Sleep deprived since the birth of Max, and release of his brother Spirit B, I wasn’t sure how soon I would want to return competition. But the idea of slogging through the snow kept nagging at the back of my mind as I soothed our little Max in the middle of the night. While we kept warm by the fire, I’d find myself mourning the passing of his twin just weeks before. I’d listen to the howling wind outside and it felt like his brother calling. As the sun rose, I’d open the blinds and watch the silent flakes fall.
At the end of Jan, we got an email from two members the Quest Adventure Racing team. Annie and Brent are some of top racers in US, and we’d competed against them many times. Annie even joined our squad for our last race of the 2016, as Mel was only a few months postpartum, and Chelsey was 8 months in. This is what they wrote:
Dear Jason, Chelsey, Magnus, and Spirit,
Our hearts are light and heavy with the birth story we read on the blog, and we are thinking of the four of you often. Magnus, welcome to an amazing world of love and adventure! Spirit, we regret that we will not get the chance to meet you in the physical world, but we have no doubt that we will encounter your energy when we find ourselves on the tallest of mountains, at the most stunning of views, with the wind on our faces as we move fast through the woods, and in places more beautiful or more dark than we have yet to even imagine.
Jason and Chelsey, we are holding you in our hearts with love and support. You are and will continue to be incredible models of intentional, loving, and adventurous living for so many people in the adventure racing community, and it is exciting to know that you will now be sharing your gifts with one son on earth, with the added mystery energy of one son in the heavens. You understand the deep meaning of “team” in so many ways, and we look forward to watching what amazing things will happen with these new members of your family team.
When we race Team Yogaslackers, we will always know that there is one more unseen member on the roster.
Light and love to the four of you, our hearts are simultaneously breaking and swelling for your family.
Annie and Brent
I’ve read this email a thousand times since then. Especially this line:
When we race Team YogaSlackers, we will always know that there is one more unseen member on the roster.
Racing felt like the only thing to do.
Stephen arranged everything. Daniel was sick, but my own twin was visiting from New Zealand to meet boys, and he agreed to fill in – so the team would be Me, Andy, Stephen, Mel, and Spirit B. It was to be Mel’s first event back since welcoming her own baby Bryn into the world in October, and my first night away from my boy since he was born. If all went well, we’d be gone for less than 30 hours, win the race, and I’d get more sleep on the way there and back than I’d had in the previous week altogether.
Andy and I were picked up at 5PM, and we started the drive north. About an hour out, we got an update from the race director:
There has been 3 ft of snow in this last week. If you have the choice, use skis instead of fat bikes.
We looked at each other. We’d only brought fat bikes.
That next morning, at the pre-race meeting I was pleased to see that although it was a modest turnout, some of the northwest’s best AR athletes had come out. Team Quest, Dart, and Krank were all there. It would be good competition. I had only one question. “Is the race course clearable?”. Looking at the maps, with all the route choices and the horrendous ice crusted snow conditions, I had my doubts. The answer from the race directors was a resounding “No, we don’t think so.”
It was all the encouragement we needed.
The conditions were far from ideal. Every time I took my eyes off the trail in front of my feet it led to a face plant as my snowshoe would catch on the ice crust. (There were too many falls to count as we broke trail for most of the course). Each of these tumbles led to cursing laughter as a nearby teammate came to help me up. And then we were off.
On the last descent we were racing the clock. Back on fat bikes, we’d finally found snow we could ride and rode right by the penultimate checkpoint. Just then, Mel got a flat tire (which almost never happens with those giant tires!). As we re-inflated it with a CO2 cartridge, I took a moment to check the map and realized we’d just overshot our mark, and we were able to keep a small mistake from becoming a race ending one.
4 hours and 52 minutes later (just 8 minutes shy of the cut-off) we finished. We’d managed to get every checkpoint, and arrive just minutes ahead of Krank, Quest and Dart. It was cold, wet, and difficult to be sure, but it was exactly where I wanted to be. And I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t nice to start the season with a win.
Handshakes, hugs and the event’s signature post-race chile followed as we mingled with the other competitors. I cried briefly as I thanked Annie and Brent for their transformative message, and then smiled as we scattered some of Spirit B’s ashes across the finish line.
Because in my reality it was Spirit that let the air out of Mel’s tire and reminded us to slow down. So thanks Spirit. And thanks to Annie and Brent for that message of hope and reminder – that Adventure Racing is part of who we are, and for welcoming Spirit onto our team.
I missed Chelsey and Magnus, but I knew they were waiting for me, and that it wouldn’t be long before Chelsey would be joining me and Spirit out there while Magnus got spoiled by his grandparents. All in good time.
We made it back home just 29 hours after we’d left. I had time for a quick shower before starting my 10PM-4AM daddy shift. Good thing I’ve been training sleep deprivation for years…and have Spirit B to keep me company.