Vivi’s Urgent Poem

Today, Shannon was doing early-morning stuff in the kitchen when she was surprised by Vivi, who came rushing downstairs, exclaiming, “I have a poem!” This is what she wrote down even before giving S a kiss and a hug, much less eating breakfast.

Winter by Genevieve Tassava

All bundled up

all snug and furry

everything seems so blurry

with the winter winds a-blowing

it’s a Winter Wonderland!

Who needs breakfast when you are creating art?

Didn’t Get Froze: After the Arrowhead 135

I’ve been immensely pleased that others have enjoyed Part I and Part II of my race story. Partly for the sake of my own memory, partly to complete the story, and partly to answer some questions that others have asked, I am adding this third part. There’s only a little crying in it. (I’m lying: there’s quite a bit of crying in it, but all of it is manly crying.)

Before getting to that, though, I have to say that I feel amazingly privileged to have tried the Arrowhead, to have finished the Arrowhead, and now to be enjoying so much attention for doing something so crazy insane stupid fun. In the first place, I am extremely lucky to have a body that could do this. Some of this is due to training, sure, but I’m fortunate (knocking on all the wood in the trees I passed on the trail) to have never been afflicted with a serious health problem – congenital, chronic, episodic, whatever. Not everyone is so lucky. If you are, maybe you should take advantage!

Second, I’m also extremely fortunate to have a wife who makes it possible for me to do this stuff. She solo-parented for four days while I had my adventure. THANK YOU, SHANNON.

Third, I’ve been lucky, here in Northfield, to have found a bunch of people who enjoy biking, who get along pretty well, and who encourage each other in our two-wheeled pursuits. Thank you, CVVCers and gravel riders!

Fourth, I am fortunate to work at a place – Carleton College – where a certain amount of eccentricity is expected and even celebrated. I guess winter biking is mine.

The hours after I finished were as weird as the hours before I finished, but at least I was inside and mostly stationary. Walking up and especially down stairs was extraordinarily painful, with my feet hurting more than any other body part (even my butt, which started healing as soon as I stopped riding). Race organizers helped me find a place to shower. The hot water wasn’t as refreshing as I thought it would be, and had the dismaying effect of causing blood to rush into my toes. They swelled up and turned purple-black for a few minutes, then calmed down and shrank back to their usual pink state. (Get your mind out of the gutter. I’m not talking about that right here. I can only talk about that after a couple beers.)

What really felt great was brushing my teeth and then getting dressed in warm, loose clothes – including especially the coveted finisher’s hat. I got one of the last two left over from the infamous 2013 race. Didn’t its deep gray set off my hollowed eyes?

Finisher's Hat

Since Skipulk, I had been looking forward to sleeping. I assumed that my body would demand food, drink, and then sleep. As I sat in the recovery room, though, my body went in other directions. Tsunamis of endorphins washed over me, sending me over to the food table for a huge bowl of pretzels, to the drink table for most of a two-liter bottle of tepid Coke, and out into the darkened hallway to weep for a few more minutes.

Sleep or even tiredness was impossible – even though the men’s champion, Jay Petervary, was snoozing on a pile of blankets about six feet from me. I joined in the applause as other finishers came in, looking equally blasted and elated, and the volunteers drafted me to retrieve the trophies each of them had earned. And of course I was on my phone, “talking” to all the wonderful people who had driven me on overnight. Cloud 9 was far, far below me.

The race committee had organized an irregular shuttle service to ferry riders and their bikes back to “the Falls” to retrieve their cars, but when it became clear that I wasn’t going to be on one of the shuttles anytime soon, I decided I had better try to get some sleep after all. I had been up for about 36 hours. (First, though, I asked Jay and Tracery Petervery, the men’s and women’s champions, respectively, to autograph my number plate. #fanboy)

I checked into the hotel, dragged my gear down to my room (cruelly, one flight of stairs down from the hospitality room), and crawled into bed. I know I slept, because a couple hours later a volunteer was knocking on the door to tell me that a shuttle was almost ready to leave, but I don’t remember falling asleep – only lying in the bed, legs throbbing, and seeing the white trail ahead of me when I closed my eyes. This wasn’t a nightmare vision, simply the thing I’d been looking at for so damn long.

Five or six of us piled into the shuttle van (our bikes in the trailer) for the drive back to the Falls. We rode for a couple hours, mostly chatting with the other racers, including the guy who encountered wolves (twice!) and a woman from Great Britain who had finished even though her husband had dropped out with severe frostbite (and has now needed many days of hospitalization back in the U.K.!). I made a lot of friends in the van by sharing a pack of gum I’d thought to stow in my bag. I’ll never go to another race without a good supply of spearmint gum. Maybe I’ll sell it by the slice, though.

Back in sleepy, frozen I-Falls around 10, I was happy that my car started up right away, despite having been out in the cold for nearly 48 hours. I swung through the Dominos next door to pick up a large pizza, an order of feta cheesy bread, and two Sprites, then hightailed it back to the hotel, listening to a truly execrable classic-rock station the whole way. The pizza didn’t survive the two-hour trip.

Wednesday morning, I woke up feeling pretty good. My feet hurt a lot and my stomach was already empty, but nine hours of sleep hadn’t affected my sense of elation. I must have been grinning like a fool while I checked out, packed up, said goodbyes to those racers who also around and to the tireless volunteers, and then headed back home. I stopped frequently on the way home to get more food and drink – another pizza, at least a couple liters of water, probably a liter of soda, and a pint of chocolate milk. I also ate two cups of my leftover trail mix and all my remaining beef jerky.

I did not stop, however, when two different songs made me cry again – Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” (because, c’mon: Journey!) and the Northfield band the Counterfactuals’ “If You Go Then You Go It Alone”, which includes such post-ultramarathon tearjerking lyrics as these: “March on. You know looking back will turn you to stone/If you go then you go it alone/Every night brings a new kind of dark/If you go then you go it alone”).

The crying felt about as wonderfullly cathartic as finishing had, but I was also bawling because during the hardest part of the race, I hadn’t been really alone: All those people! All those FB posts! And Shannon had said that my boss was organizing a welcome-home gathering at work the next day! For doing a long frozen bike ride? I felt exposed and grateful.

I got myself together enough to handle the traffic in St. Paul (where, bizarrely, I came upon a pickup truck being driven home by two other racers!) and found that dealing with cars did a wonderful job of restoring my usual sense of vague annoyance with other human beings. Still, I cried again when I came through the front door at home. The girls gave me long, crushing hugs, and Shannon gave me a wonderful “bravo!” card. The domestic routine was an instant comfort.

