Rob's Blog Archive

January 3, 2016

I’m Not Racing










I suppose it’s possible that I’ll pull up to a starting line again, but I probably ran my last race in 2011.  From the time I started running sled dogs until now, I knew that my greatest joy would be getting out on adventures, not racing.  Last year, I camped in winter wilderness by myself for five days and four nights.  In that time I saw no other person.  In fact, after two miles, all of the tracks were mine.  Nobody except Prudhoe, Gaiya, and I had been there since it snowed. Distance races have a bit of adventure, but nothing like being on an expedition, even a small one. 

This coming season, I’m hoping to skijor the Iditarod Trail.   If I complete it in a single go, I’ll be the second person to do this.  If I don’t, it will be on me.  I tried two years ago and failed.  Between trail conditions that would have had me riding a sled as much or more than being on skis, as well as my favorite dog, Shoshone, getting sick, I pulled out at Rohn.  In a way, Shone’s illness was lucky.  If he had been healthy, I would have continued and I would have been miserable.  Now, I get to go back and do the trail under, hopefully, much better conditions.    

Like the first time, my goal is to see the trail and visit the villages along the way.  That’s something racers can’t do.  Even during the day, a racer is looking at his dogs, not the scenery, and half the racing is at night.  I only have to look after four dogs, not sixteen, and I can stop just to look around.  Beyond that, time in all checkpoints is spent taking care of the dogs, eating, and sleeping.  That’s it.  While in the villages along the trail, I will be able to stop and meet the people.

I expect my pace to average about 35 miles a day.  That’s roughly the equivalent of hikers along the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails averaging 20 miles a day.  It’s athletic, to be sure, but not a strain.  And it will give me lots of time in camp wherever that may be. 

While doing this doesn’t have the physical strain of something like racing the Iditarod, there are nonphysical challenges I have to deal with.  I am solely responsible for my safety and wellbeing along with that of my dogs.  There are no trailsweeps making sure I’m okay.  I’ll be overlapping with traffic from races, and then snowmobile traffic, but I am on my own.  Beyond this, I am an old school climber.   My attitude remains I have to get myself and my dogs out of any predicament on my own.  Heading off with any notion that I could be rescued isn’t an option.  I make all of my decisions with this in mind.

I also have to do all of my own logistics.  Last time, I sent boxes containing provisions to schools.  Teachers there would hold them until I arrived.  In exchange for this, I volunteered to talk to the kids---not a problem for me.  I plan to do this again.

Of course, along with meeting people in the villages, there will be plenty of camping by myself.  Just like last year in the Swan Range, there will be camps where it will be just me and my dogs.  I also expect these camps to be quieter.  The one human made sound I did hear along Monture Creek was the sound of airplanes.  I expect I’ll still hear these, but that that will be much less often.  As well, all of the rivers will be frozen.  Last year, I could always hear Monture Creek---nothing unpleasant about the sound of a river or stream, but it was ever present. 

In some sense, I won’t be in wilderness.  In the Swan Range, it was just me and I was a long way from anyplace a motorized vehicle was allowed.  Nobody had skied or snowshoed in there.  There will be all kinds of traffic along the Iditarod trail.  Still, I’m expecting at least hours on end of absolute silence, something I didn’t have last year.

There are many definitions of adventure.  All the ones that I find compelling include dealing with the unknown.  Races, by their nature, set up a relatively uniform and known track.  There are unknowns, to be sure, but these are bounded.  Racing is about who can get their team from one end to the other, the end, not the journey.  My trek to Nome will be entirely about the journey, not the end.  I’m not racing.


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