“Expedition Alaska”- team Traces of Nuts race report

The team finally came together at Anchorage airport in Alaska. Olly arrived after flying in directly from Australia, Az had been on the ground in Alaska for a few days getting supplies for the team, and Luke and I (Mel) arrived after spending a few days in Canada acclimatising to big mountains. On meeting we had our inaugural team hug, the first of many over the next 10 days. Az and I set off for the supermarket to get last minute supplies, as it would be our last opportunity before the race started in 3 days time. Olly and Luke set up and checked bikes at the airport to make sure there was no damage during transit – all good. We started meeting other teams and soon enough, we boarded the bus for Mount McKinley Lodge, our pre-race accommodation. Arriving around midnight with the sky still light, we were greeted with great views of Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America. The 24 hours of daylight would start to do our heads in as we struggled with the time of day and trying to get some solid sleep. The 3 days prior to the race were pretty busy with not a lot of down time, and we were cautious to try and stay chilled out and rested. We had crevasse rescue training over two days which we never really got the hang of with ice axes, rope and gear everywhere. The Race Director estimated we each had a 1 in 50 change of falling into a crevasse, so Olly who would be at the front was particularly keen on rescue practice. There was also a pack rafting skills testing session on the local river with Roman Dial a legend of the pack rafting world – he wrote ‘the book’. We paid close attention to the bear safety talk, as this was definitely bear country and we each had a can of bear spray at all times. The last day was spent asking questions, marking maps, packing food and gear, stuffing ourselves silly with our last proper meal for a week, asking yet more questions,and a Parade of Nations – we never got to the bottom of what country we were racing for, a bunch of Kiwis racing as an Aussie team.  

The team finally came together at Anchorage airport in Alaska. Olly arrived after flying in directly from Australia, Az had been on the ground in Alaska for a few days getting supplies for the team, and Luke and I (Mel) arrived after spending a few days in Canada acclimatising to big mountains. On meeting we had our inaugural team hug, the first of many over the next 10 days. Az and I set off for the supermarket to get last minute supplies, as it would be our last opportunity before the race started in 3 days time. Olly and Luke set up and checked bikes at the airport to make sure there was no damage during transit – all good. We started meeting other teams and soon enough, we boarded the bus for Mount McKinley Lodge, our pre-race accommodation. Arriving around midnight with the sky still light, we were greeted with great views of Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America. The 24 hours of daylight would start to do our heads in as we struggled with the time of day and trying to get some solid sleep. The 3 days prior to the race were pretty busy with not a lot of down time, and we were cautious to try and stay chilled out and rested. We had crevasse rescue training over two days which we never really got the hang of with ice axes, rope and gear everywhere. The Race Director estimated we each had a 1 in 50 change of falling into a crevasse, so Olly who would be at the front was particularly keen on rescue practice. There was also a pack rafting skills testing session on the local river with Roman Dial a legend of the pack rafting world – he wrote ‘the book’. We paid close attention to the bear safety talk, as this was definitely bear country and we each had a can of bear spray at all times. The last day was spent asking questions, marking maps, packing food and gear, stuffing ourselves silly with our last proper meal for a week, asking yet more questions,and a Parade of Nations – we never got to the bottom of what country we were racing for, a bunch of Kiwis racing as an Aussie team.
 
The format for this race was different from any other, and it had a few people scratching their heads including us. The complicated rules essentially meant that the team with the longest continuous path without deviating from the full course route would win regardless of how long they took. After that it came down to how many stages you completed. During stage 2, there was a bail-out option which would cut out a challenging mountain crossing and ocean kayak, but this was considered deviating from the full course. The idea was to have everyone out on the course for the whole 7 days so that all teams would finish around the same time, with faster teams just doing more of the course. To add to this, everyone had to make it to the guided rafting between the 3rd and 5th day of the race. Confused? So were we and so it seemed, were most of the teams. In addition there was a fairly large film crew who were going to make a documentary of the whole thing. During the race we came to relish seeing them as it usually meant we were both on course, and relatively near a road.
 
