Often described as one of the toughest bike races in the lower 48 states, the Arrowhead 135 challenges even the most prepared riders. This is a journal by a non-athlete's participation in an event where starting is often just as much a challenge as finishing.

Training behind the city
December 21, 2010
With all the snow lately, all the roads and trails are in widely different states of 'ride ability'. Some are pretty good hardpack, some are pavement, some are nasty and dangerous, some are just not passable at all. It's difficult to string together rides of any length. So what I've been doing lately is just riding alleys in the city. With less traffic and less maintenance, they take on a 'trail-like' quality in the winter, usually they're in worse shape than the trails. Often the most difficult part of any drive lately has been just getting in and out of the alley. Many are just hard packed snow now with patches of soft stuff. While not exactly similar to a groomed snowmobile trail, its better than riding on the street, and (somewhat) safer.

So the plan has been to leave my house and start riding in my alley, then just systematically go back and forth for about a ten block stretch. At the end of each block is a challenge - could be ice, could be a snow berm, could be soft "oatmeal" snow - but the process is mostly the same. Slow down, downshift, look for cross traffic, pick a line, power through the muck, get back up to speed on the other side. With the alleys, there is a lot of speed up / slow down type riding. Because it's the city, with a lot of cars in general, there is a constant need to be alert for cross traffic, people coming in and out of garages, and people turning into the alley - they have no expectation at all of me being there so it's all defense all the time. After a couple hours of this I'm pretty tired.

People I encounter think I'm a freak. :-) However, when you troll the alleys, you get to see the weird side of people's lives anyway, so they shouldn't be too quick to call me a freak. I see all kinds of strange stuff. Things mounted to garages (signs, art, "art", crafts, a mounted deer head, car parts), garages falling down, crazy paint, car collections (who knew there was space for 5 or 6 cars in a tiny south Minneapolis backyard?), boats of all kinds (mostly in disrepair), plain old junk, "designer" and architectural garages, shared spaces that everyone cleans up (like we have with our neighbors) and places where the snow is not shoveled an inch beyond the property line. And there some strange alleys - some that curve, some have huge hills (that would suck to drive in this winter), some with no lights, some that dead-end or maybe horseshoe shaped. These are usually the most quiet, as there is generally some kind of other geography forcing the unusual layout of the houses and alleys. Around the river or creek they are more common.

I think that training around the holidays is tough in general, with all the family stuff going on, so I'm just taking riding time where I can and hope to be able to get a better rhythm going in January. This super-mega-snow-dump situation isn't making it any easier, either. I'm going to have to get my trainer out, I think, and get some hard workouts in over the next few weeks.

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