Thursday, April 21, 2011

If only Macguyver had ever eaten scat

Desperate for something to write about I resolved to ride my into town (with trailer in tow) and get a bag of grain for our chickens. According to the man at the mill who loaded the grain on my bike trailer, that was a first for him. I'm now famous.

Speaking of fame, my blog post The joys of eating Scat is still one of my most famous currently in fourth place as judged by number of pageviews as counted in the "stats" part of the blog (supplied by Blogger). Part of the stats show how people got to my blog: what words they used to search with (a blatent end of sentence preposition. The Jonases would be appalled). Though it doesn't tell the exact page that was hit, according to Blogger a search for the words "scat eat" resulted in a hit. I hope they were trying to get to this blog. And if they weren't they've got issues.

Looking at the stats of this blog is interesting. For example in the last week this blog has had three hits from Puerto Rico. I've had at least one from Papua New Guinea. Don't get me wrong, those hits are great, and I definitely appreciate them. I must say that they're a bit unexpected though.

As you have probably gathered by now I have almost nothing to write about and am pretty much just pulling stuff out of my ass and writing about it here.

This reminds me of Tug-or-war (think "pulling" and if you don't then it could be kinda a gross connection between the two) which can be seen here in pretty much the awesomest way imaginable. Awesome in the kind of way that makes you want to go right out and buy a new set of tires while burning as much fuel as possible while using a big expensive machine in almost totally pointless ways. But they left cool tire tracks and that alone is worth the expense...just ask the woman whose voice we hear at the end of the video.

I heard these guys were impressed:

The truck tug-of-war seems pointless and silly kinda like this picture of an outdoor hockey rink taken in August:

Now since I mentioned silly, here's a picture of me in the DDD winter race once I got to Dyersville and after I had walked 30 of the 40 miles to get there. This picture fairly accurately tells the tale. And the "Runners" number is ironic considering that I just spent the better part of 12 hours getting here mostly on foot. However it does not capture my feeling at that point that if I ever have to push a fucking bike again I will do my best to gnaw the bike frame apart with my teeth and/or tear it apart at the welds with my Jedi skills and a sawzall.

In case you are wondering why on earth I would keep on going just watch this music video by Macguyver (I think they look similar anyway. And when I watched the video I knew it was blog-worthy by the Star Wars-type music).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

2k: You'll take what I give you!

Well, I had been telling myself that if the number of pageviews of this blog went over 2,000 I would write some more. Well, lo and behold, it did go over 2,000 a while back but I haven't been riding my bike much or done anything cool (depending on how one defines "cool" I guess). So I have been delaying writing another post until I do something cool/foolish on my bike. That wasn't happening so now I have to write about how I have nothing to write about. In fact, the most exciting thing that I have done is watch steam rise off of the maple sap I was boiling down to syrup:

Scratch that, I forgot about how earth-shatteringly cool this moment was:

Well, now I have the problem of what on earth to call this blog since Arrowhead is over for this year. Maybe this one: "I'll Write Whatever the Hell I Please". Or possibly this related one (that I could dedicate to the septogenarianic (one less decade than an octogenarian) school lunch lady, Charlotte, from my high school): "You'll Take What I Give You!" But then again, nobody is forcing you to read this (or starving you if you don't) and you could simply navigate your browser to this if you don't like what I'm giving you. Speaking of pet videos (which I wasn't, but that last link was to one), while looking at them on youtube I ran across this one which would be disturbing enough if it was just a kitten beating up on a rabbit half it's size. But it's even more disturbing because it's named "white kitten Vs white bunny! (Very Funny video!)" Funny? As far as I can tell nothing funny ever happens in this video. Unless the makers think that pushing around things that can't defend themselves is funny. But I'm off on a fit of seriousness and will try to reign myself in since this is America and we all know that we don't take anything seriously except Glenn Beck.

Well I'm not sure if y'all remember back in this post from January 13th about the woman nearly suffocating a child with her buttocks while riding along:

Maybe the child is breathing sort of like a swimmer that has to turn his head to get air at the right time (in this case I would think that it may be during the downstroke). But then again it could be worse:

We've all heard about the dangers of texting while driving....

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Believe it or not the race actually was fun. I can say that easily now that it's over.

But no, joking aside it really was a good time...especially the first half (most of the second half was 3rd dregree fun). I'm glad it's over though. Maybe it's kinda like brushing your teeth: it really isn't that much fun while it's happening but you're better for it afterwards. Well I suppose this metaphor would be better if tooth brushing lasted a minimum of 16 hours and was done at -35.

The majority public opinion about us Arrowhead participants is that we're crazy. And why in the hell would we do this? Not really an easy question to answer. Most of us have probably been asked why we do this and have developed short answers that seem to satisfy most people enough. Mine is “Yes I wholeheartedly agree that I'm crazy. I have no idea why I do it.” This seems to get people to stop asking questions...maybe out of pity.

And I remember the answer that I read that someone who was moving to Alaska said they were asked "why move to Alaska?" and replied "If you have to ask the question you wouldn't understand the answer." Which seemed, at the age I read it - somewhere around 20 - to be cool and make sense. But the more I think about it it just seems like a way of saying, "I don't know and I'm going to make you feel bad for asking a question that I don't know the answer to." Of course, this isn't always the case, maybe you do indeed have a solid reason to move, and maybe they indeed wouldn't understand your answer. I'm just saying that I don't have a quick answer for why, and don't want to pretend like I do. In fact the more I think about it the less sure that I have any logical reason. Well I can think of one: to face my inherent fear of yetis. I think, like the seven year old who likes candy, that, for something like this, I don't really need much reason besides that I want to.

