MINUS TEN

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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.

Sled Trails
December 26, 2010
The day before the Christmas holiday I took the Mukluk out to a section of the Luce Line trail that is open to snowmobiles. I was kind of hoping that because it was still a work day for a lot of people that the snowmobile traffic might be a little lighter. I spend enough time fighting cars, I don't want to fight sleds, too, on my rides if I can avoid it.

I'd never ridden on a trail like this, so this was going to be an interesting experiment. It was warm, though, too warm: 27F when I arrived at the parking lot and got started. A couple months ago I was telling our friend Angie about the race, and that I hoped it was in the single digits below zero. She replied that she would want it to be in the 20s above, which is a logical thing to consider. However, the way snow behaves at these different temperatures is very very different.

The Luce Line is groomed, so it's "packed" - sort of. The snowmobile belts stir up the snow as they run over it, creating a layer of mush a few inches thick. The warmer the weather, the deeper the mush. The first thing I realized when I got on the trail was that it was really soft all over, and unrideable in middle. By picking my line carefully off to the edge I could usually find a zone that was not mixed up by the snowmobile belts - then it was somewhat easier. My rear wheel kept digging in and slipping, so twice in the first 1/2 hour I lowered my air pressure until I was getting a good grip without sinking.

After that it was a 4 hour slog though the oatmeal. I started at about 10:30 am, and at a little bit after noon I turned around and began the ride back. I started off the day counting snowmobiles that I encountered, with only 4 in the first hour. But as the afternoon went on there were more and more and eventually I lost count. The return trip was more difficult, the additional sleds had chewed up the trail to the edges, and most of my line from the outbound trip was gone. No more of the 8-10mph speeds I was making earlier, now it was 5-7 and I had to work for that - on FLAT, LEVEL ground. The second half took over 2 hours.

One time I slipped, put my foot down and dropped off the edge of the trail - the snow went up past my knee.

By the time I got back to the car, I was tired and dejected. But then I tried to console myself by thinking about the likelihood of the Arrowhead trail being that mushy on race week - not much. With colder temps, the trail will be a lot harder, and the snowmobiles won't be able to make as much of a mess out of it. Well, that's what I told myself to feel better about being whipped after 4 hours.

However, it wasn't all bad. Mush aside, it was interesting to get out on a sled trail and experience a groomed trail and I learned a lot. I understand a little better now why riders favor the edges of the trail. I have a little more feel for tire pressure. And I also plan to run somewhere behind the leaders - i can really see where having a few riders out in front of you can improve the trail.

I'm still hoping for -10.

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