serene, this wild landscape is so beautiful. So wild.
After 10km, part of a roller coaster to Shell Lake. The track becomes hard again, logically the cyclists overtake me again. I am tired, these climbs by force of arms exhaust me. Many traces of moose draw my attention. I have to be careful, they can be dangerous. They are in their home. I was not invited. There is so much fresh snow this year that they prefer to stay on the harder trail and no longer want to leave their territory. Two Italian cyclists have already been charged this year. Danger.
Like every day, the last kilometers are endless. I probably should have made a stop to swallow a soup, a meal. The pasta is far away, the batteries flat. 80km in the same day is too much, maybe too much. When there are 10km left, we say to ourselves: I am not stopping, I’m there… We are wrong. When there are 10km left, it can mean: another 2.5 hours of effort overnight, or much more, at -25°C, with wind. You have been skiing for 70km, 14 hours of effort,… it would be wiser to stop, put on your down jacket, take out the stove, and boil 1 liter of water…. Stop for 30 minutes or more to win 5 hours!
Again, a lack of lucidity, of reflection. I arrive at the lodge around 10 p.m. completely empty, haggard. Cold too. The wind was freezing over the lake. The Kiwis finish their burgers. I am unable to eating anything: upset, vomiting. It was really cold, I used up all my internal ammunition. After 1 hour in an armchair in front of the stove, I order a soup and a beer. They hardly go down. Beat goes back to the trail when I go to bed. He is always available to share his experience with everyone and never stingy with good advice. A great guy. Thanks Beat.
1 a.m. I collapse on my bunk in “my cabin in Alaska”, happy to have achieved my 80km goal, to have “done the job”. The Kiwis will take care of the wood stove overnight. I just snore. Thank you Graham and George.