Arrowhead 2012? Dunno. I told John that I would do it with him wearing a viking helmet if he does it. He now has me worried that he actually will. I told Ann that I'll be wearing a full viking suit if she does it. I must say that I'm not so worried about that. (ha ha Ann, just trying to get your goat) And Jenny is thinking of doing it, and my brother has said he will if Jenny will. Ha! wouldn't that be a sight? A rough tough two-time Arrowhead finisher riding along in a viking suit and four other people? Sounds like the makings of a good joke. Send comments of encouragement to this blog (they'll get them as they all read this).

Well that pretty much wraps up my coverage of the 2011 Arrowhead 135. If I do it again in the viking suit - and since the viking suit alone won't look ridiculous enough - I'll have to consider one of these things:

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Arrowhead 2011: part 2

Arrowhead 2011 Part Two:

First off I should strongly encourage you to go back and read Part One before you read this one as this one will make more sense. Or even if you have read it maybe you should go back and refresh your memory. Plus I am an egomaniac and and such get all puffed up when I see how many pageviews a blog entry has if the number is high.

Gateway to Melgeorges ~35 miles

After I made the call to “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” (“full speed” was about 5 mph) at Gateway I hit the stretch to Melgeorges. The first stretch (from the start to Gateway) was pretty flat and I was ready for some hills to start. I grew up in hilly country (SW Wisconsin) and have an extreme dislike of riding on the flats. To me flat = straight = uninteresting/boring. The hills on the first part from Gateway to Melgeorges were more like shallow rises but were welcome all the same. Shortly after I left Gateway I came to the Ash River Trail (CR 129) and got to see Jenny again. It was time for me to have a snack so I stopped and chatted while I ate:

I put this picture in mainly because it gives the illusion of speed. Well actually I was going fairly fast at this point but my average speed at this point in the race (it would drop later that night for reasons that I'll get to later) was around 5.

I ate a few biscuits and chunks of candy bar (precut so I could still eat them when they freeze. I didn't think of cutting up candy bars until someone else mentioned it...then it was one of those slap-your-forehead-it's-so-obvious moments) and continued on my way. On this stretch I forgot to blow back through my camelbak hose and it had frozen. Of course you don't notice this type of thing until you go to take a drink and nothing comes out. So I was already getting thirsty when I noticed it but then I had to put my hose into my insulated camelbak backpack to thaw it. It hadn't quite thawed yet and I was pretty thirsty when I went past a tipi set up by a couple of guys from SkiPulk that were offering all the racers hot chocolate as they went by. Well I had been borderline overheating most of the day (it was mid-afternoon at this point) and really didn't want to put warm liquid in my stomach and make myself sweat. But really now, how can one turn down hot chocolate when you're out on the trail and have been biking for 9 hours? Sure Jeff Oatley's winning time of 15:50 is pretty impressive, but to forgo free hot chocolate out on the trail is truly superhuman!

At first I felt a little guilty for taking outside help (which would potentially disqualify me) but I eventually justified it by telling myself that the help I was getting was also available to every other racer (race rules state that if something's available to any racer it is fair game). While I was stopped for the cocoa I checked on my hose and am pleased to say it was thawed (here now, get your mind out of the gutter). With that I continued along my way towards the next road crossing at Sheep Ranch Road. When I got there my camelbak was working fine and so I had the appearance of being competent...which may or may not be the case.

I stopped for a snack here again and was reminded again that my rear blinky was dead. I left the crossing but shortly down the trail I changed the batteries in the blinky as it was getting dark and this would 1) be much easier in the light 2) be safer as I wanted to be easily seen especially by the few reckless, drunken, or just plain mean snowmobilers out there – it only takes one to ruin your day/life.

I had a long stretch of road-crossing-free trail to ride before I got to the checkpoint at Melgeorges. As I remembered it from '09 this section of trail was awful awful, awful (keep in mind that I was on a skinny single-speed then) as it seemed to go on without '09 I got to Melgeorges at a little after four am. So I kept bracing myself for the onslaught. It didn't come. Sure it was hilly and at one point I passed a biker who was walking slowly up a hill. He was moving slowly and looked a bit rough. But he told me that he was doing fine, just a bit tired so I pedaled on. He couldn't have known it but I can empathize with him as I was on a skinny tired bike (as he was) back in '09. The trail goes up and down and twists around and eventually spits you out on Elephant Lake. Once you ride across the lake you get to Melgeorges Resort. I came to the checkpoint at Melgeorges and was really enjoying the race.

I just need some pyrotechnics (and maybe a miniature Stonehenge model) and I would be ready for a full-on Spinal Tap concert

Peace out, Yo.

There's a checkpoint here as well as a restaurant. I checked in and resupplied my food (I hadn't eaten all my food and so ended up giving it to Jenny and her parents. We joked about whether or not it was legal for the racers to help the spectators). We ate a meal at the restaurant and I shoved off a little after 10 pm with spirits high. So far the race had been fun – especially the section between Gateway and Melgeorges. It wouldn't stay that way for much longer.

Melgeorges to Crescent ~42 miles

Shortly after leaving Melgeorges there are a couple of huge, steep hills. In '09 I saw them in the daylight as I left Melgeorges at 8:20 am or so. They were bad enough that they stick out of my memory above all the other awful stuff in my '09 race (it is said that ignorance is bliss but this year I knew what I was getting in to and still had good morale but in '09 – when I was indeed ignorant – I continued on from Melgeorges in a rather unblissful state).

