Snowbikes at Cabin on Rainy Pass
Eric and I hung out with Bill in the cabin for a few hours and then we decided that it was time to try to make it over the pass and down Dalzel Gorge to Rohn, the 5th checkpoint. By now, the wind and snow had really picked up and our bikes were covered in snow. So were the tracks made by the racers in front of us... We took off from the cabin, and couldn't even figure out how to get to where we had come from. There was just waist deep soft snow everywhere, the wind was blowing really hard, and we barely made any progress. After about half an hour we decided it was pointless; there was no way we could make it all the way to Rohn (about 18 miles) by ourselves, so we turned around to go back. Our tracks had already been blown over. It was so frustrating, overwhelming, and kind of scary that I had a little melt down.
Bill was there to great us when we returned. I got my sleeping bag out and curled up with all of my clothes on, but I was still freezing. As soon as I went for more than 30 minutes without eating, my body totally shut down, and I couldn't keep warm and I had no energy at all. I ate a muffin and some cookie dough that Eric had brought and instantly felt better. Then Bill offered us some freeze dried chicken and rice. It was so good to eat something hot. After dinner Bill produced a bottle of Rumplemint schnapps and I had a shot in some hot cocoa. It was quite a meal we had up at the Rainy Pass Hilton. Thanks Bill!!
In the afternoon 2 other racers joined us, Billy Koitzsch and Aidan Harding. They too decided to try to make it over the pass, but came back after a few minutes. 2 skiers, Peter Basinger and Ed Plumb stopped by briefly, they weren't having too much trouble with the snow and pressed on after only a few minutes of rest. While hanging out in the cabin, Eric took it upon himself to find a tarp and hang it with some giant nails from the ceiling to block some of the wind. It also kept more snow from drifting into the cabin. At least we were a bit more sheltered in our temporary home.
Since there wasn't much to do in the cabin, it was too cold to be out of the bag, and it got dark around 7:30, I continued to lay in my sleeping bag until the next morning. Eric filled me a bottle with hot water and that made my sleeping bag so hot, I ended up peeling off a few layers of clothes. Because of my size I could crawl to the bottom of my sleeping bag and have my entire head inside. With my feet wrapped in my down jacket I was pretty cozy. At 10 pm we were joined by Tim and Tom, the studly walkers from Pennsylvania who were 2 of the racers going all the way to Nome.
We made some oatmeal in the morning and Bill was busy making water for the 6 of us before taking off. There were discussions about what types of food provided the most amount of calories. Billy was eating split-pea soup laced with a stick of butter from a zip-lock bag. He claimed in contained 1400 kcal. Bill told us that he had found dehydrated butter that he adds to his freeze-dried food, and Tim was eating a whole summer sausage. I stuck to the oatmeal and some chocolate.
Breaking Trail on Rainy Pass with Billy and Aidan
The 4 bikers took off first. It was quite a bit of work breaking trail, and all of us kept punching through and falling into waist deep snow. The guys took turns breaking trail, I wasn't really doing much with my little bike. It was hard work and it didn't take long before Tim and Tom easily passed us with their snow shoes. They looked like they were flying! During the stay in the cabin I learned that Tom is a mailman in PA. He has a 12 mile route that he walks every day, rain or shine. Sometimes he runs to and from work (6 miles each way), but most of the time he just does a 10 mile training run after work. Tom has been to Nome 4 times. Tim is a studly ultra-marathoner, whose wife has the fastest female time to McGrath. Tim's daughter was competing at the high school indoor track nationals as he was making his way to McGrath. Tim has also walked to Nome before. Did I mention they are both in their mid 50s?? We were amongst such impressive athletes.
Tim and Tom
Top of Rainy Pass
After several hours we finally reached the top of Rainy pass. And while it was all down hill from there, it was a downhill with 3 feet of snow, alder bushes and willow trees covering the unmarked trail, as well as a small ice and snow covered river running through the gorge. We were hoping to be able to follow Tim and Tom's tracks or see some signs from the riders in front of us, but it was too windy and all tracks were covered by snow. We slowly fought our way down the gorge, getting our bikes caught on the willow branches and lifting the bikes over trees and bushes. At 5 pm, 8 hours after leaving the cabin, Eric was in the front when he suddenly saw a snow machine coming from the other direction. What a sight!! It was Terry, one of the iditarod checkers, making his way through the bushes using a machete. I was so happy to see him, I dropped my bike and ran up to give him a hug.
Terry making his way through the willows with a machete.
Terry making his way through the willows with a machete.
After a couple of minutes, 2 other snow machiners came up behind Terry. The 3 guys decided they were going to continue on to see if they could get to the cabin to help Bill out. They told us we had 7-8 more miles to reach Rohn. We still had to walk down the gorge, but at least we had a trail to follow. Just a couple of hours later the Rohn checkers came back. They said it was too difficult and dangerous to make it up the mountain, so they had decided to turn around.
We crossed 3 ice bridges on the way down. The ice bridges are made for the sled-dog teams to cross the river. They are made out of willow trees and branches and covered with snow and ice. With 3 miles to go we finally hit a river so we could ride again. Eric and I reached Rohn at 11:45 pm that night.
The checkpoint in Rohn consists of a walled tent with a wood stove. Tim and Tom were sleeping on the ground, as well as Alec and John Ross. They had planned on leaving at 2 am, but since we woke them up, they all decided to take off a little early. Rob, the checker, was great. He had canned ravioli and clam chowder heated up for us. I checked the food labels, I just consumed 3600 mg of sodium after eating one can of each. WOW!! Sleeping was not easy with other racers arriving, hanging up their clothes to dry, and trying to get fed. I was glad I had brought my earplugs and some ambien!
I had 3 packages of instant oatmeal, some chocolate covered pretzels, 2 servings of hot cocoa, and a cup of coffee in the morning. I was actually full for a couple of hours after leaving Rohn.