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”


  1. It was a thrill spectating Arrowhead, and especially you in it. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

  2. Thanks, Joel. A fine fine bed-time story for your awed mama. Good night.

  3. Great blog and recount of the race. Hopefully you'll be back for a third!

  4. Congratulations on another finish! Just reading about it makes me want to do it some day.

  5. Congrats Joel! You survived another..pretty impressive!

  6. Oh mother, you're embarrassing me!

  7. Congrats on your finish at Arrowhead. I'm thinking of trying it next year and I'm trying to gather as much info as possible. Would love it if you could share a complete gear list. There is a pretty steep learning curve here and I want to make sure that I am adequately prepared.

  8. Vito: What kind of gear list do you have in mind? Clothes? Bike gear?

  9. Awesome. I did an hour-long "spin" class this morning and was thinking about how fun it must be riding for 12-13 hours at a time through the wilderness in the dead of winter.