Category Archives: Blog Posts

Chat

Cheltenham Challenge: Boldy Going Where Non-Ultra Running Events Are Scared To Go

What if every event in the world – whether it is a cycling, running, music, an outdoor festival never generated any rubbish and all it took was for organisers to stand their ground and enabled participants to raise their level of responsibility? And what would the effect be on participant’s times if they were forced to go cupless?

Cheltenham Challenge knows that Zero Waste events are possible. Not repurposed or recycled waste, but ZERO WASTE.

Who knows what happens to the words we speak and the visions we share with others? Who would have thought a conversation in 2014 with the water sponsors and thereafter an email to the Cheltenham Challenge organisers once a year to encourage them to re-examine their waste would really have turned into anything…..4 years on:

Reuse Reduce Recycle

Reflections

Many ultra events have been going cupless for the last couple of years. On the otherhand, the non-ultra running events (such as 5K, 10K, half and full marathons) have been too scared about upsetting runners to ask them bring their own bottle (BYOB) to reduce the amount of single use plastic generated by the event. Additionally the water sponsors can provide water containers that are not single use!

Becos We always done it

There are a number of facts that are constantly being waved in front of organisations that many events refuse to acknowledge:

  • The inadequate recycling of single-use plastic in any country (29% of plastic is recycled in the UK with some portion of that going outside of the UK to process).
  • Not all runners’ rubbish is actually picked up such as wrappers and gel packets tossed into the grass, drain and bushes.  No running event can guarantee all the litter is picked up even when employing professional cleaners due to the irresponsible tossing of rubbish by runners.
  • There is a huge issue with plastic in our oceans. Many major marathons are close to waterways and rivers. It has been observed that “running tossers” have chucked their rubbish into the water ways, or the winds have blown their rubbish into the water ways.

The World Wildlife Fund released that 1 million birds + 100,000 marine life die a year from plastic consumption. There has not been an account for land based animals, but it has been noted the deer in Richmond Park have been consuming the gel packets from cyclist. See report here: http://www.frp.org.uk/pdf/news/1397_Press_release_Ride_London_2016_monitoring_v5.pdf. Similarly cows & sheep (for trail runs), squirrels and other animals can consume gel packets tossed into the grass by runners.

  • A good proportion of “serious” runners are irresponsible and will continue to be so as they feel it is their right to toss their rubbish on the course, regardless of where it lands as the pursuit of a PB (Personal Best Time) is far more important  because that’s what events are all about…..They do not care about the safety of the runners behind them.

We always done it this way

Setting The Benchmark

This year I had the privilege to be involved and see Cheltenham Challenge develop a cupless event. Of course a small portion of “serious runners” were disgruntled but the organisers stood their ground, working hard to ensure the first cupless event for 1,600 participants would be a success.

Environmental Statement

 

The team at Cheltenham Challenge delivered what has to be the cleanest and safest event, I have seen so far that is not an ultra marathon. A very well executed event that hosted 1,600 participants running 5K, 10K and 21km events.

Normally an event village is a trash festival with rubbish left by participants. On this occasion the event village at the end had about 10 disposable cups left around, mainly on tables that came from a coffee stall, + presumably two accidentally dropped gel packets…….and that was it! The area was surprisingly clean!

It’s All About the Trash

As the event’s Waste Reduction Ambassador, thought I’d do a bit of plogging in the 5K event to observe how the hydration points operated. The event had provided some emergency paper cups in case there were still unprepared runners.  I picked up some general public plastic trash along the route + 2 paper cups after the last check point. The hydration points I saw were extremely well run.

Following the 1/2 marathoners, the tail runners picked up 1 small carrier bag of runners’ rubbish.

Last year, 2 large black bin bags of rubbish was picked up by the tail runner + 2 white transit vans of rubbish was collected by the end of the event. Noticeably  the event village was littered with trash in 2017.

What Was in the Bins?

At the end of the event, the large water containers will be refilled by the sponsors of the water and the rest of the waste will be sorted by PrintWaste and recycled. Any waste that cannot be recycled will be sent to the energy recovery furnace. If the cardboard boxes were removed, the waste generated from this event would fill less than one 660 litre bin. The majority of the waste came from the stall that sold coffee, tea and cakes. Next year, hope to see them using reusable cups and separating their coffee grounds / non-plastic tea bags into an organics container that someone can take away to use in their compost!

Some comments from 1/2 marathoners I spoke with

  • I thought it might be uncomfortable to carry a bottle, but it was all fine. In fact I didn’t even notice it (runner who carried his water bottle on a belt)
  • We always carry bottles in events
  • It was really easy, and the marshals were on hand to help fill my bottle
  • It’s a no brainer
  • I could drink when I wanted to, great initiative

Speed Comparison: 2016 vs 2017 vs 2018

The final part is did stopping to fill water cause the 1/2 Marathoners to have a worst time than previous? (Check previous results here). So here participants raised their game, took responsibility for carrying their own hydration device for water and produced the fastest set of times since 2013!

So whoop whoop and a brilliant start to Cheltenham Challenge’s journey to developing a zero waste event where the fastest set of times were generated and everyone still had fun and sufficient hydration!

Cheltenham Challenge would be happy to help other organised events go cupless to move events away from using the traditional old fashion waste generating methods!

…And if you’re looking for a PB, perhaps you should consider BYOB

Becos We always done it- caveman

Advertisements
Chat

What About Trash?: Part 1: The Broken System

Out of the 3 Rs, which one should take priority? Is there a preference to this? Does it matter?

3Rs

Images from doing a web search

Recently I spoke at the British Embassy (government agency), Syntech Chemicals (private company), Ngee Ann Polytechnic (higher education establishment) & St Joseph International (13 year olds) on changing their organisation. I asked them the same question and got different responses which is perfectly fine as there is confusion on the web and images we see.

It is interesting to hear from people at the many marathons I’ve spoken at that they practice the 3Rs because they recycle. When I tell them that process is broken, many do not believe this (or perhaps do not want to hear this).  Obviously Recycle is like being able to feel “guilt-free” for generating trash and throwing it away.  Reduce and Reuse is more effort.

Here’s a teaching aid I found whilst conducting my web search. What is odd is where Recycle is placed and how it is treated in the text. Can you see what I see?

Teacher 3Rs

The Broken System

Plastic is the baddie but is the issue single use plastic or is it just our poor handling of trash that is the issue?

In 2017, National Geographic reported that 91% of the world’s plastic has not been recycled. Here is an extraction about plastic from that article:

Of the 8.3 billion metric tons that has been produced, 6.3 billion metric tons has become plastic waste. Of that, only nine percent has been recycled. The vast majority—79 percent—is accumulating in landfills or sloughing off in the natural environment as litter. Meaning: at some point, much of it ends up in the oceans, the final sink.

You just have to look at the Municipal Solid Waste stats around the world to know it is pretty clear that Nat Geo’s headlines “A Whopping 91% of Plastic Isn’t Recycled” is real.  No society recycles plastic well. Around the world plastic recycling averages to pretty low in comparison to glass, paper and cans. Plastic recycling in Europe @30%, USA & Asia @8%, and even then Europe, USA, Australia, New Zealand and some Asian countries send a size-able chunk of their “recyclables” to mainly 5 developing nations to process. In 2015, these same countries were reported to being the top 5 nations to dump plastic into the ocean: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Ref: 2015 EcoWatch and recently 2018 Forbes

Worldwide has been made aware of the plastic issue and at the end of 2017, a UN agreement was signed by nearly 200 nations to reduce the amount of plastic that enters the ocean (currently standing at an estimated 8 million tonnes)

Recycling and passing the buck onto other countries certainly is not going to reduce plastic entering the ocean and is probably why bioplastics is set to become popular in our need to have convenience.

Have a look at the “recyclables” over a month and identify which one is the most common between plastic, glass, cans and paper/cardboard.

So are you still sticking with the R(s) you chose?

Next post: Changing Behaviour

Chat

The Abnormality of Being Normal

The term “strange” & “abnormal” are common words that have been frequently apportioned to my actions and thoughts. I struggle with society’s proclamation of “we have always done it this way” and “this is normal”.  It would seem the word “normal” is interchangeable with the word “irresponsible” (and can also be exchanged with the word “stupid”). Check out the following phrases and see if you agree.

  • It is normal to do a big shop once a week and throw out the food that is rotting in your fridge from your last shop because you didn’t feel like eating it / don’t like eating stale food.
  • It is normal to buy “stuff” in packaging & put the packaging in the bin, knowing that it will end up in a landfill.
  • It is normal to try to recycle everything, knowing that we have too much waste and thus our councils need to ship it off to other countries to process on our behalf. And if you’ve been watching my blog you will know that our plastic recycling rates are pathetically low in every country.

Also being “normal” seems to mean you can apportion blame to another entity:

  • It is normal to create lots of waste. It is the government’s responsibility to process our rubbish.
  • It is normal to throw our trash on the floor in running events. It is the organisation’s responsibility to clean it up after. It doesn’t matter that people slip on cups, have gel packets stuck to the bottom of their shoe, have to run through the trash runners drop on the floor.

Last one to try: of the three images below which is normal?

Circular Economy

So today’s understanding of the term “normal” just seems to be a way to masquerade our inability to be responsible and a disconnect to care about the environment that provides us life. So in today’s world, the next time someone calls you strange or abnormal, take it as a compliment 🙂 and let’s look forward to making abnormal, normal because today’s normal is certainly irresponsible.

 

Chat

Sundown Marathon: On the Road to Zero Waste & 70th Marathon

Group Photo

Grateful for the adaptability of the Green Ambassadors who created a change in a mass event with respect to waste management at events. Awesome work! (youngest volunteer is 6 years old)

Charging Up Events to be Truly Clean & Green

After the Standard Charted Singapore Marathon 2017 (SCSM) awareness happened! Awareness that events can be responsible towards the waste generated in their events which can lead to cost savings.

After, small events of a couple of hundred, like the King of the Trails, went cup free; larger events like the Income Eco Run (about 5,000 runners) repurposed a lot of the waste generated and did a pretty good job of separating all the waste.

March 2018: The Public Hygiene Council reactivated the Green Ambassadors to get involved with the Sundown Marathon organisers, HiVelocity. Last year HiVelocity showed an eco-consciousness with plantable medals & tried to go cupless with their 5km event. This year, with less than 4 weeks to go, we would help HiVelocity & 25,000 runners onto Level 1 on their journey to designing a zero waste event. And HiVelocity would show they are an event company that would fearlessly go where other running events fear to tread.