 
Race Day – Stage 1
 
It was a 2 – 3 hour bus ride to the start of the race and all the teams seemed reasonably relaxed including us. We lined up with 19 other teams on the shore line of Eklutna Lake not far from Anchorage. The race started with a Prologue flat trail run along the edge of the lake for 18km before climbing up to the base of the Eklutna Glacier. We held a steady jog for three hours along the lake before picking up our climbing gear for this stage, which included rope, harnesses, crampons, snowshoes and ice axes. Our first near death experience came at the start of the 33km glacier trek. Before we even set foot on the glacier we needed to cross the river flowing out from under it. You can imagine how cold it was, but you may not be able to imagine how raging it was. We linked arms as a team and made our way across the thigh deep swift current (hip deep on the more vertically challenged). Half way across Luke tripped on an underwater rock and went down taking me with him. Az and Olly managed to keep their footing and drag us across as Luke and I floundered in the frigid waters. 3 hours into a 7 day race and we couldn’t feel our bodies already. We decided to keep moving to warm up as the climb up to get on the glacier proper was steep and relentless.
 
The blue ice of the glacier was both magnificent and terrifying at the same time. We were all wishing we had polished our crevasse rescue training a little more pre-race as we clipped and strapped into our climbing gear. The first section of glacier was very crevassed requiring us to zig-zag back and forth to make head way. As we climbed higher, route finding became harder and we had to climb small vertical pitches above seemingly endless crevasses. We were all excited, but Olly was on another level and with his mountaineering knowledge was clearly loving it. As he led us out, we were beginning to wonder if he was trying to find the easiest route, or the most challenging. Up one pitch, I lost grip of my ice axe and it fell away in to the blue abyss of a deep crevasse. Thankfully not long after this, the glacier opened out in to a snow field as far as we could see. We had been travelling on and off with Team Rogue, another Australian team all day, and after we switched out our crampons for snowshoes we made good speed and with Az leading the charge we soon lost sight of Rogue. In the distance ahead we could see the leading teams returning back from a spur that we had all mapped as the best route to take; clearly it was not. This allowed us to take a more direct line cutting the distance between us and the lead teams. With continued good speed in the snowshoes, we found ourselves briefly in second place with the first placed team only a couple of hundred meters ahead. A lot of racing ahead, but a real boost for the team and everyone was feeling great. We headed for a checkpoint that was a mountain hut on a small ridge above the glacier snowfield. It was a steep climb up to the hut and we were passed by a couple of teams who had wisely ditched their snowshoes to kick steps in the snow slope. At the hut we took the opportunity to get warmer gear on as we had been going for around 10 hours and had another solid 10 hours ahead of us on the glacier. We were now at around 1800m, and it was substantially cooler than at lower levels. After the stop at the hut, Luke felt terrible. His heart rate started to go up and he was beginning to slow the team. It could have been the cold, the lack of food, or maybe the weight of the rope he was carrying (as he had most of it), most likely a combination. We eased the pace and Luke was on tow from the team for the next few hours. At midnight, as the sun sat low and red below dark clouds, I recall pausing to look at the mountains and glaciers surrounding us, and I wondered if we had somehow accidentally wandered into Mordor.
 
The glacier dropped away before one last endless death march up to a saddle where we could exit the glacier on which we had toiled for the last 20 hours. It was a relief to be off the snow knowing the climb was over. We spent 10mins at the top removing snowshoes and figuring out the best way down. Az and I looked at each other hoping Luke would make a speedy recovery as we knew the race had only really just started. Luke immediately started to feel good and we started to charge ahead.  It was almost like a turning a light switch and Luke marched ahead, back to his normal self. Although we were out of crevasse territory, the steep snow slopes, loose scree and constant ridges meant there was no such thing as an easy or quick route. We started making our way down while also traversing around the ridge lines. We needed to cross over snow that had not seen any sun for a while and was more like ice. After Olly, Az and Luke made their way across one particular steep snow slope, they were all horrified to turn and see me lose my footing and slide downhill, hurtling towards a pile of rocks, and who knew what lay below. I lost balance and within seconds was sliding down the steep slope at full pace. It was a feeling I will not forget quickly. Luckily I landed feet first taking most of the brunt of the impact with my legs and bum, shredding my pants in the process. A little shaken, we re-grouped and took extra precaution crossing over the remaining snow. We finally reached the next checkpoint on the next ridge and Rouge had caught up with us again. We all made the steep decent down to the river, which felt like most of it was on our backsides. It was early on day 2 and we were all in good spirits.
 