Back at the office on Thursday, I felt like I was glowing. So many people were curious about the race, and a bunch of coworkers came to the welcome-home gathering, where I got to show off the Beast (“The bike doesn’t look tired!” someone observed, correctly) and talk a little about the race. It was wonderful (even when I cried again describing what it was like to finish).

Since then, things have somehow much only gotten better. The work-and-home routines have been great, my body and mind have steadily thawed (figuratively and, in the case of my frostbitten nose, literally and digustingly), I have not either collapsed in exhaustion or illness, and many people have been interested in one way or another about the experience of the race, including the local newspaper’s sports journalist, who wrote a nice article on the race.

My own blog posts, which I wrote mostly just to, as they say, “get it all down,” have elicited a lot of really nice, gratifying responses – and even some advice to try and get my story published. This strikes me as kind of odd, since really the Arrowhead is just a long bike ride, but I do like the idea of sharing my experience with more people. To that end, my blog posts have been featured on the Carleton website (where my colleague Jessica wrote a great intro) and, even more remarkably, on Minnesota Public Radio’s “NewsCut” blog, where my posts were excerpted and expertly summarized by Bob Collins, a journalist I’ve admired for a long time.

In short, this has all been amazing. While I wait to see where this craziness goes, I can address a few questions that quite a few people have asked.

“When did you sleep?”
I didn’t.

“You didn’t sleep at all?”
Nope. I am as surprised as you are.

“Didn’t you want to quit?”
No, not even once. When I sent in my application to race, last fall, I was committed to finishing the race – if they let me in. Unless something catastrophic happened (a broken leg, a broken chain), I was determined to finish, no matter how slow I had to go.

“Do you like being cold?”
Kinda? I mean, I like being warm, but I like the challenge of being warm in the cold. Or of being comfortable with the cold.

“What kind of bike did you ride?”
I rode the Beast, my Mukluk 3 fatbike, which is made by Minnesota’s own Salsa Cycles. The Mukluk is about as basic a fatbike as you can find, and the Beast is still more or less stock. (You can see its full specifications here.) It’s far from the insanely tricked-out and amazingly light and crazily expensive bikes that many racers rode. (Many of these people finished behind me!) I have made a few small but important upgrades to the Muk’s stock build: better tires (45NRTH’s Hüsker Düs), better brakes (Avid Speed Dial 7s), and a good set of bags to carry food, drink, and, you know, sleeping bags and stoves and stuff. I also ran with two of Salsa’s brilliant “Anything Cages,” which are like giant water-bottle holders that are big enough to hold all kinds of stuff, like my tent and a container full of food. (One of them broke during the race, snapping at the weld. Salsa being a fantastic company, they are hand-delivering its replacement!) This winter, I also bought a pair of “pogies,” which are big, thick overmitts that go over your handlebars. Pogies are genius.

“How much did your bike cost?”
More than Shannon would have liked it to cost? My bike, its upgrades, and all its gear are worth maybe $2,000. But I don’t think I’d sell it to you.

“How much clothing did you wear?”
A lot. At the finish, I was wearing this kit, more or less from inside out and bottom to top:

  • Craft windbriefs
  • Sugoi cycling shorts (the one epic fail in my kit)
  • two pairs of synthetic liner socks
  • two pairs of heavyweight wool socks (one calf length, one knee length)
  • two ventilation singlets – one no-name, one Craft
  • Craft thermal tights (longjohns)
  • Craft thermal top
  • Briko cross-country skiing pants
  • Louis Garneau heavyweight synthetic cycling jersey
  • Sugoi high-visibility windjacket
  • Smartwool balaclava
  • no-name neck gaiter
  • two ski caps – fleece against my head, lycra on top of that
  • Craft lobster gloves
  • Keen Brixen boots

“What’s this deal with the sleeping bag and stuff?”
The Arrowhead organizers require everyone to carry a set of mandatory gear that’s essentially all the stuff you need to survive (or try to survive) a winter night outdoors. Here’s how I met the requirements:

  • sleeping bag (rated to -20F degrees or colder)
  • insulated sleeping pad
  • bivy sack
  • lighter
  • Esbit stove
  • 36 Esbit tablets
  • 1.5 pint aluminum cup
  • 3 24-ounce insulated water bottles
  • headlamp
  • flashing red LED lights for the front and back of bike
  • a vest with more than 10 square inches of reflective material on it
  • a whistle on string
  • a 16-ounce jar of store-brand peanut butter (and a spork!)

The organizers check all your gear before you start, and you have to carry all of it all the way. Bikers pack this stuff on their machine (or their body); runners and skiers put most or all of it on sleds that they pull over the snow for 135 miles. Those poor bastards.

Speaking of poor bastards: I thought I could meet the gear requirements with a sleeping bag rated to 0 degrees and two silk liners, which several people assured me would bring the bag down to -20. Uh-uh. At the gear check the day before the race, the chief inspector looked at me sternly and said, “I can’t let you start with this bag. The rules say a minus 20 bag. This isn’t the same thing.” I happened to be kneeling in front of him at the time, which was the right posture. “What can I do?” “Well, you could go across the river [to Fort Frances, Canada] to try to buy one, or… Let me call a guy. Just a minute.” He walked off, leaving me to repack all my other gear. Before I finished, he was back. “My friend Anton has a bag he can loan you. He’ll be here in ten minutes.” I exhaled. “Thank you so much!” Ten minutes later, an elfin old man in several hundreds of dollars of cold-weather gear appeared. “You the guy who needs the sleeping bag?” I was. “I got two. This military one is rated to minus 50.” He held up a olive drab bag that, rolled up, was as big as a trash can. “This other one is only rated to minus 30, but I’ve slept in it to minus forty. It’s a mummy bag, though, so it’s a little tight in the hips.” I was a good six inches taller and forty pounds heavier than Anton, so I figured this bag would be red-carpet-gown tight on me. But it rolled up tiny, so I took it. “How do I get it back to you?” He shrugged. “Everybody knows me. Just give it to Jackie at the finish line.” I had no idea who Jackie was. “Or else I’ll kill you!” He grinned to show me he was joked, pushed the bag into my belly, and marched away. Problem solved! (I did remember to turn the bag over to Jackie – the chief race organizer! – at the finish.)

“How much did your bike weigh with all that stuff on it?”
My bike weighs about 40 pounds “naked,” so I would estimate that the bike and all the gear weighed maybe 60 or even 70 pounds.

