Saturday, February 10, 2007

Jeff Colbert meets his savior with a Thermos

Reality Check:

Its Sunday morning the day before the big dance. I’m waiting for Josh Peterson to show. Its -17 below and I’m thinking this doesn’t feel too bad.
We finally hit the road in my trusty old Moto van. I have never driven in these low temps with this van. We soon find out the heater can not keep up.
By the time we reach Hibbing are feet and legs are frozen. We chuckle about it and say its good training for what’s to come. When we reach International falls the temps are really cold it’s -25. When you factor in the 20mph wind that’s swirling you start to wonder what were doing here. We get inside the hotel and see all the clown bikes. Gear hanging every where, every one is worried about the weight of there bikes. I new deep down that my bike was one of the lightest. And I was proud of that. I had purchased most of my gear on line and really had no intention of using any of it. It was there to please the gear Nazi that was checking us in. We both got through the gear check with no problem. We decided to ride part of the trail that afternoon to do last minute corrections. I really didn’t want to; it was so cold I wanted to keep myself as fresh as possible. I soon found out Josh was right, I had too many socks on and my seat needed to go back about one inch. We rode out about one and a half miles and it was tough going. We both realized that breaking trail was not the fastest approach. We decided to let the Fast guys and everyone else get out first and groom the trail for us. We woke up Monday morning and it was insanely cold. I jumped in the shower first and cranked as much hot water as I could stand. I ate my oatmeal and I felt really good. I felt like Tigger from Winnie the poo. O yea I have a five year old. It was getting late. Josh was kind of taking it slow. I was like dude come on were going to be really late. By now its 8:15 am and the last wave to start was at 8:20am. And it’s a 10 minute drive to the start line.
We finally get to the start line, I put the rest of my gear on and head over to Cheryl, she writes the time down 8:51am and I chat with her until Josh is ready. I look back and Josh is in the van. I decided that I cannot wait any longer and I start rolling. The first 14miles is and out and back. So I was able to see 47 other racers. The first guy rolls by and he’s hauling. I was starting to wonder how much faster he was going than me. I look down at my computer and its reading 8-9mph. At this point I realize that I’m going directly into the wind. My eyelashes are freezing together. And my feet are already getting chilled. I come up on the first set of walkers. My first thoughts are those poor suckers are never going to make it. I’ve been riding 15 minutes and have already caught most of the walkers. I’m starting to wonder where Josh is. He was one of the fastest mountain bikers I know. I figured for sure he would come by me soon and demoralize me. I got to the turn around point, There were 5 bikers there adjusting gear. I yelled out hey do we need to check in. He yells back what’s your number, Number 40, Off I went. As I was going back I started catching more bikers. I seemed to be going about 2-3mph faster than most. That got me excited, so I picked up the pace even a little more. I was picking off riders about every 10 minutes or so. The course was really flat and relatively smooth before the Day break store. I rolled down a hill and could see people standing there. It was Cheryl Ostor. I asked her which way to the store. She pointed up the hill.
Then I asked how long ago did the leaders come through. Half hour ago she said. Half hour, I must of made up time on the leaders. I started one hour behind them. I put a half hour into them. I was very surprised. I thought about going on and decided that would not be smart, I was wet and hungry. I got to the store and the store owner told me I was the first one to stop.
She wrote down my name and took a quick picture. The soup was tasty as I downed two bowls with relative ease. I then saw these beautiful donuts. I had to have one. Meanwhile riders started trickling in, The first was Don Gabrielson. Super nice fella. Then Patrick Ramstack and a host of others. I decided to change my top layers as they were soaked. I took off with Don Gabrielson and soon realized I was missing a layer. O well I will just have to ride harder to stay warm. The next 15 miles was much hillier. I could ride most of the hills. Some were way to big to ride. I took a wrong turn at a road crossing and ended up climbing about a extra 3 miles. Chalk that one up to not paying attention. Some of the guys that I had just passed I had to pass again. Not a big deal after all we were just 45 miles into this thing. PJ and Maxwell were starting to walk more of the hills. I decided that I wanted to get done with the first half as soon as possible. I rode every hill I could, and was maintaining around 6mph. I was rolling down a hill towards a bunch of trucks. I could see people scurry about. They were taking pictures. So I did my best to look like I was flying. I crossed that road and started on the rest of the journey. I could see only 4 bike tracks in front of me. One of them was all over the place. Kind of like a drunken sailor. I thought for sure it was Charlie. I could also see where one of them was walking way more than they should have. I figured I might be able to catch them. I poured it on, riding everything. I started to notice that my upper body was getting cold but I figured I didn’t have far to go. Plus the rest of my clothes were wet. The sun was starting to set and I could feel the temps dropping. My eyelashes were freezing shut. I knew it was cold. I stopped to drink and realized