Team NYARA Survives Expedition Alaska’s Version of the Hunger Games

By Amy Bartoletti (and Rodney Villella)

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There have been plenty of reports written about the pre-race race (notably that by Brent Freedland – http://brentfreedland.blogspot.com/2015/06/the-race-before-race.html), so I won’t go into those details. Upon arriving in Anchorage, we had the typical jostle of having to get bins, food, fuel and bear spray (not typical) for the 7-day race before the shuttle departed for Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. We made it with just a little time to spare. It is at the Lodge where we learned of all of the perils that Dave Adlard (aka President Snow) had designed for us in a course. Luckily, Adrian Crane, Mike Kloser and Erik Nachtrieb traded roles as Haymitch, Seneca Crane and Plutarch Heavensbee. Brian Leitten, producer of the upcoming TV production, was definitely Cinna. They imparted to us what we needed to make it through and fortunately, did not meet the fate of Seneca Crane or Cinna. We also knew we would get the support of “Sponsors” in the form of all the great volunteers (Kate, daughter of Penny and Jay from Gung Ho, Seth, Andy, Max, Stacia and Lisa, Dave’s wife, just to name a few), that we would see along the course and at the TAs. So at the lodge, we went through gear checks, spent 2 days on glacier travel and crevasse rescue training, learned a few tips on pack rafting from Roman Dial himself, learned about the differences between black and brown bears (both scary), had a refresher on wilderness first aid and spent a good amount of time on the maps. What I really learned was that there was a lot out there that we really needed to be prepared to deal with – crevasses, fast moving rivers with really cold water, hypothermia, Devil’s Club and other hideous plants, Alaska1steep terrain, a lot of wildlife, quicksand and Tracker Jackers (ok, I’m exaggerating just a little but I am highly allergic to yellow jackets and being stung could definitely lead to a heli evac). What all this amounted to was that our team knew that having the right gear on the course would be key to completing the race. We chose to carry heavier packs (and believe me, they were heavy to begin with) to ensure that we had what we needed for each leg.

Prologue – A Run by the Lake – Chad’s Trot

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Note on the maps: The scale was 1:63,000 and had 100 foot contours. This took a bit of getting used to as everything looked a lot closer than it really was.

(Note on the maps: The scale was 1:63,000 and had 100 foot contours. This took a bit of getting used to as everything looked a lot closer than it really was.)

The Prologue started with a trail run along the length of Eklutna Lake in memory of Chad Denning. It was really awesome that Snow (I mean Dave) dedicated this first part of the race to Chad, a fellow adventure racer that unexpectedly passed away about a year ago, but making us run 13 miles at the start of a 7 day expedition race is a little sadistic!

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Snow making us run with our heavy packs at the start of our 7-day race.

I know we didn’t “have to” run, but the first cutoff of the race was at TA1 and we felt it was a necessary evil in order to make the cutoff. We managed to get through it with Team GOALS at our side. My teammate, Bruce, towed me the entire way and it went really well until about 11.5 miles in when I lost concentration for a second and totally wiped out on a rock (the Gamemakers must made it appear out of thin air). Bruce didn’t notice at first and managed to drag me a few feet before he stopped. I was a little bruised but otherwise ok, so we walked a little, then continued the torturous run. At mile 12.7, we were united with our glacier gear and continued on our trek up to the Eklutna Glacier. Then the fun began…

Segment 1 – “The R2 Traverse!” (Eklutna Traverse)

This segment was named the R2 Traverse in memory of Roman Dial’s son, Cody, who disappeared last summer in Costa Rica. (http://www.mensjournal.com/magazine/lost-in-the-jungle-the-search-for-cody-dial- 20150206). It was a fitting tribute as it was both adventurous and spectacular. We had done a little pre-race research and speculated that Snow would put a significant river crossing in right after we picked up our glacier gear. So we chose to carry extra shoes, socks, pants, etc. (I even carried an extra pair of undies although they literally weigh nothing) so that we would have dry feet and other body parts on the glacier.