“What did you eat?”
Not enough. In addition to water, I packed a lot of food: “energy bombs” made of oatmeal, chocolate chips or cranberries, shredded coconut, and peanut butter; fudge from my coworker Dee; Reese’s peanut butter cups [12 of them, because they don’t freeze – ever]; about a half-dozen energy gels; home-made trail mix of almonds, cranberries, and dark chocolate squares; beef jerky; a whole ‘nother bar of dark chocolate (broken into squares); and four Red Bull lime energy drinks.

Of this, I ate a few of the energy bombs, maybe a third of the trail mix, half the PB cups, four gels, half the jerky, and all of the Red Bulls. At the various checkpoints, I consumed maybe 36 ounces of Coke, 48 ounces of Gatorade, two bowls of wild rice soup and two grilled cheese sandwiches, two tiny cups of chicken noodle soup, and maybe a few other small things.

“How much weight did you lose?”
A lot? None? Some?

On Sunday morning before I drove up to the race, I weighed 172 pounds. When I got back home on Wednesday night after the race but also after eating everything in sight for 12 hours, I weighed 181. Thursday morning, after a very sweaty and restless night that included several trips to the bathroom, I was down to 174. This morning, a full week after the race, I weighed 164.

“How did you train?”
I rode my bike as much as I could, first of all. I commute by bike year-round, so I’m used to being out in bad weather, and I took the long way to work on the polar vortex day earlier in January. I did several rides on my fatbike of more than 40 miles, and one, loaded with almost all of my equipment, of 70. I would have liked to do a full 100-mile training ride, but I just didn’t have time.

Making up for that, I do some pretty intense CrossFit-style training at the Carleton gym pretty much every weekday. My trainer is great, and the group of trainees is great, too. I’ve noticed a lot of improvement in my strength from this training, and since many sessions involve short bursts of maximum activity, this training also turns out to have provided a huge amount of interval training,

“If you ever did this race again, what would you do differently?”
Foremost, I would do something different with my water, trying to prevent it from freezing so quickly. I’m trying to figure that out now.

Relatedly, I would bring much less food overall, much less food that is sweet, and more high-calorie savory food. Even turkey and cheese sandwiches would be good. At AH temps, they wouldn’t go bad!

Depending on how I felt on the bike, I would try to cut my rest stops down a lot. All told this year, I spent four hours at the three checkpoints. I probably needed every second of that time, but then again, maybe I didn’t! Cutting my stops down to an hour each would cut an hour off my race time. Cutting y stops to thirty minutes each would cut 2:30 off my race time.

My bike and kit was magnificent overall, but I will get a better facemask, one that covers my nose, and probably better pogies. The $100 versions that some racers were using were definitely more than four times better than my $25 cheapies from Gander Mountain. If Revelate or Dogwood up in Alaska wants to sponsor me…

“Would you ever do this race again?”
Yes. The 2015 race starts at 7 a.m. on Monday, January 26. I plan to be there.

I want to go faster!

Don’t Get Froze, part II: The Arrowhead 135 (Miles 110-135)

Skipulk came at a funny place on the course: I could have pedaled, or at least walked, for quite a bit further to reach the checkpoint, but once I had reached it, I couldn’t move except to hand the Beast to the volunteer who came rushing up and then to climb into the nearer tent and sit down. The volunteer came in right away to take down my bib number and check-in time – 6:10 a.m., or 50 minutes shy of 24 hours since the start. He radioed that info to the finish, then turned on the propane heater on the floor next to me. I eyed the cot next to me, wondering whether I should lie down.

My Hot Little Friend

I sat there for a while breathing heavily, listening to my pulse in my ears, and feeling the warmth of the heater spread up my legs. I was wet enough that my pants and then my sleeves started steaming. I hadn’t had any shivering episodes so far in the race, and the blast from the heater let me skip right to the point of being warm enough to talk. The volunteer introduced himself, saying he had started the race but dropped out at Gateway because it was too cold, then decided to make himself useful by helping with the race. At some point as I listened, I broke in and faced him. "Does my nose look okay? I think it’s frostbitten." He leaned in, checking, and then grinned. "Nope. It’s no redder than mine. You’re fine. I’ll take a picture to show you."

Skipulk Portrait

I hardly noticed that I looked like hell, but I was hugely relieved to see that my nose was not in fact black with frostbite. Frostbite wouldn’t have been that bad, but getting pulled from the race for frostbite would have been a disaster. (This photo shows why I did later get frostbite on my face: I had Dermatone all over my upper cheeks and forehead, but missed my lower cheeks and nose.) Around this time, my riding partner – who had gone to the other tent when we arrived – banged on the wall of my tent and shouted, "I’m heading out! You’re faster than me, so I’ll see you on the trail!" I think I replied, but maybe I didn’t. I hope I wished him well. At any rate, I never did catch him. He left Skipulk after just a half hour of rest and 53 minutes ahead of me. I finished exactly 53 minutes behind him.

I couldn’t even think about going on yet, but feeling warmer now, I dug out my phone and turned it on, planning to post the picture in case anyone wanted to know how I was doing. I hadn’t had a signal at Melgeorges, so I had been offline for nearly twelve hours – half the race. Once the phone powered up, it went nuts: tens and then scores and then hundreds of messages scrolled past, too fast to read. Fogged, I couldn’t tell what they were – Status updates? Tweets? Notifications that I needed to take my turns in Words with Friends? After a minute, they stopped and let me get to my home screen, where my Facebook icon showed nearly 200 updates. Bizarre! What were they about? I tapped into FB and was shocked to find that dozens of my friends had been following my race all day and all night. Many of them knew more about my race than I did, and all of them seemed to be rooting for me. For probably the first time in a day, I started sweating, but with excitement and even a tinge of nervousness. So many people! Why were they so into how I was doing in this crazy race? And what the hell was this? The Minneapolis newspaper had my picture on the front of the sports section? I showed a FB photo of that page to the volunteer, who had just brought me a cup of chicken soup. He laughed. "Now you have to finish!" I was speechless. I just sat there on my camp chair too close to the heater, sipped my soup, and read messages, feeling better and better with each one.

At some point, I was right again. My heart was full, most importantly, but also, I could feel my feet. The soup – plus some water from my defrosted bottle and one more precious Red Bull – had filled my stomach. Insouciantly, I had even taken off my gloves, revealing ghastly hands: gray with cold, wrinkly from dehydration, a little bit bloody where my fingertips had cracked. Back inside their gloves, though, they felt fine, almost as good as my soul. I posted photos of my face and of my friend the heater and stood up for the first time since arriving. I managed to unzip the tent by myself (something I hadn’t been able to do when I arrived) and discovered, stepping outside, that the sun had come up. Everything was washed in a brittle blue light. It was great to see.