that I’m almost out of water. I left one more swallow in the bottle. Thinking that was my insurance policy. I trekked on riding at a brisk pace. I wanted off this trail. I stopped about five miles from the last stop. Took a breather and just listened. I could hear the wolves howling, No big deal I thought they have never attacked humans. I looked forward and pressed on noticing that my hands were brutally cold. I could no longer do anything with them. I had heaters in them that were barely adequate. I tried to open another pack and soon found out that was not easy. I got them out and shoved then in my mittens. It was like putting ice cubes in there. The packs were burning me they were so cold. I looked down at my computer to see how much farther and the display stopped working. I thought O well I can push on. As I took off I could feel the back of the bike move around. For a second I thought it was just soft snow, deep down I knew, I had a flat tire. I didn’t know weather to cry or scream, it felt like someone told me my best friend just died. I knew I was screwed. My first thoughts were, I have to fix this, I have no other choice. It soon became apparent. The tire would not get fixed. I couldn’t shift the bike into the small rings, My fingers would not work, I finally gave it one last shot and got the rear rim off. I thought great now it’s off now what. I couldn’t use a tire tool, my hands wouldn’t let me. I decided maybe it just went low. I painfully got out my pump knowing full well This thing is not going to work. My god Is it cold. I took my one hand out of my glove and shoved it on the valve stem. I accidentally touched the rim and it burned me. I pumped it, Wow I’m screwed. I cursed into the air. Hoping the wolves would here me, I’m not that weak yet. Just in case I would be the first human. I threw the pump back in the bag, wrapped the extra tube around my neck, And started walking. I was mad and decide to ride it flat. The tire decided to come off the rim. Now instead of pushing I was dragging. I figured I would be my own maker and only I could get myself out. I walked up and down big hills for 2 hours. I was looking for a sign that said Mel George and all I saw were turn signs. I was Trying to calculate were I was and how much longer I would be out there. I was out of water, my hands were frozen and my core temps were dropping fast. I was shivering walking up hills. I knew things were getting bad. I was making deals with God. I kept thinking I cannot die, I have not showed my son everything I have learned.
I’ve decided snowmobile trails are for snowmobiles . I kept pushing hard. I was almost in tears. The guys behind me were not catching up. I was mad that no one was catching me. I thought maybe I had missed the turn for Mel George. My brain was freaking out. I finally sat on my bike on the upside of a hill. I was fatigued and bitterly cold. I didn’t know what to do. I felt helpless. All of a sudden I heard a car in front of me; I thought can I be this close to a road. I listened more. There it is again. This time it came from behind me. The guys had finally caught up. I need help; I don’t want to die out here. PJ says I don’t like the spot were in let’s go up a bit. There he cleaned a spot for my sleeping bag and bevy. Chris anderson was starting a fire. I could smell smoke. It smelled good. I was little help as my hands and core were so cold. I shimmied in my bag with much help from PJ. The navy guy caught up. He asked if I needed any food. I have pop tarts or Pringles.
Pop tarts I said. They were discussing how much farther. Navy guy had a GPS.
He says two and half miles. Wow I’m only two and a half miles away. Now I’m kind of mad that I didn’t push on. Turns out that was as the crow fly’s.
They set off to get help. I was busy eating pop tarts in my bag shivering and hyperventilating. I had dropped crumbs all over the bottem of the sleeping bag. I sucked them up like a hoover. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t control my breathing. Chris finch stops by and offers Coffee, I gladly take it. He puts it through the little hole in the bag. Its in a thermos, Problem is I can’t open the thermos. My hands are still frozen. I tried opening it with my teeth but the cap was to big. I finally gave out a holler and twisted for all my might. It turned just a little. I did it again. Finally I will have warm coffee. I poured it and drank it while lying on my side. It dribbled down my face and on to the bag. I didn’t care. I felt like a savage. I heard some one else coming. It was Mike Remer, Dude you need anything, I’ve got mints. Sure, He pops it in the little hole. Do you want me to sit with you? No it’s ok. Good, any longer and I will need to bevy next to you. About half hour later I could here a sled. Thank God I’m saved. The guy is talking but I can’t figure out what he is saying. I finally get out of the bevy sack. I instantly fall over. I get up again and fall over again. I started thinking I’m not that far gone. I walk towards the snowmobile and fall on to it. The snowmobiler realizes this is serious.
We get on the sled and were flying. I’m just bouncing around. I thinking I’m going to die on this sled. We get to the lake he says throw your bevy over your head. I do and were flying. We fly into Mel Georges There’s a crowd of people, they look at me like I’m half dead. I was very relived to be telling the story. Instead of them trying to figure out what happened. In hind site I did several things wrong. I was racing not surviving, not enough water.
Not enough clothes. I would do it again. But it better be warmer. I owe my life to Patrick Ramstack, Chris Anderson, Don Gabrielson, Mike Riemer, Chris Finch

Jeff Colbert


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