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The river crossing was treacherous to say the least, and since the water was coming right off the glacier, it was about 37 degrees. In fact, there were ice chunks floating in it. The river itself was divided by a small spit of land into two forks. The first fork was relatively easy to cross, but the second was not. We tried getting across the second fork twice (going across half way both times) only to come back.

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One of our unsuccessful attempts to cross the river. The photo does not do it justice as the water was moving very fast which made it hard just to stay upright. This was just the first fork.

Finally, we decided to move back downstream (going back across the first fork) where the crossing looked a little easier and team up with Team GOALS. It was about then that every muscle in my legs started to cramp. It was unbelievably painful but I knew that I had to keep moving especially since we were going to try to cross the river as a group of eight. This strategy paid off with Abby and me going third in line, each behind two guys. Rodney literally was picking me up off my feet. He also managed a quick grab when Brent from GOALS nearly got swept away. The river crossing resulted in a lot of carnage for other teams as well as camera crew and I was relieved to be through that obstacle. But just as we made it to the other side, the cramping started again. I knew I just had to keep moving to warm up my muscles, but I was already at a low point and we were only a few hours into the race. I kept moving albeit slowly. As we approached the glacier, however, my spirits lifted.

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Toe of the glacier.

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Navigating the ice fall.

It was spectacular and I was excited to tackle the ice field. We changed into dry clothing and grabbed some food before we started the climb. It was really thrilling route finding through the ice fall and I was happy to have a good amount of ice climbing experience. I would have preferred to have a steel ice ax and crampons, but my aluminum ones seemed to do just fine. I would have also liked to have carried a few ice screws (as opposed to the required snow pickets, which would have been pretty useless in the event of a crevasse fall) but we proceeded methodically and cautiously, and I felt like we were really in our element.

We crossed the Eklutna Glacier to a snowfield (where we switched from crampons to snowshoes) and eventually hit Whiteout Glacier, which pretty much lived up to its name.

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Whiteout Glacier.

We made a short stop at the Hans Hut and were then graced with a beautiful moonscape. It was really awesome. Given our clothing strategy, I was generally warm and dry and comfortable. On the top, I had a base layer, and changed between 3 Montbell layers – windshirt, shell jacket and puffy (sometimes all three) that worked fantastically. But because I had worn somewhat older (although comfortable) GoreTex shoes, my feet got wet. I tried vegetable bags and they worked for a bit, but ultimately my feet did get a little cold. We finally traversed across Eagle Glacier and both Pete and I were struggling a little. Bruce carried Pete’s pack for a while and pulled us both to the end of the glacier. At this point it was morning and we ran into a guy on a snowmobile that told us about a trail that traversed across the mountain in the direction that we wanted to go. It took a little route finding to locate it but it was well worth it. It was steep, just a goat path in places, and a little spicy but awesome. And it took us directly to the small summit we were trying to attain that gave us a great view of Goat Mountain as well as the surrounding landscape.

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View looking back up after finishing 20 miles of glacier travel on the Eklutna Traverse.

The descent should have been as easy as the approach, but we made it a little more interesting by taking a direct route down from the ridge. We thought we saw “tracks” in the snowfield below. Turns out they were slide path marks from falling rocks – oops. We crossed the steep snowfield carefully by donning our crampons again and using our ice axes. We finally got down to the valley floor where we had to find a cairn that Mike Kloser had built that marked an old “trail”. This pseudo trail gave us our first taste of Devil’s Club – an evil, evil, plant. We finally emerged to Crow Creek Road and the mountaineering gear drop. The very pleasant Winner Creek Trail (and hand tram) took us to the first TA (30 hours after the start) at the Day Lodge at Alyeska Resort. We were thrilled to make the cutoff to be able to do the full course – this was the goal that I had in my mind since we got the maps! Rodney said that this was his favorite leg in any race he’s done – an amazing compliment… Our Sponsors helped to refuel us at the TA before we decided to take a short rest before embarking on Segment 2…

Gear that worked great: Montbell Layers – Ultra Light Shell Jacket, Torrent Flier Jacket and Ultra Light Thermawrap Jacket, Osprey Youth Ace 50L Backpack (it actually fits me quite well), MSR Denali Ascent Snow Shoes

Gear I wish I had: Steel crampons and ice ax, ice screws, shoes that were really waterproof

Segment 2A – “The Soul Crusher!”