"My" volunteer seemed a little surprised to see me up and moving. I handed him my empty soup cups and started demanding things. "Can you take my water bottles out of my backpack and then fill them with hot water?" He hopped to, pouring water boiled over the campfire into my bottles and zipping the bottles into my pack. Soon, I could feel the heat from the bottles soaking through the bag and to my skin. It felt great, like a bath. I asked him to fill my third bottle, which I stowed in my frame bag, and then suddenly I was ready to go. Readiness just suddenly appeared, fully formed. He checked me out, logging a massive 90-minute stop, and I headed off up the trail, feeling pretty good. If I’d been able to do the math, I could have figured that the race had started just over 24 hours before.

All night long, I had had the official checkpoint mileage card


sitting on my sleeping bag, held down by my brake and shifter cables. As I started riding, I had to move it a little so that I could see the mileage markers for the last leg. This leg was the shortest in the race, just 26.5 miles, and was suppposed to be entirely flat once I made it up and down Wakemup Hill, at the end of the first of two short, early sections. I reached Wakemup Hill in just 30 minutes, which meant I was flying. Or had been: the hill was too steep to ride. At the top, though, the morning vista was so incredible that I stopped to take a picture before plunging back down.

Wakemup Hill Vista

I barely stayed on the track when it turned at the bottom of the hill, but I was feeling really good, and I hammered over the ensuing flats, eager to make it to the next milestone. The Crescent Bar road came up before I knew it, and suddenly I felt like I was almost done.

But I wasn’t. In my exhaustion, I was misreading the card, thinking that I had just 9 or 10 miles after the Crescent Bar road crossing until the finish. Actually, I had 20 miles to go from that point, split into two halves: from the road to the mysterious Shelter #9 and then from that shelter to the finish. The fact that the card had a typo on it – listing Shelter #8 in two spots – didn’t help my reasoning abilities.

And then the warmth and the rest and the nutrition of Skipulk started to wear off. The trail was flatter now, just as everyone had promised, but what the Arrowhead giveth, it also taketh away. The wall of trees that been sheltering me from the wind all night now started to break up, and open stretches – through cutover tracts, swamps, or just boring old fields – became more and more common. My speed tailed off, and I found myself barely moving, even on the flats. At one point, I followed a track that swerved wrong and crashed in slow motion into the foot-high snowbank that the snowmobile trail groomer had created. Going so slow did allow me to notice again all the dog, no, wolf tracks on the trail, and even to note the first birds I had seen since the overnight owl: some little winged bullets that shot from tree to tree ahead of me, and some fat crows or ravens that cawed at me and then slowly flew away. Sauntering, if birds could saunter. Seeing these black birds up there reminded me of the messenger birds in the Game of Thrones books, and I started trying to recall if those birds were crows or ravens. Were the members of the Night’s Watch called crows because of the messenger birds, or because they wore black? You know nothing, Jon Snow. Winter is coming.

I was muddled, almost stationary in mind and body, and the flat white track still stretched out in front of me. I decided, somewhere in here, to have my next-to-last can of Red Bull. Like the previous two, I carefully crushed it in the snow and then stowed the disk in my frame bag. My icebeard was back, so I couldn’t eat anything solid, even if I had had something that sounded good. Somehow, though, I remembered that I had energy gels, and even worked out the fact that if I stuck one in each glove, they would defrost enough that I could consume them.

This breakfast was good, but what was bad was the onset of the first true pain in the whole race: stabbing agony in my ass, which could no longer rest against the frozen seat for very long. Since solving my knee-pain problem on the first leg, my body had not been in any serious trouble. In fact, for most of the race, my body felt like something apart from me, a machine that was working pretty well but that I didn’t need to worry much about. The fatigue had mounted, sure, and I got really hungry, and my arms wavered as I pushed up the hills between Melgeorges and Skipulk, but nothing hurt or wanted to stop. Until now. I would pedal seated for a hundred strokes, gritting my teeth, then almost leap off the Beast to walk a hundred steps on perfectly flat trail. Stop. Breathe. Wait for the pain to subside. Get back on the bike, gingerly. Try to sit on one buttcheek or the other. Pedal more. Stop again. Walk again, noting that I could see at least one other set of boot prints on the trail. If someone ahead of me was walking, it was okay for me to walk, right?

This went on for what I can figure now to have been probably 10 miles. I created games for myself: walk to that tree, ride to that more distant tree, rest. I tried to remind myself that literally every pedal stroke or step, no matter how weak or short, got me closer to the finish line. This, in turn, reminded me of Zeno, but who has Zeno? Occasionally, I reached bridges over some nameless creeks, and even the tiny two-foot ramps up to the bridge decks were taxing. The snow seemed even squeakier than it had overnight, which started making me think that another racer was coming up on me. Many times, I concluded that I was about to get passed, resigned myself to losing a spot at this late moment in the race, and turned around to see nothing but empty track.

Then I would remember all those posts on Facebook. All those people! They were up now, going to work or taking their kids to school. Shannon had seen the girls onto the bus already. She was probably doing chores, or maybe having a cup of coffee. Was she hungry? I wanted a hug. If I were at work, I would be checking email. Did I turn on my out-of-the-office message? Yes, I did. Walk to that tree. Wait, that tree is a sign! A big sign! The sign was actually a map at a snowmobile-trail junction. I rode over and investigated, hoping it could give me some fucking information on how much fucking futher I fucking had to fucking go. It did, and clearly enough that even a drunk snowmobiler or an exhausted fatbiker could figure out the right direction to go. A little later, I came across another map, and it showed me, amazingly, that I now had fewer miles to go. I crossed a road, and amazingly that very road was shown on the course map that had been forgotten in my pack until I dug it out.

Last Miles

When had I gotten the map out? No idea. I was still walking a lot, but I was making progress. I felt warm, and okay except for my butt. As I had with my nose overnight, I imagined what sort of damage I was doing, and the mental picture wasn’t a good one.

But at some point in one of my brief stints of pedaling, I passed a small black shelter that must have been #9, putting me just about ten miles out. Ten miles! I could ride ten miles. Ten more miles! I stopped to celebrate with my last Red Bull and a caffeinated energy gel, which are my secret weapons in normal races. I tried to figure out how fast I had been going since Skipulk, but totally failed to do the simple math of dividing the miles I had covered by the hours since I had left the checkpoint. Instead, I just arbitrarily decided that I was going about five miles an hour, so I had about two hours left. Having a limit, even a totally illusory one, was very helpful. I got back on the Beast and started pedaling again. Perhaps because of the intermittent rest provided by walking or just because bodies are made to accommodate pain, I found that I could pedal steadily again.

