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!!

In retrospect:

  1. Thanks to Ken and Jackie Kreuger, Dave Praman, and the whole volunteer staff for putting on a great race.
  2. Thanks to the Gateway General Store for so kindly handling the mob.
  3. The frostbite on my fingers — trying to understand why my Dogwood Design pogies were not adequate.
    1. One issue could be that I’m too old and blood flow is lessened to the hands — naw, couldn’t be that.
    2. 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. 
  4. 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.
  5. Not having hot chocolate at the Surly tent (to make the race “tougher”) was a rub the wrong way.