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.

Last Long Ride
January 26, 2011
Returning from Colorado, I set about getting any final things worked out for the Arrowhead, making lists of food and gear, and getting the Mukluk into the shop. Generally, I do my own bike work - I'm sufficiently handy with tools and mechanicals that most bike jobs are not a problem. I'm not the fastest, and I don't always know the tricks or have the best tool for the job, but I can generally take care of most bike issues.

Two reasons I wanted to bring it to the shop, however. First, since the bike was basically "new" they offered to do some adjustments after I put some miles on it and kind of rode through the break-in period. Second, Mukluks have been breaking chains. I know that from various message boards. Knowing that, I felt there was a good possibility that I'd get my chain replaced for free.

I was correct to do that - they did the adjustments and the chain replace for free, as well as wash some of the grime off it. So now I have a pretty good feeling about the mechanical state of the bike for the race. On the down side, I ordered two front racks (one for me and one for Eric) when I dropped my bike off, and they have yet to come in. First their was some mix up with the order and it wasn't placed, and then I don't know. But this is going on a week for what was supposed to be a one-day thing, and I'm getting tense about it. I was assured they would be in the shop today. I had hoped to do my weekend long ride fully loaded, but without the rack it wasn't going to happen that way.

For the long ride, I did what I call the "transition" again. I set out for a 6 hour ride at 2:15 pm and +4F knowing that halfway through the situation would change from full daylight to full dark. One of the things that makes this event a challenge is this change, and compensating for it. The start is 7 am, and for the next 10 hours or so you have daylight. So you get into a groove, maybe feel pretty good, keeping warm. (A lot of the bike riders set a goal to make it to the half way point before dark - not many make it.) Then the sun goes down and everything changes. The next 14 hours are dark. Its colder yes, but you've also been riding for 10 hours, so you're a lot more tired. If its clear, you radiate heat into space, even if the air temperature isn't falling that fast it "feels" colder. Your natural bio-rhythem says "i'm tired, it's dark, that means sleep" and starts to slow down. This transition is a fight. The first hour or so after sunset, when the sky is first orange then the deep blue-greens as the first stars come out, isn't so bad - it feels pretty normal. Its during the second hour that you start to feel the change. This, I think, is the time to take action. When you can still tell the difference between east and west its time to eat a little extra and layer up. If you wait, you risk getting chilled thats difficult to recover from.

In practice, on my ride, I didn't do as well as I wanted. After 4 hours my legs started to get really tired - likely from not getting enough calories, still recovering from the previous week's Colorado adventures and not much activity between Colorado and this ride. Damn! This was not good. I tried to eat more, but I just wasn't getting the calories in. And really, I was doing better in the daylight when I could see stuff. In the dark and getting colder, I just wanted to keep moving. The thought of stopping to move stuff around or add a layer was just not appealing. This is what happens after dark - the desire to keep moving to keep warm is strong. That's why I think stopping when there is still some twilight is important - the "night" hasn't settled in yet.

I was riding with a face mask, which was helping my nose, but once the dark came on and I switched to my clear glasses I started having fog problems. At one point I reached up to adjust my mask, opened a little vent and completely fogged over. Shit! I nearly crashed. I had to take the glasses off. Really, it wasn't that bad - not as bad as I'd expected. In fact, I'd say that being able to see clearly was a lot more preferrable than the small protection the glasses gave my eyes. I rode the next 2 hours without eye protection.

I stopped, packed my glasses and dug some food out that was in bite-size pieces and tried to get more calories in, but it was obvious that I wasn't getting enough. I think I was doing ok on water, I was pretty good about making sure to drink every 30 minutes to keep my camelbak clear. But again, as the night got colder, I was less likely to want to open my coat to dig out my hose. It's a chilly prospect, so the mind delays doing it. I rode on, anxious to get back into the city and out of the wooded trail sections that were feeling oppressive. My mood was getting as dark as the night. And my foot was cold - just my right one. Interesting that the right and not the left was cold. The left was fine. Boot lace too tight? I began working it - moving my toes, sliding a little, bending my ankle, slightly different place on the pedal, etc.

After another hour, I was in a town and I stopped by a parking ramp along the trail and put another layer on. As the last time I rode after dark, I was chilled when I started riding again and my hands were cold. It took 20 minutes or so before my hands warmed up, and by this time my foot was beginning to feel better, too. My ears were cold, though, under my helmet. I think overall I was just slighty under dressed. I tried to eat bites here and there, but my legs were hurting, and that itself was dejecting. How could I ride 24 hours if my legs hurt like this after 5? Sigh. All kinds of "what the hell am I doing?" and "this isn't really fun" thoughts were in my head as I made my way home.

Arriving home, after what seemed a very long hour my wife said I looked like shit. It was funny - my mind felt clear, but when I talked to her I sounded kind of slurry and drunk (classic bonk). She fed me, and I ate a lot. We talked as I began feeling better, and it was obvious that I simply was not getting enough calories. This is something I need to get a handle on. I MUST eat more during these rides. No question. I need to have more to start, and more while riding. Must keep eating. I feel like a training failure has been to treat these 6-hour long rides like 6-hour rides, instead of the first half of a 12-hour ride or the first quarter of a 24-hour ride. So I drag myself in at the end of 6 hours - thats a failure. I need to be happy at the end of 6 hours so I can drag myself to 12. I need to be a lot more aware of my food intake during the race - a lot more aware. And hope that these recent long rides have done more good than bad to my ability to complete the event. And it was still above zero.

This week its do easy trainer work, eat a lot to sort of pre-store some energy and make sure I go into the weekend with no nutritional deficits. I also need to test load the bike with everything I'm going to start with, and general gear check in case I find anything else missing so I have time to get it.

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