Saturday, February 14, 2015

Bearing Witness

I can see a lot of things when I look a this picture. It's the Braeburn Lodge, a highway truck stop and gas station on the way out of Whitehorse north to Dawson. It was also a checkpoint for the race last week. Due to the extreme cold, athletes were moving slower than expected, so rather than spend a day here and move onto the next checkpoint, we spent a few days here in the log cabin, eating oversized cinnamon buns and sandwiches, doing interviews, following race progress.

I see my new friend Claudia, from Mexico, being interviewed by the Japanese film crew doing a documentary about the race. I see tired racers refuelling, warming up and strategizing next moves. I see a skidoo guide taking a quick break before going back out to the trail for more rescues. The smells of the beef barley soup linger in my wool scarf and the wood stove smell clings to my parka. I won't soon forget what I saw, heard and felt in Braeburn lodge.

This chance to go up to the Yukon and cover this race was serendipitous. I made it happen, with my story pitch, careful arrangements and planned interviews, but it was also very much a case of stars aligning. I was reminded of that daily, as events bigger than myself transpired. I was not expecting the race experience to manifest they way it did.

It was inspiring: Seeing high level athletes prepare and embark on what is truly one of the world's toughest ultras was magnificent. They are in a league unto their own. I felt electricity in talking with them, watching them arrive at checkpoints, seeing them moving on the trail.

It was humbling: I watched grown men cry and moan as they suffered frostbite and hypothermia. I saw vacant stares on the faces of athletes who accomplished impressive feats but who had truly suffered to arrive.

It was informative: I did a lot of research and interviews beforehand, but bearing witness to race conditions and watching racers continue on when every primal urge told them to stop, was jarring. I was definitely educated by this trip.

I was happily reunited with Johanna for our first professional foray, and it was such a rewarding collaboration. We both focused on our art in challenging new situations and grew as people, for sure. We absolutely seized those days and moments and I can't wait to assemble our work for submission. I can already feel myself becoming a more focused, effective writer in tackling a story of this magnitude.

Coming home, I definitely felt like the Yukon will aways be something I own, and share with others who have called it home for a time. But this is where my people are, and I am happy to crawl into bed with all of my loves laying their heads on pillows in bedrooms next to mine.

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