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How I Got Lost in the Yukon Wilderness

02/20/2014 12:12 EST | Updated 04/22/2014 05:59 EDT

It's 3:30 p.m. and won't be long before darkness falls. The ice fog is rolling across the trail and frost hangs from the trees and bushes like a white blanket. I've got enough water for a couple of hours but there's a small hitch, I don't know where I am. Should I continue on this road or turn back? Am I heading towards Whitehorse or Dawson City? Time to make a decision.

The day had had an auspicious start. Due to the unusually warm weather the organizers of the Yukon Arctic Ultra had changed the start location from downtown Whitehorse to Takhini hotsprings, 30 kms away. Buses were waiting to leave and Cal, my stepson and I were running late. To get to the bus I took a short cut through the hotel parking lot, tried to hop over a wooden rail, slipped and bashed my shin against the barrier. Not a good start.

As I sat down I was pleased to see that we weren't the last to get on. Simon Donato, star of the TV series Boundless rolled up a couple minutes later and we were off. The Yukon Arctic Ultra consists of three races, a marathon, a 100 miler and a 300 miler. In the latter two events competitors can either run, ski or bike. Also, they have to pull a "Pulk" (sled) with all their gear for overnight camping. I had signed up for the marathon as I was looking for a good workout before my 9th Quest, Rotary Coastal Quest 630, in the U.K. in March.

At 10:30 a.m. we were all lined up at the start line and I took a spot at the front of the pack to get a fast get away. Next to me was Paul Trebilock a.k.a. Turbo, the other half of the Boundless duo, on a fully loaded fat bike. Event organizer, Robert Pollhammer did a count down from 10 and we were off. The route was an out and back and I made great time to the turnaround point. The aid station had hot water so I filled up my CamelBak hydration pack.

I was ready to head home but I had a concern. My Garmin GPS indicated that I had only gone 19.5 kms which in total would give me 39.00 kms for the race, this a marathon does not make. I talked to Glenn, one of the volunteers and he confirmed the distance. I asked him if it was OK for me to continue down the trail and make up the extra distance. He said fine and as I headed off I heard him chuckling and saying "Crazy bugger."

I did 1.6 more kms and headed back. In this short distance the hose on my hydration pack had frozen but I wasn't concerned as I would soak it in the vat of hot water. As I ran up to Glenn he told me the bad news, they had just dumped the water. I continued for another hour and was getting a bit light headed. I hadn't seen a route marker for a while and there were no signs of the other competitors. I needed water so I cracked open the top of the pack and chugged the contents.

I was lost and had to do something. Calling on all my Boy Scout tracking knowledge I looked at the ground: no shoe prints, no pole marking, no sled tracks. Conclusion, going the wrong way, turn around and head back. Three kms later I found the turn off. Homeward bound. I arrived at the finish at 6:00 p.m. in the dark, seven and a half hours from when I started.

This is what Robert posted on the website: This is just a quick message to let you all know that all athletes are fine. We were starting to worry a bit about Martin Parnell. He was late and reports we got indicated he took a wrong turn. Glenn and Spencer headed out to look for him and sure enough, 20 minutes later he reached the finish. Martin did take a wrong turn on his way back. So did two more marathon runners. They were cruising and possibly so confident that they stopped looking for the markers for a while. All of them realized at some point, turned around and finished. Possibly they also just wanted to run an ultra rather than a marathon.

Post-race report. I was last in the 39 km race, third in the marathon and first in the 48 km Ultra. Not a bad day's work.

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