Level 1: Understand the potential possibility that a large mass running event can be clean & can have a framework developed to become zero waste by simply adopting a circular economy vision.

A Circular Economy Vision

In simple terms a circular economy is ensuring waste from one company is a resource for another. By thinking in this manner, waste can be diverted from the landfill and events can define the type of waste they want to generate to ensure an onward purpose other than being dead waste (landfill waste).

In Singapore, general waste is burned and sent to a landfill island called Semakau which is rapidly filling up. Domestic recycling is low in Singapore due to much of the recycled waste being contaminated with food and hence good recyclables are sent to the incinerator and then to the landfill. In 2017, 7% of plastic generated in Singapore was recycled (source NEA)

For a list of what can be recycled in Singapore, see here: http://www.nea.gov.sg/docs/default-source/energy-waste/recycling/list-of-items-that-are-recyclable-and-not.xlsx

Sundown Marathon: How to Reduce Landfill Waste

Sundown will have an estimated 25,000 participants. This will generate enough waste to fill three to four x 40 cubic yard skips. A 40 cubic yard skip = 30.58m3 (Height = 2.6m; Length = 6.1m; Width = 2.4m)

Skip Size of rubbish

A 40 cubic yard skip, with a volunteer is standing next to one as she points at rubbish. In the background another 40 cubic yard skip can be seen beside the typical 240 litre bins

In Singapore, people will place their rubbish in a bin, regardless of the colour.

With Banana Marshals, Trash Directors & Trash Patrol green ambassador volunteers, the aim was to educate the public that the bin colour matters. Out on the run, we just wanted runners to simply bin their rubbish to keep the route clean and safe for all (including our animals). Photo journal dedicated to the Green Ambassadors.

The “Bin It Right” green ambassadors did an excellent job to keep much recyclables separated from food waste and to also remind participants to bin their trash and hence the event village was left amazingly with only some small pockets of litter. Here’s an estimate of what was salvaged at the event village.

Infographic

Note Banana Skins and Food waste are normally sent to the energy recovery incinerators

Of the estimated 900 kg clean recyclables:

  • 10,000 Plastic bottles went to City Development Limited and to Playeum for art and play
  • @25 large bags of cans were recycled (to be sold)

Spyder, the cleaning company, also set aside all the cardboard boxes for recycling. This meant that at least one 40 cubic yard skip of waste was repurposed.

Below is a representation of approximately 1/5 of the waste generated that was placed at the side of the full 40 cubic yard skip.

SomeTrash

Picture shows about a fifth of the rubbish generated by the event

Was the Marathon Route Clean?

Both Sundown and the Green Ambassadors did a little pre-campaigning to encourage runners to put their waste in the bin. See previous post.

YoRunnersWe also had Bin It Runners on the route and Bin It Fans (volunteers) to remind runners as they entered the Pens to bin their litter during their run.

Marathon #70 Tyre Run Report

4 days leading up to the event, I’d been coughing and phlegm was in the lungs. Everyone was warning me of the dangers of running with a chest infection. Exertion would have to be easy and thankfully Adrian (event organiser) let me start at the back of the 1/2 marathoners. This meant a one hour head start in front of the full marathoners, giving me 9 hours to complete the 42 km. Being a lady pulling a tyre, runners would hopefully also notice the “Bin It During Run” sign. I finished in 7 hrs 58 minutes at an easy pace. (Last long run was the 135 miler in January)

If a lady can drag a tyre, what is the effort to put your trash in the bin?

Overall, except for the mid-way hydration point, the course was kept relatively clear of cups, gels and bananas with litter at the side of the course after the hydration points from possibly 1,000 tossers amongst the 10,000 runners. At the half way hydration point, I had taken a banana and found a lack of bins after the hydration point. Sooo I held a banana skin + tyre + sign + my own bottle until I could put it in a bin which was about 1 km away.

Hydration Point - CUps

The last 3 hydration points (30.9km, 32.6km and 38.5km) were pretty similar – most cups in the bin and virtually no cups strewn across the path nor tossed to the side upstream. Could it have been the cleaners or more responsible runners?

 

There were definitely more people making an effort to put their litter in the bin. Certainly all the 5-8 hour runners that I saw, were putting their trash in the bin. Was it my sign? I theorised any litter tossed on the floor could only be from the 3-5 hour runners who felt their PB was more important than the environment.

In the East Coast Park, a squirrel has been observed eating a gel packet and in Machritchie Park a monkey was seen chewing on a plastic confectionery wrapper with perhaps chocolate melted inside.

Litter Kills

It is important to note that the gel packets are hard for the cleaners to see and pick up especially when they are in the grass or, worst, in the drains.

The Green Ambassadors at the end of the Singapore Marathon 2017 picked up 3.5kg of runners’ litter along a 5km stretch of the route after the professional cleaners had cleaned the route. The litter consisted mostly of gel packets and was in the grass or drains up to 2 m either side of the running path.

The event village was relatively clean. Single use containers and cups were left on the tables near the food stalls and some bottles and cans were left at the baggage locations. The biggest shock and disappointment was the volunteers’ ladies toilet….

Ladies Trash

There were plenty of bins outside the toilets. Pure laziness! (Photo by Lisa Jones)

A Champion Arises

It is always a dream to have someone take over what you are doing. Li Seng will continue the work of the Green Ambassadors under the social enterprise Green Nudge, to nudge events towards zero waste and we will be giving him as much support as possible.

Li Seng

Go Green Nudge – Make It Happen

 

Thank you to:

  • WasteMaster for their generous support throughout the event
  • Syntech Chemicals for their BYOB gift vouchers
  • Green Nudge for their support with high vis vests and tongs
  • HiVelocity for their enthusiastic support & creating the signs used around the event village
  • Public Hygiene Council for their support
  • Wanderlust for keeping the media focus on what we were trying to achieve
  • Spyder for their collaboration to help organise the waste
  • Special thanks to Chun Yeow and Li Seng for being my right and left hand collaborators & to MJ Mohammed for all the photo journalling the event.

Logo - WasteMaster   Logo - SynTech

Chat

Sundown Marathon – The Green Ambassadors Are Back!

Background

Once upon a time there was a lady who in 2006 campaigned in Singapore for more responsibility towards waste generation. Some stuff was done: the formal introduction of recycling for each household in 2008……and not much more. So she decided to take matters into her own hand starting with the Singapore Marathon in 2017 and found a bunch of people who wanted the same thing.

https://tyrelady.wordpress.com/2017/12/05/a-glowing-feeling-of-change/

We Are Back

Through contact with the Public Hygiene Council, we are now collaborating with the Sundown Marathon four weeks before the event to do much more. The totally supportive organisers have been raising awareness a couple of weeks before the event:

SignUp

With a week to go, we went out to engage participants to agree to Bin It

Photo credits to MJ Photography

With one day to go, the Green Ambassadors are getting geared up to get out there to see if we can create a clean safe run with 25,000 participants being educated to look at the bin colour to understand what can be binned. #NoMoreRunningTossers #BinItRight #SafeRunsForAll

BinIt

Change is happening for safer, more sustainable runs that is part of the circular economy. So what the initiatives we’ve got going will ensure

  • 5000 of the 30000 Plastic bottles + bottle caps to repurposed by Playeum
  • Cans, rest of plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, paper cups to be sold by cleaning company for recycling
  • Wooden pallets will be picked up by another company who will reuse them
  • About 1.2 tonnes of Banana skins to community gardens for composting
  • Cooked food waste for bio-digesting
  • And hopefully a cleaner safer run for all without having to run through other runners’ trash and potentially slipping on cups/bottles as well as having gel wrappers stuck to the bottom of your shoe.

By using nudges to:

  • Remind runners to Bin it
  • Fun questions to encourage the participants to use their recycleables to vote
  • Volunteer runners with signage amongst the pack to remind runners to Bin It
  • Volunteer trash directors to direct participants to put their trash into the right bin

It’s gonna be a fun packed night at the Sundown Marathon.

Chat

Planting Seeds

HowMany

Who wants to be a leader of change to heal our environment?

Have met too many apathetic “adults” who believe it is too late, too many in the financial world who seem think we are already heading towards an abyss so why not continue screwing the planet? Why should they give up their easy conveniences to help heal an environment?

Too many “adults” seem to have forgotten that food, water and air security are just as important as making money for themselves, for their children, for those close to them! There were a couple of owners at the FHA last week who told me specifically they wanted to make money first before thinking about sustainability.

Hence it is always refreshing to talk to children because they soooo get it.

Group Session

St Joseph International am looking forward to working with you in the future to bring about change in our world. Just remember be bold with your initiatives, use each other’s skills, find collaborators and persevere. You have the power to create change.

Chat

The Power to Create a Wave of Change

With everyone playing a part, challenging themselves to change some area in their lives to reduce a convenience they enjoy, together we can create a wave of change to preserve and heal our planet.

Gaia Go Green

Syntech Chemicals is a Singaporean company that produces cleaning and sanitisation solutions and have a green range (Gaia) that has been endorsed by the Green Label Singapore.  Syntech provided a booth for me at the Food Hotel Asia 2018 which I used to influence their customers and others to be more sustainable in their processes with regards to:

  • Waste produced
    • Single Use Plastic
    • Food waste
    • Linen (from hotels and restaurants)
  • Energy
  • Water

Overall there were a lot of positive statements from stakeholders in the hotel, laundry and restaurant businesses from around the world. There were many more individual pledges rather than the organisations themselves.

I will Save the planet

Here is a summary of those pledges:

  • 3 hotels to reduce food waste & single use plastic
  • 10 restaurants to reduce single use plastic, food waste and water waste (by turning off the taps)
  • Organisations to create a recycle programme
  • 3 organisations will get involved with community/beach clean ups. Note those in Singapore can borrow tools from the Public Hygiene Council
  • Individuals who will
    • Purchase any other bottle rather than single use bottles
    • Refuse plastic straws, bags, cups and containers. They will BYOR (Bring Your Own Reusable)
    • Examine personal waste generated and be more mindful
    • Use eco-friendly products
    • Create own products (like shampoo, soap and toothpaste)

Also had pledges from WasteMaster for $800 SGD towards the transportation of Green Ambassador volunteers for the next project (reducing landfill waste generated at the Sundown Marathon which will have 25,000 participants) as well as another $500 SGD from PNG Hospitality.

What I Learned

Spoke to stakeholders from hotels in India, Mauritius, Bintan and Bali who sound like they really walk the talk. Most of them call themselves eco-resorts; some do not as they believe this should be the norm (of course big hugs to them).

