Arrowhead Race Report – Arrowhead III: Revenge of the Snows

I was lucky to have Salsa Cycles publish my Arrowhead 135 race report on their “Culture” blog!

Arrowhead III: Revenge of the Snows

They wove in a bunch of my own photos as well as some much better shots taken by Mike Riemer from Salsa, like this one.

Early On (Photo by Mike Riemer)
Early On (Photo by Mike Riemer)

13.5 Quick Thoughts on the Arrowhead

The Arrowhead Trail, near Kabetogama Lake
The Arrowhead Trail, near Kabetogama Lake

1. It’s an outrageous, unearned privilege to be able to do a race like the Arrowhead. I can’t think about this fact too much or I’ll start dehydrating through my tear ducts.

2. When the winner of the race says, “It was the hardest conditions I have ridden in with such an intense pace,” it must have been a damn hard race.

3. There must be a time and a place for margarita-flavored Shot Bloks, but the Arrowhead is neither. #yuck

4. On the other hand, sliced salami is a delicious and nutritious race snack at any time!

5. Next year I’m not sharing my Red Bulls with anyone! I need that crap. It’s magical.

6. I’m sure some egghead can explain the fancy science behind ibuprofen, but that crap, too, is magical.

7. I love the “racer against the trail” feeling I get leaving Melgeorges (checkpoint two, at mile 72) to tackle the hardest section of the course.

8. I’m almost happier to reach the last checkpoint – Skipulk at mile 111 – than the finish, because if you can get there, you only have 24 miles to go. The finish is more a relief than anything.

9. I think that with more and better training, I have a real shot at a top-ten finish next year.

10.Some carbon rims would help, cough cough.

11. I also need to cut my time at the checkpoints down to under an hour, total. That’s what fast racers do. (Wearing a wristwatch and starting the timer each time I hit a checkpoint was a good reminder to keep my stays short.)

12. Riding bikes often humbles me, but watching Tracey Petervary and Jill Martindale ride away from me in the last leg of the race was humbling, awe-inspiring, and motivating. I couldn’t hold either of their wheels, but my weak attempts to chase first T-Race (who won) and then Jill (who finished second) did speed up those endless straightaways after Skipulk.

13. It’s a question as to which racer was tougher this year: Mike Brumbaugh, who skied twenty miles after breaking a ski pole and then finished the race after using PVC pipe and strapping tape to fix the pole; Jim Wilson, who was the last biker to finish, in 55:28; or Sveta Vold, who was the third-place female biker and who stopped during the race to nurse her new baby and pump milk!

13.5. Hungry.

Word Girls

Being someone who makes a living with words, I’m very happy to see that my girls are word-lovers and lovers of manipulating words, too. Tonight was classic: I spent a half hour quizzing Julia for the middle-school spelling bee tomorrow night (she’s so nervous! so excited!) – infrastructure, esoteric, boycott, kaftan – and later fifteen minutes giving Vivi “hard words” to look up in the dictionary she got for Christmas: hibernal, speculative, theoretical, paschal, vernal

Pre-Race Day

God, I love the day before races. The anticipation is so wonderfully energizing. The day usually includes some travel, often with friend, which is almost always great because I love traveling and friends, especially for a good reason like getting to a race.

But the day before a race also includes race-y stuff like eating and drinking right, checking in for the event, attending the pre-race meeting, and of course hanging out with other racers and volunteers and such.

If there’s time, the day before also might also include a bit of riding on the course – stretching the legs, getting a sense of the trail, and enjoying the scenery that race-day focus will obscure, like these pix from my pre-rides with the Marks at the Fat Pursuit in Idaho last January

An hour's trail reconnoiter with Mark S (front) and Mark S (back), here heading west with Sawtelle Mountain in the distance. #fatpursuit2015 #salsamukluk #fatbike #backyardadventure #outsideisfree #crushsnow

and with Galen, Ben, and Tim at the Maah Daah Hey trail in North Dakota in July.

Maah Daah Hey pre-ride
Maah Daah Hey pre-ride

My trip to the Tuscobia was less involved than either of those race trips, requiring just a short drive to western Wisconsin. But I jammed to my own music, sipped some good coffee, soaked up the views of rolling snowy hills, thought through the race, and stopped for a photo:

Steel Bison in Dallas, Wisconsin
Steel Bison in Dallas, Wisconsin

Once I got to Rice Lake, Wisconsin, I checked in at the hotel, ran a quick errand, and checked in at the race HQ, then headed up the trail for an hour’s ride. The conditions were very good, so I had a nice time and definitely built up a bank of good feeling for the next day.

