The desire to leave

I need an adventure, I need it physically, morally, viscerally, something strong that transports me to another world. Get out of my comfort zone.

February 6, 2019. Operating table for heart surgery. My yet solid heart must be reprogrammed. The chip that controls the electric rhythm is buggy. 3 hours of surgery to denerve fibers of the vagus nerve, burn or freeze “circuits” which generate unwanted electric influxes. I come out of the hospital at a steady pace but with +20 bpm above my athletic pace. The sensations during the following months are quite bizarre. “The engine” has stopped idling, a “purring cat” in my lungs. The very technical operation was a success, however, my heart gradually regained its former rhythm.

Job side: a difficult year, maximum stress, but it’s been 30 years that it lasts.

January 4, 2020. I’m looking for a way to recharge my batteries. See the sun again after spending a year in a cellar. I need an adventure, I need it physically, morally, viscerally, something strong that transports me to another world. Get out of my comfort zone.

Crossing a rowing ocean? I have already given. Too complicated, too long and above all too boring. Lots of snow in the Alps, I am accumulating ski trips. I have to find a project in winter, with snow, cold, on skis, in harsh conditions to recover my legs, my head.

The Iditarod Trail Invitationnal (www.iditarodtrailinvitationnal.com) is THE thing for me. A race across Alaska on the Iditarod Trail, on foot, on skis or by bike. Two distances to choose from: 350 Miles (600 km) or 1000 Miles (1600 km), all with almost autonomy and without assistance. I finished this “white odyssey” in 1998 and in 2000 with Bruno, I want to go back like 20 years ago. These landscapes, this ordeal really marked me. And the word is too weak.

I lead a life that is too complicated, with too much information. Find yourself in nature, cut off from the world or almost, with just the basic things to think about, simpler things. Need to feel “fucking alive” as Pierre would say. There is still a big problem: we are on January 4: departure on March 1, 8 weeks. Deadline, timing, very tight for my preparation.

Have a bib. I have a good CV (this race is “by invitation”) but the race quota (80 competitors) has been full for a long time. Long waiting list. I had considered this race with my friend Stéphane last July, but we had abandoned this one because Stef was changing jobs. I take the risk, buy my tickets for Anchorage, book an AirBnB. No way to go back. I contact the organization, asking them to register on the “last minute short list”. On such an event, there will inevitably be last-minute defections.

I’m here, I’m ready, I’m waiting.

8 weeks. Fire. Every day counts. The priorities: train well but arrive fresh and rested. The equipment must be perfectly adapted (during my last race of its kind on the Yukon in 2015, it was -50 ° C the first night), the route engraved in the head. I skied this trail … 20 years ago.

Get up before 5 am every morning for 2 months. Every other day for skiing (I need an hour’s drive to reach the Nordic area); the other day, make up for the work put aside the day before. I am motivated, happy to get up early, to train. No outing under 35 km, always more than 100 each WE. 2 full WE in Bessans to cut down the kilometers and remind me of the essential gestures of the “good” bivouac: pitching the tent, lighting the gas stove (gas freezes from -20 ° C), sleeping in the snow, …

I spend my evenings browsing, studying maps, reading, rewriting what I can find on the Net. That makes a lot. Thanks to Lars and Beat, they did the race several times, answered all my questions, and gave me the GPS tracks.

Equip yourself well. Aim for the superlight. My technical equipment, at the top 5 or 10 years ago, is completely outdated. I have no choice, I have to change everything. This material will be my life insurance: new pulka built at Liteboat (which also manufactures boats …), new tent, GPS, clothing, skis …, packages delivered almost every day.

I spend my evenings browsing, studying maps, reading, rewriting what I can find on the Net. That makes a lot.

Even with the right preparation, the risk of failing is great. The dropouts are rather high on this type of extreme race. Before leaving, the ideas must be clear.

Alaska. This is my 10th trip to this beautiful country, the 8th in winter. I have never seen anywhere else such brightness, probably high latitude.
I like this country. Arrival in Anchorage only 3 days before departure. Big mistake. Too short to recover from a 10 hour time difference. I’m going to, I need to compensate the jetlag, adapt. I prefer an AirBnB in the center rather than the hotel proposed by the organization of the race, much better for my meals, but a little sad to be alone here.

I met Lars with whom I have been actively corresponding for 1 month on the Net. Lars is an “icon” of the race with already 5 participations. He brings me a waxing iron (Lars will be on skis like me) and the material that I ordered in the USA and delivered to his home. Super US breakfast. Thanks to Dawn, Lars’ wife, for preparing my 2 drop bags.

Beautiful weather, I spend 6 hours a day walking, skiing, to reset my internal clock, to start getting used to the cold, in the extreme conditions that await me. It is -15 ° in the morning and -10 ° in the afternoon. I feel good, I am confident. Even with the right preparation, the risk of failing is great. The dropouts are rather high on this type of extreme race. Before leaving, the ideas must be clear. 600 km on skis in winter in Alaska, an undrawn track, a 25 kg pulka to tow in less than 10 days: it will be very hard.

I’m here, I’m ready, I’m waiting.

Next day >

1st of March – The start