In one of the race’s great ironies, I was now encountering the roughest snow I had seen since the start. Getting close to civilization meant that more snowmobilers had been out, tearing up the trail almost to the point of being unridable. But my trails back home were pretty rough, so I was able to keep up some speed, or at least not walk or stop. Then I heard road traffic – the first cars and trucks I had heard since Gateway. Looking at my map, I figured that these vehicles had to be on the last road before the finish line. I groaned up the slight rise to the road and discovered that I had in fact reached that last beautiful ribbon of asphalt. I had reached a spot not on the map or the checkpoint card: Almost There.

Just over the road, I think, was a sign that informed me I was entering the Bois Forte reservation. For a second, I tried to figure out what "Bois Forte" meant, but gave up as I pedaled past. The trail meandered now, jumping across a powerline cut, tracing the base of a hill, running between two ragged orange snow fences, and even paralleling the back of a big concrete building, but I was excited, powering – or seeming to power – through the turns and up and down the little rises. I kept my head up and forward, looking for the finish line. It had be here somewhere.

And then it was: far away, through a slot in the trees, I could see the arching white banner over the finish line. It disappeared as I took a curve, then reappeared, bigger and closer. The banner might have blinked in and out of sight a couple more times, but then I came upon a massive building that I knew, just knew, was the Fortune Bay resort, and saw the banner again, dead ahead, atop a short rise, close enough that I could read the text on it. Having that banner in an unbroken line of sight meant I was done, and I started crying as I pedaled. Up the hill. Up the hill. Up the hill. There was nobody at the finish line, but I kept pedaling and crying until I got there. Then I stopped and tipped over, hard. I just couldn’t get my feet off my pedals and onto the snow. As I crashed down, three guys popped out of the tent at the side of the finish line. "Are you okay? Just lie down, man. Congratulations! You finished the Arrowhead 135! You’re seventh! Congratulations!"

I laid there in the snow for a minute, looking up at this big bearded guy looming over me, talking to me. I was still crying, but I was smiling too. Someone else pulled my bike out from between my feet, and the bearded guy helped me up. "Hey, sit down if you need to. Rest. You’re done." I still hadn’t said anything. Couldn’t say anything. I just thought about how hard that had been. How could it be that I was done? How did I do it? How could I tell everyone that I had finished?

"I’m okay," I said, rolling onto my stomach and pushing myself up on to my knees, then standing up. "What time is it? What’s my finishing time?" The bearded guy tallied it. "29 hours, 9 minutes. Great job! When you’re ready, let’s get a picture of you and your bike!" I stood still for a minute more, then went over to stand behind the Beast under the finish line banner while three different people shot photos (which I still haven’t tracked down). I grinned. I was beyond elated, just a couple notches short of the high of getting married or holding my daughters for the first times.

My bearded friend took the Beast from me and led me over the snow to the hotel. Opening a back door, we entered a cold hallway. There were six other fatbikes in it – the rigs of the previous finishers. He leaned the Beast up against the wall. For some reason, I found it very important to turn off my front and rear blinky lights, so I did that. "Ready?" My friend was waiting patiently. "Your bike is secure here. No worries. Follow me up to the reception room." Walking the hotel corridors to the race HQ, I broke down again, sobbing with relief and joy. He turned a final corner and delivered me into a small, square room crowded with boxes, food, racers, and volunteers. "I have finisher number 7. Bib 31. 29:09." Everyone in the room clapped, even the racers.

Within a few minutes, I had received my finishing trophy, posed for my official finish picture,

Finisher Picture

started downing all the Coke I could find on the hospitality table, and stripped out of some of my layers of clothes. I also dug out my phone again and posted a message to say that I had finished. I felt like everyone needed to know.

Don’t Get Froze, part I: The Arrowhead 135 (Miles 0-110)

When I checked into my motel in International Falls around three in the afternoon on Sunday, January 26, the night before this year’s Arrowhead 135, the old lady at the counter gave me two things I needed: a huge pink shower curtain to lay on the floor under my bike (“those bikes are so messy, you know?”) and a piece of advice: “Don’t get froze.”

It was easy, and handy, to keep my bike’s crud on the shower curtain that night, as I set up my Salsa Mukluk fatbike – the Beast – for the race. My ride that night was a quick mile or two, over through the race start area, down some of the course to make sure everything was still functioning, and over to McDonalds for two chicken sandwiches to supplement the pasta I had eaten at five at the race orientation. With the Beast dialed in and put back on the shower curtain, my clothing laid out on the other half of the bed, and the alarm set for 5:30, I was in bed around 11.

Keeping from “getting froze” was hard. Even at race orientation on Sunday afternoon, everyone knew the event would be historically cold, and it turned out to go beyond that. Riding the mile or so from the motel to the start just before 7 a.m., I could tell that conditions were exceptional. The predictions had been for temps in the negative twenties at the start, and the northwesterly breeze pushed the windchills down further. I was wearing my standard cold-weather kit, which was comfortable as I followed the line of blinky lights over to the ice arena where we checked in.

The line moved fast, but I was dinged for not having my number plate on the front of my body. As I struggled to fix it, a guy came over to me. “Need some help?” “Yes!” I said. “I need this number plate on the front of my body.” “Oh, okay.” He unpinned the bib from my backpack and came around to pin it to my reflective vest – allowing me to notice that he was the mayor of International Falls, who had made a few remarks the night before at the orientation. Hilarious, and a sign of the race’s homey and small-town character.

I thanked the mayor and headed back outside, where the cold made my breath catch in my throat. Still, I let out a big whoop of excitement, happy that the race was finally here. Actually, it wasn’t. As I picked up my bike, someone yelled, “The bikes just started!” I jogged over to the start area, where I found the skiers getting set for their wave start, and where I could see a long line of bikers’ blinking lights heading away from me. I hopped on the Beast, now in last or nearly last place, and started pedaling. 7:01 a.m. I hoped to be done within 18 hours, or perhaps 24 at the most.

The opening ten miles is a flat straightway with a few easy road crossings. I steadily passed racers who had stopped to adjust tire pressure, fix clothing issues, or maybe reconsider their decision to start. As the sun came up around 8, I checked out my own situation. I wasn’t overheating, and didn’t feel hungry. I had pushed my goggles up onto my forehead early on, when they iced up, but I could see well and my eyes felt fine. My thighs were uncomfortably heavy, but I chalked that up to my session at the gym on Friday, and hoped the senations would subside as I warmed up. On the other hand, my knees felt tight, which rarely happens when I ride. At one of the road crossings, I stopped and raised my saddle a bit. Over the next hour, the knee pain went away, the legs warmed up, and I continued to pick up riders, including a big group who had stopped at the end of the opening stretch, where the trail takes a sharp left corner and starts its southwest run to the finish near Tower, Minnesota – 125 miles away.