Feelin' Good about the Tuscobia Trail
Feelin’ Good about the Tuscobia Trail

Afterwards, I met up with my friend Ben (with whom I went on an epic trip to the first Fat Pursuit in 2014). We hung out for a while before we hit the registration and gear check, had a great dinner (pizza, of course), and then attended the racers’ meeting. Back at our hotel early in the evening, we set up our bikes for the race – a process I love, love, love even though it’s a little bit maddening, since it involves both the pleasant routine of getting all my equipment on the bike, but also trying to guess about new ways to pack the bike. Having Ben in the same room was great because the guy knows his business. (Literally: he runs a bike shop.) By 9 p.m. we had everything ready for the start. One more sleep till the race!

The Buffalo, Ready to Roll
The Buffalo, Ready to Roll

Trail Magic

One of the best things about the kind of long-distance riding that I do is the phenomenon of “trail magic” – surprising, wonderful occurrences that happen at just the right moment to hikers, runners, cyclists, and others of our ilk.

The classic bit of trail magic is getting food or water when you need it most, sometimes from another competitor or, even better, from a bystander whom fate has sent across your path. Another common, if less nourishing, kind of trail magic is having someone knowledgeable give the directions that get you un-lost.

I’ve encountered trail magic in many of my races, especially the difficult winter ones, and honestly I’m happily anticipating more trail magic at this weekend’s race, the Tuscobia in northwest Wisconsin. I’m racing this event instead of my beloved Fat Pursuit in Idaho, which is also happening this weekend. (I just couldn’t spend the time or and money on that trip this year.)

Both times I’ve raced the Fat Pursuit, I’ve been charmed by trail magic. Here are two anecdotes about trail magic during the FP, excerpted from Don’t Get Froze, my soon-to-be-finished book on my fatbike racing.

The first incident happened during my unsuccessful race in 2014. Having been riding for about 24 hours, I’d just left the race’s second checkpoint, in the small town of West Yellowstone, Montana. I was preparing myself for the climb to the race’s high point:

Between the stopping and starting and the increasing altitude, the morning’s riding began to feel like an interval workout in slow motion, which only deepened my fatigue and led to more difficulties. A few hours outside of West, I stopped at a three-way intersection and labored to figure out the correct turn while three snowmachiners stood nearby, smoking cigarettes and watching me. I finally made my decision and headed off, almost immediately hitting a screaming fast downhill. After barely keeping the Beast upright, I stopped at the bottom to motivate myself for the inevitable hike-a-bike up the hill on the other side. Before I started that trudge, I checked my phone, and found a text from the race director, telling me I’d gone off course. WTF? I wasn’t off course! What was he talking ab—

Looking again at the map, I saw that oh, yes, I was off course, by a couple miles. I hiked back up the hill I had just descended to find a giant animal on the trail. Cow? No, Clydesdale! No, moose! The animal smelled me and lumbered into the woods, vanishing magically into the trees. Judging by how many of massive hoofprints pockmarked the trail, the moose must have been just a few seconds behind me as I rode over the hill.

The second incident happened about halfway through my successful race in 2015, as I rode toward the second checkpoint:

Though I had hoped to get to West Yellowstone in the daylight, the sun set when I was an hour or more outside of town. Much of that riding would be descent, I knew, so I could expect the easiest riding since dropping down to Checkpoint 1. Still, I wanted to take a break, to be off my bike for a bit.

I must have angered the gods who had rewarded me earlier in the day, because six miles outside West, as I pedaled hard down a long straight descent, my chain clinked alarmingly and jumped off the cassette. I slammed on my brakes, worried about damage to the chain or the spokes. When I beamed my headlamp onto the Buffalo’s rear wheel, the chain was gone. Disaster! It had fallen off somewhere on the descent. Ten feet ago? Ten yards ago? A hundred yards ago? I cursed, laid the bike down, and started walking back up the hill.

The gods were only teasing! The broken chain was lying in the snow just a few yards up the trail, a silvery ribbon amid the black shadows and white snow. I picked it up and walked back down to the bike, mentally reviewing the process of fixing a broken chain. I found my repair kit (left pocket of my frame bag, next to the wind vest), set the spare master link on the Buffalo’s front tire, and got to work. As I wiggled the broken link out of the chain, a trail-grooming machine came rumbling up the trail. The driver stopped. “What’s up?” Crouching in his spotlights, I shouted back, “Broken chain!” He grimaced sympathetically. “Fucking chain! I’m Mike. Need any tools?” I told Mike I couldn’t accept any help, and anyhow I was already almost done. He stood nearby, chatting with me as I finished installing the master link. “Mind if I run my dog?” he asked. I didn’t, so Mike let his gorgeous pointer out of the groomer’s cab. “His name’s Domino.”

