Arrowhead 2018 Galleries and Racer Blogs
Lots of good articles, blogs, and photo galleries.
Article in Duluth News Tribune.
Article in StarTribune.
Photo gallery by Burgess Eberhardt.
Photo gallery by David Markman.
Blog post by Sveta Vold.
Blog post by Huge Holstein.
Blog post by Ashley Heclo.
Blog post by Jacklyn Carlson-Hayes.
Blog post by James Kiffmeyer.
Blog post by Travis Van Neste.
Blog post by Back of the Pack Racing (BPR).
Blog post by Alex Elizabeth Eichman.
Blog post by Daniel Slater.
Blog post by Ben Doom.
Blog post by Christopher Tassava.
Blog post by Whitney Beadle.
Blog post by Erv Berglund.
Blog post by KariAnn Gibbons. She and Kate Coward did ‘the double’.
Blog post by Joel Swenson.
Blog post by Bonnie “Yeti” Busch.
Album of all finishers below. Some notes:
- These are in picture time order, not finish order.
- Not all finishers had pics taken, sorry about that…
- If you would like full-sized versions of these, let me know (via Contact Us page).
Once again an Old Man’s Look at The ArrowHead 135 — 2018
by Erv Berglund
On January 12, 2017, I had crashed on a training ride and broke my right femur. Entries to the AH135 and Su100 were cancelled. My new Fatback Corvus was idled. Seven weeks immobilized didn’t help leg strength but I started spinning in the gym when the doc cleared me and spent the summer biking, working/hunting in the woods, and whatever so the leg pains slowly diminished.
September was the month of decisions. Do I commit myself to the ArrowHead 135 on January 29, 2018? I would be 75 years old and many of the participants could be my kids or grandkids. I had finished two of four entries earlier so this was my (last?) chance to finish more than half of my starts — a self-set goal with no rationale behind it. My wife (Sue) shrugged her shoulders, reminded me of my age, and the race commitment was made. After all, as my son Sven would say, “Dad, just think of it as a pretty ride in the woods!”
Conditioning for the race starts after deer hunting and could simply be summed up as being a gym rat with a few outdoor rides at Elm Creek and Lake Rebecca Parks near the Twin Cities. I created a spread sheet of workout routines (42) x days. Christmas holidays in Costa Rica and my wife’s eye surgery day were the only breaks. A set of 10 upper body routines each day followed by a mix of the other routines were adequate to basket-case me for the day. Less time was spent on the spinning bikes but my heart dropped to a resting rate of 52. The body was ready. Fretting time for the mind was at hand.
Trying to match up the attire to the variable weather forecast was a challenge. A major concern was the warning that there would be no dryer facilities available at the checkpoints. Excessive sweat could defeat me. My final prescription for survival from the skin outwards was wool-based:
Feet — light weight wool liner sock / Seal Skin sock / toe warmer / heavy weight hand knit wool sock / 600 gram Cabela hunting boot / pair of Neos Explorer overshoes;
Lower body — hind end lubricant (Desitin and Chamois lube) / SmartWool shorts / Wiggy’s nylon fishnet underwear / bib bike shorts / light weight SmartWool long underwear / and Novara biking pants;
Upper body — wool fishnet top / SmartWool midweight top / Patagonia heavy weight wool zip-T neck top / light weight IceBreaker wool top (came off at first shelter) / 8 year old North Face biking jacket / reflector vest;
Head — a double wool layered biking hat by Pace with ear covering and bill / SmartWool balaclava / helmet.
Hands — SmartWool liner gloves / Dogwood Designs pogies / hand warmers accordingly
Lighting — front and rear tail light with a head lamp screwed to the helmet and wired to batteries under my jacket.
Water — two 1-liter Nalgenes in insulated covers. One with two Endurolyte Fizz tabletsand the other water. A Camelback with 1-liter buried under layers on my back for emergency use only (never needed it; will omit it next time).
I walked part of the trail the day before and it was hard with no chance of it softening in the forecast. Dillinger tires were set hard at 16 psi and left as such throughout the race. The race was to be cold with fresh breezes from the W-NW to bring it to the point of possibly being bitter but, being a tail wind, it was just called “cold”. Frostbite would be an issue. Wind switch on Tuesday with snow could change trail conditions.