In the morning sun, I could enjoy the scenery: deep white snow, conifer and hardwood forests, some open fens, and the endless trail, laced with fatbike tracks. As I crossed Highway 53, about halfway to the first checkpoint, the field had thinned out quite a bit, and I was going long stretches without seeing anyone at all. When I did encounter someone, it was a racer coming up from behind, passing me with a nod and maybe a greeting, and then moving on up the trail. The solitude was nice, though. I reached the 53 crossing well ahead of my own schedule, so I didn’t mind getting passed.

After the highway crossing, the trail began to get much more interesting: the trees closed in, the turns got sharper and more frequent, and some rolling ups and downs started to punctuate the flatness. I ate some of my trail mix and beef jerky (which, frozen, needed to marinate in my mouth for a long time before I could chew it) and even drank some water, though this was surprisingly difficult due to the big icebeard I could sense growing on my face. The sun was pretty high in the sky when I made a sudden road crossing and then followed some signs down a short spur to the first checkpoint, the Gateway General Store, at mile 37.

I leaned my bike up against a post, momentarily admired the dozens of other gorgeous machines resting nearby, and went inside. The check-in desk was immediately inside the door, but the volunteers there were more eager to take a picture of my icebeard than to write down my number and time.

Gateway Faceberg

The General Store must be crowded in the best of times, but it was almost claustrophobic with dozens of racers packed inside. I saw one rider bent over a trash can, throwing up. Another was being scrutinized by an EMT for frostbite on his face. Several racers were stripping off their kits and changing into street clothes, including a top-level racer I’d admired for a while. I bought some Gatorade and a Coke and found a quiet spot to sit, in a backroom next to shelves holding fan belts, fishing tackle, shotgun shells, and cans of pizza sauce. The two racers there were trading war stories about the race so far, which struck me as odd given that we were only about a quarter of the way into the day. Over the next 50 minutes, I let my feet warm all the way up, thawed off my “faceberg,” finished my drinks, downed a good amount of trail mix and an oatmeal-chocolate chip-peanut butter “energy bomb,” put coffee into one of my water bottles, and checked out just after 12:30. Back on the bike, the cold was a harsh surprise, but I felt fine or even good as I resumed pedaling.

The next leg of the race would end at the second checkpoint, a cabin at the Melgeorges resort on Elephant Lake, roughly halfway through the race. These 35 miles were probably my favorites of the race. The track continued to be interesting, though it also turned increasingly hilly, and those challenges amplified my sense of solitude, which settled in as deep as the cold. One of the things that had attracted me to the Arrowhead as an event was the chance to be alone in the woods, and this second leg of the race was all about being alone in the woods. My cyclocomputer had long since stopped displaying either my speed or the temperature, so I just watched the minutes and hours tick by – slowly, because the LED was so cold that it took several seconds for a digit to advance.

Gradually, I started losing my ability to hit the hills – mostly, short and steep kickers that a rider on pavement, gravel, or even a trail would hardly notice – hard enough to climb them on the bike. I had been riding by then for nearly 10 hours, so I figured that conserving energy was acceptable, and made the decision to let myself walk the hills. The afternoon light was beautiful, and induced me to stop a couple times to take photos of the trail and my bike.

On the Trail

But the golden hour was short, and when the sun set, it took the temperature down with it. I knew I needed to eat something substantial soon, but my icebeard had grown back even larger than it had been at Gateway, so I couldn’t get anything bigger than a few almonds into my mouth. Too, all my water was frozen into my bottles, so I had to break into my stash of Red Bull energy drinks. I stopped to pound one of them and delicately put some trail mix into my mouth. Chewing the mix, I decided for some reason that I had to crush the Red Bull can, so I did that and stowed it in my frame bag. I also put my headlamp back on, not willing to let only the headlight on my handlebars light up the trail.

Somewhat reenenergized, I got back on my bike for the push to Melgeorges. At the race orientation, the race director had warned us that the lake crossing to the resort would seem brutally long. It did, even though I only realized I was actually on a lake when I started to get buffeted by the wind. The tire tracks wandered all over the trail, seeking the best snow but more often losing it and winding up in a drift. When I could look up the trail, I could see the resort in the distance: cabin windows glowing in the trees, Christmas lights on balconies, even cars moving back and forth. I finally reached the shoreline, where a volunteer was standing in a parking lot next to a big warm-looking building – a bar or restaurant. I hoped that he would direct me inside to the checkpoint, but instead he pointed me away from this building, saying I needed to follow the track to another cabin, “just around the point.” Following a foot-wide path cut into snowbanks was the last thing I wanted to do then, but the promise of the cabin was ridiculously strong. Everything from the race website to the orientation and other racers all mentioned the grilled cheeses that the Melgeorges volunteers made, and I’d been fantasizing about them for hours. Finally, the trail dumped me in a little parking area covered in fatbikes. I leaned mine against a snowbank, carefully turned off the headlight and headlamp to save their batteries, and staggered up the steps to the cabin. A volunteer checked me in at 6:44 – a quarter-hour short of 12 hours into the race. And I was only halfway done.

Melgeorge's Check

The Melgeorges cabin is small but cozy space, far different from the closed-in hubbub of Gateway. Within a few minutes of arrival, the women running the checkpoint had directed me to the bathroom to change from my wet kit into the extra clothes I had brought, taken an order for two grilled cheeses and a bowl of wild rice soup, and given me a big glass of Coke. Except for my face mask, which was frozen to my beard for a half hour, my wet clothes disappeared, carried off to a dryer in a nearby cabin. I sat and stuffed my face with the grilled cheeses, a second bowl of soup, my own trail mix and energy bombs, more Coke, and some protein drinks I’d stashed in the bag that organizers brought to the checkpoint. I warmed up slowly but thoroughly, and even talked a little with some of the other racers. A couple left while I sat, and a few more arrived. Many were much more chatty than I was feeling, but the exchanges were nice. Much of the conversation centered on the temperatures so far and into the night. One of the volunteers said that we were already back down to the same temps that we had had at the start, and that forecasts predicted -40 degree F ambient temperatures in the forests overnight. At any other point in my life, I would have been chagrined. Hearing this after riding twelve hours, I just slotted it next to the other challenges I had been facing: eating, drinking, moving forward.

