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.

January 31, 2011
[Note: This is Part 1; jump to First Half or Second Half]

We were a little harried getting to start line. We got a little lost on the way there, and it took a little longer to get my bike loaded than i expected. I made it to the start line with only about 3 minutes to spare. It was minus ten.

The few days prior were kind of a blur of getting last minute gear and getting organized. There were multiple trips to REI and bike shops, and an evening sorting and prepping food. I had a bunch of food 'freezer tested', and we also spent a good amount of time slicing Clif bars into bite-sized pieces so even if they were frozen it'd still be possible to eat them. The night before Eric arrived, I was staging all the gear to make sure I knew what was going with and what wasn't from the many piles around the house. A lot of email went back and forth - bring this, grab me one of those, etc. Finally I felt pretty good and had things organized and loaded.

After picking up Eric and the airport Saturday, we headed to International Falls with a stop for boot supplies at Fleet Farm. It was a surreal scene at our hotel - there were the arrowhead athletes around mixed with kids in Prom wear, this apparently being the "winter snowball" formal dance. After unloading gear and bikes to our room, we had dinner in the hotel restaurant surrounded by guys in black shirts with white ties, and girls in ugly cocktail dresses. But really, who am I to be pointing fingers? These are just kids trying to learn about being grown up, but we are a bunch of freaks who are competing in multi-day race the coldest week of the year for nothing other than the respect of the other racers.

After dinner, we turned our room into a bike shop. Eric worked on installing his front rack, making a pair of DIY panniers, insulating a pair of bike shoes, etc. He stunk up the room cutting rubber with a Dremel tool. I installed my lights, found places for all my gear, test fitted stuff. One of Eric's flashers broke - it was just a solder connection that I was able to fix with a soldering iron we had.

Sunday was basically more of the same. I had a long breakfast with a couple other racers (it was obvious who the racers were in the breakfast area). I had a plate of food and just asked if I could join them. We chatted a lot about bikes, trail conditions, and races like this. Mostly about bikes, though.

The first minor setback was one of the two new headlights Eric brought along courtesy of Princeton Tec broke. Some tiny plastic teeth sheered off the cap so the light was not useable. We each had spares, so I just used my commuter light. But I was bummed as I knew my commuter light was not nearly as bright. Then I was trying to mod one of Eric's bottle cages so he could carry an insulated nalgene with it using a bungee, but while sawing I snapped it at a weld, destroying it. Grrr...

By Sunday afternoon I was getting nervous, agonizing over which clothes to wear and take with on my bike. In the end, this is what I went with:

- Terramar Therma Wool base layer
- SD soft-shell pants

- Terramar Therma Wool base layer
- light fleece top
- medium fleece top
- Wintergreen jacket

- plastic bag vapor-barriers
- sock liner over the plastic
- terramar wool sock
- saloman -40F boots

- terramar glove liners
- Fleece gloves (packed)

- Terramar therma wool balaclava
- SD neck gator
- neoprene face mask
- helmet
- SD fleece cap (packed)

I also had an additional set of base layers, a light fleece shirt, spare socks and glover liners packed in my gear (mostly for rotation at the half if needed).

At the pre-race meeting, we met up with another friend of Eric's, Anne, who, along with another friend, Leah, were skiing the race. Leah's boyfriend was there, too. The meeting was typical, most of the info I knew from all the research I've done. I didn't win anything in the swag drawing (I was hoping for the carbon fork), but Eric won some kind of bike multi-tool that he donated to my toolbox. We were sitting kind of in the back, and at one point I commented to Eric that it was kind of weird to look around the room and realize that half of the people there wouldn't make it.

In the swag bag was a small arrowhead (think real stone arrowhead) - I tossed this into my stove pot in my gear bag for good luck.

The plan was to leave the car at the start line, so that meant we had to pack up the bikes again and have all that set to go in the car. So after returning from dinner, we did that while watching The Fugitive on TV (I think it was Tommy Lee Jones weekend or something). We were both asleep by about 10:30, and needless to say it wasn't the best night sleep I ever had. Eric's watch went off at 3, waking me and not him. Ug - I had to wake him up to shut it off (he doesn't remember doing it). The real 5am alarm went off and started our race-morning process. I went and got some breakfast, ate fast and alone, then set about getting checked out and getting all our crap back into the car.

Then we got lost going to the start line, and the tension began to rise. We made it, but lost about 10 minutes in the process. We scrambled to get everything set, check in, car locked, keys hid, bla bla bla. I ended up with an extra hat and gloves that was supposed to go into the car and instead I had to stash on my bike. Not how I wanted the start line process to go.

© 2024