Domino sniffed me, inspected my bike, and then ran off up the hill. The trailside conversation and the dog made me even happier that even this problem, the biggest one of the race, was turning out to be eminently solvable. I whooped with glee when I stood the Buffalo back up, spun the pedals, and saw that the chain held. “Nice job,” Mike said. “Enjoy the rest of the race!” We shook hands and I climbed back onto the bike for the rest of the pleasingly uneventful drop into West Yellowstone.

I hope all my friends who are racing the FP this year have some trail magic (and maybe even meet Domino!) and that all of us at the Tuscobia do too.

Finally, Riding on Snow

I’ve been lucky to be able to ride on snow every day since we came back from our Christmas trip to Moorhead. We arrived home on Monday about an hour before the forecasted snow arrived. About 24 hours of steady snowfall transformed the landscape and created some excellent riding conditions.

Monday night, a short jaunt through the local MTB trails.
Sechler in the Snowstorm

Tuesday, 7 hours and 58 miles of tough grinding on the snowy gravel, including some hike-a-bike and a couple crashes.
Oxford Mill Road, Cannon Falls

Big Woods State Park, Nerstrand

Wednesday, just a commute to work, but with a little extra riding for fun.
Locked Up

Thursday, New Year’s Eve, a nighttime ride on the MTB trails and a stop for cocoa when it was midnight in Amazonian Brazil.
Night Stop

Friday, New Year’s Day, a fun outing on some of the snowmobile trails outside of town.
Ride to the Sun

Hidden Trail

Saturday, after loading the bike with most of my race kit, another cruise on different snowmobile trails.
Northfield Township

Sunday, more of the same!?

Twenty Sixteen Resolutions

I love New Year’s Day. It’s probably my second-favorite holiday, after Thanksgiving. Like Thanksgiving, NYD is centrally about getting together with people you like. Christmas is also about “family and friends,” but for me, its religious overtones detract from its other pleasures, and then there’s the massive weight of gifts – getting and giving, but also the gross, insane commercialism of gifts and all the other crap that goes with Christmas.

Beyond its social aspect, I like that New Year’s Day allows for and even encourages efforts at renewal and change. It’s absurd that we tie these efforts to a particular, purely arbitrary date, of course, but I am a sucker for the way a new year seems like the right moment to do things better.

This year, I really enjoyed reading a wide array of friends’ resolutions for 2016, and they inspired me to work up my own list, which also incorporates the “do a little better” idea that’s cropped up in articles like this one on the NY resolution phenomenon.

So, in no particular order:

Train and race hard. I can’t control my finishing times or places – or even, as I learned in 2015 – whether I finish, but I can control how hard I prepare for races and how hard I work during them. I’m going to work hard at all my training (on the bike and in the gym) and racing this year, aiming to finish every event I enter. (So far, I have eight on the docket: Tuscobia 150 (1/9), Snow Crush (1/16), Arrowhead 135 (1/25), Fatbike Frozen Forty (2/13), Chequamegon 100 (6/11), Maah Daah Hey 100 (8/6), Inspiration 100 (9/10), and Marji Gesick 100 (9/24).)

Finish my fatbike-racing book, Don’t Get Froze. This thing has grown from some blog posts on my 2014 races to a decently-long essay that also covers my 2015 races. Now that my big winter 2016 races are right around the corner, I might as well weave them in, too, right? I hope to finish the book by my birthday in April.

Make more art. The book is part of this resolution, and I am going to again try to write a blog post each day in 2016, but I really need to foster my creativity in other ways. Taking photos is really fun, and I love sharing photos on Instagram and Facebook (and of course seeing others’), but I’d like to get back to doing more drawing. I think a Bison a Day would be a fun project!

Consume more art. Here too, the internet is great (Instagram, many Tumblrs, Vimeo, etc.), but I have a ridiculous backlog of music. I think I can listen to one “new” album a week throughout 2016 without buying anything new!

Be more grateful. I need to do a better job of thanking the people around me for all the ways they make my life better. I also need to record what I’m grateful for, either publicly in this blog or privately in a journal.

Be more politically active. I like reading and posting political stuff, but in 2015, I found a lot of satisfaction in seriously engaging with several issues. With the presidential election looming over 2016, the time is right to expand that engagement with time, effort, and money.

Beautiful Bikes

The thing about bikes – or at least one thing about bikes – is that they’re so pretty. I’ve had occasion over the last few days to reflect on this twice.