Just as my clothes came back from the dryer, the other guy from my hometown arrived. His wife had been waiting anxiously for him since before I’d arrived, and she was very happy to see him. Unfortunately, he was frozen and decided immediately to drop out. Even before I got back into all my clothes, they had left for the bar next door. Still thinking about the predicted overnight temperatures, I decided not to pack my dry clothes for later, but to put everything on. Over my torso, I put on two base layers, two thermal layers, my heavyweight jersey, my fleece vest, and my wind jacket. On my head, I put on a balaclava face mask, my longest neck gaiter (which I took pains to tuck deep underneath my shirts), my two warmest hats, and the lobster-style mitts that I wear in the worst weather. Going even further, I wedged two chemical hand warmers into each of my boots (one under the toes, one on the instep) and filled my water bottles: two with the hot water, one with coffee.

As I fixed to depart, I asked a volunteer if she knew who was in the lead. She showed me the check-in sheet, pointing to Jay Petervary’s name on the top line. I wasn’t shocked that “JayP” was in the lead, but I was shocked to see, and have her confirm, that fewer than ten racers had gone through the checkpoint to that moment. “So you mean I’m in the top ten right now?” I asked. She nodded, and added, “There are ten of you in the room.”

I was flabbergasted. I had been wondering why I seemed to be seeing so few tire tracks on the trail. Turns out, I had been seeing only fourteen wheels’ tracks! I was shocked to realize that I was going well, and had a shot at a really good finish. I recalibrated my goal for the race from finishing in 24 hours – itself, an adjustment of my pre-race goal to finish in 18 hours – to finishing in the top 20, or maybe even the top 15. Many of the guys in the room as I finally left, at exactly 8:30 (after almost two hours at the checkpoint), looked like tough bastards who would catch me over the next 63 miles.

I stowed what stuff I had brought in and hadn’t put on or eaten, turned on my lights, and climbed back onto the Beast for the race’s third leg, to the final “Skipulk” checkpoint, another 36 miles away. The lights and warmth of the Melgeorges stop disappeared within seconds, and I was alone again on the trail. I rode my bike into the yellow circle of my headlamp, which threw the trees – and who knows what else – along the trail into a fluttering gray shadow. The stars had come out while I had been inside, and occasionally I glanced up at them, almost bright enough to ride by. A slivered moon hid behind the trees, glowing so orange that I mistook it several times for a campfire.

And that was pretty much all I saw for most of the next ten hours, riding through the blackest forests I could have hoped to see.

Overnight Riding

The energy boost I got from the food and warmth at Melgeorges faded to nothing, though I did not register when it completely vanished, probably sometime around midnight. I felt grimly satisfied that I could pedal all the flats and downhills, and accepted as a law of nature that I could no longer ride even the shortest climbs. At first, I hopped off my bike and pushed it steadily up the hills. Later, I stopped, climbed off the bike, and trudged up. Later still, I stopped, counted ten breaths, climbed off the bike, counted ten more breaths, and then alternated ten breaths standing still with ten steps up the hill. When it occurred to me, I would relate these repeated, grueling actions to some of the interval training I do at the gym, but my sense of being somehow “ready” to do this was more than balanced by my thoughts of the warm, dry, well-lit gym.

Nothing about this leg was fast, but the slow going gave me time to think random thoughts. For instance, I composed a great playlist of songs with numbers in their titles (getting as high as “18 and Life” by Skid Row, though I can’t remember many of the songs now), and thought in great detail about what I would eat when I finished. I hoped to see animals, but I only saw many deer tracks, quite a few wolf tracks (which I kept thinking were actually the prints of dogsled dogs), and one owl, who hooted angrily at me when I passed. Most often, I just thought about my immediate experience. I have probably never been more “in the moment” than I was during the ride to Skipulk. I assessed my fingers and toes (cold, but not numb), took drinks of water and coffee (at least till the bottles froze), and related the absurd times on the clock on my computer to things that would be going on back home – Shannon’s bedtime, my bedtime, midnight, and then the long hours when nobody is doing anything except sleeping, or maybe taking care of sleepless babies. I studied the amazing and bizarre ice formations on my bike, on my bags, on my headlight (which had died long before midnight, leaving me with just my headlamp). When I would stop and exhale hard, I could watch the vapor crystallize in my headlamp’s beam and then fall like snow in front of me.

In short, this leg was manageably brutal. I was not really tired in any familar sense, even though I was coming up on 24 straight hours of being awake under rather difficult conditions. I certainly never yawned or felt like I needed to close my eyes, even in that period from two to five a.m. when human circadian rhythms demand sleep. And I never felt that I needed to quit, though I felt continuously that I wanted to take a break. Just a short one, standing here. Just to look at the trees.

As my fatigue mounted, I did start worrying about a few things. I couldn’t tell if my icebeard was unusually big or if my nose had frozen and swollen, which would mean that the volunteers would have to pull me out of the race at the next checkpoint – a colossal disaster that would mean this was all for naught. And I began second-guessing the distance to Skipulk. I couldn’t remember if I’d seen one or two of the three shelters between Melgeorges and Skipulk. At one point, I saw several bikes’ blinky lights in the distance, and accelerated, sure they belonged to racers stopped at Skipulk. But no: they faded away behind me. They must have belonged to racers bivvying for the night, but in retrospect this doesn’t make sense, as all of the racers who left Melgeorges ahead of me also finished ahead of me. Maybe they were the ghosts of Arrowhead racers past.

What helped the most through these hours and hours of darkness and motion was coming up on another racer, perhaps around midnight. He was walking when I caught him, and immediately confessed to being tired, as if he were disappointing me. I complained that I didn’t want to eat any of my food, but offered some to him. He turned me down and offered me some of his food. I turned him down. We walked the uphills next to each other, saddled up to ride the downhills, and then rode the flats in single file. Sometimes I moved ahead and got away. Sometimes he’d move ahead and get away. We didn’t talk much, but I did share that I was a rookie, and he told me that he’d finished all seven Arrowheads that he had entered, even the “other year it was cold.” He couldn’t remember which year that was, but he was sure it hadn’t been this cold. Something about the idea that he’d never been defeated by the race appealed to me, and made me think, in my foggy state, that I should stay near his lights.