  • Very low energy usage as there are no aircons, just sea breezes and LED lighting.
  • Very conservative on water and collect water (grey water), some turn it into portable water
  • Any food waste is fed to animals / composted and used in gardens as well as growing vegetables and herbs for their own restaurants
  • Natural fibres are used for all employee clothing and linen used within guests hotels (hemp, cotton, bamboo although see below about bamboo fibres)
  • A hotel in India also uses looms to recreate materials, generating threads out of any linen that has become too worn looking
  • No single-use plastic is used
  • Organise regular beach cleanups, often getting guests involved
  • Use their place as an opportunity to educate guests and their children about conservation

Some Techno-Bable About Bamboo Clothing

One hotelier shared with me that bamboo fibres could be mechanically created but the luxuriously feeling bamboo textiles are most likely “cooked” in strong chemical solvents such as sodium hydroxide (NaOH – also known as caustic soda or lye) and carbon disulfide known as hydrolysis alkalization with multi-phase bleaching. Both of these chemicals have been linked to serious health problems. The potential health risks and damage to the environment surrounding the manufacturing facilities for textile manufacturing processes like bamboo or other regenerated fibers using this process are thus not considered sustainable or environmentally supportable.

Some Historic Changes This Year

At the end of 2017, the wheels of plastic change began to creak. Countries pledged to stop dumping plastic in the world’s ocean. Additionally China was in the hot house for being the biggest dumper of plastic waste into the ocean. In January 2018 China banned importing bales of toxic plastic waste from Western Countries (incs USA, Europe, Australia & New Zealand)

China

Coinciding with the China ban and the pledges around the world, a series about our Blue Planet was released by the BBC raising further awareness about our endemic waste issue.

Everyone needs to grow up & take responsibility for the waste they are producing.

Chat

Arrowhead 4/4: Psychotic Battles

Worries, fears and apathy can plant seeds of doubt in one’s mind. They grow in the negative areas of one’s head and strengthen when fed by others’ fears and limitations.  And like weeds they can smother positive growth, setting the scene for failure to move forward in life.  In events, it is so easy to allow apathy in and allow apathy to swallow us whole when the going gets tough.

SkiPulk

Ski Pulk Final Check Point

Ski Pulk  is the penultimate check point before the finish line and closes at 10:00. The cut off time for the finish line is 19:00 that evening to complete about 23 miles.

I had reached Ski Pulk an hour before the check point closed. My intention was to find something to eat in my pulka, refill water containers, and then get out. Enough dilly-dallying had been done.

John came in 20 minutes after me, and being an unsupported participant, could not take any offerings of freshly brewed hot water on the table. He briefly considered to wait for me, but I shooed him on with:  “I’ll catch up with you.”

“See you on the trail” he acknowledged and carried on.

Scrounging around in my food bag, I found four frozen pepperoni sticks and put them in my bra top to thaw out, in the hope I would eat them later.  I don’t actually like pepperoni, but had got them for some variety!  Normally my foodie brain eats to live, and protein fat dough balls and bars have always been sufficient. I hadn’t factored in that the sleep deprivation could create thoughts of eating any more dough balls and bars would violate my stomach and brain.  However, with the mind pre-occupied on the business of getting in and out of the checkpoint, the stomach remained respectfully quiet.

I stepped into the warm tee pee to strip off the body gear to access my water containers, drunk up the rest of the fluid in the water bladder and then refilled it with hot water and electrolyte.

Have found the best insulation for water containers is close to the body under your clothes.  In the past the warmth from my body has managed to release frozen bottle lids.

Bras make great inner pockets for thawing food & warming batteries/equipment before using them. I wear my bra on the outside of my base layers.

Jennifer was also organsing herself and joined me in the tee pee tent to eat and re-hydrate. She talked about changing socks. This should have been a light bulb moment for me, but I foolishly shrugged it off wanting to get moving, despite deliberately ensuring dry socks were easily accessible at Mel Georges (the previous checkpoint).

“Am not going to bother.”  I responded to her quandary of changing socks. A blister or two had burst on my foot on the last leg of the route and figured changing socks might mean having to peal the sock off my foot and risk tearing more blisters.  In my head, it was only 23 more miles. What could happen?

Blistered Feet

Feet at the end. Trench foot + a couple of blisters had burst but the feet felt okay. Perhaps changing socks might have been a good idea

Besides the bruised shoulder and frost-nipped nose were more of a concern.

I’d walked around in a wet insulated boot for 5 hours in -40 degs Celcius when had fallen into the Arctic Ocean on a mini-expedition.  No frostbite had occurred after the 5 hours.

A couple of snowmobiles stopped outside.  Todd entered the tent and like a child excited to see her father, I gave him a big hug.

Surly and Todd

Todd looked after everyone out on the trail

“Oh good you’re still here. Your friends thought they’d missed you.  They’ll be so excited to see you. Come on over here”. He said opening the zipped door so I could poke my head out.

Rachel & Renata were outside taking photos of the checkpoint. Todd brought them in and they blessed me with more hugs of joy.  As I could not lift my right arm, Renata gave me some motherly concern: “Are you alight?”

As if to pre-empt the finish: “Everything is okay, but won’t be at the end. I will need you!”

We chatted for about 10 minutes finding out what Rachel & Renata had been up to, and though I would have liked to have chilled longer, the thought of my earlier complacency urged me to get out.

“Jennifer I’ll see you out on the trail. You’ll catch up.” I reassured as she was still sorting herself out.

Ken (RD) and Dave the Medic (who had briefly cared for my frostbitten fingers in 2014) were outside breaking down the camp. Of course more hugs. Ken jokingly asked “Do you want me to take the tyre off you?”

“No!” I hissed zealously “I brought her in, I bring her out”  Bisaniiwewin carried the signatures and wishes of so many who are also champions of environmental peace.

Back On the Trail At 09:49 am: “I’ll see you all in 7 hours”.  I boldly announced.

Ken smiled a knowing smile, which disturbed me.  There were 23 miles left on flatter ground. How much harder could this be?  Am trained to complete 26.2 miles in 6-7 hours whilst pulling a tyre.  Obviously, my head had forgotten about the sleep deprivation, injuries & the 112 miles beforehand.

TheAnimalsTyre

The animals with Bisaniiwewin

Wakeme Up Hill is the final and steepest hill to climb that reminded me of my first black ski run in Salt Lake City. (It was nearly vertical and had a complete “yard sale” when I had attempted to ski down it). Weighted with Bisaniiwewin, I struggled to find a good grip on the snowy slope, despite the ice spikes on the top of my shoes….”It would be bad if I slipped and lost control” I thought.  I stopped, looked down at my fluffy team: Princess Suma was waving, Pinky blowing kisses and Sharkey laughing…a little bit of madness helps to provide a different perspective.

With that momentary pause, I noticed a fresh set of footprints that went straight up the side of the hill, presumably John’s or Jim’s, and gratefully used them to gain better traction to haul up the sled, little by little. At the top was a shelter occupied by a group of snowmobile revellers, having a “men’s meeting”; although they could have been drinking coffee and looking at the scenery. There was a temporary pause in the chatter when they saw me.

“Hello chaps.  How’s it going?” I said in my nicest girly radio voice to respond to the lull and being observed.  There was an awkward silent response.  Perhaps they had not heard me properly and were waiting for me to repeat myself but I did that British habit of apologising! For what? – I know not. It is a strange habit, I’ve picked up from living in the UK.

British people like to apologise for everything even if it is not their fault.  An example: if someone loses their job or someone bashes into me, I apologise to the other person.

The now silent group watched me as I proceeded to walk to the other side of the hill. Wakeme Up Hill’s plateau is short and feels like a classic triangle hill: the icing of the hill cakes, the steepest of them all. A gorgeous, steep downward “oh s***” slope lay before me.

“Will you be going down this hill just now?”  I called out loudly in an Irish/Scottish accent to change it up.

“Not at the moment” One of them responded.

Encouraged by the response, I used the same accent: “Great because I’m riding this down. Have a wonderful day, eh.”  They continued to observe me as I sat on Bisaniiwewin and put my luge head on. I looked straight down, took a deep breath and pushed off.  “See ya!” I yelled back.

The sled quickly gained momentum, and at one breath taking, heart stopping “ET” “yahoo” moment it flew. I held the sled tight keeping thoughts positive, and did a perfect 10 flat landing on terra-ferma and continued to leap over a succession of dips, bolting down the trail.  I guestimated that approximately a kilometre had been completed and thanked God for the adrenaline rush.

Joyful thrill, quickly turned to the stomach grumbling.  I reached into my bra pocket……they weren’t there! They, the pepperoni sticks, must have dropped on the hill on the sled run. Disappointed, I walked on, thinking about retrying the abandoned bars I had dumped into my over gloves during the night portion. The brain sternly said “no way”.

Very soon after, a snowmobile overtook me. It was Todd:

“You’ve traveled 2.9 miles in just over an hour”

“Yeah, going up that hill was hard going should be able to move at least 3 miles an hour on the flat” I reassured.

“Well it’s all flat from now on”

“Coolio should be easy!” I arrogantly replied calculating covering 20 miles to complete in 8 hours should be straightforward.

“Jennifer left 10 minutes after you and is about a mile back”

“Grand, she should be able to catch up with me in a couple of miles. That lady is strong.”

“Maybe you can work with each”

“Yeah, we will and Todd…..”, my little girl voice went on…. “Am sorry, but I think I dropped my pepperoni sticks on the hill back there, so you might have to give me a time penalty. I had stuck them in my bra but think they came loose when I jumped around on my sled….Am really sorry.”

Todd looked at me bemused. “They’re hanging from the bottom of your jacket” and with that Todd zoomed off, melting into the snowy landscape.

Food!  I was so excited and promptly bit into the pepperoni sticks. They tasted pretty disgusting, but at least the brain and body accepted the food, to calm down the internal grumbles.

Playing with Reality

Optical Illusions 2

What do you see in the image above?

When dawn had come and the blue moon had disappeared, electric blue lines no longer appeared on the ground.  All vision had been restored to normal until now….

After about 55 hours of sleep deprivation, I began to stream a series of psychotic episodes: Looking ahead on the trail, I noticed two figures in the distance dancing.  I enjoyed watching them swirling and swaying to an unheard melodic sound. After some metres, it became apparent they were trees.  On one side of the trail there was someone sleeping on a motorbike under a tree.  That too turned out to be another illusion from snow & a cut tree. Then there was a man with red trousers pointing the way, laughing goblins, a car, mushrooms growing on a tree…..  My brain was constantly hijacking my vision, projecting random images.

