Surviving Alaska

Expedition Alaska is over. It was all we could wish for and so much more. 7 days of extra everything. Every single step had a meaning and not one mile were there to fill the course or get teams from one activity to another. Even a 7 mile hike became a 10 hour steep climb uphill with a view, with all your gear in your pack. The course was designed with a purpose. This race followed the footsteps of the classic races from the golden age of Adventure Racing, when races included survival and adventure in the same sentence. When it came to the term survival, I think we got value for our money. Chip on our team summed it up one morning saying OMG, they are really trying to kill us, every day!! And that’s how it felt. Things could go wrong the whole time but we managed to stay alive and keep moving.

Before I write more gibberish I need to mention all the volunteers. The small group kept everything running. They had our gear in place, they made the TAs great and kept everything running smoothly. They probably got less sleep than the racers. Warm water and noodles, fire pits and endless smiles… what more can you ask for. Thank you all! And the team… Thank you guys!! You saved me more than once and I am pretty sure I wouldn’t be alive without you.

For many racers this race ended early. People got injured, sick, and cold and got airlifted from the course or got picked up by boat. Our goal was to stay together, all four as a team until the end. I’ll have to admit that I had my moments when I just wanted out, to be beamed up, transported to a better place. But those moments usually didn’t last more than a few minutes and you keep going and forget that there’s another world outside the race. I also felt my limits a few times and that’s even worse when you feel like your body can’t take more. Paddling and rafting the last two days really got to me and it felt like I couldn’t move my arms. I realized when I got home that my right shoulder was really out of place and frozen so that gives me an explanation why. It’s still a non-working body part that acts like an alien.

When I think back to each and every leg there are a few things that stands out, that I will remember as long as I live. The glacier was in every way fantastic but also so unpredictable. We managed to do well, slow but steady and without any surprises or falls into crevasses. The route we took got a bit longer than expected but we stayed out of trouble. We started out the glacier trek with wet boots after a grueling river crossing. It’s been a long time since I felt so cold. I thought I would get frostbite on all 10 toes, it took days in to the race before they got the right color again.

The Soul Crusher (day 3-4) really crushed me. I felt broken and ready to go home after day 4. We hiked with all out pack raft gear for a long day and ended up far away beside a river in the middle of the night. We fell asleep on our rafts on the riverside after deciding to wait for daylight. We all woke up 45 minutes later so cold that we couldn’t take care of ourselves. We were lucky to have another team close by that helped out with fire and sleeping bags. Second round of close to hypothermia. We warmed up for a few hours and took off. The visibility was bad and I didn’t make a corner. I ended up on the side of the river, caught in a strainer upside down. I couldn’t flip out of the boat and I got all tangled in branches. I heard bad words echo in my head thinking this is it, what a horrible way to go. And then I saw Chip pulling, dragging me out and I refused to let go of my paddle. After puking up water and sitting for a few minutes it’s time to go again. It took me hours to get back in the game and I will be forever grateful for the rescue and guidance for the rest of the pack rafting in the race. I left all my confidence at the bottom of that river and I wouldn’t have made it without the team.

I thought sleep would be a big problem but it worked surprisingly well. Tired has a new meaning. You can be tired and keep going, and you can be tired and not be able to move. It takes a long time to reach the state of not being able to move. I remember the naps more clear than the race, like a great birthday present. Sleeping felt so good, even for 5 minutes. We took a nap at the 70 miles bike section by a river that I will remember as long as I live. I didn’t even take my backpack off, just laid back on the wet grass and closed my eyes. Someone got my feet up on the back wheel of my bike so my feet wouldn’t swell up. I snored so hard I woke myself up. The best nap of the race.

The race course was monstrous, evil, amazing, and didn’t have one mile were you could recover. I waited for an easy hike or bike, like a transportation to the next leg but the course just kept a constant ON mode. When you thought you had seen the most beautiful mountain top, lake, or ridgeline there was always a new waiting the next day. The landscape really took your breath away every day and night and you had the feeling that you were the first human to see this.

When we did the 30 mile paddle over Kenai Lake on evening/night 6 Robin tried to keep us awake and took us through the racecourse in detail. I must admit that I can’t remember some parts of it, and I don’t remember in what order it all happened, it’s more in chunks for me. I will write some kind of proper race report and post pictures when it all comes back. This is it for now. I am still waiting for the nightmares to end and my appetite to get back to normal, I eat every hour.

Chip, Eric, Robin – I LOVE MY LIIIIFEEEEE!

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