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After we slept, we finished packing our pack rafting gear and a lot of food for the next leg. Again, our packs were really, really heavy but we intentionally took some heavier gear such as drysuits to help us get through what we thought would be about 30 hours. We hiked the Upper Winner Creek Trail for what seemed to be forever before we got to the put-in on a feeder creek to Twentymile River. When we got to the beach, we saw SORB getting ready to camp. It was fairly late, and although it never really got dark, it was the darkest part of the day, dusk-like and hard to see and the put-in seemed to be a little more than we had bargained for on the river. GOALS caught us as we were scouting the put-in and their team and ours decided to try to find a friendlier place to launch our pack rafts so we set out on a short bush whack to find a better spot. We found a better put-in but the feeder creek was interspersed with many sweepers and strainers. We approached each with caution and the going was slow. Eventually, we made it to Twentymile River and paddled until we hit our intended spot to start the bushwhack across to Twentymile Glacier Lake. We stuck with GOALS through the bushwhack and it definitely made the trek seem to go faster. An hour or two into the trek, we heard a helicopter in the distance. We thought that perhaps SORB or another team got into some trouble on the pack raft and collectively discussed that we hoped they were ok. A little while later, we heard the helicopter again. This time, it sounded way too close and we realized that they must be looking for us!! We stopped to check our Spot devices and realized that our SOS button had somehow been pressed. Oh no, the helicopter was indeed looking for us. We turned the SOS signal off and pulled out the Sat phone, but we couldn’t get a signal in the dense canopy. We knew that we weren’t far from the lake though and decided that we would try to call again there. We were soon at the water’s edge with Twentymile Glacier in the distance at the end of the lake. Here, we inflated our pack rafts and I was nominated to make the call on the Sat phone back to Race HQ to let them know that we were in fact ok.

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Amy on an iceberg

Once on the lake, we were greeted by a motor boat with Mike Kloser, Erik Nachtrieb, Owen and additional camera crew on board. They followed us in the pack rafts until the next checkpoint, which consisted of one of us to climbing onto an iceberg and taking a photo. I volunteered.

Twentymile Glacier Lake was quite stunning and we paddled at an easy pace until the spot where we would undertake the next bushwhack to Carmen Lake. Here, Mike gave us the details of what would be in store if we continued on Leg 2A.

Big Decision

This was our decision point. We had made the cutoff so we were allowed to continue on Leg 2A if we so chose. It would be committing, potentially a little dangerous, and would take a looong time. Two teams that were previously ahead of us had already opted out at an earlier point. It seemed that GOALS had made the decision to take the Bailout Option (although we didn’t discuss it). But we actually had a good hour or so bushwhack ahead of us to contemplate what to do. GOALS led us through the next bushwhack and despite the copious amount of Devil’s Club (and once I donned my rubber paddling gloves), it seemed to go rather quickly. We didn’t discuss the decision on the trek, but I know that each of us were weighing the pros and cons of the potential Trek from Hell vs. the Bailout Option with each step. The beach at Carmen Lake was pretty idyllic, but we needed to make a decision.

The Pros of Continuing on Leg 2A: Potentially stunning views (or whiteout conditions depending on weather) One of few teams on the full course Guarantee of top 5 placing if we completed the leg

The Cons of Continuing on Leg 2A: We would likely be on the leg for a long time and would miss a lot of the other “cool” segments of the race We would probably run out of food We didn’t have the right gear if there was snow/ice (and the reports we were getting indicated there was) So we voted. And we were split – 2 and 2. I won’t tell you who voted what but since we were split, we had to default to the safer option, which was the Bailout. I would lie if I said that I wasn’t disappointed. We had pushed to make the Cutoff. We made it! Then we cut ourselves off. But ultimately, I think it was the right decision.