Monday 07h00 — A wonderful start with fireworks — a very neat touch. Thanks AH135 Committee! The trail was hard and NO PUSHING was needed to get to the Gateway General Store, our first checkpoint. The new GGS owners had a lot of hot food available and I focused on the big bowl of goulash — wonderful folks.
The trip to MelGeorge got hillier as the route progressed with two monster hills (mile 62? and 67?) before getting out on the flats across Elephant Lake. In at 18h36. Warmth. Hot bean soup. Wonderful volunteers. Why would you want to leave? Spread out gear to dry/warm up. I had a couple bowls of Idahoan mashed potatoes (from my drop bag). Hit the spot. I hurried and left with Leah Gruhn at 21h03. Hour and a half out it dawned on me (I looked at my feet) that I had forgotten my Neos overshoes hanging on the MelGeorge banister. Bad omen. Had to continue.
Lot of hills and bottomland flowages. Definitely cooler microclimate in the bottoms. Feet started cooling so I sat in the trail to add toe warmers. By the time I was done my hands were a mess. Leah came along and zipped up my jacket and got my helmet set to go — yes, frostbite on the fingers. Leah and I were falling asleep on our bikes so we pulled over and bivied for 3-4 hours of sleep. Hands in armpits didn’t correct damage to the finger tips. At dawn we continued on. After 2-3 hours I realized I wasn’t eating because the hands were too cold to take out of the pogies so I forced myself to eat some cheese/bacon balls. It helped.
Surly Checkpoint — cussed by many but a joy to reach at 11h32! Less than fancy but heat in the tent and knowing it was only 24 miles to go. At 11h45 the wind picked up from the SE and snow came horizontally. I needed the heat so I stayed until 13h11 but Leah headed out soon after arriving to get a jump on the snow. One monstrous hill (Wake-um-up) with cutting wind and snow and then 22 miles of flat black spruce swamp — the preferred lair of the ever feared Bog Troll.
Stunted black spruce. Drifting squeaky snow. Lurking Bog Trolls. Solitude. Pushing in more open areas where the wind was too brutal. The last little hill at the finish line was softened by snow machines and I had to push it.
A FINISHER!!! You betcha. Tuesday, 18h43. 35h26 total + 15 minute penalty for forgetting my Neos overshoes at MelGeorges = 35h41 recorded! I was happy with it — heck, at my age I would have been happy with 59h59!!
- Thanks to Ken and Jackie Kreuger, Dave Praman, and the whole volunteer staff for putting on a great race.
- Thanks to the Gateway General Store for so kindly handling the mob.
- The frostbite on my fingers — trying to understand why my Dogwood Design pogies were not adequate.
- One issue could be that I’m too old and blood flow is lessened to the hands — naw, couldn’t be that.
- A difference from other years is that instead of relying on chemical “hand warmers” I opted to use 12 hour chemical “body warmers”. These may have longer duration BUT the heat output may be less and not adequate to overcome the low temperature exposure.
- The most exciting part of the “pretty ride in the woods” was coming in to each checkpoint and the finish with dry clothes. Wool is wonderful.
- Not having hot chocolate at the Surly tent (to make the race “tougher”) was a rub the wrong way.
Had a great time at Arrowhead 135, the race went well and I’m enjoying some rest after a long night in -20s weather. We were certain this would be a “warm” year, but the weather wasn’t made aware of that. Lowest on my Garmin was -29, others saw under -30, definitely not the -10 we expected from forecasts. Really appreciated what I learned at Tuscobia this year, I was pushed to the edge but in the end all went well.
Left International Falls at 7am, temp was -11, we thought that was our low of the race. The ride to Gateway was pretty uneventful, relatively flat and a fast hard packed trail. My right knee had started to hurt before the race and continued to cause pain. Only spent a short time at the first checkpoint.
The second section has some hills, but nothing serious. Saw a group of whitetail playing on the trail, and ended at Melgeorge Resort after crossing the lake at a beautiful time of day. At this point I was getting a bit exhausted, and the next section is by far the longest and hardest of the race. So I spent a few hours resting and rehydrating. During the hills I found my bike was starting to fight shifting to higher gears, turns out a bolt was the the wrong way and was now bent. Didn’t have the needed tools, so would have to live with it. My knee felt better when walking, so figured the hills we had to walk wouldn’t be too bad.
