Sunday, August 15, 2010

after effects

Happy at the finish line, about 1:30 a.m.-ish.
photo by Sean Grady

I'm still waiting for the results of the race (beyond this list of survivors), not that my time matters. I'm just curious to know what time Jon and I arrived in Hope. After hanging around the campfire with a beer, we said goodnight, then climbed into the car and headed to our friends' cabin. I shed my muddiest layers on the deck, while Jon went inside the guest cabin sauna where an ember was still glowing from earlier in the evening. He put a piece of kindling in the barrel stove then waited for the room to warm up.

"Dry sauna," I told him. I didn't want any steam; I was done with humidity. I lay on the bench coughing, my lungs scratchy. I remember thinking to myself along the trail that if I got pneumonia, it would be my own fault. By the time I'd washed the sweat and mud off and climbed into my sleeping bag, it was 3 a.m. I didn't sleep long; just four hours later I walked the triangle to the outhouse, then the main cabin for coffee. The sun was out. It looked like a beautiful day for a ride.

After coffee and breakfast with our host, Art, I strolled down the road. There were no signs of our tracks from the night before. A plane was doing touch-and-go landings at the airstrip. I walked to a sunny spot on the wet road and stood soaking up the warmth. Jon and I were pulling together our gear when Tony, one of the volunteers, showed up. The last rider, Allen, still hadn't made it to Hope. A trooper was downtown; Tony thought I should talk with him. So I got into his van and we went downtown. A search plan was being devised. A helicopter would fly over the trail with a spotter from a rescue group. People were worried. I reported what I remembered. Mentioned bad spots along the trail; hoped Al had stopped at one of the cabins.

We couldn't stick around, though. Jon had to work, so we headed back to Anchorage. Eventually, a posting online told us that Al had been "found" though he was surprised so many people were that concerned. Here's what happened, in his own words. Later, I got a chance to speak with Wendy about her trail experience.

After she arrived at Devil's Creek trailhead where people could look at her mud-caked injury, they convinced her to drive to the emergency room, the closest of which was in Seward. She told me that the next day, on Sunday, when she and her husband were heading back to Anchorage she felt terrible about what she had told me: "I told her to do it!" she said to Kevin. Instead of worrying just about herself and her leg that evening, she was also worrying about me! Over the phone, I assured her that I'd enjoyed it; that I'd had a great ride and was happy I'd done it. And it's true. I don't know why I liked it so much. It seems beyond reason. But we humans are odd animals. Who can explain precisely what motivates us? Though for me, on this occasion, it was a commitment to Wendy, our team instigator, and Petra, our first rider. They gave their all, so I wanted to do my share; to not let them down or let their efforts be for naught.

Before I started the race, I said here that I didn't expect I'd learn much about myself compared to the true endurance riders who did over 100 miles solo. Those were the people digging really deep. On the way to Hope the evening before the race, Jon and I had been talking about how difficult it sometimes is to stick to the plans and commitments we make to ourselves. For me, that's especially true of physical challenges. But something changed waiting there in the parking lot and turned into determination on the trail.

My mind and body prepared all day to ride 36 miles. They prepared to do it in the rain; in the mud; in the dark. As I was riding, I felt an energy within. I had good power and rode well considering the conditions. And, despite the conditions, I never got frustrated or bummed out. I have to admit, it was some of the best riding I've done and I loved it. Even the little nervous moments when I thought I might slide off the trail.

The ride reminded me that I just need to set my sights high, prepare myself and attempt bold things. Whether it's a challenging ride or writing a story, you don't learn anything until you push yourself to the next level. Then, with hard work, things will fall into place.

No comments: