Tuesday, March 19, 2013


On Saturday March 9 at 8:02 am I took off down the 45 K long course of the Fat Bike Birkie.  The race kicked my ass to say the least.  After I finished and got home I spent the rest of the day in bed - except for when I took a shower...and then when I was tired of standing but loved the warm water and laid down in the tub and it became a bath.

[why 8:02 when the official start was at 8:00?  About 30 seconds before the gun went off I realized that I hadn't attached my number to the front of my bike as I was supposed to.  I rode back to the car, threw it on, headed back to the start line, and started late.]

I'm thinkin' that the guy in the Mapei jersey was wearing it ironically

It was beautiful in a soggy, dreary way

At least I wasn't the only one struggling with the constant hills
OK, let me back up a bit so all this makes sense.

I have barely ridden since Arrowhead.  I'm guessing that I've been on a handful of ~5 mile rides all at an easy pace.  So I was out of shape - but thought that I'd have enough residual fitness to see me through the race with a decent showing and without falling to pieces.  So I started the race at a fairly decent pace - the trails were in almost ideal shape and I think that I was averaging roughly 10 mph.  Not too good, but not too bad.  It seems like no matter how much I train, whenever a race comes around that's how I do anyway.  By mile 8 or 10 it became clear that I was going to be having problems if I didn't back off.  So I did and by the halfway point my average speed was 8.5 mph.  And then the bottom really dropped out.  My legs were cramping up, and had no oomph to them at all.  I felt empty.  It was lightly raining throughout the race - and barring an unplanned stop (to fix a flat, or a broken chain, etc) it's fine to be wet because you're putting off enough body heat to make up for what's being sapped by the wetness.  I had so little energy that I couldn't work hard enough to build up enough body heat to be really comfortably warm.  I mean, I was fine but usually in those conditions I'd be easily working up a sweat - and as much of the dampness in my clothing would come from perspiration as rainfall.

It took me over 4 hours to finish a silly 45k race (just over 28 miles).  It took the winner under 2 hours.

It all got me to thinking: that even though the atmosphere of the race was fun, and, as far as I could tell, it was all well-organized (in fact I can't really think of how they could improve it much) maybe racing is just not my thing anymore.  It used to be.  Back in high school and college bike racing was kinda my thing.  I trained - and trained for speed.  I was OK but I guess I feel like I never really got the results I thought I "deserved" for training so long and hard.  Then I had some health issues that kept me off a bike for almost 3 years (though I did get myself a recumbent trike and rode that). 

When I finally relearned to ride a bike again I guess I didn't really have the drive it takes to suffer enough (in training or during a race) to be truly fast anymore.  Oh, I rode lots and was decently fast.  But when push came to shove others would just ride away from me.  And I let them.  I used to drive me nuts to be the slow one - now I just didn't care (I still don't like being the absolute last one in a group ride so it's not as if I don't care at all).  I was just happy to be riding again.  I suppose I'd make some effort to keep up - but when it called for sustained or intense suffering I would quietly fall off their pace and, more or less happily, ride my own pace.

More and more bike racing seems, to me, like racing a canoe.  When you're riding a bike (or in a canoe) it seems to me that you should be looking around and enjoying the beautiful landscape you're in - not trying to blast through it as fast as you can. 

Of course this assumes that you're riding through a beautiful landscape - we have lots of that in northern Wisconsin.

Friday, March 8, 2013


A few days back I loaded my snowshoes onto my fatbike and took off down the trail.  Early catch and release trout season will be here in a couple of weeks (it's already here in other parts of the state), I wanna get out, and snow is still covering the ground about a foot and a half deep.  Not so much that I couldn't walk without snowshoes but it was easier with them on...and I just like using them anyway.

 The place that I was scouting was really less than 2 miles away and so after a short ride I was locking my bike up (which was undoubtedly unnecessary because even though I was on public land it was at the end of a dead end road and there were no fresh tracks around) and strapping on my snowshoes. 


"Smug" is definitely not the word for it.  Maybe something more like "satisfied" - yeah, that's it - I feel satisfied when I use my bike to get around (especially when I'm doing something like hauling a load of stuff along, like stuff to donate to the thrift store, or chicken feed, or snowshoes...when most people would use a car.  Not only use a car but think it's insane to do it any other way).  Don't get me wrong: I do use a car most days - and it's not that I feel bad about that...there are somethings you just plain can't do on a bike - or at least it'd be extremely inconvenient to try some things - it's just that doing something that's easy to do on a bike (such as haul snowshoes) when most people would use a fossil fuel powered machine to do the same thing makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

So anyway, I had parked my bike and strapped on the snowshoes and took off hiking.  Maybe 20 minutes later I was standing next to the creek I was heading out to look at.  

 Last year on the opening day of trout season I rode my bike down to the a spot where the road crosses the creek.  There's a small parking lot there so it's fairly obvious and well-known.  When I pulled up on my bike there were nine vehicles there.  I can't remember which four letter word I used but I'm sure that I used one when I saw the other cars.  I didn't even string up.  This creek was only open down from the bridge so I left my rod, got on my waders and hiked up.

Last winter was freakishly warm for northern Wisconsin and we had had little snow, days were warm so what little snow we had had long since melted and run off previously and now the water was running clear.  It was nice to get out even though I didn't have the rod with me.

Actually it was kinda nice to have any pressure to catch fish totally off my back.  And although I love feeling a fish tugging at the end of my line I really was just happy to get out.

After I got a chance to look over the stretch of stream I had set out to scout I was happy I'd come.  I pretty much knew what I'd find - I fish often a little ways upstream and have fished downstream too - but even though it was no surprise it was nice to see the deep holes, clear water and lots of woody stuff for fish to hide in (although I'm sure I'll lose some flies to the wood and bitch at them when I'm actually out fishing...but for now it's nice to see).  I helped out volunteering last summer for an electroshocking survey in a stretch of this stream up from here and there was a good population of trout up there - including some big fish that were over 25".  So I know that they're in there.  I kinda suck and don't catch 'em though.  But I'm working on it.

I had been going for bike rides and stopping to gaze at the little feeder creeks that I hope to catch a few fish out of this summer.  They're small but they're close-to-home, spring-fed and hopefully will give up a few small brook trout this summer. 

I haven't caught a brook trout in years.  Actually it was when I was first learning and I caught them pretty much by accident.  Well, maybe I shouldn't say "accident" because I was trying to catch them - it's just that I knew next to nothing about what flies to use and how to fish them and how to cast and etc.  That I caught anything at all can be more attributed to beginners luck (although there were plenty of times I got skunked...actually come to think of it there still are) than much of any competency.

One of the small creeks that I hope will hold brook trout.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Fine and Pleasant Misery - the detailed version

It was a bit of a cinch this year to get all my gear on my bike.  In my past two Arrowheads I had different bikes each time and so it was a bit time consuming figuring out where to put it all on there.  I can remember sitting and just staring at my bike for hours trying to think it all through.  Can I put the pump there or will it be hard to get to if I need it?  How about over there then, nope that'll be in the way of my legs....  I'll stop well short of saying I have it dialed (and plus, in just about any system there is room for improvement from time to time) but it was noticeably easier this year than in years past.  But it's a two edged sword I guess - because I knew from past experience that it would all fit somehow I, of course, procrastinated on figuring out how exactly it would fit.  It'd been almost two years since I'd last done this and I couldn't remember exactly how it went.

Bike is ready to rock.

We were checking the weather obsessively up to ten days out from the race.  Of course a weather forecast that far ahead is nearly worthless, heck even a forecast one day ahead is doubtful - as was driven home during the race.  But then again I guess that we need something to speculate on to use up some nervous energy - and it's kinda like the pre-game stuff before the super bowl.

One thing that the weather was right about was that it was warm.  Compared to some past Arrowheads it was downright hot - if memory serves it was around -10 at the start in '11.  This year it was +25.  Believe it or not I'd rather have the -10.  At -10 temps it's easier to prevent overheating, the trail is generally firm, there is little chance of snow.  Things are cold, sure, but you can count on that too.  When it's +25 before daybreak you basically don't know what the hell you're going to get: wet snow, ice pellets, freezing rain, soft trails, slush, sun, fog, etc., etc.  As mentioned I had been checking the weather regularly before we left home and ended up filling my duffle bag with all sorts of stuff - most of which I didn't end up using - raincoat, fleece pants, heavy wool sweater, super thick socks, thick hats, mittens, etc.  I also knew that if I didn't take the stuff for cold weather the bottom would drop out and it would be -40 out there - and I'd have to quit for lack of that warm hat that is sitting in a dresser drawer back home.  As it was we didn't see much colder than +20 (one thing the weather forecast was accurate about) and almost all of the really warm stuff I brought stayed in the car.

I'll get to the race soon but I also want to set the stage a little more: the weather (which we checked the morning of the race start) said highs in the low 30's and lows in the 20's during the time we thought was reasonable for us to be out on the trail.  There was also a 30% chance of snow showers both days we were thinking we'd be out there.  A little on the warm side (if I had my druthers it'd be in the single digits above and below zero) but entirely doable - and besides it's not as if we had any choice.  Playing the hand you're dealt is mandatory in Arrowhead.  One of the ways that a run at Arrowhead is kinda a condensed version of life.

Get to the race already!

Kerry Park Arena to Gateway ~35 miles

John and I had loaded up the bikes and gone for a short ride the day before the start.  Trails looked like they were in fair shape.  We got the route dialed in from our motel to the start - which wasn't hard since it was less than a 5 minute walk down the road -to make it smooth on race morning.  We had set the alarm clocks early (we set at least three to make absolutely sure that we wouldn't miss it) and had a breakfast of cereal and almonds in the room.  In '11 we went to the Chocolate Moose for breakfast but they don't open until 6 on Monday mornings and although I made the start just fine then I was cutting it pretty close - so we decided to just eat in the room this time - it worked out well.

Reflections from the bikers lined up at the start

It was warm (~+25 BTW all temps are from memory - if it was really +15 then, well, it felt like +25 to me and that's what I'm stickin' to) at the start which was good because the warming house wasn't open and we had to congregate outside. We stood around for maybe 20 minutes and then lined up and took off.  The plan was to go at a slow, steady, sustainable pace.  The trail was a bit soft, a bit slow (for us anyway, the leaders made good time, of course), and of a consistency that made it so your tires would slide out from underneath you unexpectedly.  We dropped our tire pressure a bit to match the trail and started grinding out miles.  Things went fairly smoothly and we managed to hold a pace just over five mph until Gateway. 

Glinden chasing us just after the Hwy 53 road crossing

We stopped at Gateway, ate some food, and just generally relaxed.  Jenny, Ann and Glinden were there to meet us.  It was here that we first got news (despite our obsessive weather checking before the start) of a winter storm coming our way.  We couldn't do anything to change that so we just didn't worry about it and left a little over an hour after we got there.  

Dry and happy.  Spirits were high at Gateway.

Gateway to Melgeores   

Ready to leave Gateway
The trails were still in good shape but we were taking it easy on the hills

A crop out of the last picture.  Elephant Lake is where we were headed.

Leaving Gateway the trails were firming up and things were going very well for us.  We were able to hold a roughly 6 mph pace, and we had an energy boost from taking a break at Gateway.  Shortly after Gateway is the Ash River Road.  If memory serves it started snowing a bit just before the crossing but hadn't accumulated much.  We roared down the hill to the road crossing and stopped to chat with our fan club before taking off again.  The trail was firm, spirits were high, we were making - if not fast - steady progress.  We allowed ourselves to think, hey, barring mishap, we can do this!  It was a little foolish, I know, to think this because 1) we had more than half the race to go 2) to think this was to bait the Gods.

My aunt Marietta had made John and I some awesome energy bars to take on the trip.  They were the best tasting thing I had brought with me.  She had made a special effort to get them to us.  We were very thankful that she did.  The were great.  PS  You can see the snow starting to accumulate on our helmets.

We took off from Ash River Road in high spirits and continued on our slow, steady way.  The snow, a wet, heavy snow, came down harder and started to accumulate some.  It slowed us down some but we still made steady progress.  It accumulated more.  We started to get wet (which wasn't really all that big of a deal since it was still in the 20's and we were generating heat via movement).  The snow accumulated more.  We were starting to get frustrated: it was getting to the point where riding, even on flat ground, was difficult.  After what seemed like many hours we were coming over the top of a hill to see lights that made it look like there was a Wal-Mart parking lot up ahead.  We couldn't yet see the bottom of the hill (where the light was coming from) so we weren't sure what was going on.  Of course the light was from cars parked at the next road crossing, Sheep Ranch Rd.  We descended the hill (we could still ride downhill easy enough).  Jenny, Ann and Glinden were there as well as spectators for several other racers.  We chatted a bit, had a snack, and got a rough idea of how far it was to Melgeorges (where we had rented a room)(BTW it is roughly 17 miles according to some spectators there).  We took off at around 9:15.

the snow starting to accumulate.  The expressions on our faces tell roughly how we feel about this development

It was really coming down

The snow was showing no signs of letting up.  Riding on the flats was getting extremely difficult and any riding that pointed uphill at all was pretty much out.  We made it to the Black Duck Shelter in a couple of hours.  The Black Duck shelter is about 5 miles from Sheep Ranch.  There was an extremely nice couple from England already bivying there - they invited us to join them but we were thinking of the nice, warm beds waiting for us at Melgeorges [note to those thinking of racing Arrowhead who have not yet done so: we had rented a room at the resort there, the cabin that serves as the checkpoint isn't set up for good sleep] and decided to push on.  Melgeorges was roughly 12 miles away from the Black Duck Shelter.  As we were stopped and chatting with the couple from England a group of 3 snowmobiles came and stopped.  They were with the race and wanted to see if everyone was OK.  They were pulling large sleds (to put the pulk/bikes in that belonged to the people dropping out - of which there were alot because of the snow) and although by this time almost any riding was extremely taxing we thought that we could ride in the tracks of the sleds.  The trail leaving the shelter goes down a short hill, crosses a bridge and starts up a long, shallow, uphill.  We were able to ride down the hill and across the bridge and (for me anyway) about 10 feet past the bridge largely because of the momentum I had built up going down the hill.  And so we pushed.  It was pretty rare now to be able to ride at all (even in our lowest gear and using alot of effort and we had dropped our tire pressure as much as we dared).  We pushed.  We pushed.  We pushed.  Hills were coming on strong now we had to push up, across the top, and down the hill and across the flat until we got to the next hill and then we got to repeat it all.  At about 3:30 we stopped, my left hip was complaining, and John had some worries about his knee which was injured long ago and has never been the same.  We himmed and hawed.  We didn't want to bivvy but at this rate we'd 1) not make it to Melgeorges until past daybreak and even more worrisome 2) might push things so hard that we'd have to stop, and then maybe out respective hip and knee would be worthless come morning and we'd have to take a ride from a snowmobile anyway.  But we were soaked from the wet snow and didn't know for sure if we'd be warm overnight.  And it was still snowing as hard as ever.

We talked it over, and decided to bivvy.  We had stopped to talk about the possibility of bivvying and when we decided that, yes, we were going to bivvy we looked for places to lay down.  One was literally where we had stopped to talk - and it was probably about as good a bivvy site as we could expect to find and it was right there, 20 feet off the trail. We wished fervently that we had stopped at the Black Duck shelter to get out of this snowfall but we were probably 5 hours past that - almost all of that pushing.  A group of the rescue snowmobilers stopped to see how we were.  They said that we were about 7 miles from Melgeorges.  We did some quick math: from Sheep Ranch Rd to the Black Duck shelter was about 5 miles - it had taken us about 2 hours.  We had now gone roughly 5 miles past that in about 5 hours.  And the snow was falling as hard - or harder - than it had been all night.  Bivvying seemed like a good idea: maybe there would be some snowmobile traffic that would pack the trail down by morning; maybe my hip would feel better; maybe just the light would buoy our spirits. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

The good bivvy spot we had happened upon was in a stand of Balsam trees that would block some of the snow.  I unrolled my sleeping mat, got my bag and bivy all ready and stripped off my soaked top layers and put on some dry stuff I had.  I didn't have to worry about where to put water to keep it from freezing because I had none - this section of trail had taken to long that I had run out a while earlier.  I laid down in the sleeping bag, zipped everything up and was asleep in minutes.  Both John and I stayed warm all night.

When I woke up it wasn't snowing...but it had been snowing after we laid down.  There were 3 more inches on top of what we already had.  So much for riding this morning.

We packed up and took off down the trail, pushing of course.  My hip had tightened up overnight and hurt quite a bit until it loosened up.  I came upon a woman from Brazil being tended to by one of the runners (though we were all sloggers at this point).  She was in rough shape but the runner had her in his bivy and was feeding her and heating up water for hot chocolate.  I can't speak a lick of Portuguese so I couldn't really help so I continued on my way resolving to tell the next rescue snowmobile to go and get her.

The small stand of Balsam just beyond the big deciduous tree on the right in the picture is where we had our bivvy site.  Make no mistake, all this snow made for a tough race - but it also made for a beautiful landscape.  And even though I was on the miserable side, this beauty wasn't lost on me.

I had packed up my bivy faster than John and so had started up the trail sooner.  I hadn't seen him for an hour or so and couldn't see anyone coming when I looked behind me on the few straight sections of trail.  It was a little breezy so I found a spot out of the wind and unrolled my sleeping pad and laid down to wait.  In about 15 minutes or so he showed up and I rolled up my pad and we continued on our way.

At this point several rescue snowmobiles had been through and had packed the trail down enough that - oh sweet glory! - we could actually ride again.  John was able to ride more than I.  It was a ton of effort to ride and I was worried that if I worked too hard I'd soak my last remaining dry clothes - so John steadily pulled away from me until I barely ever saw him.   And to tell the truth I was thinking about quitting, had been since we got up in the morning.  I had told him this and that's the only reason that he went ahead - he wouldn't have otherwise.

Several rescue snowmobiles had passed me and stopped to see if I was OK.  I asked them how far I was from Melgeorges.  I told them that I was OK (not yet wanting to admit that I was ready to quit) so they left but I was also starting to do some math in my head: the bivy site last night was about 7 miles out.  I left there maybe an hour and a half ago.  I still had over 5 miles to go.  At this pace it would take me over 5 more hours to get there.  That was bad enough but this was also taking way longer to get to Melgeorges than I thought it would and I run out of water last night.  John had water but I felt bad drinking it and besides he was way ahead of me now and so even if I wanted to drink his water (I didn't) I couldn't.  So I probably wouldn't even be able to hold the pace I was doing now.  And I started justifying quitting: I've finished this sonofabitch race twice...I've been in a snowbike race where I pushed 30 miles (DDD '09).  I've got nothing to prove to myself or anyone else.  Hell, it takes some nerve to even show up at the start line, let alone make it almost 70 miles in.  You know, all that stuff to pump my ego up so it wouldn't take such a blow from quitting.  Sure, all of it is true, but it sounds, now, a bit hollow.  So I took a ride on a snowmobile the last 5 miles and I don't regret it (although I was feeling a bit bittersweet then.  I really could have made it those last 5 miles if I'd really wanted to.  But I kinda wussed out).  I remember sitting on the back of the snowmobile and seeing all the trail zip past - trail that I would have been pushing most of - and feeling good about my decision to accept a ride.

John made it in to Melgeorges under his own power.  Congrats.  He's already vowed to be back next year.

Overall we felt really good about our effort.  Of course it was disappointing not to finish but we were feeling pretty good about our chances back at the Ash River Road.  Bikes were working smooth, bodies (although a bit tired) were working well.  I'm pretty confidant that, barring mishap, we stood a pretty good chance of finishing.  Things beyond our control shut us down, not faulty bike setup or faulty bodies.

 And even if the weatherman would have predicted this snow there's not a damn thing either of us could have done about it. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

A Fine and Pleasant Misery

The title of one of Patrick Mcmanus' books (A Fine and Pleasant Misery) is about the best words I can think of to describe my experience at Arrowhead 2013.  It was fine and pleasant in that all of my gear worked well enough and my body was working well enough that if trail conditions had allowed for riding I'm fairly confidant I could have finished.  And, even though I didn't finish, I'm satisfied that I gave it a good shot and that things beyond my control were the limiting factor.

The limiting factor was that we got something like 8" of wet snow.  Riding bikes was impossible - at least it was for anyone I talked with (this was the Misery part).  We ended up getting into our bivy bags and sleeping for 5 hours or so.  I have never even considered sleeping in either of my other two Arrowheads.

This is before Gateway (and before it started snowing).  We were making slow but steady progress - our bodies and bikes were both working well.

Fairly soon after it started to snow.

What the trail looked like the morning after we bivied.
John's bike when we woke up from our sleep at the bivy site.

The title of the book says it all.
A "real" write-up will follow in the next couple of days.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

what the hell was I thinking?

I know that I was never going to be a contender for even the top ten (or probably even top 20) in Arrowhead this year (and probably never).  It's gotten incredibly competitive.  In '09 I managed to get 12th place.  There were 15 finishers (and 25 starters) - almost all of whom had some kind of fatbike (I didn't - and I plan to whine about it).  In '09 my time was just shy of 40 hours.  In '11 I finished in 33:30 for a 24th place finish out of 39 to finish.  55 started).  I didn't race in '12 but if you take my time from '11 and see what place that would have got me, it would have netted me 35th place.  And this year there are 6 past winners so it'll probably be even faster (assuming good trail conditions).  So what does this mean for me?  Almost nothing since my goal this year is to accompany John to the finish and take some good pictures and possibly video during the race.  He's never done anything like this before and I'll be doing what I can to help him along - our only goal is to finish.  It's still 135 miles.  Just finishing it will be a big deal - if we can manage it.

Along about Christmas I ran into a bout of motivational withdrawl: I didn't feel compelled to ride much.  It was fine for a while - I had been training hard before that and needed some recovery time - but it kept stretching out.  "Oh, I'll go for a nice long ride tomorrow" and then of course I wouldn't and then would say "Oh, I'll go for a nice long ride tomorrow".  This continued for a few weeks.  I actually did get a few rides in but they were only a few hours long.

Arrowhead isn't like the final exam in college that you can stay up late the night before cramming.  You try and pull that for Arrowhead and your chances of finishing are pretty low.  It's a wonder that I can motivate myself to train for Arrowhead because I'm a terrible procrastinator.  I'm real quick, I think I just figured it out: riding my bike = fun, studying for Organic Chemistry = pulling teeth.

Anyway, I got out for a ride a couple of days back.  Then I went for a short one last night and then a medium one (just over four hours) tonight.  And that's a wrap.  I'm as good as I'm going to be for Arrowhead (not very).  It's actually cold here now.  First ride this year that was below zero - with wind chills at about -30.  It feels good to get out in some semi-cold temps.  Relaxing.  Now I know that if it gets cold at Arrowhead I can handle it - the main thing to remember is that I shouldn't lick my pump.

A picture of me taken by a nice, passing snowmobiler who stopped for a chat.

I hope and pray that conditions aren't like this for Arrowhead - or at least very much of it.  In reality we'll have to play the hand we're dealt at Arrowhead but hopefully the hand we're dealt isn't soft snow (packed by maybe half a dozen snowmobiles) with 4" of untracked stuff on top.  Very slow.  Although I took my computer off my bike (too much other stuff on the handlebar) I would guess that I was going somewhere between 3 and 4 mph.  (Or close to 40 hours to complete the whole thing)

This spot is where the Moquah Spur intersects with the Iron River trail.  In the fall when the trail is hard-packed and fast I can make it here in about 45 mins.  On this ride it took about 2:30.

I thought I had the Blair Witch chasing me.  So I stopped to take a picture.  Makes sense, right?     

I made it to the end of the Moquah Spur roughly 6 miles away in about an 2.5 hours.  The Arrowhead record (15:45) is not in danger by yours truly.

Friday, January 18, 2013


Whoops, forgot to post this one.  I wrote it sometime in December.  

The night before yesterday I spent getting my 29er ready for ice riding.  I have a pair of studded tires (that I made myself using an old pair of tires and a bunch of sheet metal screws).  So I switched the tires over, and the frame bag with pump enclosed, and threw a spare tube in too.  I was ready to ride.

 OK so when I was 3 hours into the ride at the farthest point from our place I stopped to eat a snack of summer sausage and fry-bread.  When I rolled out to start heading back home I immediately noticed that I had a flat front tire.

Flats almost always suck but this was no big deal as I had a spare tube, and pump along.  I went to grab my tire irons out of my seatbag and was horrified to see that I didn't have one with me.  I had forgotten to switch it over to this bike.  A string of rather dark thoughts went through my head as I thought of all the miles I'd be pushing my bike home just because I had forgotten the measly tire iron.  I threw on my spare windbreaker that standard to bring along on every bike ride - but of course a tool kit is also a standard thing to bring along so I guess that "standard" is about meaningless - and started walking.

Probably 15 year ago I remember reading an article (I believe it was in Dirt Rag - as if that matters much) that had a little tidbit that's stuck with me all those years.  I have no idea why it did, I've never used that tidbit before, I have no idea what the article was about, it's just one of those things that sticks with you.  Usually I've got a memory like a steel sieve but this clung to my brain.  The tidbit is: if you find yourself out in the middle of nowhere without a tire iron try using your skewer.  I did this and it worked great.
I've got to think that the chances of a person remembering a pump and spare tube while forgetting a simple tire iron would be rather slim but hell, that's exactly what I did yesterday. 

I pumped it up and was off.  And boy was I relieved - it would have probably been a 20 mile hike home.  I shudder to think about it. 

It was probably another 2 1/2 hours home.