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.
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?
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.
“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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
The Healing Process.
The body is an amazing healing machine.
After 5 hours of solid sleep
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.
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.
Just recently had it looked at (March 29). Still recovering. Can’t support body weight to do a plank.