So, I was alone again, in the night, heading to next checkpoint, Finger Lake / Winterlake Lodge. The temperature was about +1..+2°C in the start at Knik Lake but was now a couple of degrees below freezing. The Plan B was to hang with a group with suitable speed and not get lost from the trail. I had ridden about 80 miles of the first 90 miles alone, so it was clearly Plan C: ride alone with your own speed and follow the tire tracks. This worked really well.
Jay Cable said to me that the next 20 miles were pretty easy to Finger Lake and there shouldn't be a danger to get lost. Maybe 8-10 miles in, Jay Petervary caught me and he was flying. I followed him for awhile but figured out soon that his speed was too much for me.
The last 10 miles felt really long and I was a bit worried if I had get lost anyway. After 130 miles of pretty hard riding I finally arrived in Finger Lake, first of two checkpoints for drop bags. I dried some of my clothes, ate and had a short chat with JayP. The next 35 miles would be the toughest of the entire race. I took a short, 20 minute nap on a chair. I didn't want to sleep longer because I was still feeling great and wanted to keep good progress. Soon the sun would rise and that would lift my spirit even more.
The volunteers in Finger Lake were great, and they were surprised that I was from Finland. They confirmed that I was the first from Finland ever visit Winterlake Lodge.
As I was just about to leave the checkpoint, Joe Stiller stormed in.
The temperature was now -15°C and it felt a lot better than the balmy -3...-5°C of the night. The morning was beautiful!
The temperature swings were big in the morning, as the coldest reading was -20°C:
At the same time, the race course was getting tougher.
And the views were gorgeous!
Between these scenic views the going was now extremely tough. The trail went up and down, all the time, and it certainly felt that it went more up than down. Many of the uphills were so steep that there were no other way to go than push.
One of the easier spots on this section.
And even more spectacular views!
Fairly soon I met this wall, which would have make my 'Sunday Cyclocross' friends very envious:
Even the detour required super hard work:
After this wall, another excruciating uphill followed. To slightly reduce the amount of torture, the descents were really great fun. Yes, this section was torture, but in a good way. At this point, in my view, ITI was not just 'allegedly' toughest winter ultra marathon. It really is. And I had not even reached the halfway point! I didn't come here for a pleasant Sunday ride. I wanted the real deal, and I got it.
I had colossal amount of work to do with the uphills, but I was in paradise.
It took me 6 hours 50 minutes to cover 35 miles from Finger Lake to Puntilla (Rainy Pass Lodge). And I was alone, the entire time.
And I was alone in the Rainy Pass Lodge too.
I ate too cans of chili sauce and took about 40 minute nap. I woke up when Jeff Oatley, Heather Best and Phil Hofstetter arrived. And that was so cool! The legend himself was so relaxed and every routine he did was so natural and effortless.
Next up was the mythical Rainy Pass, with its peak at 3167 ft. I was chatting with Jeff and I was way too optimistic about reaching Rohn in about 5 hours. Jeff said that make it 8 hours, even 9 hours, depending how the conditions are there.
We all were leaving about the same time.
The valley and mountain views were magnificent.
Soon I found myself doing lots of pushing. The trail was rideable for the most part, but I had hard time to see where the tire tracks were going because everything was so white. I also fell a couple of times.
The going was slow, and I figured out that my 40 minute nap wasn't really enough at the Rainy Pass Lodge. Also, the almost-7-hour sufferfest between Finger Lake and Puntilla was taking it's toll. I was still far away from the peak of Rainy Pass.
Things didn't look good at this point. I was really sleepy and started to consider bivying before continuing to Rainy Pass. Then I saw two headlights behind me in the distance. My race was going so well, I just didn't want to bivy, as the headlights were slowly approaching me.
This race is not only extremely tough, it is dangerous too:
Now was the time to fight. I kept thinking that just eat and drink and move on. You can overcome the sleep monster. But it was hard, it was SO hard.
The wind was picking up, and I was gaining elevation. The moon was behind the clouds but gave just a bit of light to see that the mountains were very close to me. This was something that I had only dreamed and now it was real! There really is no words to describe the feeling. You are alone, with the mountains, with the wind, and you are tired and sleepy.
I just kept saying to myself that move on...