Friday: I left DBQ at 10 am to pickup Matt Maxwell (two-time competitor) in Ames. We ate dinner and stayed with my sister in Minneapolis for the night. Great time catching up and discussing all of her recent adventures and her work for Will Steger (one of the Arrowhead Ultra event sponsors). I rode my trainer for an hour to help me get to sleep.
Saturday: We left my sister Elizabeth’s place early so that we’d have time to check on various trailheads on the way to I Falls. Discussed in detail the race from the last two years with Matt on the long drive. We stopped to inspect the trails and they looked good for Matt who would be skiing but were depressing for me. They were chopped up and powdery soft from all the snow machine traffic. We arrived early and got right to socializing with a number of the volunteers and racers who were there for the Saturday gear check in. I was surprised at how well organized the race was… first class organization. Don (the “Gear Nazi”) Clark did a through job at inspecting, counting and weighing the required gear (mine was only 1.5 lbs over the minimum – I had trimmed 5 lbs from my gear setup of earlier, however this doesn’t include the 3 lbs of food and 7 lbs of fluid needed to make it to the halfway checkpoint). My only suggestion would be to increase the required gear list as some racers went with the absolute minimum forgoing items that I would consider required for a survival race as this (good knife for one).
Sunday: Matt and I drove down to the starting area for a 1-hour preride/ski. This section was much better as it had been groomed the night before and the temps were good. After we got back and cleaned up we headed to the race headquarters for more socializing as more arrived for the second day of gear check in and the mandatory prerace meeting.
Monday (race start): I decided that the best bet would be to get out in the first wave of racers to beat the warmer temps that were forecasted for the day. I started about 20 minutes behind the first group of racers and hour before the last. The first 18 miles of out and back trail was in premo condition for all the competitors. I averaged over 15 mph and was feeling great (especially after 8 miles when I was then the first person overall in the race). I would continue to lead the race overall only trading spots with the first placed skier Phillip (who started about 10 min before me) for the first 22 miles. I had been watching Don Gabrielson catching me since the out and back, my plan was to continue to stay ahead of everyone until the gateway store. But, "plans" are not something you can count on in this race as I was learning… by mile 23 the trail was turning against me and my one skinny tire – dropping my speed into the single digits… Dave Pramann, Terry Brannick, Don, Joel, and Josh all passed me with ease on this section of the trail warmed by the sun to a toasty +30d.
At the Gateway store (CP#1), I stopped for a snickers bar and Mountain Dew and I was off (3 minutes)… leaving the store early put me back into about 3rd place overall. Not far down the trail I was again passed by the fat tire bikes… but I knew that this was now a race to finish and didn’t let them determine my pace as I did in the first 6 hours of the race. The miles clicked by oh so slowly (note to self: next year I wont bring my biking computer – it was way too depressing seeing a speed of 7 mph when I was at 90% on my HRM on a perfectly flat section of the coarse). The course didn’t improve at all even into the night. In fact, a little tidbit for those concidering doing this race, this course is NOT flat as I had thought – yes there are what seems like 100’s of miles that pitch up and down no more than a % or 2… however, the last 25 miles into the Melgeorges checkpoint were anything but. At mile 55 I was getting exhausted and enjoyed a long sweeping downhill a bit too much not breaking until it was too late… I got sucked to the left side by numerous snow machine ruts and put the bike into 2+ feet of soft powder at the side of the trail, I cartwheeled for about 50 feet, breaking the 2nd metatarsal on my right foot and giving myself a nice case of sore neck for the drive home. Yes 15 miles to go… broken foot, and bruised ego. The foot while painful was just one of the many issues that I had to deal with at this part of the race (exhaustion being the main one). I stopped to collect myself and access the situation (they say that people get into trouble in situations like these when multiple things go wrong – well that wasn’t going to happen to me…). I decided that I would refill my camel back from my remaining two insulated bottles, I ended up dropping my refilled camel back (without the cap on yet) on the ground, purging my last two quarts of water - if there would have been someone around I would have cussed up a storm, but no one was, so stunned silence was my response instead). I had a couple of options at this point, melt snow using my stove – or keep riding and refill at the checkpoint 2 hours down the trail. I decided that I had been doing a good job eating and drinking, so I decided that I would push ahead to the CP and melt snow if I had too. About an hour later Charlie (another hardy soul on a full skinny bike, 29er x 2.3”) graced me with his ever-optimistic presence and a much-needed drink. We rode together for about 15 minutes when the calm and collected Don Gabrielson rode up to us. The moonless night (new moon) made this last hour of the trail to the half way point DARK too say the lest. I had two multi-LED head lights – barley adequate, I outran my lights and even got on the “scenic trail” at Elephant Lake due to inadequate lighting (I turned on my GPS receiver to try to find the CP, but it had lost all of its waypoints – dead weight). Next year, I’ll bring my homemade light system that I’ve used successfully on numerous long night rides (I had left it to save weight). Charlie and Don had ridden ahead to the CP beating me there by about 10-15 minutes or so. I arrived at the Melgeorges CP in about 8th place at 6:45 PM. At this point in the race I wasn’t sure what to do… my foot was so swollen that I had a hard time getting it out of my shoe, I was slightly dehydrated – probably more so because of the warmer weather than not drinking much the last two hours, my clothing system and me were ready for -30d weather not +30 degree weather. I had “planned” to stop and simply fill my bottles, grab my drop bag and be off in 30 minutes… but instead decided to eat the worlds greatest grilled cheese sandwich and have a bowl of soup. I laid down to try to get some shuteye but this was nearly impossible as the checkpoint was a furry of activity and conversation. A couple of riders in our same “group” decided to head down the trail to a shelter where it would be more quite for some sleep – probably a much better decision. However, I wanted to rehydrate.