Gear that worked great: Kokatat Gore-Tex Front Entry Drysuit (purchased used from Kayak Academy), Montbell Light Dry Bags, SealLine Zip Waterproof Duffel (Cascade Designs), Alpacka Pack Rafts (Gnu and Explorer 42), Aleutian Glacier Gloves

The Bailout Route

The Bailout Route consisted of paddling our pack rafts across Carmen Lake, then down Glacier River and the rest of Twentymile River to the Turnagain Arm, where we would continue on Leg 4 (We would miss Leg 3 – Kayaking in Prince William Sound). We were in good company with GOALS, Mike, Erik and Owen, who accompanied our teams down the river. It was actually quite fun. We finally made it to the Turnagain Arm, when it was starting to once again become dark-ish. It was hard to figure out exactly what was happening with the fast outgoing tide. Water would suddenly become mud flats before our eyes and under our pack rafts. It was already somewhat surreal, when GOALS starting yelling to us to watch out for the quicksand.

Leg 4 – The Long March!

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Seriously, quicksand! Snow has gone too far. I almost didn’t believe it (thought GOALS must have been hallucinating), until I nearly lost my paddle…and my shoe… From that point, any step I took on the mud flats resembled that of a cartoon character. We spent the evening traversing across the flats until the next checkpoint, which was a bridge. Right near the bridge, there was an old road pull off that provided a great camping spot. We got some much needed rest but this was the last time in the race that we would see GOALS. After we awoke, we continued on the hike near Ingram Creek. Unfortunately, it was here when Snow would try to foil our plan of a flawless bushwhack. This would be our first major mistake of the race. After travelling about four hours, we thought that we may have over shot the checkpoint. So we backtracked for a few miles, only to realize that we hadn’t gone far enough. Rule #1 in adventure racing – You almost never have gone far enough. So we backtracked again. We started getting frustrated and second guessing ourselves when Tecnu came bouncing by. They were in good spirits and lifted ours. And the checkpoint (CP) was literally within spitting distance of where we had stopped. We were bummed because the mistake cost us about 7 hours all in all. It also meant that we were running out of food (one of the concerns had we completed Leg 2A), but we were happy that we finally got to the CP.

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The Alaskan bush and one of the many stream/river crossings.

We continued hiking over Turnagain Pass until we reached Granite Creek. As it had become our habit during the race, we reached the put-in at the darkest time of day.

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Getting ready to put-in on Granite Creek. Can’t see the culvert? Or the water? Well, neither could we. Hey, I thought this was the land of the midnight sun!

We literally had to enter the creek through a culvert, which was interesting. The next few miles were a little spicy given the lack of visibility, but Bruce and I led and Rodney and Pete followed unscathed. We continued pack rafting until we hit the Six Mile Creek where we were to meet up with the rafting guides. We arrived at the raft put-in just as the first set of boats for the am were getting ready to depart. Marco from the #1 ranked adventure racing team in the world, Columbia Vidaraid (who had dislocated his shoulder upon falling into a crevasse on the Eklutna Traverse) greeted us with chocolate milk. Thank you, Marco! This was an amazing gesture from their team and badly needed by ours. Dave asked if we were ready to go immediately as there were just enough spots in the rafts for our team (because one team didn’t want to go at their assigned time) and we said, “Absolutely!” We were a little sleepy during the safety briefing, but thrilled to be able to just keep going. We had to get in the freezing cold water for a swim test before we got in the rafts, but my drysuit performed flawlessly. I had actually worn my drysuit for most of the leg, including the hiking. When I got hot, I just tied the top around my waist. It kept me warm and more importantly, because it had booties, kept my feet dry. The river canyons were spectacular. Our guide (who happened to be good friends with another rafting guide we know) was awesome. And we were fortunate enough to be teamed up in the raft with Tessa and Urtzi from Columbia Vidaraid, who are really cool! After the raft down Six Mile, we aptly finished the segment with a swim to what would be only our 2nd Transition Area (TA) of the race four days in.

Gear that worked great: Montbell Alpine Hugger 800 Thermal Sheet, Hileberg Rajd Tent, Camelbak All Clear Purifier, Kokatat GFED, (My 2nd) Montbell Ultra Light Thermawrap Jacket (worn under my drysuit)

Leg 5 – Resurrection!

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Drying our gear during our 4 hour mandatory “sleep penalty/credit”.

