7th of March – Farewell to Nicolai- 80 km
The day promises to be long, complicated, tricky, I know it.
5 a.m. 4 hours of sleep. I speed along, motivated by this long stage, 85 or 90 km to reach Nicolai. I do not doubt. The sky is very low, snow is coming. The day promises to be long, complicated, tricky, I know it. If it is snowing a lot, the speed of progress is divided by 2!
I want to ski at a high pace. But the trail, made difficult by tree trunks and very steep climbs, means that I often have to remove my skis. The trail decides. It’s snowing.
Around 8am, first breakfast stop: coffee and porridge. My gas stove, despite the cold and snow, works like a real blowtorch. I boil water and fill my 2 thermoses. Mid-morning, I catch up with Chris (North Carolina). I helped him get his pulk loaded on the day of departure. Chris is in FAS = Full Speed Ahead mode. He must catch a plane for Anchorage Monday noon at McGrath… He has more than 200 km, every minute counts. We move forward together for a long time, until the junction for Bear Creek. It’s nice to go in pairs.
The snow is falling without weakening, we still keep moving fast. Chris hasn’t put on his snowshoes yet. Roberto arrives from the back by bike. He confirms that the track will now be flat until Nicolai. Good news. I swallow a hot meal, my companion stops a little longer, I go ahead.
6 p.m., Sullivan Creek, I’m filling up with water. A metal bucket attached to the bridge by a cable allows you to use it in the river. I drink a lot, not really ideal with water at 0°C and eat a little. I decide to stop as little as possible until Nicolai. Now it is all or nothing… Night falls very quickly, I avoid thinking about all that I have left to go. You have to be positive, keep your morale intact. I’ll need it 100% in a few hours.
Around 8 p.m., I caught up with George, who was pushing his bike. He has been walking for hours, he is burned out. Graham left in front. George admits to crying, it’s poignant. Difficult, impossible, to hide your emotions when you draw so deep into yourself. I encourage him as best I can and go a long way behind him. His cracked morale is improving. He seems worried about the route. We have to find a fork on the right, we must not to miss it. We take the time to study the map and find the solution. Another 20 km, no need to add more.
George will actually arrive the next morning, after 3 hours sleep a few km from Nicolai. He couldn’t take it anymore, he was exhausted. I spin through the night, hypnotized by the beam of my headlamp, looking only at my skis. I unplug the brain, in a daze. I go forward, I go forward, I go forward. After several hours, I see the sign “10 miles”: another 3 hours and I will be warm. Alas, seven skidoos pass me making the track impassable, very difficult to ski.
I’m starting to hallucinate… It’s time for me to stop, rest, rest. 2 am, I finally enter the village of Nicolai. The kitchen is still open. Despite the late hour (morning?) volunteers offer me 2 cheese burgers. Another king’s feast. I find Graham who scrutinizes, worried, the beacon of his friend, still on the track. I learn that we have changed hours and that it is already 4 am. An hour lost, I really needed it … I go to bed around 5 o’clock. I have been traveling the track for 24 hours, I am completely drained, exhausted, but happy with this extraordinary day of skiing, the 90 km covered.
Jean Louis Etienne, “doctor of cold expeditions”, said: “We don’t push our limits, we discover them”. I fall asleep on this thought.