Leaving Melgeorge my knee really started to cause severe pain. I debated going back, but it’s a pain I’ve had before and has often went away, so I just kept going. The hills are crazy, straight up and straight down. Miles of pushing the bike up the worst of them. At the top I would have to lift the rear tire and spin the crank while pulling the derailleur into higher gear, not easy with 60+lb bike… Going down was a blast, but bombing downhill at 3am using a headlight wasn’t exactly safe I suppose. And the windchill going 25mph at around -28 was bone chilling. My Garmin hasn’t been working for mileage, so no idea when the Surly checkpoint was coming, hills just kept showing up.
Finally got to Surly checkpoint, just a teepee out in the woods. But they had a fire and water, so great to get resettled and ready for final 24 miles. There is just one big hill after Surly, then flat to the finish. But much is out in the open, so the wind at my face started to give me a bad chill. I figured I’d just create heat, and hit the gas as much as possible. I thought that would leave me wasted at the finish, but still felt pretty good when I crossed the line. Toes were right on the edge, but I walked every little bit to warm them up and prevent frostbite.
Lots of severe frostbite so far, a couple will get ER visits, and those are just the finishers. I’m hearing of lots of other frostbite at the checkpoints, so a very nasty year in that regard. An unexpected deep cold really created some dangerous conditions. Glad I was able to avoid most of it after what I got from Tuscobia, just got my nose again.
My buddy Pete is still on the course, so watching his progress and hoping he does well. Will be good to head back home after a long sleep tonight.
Thanks for all the well wishes and cheering, was very much appreciated!
Tired – Hungry – Nauseous – Sore – Emotional – Grateful – Humble – Astonished – Confident – Warm – Loved – Inspired – Pushed – Determined – Like a pedal stroke over and over in my head.
I’ve been home now for almost 4 days:
The Jeep is unpacked FINALLY
I didn’t take out my bike until yesterday
The laundry just got finished
I just washed and have yet to fold my race clothing
#Otso is stipped of all remnants of a survival machine
I’m sad just thinking about it
“A life that lives is life successful” – Jack London
Everyone’s why is different, why would I do such a thing? Why would ANYONE hang out in sub-zero temps for multiple days, exposed to the elements, pack enough gear to sustain life for multiple days at sub zero temps, to cover 135 miles in solitude, just to see a finish line? Lets have coffee, I’d love to explain. What I love most, is when surrounded by 166 survivalists, I don’t need to explain, because they already know, I also empathize when their dreams are disrupted.
I knew planning as a rookie would be all encompassing; so many factors to consider, so many options to test, so many uncontrollable factors. The mental game is real and having the ability to overcome and think clearly in solitude for survival is paramount, the ultimate reward… crossing the finish line.
“We learn from failure, and achieve greater successes” – Yoda This season I did have my first DNF. I learned, challenged my fear, understood my limits, and turned the page. ty Jayme Kjeldahl Zylstra
A decent start at -16Fish actually felt good. My partner, Paula, and I rode from the hotel which was about 2 miles away (what was another 2 when your doing 135). The start was dark but the sunrise gave way to beautifully snow kissed trees and landscapes, every turn a prayer in our heart for the amazing sites, and ability to participate in the Arrowhead Ultra, toe-ing the line with some of the most extreme hard core people in the WORLD. Yes, people come from all over the world. We met people from the UK, Canada, Geneva, and even Florida is another world in comparison.
Its humbling to believe I was accepted. Something like this rookies need to qualify. A race resume, an adventure resume, and even a training schedule needs to be submitted and considered. I have never done an ultra before. I was half prepared for my name to be omitted from the roster. Then I could get on with my life and go back to my everyday tasks. However, my application was accepted and things started to get real… real fast. I had 4 months to prepare.
