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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.

Second Half - Arrowhead 135
February 1, 2011


[Note: This is Part 3; jump to Pre-Race or First Half]

Segment 3: Things Get Weird

There was activity in the cabin, but it was subdued. People were resting, though the volunteers were bustling about helping the riders. I had barely sat down before I had a grilled cheese sandwich and bowl of soup in front of me. Eric had been resting and came down from the loft, and we chatted. Someone put a bunch of my clothes in the dryer, and I stripped off my socks and vapor barrier plastic bags to let my feet dry out. I ate and then went up to rest a while.

While I was lying down, a couple guys came in and said Lance needed to get picked up. He was in his bag on the other side of the lake and not able to keep warm. Coordinations ensued, and after another half hour or so a sled was able to bring him in. Eric was still there,  and later he mentioned to me that he thought Lance was close to stage 1 hypothermia.

I rested for a couple hours - but didn't actually sleep. The discussions around picking up Lance, the general comings and goings of racers, and my being a light sleeper anyway made any real sleep impossible. But being relaxed and not moving was refreshing. I got up at 11:30 and began my prep to leave, but I couldn't find my drop bag. I looked around for a while, but it was obvious that it wasn't there. Sigh. The good thing was it was really just food - i carried my spare socks, vapor barrier bags, and other gear things I wanted to use and just had my new rations in the bag. I had a bunch of food still left from the first half, but not enough. I started digging though the food box for stuff - this is the box were racers can put things they no longer need or want to carry. It was a good sized box so I was prob going to find enough stuff, and then Lance tossed in his six clif bars for me since he was out of the race. That was really awesome. I took those to the kitchen and cut them up again like I had done with mine.

By this time it was pretty quiet in the cabin, and I finished dressing and organizing my gear, and left at about 1:15am. I heard someone say it was -10F out there, but it seemed colder. I rolled out wearing my down jacket to preserve the warmth of the cabin until I warmed up while riding. I think I missed a stake coming out of the checkpoint and missed the first turn to the trail, but I found the trail eventually, and with the bright clear sky made the right direction choice (thanks Orion) and started on the hills. After about 40 minutes I dropped a layer and continued on, passing the infamous "T" that had already sent two riders back to the cabin. The hard line was good and I was starting to relax a bit after the checkpoint drama.

After another hour, I could feel the cold seeping in, so I stopped again and added my layer back, and put the down coat back on. One of the hardest things was my hat. I was wearing a hat over my balaclava, and when I previously adjusted layers I forgot this when i took my helmet off. My hat had become wadded up inside my helmet (and I was very lucky I didn't lose it). So when I added the layer back on, I found my frozen wad of hat in my helmet, and had to un-chrunch it and put it back on my head - brrrr!

The hills were truly relentless.

I passed two guys sleeping out in a tent and hollered to see if they were ok, not that I could do anything if they were not. I got an ok back and rolled on.

More hills. Coast down, push up. Coast down, push up. Coast down, push up. About two hours or so later I could tell the bottom had really dropped out of the temperature. I had very nearly everything on that I had with me, and knew I was right on the edge of what I could handle. Frankly, I was nervous. Not scared, but nervous. If it got much colder, I was going to have to get into my bag. But as long as I was moving, I seemed to be managing. I was trying to get enough calories in, but even the bite-sized bits of clif bar were getting difficult to eat. They would take a long time to thaw in my mouth. I was feeling a little nauseous, this flavor of clif bar was gross, and the two excedrin I'd taken were also not sitting well. Damn.

Around this time I started thinking seriously about taking a ride on a sled should one come by to check on racers. Again, I felt like I was doing ok while riding, but I was right on the edge with no further margin. My hands were getting cold. I couldn't remember where I put heat packs (stupid!). I knew a shelter was coming up, and I entertained fantasies about a sled being stationed there with a fire going. Actually, it was somewhat more than 'thinking seriously' about dropping. I was ready to get out of there. It's funny really: At any given moment, I felt like I was ok - managing. But this was one of those situations in my mind that was a really really bad idea to be in. I knew there was no margin, and was telling myself I had no business being out there. Basically, thought, it was just as far to the next shelter as going back, so I might as well go forward as long as I have to move. So I did.

Push up, coast down. Push up, coast down.

When I got to the shelter at Myrtle Lake, it was (not surprisingly) empty and quiet. No sled, no fire. I looked at it for a couple minutes, debating pulling out my bivy and sleeping. The problem was I wasn't really sleepy. And I was feeling like I could keep going, but I was worried about it getting any colder and being so deep and so alone. I decided to go on to the next shelter and see if there was anything happening there. I have no idea what time it was, but maybe 4:30? Later I figured out that around this point I probably had at least 15 miles of this trail all to myself.

The next two hours were kind of blurry. I had conversations with Orion. I thought about things people had said to me before I left. I thought of all the training and time and would I feel like it was a waste if I didn't finish. I looked for good places to bivy. Shapes of all kinds of things appeared in the snow that hung in the trees. The snow on the trail "flowed" around like water. My breath would just hang in front of my bike like a cloud thanks to the very light tail wind. My bike and gear and clothes were all covered in sparkly frost. My eyelashes had ice bits frozen in them. It was seriously cold. I marked time by watching Sirius cross the sky. The stars were amazingly bright - the great nebula in Orion was easily visible. Oh that I had energy to enjoy the sky, and unfortunate that such a pretty sky came only with such brutal temperatures. I'd wanted a clear sky, and I got my wish. Be careful what you wish for I laughed to myself.