Now before Melgeorges the Arrowhead trail splits and one section – the one the racers take - heads out across Elephant Lake and to Melgeorges and the other bypasses the lake altogether. And then shortly after Melgeorges they come back together – but not until after crossing a road. So there are two places the Arrowhead trail crosses the road to Melgeorges one of which the race doesn't use. Jenny and John and Ann were going to meet me where the trail crosses the road but accidentally went to the wrong crossing (I had done the exact same thing last year when I was spectating.) To make things worse a couple of bikes had taken a wrong turn and so there actually were bike tracks at the wrong road crossing. So after a fair amount of waiting – without seeing anybody go by – they realized what was happening and quickly went to the next crossing. They waited here a long time but there was no way of knowing if I was yet to cross or had already passed and so they would miss me not only at the previous crossing and this one too, but possibly the next as well. So they left and went to the next crossing at Crescent Bar and Grill (which is also checkpoint #3) so I didn't see them until I got there at 11 the next morning.

Meanwhile I was out plugging away unaware that I had been left for dead by my entourage. The temperature started to drop and I started to get chilly which was no big deal as I had more layers with me. I put them on and continued. At one snack break after I had been riding a couple hours I took a drink but didn't blow back through the hose figuring I'd wash the snack down with some more water when I was done. I had the snack and then was shocked to find that in the short time I had been eating that the hose had frozen. I didn't have a thermometer with me but knew that this meant it was pretty cold. Oh well, the hose had frozen on me the day before and I got it thawed without much fuss. I knew it was colder than it had been the day before so I took off my outer layer of insulation and put the camelbak inside. I rode for a while and checked it. Still frozen. Uh-oh. I put it back on and rode for a while more. Stopped to check. Still frozen. This was definitely not good. I took the bladder out, unscrewed the cap and drank directly from the bladder. I put the bladder back in and put the whole works under my outer layer and continued on.

A little while down the trail I noticed that my lower back was cold. Odd, that almost never happens. I reached back to check it out and found a thick layer of ice where my bladder had been leaking. I immediately stopped, took the bladder out and dumped it out so it couldn't leak and continued riding. After all, what else was there to do? Sit and cry and wait for my mommy? It occurred to me after a few minutes that I should have drunk the water and not just dump it. I now had no water and about 6 hours until I got to Cresent. (Here was where ignorance was, if not blissful, at least not as painful as it would have been if I had known that I had 6 hours left to go until Crescent. As it was I didn't really know where the hell I was)

I got passed by a few people during the night but also passed a couple of people bivying by the side of the trail. Maybe they had ample opportunity to test out their sleeping bags at pretty low temps and were confidant that they would be comfortable (I actually talked with one of them and they were fairly comfy. This sounds like something from “A Prairie Home Companion” and it occurred to me that that night would have been a nice time for a piece of rhubarb pie). I hadn't had a chance to test my bag out much below zero and so I could see myself stopping and getting chilled while I set the bivy up, getting even more chilled while I was inside the bag, realizing that I needed the get moving and then getting even more chilled as I packed up to leave. Sounds miserable. I kept moving.

So I kept moving but it was getting pretty slow from dehydration. I knew that things were getting bad when – around dawn – I would be riding along and would come to an uphill. Since I had such little energy I had to get off and walk up almost every grade. So I'd say to myself “oh hell, I have to get off again?” Which may not have been such a terrible warning sign that things were getting bad, but once I got off and pushed up the hill and get to the top and say, “oh hell, now I have to get back on and ride this stupid thing?”

Not only was I thirsty (I would have stopped and melted snow with my stove but I knew I'd freeze my fingers if I tried that. I am not sure I could set that stove up with mittens on and having my bare hands exposed handling a metal stove at god-knows-what-temperature is probably not wise) but I was leery of eating too much as digesting takes water. It made for a long night and I finally pulled in to Crescent at about 11 am or almost 13 hours after I left Melgeorges.

I had a huge snot-cicle on my mask – which I couldn't see and made it even harder for me to eat out there on the trail because I didn't know it was there and trying to push a gummi worm through solid ice doesn't work too well:

Crescent – blessed Crescent! – was awesome. To be in a heated room where I could sit down was a step up from the Tipi Of Despair in '09 and not only was I able to get more water but I got a meal and melted in the sun. We sat right by a window facing into the sun and the incoming rays felt so good after being out all the previous night. Race director Dave came by and we chatted with him and he told us that it had gotten down to -35 last night.

Crescent to Finish ~25 miles

But the race isn't over at Crescent and so after I recovered from the night before (about an hour and a half) I continued on the finishing straight.

Ready to leave Crescent. It was sunny and memories of the night before faded as I got a warm meal and some rest inside. Many, many thanks to the Crescent Bar and Grill for being open.

Finishing “straight” is literally what it is because it is almost totally flat and some parts are exceedingly straight:

To get this pair of pictures all the photographer had to do was rotate around as I rode by.

After leaving the Arrowhead trail on the way to Fortune Bay Casino and the finish there is some up and down and some twist and turns but by and large the stretch from Crescent to the finish is flat and boring and just generally gives you nothing to take your mind off of how much your body hurts. My wrists hurt more than anything else.

Speaking of the ups and downs near the finish there is a cruel, nasty little up directly before the finish line. Here's me climbing it. By the way, the hill may be cruel and nasty but if this Arrowhead business were easy then it wouldn't be worth doing and I wouldn't want to have it any other way. And you can tell by the rest of this write-up that the first 134 miles and 5240 feet were a cakewalk

Jenny not only put up with me being out riding and getting my bike ready but came up to watch me during the race. I consider this to be partially her finish as well.

