6th of March – Puntilla Lake to Farewell – 80 km

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The day breaks, magnificent. The sky is tinged with a pink that I have not observed since the start.

4:00am awake in good shape. Coffee, porridge, departure. The sky is clear, promise of a cold and sunny day. This stage promises to be beautiful but long, traveling through a pass: Rainy Pass (1100 m D +). The trail rises gradually, the ground is harder. I pass Greg on skis and then Amber on foot, a sign that my progress is rapid.

The day breaks, magnificent. The sky is tinged with a pink that I have not observed since the start.

At the bottom of a small descent, I miss the junction for Rainy Pass, and head in the direction of Hells Gate. Many competitors made the same mistake and turned around after 500m. I therefore retrace my steps. Only Hendra, the Indonesian competitor, continued. His mistake resulted in him being rescued, blocked by a snowstorm at Hells gate. My Maori friends are beyond me, very happy to be able to pedal. The last steeper kilometer is done on foot. I arrive at the pass at the same time as Robert, the NZers begin the descent. I swallowed the first 30km without realizing it. I am in good form.

At the pass, 3 snowmachiners stop, take some pics and leave in front of me. Another 25 km to Rohn, CP5. The sun disappears behind a veil of clouds, a sign of disrupted weather for tomorrow, snow is coming.

The start of the descent is fast, but it doesn’t last, you have to push again on the legs, on the arms. The 3 snowmachiners broke the trail, making it soft. The rugby players shrewdly rushed ahead. The heavy snowfall made a safe trail, and solid snow bridges over all the gorges. I went there twice (1998 and 2000). The trail was icy, much faster but more dangerous.

I pass Dalzell Gorge. Don’t really want to bivouac around here. The waterfalls of ice overhanging the gorges are monstrous, unstable, threatening. On leaving, the trail continues on the completely frozen Tatitna River. I ski on cold ice, try to stabilize myself with the poles but take a nice bowl. This will leave me bruises for 10 days.

In some places, the ice is open with open water for 10 meters. I don’t want to stop to equip myself with my waterproof gaiters. I opt for a 500m detour, following the track of the bikes that have passed by. I am not really reassured, the ice seems in places really thin, fragile. Fear grips me when I arrive at Rohn: fatigue, the dark sky, the tense passage on the river, the loneliness? Certainly all.

Fear grips me when I arrive at Rohn: fatigue, the dark sky, the tense passage on the river, the loneliness? Certainly all.

While everything is set up, a flurry literally tears my tent, I just have time to dive to catch it.

I arrive around 5 p.m. at CP4 (Rohn), made up of a tent with a stove and a low bed, made of straw, for 6 people. Beth, Graham, George and Roberto, all on bikes, are there. I give myself 1 hour stop before resuming the trail. The stove purrs, I can dry my things. I eat two Bratwursts, I have never enjoyed better ones. I take this opportunity to recover my 2nd drop bag, (we were entitled to two, limited to 2.5kg, deposited by the organization), containing the necessary food until arrival. I feel great after 53 km since this morning and choose to ski despite the falling night. If I go ahead well, I’ll be in Nicolai tomorrow (another 120 km)… I smell strong.

The track starts again on the frozen river. It is strewn with pebbles; I pass as best as I can, without taking off the skis. I keep in mind this difficult track, very uneven, strewn with branches, trees: dangerous. A bad memory comes back to me: I had an accident here 20 years ago. I am warned, a warned man… It seems easier to me than in my bitter memory. The track is made of a succession of steep ascents and descents, I have to take off skis very often. I am in the territory of the bisons. Hunters left offal along the trail. I can hear wolves. It is pitch dark. I am alone. Atmosphere… I go past “Bisons Camp” at midnight and decide to pitch my tent, I’m exhausted. Can’t find a place with no wind. In addition, the snow is so powdery that I sink to the thighs off the track. No milling machine along this section.

I finally spot a recess to settle in, the wind is increasing. While everything is set up, a flurry literally tears my tent, I just have time to dive to catch it. Beat had warned me: a tent on the Iditarod can be dangerous or even dramatic. With winds more than 50km/h, it risks flying away, you could sleep outside and die frozen!

Following his advice, I bought a bivouac bag the day before departure. However, I prefer to pitch my tent where there is more space to undress. In a bivouac bag, you sleep in the snow, fully dressed in your down, shoes on your feet. It’s much less comfortable, and less restful. So I fold it all up and set off again. After 5 km, the hunters’ skidoos turned around and packed a stretch of track. There ! Finally ! The wind has not weakened, I am particularly careful when setting up my tent.

I go to bed around 1 am after a beautiful and long 80 km stage. There are still about 85 km to Nicolai that I hope to reach this evening. I fall asleep with a wolf howling. I may be worried. I am happy.

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D7 – Farewell to Nicolai