Finally at the bottom of the mountain we were met by crew who took our climbing gear off us. It was such a good feeling to get rid of all that gear. We took a beautiful leafy track through a forest towards to the next TA, and even managed a jogging pace. It was stunning through here with a crystal clear river running alongside the track. After 25 hours we made it to the first TA where our gear tubs were waiting for us. We all had a few bowls of hot noodles and decided to get an hour of sleep while in TA. Olly and Luke were both out like a light for the full hour, I slept most of it, while Az remained wide awake. As we woke I could tell Az was a tad worried he had not been able to take advantage of the hour of sleep. We re-packed out gear and set off for the next stage.
 
Stage 2
 
This stage was a trek/pack rafting stage. We had to take a lot of gear for this stage and the weight of our packs was significantly heavier. My pack was the same size as me and we all looked like homeless people with all our possessions on us. The stage started off with about a 20km trek through a valley with a bit of elevation gain. It was a beautiful track that you knew hardly anyone used, and we even saw moose grazing in the distance. It was nice to make good progress although we knew Rouge was hot on our tail. After about 6 ½ hours we made it over a saddle and down to the river for the first part of the pack rafting. We took packs off, put dry suits on, blew up rafts and were ready to get off our feet and get wet.  The river was cold, grey and pumping, and we all jumped in and just flew downstream. Not even 3 minutes on the river and there was a fallen tree in the water, we had to get out and walk around. This went on for the next hour, so no rest for the feet. We were constantly in and out of our boats, and full concentration was required as getting washed into one of those trees would certainly not be a good thing.
 
The next part sounded straight forward, walk over a ridge line to a lake. We packed up the rafts and started our bush bashing mission. What seemed simple turned into about 8 hours of constant bush bashing and climbing, followed by more climbing and bush bashing. It would have been hard going enough without all the gear we were carrying. This leg was pretty frustrating with plenty of prickly plants and marshy bags, although we did travel with Rouge which made for some entertainment. We were all running low on water so we were pretty desperate to see the lake. Finally we reached the lake and I am sure on a clear day it would have been amazing. However we arrived, tired, cold, thirsty and it was raining. We had done the whole trek in dry suits due to the cold and as the rain settled in there was no plan to remove them. There were icebergs floating in the lake which was pretty cool, but we were keen to get out of that spot and keep going to warm up. The check point was one of the ice bergs so we were back to blowing up the pack raft. I filled my bottles with lake water and purified it with tablets, but despite my thirst it still looked pretty average to drink.
 
Next it was back into the pack rafts for a short paddle across the lake, then we had to trek over a headland to another lake. Again looked and sounded simple. We arrived at the other side of the lake, repacked our gear and started the trek which looked to be about 3km in length. This part was just plain awful! It was cold, raining and the bush was ridiculously dense and full of prickly devils club. Within a few minutes our hands were getting ruined. Olly and Luke led the charge getting increasingly frustrated with the lack of detail on the maps. Az followed with myself stumbling along behind. I actually don’t think I would have got through it unless Luke had made some sort of path for me. This was so tiring climbing over and through fallen trees and thick bush. This mere 3km took us at least 3 hours to get though. Reaching the other side around mid-morning we approach the second lake. We had been on this leg for about 18-20 hours. When leaving TA1 we were told we needed to complete this leg in 23 hours or we would most likely be short coursed at some later stage during the race. This was the first point in the race where we had the option to take a short course. It was day 3, it was raining, we were cold, and we had only managed to get1 hour of sleep and were desperate for a rest. To complete this stage the route went up and over a mountain range and back down to the sea, and we could see that bad weather was closing in. We quickly made the decision to take the short course so we could head for shelter and complete later stages of the race. This decision meant that although we would now be much further ahead of the rest of the field, we could never do better than fifth place as four other teams had continued on the full course. However, it also meant that we skipped the remote mountain section dubbed the soul crusher, which saw other teams suffer hypothermia and get severely lost with minimal hope of any sort of timely rescue. With that decision, we went from cold, tired and miserable, to cold, tired and on our way out of there.
 