Sometime after my clock displayed the time that Shannon is usually getting up, my riding partner built up a larger-than-usual lead. I could only see his lights on the longest, flattest stretches. Then suddenly I came around a corner and he was right in front of me again, pushing his bike up another fucking hill. He could tell I was behind him, and turned to yell something back to me. I couldn’t make it out. “What did you say?” But before he could reply, I figured it out on my own: we had made it to Skipulk – a scary clown mask on a stick, a picnic table under a tarp, a firepit, and two red ice-fishing shelters. It could not have looked better.

Arrowhead 135: Follow over the web

A few links in case anyone wants to “watch” the Arrowhead 135 from afar:

  1. This Spot map that will update to show my position every five minutes, thanks to the GPS tracker loaned to me by my fatbiking and airplane-piloting friend Michael L. (The updating will start when the race kicks off at 7 a.m. on Monday, January 27.)
  2. The official race results website, a simple online spreadsheet that organizers update as racers pass through the checkpoints.
  3. The race Facebook page will have some updates.
  4. This semi-official Google Map of the entire course.

It Takes a Village to Try the Arrowhead

One of the best things about my attempt to race the Arrowhead 135 this week is the way so many people have helped me out. It’s really amazing and heart-warming. And, I hope, hand- and foot-warming.

First of course is Shannon, who’s letting me try my body and mind in this crazy race (and spend some hard-earned money in the effort) . Thanks foremost to her!

After her is a long list of people who have offered gear and advice. Thanks, all!

  • Scott K., who offered to let me use his car to get to and from the race.
  • Michael L., who loaned me his neat Spot GPS tracker so that Shannon (and others!) can “watch” me ride via this cool live-updating map. (The updating will start when the race kicks off at 7 a.m. on Monday, January 27.)
  • Derek C., half of the team behind the fantastic Inspiration 100 every September, who’s offered encouragement and sent me a “good luck” present to help haul all the gear you have to carry in the race and a ton of music to make the drive up north speed by.
  • Jerry B., the head ape at Monkey See Monkey Read, who has provided all kinds of advice based on his attempt at the AH last winter. I’ll see him on the trails this year as he goes after the race again.
  • Tom B. at Fit to Be Tri’d, who tuned up my bike, offered some good advice for keeping it working in the cold, and gave me a tin of Dermatone to protect my lips and skin.
  • Marty L. and the staff at Tandem Bagels, who cut me a deal on their excellent “energy bombs” to eat during the race.
  • Nicole S. at the Gear ReSource here in Northfield, who helped me find some cheap, light gear and loaned me some other stuff.

In addition to all those people, I need to thank the gravel-grinder group here in town, who have been great riding companions for several years now. And I also need to thank all the friends and acquaintances who have wished me good luck in this nutty endeavor. I’ll need it all, I think! The race starts at 7 a.m. on Monday morning. I have until 7 p.m. on Wednesday to finish.

Snow on the Ice

Pretty much every day, I cross a bridge between the two Lyman Lakes on Carleton’s campus. Many days, this spot looks out over something beautiful: the still water, the gently arched bridges elsewhere on the lakes, a stately flock of geese, low fog, the lakeside trees in green or brown or gray…

Today’s view was down, onto the ice where snow had been collecting, or perhaps re-forming as spray from the nearby waterfall froze. All of the ice was covered with this amazingness.

Snow on the Ice

“Mr. Muffin” (A Short Story by Vivi)


Mr. Muffin was waiting for customers at his bakery. It had been a long day yesterday and the day before that and the day before that. He hoped he could relax more today.

A bald man with only a beard walked up to Mr. Muffin and asked, "Do you have any muffins here?" "Oh, yes, of course, that’s my name!" Mr. Muffin slowly got up from his creaky wooden chair and looked at the old man. "Look in the case." He pointed at a glass case – a big one that was on the table.

The old man squinted to see through the glass with his old glasses. "My name’s Fritz," he said, "and I don’ approve o’ bagels!" He looked behind himself as if he were going to leave without a muffin. "I wan’ a blueberry muffin," he said.

"Sir, that’s a chocolate chip muffin. Do you want a chocolate chip muffin or not?" asked Mr. Muffin. "Oh, yeah, sure," said the old man. "But I only have four dollars. That enough?"

"Plenty," said Mr. Muffin. The muffin was actually eleven dollars but Mr. Muffin was poor, so he didn’t care.

Eight weeks later
Mr. Muffin now had a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot of money. The past month had been very successful. He had sold millions of goodies, and millions of cakes.

One night Mr. Muffin was taking a walk when he what looked like a cozy apartment to spend the night in. Huddling under his umbrella, Mr. Muffin walked in the door. He walked straight to the manager and asked where he should sleep. "Oh, up there in room 1768," he said. "Nice old ladies up there. Good night now!"

Mr. Muffin went up the stairs on his right and looked around. Ah! There was room 1768! As Mr. Muffin walked closer and closer to the door, he heard singing. When Mr. Muffin walked into the room, he saw a huddle of witches singing a scary song. Mr. Muffin silently closed the door and got out of the apartment.

He went next door to the hotel. It was tedious, but it was much better than having to sleep with witches all night!

The Counterfactuals

I had a real Saturday night tonight, going downtown to see the Counterfactuals, one of Northfield’s and Minnesota’s best bands, play their album-release show. Their new disc, Minimally Decent People, is amazingly good indie rock, with a lot going on underneath the hooks and lyrics. The show was just as good: packed with fans, loud as hell, and fun. These guys are great. Get their album ($3 for a download: that’s like a cent per bit of gorgeousness!) and see them live!!

The Counterfactuals (photo by Doug Bratland)

(Photo by Doug Bratland, part of the other best band in town, the Bratlanders.)


I’m pretty lucky in that Shannon makes a from-scratch dinner almost every day – even on pizza nights.

Today, I came home ravenous to find a veritable feast: almond-crusted salmon, a barley-feta dish she improvised, a spinach salad (on which I put one of her great salad dressings), and roasted potatoes (left over from last night). Needless to say I cleaned my plate, for the zillionth night in a row.

17 Days till the Arrowhead 135

I’ll be there.

RootsRated: The Brutal Arrowhead Ultra 135

Early on Monday, January 27th, 2014, competitors will cross the starting line of the 10th annual Arrowhead Ultra 135 in International Falls, Minnesota. The Arrowhead, featured in the book,” World’s 50 Toughest Endurance Challenges,” will challenge riders with bitter cold temperatures and hours of solitude.

The field, limited to 150 competitors, is divided into three classes: on foot, on ski or on a bike. In the first 9 years of the annual event the overall finishing rate is just 50 percent. “The high DNF rate doesn’t deter people from coming back. They want to cross that finish line,” says Ken Krueger, race director, Arrowhead Ultra 135.

Yes, I do.