I look kinda like someone after a thanksgiving meal. “I can't believe I ate the whole thing”

Two starts two finishes. It's a better picture of me than the one from the '09 finish where I look crazed:

I thought a bit of sleep was something I had earned in this race.

I've come a long way in the past 2 ½ years as today (when this post is going up...Feb 9th) marks exactly 2 1/2 years since I re-learned to ride a bike. This picture is of me on my trike back when I couldn't ride a bike.

And although Arrowhead may be tough, I ain't got nothin' on this guy (yes I'm being serious):

Still to come: “epilogue” which is pretentious for “after the race”

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Arrowhead 2011 part 1

Arrowhead 2011

Me, Jenny and her parents (who happen to be professional photographers) left our place in Moquah, WI for the ~5 hour drive to International Falls, MN which was made longer by an ill-fated stop for lunch at the India Palace in Duluth which wasn't open until noon. So if you can't expand your cultural horizons by having food of some other ethnicity than American just order pizza...right? We ate at Pizza Luce for lunch and I recommend it. By the way, if you're ever in Duluth keep a lookout for trashed cars:

After our culturally insensitive culinary experience we continued on towards International Falls and checked out the trail along the way:

We made it there with plenty of time to run through the mandatory gear check. They require you to carry certain gear in the race and they run an official check to make sure you have it all. “It all” being 1) sleeping bag rated to -20 or colder, 2) insulated sleeping pad, 3) stove 4) at least 8 oz. Fuel for the stove (you can also take Esbit Tablets which are solid fuel that takes place of a stove) 5) insulated water container that holds at least 64 oz, 6) 2 red blinky lights (one for the front, another for the back) with at least 3 LEDs each, 7) lightsource/headlamp, 8) you must take enough food to have at least 3000 calories left over when you finish, 9) 10 square inches of reflective material on both the front and back of your person 10) Whistle on string around neck (because, as the race website puts it, “you're mouth will be too numb to yell”), 11) pot to melt snow/cook food, 12) Bivy bag or tent.

The rest of Saturday I spent putting my bike back together as we had taken it apart in order to fit it in the car:

I spent time readying my drop bag (they allow you a 15 pound bag of food to ship ahead so when you get to Melgeorges at midway you can resupply your food) and cutting maps up so that they would be smaller for me to take along on a 135 mile ride. An aside: at about mile 125 I pulled one map out to look and see where I was and opened it up and it turned out that when I cut the map in two I had grabbed the wrong piece and looked about like this when I realized what I had done:

Sunday I turned in my drop bag and went to the mandatory pre-race meeting and then attended the post-meeting spaghetti dinner. We had been told by the race website that this would be our “Last Supper.”

Then we went back to our motel and since I had pretty much gotten everything ready by then just kind of sat around and got anxious for the start. I guess we also went outside and they got an idea of the patterns of my reflective material and blinky so they could recognize me after dark. In retrospect this was almost unneeded since they only saw me once after dark. :) More on this later.

Race Morning

The race start was at seven and the Chocolate Moose didn't open for breakfast until 6 so I got totally ready before we left for the Chocolate Moose, I ate about the most greasy and unhealthy thing on the menu (a big omelette with hashbrowns and buttered toast. In a desperate bid for I ordered wheat bread for the toast but it ended up being mostly a vehicle for delivering the butter to my stomach.

We drove back to our motel and the rest of the gang drove over to the start while I rode over to the start. I wanted to get one last short ride in to do a last minute check of my gear to make sure it wasn't going to fall off. I got there with only a few minutes to spare. I checked in and then went out to the starting line and after a few minutes we took off. I'm kinda glad I didn't have much extra time as it was -10 and I wasn't real keen on standing around more.

Race start to the first checkpoint ~35 miles

The race started when race director Dave yelled “Release the hounds!” and fired a gun into the air. And with that 63 bikers started riding (they would start the skiers and runners about a minute later) out into insanity.

It was fairly cold at the start and some chose to protect their faces from the cold in strange ways. Take this snorkel for example:

Since I had no intentions of even trying to stay with the leaders I just hung back around mid-pack and started grinding out miles. Since I had my bike taken apart in the car and had not ridden it all that much since I put it back together I had to stop several times to adjust the saddle height and once to put some more air in my tires. But both of these are examples of operator error and really the bike performed nearly flawlessly throughout.

In red is Jeff Oatley who would eventually win with a time of 15:50. How anyone is able to keep up a pace like that is beyond me...but then again a lot of things are....

Me at the first road crossing of the course

Me crossing highway 53 which is the first major road/highway crossing of the course.

I kept plugging along for a while and then met another biker coming along the trail the other way. I was pretty sure that I was going the right way but then again my dad sleds with axes and so I must come from questionable stock.

It turns out I was going the right way and eventually I came to the first checkpoint at Gateway General (a gas station/general store on highway 53). I had all the food and water I needed and said to myself, “I don't need no stinkin' rest.” So I checked in and out at almost the same time (passing maybe 10 bikers in the process), took enough time to give Jenny a kiss and hit the trail for the next checkpoint at Melgeorges which was roughly 35 miles down the trail.

Just after I decided to leave Gateway and keep on truckin'

Me checking out of Gateway

Taking off on the way out of Gateway towards Melgeorges.

To be continued....

click here to read part two

Thursday, February 3, 2011

post arrowhead

In an ironic twist I titled the last post T-35 (as in I posted it about 35 hours before the start) but little did I know that on my night out on the trail it would drop to -35 and I got left for dead out there on the trail.

I had fun at the race and John and Ann (Jenny's [my girlfriend] 'rents) came and took pictures so I'll have a nice long (warning: it'll be potentially gross if you are queasy hearing about snot-cicles) descriptive post with lots of pictures up fairly soon.