Entering a fairly busy straight stretch with snowmobiles heading in the opposite direction, a thought came to me:

“What if I could control the type of hallucination like a lucid dream?  What if I could influence the brain to see specific images?”

So, I thought “let’s try monkeys” and there on the right hand side of the track, a tree of 4-5 monkeys were hanging off branches in a tree.  I playfully held onto that image for as long as I could, before the monkeys reverted to branches.  How about “horses” – the brain shaped 3 miniature horses in another tree again on the right hand side of the track.

On the left hand side of the track, adhoc images were still being projected on the trees.  I theorised this could reinforce the right hand side of the brain being for creativity and imagination, and the left hand side of the brain is for logic, reasoning and control.

Brain Organisation

Whilst reveling in the playful madness, Jen appeared behind me. She seemed relieved to see me: “I hadn’t seen you for so long, I didn’t think I’d catch up with you”.

I laughed. “Am enjoying my hallucinations and knew you’d catch up. You’re a strong lady”. I reaffirmed. My watch indicated an hour had passed after seeing Todd, and estimated that we should have covered about 6 miles in total, assuming a speed of just over 3 miles/hour.

Jen looked at her watch: “My GPS says I’ve covered 2.5 miles on average”

I didn’t want to believe another time illusion: “Maybe the hill was really slow going up?”

“Yeah maybe, but that is what my watch is saying”, Jen asserted.

Another recalculation: 17 miles to complete in 7 hours, and at 2.5 miles an hour, would mean we would be cutting the finish time really fine.  We needed to put more effort in but my stomach was roaring now. I searched in my sled and found a plain harvest crunch plus some more soft gel sweeties for later. The stomach reluctantly accepted the bar, washed down with some electrolyte.

At first Jen followed me, but with the continued monotony of the straight trail, I continued to play with the hallucinations, seeing if I could change a random hallucination to a controlled image.  The more I played with my own personal augmented reality, the sub-consciousness began fighting the consciousness for control, trying to close the curtains on the external visionary senses.  The Mel George’s coffee had finally worn out.  I stopped and turned round to Jen:

“You go ahead first”, hoping that with Jen in front, this would alert my system to re-engage itself. Instead, with Jen ahead, I began the 1-2 second walking naps just as I had done so at the beginning of the event, but this time my internal CPU (Central Processing Unit) was warning a system shut down. So I tried a succession of brief, what I thought were runs, to break the call of the sub-consciousness realm.

Jen stopped for a trail break and soon after, I took one too, remembering my accident in the night. Being on a busy stretch of the route, I fussed, looking for a discrete location off the snowmobile trail. Unable to find one, I hopped into the deep snow at the side of the trail and stomped down the snow to make a well. If a snowmobiler went past, my modesty would be hidden!  At the same time, I threw snow on my face. This momentary pause and cold snow on the face seemed to cancel the forced system shut down.

More recalculations in my head, and now was a little annoyed that we’d only completed 5 miles in 2 hours. I pushed a little harder to catch up with Jen who had gone past during my trail break.  She stopped to lighten her load, pouring away a flask of tea onto the floor.  This triggered a memory of the earlier Highway 53 scenario, where we all were dawdling, stopping for so many reasons and John’s phrase returned to me:

“A team is only as fast as its slowest member.”

“We’ll see about that John!” I thought.

Time to armour up….

“Jen how about we take it in turns to lead.  I’ll go first.”

She agreed and after about an hour, I relinquished the lead to her. Jen shared a game of establishing a tree to run to and then walking.  After another hour, Jen returned the lead position to me.  As we crossed an open ground, I saw a whole bunch of snowmobiles abandoned on the left side.  I studied the landscape but my mind was having difficulty discerning whether it was a reality or a hallucination.  I slowed down to talk to Jen:

“Look at that bunch of snowmobiles over there!  They are snowmobiles right?”

Jen looked hard: “It’s dead wood!”

“Oh yeah. Ha ha ha! It would be crazy to have a bunch of snowmobiles in the middle of nowhere.”  I tried to see dead wood, but my mind continued to see snowmobiles.  My mind floated a thought about boats, and the dead wood on the right transformed to speed boats.

Waking Up

A song is needed at this point whilst you continue reading.

Todd snowmobiled in, breaking the hallucinations. Was always great to see him to provide some sense of reality.

“You’re about 9 miles away from the finish with four hours left.”

“These American miles are longer than our English miles!” I was so sure we had gone further after all we had stepped up the pace despite the visual aberrations.  It dawned on me the brain was providing a false perception of our personal speed. We had completed 14 miles in 5 hours.

Todd explained further: “There’s a shelter just over 2 miles away and that is definitely 7 miles from the finish.”, and with that, he took off back into the snowy landscaped.

Obvious calculation, we won’t make it at our present speed.

“Ok Jen, we need to up the pace!”

Jen agreed and took over the lead with a run, walk pace.  I tried to keep the same pace but found the inconsistent fast, slow hard on the left calf which was now aching. In turn, the stomach was demanding food, but was still repulsed at the thought of eating any other bars.

“Stuff you stomach. You’ve got enough fat.” The body had a calorie deficit but it would cope on ketosis (fat burning) for the remaining four hours.  Remembering the gel sweets, I popped a couple in. The brain was pleased and shut the stomach up!

We moved at what we thought was a relatively fast pace, but our concept of time, distance and speed were corrupted from the sleep deprivation. The miles took an eternity and with the longing to see the shelter, we both were seeing shelters everywhere.  We even perceived a shelter in the same place.  I wondered if we had seen the same style and shape.  We soon ignored every predictive sighting our minds projected until we saw Todd at the side of the track.

“Here is the shelter” he declared.

“Are you sure?” I questioned as it looked more like a luxury lodge than the basic shelters we had seen earlier.

“This is it! 7 miles to the end and you have 3 hours to complete this. You need to do at least 2.5 miles/hour to give yourself enough time. You can do it!”  Todd encouraged.

All Systems Go

It had taken us one hour to complete two miles.

We discussed tactics and tried a different strategy of taking it in turns to pick out objects to run to and then to slow it down to a walk.

“Jen we must have done a mile now, right?” I declared after 20 minutes.

Jen looked at her GPS: “No not yet”

We continued the game for 10 more minutes and then Jen called out: “That’s a mile”

Despite having perceived we moved faster, we had still taken 30 minutes to complete a mile! At this pace, we’d be outside of the 60 hours allowed to complete the event. My mind was now buzzing. It would be so easy to not bother and come back again. I didn’t want to be like Carla Goulart who, in 2014, came in one minute after the cut off time of 19:00 and was awarded a DNF (Did Not Finish). Note: Carla subsequently came first in the event in 2016.

Signed Bisaniiwewin

Signatures on Bisaniiwewin pledging to reduce single use plastic and messages of peace

The head was buzzing with so many thoughts: Bisaniiwewin was marked by so many Arrowhead legends and friends, then my thoughts turned to my nephews in Singapore, the friends who have supported me, Jess and her family from Ely who thought I was mad, my adoptive US family, and the better than normal trail conditions. No, we needed to fight to stay in this.

“Right Jen, we need to run all the way”

“6 miles? I’m not sure I can, but I’ll try”

“We can do it.  Will need you to say when we’ve reached a mile so we can understand the distance.”

Jen agreed and led first, continuing with the same run walk strategy.

  • The prayers of my adoptive family were whispering in my ears.
  • Flash back of James when he was five who prayed so hard for my frostbitten finger to heal in 2014.
  • And a song filled my mind with the words from Isaiah 40:29-31

It was perfectly obvious, William’s earlier blessing of giving Sharkey to me was for a Shark Attack.  In my head, I heard a trumpet’s war cry.

I came level with Jen. “I’m going to lead, okay?  Let me know when we get to a mile”

She agreed. I did what I thought was a run and moved my legs faster than what I thought was a 3 mile/hour. Lean and let your legs go is what Pose running taught me.  You can run with an injury!  And screw the “You sweat you die” saying because I intend to sweat all the way now and I won’t die.

I looked back, seeing Jen was allowing a gap to build.  I first ignored it and as the gap widened, I yelled a battle cry “Come on, we can do this! Keep with me!”

Jen moved and after some time: “One mile!” she exclaimed. We were both panting. “One mile and we’ve done it in 20 minutes”

“Finally! Thank you Jen.  Keep with me” I urged, appreciating the time and distance keeping.

Jen’s GPS was so important to realign our perceptual awareness of time, distance and conscious speed.

“I can keep your pace by doing a run walk”

“Awesome, then do it. Five miles to conquer. Tell me the next mile” and we fist bumped to move on.

Thinking we should be able to do four miles in an hour, I moved a little faster.  This time Jen kept me on a shorter lead.  With the new focus, the hallucinations had become much weaker, but in the distance, I kept seeing a black shadowy figure and thought it either an illusion or Todd to cheer us on!  The only difference is this illusion kept changing its location.  I was going to reel it in.

That’s a mile!”  Jen panted.

We were both perspiring and stopped to catch our breathes.  I noticed my 75 ml bottle was relatively full, and drank what I could.

Jen looked at her watch again: “Less than 20 minutes that time”. Jen’s face looked drained.

I searched my pockets for the gel sweets.  I had a couple left.  Jen continued “You’re a really good pacer. If I were alone, am not sure I would have fought to make up the time. I’m really a short distance runner”

“Yeah you would have fought all the way.  You’re doing brilliant. Here have a gel sweet.”

“I’m fine thank you” responded Jen politely.

Long distance athletes normally don’t like to try new things in case it upsets their stomachs.

“Have one. You’ll need it because we are going to push all the way in exactly the same way to the end after this” I asserted and kicked doubt and apathy out of sight.

A little uncertain, Jen took the sweet and popped it into her mouth. A look of satisfaction came across her face “Mmm that is good! Thank you.”

Our Amazonian helmets went on.  As I took my last swig of electrolyte from my bottle, Jen moved on.

“Until the end” I whispered and followed in pursuit to take back the lead.

Having retrained the mind and body, our heads were filled with fire, and our bodies were burning bright that said “Don’t Stop! We are going all the way”. Our defiant spirit was going to beat the clock and we were going to be unstoppable. No more stopping, no longer needing the mileage count. We knew what we had to do and the mind, body and spirit were in all one accord.

