I’m trying to act like this is no big deal. Because in the grand scheme of things it really is. I’ve got my fingers, my toes, my life what happened is really no big deal. But I want to scream and cry at the same time. And let me tell you I did that on the trail a lot... All of the money, time, and preparation to have goals and aspirations ripped away in the hours before the race.
I spent a few years preparing for this. Hanging out in Alaska dreaming about getting to toe the line. When the flu wrecked my body the night before the race it didn’t matter. I was going to start the race. Even if I was putting myself in a needlessly dangerous situation.
So let’s start from the beginning.
People change, things change, goals change. And it appears that people in their 20s change more often then people more established in life. For me this past year has been riddled with a lot of change. Not external to me but very internal. I’m not the wide eyed 22 year old who suffered her way through the Susitna 100. Things are different. I’m different.
Every year I came to Alaska, the Iditarod seemed more and more attainable. My gear was better. My racing was more dialed. And I felt more comfortable in the cold. But I seemed to be loosing my fire, passion, and desire. The Tahoe 200 was a giant wave of emotions. The highest of highs followed by the lowest of lows. I fell deep into the post race depression. I went searching and grasping for that next high to unsuccessfully land myself alone and homeless.
These past 6 months rid everything clouding my life. I’ve had the peace and clarity to take a deep introspection on my life. Something that I know the universe had been trying hard to make me do for years, but that I continued to fill full of adventures and work.
So the Iditasport. I could tell you all the things that went wrong in the months leading up to the race from frostnipped toes to sprained backs. But really non of those mattered. I was here, I was stoked, and I was prepared. In my book the recipe to success isn’t the most prepared but the most unapologetically stoked on the objective.
Prerace, survival training, ice climbing with a friend, and then a day at my friends Tony and Shawn’s house preparing. Things were going great. Other than my abnormal need to sleep and relentless headache. The night before race day never goes as planned. It’s usually a bit restless but this was a different restless. Night sweats to chills then jolting up and vomit. The cycle repeated and I ended up sleeping mostly on the floor around the toilet. The pain in my abdomen was severe and everything I had eaten the day before was coming out at forced speeds. It was the stomach flu I’m sure. Maybe the salad or chicken or eggs. It would pass. This was the last vomit then I’d feel better I kept telling myself.
I forced myself to get prepared. I forced myself to eat. I came all this way and I knew things could change. Take it slow keep moving and things would turn around I was certain. They always do. I was proud of all the food I had kept down that morning. In the laying and seated position I’d barely notice I was sick. That feeling of needing to vomit lingered and I knew it wouldn’t be long till it struck again. But optimistically I went outside and got ready to start the hopefully 9 day journey over the Alaska range.
I walked with my good friend Shaun out of the start. He and I had come here together and I’d hoped we would stay fairly close and be able to spend some trail miles together. Realistically that was very possible. I don’t walk slow. But the elephant in the room was making that hard. Shaun and I talked and walked together for the first few miles the talk helped distract me from the sharp abdominal pain but soon it became overwhelming and I needed to lay down. Shaun reminded me to take care of myself and walked off. I agreed taking care was most important. So I did.
Now the entire field was far ahead of me. I couldn’t even see their figures on the relentlessly flat and straight rivers. I’d walk till the pain became severe. Then I’d walk till I couldn’t stand straight. Then I’d push a little further till I’d collapse on my sled and close my eyes trying to hold back the vomit. The effort was exhausting. I’d roll over retching off the side of my sled tears rolling down my face as the contents of my stomach ended up on the trail again. Maybe 10 miles into the race now. I wanted to bivy in my sleeping bag. My body was screaming sleep. But my head was screaming get to scary tree tent camp before dark. I’d sit up force food into my mouth and then stand up. I could feel the food slowly moving down into my tender and swollen belly and the beast reminded me that we would tango again soon.
The cycle repeated over and over walk, lay down, walk, lay down, vomit, cry, eat, repeat. It wasn’t cold. Maybe in the teens but every time I’d lay down my body would loose heat fast. Severely dehydrated and alone. I knew going into the night was putting myself in a dangerous situation. I had cell service so I texted my friends Lourdes and Nikki. I was scared. Hypothermia was as real as it had ever felt. I was depleted and I could barely move.
I kept moving thinking I could make it to scary tree on pure determination. I kept repeating get there and sleep it off it’ll get better. It always does. But never have the easiest miles of the race felt so hard. The sun had set and I frantically pulled on all of my layers -40 degree overboots, down pants, down jacket. It wasn’t cold enough to need them but I feared laying down for a few minutes, falling asleep, and then loosing toes.
Dressed in all my layers I continued to march. Tears streaming down my face. Screaming in pain and determination. Acid running from my mouth. These were the hardest fought miles of my life. I honestly thought I might die. That’s when I pulled my sat phone out. Texted my friend Nikki and asked her to get someone to just check on me. I just wanted the comfort of someone checking on me. An hour or so passed. The cycle repeated. Laying in the fetal position on my sled acid running from my mouth I stood up and vomited and vomited and vomited again. That’s when Andy showed up on his snowmobile. Too weak to even stand at this point. There was no questions to be asked. I was putting myself in a needlessly dangerous situation. I needed to get out.
We were certain it was the flu and going into the tent camps to continue the vomit cycle would just put other racers in a tricky situation. I loaded onto the snowmobile. And we traveled the 15 miles back to the start. Not without a couple of stops to let me vomit stomach bile all over the trail.
It was the flu and I spent the next few days horizontal vomiting and feverish till I caught a plane back to Bozeman. Is this how I imagined my Iditarod race going? No. This is the worst case scenario unfolding before my eyes. It can’t be real. I want to cry.
But maybe this was exactly what I needed to happen. To remind me that we can’t control nature. And that there is no such thing as accomplishing something but instead doing something in this moment. I had read on the plane ride here “Zen Mind, Beginners Mind” by Shunryu Suzuki. I was hoping I might be able to do some meditation on the trails and maybe find some enlightenment about my ever changing goals and motivations. But I think I found something even better than that. A new path forward trying to rid my life of ego.
I don’t want to be sponsored, I don’t want to be accomplished, I don’t want to be a badass. I want to be nothing. I want to feel fullness in life without arbitrary goals. I don’t want my happiness dependent on achievements. I want to have pure intentions and be my truest self. This trip to Alaska was different. I didn’t feel the same giddy excitement and enchantment that I once felt. A dark cloud of pain and suffering surrounded me. The flu on the trail only darkened the cloud.
My next trip to Alaska will be different. Paraglider in tow I want to experience these mountains that I fell in love with years ago differently. Because even though I don’t love them right now it doesn’t mean I can’t come back with a different perspective and love them again. I’m learning more and more that space and perspective are healthy and important. And that things change and people change and it’s okay. It’s okay to change. It’s okay to change what you want.
So hell I’ll say it again. I don’t want to slog alone. I want to paraglide. I want to rock climb. I want to surf. I want to fastpack with friends. I want to explore Alaska. I want to explore France. I want to master Spanish. I want to build my house. I want to meditate. I want to give. I want to just be.