Tuesday: It wasn’t until 3 am that I was confident that I was “re-hydrated” and three days worth of celibrex had calmed the pain & swelling in my foot enough that I started preparing to head back out. I left the Melgeorges CP around 4 am to about ¾” of fresh snow that had fallen during the late night. Thankfully 3” less than what was forecasted. About an hour out of Melgeorges I passed the first place runner who hadn’t stayed long at the CP (and bivied at the first shelter), exchanged a short greeting and was off, I passed a number of racers bivied at the shelters but it was early morning and tried to not make much noise as I knew they were well prepared for 0d F night with their -20 bags. At the second shelter past the CP and into the hilly section, Josh was sitting up in his bag after getting woken by another racer. I told him of his good decision to leave the CP for some shut eye and told him I’d see him down the trail in an hour (josh had been averaging about 2 mph faster than me the day before and I knew he’d repeat this performance + some as I was in my just finish mode and was only averaging 5.5 mph. About an hour later Josh caught up… we rode together for about 10 minutes, took a couple of photos and off he went… shortly there after Spencer on his single speed… These guys would be the last racers that I would see on the course until the finish 9 hours later. The cold weather and reduced snow machine traffic on this section of the course were a Godsend for Charlie and me who were I believe 2 of the only 3 in the entire bike group who where not riding Pugsleys! I at least had half a Pugsley. The hills in this last section of the race were almost comical at times. In fact, one was so step (I’m not exaggerating on this on) that when I was pushing my 60 lbs of bike up the hill I had placed my forehead on the bars and my feet were a full foot behind the rear tire! This hill was so step that you could see a spot or two where the snow machines had failed to make it up and had to turn around to get another run at it. After reaching the highest point on the course, I heard my cell phone beep (indicating service). This was the first time in the race that I had cell phone service. I stopped to call home… took at least 15 minutes out here on "Wakem Up Hill" (yes thats the name) to enjoy the scenery, eat, drink and look at the finish only 25 miles away! This last section while flat as a pancake and easy rolling is a real yawner!!! I had to stop to walk just to keep from dieing from boredom (and a sore a$$). I will need to rethink my usual liquid diet for this race next year as the boredom of this last section and the boredom of my food selection nearly got the best of me here (the only thing I think that saved me here was a box of tick tacks). If I had been offered a ride during this last section I might have taken it! As with any multi-day race the finish is well more of a deliverance from bondage than a huge fanfare… I finished around 32 hours from the start – 9 hours hanging at the Melgeorges CP, and 16 miles pushing my bike (sometimes out of necessity, other times out of boredom of riding).
There are so many things that happen on this event there is now way I could post them all here... will supply me with good bar conversation for the next year...
Random thoughts about Arrowhead and the participants (racers & volunteers):
- Gateway CP Store, friendliest gas station in the Midwest
- Volunteer at Melgeorges CP#2, best grilled cheese cook in the world! Thanks, without that simple GC I may not have continued… yes, the little things are so appreciated!
- Bar at Bayview Lodge, best cheese burger in MN and great all-around establishment (I had 3 burgers)
- Pierre & Cheryl Ostor, best ran small race I’ve ever participated in – they had to organize an event that spanned 135 miles of remote (and I mean remote) MN boundary waters area, first class check points, rescue services, sleeping accommodations at the finish, transportation, food at both the CP and finish, hand crafted awards… and hundreds of little details that did not go unnoticed. I cannot believe that for the small entry fee that I paid that they accomplished all of this without going broke. I have no complaints! Zero!