The sun was setting into glorious colours as we sped along. Jen soon noticed the shadowy figure that had toyed with me for so long.  We were reeling it in fast, and quickly closed the gap.  It was John!  We were all together again and we slowed down to have a quick chitchat. The winds were blowing and I put my headgear back on to prevent any further wind burn, loosely putting on my down jacket over my harness.

My sense of urgency still prevailed: “John we’ve got to keep moving. We need to finish this in time!”

John, cool, calm and collected moving at his metronome pace: “We’ve got time. We’ve got just over 3 miles to complete in 2 hours”

“I don’t trust my timing nor my sense of distance any more”.  I tried to push on, but Jen held back with John, so I held back and we walked together at John’s pace. Jen pointed out a pair of red trousers billowing in the wind to sign post the last couple of miles.

With the prior retraining of the body against Jen’s GPS, it now felt like we were dawdling. The winds blew directly at us and with the now damp clothes underneath, the body rapidly cooled with the hands growing numb.  With the numbness, there was weakness in the hands, and the fingers could not manipulate the zip easily over the bulging outer gloves and lights that hung on my harness.  Thankfully, John obliged to help me and prevented me from burning any fingers.

Unfortunately, the damp clothes and slower pace meant a chill would soon manifest the body.  As I began to shiver, I gradually upped the pace.  At first all kept with me, then the gap began to widen.  Jen came level:

“John can’t keep your pace and says go on”

I was also unable to keep John’s tempo:  “Okay let’s do it and wait for him before the finish”

As darkness crept in, we crossed a road and went up a slope to enter the grounds.  I looked back to see if I could see John.  No blinkies but felt he was close enough.

The magnificent full moon was out illuminating the sky, which I mistook to be Fortune Bay’s tower .  As we entered the grounds of the casino, on the right side of the trail there were discarded hotel props that added confusion to the brain. Am pretty sure these were real.

Todd met us one last time to see his children home: “Great work ladies. You’ve got 1.5 miles to complete in 50 minutes”

As Todd left, Jen turned to me and we agreed to finish this together.  I added if we have time, let us wait for John and cross all together.  As we turned to do the final distance, the energy drained from me briefly.  It was all up hill.  By now you know, Bisaniiwewin would be reminding me the weight of carrying environmental peace to the world.

Jen glided up the hill, whilst I plodded on.  Her blinkies rapidly disappeared into the night.  I heard the cow bells echo down the trail, signalling Jen had finished and put in one last effort to move my load.  Soon, cow bells sounded my arrival. Renata and Rachel were welcoming in the finishers.  I had imagined I would cry with joy, but  was too exhausted to feel anything.

EndofEvent

Jen came out of the tent but I refused to go over the finish line until John had come in.  He was only minutes behind.  We crossed together in 59 hours and 21 minutes.

We 3 finished

We had overcome our limitations and cast aside doubt and apathy. We had won our battle and learned more about the strength of our body and the power of collaboration.

John’s saying became clear: “A team may be only as fast as its slowest member” when a team is going through a “forming storming” stage.  Team members are learning about each other’s strengths and can place barriers for not moving forward.  But, when a team has learned to trust each other, a team will perform to a high level together and will toss the boundaries out wide.  Everything is possible, even changing the world’s perception on trash to be responsible for the types of trash they throw out and to reduce the amount each person produces in all parts of their life.

I could now be a wreck and allow the sweet feelings of exhaustion to sweep over my being.

ParticipantsRoomm

Arrowhead 135 is an excellent event and am grateful to so many. Thank you to:

  • Ken for allowing me this amazing opportunity for my 3rd attempt
  • Todd for monitoring and encouraging us, never doubting our completion.
  • Rachel and Renata for supporting me all the way to the participants’ room and looking after me.
  • The amazing volunteers at all the check points who always maintained a cheerful disposition
  • The friends who have supported me on each attempt
  • Jason for bringing Bisaniiwewin
  • Everyone who signed Bisaniiwewin
  • Lynn and Daryl for taking me home to my adopted US family and all of Lynn’s help before and during the event
  • Jen and John for being “the team”
  • My adopted US family and for all their prayers and love that streamed over.

FAmily Photo

The Healing Process.

The body is an amazing healing machine.

Feet

FeetAfterTheEvent

After 5 hours of solid sleep

FeetTheDayAfter

After a further 2-3 more days – all blisters had been reabsorbed by the body.  I did not burst any of the blisters which could risk infection.

Dehydration (stiffness and back ache around kidney area)

Drank 2 litres of electrolyte in one sitting + 5 more cups fluid (water or coconut milk, tumeric, cinnamon + honey).  Back and stiffness gone after the 2 litres of electrolyte.

Swollen Calf

The calf had swelled to double the right hand side. After 3 days of rubbing arnica cream on it and using RICE, the swelling was down. After one week completed a 5 mile run which resulted in the calf swelling back up. Gave it 4 more weeks complete rest + arnica pules. All good now and doing heel dips to strengthen.

Frost nipped nose

Took about 4-6 weeks to heal. Nose bled most days. Used aloe vera gel + moisturiser inside the nostrils.

Shoulder Injury

Just recently had it looked at (March 29). Still recovering. Can’t support body weight to do a plank.

Chat

Arrowhead 135, 3/4: The Hare, the Tortoise and the Moon

The story of the hare and tortoise is a thread that runs in my life. I am normally ready ahead of time and then unexplained distractions occur, making me late. It irritates me because my time clock and the earth’s time are not in sync.

Mel Georges with Lynn and Sarah, 11:10am:  With being ahead of the cut off time, I went into the “hare super chill mode”. In a cabin at Mel Geroges, Lynn and Sarah had decided to leave the event but were in positive spirits helping me dry stuff. So I lay down, sucking on the tube from my water bladder to rehydrate, noting that only a litre had been drunk over the 36 miles.

Eyes closed, listening to the creaks and groans of the cabin, time melted away. In this sweet meditative mode, I heard Bill Bradley’s booming voice pass by the window.  I thought to myself “good for him, he is on his way onto the next stage”, unaware that he was quitting due to frostbite.  It was fortunate to have heard him as it reminded me to get going. You can watch his VLog here.

Alas the girly works had started. Yah boo. But don’t feel sorry for me, because sometimes it is a secret weapon women have as it can make us stronger! (….and sometimes evil to those close to us ;p )

For women only: Have found using a menstrual cup brilliant and have cut up a microfiber pad to have a reusable liner. Hence no more trashy waste from girly time and brilliant for long expeditions.

Both Lynn and Sarah were trying to get me going, but “lala land” had returned, expecting time to be ‘hold’. I re-organised my kit, ensuring dry socks were ready to change into at Ski Pulk and drank a cup of coffee.

Ski Pulk is a tee-pee tent and the third checkpoint, about 40 miles from Mel Georges. All participants should have checked in by 10am the next day or it is a DNF (Did Not Finish)

With Lynn now anxious for me, I finally headed back out onto the trail at 2:45pm.  It was snowing outside, and the snowflakes playfully greeted me with the Viennese Waltz. Mesmerised by their gracefulness, Lynn’s truck thankfully drove past me to  point me in the right direction.

Although feeling lucid, the karaoke ultra in “Race to the Kings” taught me the brain’s sharpness reduces dramatically as time goes on. Sleep deprivation causes disruptions in the harmonious running of the brain and causes temporary dementia and illogical decisions.  Forgetfulness and corrupt synaptic connections are common.

Within a couple of hundreds of metres from Mel Georges there is a sign that points to International Falls to the left and Tower to the right.

I paused looking at the sign, goofy pondering to return to International Falls with the snowflakes singing “left” until a gust of wind blew them in my face. An internal switch flicked on. My shoes had not been done up, snow had got in, the bungee cords had been left loose on my sled, and it was 2:45 pm on the clock when I headed out!  Nearly 5 hours at Mel Georges doing mostly nothing and destroying the buffer time that had been built up. The last person would have checked out of Mel Georges at 1pm at the latest.  The snow giggled, “you’ll never make it”

“I surely will”

The BPR sticker was blazing on my sled but the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland took over from the “hare brain”.  My mental self slapped me!  “Stop arsing around and get moving”.

My short regret turned to urgency. The snowfall changed its tune to tango, twisting and twirling with a sharp invigoration and then cross-overed to a Riverdance to fill the sled with a pointless weight:

A couple of inches of soft fresh snow already lined the previously hard packed trail, hiding any other tracks, creating greater resistance and thus more effort in pulling the sled.  Ignoring the discomfort of the blisters, ignoring the snow flakes on the face….I had to move to make up time.

At Play on the Dragon’s Back

I was at the first shelter, 3 miles from Mel Georges in 40 minutes,  Then a glorious sight appeared: a large downward slope of over 200 metres. Luge brain in gear, jumped on my sled and paddled with my poles until I had taken off.

Despite the slower terrain, the sled picked up speed, my feet steering along the twisted trail, finishing part way up the next hill.  Woo hoo for the Arrowhead hills – best parts for a bit of wild speed.

The next hill was a steep climb and the weight of environmental peace and reducing trash weighed heavy on my sled (Bisaniiwewin).  I turned round to walk backwards up: Pinky blew kisses, Princess Suma waved at me and Sharkey laughed as my thoughts turned to “gee it would be bad if I slipped or accidental unclipped the carabineer that joined the sled’s rope to my harness”.

StraightTrail

Bisaniiwewin keeping the fluffy team safe: Princess Suma penguin of peace, Pinky smiling lovingly, Sharkey laughing at the madness

Up on the top of the this hill, I surveyed the track below noting a sharp right hand bend a 100 metres down, and put my Bobsled head on…

I pushed my sled, jumped on and sped down and……oh crapsy doo……a snowmobiler appeared out from the right hand bend.  The snowmobile stopped dead and I steered myself sharply into a snowy bank. Fortunately, he was riding cautiously and the gang, that was following him in a domino effect, all in turn stopped one after another.

“Sorry – my fault. So sorry ….Good afternoon to you all. I’m from England….. where Prince Harry is getting married to an American actress….Am in that crazy Arrowhead race and am late” I said in my best English accent, embarrassed about my recklessness.  The front snowmobiler waved, signalling all okay. “Thank you” I called back hurrying on.

Before sliding down a slope on a track shared with snowmobiles, remember a golden rule: check, look and listen before heading down the slope.