We jumped into the pack rafts and paddled down a huge river, the volume of water that was flowing down it was incredible. We needed to concentrate but were all nodding asleep. One time Olly woke after a few seconds micro-nap and it was only after a few seconds paddling that he realized he was paddling upstream. We all popped some NoDoze and were hanging out for the caffeine to kick in. This paddle was beautiful as we floated past bald eagles perched in trees, and after a few hours the sun came out although we were not exactly warm. Towards the end of this paddle was a bridge where we were hopeful there would be some form of shelter for us to rest at. We got out at the bridge and the rain and wind came in again. It was freezing and we were getting desperate for sleep. Az did some scouting and came across a sign for an information centre. With a dry veranda it was a good spot, but when we looked inside and discovered it had a heater, fresh water and chocolate it was pure heaven. I am not sure if Olly was more excited that they sold m&m’s and cliff bars or that he could finally get some sleep. Olly bought a stash of goodies, asked if we could camp out on the veranda, and lay his wet gear above the heater to dry. The dry suits were off and the sleeping bags were on. Olly snored happily on his upturned packrat while the rest of us sat on the bench and closed our eyes. It was not the most comfortable of places to be honest so I went to the portaloo and came back claiming it was warm and clean, “guys, I really think we should sleep in there”. Az and Luke thought I was a tad insane however they followed me outside. To our delight we had a perfect sleep curled up on the floor of the portaloo and 4 hours later we were ready to get moving again.
 
The rain had cleared and we felt re-energised. Back in the packrats, across the sea inlet and again we packed up the gear and started trekking. This next part was a long trek to TA4, as we had missed part of stage two, it meant we were started stage 4 half way through it. We were a couple hours into our next round of bush bashing when we came across a bear hunter. He said it was the last day of hunting season and all the hunters had been putting out scents to attract the bears. His parting words were to be careful as there were plenty of bears around. Not really what we wanted to hear as we moved off into the dense undergrowth. I was given the normally easy task of talking constantly (bears will run away if they hear humans). For once I struggled a bit with this being tired but I managed to chat most of the time. There was some pretty amazing bush in this part and the ground felt like springs as we walked over fallen trees that had been rotting for years. Our feet were far from on solid ground and every now and then we would fall down a hole. We moved forward quickly conscious not waste time and before we knew it we has been trekking/bush bashing for a solid 12 hours. We were starting to get pretty frustrated at this point and were definitely over it! The kilometre’s felt like they were taking forever to come around and after three days on our feet I was starting to really feel it. I knew the weight in the pack and the constant time on the feet was starting to take its toll. Olly was starting to get a heel blister too and had a good hobble going on by now. He looked more like a homeless bum than an adventure racer.
 
Eventually we reached the final part of this stage which was another pack raft. This was actually a beautiful small river, fast moving with the perfect amount of fast and clear moving water. A small duck even floated along in front to show us the way down each rapid. Or at least that was what Olly told us as he led the way downriver. It was the start of day 4 and we felt re-energised to be off our feet, ticking over kilometre’s as we paddled along, knowing we were about to hit an exciting part of the race.
 
We reached the next part of the race (class V guided rafting) after not getting trekking and pack rafting for about 40 hours. We were pretty happy to see our gear boxes as it meant getting food and clean dry gear! We arrived with much excitement as the next stage was the guided rafting, but were quickly informed we could not go down until another two teams arrived due to the numbers required in the rafts. We waited an hour to find out when the next team was due in. The communication was very slow due to how remote the country is. My feet were pretty bad so I aired them out to discover a toenail was all blistered and only just hanging on. I bravely tended to that and decided to strap it back on for protection. As a team we decided to sleep in the car park next to our gear boxes while we were waiting. We probably got about 2 hours sleep and managed to dry our gear out at the same time. After waiting there for nearly 6 hours we got an update from volunteers that the next team could be at least 20 hours away, and our hopes of getting down the river any time soon grew smaller. However Luke managed to convince the raft guide to take us down along with the film crew to make up numbers. After 8 hours in transition we were away! It was stunning through this gorge with huge rock escarpments, crystal clear water and pure silence. The rapids were grade 5, Olly was in his element, Luke and Az were enjoying it, and I was crapping my pants. I was so worried I would fall out and get pinned up against a rock. In the second set of rapids the raft dropped sideways into a big hole and we were all thrown overboard in an instant. The water was around 3 degrees, a cold like nothing I have ever experienced before. Before I knew what had happened I was pulled back into raft and just like that we were away again. At the end of the gorge we had to jump in and swim the last 200m. We were all shivering and the thought of jumping in was a tad overwhelming. We jumped in together and even in our dry suits the instant chill came over us. We got to the next TA and lucky for us the sun was shining. We stripped down, re-dressed and ate a lot of hot noodles. From here our next stage was mountain biking, only we had to trek over a mountain range first just to get to our bikes. I was not looking forward to another session on my feet but I also knew I would get some relief once we got to the mountain bikes.
 
