We are not supposed to be here. Especially when you look at how this year has gone so far. Bikepack trips to cabins have been unsuccessful with no real big adventure outside of some trips locally. So it was no big surprise to wake up at 6 am yesterday to read about the winter weather warnings. Togwotee Pass expecting 3 days straight of heavy snowfall. And all the major passes were expected to close. High winds and drifting snow prompting officials to recommend staying at home this weekend. Still, we had to try.
I climb through the deep snow away from my bike propped against a huge bank alongside the highway. I am hiking away from the lodge. Away from comfort and warmth. I can barely see where I am going. I trudge on. I don’t know how far I want to go but I just want to get some intel on Snuggles. My hopes are high she is only 30 minutes at the most behind me. I am now hiking backward on the trail and decide to reach the next high point to access. I need to see if anyone else is going to make it. If Snuggles will make it.
So yea, obviously we set out anyway yesterday. We agreed that if we hit bad weather we would check the box of “trying” and turn around. Turn around and go home. AGAIN! It looked as though we would at least get to Enis and if we did we at least had Norris Hot Springs as a consolation prize. Arriving at Enis we could see the dark storm front to the South. Still, no drifts and the roads looked good so we trudged on. 5 miles out we hit the storm and the visibility went to zero.
Back to the moment at hand. I have finally reached the apex of the hill after a exhaustive wade through deep snow. I joined another who I assumed was a race official. In fact, she is someone doing what I was doing. Peering into the white distance for any trace of a fatbiker on the horizon. We saw nothing. She was also in constant contact with someone back at the lodge giving updates on anyone lucky enough to make it thus far. 3 small dots appeared. One was snuggles I think. I am so elated.
Yesterday around this time I was just looking for a turn around spot. Drifting snow across the road and the visibility was poor. We just kept the vehicle pointed in what looked like the least amount of resistance. Which is the road, without stopping and losing momentum. Things got a little better and we made it to the Quake Lake Junction. We pulled over and peered at the weather reports and highway maps on our phones. It looked like Island Park would be the worst but if we could get through it would be doable at least to Teton Pass. There we could stop in at friends and ask for a spot on their floor for the night. We went for it.
As little dots became fatbikers, or I should say fatbike pushers, it became apparent that snuggles may indeed be approaching. I got word that if she survived she could get second or third. We cheered them up the hill. I took a photo and then my smile started to flatten out. Something was not right. They crested the hill exhausted … it was not her. My eyes darted to the horizon. Nothing.
We should have never been here, should have never pushed over Island Park. At one time after an hour of white-knuckle driving, we were stopped for a bit. The highway temporarily closed because trucks could not make it up the hill from Ashton. Once in there, we were confident we had made it through the worst. The Idaho Highway Map put the route to Tetonia as dry and completly clear. 10 miles from Ashton we were hitting drifts as high as our headlamps. AGAIN, no choice but to bust forard and not loose momentium. It was a long journey through Idaho’s potatoe fields. With the help of other trucks ahead we all worked together. We finally made it to Tetonia. On to Teton Pass. Still, we did not think we would get to Togwotee not to mention Lava Mountain Lodge.
And now standing on top of a hill in a complete whiteout fear was washing over me. My partner was out there in an unfamiliar place. A place that I was accustom to, maybe even yearned for. Trudging forward in a blizzard. The winds drifting in snow and covering all tracks 10 minutes after someone else had busted through. Icy winds that lashed out at exposed skin. Another fatbike pusher came by and stood there with us. I needed to go back but would wait as long as these other gracious people wanted to hang with me. I needed to organize a snowmobile rescue. Why were we here?
Yesterday cresting the Teton Pass behind a line of slow moving vehicles it became apparent that we might indeed make it to our destination, Lava Mountain Lodge. If we could just get there then we could hunker down and wait for the first opportunity to get back home. We were thinking 3 days. I would call work and tell them we were stranded. Not an excuse this time. Actually stranded. We were in this pattern. Make a pact to turn around, failing to do so, and then coming up with another pact. And this morning waking up to buried vehicle snuggles and I made another. Let’s just go to the lodge and see if they were going to still hold the race. At the very least we would see if the pass was still open and get intel. If things seemed bad we would just make it back to the lodge and wait out the storm. To make things even more possible the plow truck went by as we gazed out the window of the cabin while sipping coffee.
“That biker down there is that a female”, I asked the person that had just showed up.
“Yes, we have been workg hard togehter but she just vanished behind me”, he stepped off the top and decended out of sight.
This morning we learned that the race was on but the it was a short out and back. Should just be a fun ride with frineds. We started by walking for a while. At one time I looked up and pointed out that the leaders were only “out there”. All attempts at riding didnt turn out well. On the downhills we were able to ride and a path started to form. I was used to having just a singletrack to ride so I rode more and more. By the turn around point, I had ridden 60% of the route. I was exhausted though and looked forward to getting back. Snuggles, only 15 minutes behind me as I started to bomb back. I had a tailwind and was excited to enjoy the downhill back to the lodge. 7 miles to go. When I passed her she looked like the back of a semi-truck that had just been through a storm. Her chest was crused white ice and could only muster “snuggles” but without a wavering focuse to the trail ahead. No stopping just a death stare.
The dot grew closer. I could tell it was slow going and finally, I could see the color of her coat. It was her this time. I was sure of it. Someone yelled, “she is running … holy shit”. To me, it looked like a survival technique. To stay warm against the deadly wind. To survive one must keep going. And most importantly keep warm. A run could keep the embers alive.
Earlier I figured she would make it because with the tailwind and … all downhill, easy, right? 4 miles out it all came crashing down. A wall of darkness enveloped me and one moment I was riding then another I plowed into deep snow. The wind picked up and I couldn’t see where I was going. No more riding. From here it was just finding the trail -marking poles one at a time. I joined a group of 5 and the saying was that together we could do this. The trail … it was down there somewhere. An hour later I stumbled into the lodge. A ghost-white figure with encrusted snow and ice. I sat down to peel off the layers and rejoice in the fact it was over.
Snuggles was on the last climb but alone she struggled. It did not look like her. It was a survivor. No smiles. Only a wave as to stay that she was still alive. I couldn’t stay at the lodge when I knew she was out here. Shivering at the top of this climb I knew our journey was about over. And the joy, love, and happiness only made sense that we had done it together. The weekend was not another failure but an epic journey. When shesteppedd on top of the last climb we had successfully made it togehter.
“Meet you at the lodge, your doing great, yahooo …”, she dissapered into the trees.