Back to Rabbit Mode

Quickly moving on, footprints appeared that had a dusting of snow. Detective interpretation was: they were fresh meaning a participant was close by. Sure enough within 30 minutes John Taylor was in sight.  We were surprised to see each other and after a quick chitchat about why we were at this point….he got the “I’m late” song

“Well we’re late. Gotta make up time. I’ll see you up the next lot of hills as am slow up them. I’m late, am late, am late!”

I hurried on ahead, grooming the snow covered trail for John as the snowstorm continued. Crossed a road, onto the next part of the trail and soon observed a faint set of footprints and sled tracks that looked about a couple of hours old. The wind now behind me, pushed me along and the distance between John and myself rapidly lengthened and would soon lose sight of him.

3.5 hours from Mel Georges, met Todd, an awesome snowmobile volunteer:

I apologised for my tardiness but Todd responded

“You’re going well. You’ve got 5 more miles to the Highway 53 crossing”

“What does that mean?” I responded

“Highway 53 means you’ve gone 23 miles”

I thanked Todd for the information and soldiered on. My head spinning on the calculations and then uncertainty. Surely that can’t be right? That means about 17 miles in 3.5 hours. Was sure had been moving at 3-3.5 miles an hour, which should translate to 10 miles completed. Decided to reframe & degrade the distance quoted to mean there were 10 miles to highway 53 to help the personal time expectations.

The Threesome Dawdle

My left calf was now aching, the same calf I had pulled in July 2017 and had healed in September 2017. It felt strained. I returned to applying the “Pose” technique: straightening up, which seemed a small struggle as the back around the kidney area also ached, and took smaller lighter steps. With the better posture, the pain eased off and my fluffy team encouraged me onwards.

I recalculated and reconciled that if 17 miles in 3.5 hours had been completed, and the last “check in check out” time at Ski Pulk was 10am that would leave about 15 hours for 23 miles.  Surely that was doable which could mean slowing down the pace to manage the calf. I “minced” to Highway 53 as darkness crept in.

The Night of the Blood Red Super Moon

The moon was being held hostage by the clouds, weakening its illumination cast upon the trail, though still bright enough to see the trail without a headlamp. Upon crossing Highway 53, I stopped to eat the cheese sandwich the Mel Georges volunteers had made for me. It was just “divine” (thank you Mel Georges volunteers). Soon a light appeared.  It was John. He had caught up and was marching with a consistent strong pace.

Quick friendly chat and he went on ahead. Soon his red blinkie joined another red blinkie. It was Jennifer. She was tired and was glad to see some others to overcome the “walking in my sleep” feeling. It was good to see her as well. The last time we had met was in 2012 where we both had to bail some ways after Gateway and converted to volunteers.

Time whispered the illusion of distance

All of us went into a kind of “dilly dally la la holiday time” mode.  Each of us constantly stopped along the trail for whatever reason, but we roughly moved as a group, frog leaping each other.  About 1.5 hours later Jennifer who was generally in front stopped for a caffeine drink to try to free her brain from sludge mode. We had a casual chat as if time didn’t matter.

She looked at her wrist: “We’ve gone about 2 miles from Highway 53”

“Really?” I didn’t believe her as had thought that we must have at least been going 3 miles an hour.

“Yeah that’s what my GPS says”

“Impossible!” I thought, but recalculated what this meant….

“Okay I’m going to keep moving. You will catch up as am slow going up the hills and my calf hurts”

I chased on after John, knowing that once she got her mojo back, she would certainly catch up.

Starvation & Dehydration

Up to this point had 5 dough balls, 100g of nuts, 2 cereal bars, soup at Gateway and 2 cheese sandwiches at Mel Georges + soup + the sandwich earlier on. Drunk about 2.5 litres of electrolyte from the start to Mel Georges + one coffee at Gateway & one coffee at Mel Georges.

I was feeling quite ravenous and greedily ate a bag of nuts, drank a whole lot of electrolyte, then threw up.

“Well that ain’t good” I thought.

Tried to drink again, but perhaps too soon, and threw it back out.

“Okay body – fine do without for the moment.” Must be another corruption on the eating and drinking brain cells. It’s a common symptom for me when have had several days of sleep deprivation.  Bizarrely, found eating snow quite satisfying and the cold ice took away the slight rancid taste in the mouth. I filled my now empty 75 ml bottle 3 times with snow and let the ice melt in my mouth.

To Go or Not to Go That is the Question

Again I caught up with John, who seemed to be holding back, and we walked together for awhile.  This time we hung out for a longer duration. At one point, the wind dropped and the night was calm, feeling much warmer due to the cloud cover. This temporary calm was soon changed as the winds returned in a wild expanse, and I became a little desperate for a wee.  However, the thought of stopping to do my thing in the wind and cold produced the thought possibility of a frostbitten butt.  After all, had heard of a participant who managed to frost nip her “thingy” and heard about guys who have frostbitten their thingies when they had forgotten to zip up their trousers after a pee.

As the winds continued, I told John of my demise.

“We should be coming up to a hill shortly and it is more sheltered there” he reassured

As a distraction, I tried to think of other things and admired the wild expanse in the dim light.  We talked and walked and walked and talked……alas, a nagging urgency was in my head with whirring sirens.  The winds suddenly dropped. Red alert flashed across my forehead.

“Seems good right now John. Excuse me for a moment”.

“Sure I’ll carry on. I won’t look!”

I would have laughed but needed to get my trousers down – NOW! Except… whilst trying to navigate over the harness, under the food pouch, to find the belt buckle, then fumbling to release the buckle, it was too late. Noooo! Managed to get the trousers down for the bulk of the bodily fluids to drop on the snow. DANG – hit and miss!

As I thought about changing underwear, memories returned of having got my entire leg wet in the Arctic Ocean. Thus decided it would be best to keep all clothes on rather than try to change and get cold. Instead I placed a spare small towel on my underwear to keep the damp from my skin.  At least it was a number 1 and not a number 2, and being on the clothing near the warmest part of the body, the damp clothes would hopefully dry. Yes readers I was wet and I smelt bad! (Thank you so much to Rachel and Renata who dealt with my disgusting stuff at the end.)

A Magic Hill Moment:  I rejoined John going up the hill he had mentioned earlier. The wind had dropped and wondered if he could smell me! Once up the top of the hill, he excused himself to boil water at the shelter. I contemplated stopping with him, but he told me to continue on.

A little ways on, the moon pulled apart the clouds to light up a beautiful steep downward slope before me. So as Doctor Who would say “Allons-y”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IlJFNMAJ-k

Luge, skeleton, bob sleigh head on. I paddled my sled over the edge and woosh – down a big dipper, through a narrow passage, twisted right, up a small slope, then back down, then left then right again, over a bridge, onwards a little further……woo hoo.  “Indian Jones, eat your heart out”! Yup a big grin stretched across my face and was excited at the prospect of doing it all over again. (nearly 40 hours into the event)

More Food Rejections: Walking on, my tummy was really rumbling. Nevertheless, trying to eat anything was super hard. The mouth rejected any more dough balls so I scratched around in my pulka for other types of bars. My mouth refused the 4 different varieties I carried. The Power Bar was sickly sweet, the Cliff Bar was yucky, the Life bar nearly made me throw up and the harvest crunch wasn’t doing anything for me.  The stomach complained so I forced down a Cliff bar. The body was repulsed and threw it back out.  I dug out the sweets the Arrowhead organisation had put in our “goody” bag. The body accepted it and would have to suffice for now.

Shoulder Injury: I continued slowly, contemplating picking up the bits of salty dropped food along the route, like cheesy biscuits, however decided it might be a bad idea. Jennifer caught up with me. She was moving strong. No sign of John. We moved together for awhile. She couldn’t be bothered to ride the small slopes and so I followed her on a “run down a small slope” and “Bam”. I tripped over my own rope, hit the ground hard, landing on my right shoulder. Jen hadn’t seen it and continued on, just as I must have done previously when people disappeared behind me.

I lay there temporarily looking up at the moon, thinking “Romeo, Romeo, where forth are thy, oh Romeo?”  Did my brain really want Romeo to pick me up?  Haha no such luck and no point in feeling sorry for myself.  My right shoulder hurt and was unable to extend, so rolled over, got up and adjusted how I would use the arm.  No more running down slopes for me!

Back to reality: Jennifer was leading about 50-100m ahead as I would sometimes sight her blinkies.  As I prepared to ride another steep slope, a snowmobiler appeared. Todd had come out to check on us:

“You’ve got 8 more miles to complete in 5 hours”

My brain spun. Time had taken a leap forward. We all blew 10 hours in lala land for 15 miles.

Todd indicated Jennifer was just in front by 100 metres.  Acknowledging, I let him know that John had stopped to boil water and would be close behind after.  Todd suggested we three work as a team to get each other there.  I acknowledged to hold back for John and we would all get there.  I felt confident John would catch up at my current speed as he had done so before.  In the meantime, I had a hill to ride. I took off, trying to look super cool as Todd looked on.  It went spectacularly wrong as I crashed into the side of the slope.

Electric Blue shapes

Electric currents that ran on the ground when I blinked

About 5am – Electric Ground: Soon blinking caused the ground to spark with electric blue lines and hints of red. Abstract lines that seemed to outline the texture of the terrain.

Perhaps the changing moon was affecting me, or perhaps the amyloid beta waste that was building up from sleep deprivation was short-circuiting something in my head. I blinked at the trees around to see if the same phenomenon would happen – nothing. I blinked back at the snow covered ground and sure enough electric blue lines spread out in all directions.

Confusion: Jen wasn’t too far in front and had stopped to debate with another participant, Jim Wilson. Jim insisted we were going the wrong way, at the same time he talked about going round in circles.  We pondered, thought about it and decided he was confused. We asserted we were going in the right direction and he needed to turn around, otherwise he would be backtracking on himself and would surely meet John who was behind us. He decided to go with our rationale and u-turned back up the track he had come from.

Nature’s Magic: The moon’s super brightness begun to dim.  The lunar eclipse was happening and as it progressed, the route ahead darkened forcing me to use my head lamp for the first time.  Temperatures dropped with the fading light. I called out to Jen and Jim to let them know, but they had now disappeared. With a down jacket thrown back on & avenger mask back in position, I walked slowly, watching the sky transfixed as the reddish tinge was being replaced with the moon’s blue. An eerie hush came over the world which was broken each time with my bizarre blue electricity blinking striking across the ground.

As some time went by, John appeared:

“Thank you for waiting for me. You really shouldn’t have. I’ve completed this event several times already. So you should make sure you finish as it’s your first time.”

