Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Frostbite ends gruelling trek

Winnipegger suffers injuries to face, hands while competing in Iditarod

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After pushing his bike through snow, ice and biting winds for 290 kilometres, Lindsay Gauld has had to withdraw from the longest and hardest winter bike race in the world.

If it had been up to him, though, the 63-year-old former Olympian cyclist probably would have kept on going.

It would not have ended well.

An organizer of the 2012 Iditarod Trail Invitational spotted him at a rest stop a couple of days ago, recognized how badly his face and nose were frostbitten and told him he should pull out.

"I didn't have a sense of (how bad the frostbite) was. My face is in really bad shape. My doctor says it's a good thing I quit. If I'd gone on, I would have lost my nose. I thought I could cover my nose with duct tape," he said.

"I'm happy with the call I made. I really had no choice."

As if his face wasn't enough, Gauld's hands weren't functioning properly, either. Had he been alone, he wouldn't have been able to eat or open his water bottle. "My hands are quite puffy. I have feeling in my left hand but a couple of the fingers on my right hand have no feeling. The right pinky has kind of a dead feeling and it's kind of black right now," he said.

Gauld is hooked up to a trio of IV tubes at a hospital in Anchorage. After consulting with a doctor who is well versed in frostbite, he is confident he'll be completely intact in a few days.

"I'd rather lose a finger than a nose. It would just be one joint. I'm pretty sure I'll be OK. I ran pretty close to the edge there," he said.

On day 6, he couldn't see well enough to ride his bike, even though he finally got to a stretch that was rideable.

"My cheeks were so swollen, they were partly blocking my vision," he said.

Gauld said even if the worst-case scenario occurs with his face, he knows a plastic surgeon from Red Deer who stays in the bed and breakfast he and his wife, Lynne, run.

"He's an ultra-runner. He said if I need anything done, it's on the house," he said.

Gauld said after nearly six days of mainly pushing his bike through 86 centimetres of fresh snow -- he had to drag it uphill, too -- he was more than two-thirds of the way through and felt he was home free.

"I told my wife that I thought then if I finished, I was considering it being my last race. She burst out into laughter and said, 'You'll find something else,' " he said.

He hopes to fly back to Winnipeg in a few days, but when he does, he won't be able to resume his job as a bike courier because he has to keep his face out of the cold.

"I'm going to be cocooning for the foreseeable future. No cross-country skiing for me," he said.

Gauld has no regrets and is seriously considering coming back for the 2013 edition.

"You go and do these things to discover your weaknesses. You go back when you've solved them. I think I can do better in terms of making my load lighter and that I don't have frostbite issues. I was proud of how I was doing," he said.

Gauld was far from the only rider to experience problems.

A number of former champions were forced to withdraw and the eventual winner crossed the finish line in six days and 13 hours, more than double his record time of three days and five hours.

"I picked a tough year. It was a bit scary out there on the pass. If you stop, you're going to die," Gauld said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 6, 2012 A2


Updated on Tuesday, March 6, 2012 at 9:09 AM CST: headline corrected

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