I headed out of McCabe Creek in good spirits and seemed to cover the dreaded powerline section to Minto in much quicker time than expected. Again, it was a long night travelling alone, but I was enjoying this part of the trail, again distracting myself with planning things back home (some very mundane - at one point I had sorted all my washing in to different loads in my head!) and singing to myself.
There were three sections of overflow on this leg, so I stopped and put on my Neos overboots before going through each, I was pleased that I had taken the time as the water came well up my calf in the deepest section. I continued happily to move towards Pelly Crossing through the night and at a high section of trail, not too far out from the checkpoint, I heard an owl calling and decided it was time to have a sleep before covering the last section to the checkpoint. My bivy gave me a good rest as I drifted off to sleep looking at the stats and clouds in the night sky. Upon waking I packed up, had a cup of coffee and tried to set off down the trail. At this point the downside of a stop became apparent - having managed to get my shoes back on my feet, making them move in anything more than a shuffle/ hobble proved difficult and I started to think I had made a mistake resting on the trail. However after 20 minutes or so, my feet had loosened up and I was moving at a steady pace again and feeling very upbeat and happy to be on my way to the checkpoint.
I arrived at Pelly Crossing and again was greeted by friendly volunteers all looking to help me get rested and fed, again I gratefully received cups of tea and a hot meal. I then sorted the dressings on my feet and had a lie down to give them chance to air and dry before I dressed them once again. Leaving Pelly Crossing, I had a few hours of daylight to travel along the river and again it was an enjoyable part of the trail, watching the sun set behind the trees as I travelled. The trail came off the river just as darkness fell, so I stopped for a hot drink and to get my head torch set up for the night ahead. I knew the next section wouldn't be particularly quick as the trail winds up and down, but I also knew that at the end of this section was Pelly Farm with Sue and Dales legendary hospitality and lasagne! My journey was frustrated, however, part way along - as I climbed to one of the higher sections, I found myself in an ice fog and at this point my headlamp flashed warning me that the batteries were about to run out - this is not normally a problem and happens regularly when travelling at night. I went though my usual routine - get out the spare head torch, locate the spare batteries and change them, however, the new batteries didn't work at all - I've never had that before and I didn't have an additional set as there was a drop bag at Pelly Farm that I had packed batteries for the next section in. Just as I was thinking maybe I could make do with my spare head torch, that started to flash, telling me the batteries were low. With no more spare batteries I tried to travel without a light.
In the ice fog there was no moon and so the darkness was complete, even knowing where to place each foot was a challenge and I began to think I would never get to the farm if I couldn't move a bit faster. Eventually I decided that I would have to make use of the only batteries I had, and so, in the darkness, I managed to locate my SPOT tracker and remove the batteries and get them in to my head torch (apologies to all those who were watching and thought I had stopped!). Once again I was on my way and my spirits were lifted further as the northern lights gave a show as I moved on down the trail. After what seemed like a very long night, I found myself standing looking at the 'you made it' sign (I literally found myself there, I don't remember the previous mile or so of the trail at all), I felt relieved, but at the same time knew there was still some way to go to get to the farm. At this point my torch once again faded and I spent much time wandering round trying to get in to the farm - I couldn't pick out makers without a light and could barely make out buildings. At one point I unhitched my sled and went to look for the way, encouraging the dogs to take me home... this was a mistake, not only did the dogs not take me, but I couldn't find where I had left my sled! After some time all the barking caused Mike to come out and he guided me in to the farm.
As soon as I arrived (about 6am, I believe), Sue presented me with one of her famous lasagne and a pot of tea, I proceeded to demolish both! Following that I tried to get some rest, but my chest was really causing me problems - Sue was brilliant, making me endless mugs of hot lemon and honey and giving me something to lean up on to try to stop my coughing. I decided to get up at midnight and leave the farm at 2am to head for Scroggie Creek. The medics were at the farm and they agreed to drain and tape my feet before everyone went to bed - by now two of my toes were so blistered that the nails and whole nail beds were floating on a huge bubble of bluster that extended over the end of the toes and round the sides. In addition the original heel blisters had now lost more layers of skin and were wet with blister and blood. The medics were great and very patient with me as the toe blisters particularly were extremely sore to touch. However, it seemed I broke the medic, as in the middle of sorting my feet she fainted and had to be treated herself... I know my feet were a state, but I hadn't realised they were that hideous!
Following that incident the other medic finished off draining and taping for me and I again tried to get some sleep. As planned we got up at midnight and were presented with a fantastic Pelly Farm breakfast of pancakes, bacon and eggs. As we packed and got ready it became apparent that I may have a problem - with my normal socks on, my feet would not fit in my shoes no matter how hard I tried to force them. I found some very thin liner socks in my kit and tried again with these, now I could get my left foot in my shoe, but my right foot still wouldn't go. I decided that I should go outside and see if this would settle once I was moving - indeed I did manage to get my foot in the shoe after a little while walking on the trail, though the pain in both feet, particularly the toes which had been crammed in with all their dressings was intense.
I talked through the options with Mike as a few things occurred to me - one was that my feet were far from warm as they were and I was fairly sure that I wouldn't be able to get thicker socks on for the rest of the race, another was that I would need to bivy on the way to Scroggie, and if I couldn't get my shoes on after that I would be stuck and the third was that the pain was going to mean moving more slowly and while it may ease and allow better pace with time, it was just as likely to get worse and treating blisters on the next section would be far more difficult. At this point I headed back to the farm to officially scratch from the race - disappointing, but without doubt the right decision.
Five days on my feet are still recovering, I have now lost the nails and all surrounding skin on my toes and they are now open and wet, but healing well, my heels are also still open but healing well. My extremely sore mouth is finally recovered and I can eat in comfort, but my cough and chest is proving more difficult to shake off.
Looking back through this account there are many things that I have missed and many people who I haven't mentioned by name - to all of them/ you, a huge thank you, this race is about so much more than getting from A to B and all of the people involved are what make for such a great event. Thank you to all, and thank you to all of you who supported me from afar, following my tracker every step of my journey - I definitely thought of you all watching a number of times when I was struggling to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and that image of you kept me moving :-)
A special thank you to my brother, Andy - I have never spent so much time telling myself, one foot in front of the other, just one foot in front of the other... even as I tried to leave Pelly Farm and was heading beck, I was telling myself one foot in front of the other... giving up is not an option! Thank you to you and Amanda for introducing me to such fantastic madness as this... unbelievable experiences that I never dreamed I could be a part of.
Mike is now packing and getting ready to head off to Alaska to take part in the Iditarod Invitational, having spent three weeks here supporting me and the race generally - thank you for everything you have done and for being here with me.
Marianne Heading discovered winter endurance racing in 2007, while working as a volunteer for the Yukon Arctic Ultra. This experience inspired her to take up running and go back to the Yukon as a competitor. Since 2007 she has been back to the YAU 6 times, completing both the 100 and 300mile versions. In 2011 she became the first European female to complete the 300mile YAU! Events are not a regular feature, but other races she has taken part in, include the Semi-Raid Reunion, Roveaneimi150, Four Inns and a number of LDWA and other local events - recoding those taken part in since 2015 here. Being outdoors and enjoying the countryside and wildlife are a higher priority than being fast... luckily! Training runs and walks are often prolonged by a break to do some foraging or to take in the scenery!