“That’s okay, we have time for all of us to finish. Anyway look up at the moon. The lunar eclipse is happening.”  I was more excited about sharing the magic wonder that was taking place before us.

John looked up to admire the eclipse taking place, which was partly a dull reddish orange orb in the sky and partly a blue moon, then we continued on together.

Race to Checkpoint 3: As dawn brightened the sky, Todd appeared checking to see his “children at play” were safe. I yabbered about hallucinations and lunar eclipses and laughing patiently reminded me:

“You’ve got 5 more miles and 3 hours to go”

Dang –time was being screwy.  This meant 3 miles had been covered in 2 hours.  Needed to stop gawping at nature’s wonders and get moving.

“Yeah we’ll get there” I reaffirmed to Todd.

We got moving at what I thought was a 3 mile an hour pace.  John moves at a consistent metronome pace whether uphill, downhill, or on the flat. He is a machine! Mine varies: slow uphill, ride downhill and can be whatever speed on the flat.

John tried to encourage me to go on ahead as I maintained staying just before or behind him. So he tried to throw a small stone at the dog (me – not Pinky).

“A team is only as fast as its slowest member.”

Brain didn’t process and responded “We’ll all get there”

As John continued to talk and share stories on the uphill, John would slow down for me as I crawled up.

“Sorry John. Can’t respond much on the up hills” as I slowly trudged up backwards, “but don’t wait for me, keep going cos I’ll catch up”.

John understood as time was tight.  We only needed to have each other in sight to encourage each other along. As John continued up and then disappeared over the brow of each hill, I would struggle up and see him half way down the hill…..reminding me of a song:

He frequently looked back for me.  On seeing me at the top, and me waiting for him to clear the hill, he would move aside, signal for me to come and watch the mad lady careering down on her “luge-mobile”.

With the sun out, a glorious bright day, I checked with John on the time. We had two more hours. I schemed and shared a plan:

“If time becomes really tight, and when we get to the bottom of Wakemeup Hill, am gonna leave my sled at the bottom, run up, check in and then out and come back for my sled”.

John tried to explain the illogicalness of that plan as the check in point is partly on the hill.  The plan seemed logical to me as am faster going up the hill without the sled.  John’s words re-entered my brain:

“I’ve completed this event several times….” as I thought about bolted.  “Will see you at Ski Pulk”

One last phenomena was in the sky; a vertical rainbow! A partial Sun Dog to welcome the year of the dog!

SunDog

Photo credit: http://mendonomasightings.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/horizontal-rainbow-in-sky-photo-of.html

Approximately 2.5 miles covered and landed at Ski Pulk at 08:57. Caught Jim on his way out and Jennifer sorting stuff out. John came in 20 minutes behind. The team all clocked in with some time to spare.

Over 53 hours awake and personally still had not experienced the sleepy monsters.

However there was still about 23-24 miles to the finish which closed at 19:00 that day and 10 hours to complete this final section. This is where the hallucinations really began!

Next Post: The Battle

Chat

Arrowhead 135, (2/4): The Taming of the Dragon

The Ice Dragon of Arrowhead breathes ice and snow over the North Minnesotan Plains sometimes down to -60 degs F.  In those types of temperatures, the Minnesotans hide in their warm houses, except for the 135Arrowheaders.  In 2014, it brought the temperatures down to -50 degs C striking down many 135Arrowheaders.  But there are those who can play and ride the dragon and come out unscathed. I wanted to be one of them.

Dragon Picture

Meet some of the Arrowhead Racers

The Voyageur motel is the place to be for this event. It is close to the start line and the owners Sandy and Jerald are soooooo accommodating.  Nothing is ever too much for them.  Additionally you will meet vet Arrowheaders who have tamed the beast and come out every year to give homage. At the beginning of the week, we hung out with Bill Bradley and Ray Sanchez who will one day have his own Pinky dog to bring on the trails.

Bill and Ray

Bill, Rachel, Ray with the animals

By Friday and Saturday there was a full house of Arrowhead racers – mostly vets and a couple of newbies.

VetArrowheaders.JPG

The animals went out with a bunch of vet Arrowheaders

Neighbouring our rooms was Judd with the wicked pointy mustashe and his biker gang. Parker was down the hall (first man unsupported in 41:02); and the lovely Lynn and Daryl Saari next door (Lynn hope that flu bug goes away soon).  Upstairs was Jason (who brought Bisaniiwewin the tyre from Wisconsin and really wanted to play but paid Ken to stop him doing it again!) and the very fit John Storkamp (first man through in 38 hours). All these hardcore Arrowhead legends under one roof.

As for newbies: met the laid back and calm Alex Stoltz with his son at the Voyageur Café on Friday evening whilst baking some dough for the journey. Alex asked for advice, but really wasn’t one to give advice as had never completed the course.  The best I could do was share my race plan.  Out on the trail, checking the start point were also newbies Jeff and Dan. I felt like a mom showing the boys where the registration and start points were.

Back of the pack

B.P.R = Back of the Pack Racer – “Embrace the Alternate Reality”

This year was going to be different. I actually had a plan, better gear, a lighter sled (about 20kgs = 40lbs), and a bunch of animal friends to keep me company. The plan was to finish in the middle of the pack about 55 hours. However, Judd must have had an inkling of my tardiness as he came over on Sunday night to sign Bisaniiwewin and gifted a BPR sticker.

For a bikers’ look at Arrowhead you can read the BPR gang’s report here

Sunday 10pm: I lay in bed remembering the magic of Rovaniemi, wandering in the winter forest, the aurora borelis shimmering in the night sky and the frozen moisture suspended in the air, twinkling like fairy lights when the headlamp illuminated them. In this event, the meteorologists promised a lunar eclipse and the “blood moon”…. I imagined howling to the moon.

Race Day

29 January 2018, 4am: Rachel’s alarm sounded. As she got up to prepare herself, I kept still on my spot on the floor. Sleep had been patchy and I wanted more, considering that had very little the night before. Renata stirred some moments later. “What’s the time I ask?”

“Five Ten” she replied

Dang, I shot up, as meant to get up at 5am, cleared my bedding and filled bottles with hot water from what Jerald had purposefully boiled for us, as well as from the bathroom tap. Breakfast was a glass of coconut milk and chia seeds.  Well Cliff Young survived on drinking milk in his ultra:

What’s in me Sled? A travel bag with one litre of boiling hot water, a spare empty naglene bottle, two down jackets – one is an emergency jacket; food for 3 days (didn’t want to bother about a kit or food drop at Mel Georges); stove + fuel + matches; spare base layers in case; spare googles; spare gloves; spare bungee cords, spare hat; spare knickers, girly stuff; spare goretex outer legs, first aid kit, bivvy bag + -40 below sleeping bag, one snow mobile tyre weighing approximately 8-9 kgs (17-20lbs) called Bisaniiwewin, one pink dog called Pinky, one shark called Sharkey and a penguin called Princess Suma.

What did I wear? Wearing 4 layers on my torso plus a 750 ml bottle in my jacket and a Nathan bladder + food + lights + gloves for all occasions (liner gloves + gloves + over gloves) + hand/toe warmers for just in case. On the legs was a base layer and a pair of walking trousers. On the feet a thick pair of woolly socks and a pair of running shoes covered with an overshoe. Hat on head + neoprene balaclava + wool buff.

6:15am: Renata helped us move our sleds out the door into the cold onto snowy grounds. Already the ice dragon had made its presence felt, gently cooling the previous week’s temperatures to -11 degs F (-24 degs C) and a dusting of small flakes gently fell from the skies.

Start to Gateway

As snowflakes danced, fireworks lit up the dull cold morning sky, marking the start of the event. The bikers were let loose, followed by the skiers and then the runners…..and I was there on the start line.  By the time we had started, the snow had stopped and the cold had begun to wrap itself round the body with hands slightly numb.  Big gloves were donned and jogged for at least 5K to warm up. Once the hands were warm, I stepped it down to a fast walk to regulate the body temperature. My North Pole buddy had always reminded me “You sweat you die” – Die of hypothermia if your clothes got wet.

Walking Zombie: After a mile, Rachel passed me. She is a strong, tough lady and was sure she’d be in the top 3 women. In fact, many people overtook me, as I slowed down.  Joe Lang slowed to converse with me. I grunted some responses trying to sync the brain to understand the conversation and the body to understand to keep moving.  As Joe chatted away, I wished for a cup of coffee to kick out the sludge in my head. When he finally sped on, I was thankful for the quiet and returned to closing my eyes for a one to two second walking nap.

The first 10 miles are pretty monotonous with long straight lines, nonetheless was thankful the terrain was like a frozen pavement underfoot. The trail was in the best condition compared to my previous two attempts and I speculated there would be a high number of people finishing this event compared to previous years.

After 10 miles, “eye of the tiger” Bill Bradley had caught up and we gave each other quick words of encouragement. My head was finally waking up.

Towards Gateway2

Bill and I would play leapfrog until Gateway, the first checkpoint.  Newbie Alex overtook me 10 miles from Gateway looking sturdy with every step he took.

Gateway: A Luxury Stop

17:59: At 36 miles, Gateway is checkpoint 1, a store and petrol station where we are encouraged to eat, drink and be merry. The new owners have embraced the Arrowhead event making this a luxury pit-stop with 3 types of homemade soup, multiple types of coffee, a free flow of hot water, and a “OMG from me”….shoe dryers and clothes drying facilities available.  There was a crazy merriment inside from the owners, employees, spectators, and racers. I could imagine a barn dance happening here, if it weren’t for the worn out bodies spread on the floor….

“Rachel! What’s up?” I was surprised to see her on the floor.  She was looking quite down, as she wrestled with her head.

“I’ve been here since 4pm, my stomach’s unwell and I’m bored….”  Renanta looked concerned.

“Ok rest and get something to eat. Get that mojo back” I tried to be positive for her.

Rachel forced some soup down, but I know how she was feeling, having experienced the same physical and mental attributes when mentally tired. Sometimes we just need time out to reconnect our physical, mental and spiritual selves with each other, other times we just need a reboot.

As Rachel was being well cared for, I went into “lala land” talking to other racers; catching up with Bonnie, singing my own songs whilst waiting for clothes to dry.  Lynn Saari came in, Bill followed after. He was looking anxious, wanting to get in and out to make time, and not be drawn in by negative emotions.  I considered going back out with him at 7pm, but my buddy Rachel was down.

I cajoled her and tried to lift her spirit to move on from the mental beating she was giving herself. Mike (an Arrowhead finisher and now volunteer) continued to encourage me to help her, so I patiently waited for her to get her head in order.