I took photos and videos of clothing options, tested food options, ate the highest calorie foods, tested hydration systems, chemical warmers combos, bike gear, bags, sleeping arrangements, heart rates, footwear, pumps, tools, snow conditions, tires & tire pressures, the list goes on. test test test test… I rode my bike, and I walked for miles, in preparation just in case I had a mechanical. I did hill repeats pushing my bike up the biggest hills I could find, for hours.
My cup was full of preparation, forgetting one vital item could be the end of it.
There is a lot that goes through a person’s head when you are in the woods for almost 2 days. I tried to be in the moment for all of it. Not looking ahead, or thinking about tomorrow but in the NOW, right now. I had pains, real pains. They started here, moved there, went to this place in my body then to that place. I knew I was prepared and had support of countless loved ones at home watching my blue dot and I am thankful. I didn’t need to worry about anything going on at home; my reality was exactly where I was, I choose this and I loved it. Every stinking last inch of it. I LOVED IT!
At Surly (mile 114ish), I was painfully ill, my stomach pains outweighed my exhaustion or anything else, likely keeping me awake. Meeting Greg was all I could handle and I sobbed. There was NO doubt I was going to see the finish. It was dark, we had been riding for 2 days and this was the start of the 2nd night. How long was it going to take us to finish the last 20 miles? One person said 6 hours, another said 4 hours… Part of me was ready to see the finish but so much more of me didn’t want this to end… to live in the exact moment I was blessed to be in.
At every checkpoint, everyone one we met up with said we looked amazing and strong. I like looking at the photos, because you know what… we did look good, strong, and determined. Thats exactly what we were, DETERMINED. As rookies the finisher rate is as low as 25%. We overcame the odds. We finished Arrowhead, one of the 3 hardest races in the world. We did it together. “Finish lines are better shared” and I’m grateful Paula’s family, Paula and Greg were all there to share in this humbling experience. I watched this documentary today: The Frozen Road https://vimeo.com/252863313
At the end of the video, Ben Page stated, “I realized finish lines are better shared.” I’m so thankful we were there together.
Since being home, I have been able to finally spend time with my neglected family cuddling on the couch watching movies and sitting under warm fuzzy blankets. I missed them while training months prior, and this week racing. This made me personally acknowledge how important it is to spend time with them when you can, as you never know what tomorrow will bring.
PS – when riding for long hours and hours, the lady parts can get quite tender. Some may feel being a “Girl” is tough since you have to remove every layer of clothing to relive yourself. Trust me I did this like 1000 times. The freezing cold air felt amazing… BUT you know what felt even more amazing – FROZEN CHAMMY CREAM. Probably the most amazing of all the experiences. hahahahaha true story 🙂 sorry… no photos folks
Special thanks to #southlakecycle and James Buddenbaum for getting my #otsovoytek in perfect condition; to Dan Dittmer & Ken Zylstra for all the advice, equipment & #revelatedesigns your gear was destined to make it to the finish; to Anna Vig for supporting my business while I was absent, the Hellians and “God Muthas” Cheryl Barker Dana Buddenbaum Tina Olson Susan Hill Janet Frank Atkinsonand the rest of you for watching and cheering my blue dot, get ready for camp its right around the corner, to Ken and Jacki Krueger for accepting a rookie in the #arrowheadultra and David-Mary Pramann for stepping up as race director and asking the right questions at Tuscobia, Paula for being a guardian angel along the way and the best riding partner a gal could ask for, for all of you for making it this far through this loooooong post, but hey it was a long ride, and finally my husband Greg for supporting my crazy ideas and being at the finish to catch me.
Generally I wouldn’t write anything about a DNF due to the nature of what it is. But something about winter ultras is different. Special and scary all at the same time.
A month before the Arrowhead 135 I strongly considered contacting Ken and dropping out. I was having issues with an ankle, and then the other foot. I cut way back on my planned mileage for that last month and in hindsight basically quit training. Just because I wasn’t running didn’t mean I shouldn’t be doing SOMETHING.
The reasons for having to drop revolved around this lack of training. Yes, it was the cold weather Monday night and the fear of frostbite in my hands that led me to drop but the slow pace that created that problem and the inability to keep my core tempature up was all due to lack of training and I take responsibility for not working hard enough. I took last year for granted. Sure I struggled and it was hard but I finished and never had any real issues.