I finished the race in 24th place 33:30 hours after I started. The winner did it in less than 16 hours. I suck.

Just kidding.

For now contemplate this picture of me taken the day before the start:

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Whoa.  It's quickly sinking in that I am actually going to do this (Arrowhead).  I guess I can't eliminate all anxiety about the race.  Deep cold.  Deep snow.  Starvation.  And I'm very worried about Yetis on the course.  

The first time I rode 135 miles was in the '09 version of Arrowhead.  And the second time I will attempt to ride this far will start Monday morning.  Strange how I will ride this long in the winter but not really even think seriously about a ride that long in the summer.  

And I will only quit if I run out of beer as these snowmobilers seem to have done:

And if I run short of cash I can stop and set up something like this:

It's less than 36 hours to start as I type this.  I'm a little anxious...but mostly just want to get the race going already.

If you are so inclined you can follow along with the race as it's happening here by clicking the link and going to "RESULTS" over on the right hand side.  Keep in mind that the times they will be posting are only from the three checkpoints and the race is 135 miles you won't be able to keep close tabs on me or anyone else for that matter.  

Maybe I'll have time tomorrow to put a post up on here.  But if not then I'll resume posting after the race is over.  Whether or not my race will end at the finish or before is up in the air but I will think positive and say that my suffering won't end until I cross the finish line at Fortune Bay Casino.  

By the way, isn't "Fortune Bay" an incredibly tacky name for a casino?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Arrowhead 2009

Here is my first-hand account of the race as a racer in 2009. It's interesting to read now to see what's changed. The biggest change is that I have a Pugsley. I'm not too sure what all else will be different. Hard to predict the weather or bike mechanicals or whatnot or whether or not I'll get kicked by a snowmobiler going by.

And if you want to read Mike Curiak's (it's been awhile since I put a blatant name-drop in here, so here one is) account of the 2009 Arrowhead read it here. In case you haven't heard of Mike, he's probably the greatest ever endurance bike racer (especially in the snow). Last year he made it the entire length of the Iditarod trail (1100 miles) on a bike totally unsupported - meaning that he carried all his food and everything with him the whole time. Further more he came to Arrowhead in 09 (obviously, if you clicked the link above) and gave a presentation about his 2008 attempt to ride to Nome (where the Iditarod dog sled race finishes) and he seems like a really cool guy. And he got 9th in 2009 without seeming to try very hard, just enjoying being out there.

Arrowhead 2009:
The start of my thinking about the Arrowhead Ultra was when a guy came into the bike shop (where I work as a mechanic) in the spring of last year and was talking with the owner of the shop about this race – Arrowhead. I didn't know what it was so I asked them and they told me that it's a 135 mile race held on snowmobile trails up in northern Minnesota in February. At the time I thought that it would be really cool to do...but since I couldn't ride a bike at that point I didn't think too seriously about it. [A little background info: when I was about 16 I got fairly serious about riding bikes and rode pretty regularly until shortly after I was diagnosed with a brain tumor when I was 25. From the summer I turned 26 through this summer (when I turned 29) I couldn't ride a bike because I had some coordination issues from the tumor. I finally re-learned to ride a bike this summer and will have been back riding on two wheels for seven months come February 9th.] I got to thinking about doing it pretty seriously in the late fall and finally sent in my entry fee at the end of November. I've been riding lots since then and sewing most of my gear (there aren't very many companies that make gear for riding your bike in the winter since most people are at least somewhat sane and don't participate in this kind of foolishness. The upshot is that you have to have gear custom made or make it yourself. I am cheap so I made it myself using my sewing machine and some ingenuity.

We (I had ridden up to the start of the race with another guy who had done the race once before and was doing it again) drove up to International Falls, MN on Friday Jan. 30th. Since it's a 12 hour drive we got there around 10 that night and crashed on the beds of the hotel room we had reserved. We went for a ride Sat. and it was warm and the trails were awful. Loose snow made for tough going. But it was in the 20's and was supposed to get about 40 degrees colder for the race start so the trails would probably firm up. Lance (the guy I rode up with) rode a bit on Sunday and he said the trails were in pretty much prime shape. The grooming machine had been through Saturday night and it had frozen so hard you almost couldn't see tire tracks when you rode. This was good news for me. We also got our gear checked (there is gear that everyone is required to take including: a sleeping bag rated to -20, sleeping pad, whistle on a string around your neck [so it would always be with you if you needed to call for help], stove, at least 8oz of fuel for the stove, pot, firestarter, some way to carry at least 2 qt. of water, 3000 calories of food, headlamp, a bivy sack or tent, a flashing light for both front and rear, and at least 10 square inches of reflective material on both the front and the back of your person.)

Then it started to snow Sunday night and things went downhill from then on – actually most of Sunday night it was a light, fluffy snow that wasn't a problem to ride through...but when we woke up on Monday morning (raceday, or more accurately the first day of the race) it had snowed more and was of a consistency that made riding hard. This was not happy news, especially for me on my skinny tired, single-speed bike (most of the other bikes were special snow bikes with gears. Actually only one or two other bikes had skinny tires. The specialized snow bikes have fat tires [3.7” or so mine were 2.4”] that float on top of the snow much more). We went out and ate breakfast at the Chocolate Moose in International Falls and then we headed for the start. The startline has virtually no parking so this isn't a mass start race, instead they shuttle racers from the hotel to the start and they start when they're ready. The result of which is that people start the race from a time between 7 and 9:30. I got going at around 8:20.