 
Stage 5
 
We set off for the trek and this was a tough section, the climb was straight up through thick bush. Az and Luke charged away and I struggled through the bush bashing. The boys took much of the weight off me to relieve the stress on my painful feet. Closer to the top we broke into open meadow, only the grass was shoulder high, and it got even steeper. We got the top and climbed along the ridge even higher, glad to be on good terrain at last (relatively speaking). On the exposed ridge, the wind was howling past and was as cold as ice. We charged ahead to get off the ridge line and out of the wind as soon as possible. At the top it was incredible, very memorable and my favorite part of the race. We had a 360 view of mountain ranges and rivers that surrounding us, and we hit the top at midnight so the sun was dipping (slightly) and the moon was out. It was amazing to be there at that time of night. It was definitely a special moment for the team. Then we basically slid down the other side to arrive at the spot where our bikes were awaiting us, some 7 hours after we had set out. There was a truck with our bike boxes and as we got into the transition we thought we would take advantage of the shelter and get an hour of sleep in the back of the truck. It was freezing here, as we were in a valley which was reasonably dark and definitely a few degrees cooler. We cuddled up together and managed to get a solid hour of sleep.
 
We woke not really feeling refreshed but looking forward to getting onto the bikes. It was now day 5 and it was the first time we had seen our bikes all race. We jumped on and it felt great to have some fast moving kilometre’s for once. This mountain bike stage was simply incredible. The landscape changed from cycling along a river, through meadows, forest and bush. We all loved this part, and although we were tired and starting to feel the fatigue of the race, this lifted our spirits and felt like we were making great progress. At one point Olly was in front charging down a hill, when up ahead he saw the rear end of a Grizzly bear disappearing along the track ahead of him. Olly stopped in his tracks open mouthed until the rest of us caught up, and only then did his expression turn into a huge grin. A real grizzly, in the wild, in Alaska; box ticked. By now, sleep deprivation was beginning to take its toll on the team, and even riding in a straight line, or the simple math of adding up our hours of sleep so far were proving difficult. This ride involved around 100kmof awesome and 100% rideable single track called the Resurrection Trail and although I do not have that much recollection of it, the others all said it was one of their best mountain biking experiences ever.
 
We got into the next transition around midday for the next stage of a 54km paddle along the length of lake Kenai. By this time we were well ahead of the rest of the field, and we got there to find out that all our paddles had not yet arrived. There was rumor of food further along the river bank, and we soon found a dodgy old food caravan called Dudes Food. The guy eyed us up and simply said that if we wanted calories we should get the steak, chicken and egg breakfast burrito. A moment later and we had 4 huge burritos dripping with fat, 4 coffees and a lot of donuts. We inhaled them and they definitely hit the spot. Knowing we had a while to wait for our gear, we set up the tents and managed to get a solid 3 hours sleep. Eventually the paddles turned up and we could get underway with the next stage. We were slightly intimidated by this long paddle in potentially freezing conditions, and mucked around a bit here ensuing the kayaks were packed with all our compulsory gear, food, water and warm gear. We then got dressed appropriately which meant thermal layers, dry suit, spray skirt, life jacket, race bib, beanie and gloves. Fair to say you did not want to have to go to the toilet in a hurry!
 