Friday, I stripped the Buffalo down to its dryland racing setup for the Solstice Chase. It looked gorgeous, in my opinion, after the race. A little mud only added to the overall look: clean lines, bare titanium tubes, big black winter tires, and two red bags (one fore, one aft) for a little color. The machine was of course as functional as it was beautiful.

Post-race Buffalo

After that short race, I figured I might as well set up the bike for my longer winter races. So Tuesday night, I decked the bike with bags of nylon, fa la la la. I love the way the Buffalo looks in its gray-and-blue [Porcelain Rocket](http://www.porcelainrocket.com/store/) bags, and putting the winter gear on the bike is as meaningful a marker of the seasons for me as decorating the Christmas tree is for weirdoes.
The Buffalo in the Snow

If anything the Buffalo is *more* fun to ride when fully loaded – though yes it’s a little silly to ride a loaded fatbike to work and on errands. However, I should point out you can fit a whole six pack in the seat pack and another in the frame pack.

Had I known that the winter kit would change the weather, I’d have put it on sooner: we got a bit of snow not 24 hours after the bags went on! The bike can’t wait to race on snow again. We’ve got 17 days till Tuscobia, 33 till Arrowhead.

Dad-Bod Positivity

We’re eating dinner. I tell the girls that I put up their school pictures in my office and that I love them both. Each girl says she doesn’t really like her photo. I say that’s too bad because they’re great shots.

2015

I ask whether they like the way they look in real life. They both say they do, and I add that I like the way I look too. Julia looks at me incredulously and says, “Well, you obviously have bad judgment there.”

Arrowhead Roster Day!

On Sunday – 99 days before the race date – the organizers of the Arrowhead 135 released the roster of racers for the 2016 race, to be held on January 25-27.

Roster day is my fourth most-favorite day in the annual Arrowhead cycle:

5. Submitting my application each year.
4. Seeing the next race roster.
3. Seeing all the Arrowheaders on the Sunday before the race.
2. Starting the race.
1. Finishing the race.

After following the AH for about five years, having now raced it twice, and looking forward to a third attempt in January, I found this year’s roster especially interesting.

First, according to my review of the bike results from 2005 to the present, nine riders who finished on the podium in previous years will be racing again in January – six men and three women:

Jason Buffington (Minnesota; 2nd in 2011 but skiing in 2016)
Dan Dittmer (Minnesota; 3rd in 2011 and 2012)
Charlie Farrow (Minnesota; 2nd in 2009
Leah Gruhn (Minnesota; 3rd in 2012, 2014, and 2015)
Todd McFadden (Minnesota; 1st in 2013 and just 2s out of 3rd in 2015)
David Pramann (Minnesota; 2006: 1st in 2006 and 2008; 3rd in 2007 and 2010)
Jay Petervary (Idaho; 1st in 2014, 3rd in 2015)
Tracey Petervary (Idaho;1st in 2014 and 2015; 2nd in 2012)
Svetlana Vold (Minnesota; 2nd in 2015)

(I welcome corrections to this list!)

Second, none of the Alaskans who have reached the podium at the AH in previous years are apparently coming back to race this year: Jeff Oatley (1st in 2010 and 2011, 2nd in 2013), Heather Best (1st in 2011), Kevin Breitenbach (1st in 2012, 3rd in 2013), Tim Berntson (2nd in 2012 and 2015), Peter Basinger (2nd in 2010).

Third and interestingly, last year’s winner, Jorden Wakeley (Michigan), isn’t coming back to try to defend his title. (Or at least, he isn’t yet.)

In other words, the bike race seems pretty wide open! Place your bets anytime over the next 96 days. (Odds are very good that it’ll be snowy, somewhat less good that it’ll be super cold.)

My Ten Hardest Races (so far)

One thing I do remember about the horrible, wonderful, no-good, so-great Cheq 100 last weekend was a lot of thinking about where the race fell in my personal top-ten list of hard races.

This is narcissistic, I know, but dammit, I love them all.

While very eager to do races in the future that will get onto this list, here is the current top ten, in descending order:

10. The Lutsen 99er in June 2014. Not especially demanding physically, this race was my first mountain bike race. If nothing else, the sheer quantity of mud made this one memorable. I’d do it again, for sure! 8h 44m, 282nd of 421 finishers.

Lutsen 99er
Lutsen 99er

9. The Royal 162 in May 2014: At 165 miles (the 162 miles of the course, plus 3 bonus miles after a wrong turn), this was my longest-ever ride – so far! Though conditions were pretty good, this was just a long freaking way to ride bikes. Thank god Derek was there for company. 14h 23m, 39th of 51.