The start to the first checkpoint at the Gateway General Store about 39 miles:The race starts with an out and back. This means that faster people have to pass the slower ones (for example: the runners start earliest but most get passed by bikers who can't ride when the runners start. This also means that the trail gets packed down by the sleds runners and skiers are pulling behind them. So the snow being fresh and unpacked wasn't all that noticeable for the first 18 miles (the length of the out part was about 9 miles, and then you turn around and go back those same 9 miles) but after mile 18 it got pretty sketchy and stayed that way for pretty much the rest of the race. It was about at this time that I let go of any idea of being competitive in this race. With the bike I had and the setup I had (a singlespeed and I had picked a gear that was way to hard to turn in the conditions) and the trail conditions I would've had to have been superhuman to keep up with the front runners.

I pulled into the Gateway store at about 4:20 (I was off and on the bike quite a bit on the way in to Gateway. I estimate that of the last 15 miles to Gateway I had to walk my bike for 10 of them) and pulled out at 4:45 and headed to Melgeorges Resort, which is roughly at the halfway point.

Gateway to Melgeorges about 34 milesShortly after I left Gateway I stopped to put on my sweater (it was cooling down and would eventually reach -12 that night) and put on my headlamp. I did all this before it got dark just because it would be harder to do if I couldn't see.

While the trail from the start to Gateway was fairly flat (there were some small ups and downs but nothing major). But here there were hills, lots and lots of hills. Nothing huge (this was in Minnesota after all) but they didn't really let up.

The miles seemed to go exceedingly slowly. At one point when I had been riding for more than 6 hours past Gateway a snowmobiler out roving the racecourse stopped to see how I was doing. I said I was doing fine and asked how far Melgeorges was thinking I must be getting close. His answer of “about 18 miles” pretty much floored me. The guy on the snowmobile left and there wasn't much for me to do except to keep going...which is what I did. I rode (and walked the uphills) for several more hours and saw the snowmobiler again. Since I was eager to get to Melgeorges when he stopped the first thing I asked was how far it was to Melgeorges. I was sure I was close...maybe half a mile, so when he answered “nine miles” I just about fell over. That was definitely the hardest part of the race. It had nothing to do with anything physical, but that answer of “nine miles” was a huge blow to my morale and, without question, the low point of the race.

The hose on my camelbak had frozen up because I had forgotten to blow air back through the hose (in case you don't know what a camelbak is it is basically a way of carrying water on your back with a hose running from the bladder on your back up to the front of you so you can suck it when you get thirsty. The hose freezes easily so I take a drink and then blow back through the hose so it doesn't freeze too badly). This time the whole hose froze and there was little hope of unfreezing it (sometimes it works to put the entire hose in with the bladder and the warmth of the liquid water will thaw it. But tonight it was -12 and the water inside the camelbak was starting to get slushy anyway, so there's no way it would've been warm enough to melt the ice in the hose). Now what to do? I took the bladder out and tried to drink directly from that but it closes with a screw top and the screw threads had frozen so I couldn't even drink from that. Now what to do? Time for some ingenuity. I thought of a possible solution: take the bladder out, turn it upside down so the warmth of the liquid water would melt the ice freezing the cap in place. I did it and it worked. I drank greedily but cautiously, I knelt down for stability, made sure there there was nothing below the water except snow (in case I spilled) and then leaned over the snow (if I did spill any I sure as heck didn't want it to run down my neck and freeze) and drank. An aside: I had never before had the problem of water freezing inside my camelbak, even when I rode in the Alaskan winter when it was much colder. I'm not sure what was different here but in Alaska I didn't go for any rides that lasted all day and into the next day as well.

Ok, so its early in the morning, I had been riding since 8:20 a.m. on trails in bad condition, and I had to get off the bike and push up every hill – that means that I had get back on the bike fairly often and the muscles in my hip that I use swing my leg over my bike seat was getting tired. There were many times where I'd swing my leg over, lose my balance and stumble around like an idiot and one time that I completely lost my balance completely and just plain fell over. I was really glad when I pulled into Melgeorges at about 4:30 in the morning.

Melgeorges is a heated cabin and had food and beds and I ate and grabbed about an hour maybe an hour and a half of sleep but the place where the beds were was in a loft directly above the living room where everyone was. There were people coming and going to talking and whatnot so sleep there was not all that relaxing. Also we found out that the first biker had finished! And we still had half the race to go.

Melgeorges to Wakemup Tipi about 39 miles I was originally planning on staying at Melgeorges until about 7:30 (when it got light enough to ride) but ended up coming up with all sorts of excuses not to. There was no water available at the Wakemup Tipi checkpoint so I would have to carry all the water I needed until the finish so I made sure I was well hydrated (it turns out that I was so well hydrated that after I left Melgeorges I had to stop and pee every 15 minutes for a hour or two until I got it out of my system). I also told myself that I should probably wait until it warmed up some (remember it had got down to -12 the night before. I waited until 8:20 [exactly 24 hours after I had started] when it had warmed up to -5). I also ate enough food to see me through for a good long ways (I eventually realized that I had taken too much food and had to dump some along the trail. The wolves [I saw a bunch of their tracks along the trail] are probably loving eating all the summer sausage, brats, and cheese that I had pre-cut into bite size pieces so I could still eat them when they froze...but I'm pretty sure that a wolf would define “bite size” differently than I would).

The terrain between Melgeorges and Wakemup Tipi varied quite a bit. There were lots of hills (some were very very steep) interspersed with flat sections. The 15 miles or so directly before Wakemup Tipi were probably the most hilly of the entire race. Or at least they just felt that way because by then I'd already ridden about 95 miles.

