Cautionary Frozen Otter Tale
Sorry it's long, but have to get it out there.
So last year was my 6th Frozen Otter and I had a bit of a scare that I just wanted to share with folks who weren't already aware, just so that when Rod starts answering questions around this time about required gear you don't give him too much shit (some, granted, but not too much) :).
To give some context, I've been running Ultras [slowly] for more than 10 years now, up to 100mi races, and while I certainly don't get to train as much as I should or would like to, I am a bit OCD when it comes to gear, testing, and backups (I'm an engineer, can't help it)....and I still got bit in the ass pretty bad last year.
Last year middle of the night windchill was below -20F, but that's my kind of temp, been through worse in the FO before, and after passing through the 40mi. checkpoint I was just cruising along well ahead of schedule. About 3mi out suddenly I started getting light headed, stumbling, and all I could do was try to convince myself not to lie down directly in the snow cause' I knew I would just freeze to death. I managed to just yank out my sleeping bag and barely get it under me before I passed out in a snowbank alongside the trail. Came to ????minutes later thinking that if I don't get up, this was it. My 3yr old son, wife, all came into view and that's probably what got me up.
Stumbled along for another 45min., covering only about 400yds wrapped in my sleeping bag and bivvee/shelter but still shivering so badly I couldn't blow my freeze proof whistle. But alive. Eventually Jake Ksobiech came along (an hour between runners at 1am in the FO is actually pretty short) and he helped guide me out for another 1hr+ until we got to a road and found my friends who I was going to meet at mile 48, Chris and Kim Hoppe, who were already out with volunteers looking for me, knowing I was well past due. Thank you again to everyone!
My phone had died. My back up phone battery was DOA. My backup to the backup, also DOA. Mind you these were both batteries I had used and tested in these temps before, I was keeping them warm, etc. The buddy I was running with got hurt and dropped at mi. 40, so I was only going 8mi by myself until I met up with my other friends.
Doctors ran every kind of test imaginable, never could figure out what happened. Their best guess is that it was some kind of freak mini stroke, given the sudden onset and extended period of dementia that followed (apparently I was talking smack the whole time). All of this is of course above and beyond the baseline crazy that makes you want to run 64 miles in -20F in the first place.
I stepped my way back into subsequently running 50 and 100mi races within the year, without any signs of anything similar, and signed up for this year's Otter. Of course, right? Gonna' punch that otter square in the nose! That's why we do this crazy shit.
Moral of the story, shit happens. Bad shit becomes lethal shit at -20F. If Rod hadn't required that sleeping bag and shelter pretty certain I wouldn't be writing this and having just witnessed the birth of our daughter.
Some key Lessons Learned, especially for extreme cold Frozen Otters:
- Always run with a buddy, even if it's just between checkpoints...that's still 8 miles, maybe 4+hrs, with no one around. (Could we get volunteer point to point buddies? I'd do it, good way for newbies to get a taste?)
- Backup emergency communication. I bought a Delorme InReach satellite communicator. If you can't afford that, maybe rent/borrow one. Or at least 2 extra cell phone batteries you keep warm. Freeze proof whistle (no ball) still good idea.
- Keep sleeping bag and shelter within EASY reach and access. Fortunately I had attached my bag to the exterior bottom of my pack and could just pull it out. No way I would have had the mental or physical strength to dig it out from my pack when I started to go down.
- File a "float plan" if possible - Let friends know when to expect you, or at least when to check in remotely via text, phone etc. That got folks out looking for me much sooner, no way I would have made it the remaining 4 miles to Mauthe.
- Don't let yourself get sweaty. Fortunately I've figured that out over the years and probably the only reason I didn't immediately go hypothermic when I initially collapsed.
Really not trying to scare folks here, just hope this might help someone some day avoid, or at least survive, a similar situation.
Stay safe, and I'll see you out there next year. Got a little otter to look after this year :)
For the love of misery!