8th of March – Nicolai to Kuskoskwim river – 60 km
I eat for 2 hours the equivalent of 3 breakfasts, followed by a hamburger and potatoes.
9:00 am, less than 4 hours after going to bed. Tough. My face is swollen, bags under my eyes, probably tired. Beth and Chris arrived later at night, Beat is still sleeping. I eat for 2 hours the equivalent of 3 breakfasts, followed by a hamburger and potatoes. My body needs energy, I feel like I’ve lost weight. The balance between input and output is breaking down. There is a wash room, I take this opportunity to finally wash myself a bit. I haven’t taken my underwear off from the start, only my socks to walk barefoot in the snow. Loneliness is sometimes good … for others.
11 a.m. I’m ready to go. Georges arrives with a smile. Pushing a loaded bike through fresh snow is awful. This guy has a steel mind. On the trail again. On the way out of the village, I meet David, an organization volunteer from NZ. He makes images with his drone and wants to make a report on my race. No sooner have we started the conversation than I cry. Obviously, I need sleep after 2 nights of less than 4 hours. No matter, I am a man, no embarrassment, he understands.
My memory flashes back 22 years. In 1998, I was in the same place with a foot that had doubled in size due to a severe infection (staphylococci). I’m with Bill Merchant, the creator of the race. The only way to avoid amputation is to get McGrath to get medical help as soon as possible. I do it, on skis, with an open shoe. My swollen foot prevents me from being able to close it.
Back to the present. I am in doubt for this last step. 80 km remain. With such a late start, it’s almost noon, I don’t imagine skiing all night. It snowed a lot yesterday, the track is very soft. I’m slowly advancing at 5km / h. I’ve been progressing for 2 hours when the Iditarod trail breakers overtake me: 6 heavily loaded snow machines. They pack and mark the track. This convoy advances approximately 3 days in front of the Iditarod dogsled race whose was this day of Anchorage. The teams of 16 dogs must reach Nome (in about 8 or 9 days for the 1st) after a race of 1000 miles (1600 km) through Alaska.
The way is clear, the snow fell yesterday well packed, I go for it. Additional motivation, the pure blue sky returns, the day promises to be radiant. My morning moods are forgotten. I go forward, I go forward, I go forward.
In the middle of the afternoon, I do a technical stop to wax my skis and eat a hot meal. With the return of good weather, the cold returns. The almost flat track, most of the time on rivers, is pleasant. Many elks live in the area. I always watch these imposing creatures warily. They stay off the track, and I wisely stay on it. The day passes quickly, the kilometers pass by.
A skidoo joined me at the end of the afternoon. To let it pass I put myself on the side, fall and find myself buried in the powder, entangled with skis, sticks and pulk: a turtle unable to get up. The driver pulls over and gently comes over to give me a hand to get me back on the track in a good way. Unfortunately, after its passage, the snow is chewed, my progress drops suddenly: I sink and must make my own trail.
The sun sets in front of me. How lucky to see such a magnificent spectacle. I enjoy the moment despite the sharp, biting, penetrating cold that comes with the night. At the “McGrath 20 miles” sign I decide to take the track that follows the Kuskoskwim river. I read in the accounts that this passage is freezing due to the wind which goes up this corridor. This is confirmed, I have to take out my down jacket and for the first time my over-vest. It is literally a wolf cold. Like this animal, I feel trapped. I want, I have to stop to bivouac. Impossible, dangerous in this place. My thermometer tells me -30 ° C, it is certainly colder. It does not descend lower. I don’t prefer to know.
I go forward, I go forward, I go forward. The track goes up on the bank, cutting across the twists of the river. I spot a cramped place in the forest to set up my bivouac. It takes a long time to unpack a small area away from the track. The rules are formal: it is forbidden to pitch your tent on the trail. A skidoo passing in the middle of the night could be fatal. I’m very cold, especially on my feet. I get into my down as quickly as possible. No question of taking out my stove. It is 1am, still about 20 km. I fall into a bad sleep.