Facing the Ice Dragon

20:00 Rachel was ready to go….kind of reluctantly.  I was hopeful she could turn herself around and enjoy the moonlit trail, after all the trail after Gateway is more interesting with undulations and steepening hills. We headed out warm, with down jackets on + outer shell trousers, and closed down the Complaints Department.  We needed to move forward positively.  Rachel’s slow is my fast and knew I would struggle to keep her pace.  I encouraged her to keep moving at that pace as she sauntered on ahead. We both enjoy the solitude of oneself, so if she was now feeling right in herself, I was happy to let her work the trail at her own pace.  Nonetheless, I would catch up with her each time by riding the slopes.

“You should try it!” I said to her, once I had caught up with her.

Rachel was now moving at my speed and found a slope. “This one?”

“Yeah go for it”

She sat on her sled and sped off along the gentle slope.  I followed after.  As I caught up with her, she thanked me however slowed down further.

“Come on Rachel we can do this.”

She moved slightly ahead and then stopped at the side, signalling she was okay and for me to move on, she would catch up. I moved on, slowly, uncertain to stay or go, but if I hung around it would irritate. Sometimes we just need space to know what we must do. I continued hoping she would regain her composure, often looking back and soon the seemingly endless trail behind collapsed into a black void.  30 minutes and she had not appeared. I wondered if I should have stayed with her. It was too late now. She is a tough gal, having undertaken enough solo expeditions in the snow and ice…. and she is Swiss…..totally organised! She had excellent gear, so I knew she’d be safe. You can read her story here

An hour later I met Bill, he was going to bivy out and I wished him a restful sleep.  As I headed on into the night, enjoying the moonlit trail, the sound of snowmobiles would soon pierce the quiet. Eight times they passed me as they headed out and then back, each time towing someone out of the event. Sheep Ranch Road felt close by.

There, just before Sheep Ranch Road, a shadowy figure was on the trail. As I closed in, it was one of the snowmobile volunteers. We chatted away and found out that Rachel had been picked up and was safe. I decided to forego saying hello, having stopped by this bus in the past to encourage someone to go on. The air would be “heavy” with weary racers beating themselves up in an almost unforgiving way.  There was nothing more to say or do but to let each reconcile their moments out on the trail.

I was in a happy place enjoying every pain free step amazed about the amount of light was projected onto the trail.

See here for great pictures and a fantastic report from Alex Elizabeth

It would be quiet from this time onwards and in the sky was a very weak shimmering green tinge. The full moon’s light was too strong for the aurora borealis and I would have to be satisfied with playing the music of War of the Worlds in my head and remembering the aurora at Rovaniemi.

I was surprised to catch up with Alex as had figured he should have been way ahead. He was with John Taylor, who after some minutes stopped to boil water.  Alex moved on slowly, always looking back, giving me time to to catch up with him and we hung out for a while. We again discussed plans and agreed to go through the night to Mel Georges. Once there we could reconsider the time to see how much “rest time” we could enjoy. He seemed serene and happy, and I was enjoying his company as we propelled ourselves down the small slopes. On one slope, he signaled for me to go ahead, I did and marched onwards, singing a song. After about 10 minutes, I realised he had not followed and was no longer behind. I called out – no one responded.

“Perhaps he stopped for a pee” I thought.

I walked slowly, looking back every so often and after 30 minutes soldiered on, deciding he must have stopped to rest.

I caught up with two women. One was strongly ascending the steepening hills, the other moving somewhat slower.  I chatted to the back lady briefly, a pretty dark haired lady, Kari, before catching up with her buddy in front. She was a shorter maybe blonde haired lady who decided to lay down on the snow whilst waiting for her buddy to get to the top. It seemed a strange thing to do, so I checked to see if she was okay. She indicated she was okay. I asked again to make sure & she signaled to me she was fine and for me to move on.

Along the spine of the dragon, temperatures were plummeting. John had earlier on told me it was about -30 degs F (-35 degs C). Am sure it was colder and a chill crept over the body, despite wearing the heavy duty over gloves and down jacket. Time to work a little harder to warm up before stopping to find the emergency down jacket in my sled. Perhaps tiredness was in my head, but an illogical brain connection had been made as I wasted time searching through a small hole that had unzipped in the bag. As my left hand cooled down, I gloved it back up with the over gloves, ran on the spot and then changed over to the warm right hand, removing the gloves down to the liner to rummage in the bag.

After a little “dig around”, felt the jacket stuck behind some other gear. The fool me continued trying to work the jacket out from behind gear and under the bungee cord strapping with the hand that was rapidly becoming cold and numb. It would have been easier to have unclipped the cords to make the task easier. By the time I had pulled out the emergency jacket, the two women had overtaken me and the fingers on my right hand had become frozen.

“Idiot! Fool me, fool me!” – I scolded myself as I recalled 2014 and had frostbite and quickly pulled the jacket on.

I could have put my hand on my neck or down my trousers but the synaptic nerves weren’t sparking. I was going to test my warming powers.

“Fool me, fool me, fool me” I again uttered. The ice dragon smiled whispering “I got you”

“No you haven’t buddy”

I flung my hand down hard several times: “C’mon babies be strong”

I moved quickly, as the ice dragon clenched my right hand….”I got you”

“No way buddy…” I punched the air several times and semi ran pushing hard up the hills and down. I soon reached the two women at the top of a hill. By now three fingers were just come back to life, and felt a little nipped. My little “pinky” finger was still rock hard.

“I couldn’t see you.” said the blonde haired lady. “Your reflectors are all covered”

“Yeah” I was a little confused. “I’ve got my emergency jacket on. Gotta warm up. It’s cold. It’s only temporary” as I continued to try to wake up my little finger in my glove by wrapping the other fingers around it.  No way did I want to sort out anything further at this moment in time.

Kari turned to me: “The snow mobiles won’t be coming out again until dawn or when we call them. It is the early morning so I wouldn’t worry.” I thanked her for her kindness.

Blinkies and reflectors are so the snowmobiles can see you and part of the mandatory gear.

There appeared to be a momentary pause, as they seemed to be waiting for me, so I took off down the hill and slightly crashed and they followed in pursuit, with a “wheee”. I smiled. Always fun to see tough people letting their hair down.

As we were together at the bottom of the hill, and to make light that I was still with them: “Just hanging out with you gals. Hope that’s okay” and thought had heard one of them respond “Yeah sure” or perhaps I had imagined it.

I hung with them, still trying to warm my little pinky and was grateful to ascend another glorious hill to force the body furnace to fire harder. This was the first of the big steep ones.  At the top, the little finger was finally free of the ice dragon. I looked up and mouthed thank you. It was alive, working well and not even nipped! This time I waited for the other two women to go down and followed them down, steering my sled on the twists and turns like a luge rider, finishing to the left of the blonde haired lady. She seemed somewhat annoyed with me:

“You know I really cannot see you! Your blinkers have turned over in your sled and your reflectors are hidden. It would be a shame if you were disqualified having got so far.”

I looked at my blinkers. “Ahh you’re right. Thanks”. I turned them back over and decided to hold back, pretending to get something from my sled. As they got up to go, Bisaniiwewin reminded me….so I whispered “Peace be with you sister” and let them move on ahead. She was right, I hadn’t thought much about the emergency down jacket covering my normal down jacket which had a reflective vest on, and perhaps I scared her when I slid in next to her…but well…. I sighed, ate and drank something, feeling a little disappointed….maybe I smell…speaking of which…

At Mel Gerorges

Bisaniiwewin: Pulling For Peace

I did a quick check of cheeks, ears, and nose. My nose had frozen solid under the balaclava. It had been constantly streaming on the way out of Gateway and should have taken that as a sign.

“No way are you getting this one either buddy. It’s mine”

I placed my gloved hand over my nose and got moving. After some minutes, it warmed back up and I pulled the wool neck gaiter over the nose to reduce the risk of further refreezing.

Soon I caught up with a woman and a man who had seemed so strong earlier on in the first leg towards Gateway. He seemed blurry eyed. They had tried to sleep but had felt cold and were feeling very tired.  I was kind of familiar with this part as had been picked up at this location in 2012 on my first attempt for being slow.

“We’re about 8 miles from Mel Georges and we’re still in excellent time. C’mon you can do it. Keep moving,”  I encouraged.

The dawn was coming and noticed they too had their reflectors covered up with their down jackets, then tried to remove the pettiness of the earlier comment out of my head.

As dawn broke, it became warm enough to take off the emergency outer jacket.  The gloominess of yesterday’s morning seemed to melt away.

Closing in on the lake, I stopped again to take my googles out of my sled ready to face the wind.  The woman, Bridget, had caught up with me, leaving her buddy about 100 metres behind.  He was moving slowly but steady.

We chatted a little, crossing the lake together and there was a calm over the lake with just a subtle light breeze and sometimes a wind behind us to push us along.  She shared with me her feet were hurting. I told her mine were too as I could feel the blisters bubbling under the forefoot on both feet.

Mel Georges – the R & R Checkpoint

09:51 Mel Georges. It turned out mine were blisters and her toes were frostbitten. Dang! I gave her a hug, acknowledging she will complete this event the next time.

Mel Georges is checkpoint 2 with hot cheese sandwiches, hot soup and a table of salty and sweet snacks. Upstairs there are beds for you to rest. Downstairs is a fire where you can try to dry your clothes.

Rachel and Renata came in to welcome me and I was happy to see Rachel safe. She lent me her “cold avenger” mask to protect my frost-nipped nose and then left to check out of their cabin to move onto Fortune Bay, the final stop.

As the blisters were being tended to by Bill the medic, Lynn turned up with Sarah: “Come on over and see us. We’ve got a cabin”

11:05 Blood blister was drained, covered with Compeed, applied a whole lot of Vaseline to my nose, and checked out of the crowded checkpoint, to head over to the cabin Lynn and co had rented.

I was happy to have escaped the talons of the dragon.  I got nipped but was not bitten and the dragon had let me play on those spiny hills. As for the nose, it must have been to celebrate the year of the dog.

Burnt Nose

16 Feb 2018 = Chinese New Year

Kindness brings so much more joy to those around as well as yourself. I am thankful and blessed to have met so many kind people in this event who have warmly welcomed me back each and every time. Lynn and Daryl certainly went over the top for me, which I will be eternally grateful to them.

72 miles completed and 63 miles to go. Time is going good but it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.

Race Post Part 3: The Hare and the Tortoise