 
Stage 6
 
We set off just after 10pm and braced ourselves for a long slow paddle, as we had set our mindset for this stage to take around 10 hours depending on the weather. An hour or two passed and we settled into a nice paddling rhythm. At 2am it was pure magic out there, the water was like glass and you could see the reflection of the stunning mountains in the water, it was slightly dark and you could see the moon shining brightly with the sun only just below the horizon. We all loved this paddle and the earlier delay causing us to paddle though night was all worth it. To our surprise we were quicker than expected and ended up getting to the next TA at around 5am on day 6. Later many other teams would battle strong daytime headwinds and take twice as long. It was a great relief to make it to this point as this was the end of main part of the race that all teams needed to get to.  It felt good to get out of the boats and get all the gear off.
 
This part of the race was a bit unique compared to other expedition races in that there were another 6 stages of the race which would be allocated by the Race Director depending on the time each team had left to race. We still had over a day and half left and we were keen to continue racing and see more of the course.  In keeping with the theme of being delayed by being so far ahead, the maps were not ready for us so we were unable to start preparing for the next stage and also our gear was not at this transition. So it was what we had become used to and once again it was a chance to dry our gear out and get another sleep. We turned a few trees into a clothes line, put warm gear on, tucked into our sleeping bags and slept on the side of the lake. Although it was not much sleep as we had no shelter, it all helps. We slept for about 1.5 hours and woke up to the sun starting to bring some heat to the day.
 
After another few hours our gear turned up and we were finally given maps for us to race for another 30 hours. The next stage was a mountain bike to a trek and pack rafting section followed by two mountain biking stages. Finally it felt like the end was in sight and we all just wanted to get on with it.
 
Stage 7
 
We needed both our trekking and pack rafting gear to take on the bikes. Our packs had a lot of gear hanging off it and the weight felt awful on our back. Luckily the bike lasted only about an hour or so to get to the trekking section.  Luke charged ahead and led the pack through this bike and it felt good to push the pace and tick over the kilometres quickly. We reached a bridge and entrance to a track where the gear truck was waiting for us, our bikes were packed into the truck and we set off for the 20km trek leg. The track was different terrain to we had been on and it was beautiful forest with steams running through it. It was hot this day and was the first time I experienced over dressing. This trek was an out and back to a checkpoint. We got to where we expected to find it and spent the next 2 hours unsuccessfully trying to figure out where the checkpoint was. It was a pretty frustrating part of the race and we decided to give up and head back to the start of the track. We heard another team coming up, it was team Tecnu and it was the first team we had seen on course since day two. It was so exciting to see another team, as for the previous 4 days it had only been us without even seeing other teams in TA.
 
We got back to the start of the track and needed to pack raft down river about 15km to a bridge. We were starting to get quicker at blowing up the rafts and within 20 mins we were back on the water and in our dry suits once again. This river was extremely braided and did not resemble anything from the map which was from the 60’s, as the river had changed its course over the years. It was very shallow in parts and there were numerous times we needed to get out as we had become beached.  We were all thankful to see the bridge come into sight and pull to the side and get out. We packed up once more and made our way towards our bikes. Only none of us had paid enough attention to instructions, and we were unsure exactly where our bikes were supposed to be. After about 45mins we stumbled across them at the next TA and to our surprise it was a full TA set up with our bikes and food tubs. We were told at the previous TA that we would not see our gear again until the end of the race so that was a nice little treat.
 
Stage 8A
 
At this TA we got rid of our trekking and pack rafting gear and set off for the last two mountain bike legs. We only had about 12-15hours of biking to go and then we were done. We didn’t muck around here as we just wanted to finish. This section was called the Lost Lake and we had been told that it was amazing. The mountain bike was all single track and we entered through a forest and started climbing our way up a valley on single track. It was a solid climb that was relentless but as we got closer and closer to the summit we knew it was going to be worth it. As we got higher, we came out of the forest and to an open meadow. We were surrounded by huge mountains and at the summit we had a view of the Lost Lake in the middle of the mountain we had been climbing. Once again it was around midnight when we arrived and the sun had a magnificent glow about it. Breathtakingly beautiful, and best of all, we had reached the summit which meant an awesome decent awaited us. As we descended we entered back into the forest and for the first time in the race so far we had to turn our lights on. I struggled with this decent due to no front brake which made it very unpleasant for me, but of course Olly loved it and claimed it as his new favorite trail. We made it to the next TA where we had no plans of stopping for any length of time. It was about 2am when we reached here and all that was separated us from the finish line was a 6hour bike though yet another mountain bike stage.
 