I stopped shortly before dark to get out my headlamp before it got too dark to see what I was doing and was kind of startled how fast my fingers got cold when they were out in the air. It was also about this time that my camelbak froze up. I didn't think too much of it, thinking I could thaw it at Wakemup Tipi where it'd be warm and I could sit down by the fire. And then I got to Wakemup Tipi and the idyllic vision of what the tipi would be like came crashing down. Inside the tipi was small and there were already four people there so we were tripping over each other and in the way; there was a fire but it wasn't burning well (they were using unsplit, full size logs, so there was lots of smoke and only a little fire. The smoke made my eyes burn and water and was almost intolerable...far worse than a smoky bar); it was so small that there wasn't room for chairs so I had to sit on the ground; and it wasn't warm inside so even with all my clothes on I was starting to get cold. So I ate a little bit and left.

It wasn't until a few miles down the trail that I remembered my water was frozen. I didn't even think about going back.

Wakemup Tipi to the finish line: 25 miles
(The moon was out and it was beautiful. I rode about half of the final 25 miles by moonlight and would've ridden more except in the few spots there were bike tire tracks I couldn't see them without my headlamp on.)

It was kind of a morale blow to realize that unless I stopped and got out my stove and melted some snow that I would have no water until the end. But I wasn't really wild about trying to fire up the stove because it was cold (it would drop to -29 that night) and, gadnabbit, the finish line was close (if you define 25 miles as “close”). So I ended up eating snow to tide me over. Now, I'm aware that eating snow isn't always a good way to go. Takes up a lot of energy melting the snow down to water. But I wasn't going to be doing this snow-eating thing for all that long. At one point I took in a huge chomp of snow, it was too much for my tongue to handle and it got frostbite. Whoops. From then on I took daintier licks of snow and let it melt and then gave my mouth time to circulate warm blood back to where the snow had cooled it down. (In case anyone is wondering what frostbite on your tongue feels like it is just like when you take a swig of hot tea [or coffee or whatever] and you burn your tongue. It isn't really fun, and your tongue is sensitive for a while but it's not like it's the end of the world or anything). I also didn't want to eat much food since it takes water to digest. The end result of all this was that the first thing I wanted when I finished as a big glass of water and food (since the finish line was at a casino I had a bacon cheeseburger [it actually tasted great at that point in my life but it would've been horrible at most other times, it was far, far worse than something from McDonalds] at the casino deli which was the only thing open that late. I finished at 12:06 a.m. Wednesday morning, Feb 4th). I crossed the line as the 12th biker (there were nothing but bikes in front of me) 39 hours and and 46 minutes after I started.

The terrain from Wakemup Tipi to the finish was almost dead-flat. But I had been riding in the tracks left by previous bikers and some snowmobiles had been through fairly recently and had 1) covered the tracks and 2) had chewed up the trail so even though it was flat it was still a struggle to ride. By now I was having some serious problems turning the one gear I had and had to alternate between sitting down and pedaling, standing up and pedaling and just getting off and walking. The temperature was dropping and I had almost all of my clothes on (I would've had them all on, it was damn cold, but I didn't exactly relish the thought of undressing to get more layers on out in the air and with nothing but snow to stand on. I'm not sure what the exact temperature was but I had on a facemask and had put that on and when I got to the finish and took it off you could tell where it had covered because where it hadn't covered was red from being cold).

During the race I kept thinking something like, “there's no way in hell that I'd do this again next year,” but now that the race is over and I'm warm and my thirst and hunger are sated my thinking has changed. I'm not saying that I'll definitely do it again but I'll leave the option open for further consideration.

One reason I gave for doing this race was that it was “something to do”. I work as a mechanic in a bike shop and winters are slow and having something to do is nice. Keeps me from getting cabin fever.

Some of you may remember me doing a similar race in Alaska called the Susitna 100 back in '04. It's a 100 mile race held on snowmobile trails in the Susitna River valley. If I were to compare the two I would say that Arrowhead is much, much harder. It's longer (100 miles versus 135 for Arrowhead), hillier (much of the Susitna 100 was on frozen lakes and rivers), colder (it got down to around 0 at Susitna. At Arrowhead it got down to -29) , and more remote (at the Susitna 100 there are five checkpoints, at Arrowhead there were three). But I also realize that the weather conditions play such a huge role that comparisons based on doing each race just once don't carry much weight.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

It could be worse

As you may have realized, I haven't posted a blog in something like a week. Well part of that has to with me being out riding but it has more to do with the fact that Jenny and I don't have - yet - a better internet connection than our dial-up. I can't watch videos (to preview for posting) and even things as mundane as viewing pictures is so obnoxiously slow that I have not - previous to this - posted from the comfort of home.

So I have to rely on my own wit to entertain you and cannot rely on the bizarre-ities of the things one can find online to entertain you. This terrifies me because I do not consider myself funny...and have to do stuff like eat shit to keep people coming to read my blog.

Yesterday I headed out to give the Pugs a workout. The trail had been groomed and for the beginning of the ride I was leaving the first tracks on the freshly groomed trail. I got some pictures and maybe I'll post them if I can figure out how to transfer them to Jenny's infernal Mac.

So the trail had been recently groomed but unfortunately it wasn't very smooth and the bumps had frozen. But when life gives you lemons summon your "it could be worse" side and see the upside of it. I now know that my gear should stand up over 135 miles. And that my fillings are in there good and probably won't come loose during the race.