I knew I was in trouble this year before I got to the first turn at 9 miles. I went with bottles carried on my person this year (mistake 1) and they were already starting to freeze shut. I was barely 3 hours in. I grabbed an extra pair of mittens and covered them. This worked for awhile but I also didn’t close the top of one properly after refilling it and quickly had a sheet of ice down the right side of my body (mistake 2). I made it to the railroad tracks in 5 hours or so (slower than last year) and I was seeing a lot of people that I hadn’t seen until well into the second day last year. I couldn’t stop thinking about how slowly I was moving compared to what I had done last year and how much slower I was bound to get.
I got stuck in my head and was in a really negative place from very early on. A terrible way to be in such an environment. (Mistake 3.) Again, I have to say this was a training issue. The mental toughness that is gained from back to back long runs just wasn’t there.
I shuffled into Gateway after the sun had gone down and about an hour slower than last year. I was done. I had committed to dropping at Gateway and had convinced myself that I wasn’t safe continuing. An hour and a half later, I had talked myself into going back out. I put on practically every layer I had (mistake 4) and left Gateway feeling better and that maybe I could make it to Melgeorge.
A few miles in and the negativity started again. I got stuck on it again and couldn’t drag myself out. I got slower, colder (I had started to sweat unknowingly, because of leaving Gateway with far too many layers on) and generally just miserable. I couldn’t feel my hands for long periods of time and I stopped the next snowmobile to find out how far I was from Sheep Ranch Rd. I was dropping out but I wanted to at least get there. “About 4 miles” he said. I looked at the clock on his snowmobile. 12:34am. I felt defeated. 4 miles would take me another three hours at the turtle pace I was going. I asked him to come pick me up on his next trip down the trail. I told him I would continue moving until then and to not make me a priority.
About 30 minutes later I got my snowmobile ride. A few hours of sitting in Todd’s nice warm vehicle and then finally a warm ride to Melgeorge, where Marcus Berggren and I snuggled up on the couch for a few hours and did what we could to rally our friends to continue where we did not.
There are so many incredible things about the Arrowhead 135. The trail, the solitude, the perseverance. But mostly it’s the people you meet. Ultras are special but winter Ultras are so much more. I can’t explain it.
You’ll just have to go try for yourself. Alex Elizabeth Bonnie Busch Lourdes Gutierrez-Kellam Lester Ken Krueger John Storkamp Jon Paradowski Ed Thomas and everyone I forgot to mention. You’re the reason I’ll be sending an application in again on October first.
Oh yeah, training started Sunday.
The Arrowhead 135… you think about it for months, drive your spouse crazy talking about it, obsess about gear, chat with your dorky biking friends about equipment, pacing strategy, gear ratios, blah blah blah. Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. I’ve been thinking about the Arrowhead 135 since September, when John Hoch brought it up… “you want a REAL challenge? Look at doing the Arrowhead” When I looked into it The Arrowhead 135 sort of went in the mental “someday” file. I was intrigued, but the roster was full, had been for quite a while at that point. Also, you needed a qualifying race in order to even apply for the race. I started to set my sights on the Tuscobia 80, to later qualify for the Tuscobia 160, to take a shot at the Arrowhead… someday. Fast forward to mid January – I had somehow talked my way into the long version of Tuscobia with a carefully crafted email, managed to finish it in one piece, and enough time had passed to take the edge off some of the more painful memories. I was hooked on long distance winter racing (how the hell did that happen?). On a whim, I sent an email to the Arrowhead 135 organizers asking if there was a waiting list for 2018. Just an innocent question – isn’t that how it always starts? I didn’t really expect a response, and certainly not this one:
“We’ve had an unusual number of early cancellations this year. You have until gear check ends on Sunday to decide if you want to race in one of the greatest races on earth or stay home and wish you were here.”
Take Care, Ken Kruger
Seriously? I guess someday may be coming sooner than I thought. Not sure I’m ready, especially so soon after Tuscobia, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to make a few ‘soft’ inquiries…. “I’m just going to look into this a little”, I told Wendy Wolk Van Neste
The Arrowhead 135 starts in International Falls, Minnesota and follows the Arrowhead State Snowmobile Trail to the Fortune Bay Casino in Tower, MN. The thought of thumbing a ride back north afterward, or taking a couple of hours taxi ride back to the start to get my vehicle definitely did not appeal, and my one of a kind wife Wendy Wolk Van Neste was not able to be the faithful race companion / support team for this event because of work obligations.