This TA was buzzing with so many teams, and the finish line was so close for everyone. Most teams had been shuffled forward through the course at some point in order to finish the race in seven days. Only ourselves and the eventual winners Technu had not been shuttled forward at all. We stopped and headed for the campfire for some warmth. The race director asked us what our plan was and we said we planned to carry on to the finish line shortly. He informed us we could not cross the finish line before 1pm which meant we needed to do extra sections or wait here. Once again we were left with no choice but to sleep, and we felt like the most rested team on course. Az even said that he had so much sleep he did not need any more. We sat around the fire talking to a guy who told us that he was really tired and needed to get some sleep. Only he was so sleep deprived that he just sat there repeating himself without any sign of ever moving. It was weirdly satisfying sitting around that fire eating whatever we could find and chilling out. We certainly no longer felt like we were in race mode. As our gear tubs were back at the last TA, Olly borrowed the Swedish team sleeping mats and we bunkered down for another 2 or 3 hours sleep.
 
Stage 8B
 
At 7.30am on day 7 we headed out knowing the next TA was the finish line. It was a great feeling and we were keen to get this race completed. The last mountain bike was about 60km on the historic Iditarod Snow Dog trail. It was still all pretty steep and technical single track and it was amazing to think they take dog sleighs through this terrain in winter. The bike ride started off ok but then got tough with soft ground soaking up our speed and energy. I think on any other day it would have been fine, but after 7 days of racing everything felt hard. There were constant pinches which we pushed our bikes up and it felt like it was constantly up and down. We biked along the edge of a lake called Bear Lake, and this was where we first saw members of the general public. We were greeted by an old retired ranger walking along the lakeside with a gun on his hip. We stopped and chatted for a bit and once again we were warned about the bears. With a 10m range and 7 second spray, our bear spray did seem slightly less adequate than his gun. We saw many bear prints and they were huge, but no bears! The kilometres were slow going even on a bike and time dragged on. As we got closer to Seward, the town we were finishing in, there were many rivers to cross. Each looked small but they were cold and powerful. The boys took turns to carry my bike across as I could not manage both getting myself over and carry my bike. Each crossing our feet would become numb, and we would warm up after 5mins only to be greeted by another one. After an hour or so of this we came across the documentary team and knew the road must be close. It was a relief to even know we were on the right trail, and standing on the final footbridge was a great moment for us. A moment later we reached sweet tarmac and we knew the finish line was in sight. We formed a line and Luke powered us to the finish line in Seward. I was certainly feeling fatigue and the last seven days of effort was starting to compound. We reached the town and were excited to cruise in to the finish area. We crossed the finished line physically exhausted and mentally drained but psyched to have made it. A quick photo and we pretty much started discussing the best place for lunch.
 
It was the 4th of July and the town was packed full of excitement and celebration, it was great to see the spirits of such a tiny town so high. We were not as excited about finishing as previous races was that we had one night’s rest ahead of us and then we had to climb Mount Marathon the next morning as the final stage. After a great USA burger and beers still in our stinking race clothes at a crowded local bar we headed to our hotel. Once again our gear was not there so we had a shower and ended up wearing our compulsory gear again. We sat down on the bed and within minutes we were all sound asleep!
 
The next morning we were up early for the last section of the race. Mountain Marathon is a famous race in Seward. The race is only 5km long however you go up 1600m to the top and come straight back down. It is a scramble straight up for 2km and then you have to get back down. As a team the aim was to just get it over and done with and that was exactly the same mentality as every other team. The race places had already been set so there was not much time to be gained or lost. We started the climb up and I was in a world of pain, I just had nothing. Every muscle was burning and my heart rate was high, the boys were awesome. They encouraged and supported me every step of the way. It took about 2 hours to get up and about 30mins to get back down, with Olly loving the steep scree slopes on the way down. The view at the top was beautiful as you looked over the town, mountains and sea. Finally we reached the official finish line and we were relieved the never-ending race had finally come to an end.
 

Alaska was an amazing country and was wild, remote and relentless. Our team was strong, positive and gelled well. We all were proud of our result coming 5th overall and seeing all the best bits of the course. We were one of only two teams to avoid being shuttled forward along the course.