At the TA, we ate whatever we could after being deprived for so long (we all ran out of food many hours ago on the prior leg) when Snow appeared to inform us that we had to serve a 4 hour mandatory sleep penalty/credit since we had bypassed GOALS at the raft and they should have been given the open spots. We definitely needed some rest at that point, so we weren’t going to argue. We awoke feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the next challenge.

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From the Chugach Outdoor Center, we had to hike and bushwhack over a 4,000 foot mountain into Palmer Creek where we would pick up our bikes. We had received various advice from locals regarding the start of this leg. One said go left as much as you could, another said go up. We did a little of both and still found ourselves battling alders at various points until we hit a steep field.

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More dense Alaskan bush.

The field was open but at least 40 degrees. In retrospect, we should have beelined it to the ridge sooner but we continued the slow progress up the field. We finally hit the spectacular rocky ridge top and were rewarded with gorgeous views. We sat down at the top for a few moments to grab a bite and take in the beauty and saw another team (or two) approaching the ridge in the distance. The hike across the top was breathtaking and well worth the approach. As we (and by we, I mean Rodney) were route finding across the landscape, the other teams caught us. It was Rogue AR (from Australia) accompanied by Boom Boom Pow (an all female duo). Rogue had 3rd place locked up at this point as they had completed Leg 2A. It was great to chat with them and hear their stories. They all but confirmed that we had made the right decision in taking the Bailout. Views from the ridgeline hike to our bikes:

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We all travelled together down from the top until we reached our bikes at Palmer Creek. We were tired but unsure if we should sleep at Palmer Creek because it was so cold. In the end, we decided to sleep for what was going to be a short time, but stretched to longer than we originally intended because we really needed it. While we were there, our friends from Team Gung Ho arrived. We were super psyched to see them and knew that we would continue crossing paths on the bike. From Palmer Creek, we rode our bikes into Hope, a cool historic former gold mining town. Fortunately, the Café was open and we bought egg and bacon sandwiches as well as some of the most delicious cookies I have ever had (and they were gluten free!) We weren’t going to sit down, but Team Gung Ho arrived while we were there and we couldn’t resist a little socializing. We left Hope to start our ride the on the Resurrection Pass Trail. Not 45 minutes in and we were foiled once again by Snow and the Gamesmaker. They put thorns on the trail right where Pete was riding and he got a flat. We changed it only to figure out that Snow had already put holes in his spare tube. We unsuccessfully tried patching the holes. We were in a tough position because while Pete rides a 29er, Rodney and I both have 26 inch tires and Bruce has 27.5. (Not great planning on our part.) Our solution was to use Bruce’s spare 27.5 inch tube in Pete’s 29er. It worked! Nice try Snow! (Our backup plan was to wait for Gung Ho as we were pretty sure they would have spare 29 inch tubes.) We continued on the 55 mile ride of mostly single track. Because I’m slower, I led the entire ride, which actually seemed to work well. I’d like to say that I enjoyed the spectacular ride more, but I was feeling low on energy for a good part of the uphill. Once we got to the pass, I was relieved; from there it was pretty much all down. We stopped for about 20 minutes at a scenic intersection where Gung Ho caught us, but had to go back because they had passed the last CP. The downhill started out as a little technical (and a little frustrating), but soon changed into fun and flowing. Before we knew it, we were at the TA at Cooper’s Landing. We got just a little rest before embarking on the next segment – kayaking what was supposed to be Kenai Lake.

Gear that worked great: Wingnut backpack Gear I wish I had: New 29” bike tube (sans holes)

Gear I wish I had: New 29” bike tube (sans holes)

Segment 6 – Deep and Still Waters

(the name itself should have given us some indication that we weren’t where we were supposed to be)