- Dave Pramann, most focused racer. Dave next year I’m gunning for ya!
- Dave Gray & Surly, best event sponsor – second year in a row they donated a pugsley frame to the event.
- Phil Finzel, makes skiing Arrowhead look easy… I actually drafted behind him for a couple of miles (I didn’t see no drafting in the rules). He has winter racing down to a science.
- Bria Schurke, I saw her the next morning at the finish, and I’m not sure she actually skied the entire race… she looked much too alive to have spent 53+ hours out there! First woman skier, youngest finisher ever, and I believe the 3rd person to ever finish Arrowhead on skis.
- John Storkamp, new course record holder for the foot category. But the real story here is that his toenails were falling off because of huge nasty blisters at mile 10!!! This is what arrowhead is about, perseverance thought hardship, while this year it was nearly 50d warmer on average this course will still find ways to break even the toughest athletes (but not John)
- Charlie Farrow, The only racer who could turn a 135-mile race into a 165-mile race without getting lost! I mean if Charlie could have kept his bike pointed strait down the trail, he might have won this race. The real award goes to Charlie for his positive attitude he brings with him.
- Dave Simmons, the only guy that can make Pugsley look carbon stylish.
- Don Gabrielson (the navy dude), best conversationalist at the event and most sincere person I’ve meet in a long time. Thanks for helping us all get to know each other better.
- Matthew Maxwell, why would someone who completed this on bike one year decide that this race isn’t difficult enough and want to spend the same amount of time going half the distance on skis… kudos to this years turtle, never give up and never take off those skis (yes he skied the gravel roads – his skis look like someone took an 80 grit belt sander to them with a vengeance).
- Everyone who PAID their entry fee and started this race! This event, whether you finish or not challenges the racers more than any normal human will experience in their life. Those of us who were lucky enough to compete in this event know more about our ability (physical, mentally & spiritually) than 99.99% of the human population. If you happen to meet someone who has participated in this event, buy him or her a drink.
Good luck to the racers (pierre & sarah) who will be going on to compete in some of the other winter races still left!
My gear report:
- Frankenbike: 2/5 stars - well I’d have to say it was better than having two skinny tires, actually given the right snow conditions I might have been in the top 3. The soft snow early on drained me of everything I had… I was running on empty for over 2/3rds of the race due to the snow/rear tire situation (this was a fat tire event).
- Epic Frame Bag: 4/5 stars - If I had a larger frame this bag would have probably gotten 5/5 stars as the larger frame bag has two pockets. The new grommet design was ideal and kept my insulated bottles easily accessible. Later in the race the frame bag became my trash container. I also kept my cash, spare gloves and chem. warmers in here.
- Epic Gas Tank: 5/5 stars - BEST GEAR OF THE RACE! If there is one $55 item that you buy for your long rides is MUST be one of these. I was able to eat without stopping (easily). The double zipper design and huge capacity allowed me to store 8 hours of gel and other items. I didn’t even have to remove my gloves to eat, which was good because with the warm weather my hands started smelling like FEET (PS, eating with your smelly feet is not a pleasant experience).
- Clothes: 3/5 stars - well my single layer system was…well… HOT, I sweated like a pig being roasted over an open pit BBQ. I will have to give it credit that even soaking wet I stayed warm at -10d. I didn’t see any colder temps than that, and I know from early rides that it’s toasty to -35. For next year, I’ll have another suit made with a thinner version of the high tech foam, just incase it’s a warm one like this year.
- Lake Shoes: 5/5 stars - I bought a pair the correct size a month before the race, and ended up giving them to my wife. If you’re serious about using them in cold temps you have to buy them two metric sizes bigger (which I did a week before the event) to allow for thick socks and circulation room. Never were my feet cold and I didn’t even use warmers in them (with one exception that with my broken foot I was concerned about swelling and circulation on the second part of the coarse, so just to be safe I used warmers on the last half. The ratcheting system on these shoes is the best I have ever used (nothing even comes close). The tread is soft and affords the best traction possible (I modified mine with pliers and nails for improved traction on ice). All I wore for socks was a pair of Smart Wool snow shoe socks (two pairs - one to change in to at the half way CP).
- Polar insulated bottles: 5/5 stars – they did what they were supposed to do. Kept my liquids thaw’d for 10 hours at a time. No leaks, no issues, good product. I carried 4 of these total.
- Camel back: 4/5 stars – this was a modified 100 oz camelback, the stock ones just aren’t suited well for this kind of racing. I modified mine to have a Y fitting allowing me to have two insulated hoses. Worked great as one of the hoses froze and I didn’t have to stop to deal with it until the checkpoint. Other modifications that I made were two internal insulated holders for two more polar bottles.