Enter Woody Preacher / Back of the Pack Racing. Woody had responded to an inquiry I made on the Arrowhead 135 Dream Team Facebook group. Yes, he would be happy to pick me up at Fortune Bay Casino and give me a ride to the start. Sure, he could show me around, help with logistics, share their hotel room (which was about 500 feet from the starting line), get my bag back to the finish line, give me a ride to gear check, the prerace meeting, out to dinner with his crew, etc. etc. etc. I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t sure that I could stay home with this V.I.P. hookup being offered. Also along for the ride is James Kiffmeyer and Peter Witucki, some of the best guys you could meet. Peter will go on to win his division (kick sled) on his rookie attempt – way to rock it Peter! James will finish 25th on his rookie bike ride, despite some mechanical problems.
Anyway, that’s the long answer to the short question “How did I get here?” Standing on the starting line on Monday morning with 167 other bikers, runners, and skiers (many of whom will never be strangers again), fireworks lighting the sky, and the mayor of International Falls giving the traditional call “Release the Hounds” was a very emotional experience. I can’t quite get my head around what it is I’m about to do here – the mileage, the temperatures, any of it. An adventure, by definition, is a journey without a known outcome. After months of daydreaming and preparation, it was time to fully embrace that unknown.
Let me first say that this year’s arrowhead would be considered an “easy” year. It had been warm (even raining) just a few days before, then the trail was groomed just as the temperature was dropping, leaving a perfectly set up course which was the fatbiking equivalent to a paved roadway – smooth and fast. With -15 Fahrenheit at the start, the track should hold up pretty good too. Despite my best efforts to take it easy at the start, I roll out fast. Most everyone rolls out too fast, you just can’t help yourself. Some of my new friends roll past, including some of ‘Back of the Pack’ guys. J.B. and Jesse Ramsey on his borrowed Surly Ice Cream Truck – each chasing down a new single speed division record “That’s not really a thing,” Jesse says, “but we say it is” (‘We’ being ‘Back of the Pack Racing’ – a traveling band of good-natured misfits from various states who represent all good things cycling). I Love the B.P.R. logo, with the text “Dead last doesn’t mean loser”. Nice sentiment, but as I watch them disappear over the horizon, I doubt that either of them have finished last, ever.
The first 35 miles goes by very fast, a blur of easy rolling hills, people ringing cowbells at road crossings, and photographers on the course. I arrive at the first timing checkpoint at about 11:00 am. The Gateway General Store is an iconic part of the Arrowhead. Inside, there are several crock pots with soup, mac and cheese, plus all of the usual gas station / convenience store / bait shop fare. Locals, racers, and race volunteers crowd inside around a large TV with the Trackleaders live tracking shown on it. I wasn’t able to get a tracker for this event because of my late entry, but its mesmerizing to watch all the little dots making thier way along the map. I stayed only about 20 minutes – long enough to de-ice my beard and goggles and refill my camelback. No sense trying to dry anything else, I’m soaking wet but my new favorite wool jacket is doing the trick nicely. I had learned from Tuscobia that freezing the liquid inside my Camelbak tube was a common and serious problem, and this time I had a few more tricks up my sleeve – literally. With the drinking tube run down my sleeve, and the bite valve poking out into my ‘Pogie’ (a handlebar mounted mini-shelter for your hands) It should protect it from freezing, especially with a chemical heater shoved in each pogie. So far so good. Also a ‘Hydro Heater’ got added to my gear since Tuscobia, which is a heavily insulated drink tube with a small heating element inside the hose. Pushing the magic button heats the element for 10 minutes. Up to this point, haven’t needed it – fingers crossed.