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It was as dark as it had been the entire race when we launched our kayaks. But we had just installed our sail and we were ready to fly. The current took us pretty quickly and we were moving along when we started to hear rapids. Wait, there aren’t supposed to be rapids on this leg! We thought what is Snow up to now? We’re in sea kayaks…and we’re supposed to be on a lake… “Rodney, are you sure we’re going the right way?” “The compass says we’re going East and Southeast and that’s the direction we’re supposed to be going.” Mike said something about a strong current at the start that would soon let up, but nothing about rapids. I guess the Game Makers wanted to throw in another twist. “Rodney are you sure…” as we just avoided a rock in the first set of rapids. Folks partying along the shore were cheering us on. We agreed that we would pull over and look at the maps but it was proving difficult to find somewhere to do that as the next set of rapids sounded like thunder. Again, we got through unscathed, but when we passed the rafting company, we knew that we had to pull over. We had definitely done something wrong and who knew what the “river” (yep, it was definitely a river) had in store for us at the next bend. We were able to eddy out on river right on a small beachy area and Rodney pulled out the maps, then started yelling. Yelling is not characteristic for Rodney. Even when we fight, he manages to do so in a calm, somewhat monotone voice (it’s actually quite frustrating at times). But he was as upset as I’ve seen him. We went the wrong way – we were supposed to make a left as we left the TA and go up current for a short time until we hit the lake. We went right down the river. Part of what had happened (besides it being Day 5 and us being sleep deprived) was that Rodney had put a nautical compass on the kayak, instead of using the typical orienteering compasses that we’re used to. They work differently and he was reading it backwards by 180 degrees. Now, what do we do?

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On the left is a regular compass set to go in the direction of East Southeast (notice the bearing of 120 degrees). On the right is a photo of the nautical compass. As you look at the red line, it appears to be showing a direction of East Southeast. However, notice the bearing is 300 degrees. This is where the confusion started. Rodney thought we were going East Southeast but we were actually going in the opposite direction (we were heading 300 degrees instead of 120 degrees).

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Well, we couldn’t paddle back upstream. We had estimated that we had travelled about 4 miles as the current was moving at about 8 knots. Paddling back upstream would be all but impossible in sea kayaks. There were no roads close by where we had pulled over on river right, but fortunately there was a main road on river left. Ferrying across in the dark might be a little difficult and dangerous, but if we waited until it was light, I was confident that we could make it across. But first, we had to call the Race Organizers to let them know what happened. I was nominated to make the call. I pulled out the Sat phone for the 2nd time in the race, and I tried to make the call, but had about 10 failed attempts (really?) So, I pulled out my cell phone and turned it on. Finally, I got through to Snow, who then connected me to Seth, who happened to be at the TA, just 4- 5 miles away. We made a plan to wait until light and he would meet us with a truck on the road across the river. We pulled out the tent but realized that we had not brought trekking poles to set it up. So we improvised with our kayak paddles, and they worked amazingly well. We took off our drysuits and pulled out our sleeping bags and tried to get a little sleep. I was pleasantly surprised how peaceful and restful it was on our little spit of beach on the side of the river and light came all too quickly. When it did, we were able to see much more clearly and we could see the rafting company that we had passed not too far upriver. This would be an easy place for us to take out if we could make it there. Bruce and I went first and paddled from eddy to eddy until the eddies ran out and we had to ferry across. It was exhilarating, but we made it. Rodney and Pete went next. They paddled upriver but weren’t able to make it on the first attempt ferrying across. Fortunately, try number 2 was successful. We pulled the boats up and I went up to the road to meet Seth and Stacia. In the meantime, I realized that somehow I had butt dialed my mom with my cell phone. She had called back and left a worried message. Oh no… Once we got the kayaks and ourselves in the truck, I called my mom back. She was worried because our Spot Tracker had stopped working days ago and she wanted to make sure that we were ok. We were, just a little embarrassed… It was actually really nice to talk to her for a few minutes and fill her in on what had transpired over the last week. Before we knew it, Seth dropped us off at the lake that we were originally supposed to paddle. Thank you so much, Seth and Stacia! This time we turned left and thought we would have an easy paddle on the lake.

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Finally going the right (I mean left) way.

But as was becoming typical, Snow and the Gamesmakers had other ideas. They whipped up a strong head wind which we battled the entire way along with whitecaps waves (and sleep monsters) as we kayaked the length of Kenai Lake to Primrose Campground.

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Giving in to the sleep monsters on the paddle.