The bike was crabby at me, too. The freehub was slipping. At the top of the hills, I'd could spin my pedals 1/2 to 3/4 of a full turn before it would catch and I could move forward and it would make an aweful "clonk" noise. My shifter was frozen and had to work it to change gears. My rear brake was freezing and I only was able to get about half the stopping power. My pedal straps were frozen stiff and I couldn't get my feet in them. I was worried about a crash, so I would take it easy on the downhills. After pushing and pushing up, I had to brake going down to stay in control which was frustrating and I was cursing out loud at the injustice of it all.

I was tired. Deeply tired. I dozed in tiny snippits as I walked up the hills, closing my eyes for 4 or 5 steps at a time.

Then I noticed it. The eastern sky was getting lighter. Just the fact that the night was ending gave me energy. I dug out a butterfinger, and I think it was the best candy I've ever tasted. A little later a few shot blocks and I was in a better mood. I made it though the night.

Shortly after that, I caught up to another rider, Phil - the first person I'd seen in 7 hours. I was very tired now, but the sun was nearly over the horizon and the cold was beginning to relent. I had a setback when we got to a shelter, I thought it was #8 and we were only 3 miles from the checkpoint, but it was really #7 and we actually had 14 more to go. We pushed and coasted together for the next 5 hours, with only tiny snippits of conversation. But it was nice to be together. The sun was bright and my eyes hurt - my sunglasses were deep in my pack (stupid - i thought i'd make it to the checkpoint shortly after dawn). Phil was exhausted, too. Most of his food had frozen solid so he'd not eaten much. He stopped at one point to throw up. The last hill was the worst - amazingly steep. I stopped three times to rest on the way up. There was a shelter at the top (the real #8), and I managed to get a text message out to Elisabeth, who I thought might be worried.

2 mi from check point 3. Very tired & not feeling well. Might drop. Will call from there f i can


We were less than 30 minutes from the checkpoint. I was seriously wondering if I could do the final segment after that. We finally rolled into the checkpoint, after 11 hours of pushing and coasting.



Segment 4: The Flat to the Finish

Phil and I checked in together at the Crescent, and I really felt spent and was still wondering if I could make it. But I knew not to make any decisions until I rested and ate something. Ordered food and a coke and some water, stripped off clothes by the fireplace to dry a bit, and took inventory of my body. I was groggy, but in otherwise pretty good shape. After eating and chatting a bit, I felt like I could make the last 22 miles of basically flat trail and wanted to have the satisfaction of completing the event. We went to check out, and this was when the checkpoint volunteer told us it had hit somewhere between -30F and -35F on the trail overnight. Holy shit! No wonder I felt cold. I'm glad I didn't know or just the knowledge of that number would have had me freaking out - I had no experience or confidence level in that kind of cold. I'm sure I prob would have dropped at the half or at least waited until dawn to start again. (Note: If I had waited at the half, it would have been likely that I would have gone deep into the second night to finish, and it was even colder.)

It was about 2:30 now, so Phil and I suited up to ride the segment together. When we went back outside, there were two snowmobile volunteers out in the parking lot, and one noticed my wheel and said I should check it. Damn! My front wheel was flat. Sigh. I didn't have the energy to be frustrated, but just set about fixing it. I told Phil to go on in an attempt to make it before dark, so he left and I replaced the tube. I got the tire seated, but my pump would not fit on the valve. Good god - this was becoming a comedy of minor frustrations that began with the broken headlight. I went back into the bar, where a few other riders had come in, and asked to borrow a pump from someone. I was too tired to feel like a doofus and an unprepared rookie. I just wanted air in my wheel. Lance and his brother Travis were there, and I was able to use Travis' mini pump to get going again (after about 5 million strokes). During this time, the reporter from the Star Trib appeared, and as I packed my gear back up we did a little impromptu interview - we'll see if I make the story.

About 45 minutes after I checked out, I was finally rolling to the finish.

After eating and resting, I felt pretty good on the trail, and the afternoon sun was pleasant. I knew I wouldn't make it before dark now, but was ok with that. After sunset, I added a layer almost right away - the temp began to drop fast again. My ass and legs hurt, so I took a couple of ibuprofen, too. I realized I'd likely done more pedal strokes in the first 5 miles of segment 4 than I probably had the whole third segment with all its pushing and coasting.

I reached the spur to the casino after full dark, but it was nice to be getting close even though there were a number of small hills again. Its almost uphill all the way to the casino, but I was determined to ride it all and not walk any more. I rolled up to the finish, and one of the volunteers took my bike and directed me to the hospitality room. They gave my my official time: 35:51.

Back in September, I laid out 3 primary goal for the race: 1. Finish; 2. Don't be last; and 3. Finish in less than 36 hours, what I thought at the time to be the most realistic. I achieved all 3.

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