Deek at the Royal
Deek at the Royal

8. The Almanzo 100 in May 2011: (part I | part II | part III) My first gravel-century race, run in cold, wet conditions that made the riding slow and dirty and tough. I loved it as an event in its own right and as my introduction to ultradistance racing. 9h 8m, 80/150.

Almanzo 100 (2011)
Almanzo 100 (2011)

7. The Heck of the North in September 2014: The distance – 108 miles – wasn’t that bad, and the course was great, but my rear derailleur blew up at about mile 80, so I had to do some jury-rigging to convert my Salsa Vaya to a singlespeed and then limp in to the finish. 9h 55m, 139/174.

6. The Inspiration 100 in September 2013: Another gravel century, but run in temps above 90 and a heat index near or above 100. Heat exhaustion was a major factor, but I still managed a fast (for me) time: 7h 7m, 22/78.

Inspiration 2013
Inspiration 2013

5. The Cheq 100 in June 2015. This was a very hard race of attrition in which I didn’t get the result I wanted (a finish in the full 100-mile race). Pending my race in North Dakota in August, the Cheq now my #1 “off-season” goal for 2016. 10h 45m, something like 20/30.

4. The Arrowhead 135 in January 2015: Coming in well trained, decently rested (two weeks after #3, below), and very, very eager, I rode what I think is my best race here in pretty much perfect conditions. 19h 30m, 26/77.

Finish Line Grin
Finish Line Grin

3. JayP’s Backyard Fat Pursuit in January 2015: I worked so freaking hard at getting this race right. I tested my clothing, gear, and bike, I thought incessantly about my race strategy, and I trained like mad. It paid off with a solid effort and a finish of the full 126 miles. 26h 25m, 30/39.

Finished!
Finished!

2. JayP’s Backyard Fat Pursuit in March 2014 (part I | part II | part III): Run along the Continental Divide where Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana meet, this was my first race at any kind of altitude. What the elevation didn’t take out of me, the brutally slow snow did. I couldn’t finish this one, getting pulled off the course at 100 miles by the race director after 32 hours of racing. I’d say this was the low point in my personal history of bike racing, but I drew a lot of motivation from my “honorary finish.” Not only did I return the next year to ride smarter and faster and to finish (see #X above), but I’ve treasured the connections I made to this race’s people and land.

Fat Pursuit 2014
Fat Pursuit 2014

1. The Arrowhead 135 in January 2014: my first and still the hardest fatbike race I’ve done. I’d never done race of longer than about 12 hours, but this one took me more than 24 hours, thanks in large part to temperatures that infamously ranged from -20° to -40° made the riding difficult, to say the least, but I stuck it out, teaching myself that I could do a lot more than I thought I could. 29h 9m, and a top-ten finish – 7/30.

Wakemup Hill
Wakemup Hill

Happy Father’s Day to Me!

Today was my eleventh Father’s Day, and one of the best. I had been gone since Thursday for a bike race – too long, and full of missing the girls. I got home today just before the sun-baked girls and Shannon came back from the pool.

We had a great couple hours doing this and that while I unpacked from the race; I loved hearing their breathless recaps of all the goings-on while I was gone. (True to form, Shannon kept them very, very busy the whole time I was gone!) Listening to their rapid-fire, overlapping stories is to me the essence of fatherhood: not exciting or even notable, but pleasant and normal and good. One of the many things that the girls were excited to tell me about were their Father’s Day gifts and cards, which they finally shared with me after dinner:
Father's Day 2015

In addition to a package of coffee and a gift card to a local coffee joint, the girls and Shannon made a "candy bouquet" and each girl made her own cards slash gifts: a buffalo-themed card from Vivi, some art and a card from Julia. (Shannon’s card jokingly entitles me to be right for 24 hours. Little does she know I’m going to parcel out those 86,400 seconds in ten-second chunks over the rest of my life.)

All in all, today was a great Father’s Day, and a wonderful reminder that it’s good to be a dad!

Gravel Girl

Sunday, Julia and I went out to ride some gravel.

Outbound and Uphill
Outbound and Uphill

We did a nice 10-mile out and back that’s not the easiest route around,

Tired at the Turnaround
Tired at the Turnaround

but is one of the prettiest in both scenery

Eastern Sky
Eastern Sky

and company.

On the Home Stretch
On the Home Stretch

I was so happy to see her really work at this ride! She was great on the hills – up and down. I know she liked the ride, and I think she liked being done with it quite a bit too.