At primrose Campground, our Sponsors (Adrian and Seth) gave us hot liquids and an awesome sandwich as we built our bikes. Gear that worked great: Montbell Alpine Hugger 800 Thermal Sheet Hileberg Rajd Tent (with kayak paddles as tent poles)

Gear I wish I had: The opposite of a sail, a regular compass

Our Segment 7 – Bike to the Finish

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We rode our bikes into Seward to the Finish (with a short detour to grab an additional CP on the Lost Lake Winter Trail just because).

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Getting ready to bike to the finish (almost).

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Mile marker 0 on the Historic Iditarod Trail, which was the Finish.

Mount Marathon

The next morning, we had to complete the race with a hike up and down the 3000 feet of Mount Marathon (the official Mountain Marathon race was held the day before with a new course record of 42 minutes set). We almost overslept. I didn’t want to run to the base. It was somewhat painful going up and down, but the views from the top were really cool.

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Summit of Mt. Marathon.

Gear that worked great: Outdoor Research Gaitors (great for scree skiing), NYARA arm warmers

Gear I wish I had: Parasail to get down from the top Wrap-up Expedition Alaska turned out to be a fantastic event on all fronts. The race was well suited to our strengths and the terrain was stunning, rugged and technical. This race was not sanitized in any way and was probably the best expedition course we have done. We only wish that we didn’t make the two rookie mistakes (which is very uncharacteristic of our team) so that we could have completed more of the course. In the end, we moved well over the terrain and managed to avoid any carnage during the technical aspects of the course. We never flipped our pack rafts and didn’t get swept away during any of the swift river crossings. We enjoyed traveling with our good friends from Team GOALS for the first half of the race and were quite pleased with our overall 7th place finish. Snow (Dave Adlard) and the Gamesmakers (all of Dave’s Staff) put on a great course and the Sponsors (Volunteers) were incredible. We are grateful to have had the pleasure to experience this great event in Alaska. Can’t wait ‘til the next one!

Gear I Loved Montbell Layers – Ultra Light Shell Jacket, Torrent Flier Jacket and Ultra Light Thermawrap Jacket (2) – These are the only outer layers you would need in almost any condition. Throughout the race, I carried these with me the entire time and used them in various combinations depending on the temperature. I couldn’t be happier with the function and performance of each and highly recommend these products. [Rodney agrees that his Montbell layers were the key to a comfortable and successful race. He used their Alpine Ridge Pants, which kept him dry and toasty on the glacier leg. While these are a bit heavier than what Adventure Racers would typically choose to carry, they definitely are worth it if you really want to stay dry and warm. He also used their Storm Cruiser Jacket on the Glacier, which performed flawlessly and kept him dry when the freezing rain began to fall above 5,000 feet. He also had the Thermawrap Guide Jacket that he used in the TAs. It’s a great synthetic puffy to keep you warm in the coldest situations].

Kokatat Gore-Tex Front Entry Drysuit (purchased used from Kayak Academy) – For a good portion of the race, I practically lived in my drysuit. The biggest benefit of this was that because of the booties, my feet were dry. Thus, I had no foot issues, an amazing “feat” for a 7-day race. To keep my drysuit from getting holes in it while bushwhacking, I wore an old pair of rain pants on top. [Rodney also used a Kokatat GFED drysuit and said it was the key to keeping warm and dry especially on the pack rafting legs].

Montbell Alpine Hugger 800 Thermal Sheet – I was super impressed with this sleeping bag. I’ll admit that I was a little skeptical pre-race because it is down-filled and I was worried about it getting wet. But somehow, the DWR finish kept it dry (even when I know that our tent had a ton of condensation)! Every time I pulled it out to sleep, it was 100% dry and I was warm. Amazing!

SealLine Zip Waterproof Duffel (Cascade Designs) – I used this while packrafting. It served as my seat and my dry bag and worked great as both. Much better than any of the roll-top options. Rodney is going to get the 70L.

Osprey Youth Ace 50L Backpack – I was a little bummed in the store when none of the women’s packs fit me properly and I had to get the kids’ version. After racing with it for 7 days though, I couldn’t be happier with the fit. It is fully adjustable and it fit perfectly. It held up well to all of the bushwhacking too. The only thing I wish it had were the wing pockets of the Wingnut packs…[Rodney used the Osprey Volt 60 and raved about it. They just make great packs that are more comfortable and functional in a lot of ways than many of the AR specific packs out there, specially if you need a pack with more volume].