The next checkpoint, at 72 miles, is at Melgeorge’s resort on the opposite side of Elephant Lake. Pace is slowing slightly, as the hills are getting bigger. Not quite walking up yet, but close. In addition to the nicely groomed trail, there is a 2 foot wide ribbon of perfectly packed snow, making descents of nearly 25 mph possible despite the heavy load on the handlebars. Still having fun of the ‘Type 1’ variety on these roller coaster hills – “Is this what it is all about, or what?” I have to ask myself. I get to Elephant Lake, and make the mile long crossing at a gorgeous time of day, with very little wind. I bet this is brutal if its really blowing. I pass J.B. on the spur trail on the way to the checkpoint – he is heading back the other way to get a cheeseburger at the restaurant I bet, which is a part of his annual ritual / race plan that he had shared with me the night before. The Melgeorge’s checkpoint is a great little log cabin – as long as you have not elected to race in the ‘unsupported’ division, you are welcome inside. During the time I was there, several unsupported racers elected to come inside, selling their soul for a grilled cheese sandwich, some soup, and a few minutes respite from the cold. They can’t keep their ribbon that indicates an unsupported racer, but they stay in the race. Most everyone is in great spirits, especially the volunteers, who are wonderful hosts, I must say. I arrived at 4:45, got some food, and tried to nap, in an attempt to avoid the fiasco of a late night bivy. I left around 5:30, right as the sun was setting. I wasn’t really able to sleep, so I’m not sure if my nap attempt will pay of or if it was just a waste of time. “The pay is the same either way”, I tell myself.
Over half way finished – no problem. The Arrowhead course can be thought of in thirds…. flat, hilly, flat again. At this point, I was partway through the hilly section. I’m not familiar with the course, but how bad can it get, right? Look on the bright side – I always enjoy the first few hours of darkness, and this night was turning out to be incredible. Full moon, clear and cold – exactly what a night on the trail is supposed to be all about. The field of riders is pretty stretched out by now, only passing people about once or twice an hour. Because of the hills, my pace is really starting to drop off now. I find a fully loaded fatbike a fairly unwieldy machine to do any standing climbing on, and about half of these hills require walking up as a result. No problem – plenty other people have walked up in front of me. A fully loaded fatbike is also a pretty unwieldy thing to push uphill, so the terrain is starting to really take its toll on my pace. Mileage coming off SO slowly. 80 miles down – 55 to go. Now 85 miles down – 50 to go. The hills keep coming, and they are definitely not getting smaller. The first few walking climbs were kind of a power walk up, with a modified “flying mount” at the top – cyclocross style. Step into the left pedal, push down and swing right leg over in a nice smooth motion… Easy. Efficient. Graceful. After what seems like a few hundred dismounts / remounts its becoming far less graceful and less efficient however. Also, I’m pretty sure that its much colder than predicted. My ice beard is about twice the size it has ever been, and my sleeves are covered in ice. I’ve had to hit the magic button on the Hydro Heater a few times now. Works great. Trying hard not to look at the mileage, because nothing good will come of that, but I can’t help it… 91 miles, then 91.5, then 91.57 (that rounds to 96 right?) so there’s how many miles left? 29? No, 39! (wait – did I do that right…. Maybe I’d better look again, because I’m sure there’s fewer miles to go now). And…GPS is dead – battery finally froze I guess. Screw you, Garmin, you didn’t have any good news for me anyway. Okay, so around 15 miles to get to checkpoint three – the Surly Teepee is at 110 miles. Things are finally starting to get interesting. This is where it all happens. In some way I’ve been looking forward to this moment for a month. The exhaustion of the last 14 hours of riding catches up to me, right at the same time that everything with a battery in it has died. My ability to mentally fend off the cold, and focus on positive thoughts starts to dwindle, and thus begins the inevitable meltdown. Hello Darkness my old friend…
I’ve been here before, I know what this feels like, and I know logically that I can get past it, no matter how I’m feeling right now. I just have to make it 10 or so miles to the next checkpoint – I won’t allow myself to think beyond that. But how many more of these hills are there going to be in the next 10 miles I wonder? Partway up the steepest one yet, holding both brakes for a momentary rest, I’m bent over with my head against the handlebars, breathing hard, generally wallowing in self pity at this point (holy mackerel this bonk came on fast). I know if I stand here too long like this, my breath will hopelessly ice up my goggles. So instead I lean back, sending a whimpering groan skyward. Head filled thoughts of how long this race is, and how small I am… and right at that moment, a meteor goes by, streaking toward the horizon. No way I would have seen it without a skyward glance right at that moment. What an amazing place the universe is!