And actually it could be much, much worse. I have experienced it during the '04 Susitna 100. The course that year was kinda lollipop shaped. I forget the exact distances but the course went out something like 25 miles, did a loop of 50 miles and then came back on the same 25 miles that we had started on. It had been warm at the start (actually raining some) and so the trail had been soft. The runners (keep in mind that you can bike or run or ski - like most winter races) had left footprints in the then-soft snow. Then during the race the temperature dropped down to zero and the footprints froze in place. So between mile 75 (or so) and the finish the trail was really an icy decent into hell.

Actually the ride last night was good Arrowhead training in that the final 20 miles were pretty much flat. I'm actually not really sure why this is good training because mostly what this does is reinforce my deep hatred of riding on the flat - and freshly renews my dread of the finishing section of Arrowhead which is straight through a swamp for something like 25 miles.

But then again it could be worse.

I'll go back to the 04 Susitna 100 (it's extremely interesting that this - my first snowbike race - really got me into snowbiking at all - that I didn't just run screaming). The start (and finish) was an 8 mile stretch across lake ice. At least the icy footprints stopped but by that time I was fried and my hands were going numb from a pinched nerve and I was deeply tired and looking forward to being done with this sonofabitch race and whose idea was it for me to enter this stupid thing in the first place?

It is surprising how far one can see across a lake (frozen or not). And if your only means of locomotion is a bike that you've been riding for the better part of a day and a night the distances you can see seem to be an infinity. One could see the lights of the finish line a long ways off. I would see them, put my head down and pedal for what seemed 15 minutes only to look up again and see that my surroundings hadn't noticably changed. But it could have been worse - the cousin of the Loch Ness Monster could have busted up through the ice and chewed me up. Actually there could have been a howling headwind, cold temps (it was around zero but I had been living near Fairbanks where zero was considered balmy) or any number of things. So I really shouldn't complain - even though I have spent the last two paragraphs doing just that.

I really have no idea where I stand. Considering that I'm now sitting at a computer this is interesting. I mean that I really have no way to compare myself to other people in the race. I haven't raced at all this winter - in fact the last race I did was back in the summer and was something like 16 miles long. And have not really ridden with anyone on a serious training ride this season. So I don't know how I measure up to anyone else. I also don't have a computer (to tell me distance) or GPS on my bike or anything like that. I suppose I will find out where I stand come Jan 31 (first day of the race). And I also suppose that it could be a slap to my - possibly windburned - face or a pleasant surprise. I'm guessing that it'll be somewhere in between though. "Mediocre at best" would fairly accurately describe my accomplishments as a bike racer.

Thus concludes my desperate blog post. Desperate because I'm relying on our dial up connection.

I suppose it could be worse.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Virile snowmobilers

Yesterday I rode my Pugsley into town to the bike shop. And it came to pass that we all stood around and gazed at it's huge tires kinda like a 5 year old watching booming, sparkly fireworks. It had snowed Tuesday and the trails were soft so I had my tires down low and we got out the tire gauge and marveled that I had them down to 3 psi. Males being into limpness? Interesting.

But then again males are into some strange things (such as Arrowhead, the majority of the racers are male) – both human and otherwise:

And it wouldn't surprise me to learn that this was a male formed idea. And I thought regular engines (snowmobile, dirtbike or pretty much any other two cycle whiny thing) were obnoxious.

Another weird thing that males tend to do is compare injuries. Somehow this puffs us up. One summer night when I was living by myself it started to rain and so I jumped up and went charging around the house to shut windows. I didn't bother to turn the light on and some idiot had left his sandals out in the middle of the floor. I tripped on them and this happened (and I felt the need to document it too for later puffing):

Speaking of feet, today as I was riding home from the ogling session at the bike shop I got passed by maybe a dozen snowmobiles. One of them stopped and we actually chatted for a bit about snowbikes and seemed interested and said that he wants a Pugsley and not a Mukluk. At one point I heard a snowmobile sound from behind me so I got to the extreme right on the trail to give them plenty of passing space. As it turns out there were three of them. After the first one passed he jammed on the throttle and did a ski-ie (like a wheelie but obviously wasn't because snowmobiles don't have wheels). I was so impressed by this display of virility (even more impressive than the picture above) that I wasn't really paying attention as the second passed. But if I thought the first snowmobiler was cool he had nothing on the third. Number Three revved his engine as he passed and that would have been awesome enough except he stuck his boot out as if to hit me with it as he passed very close to me at maybe 40 mph. Pure coolness. So cool in fact that if I were to run into this guy in street clothes he would have shades on kinda like this:

or this:

And a shirt like this

And had a big pickup truck with mud on it from boggin' and had truck nuts:

At first I was pretty much stunned, followed almost immediately by anger. I'm still pretty pissed about it all but now it's almost funny to think about what would have happened if he had actually hit me with his boot. Yeah it would have ruined my day (or week or month or year. And that, most decidedly, would have been terribly un-funny) but think about what would have happened to him – wrapped his leg around behind him. It is really the same but this video is similar enough to what would have happened to the awesome snowmobiler that I'm reminded of it

If Snowmobiler #3 had stopped he would have seen me giving him a look kinda like this one:

Injuring limbs kinda reminds me of this picture since I had the sword in my teeth because both my arms had been cut off:

Which naturally reminds me of this

Which in turn reminds me of this picture which I took of while a friend of mine and I were out riding and didn't want to turn back even when we came across a road sign clearly stating that 4 miles ahead a bridge was out:

Getting back to the intense display of virility put forth by Snowmobiler #1 I was, of course, being sarcastic when I said that. Real men display virility like this:

I make a habit of reading the blog Bike Snob NYC who is much funnier than I and who also has thousands of readers - some of whom forward pictures like this one to him:

I tried to think of a funny caption for it...but then - probably because I am a slacker - decided that it is good enough by itself.