MSR Lightning Ascent and Denali EVO Ascent Snow Shoes (Cascade Designs) – These are awesome snowshoes. I used to use the Denali EVO Ascents before I had a splitboard. For the race, I loaned mine to Bruce and borrowed my mom’s Lightning Ascents. They were relatively light, easy to put on and off and secure when on your shoe.

Montbell Light Dry Bags – Rodney and I have used other lightweight dry bags before only to be disappointed to find out they weren’t really dry. Montbell’s are the perfect combination of light weight and truly dry – awesome!

Alpacka Pack Rafts (Gnu and Explorer 42)- Rodney and I purchased the Gnu last year and it is a remarkable packraft. For this race, Rodney and Pete would be using it. Bruce had borrowed the Explorer 42 from a friend and I was worried pre-race that it wouldn’t keep up. I was wrong. It may be a little slower on flat water, but in fast moving water, it was quite nimble and a great boat in its own right.

Hileberg Rajd Tent – Great lightweight tent. Although a little tight for 4 people, we made it work. Condensation was a little bit of an issue at times, but for the weight, it can’t be beat.

Camelbak All Clear UV Purifier – For this race, I limited my use of a bladder and went with 3 bottles instead. The Camelbak All Clear worked very well and I would use this as my purification method again. I also limited my intake of sugary beverages and this was the first expedition race where I did not get any mouth sores.

Wingnut Backpack – I used this backpack on the biking segments. Biking is what it’s designed for and you can’t beat the Wingnut pockets for racing – means quick access to food and whatever else you need.

Outdoor Research Gaitors – I used one pair of gaitors for the whole race and they held up well. I’ve used other gaitors in the past, but OR has become my go-to.

Aleutian Glacier Gloves– Unfortunately, I read that these aren’t made any more. These were my primary defense against Devil’s Club and other evil plants while bushwhacking and as designed, kept my hands warm in the cold Alaska water.

Pack Rafting

Olof and Whitney Hedberg will be racing Untamed New England this summer for Team NYARA along with Chris Rice and Bruce Swanson. Team NYARA’s strategy for the infamous pack rafting section is to use two rafts that are each designed to hold two people. One raft is the Alpacka Explorer and the other is the brand new Alpacka Gnu. Whitney and Olof have been busy testing and modifying their Alpacka Gnu. Since neither have ever used a pack raft before they have been focusing on getting up to speed.

Step one: Figure out how to blow the thing up. Then do it faster.

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From Whitney: “our first attempt to inflate the raft took a looooong 9.5 minutes. We have gotten a lot more efficient and can now inflate the raft, sort gear and pack the raft in a little over 6 minutes. We feel pretty good about that time”

Step two: Paddle. Then paddle some more.

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The pair tried a number of different paddling combinations and have settled on having Whitney using hand paddles (homemade) up front while Olof uses kayak paddles in the back.
From Olof: “This is a good set up as long as we have relatively short distance to cover or are moving downstream. If we have longer, flat water sections we will probably both use kayak paddles.”

Step three: Practice. Practice. Practice!

On the boat: “Although this boat is on the larger size–compared to a single person basic raft–we are super happy with our choice. The great people at Alpacka helped us choose this new model that they designed with adventure racing in mind. It is super responsive and feels fast (especially for a pack raft). The Vectron fabric is really tough and let’s us get the boat really full of air, which helps make it more efficient in the water.”

On modifications: “I love modifying gear to make it work even better, but we haven’t had to do much on this boat. We added some para cord loops in the front and back to make it easier to carry and a couple of extra para cord loops inside the boat for attaching dry bags. The boat comes with lots of sewn in webbing loops and other connectors so we really didn’t do more than tie on some para cord.”

What’s next: “We are testing the raft on flat water tomorrow and will continue training in it on the river. We also want to practice our transition a few more times it get it as efficient as possible” “We are also looking forward to taking this boat on other adventures after the race!”

A big thanks the Alpacka Raft for sponsoring Untamed New England and the sport of Adventure racing.