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.

Pogie Snacks and Frozen Camelbaks
January 3, 2011
I had another 4 day weekend for new years, and I wanted to try a larger training test. First, let me explain what I had planned: Saturday morning sort and load all my gear in basically race configuration on my bike, then in the afternoon & evening do a 6 hour ride beginning and ending at home, unpack gear and sleep outside in the back yard, finishing with another 6 hour ride on Sunday morning.

Now I'll tell you what actually happened. Saturday, being new years day & all, I got up late and with a, um, bit of a headache. As a result the process of figuring out all my gear then getting it loaded took longer than I expected. My wife helped prepare a bunch of food and snacks - all cut into bit-sized chunks so that those things that partially freeze can still be eaten. A cliff bar is a lot easier to eat a nibble at a time, even if its frozen.

Another reason for the longer prep was that I'd never loaded this stuff on my bike before. Indeed, I've never fully loaded a bike for camping ever. In the end I cheated and left of the sleeping pad for lack of an attachment point (a front rack is on the way, and I'll probably put my sleeping bag/bivy combo there, and the pad on the rear rack which would spread the load a bit). I left it on my porch so I could just grab it on my return.

So the interesting part of the Saturday ride was the change from daylight to night, and what that means for gear. I started out with full sun, but it was very cold and windy: +7 with a 15-20mph steady west wind. I had on my tinted goggles, and for the first hour I was running with the wind or with a cross wind. I tested the camelbak once, and it was ok, then about 50 minutes into the ride it was showing signs of freezing but I got it cleared. In the second hour, I turned into the wind and it was getting dark. It was at about 1 and a half hours into the ride when the hose to my Camelbak froze. Damn! I've read a lot about strategies for keeping the line from freezing, but apparently I had not done enough. The problem is that once it's frozen its a royal bitch to clear it, and nearly impossible while out on the bike. I still had some backup water in an insulated nalgene, but that was freezing fast as well. I dumped a bunch of the sliced up snacks into one of my pogies and kept riding.

I rode as long as I could with my goggles on, but there came a point where I had to change. I did not bring my clear goggles - I've all but given up on them as they *always* fog up. Instead, I have some clear wind glasses. However, I could tell based on how cold already the exposed parts of my face were that switching to the glasses was going to be a cold prospect. I delayed until I couldn't hardly see in front of me. After switching eye wear, I could see better but the headwind was killing me. I rode for another hour before my nose hurt so bad I felt like I had to turn around or risk frostbite. I was deciding fast that this was not a night to screw around and let mistakes cascade. I put the wind to my back and headed for home.

This was better. My face immediately began to forgive me and the night became a lot more pleasant. Not to mention my speed went from 8-9 to 11-12. I rode on for about 40 minutes before I felt a deeper chill in both my core and hands, and so decided to pull off and add a layer. The temp was about 0F at this point. That helped my core a lot, but even after adding the warmer gloves it took my hands a long time to warm up again. While stopped I could really feel the wind again - slicing though all the little open bits of my gear. It was good to get riding. I also made sure I kept eating and this is where the bit-sized bits in my pogies really helped a lot.

Pogies are also called "bar mitts". They are a carry over from the snowmobile/atv crowd. They are big fleece mittens with a nylon wind shell that go over the ends of the handlebars of the bike and extend up about halfway to your elbow. You put your hand inside them to grab the bars. They are amazing for keeping your hands warm - like having a nice jacket just for your hands. Until near the end of my ride I had been just wearing a thin glove liner, which was plenty to keep my hands perfectly normal. The pogies are big enough that I can just dump a bunch of food bites inside them. I can just grab them out one or two at a time, pop it into my mouth and stuff my hand back in without stopping or getting cold. One nice thing about the cold is that the food doesn't get all sticky or gross.

I was nearing the end of my ride, which had been cut down to about 4 hours. I had turned from a tail wind to a cross wind and was getting chilled again, especially my face. I'd not had anything to drink for over 2 hours. The last 45 minutes or so had stopped being pleasant or even much fun and the thought of sleeping outside in this wind was sounding pretty stupid, given my experience level (zero).

Zero degrees and windy in the back yard is the same as 0 degrees and windy in the mountains, though it is easier to get to shelter if things go really wrong. However, at the end of the ride I simply did not have the motivation for the outside test, so I went inside. I know full well I could have set this up without options to change the distance or sleep out. I could have rode straight out to a campsite where I would have been forced to deal with the situation. But the main reason I didn't do that was to keep those options open in case something stupid (like all my water freezing) was to happen or the weather turned to hell. There will be other opportunities to learn winter camping skills.

I still wanted to stick with as much plan as I could, so Sunday I got up way earlier than usual, got dressed, ate and got right back on my bike. I was out by 7:30, -2F and still somewhat windy, but not as bad as the previous evening. I dressed in the same layers I finished in the previous night, and after 20 minutes was stripping off a layer and switching gloves to my liners.

Oh what a difference the sunshine makes! Even weak and orange, just above the horizon, the ride seemed so much better than the previous evening even though several degrees colder. Well rested? Better food? Sunshine? All of it together? Yes my legs could feel the previous evening's 30-odd miles, but I was feeling pretty strong and it was nice to be outside enjoying the dawn. The snow was white and sparkly from all the wind-driven powder, and the sky a deep blue with orange clouds.

I made two gear changes: the first is I wrapped my camelbak hose in some thin closed-cell foam sheet I had kicking around. It was a bag of some sort that I'd saved. The second was that I changed the order of my layers. For the evening ride I had base layer, wool second layer, camelbak, jacket. Sunday I went, base layer, camelbak, wool layer, then jacket - the camelbak being under the wool layer instead of over it. Given my previous night's experience, I also was more diligent about drinking often. This gets any bits of cold water out of the hose and replaces them with warmer water from the bladder. I didn't have any freezing problems on this 6 hour ride.

One of my feet got a little chilly for about a half hour, then it got better. It just might mean that with the particular socks I was wearing I was nearing the need for a liner. I also noticed my hands getting numb at one point - not cold numb, but handlebar numb. I wonder if I should wear riding gloves under my liners.

Both rides the trails were everything from pavement to rutted ice messes. Not much for packed snow, except for one short segment of a couple of miles on Sunday. And I crashed once - not badly, but I banged my knee on the top tube as the bike fell on my and it was sore for a good while.

Total (fully loaded) miles: 84

Things that worked:
- Pogies
- Pogie Snacks
- Gear Ties (holds Nalgene to Everything Cage, way easier than the straps)
- Perky Jerkey - great snack
- Homemade "Gas Tank" bag (part of an old laptop case)
- Bite-sized food
- Clear glasses
- Bike handling with a full load

Things that didn't work:
- Uninsulated Camelbak
- Basic balaclava - need something that covers my nose when not wearing goggles
- Riding gloves?

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