Okay I’m done – positive thoughts only from here on out. How many people wanted to be here but couldn’t? I was blessed with a late entry, logistics that just fell into place, a whole bunch of awesome new friends, not to mention my health, an understanding boss, an understanding spouse… How many people are even capable of doing this at all? That’s right, now I remember. Luckiest man in the world, just to be here is amazing. This race, in fact, the entire concept of ultra racing, is a celebration of human resilience, so let’s start acting like it, dude. One pedal stroke at a time – no matter how long it takes. I’ll get there.
It is starting to set in that I’m going to have to bivy. I just can’t seem to teach my body to live without sleep this long. That stinks, because the transition from iced over clothing to bivy sack and back again is brutal at these temperatures, so my plan is to defrost at the Surly Teepee and then roll out the bivy sack. Right after the teepee is “Wakemup Hill”. I’m not familiar with the course, but usually hills worthy of being named are NOT small. That sounds like a project to take on after a nice nap. Get to the Surly Teepee and bivy – no other option at this point. Last I talked to someone with a working GPS, there was 8 miles to go. That was probably an hour ago, so it’s got to be around the next bend.
Probably 15 bends later, I see the four tiki torches lighting the way to the teepee. I can’t believe I actually made it. Boy am I glad to be here. 12:30 am – what a night! I kind of fall into the teepee, nice and warm in there. JB is there – cooking a ham steak on the top of the glowing woodstove, and someone else is reheating a six inch diameter ball which I’m told is four pieces of pizza. Whitney Beadle, who would go on to be the second place female, was there getting her wits about her after a dehydrated stupor of a few hours. They all finish their culinary delights and disappear into the night.
After finally getting dry I head to the other side of the trail and roll out the bivy sack. So nice to be dry, and doing this in a somewhat controlled fashion, rather than the panicked dive in method like last time. I think I managed to get about 2 hours of sleep before waking up with my feet FREEZING. It turns out it was -29 F during my little nap – no wonder. Feels almost like cheating to have a nice warm tent available to repack my gear, but hey, you have to work with the resources you have available under the rules. I refilled my Camelbak before heading out. The menu at Surly Teepee consists of ice water, warm water, or hot water. I’ll take warm please – its about 6am before I finally roll out.
Wakemup Hill was really no worse than most of the other hills of the last several miles… and it’s the LAST ONE. Course turns out to be flat as a pancake thereafter. Something like 24 miles to go. Somewhere between 3 and 5 hours of riding, most of it heading east into an amazing sunrise complete with a sundog on the north side. 24 easy miles isn’t as much fun as it was yesterday at this hour. Occasionally I stop to walk, just to change things up a little, warm up my feet, and try to stretch out. The refreshing qualities of my little nap have worn off completely at this point. At a major trail intersection there is a map, which I can’t make heads or tails of, which is pretty embarrassing since I’m a surveyor – I must be out of it worse than I thought. I finally give up and figure I’ll get there when I get there, eventually coming to a sign – Fortune Bay Casino…wait for it… 2 MILES AWAY! I can hardly believe it! 20 minutes of riding and I’ll be finished. Now I’ve got all the energy in the world. Here comes the last few rolling hills… the orange snowfence… the final climb, some volunteers with cowbells! and just like that, the Arrowhead 135 is a memory. 26 hours 57 minutes. wow
56 finishers in the bike division – 17 drops. All of them heroes in my book. Temps down to -29 Fahrenheit. I’ve always thought these people were crazy – and now I’m one of them. Almost 2 weeks to Actif Epica – the last in the triple crown. Definitely considering it. Decisions, Decisions.
And by the way, the man, the myth, the legend Woody Preacher wins the Shackleton Award – on course for almost 44 hours unsupported! Jesse Ramsey was the first finisher on a single speed – missing the record by just a few minutes, despite riding about 5 ‘bonus miles’. What a beast. The people at these events is what makes the experience. Thanks again Woody for introducing me to your BPR family.