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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.

First Half: Arrowhead125 2012
February 9, 2012
[Note: This is Part 2; jump to Pre-Race or Second Half]

I lined up in the middle of the pack for the race start. I had a loose plan for how I wanted to ride this race: Roll out quick (for me) until the turn on to the trail proper. Then, stop and set up the camera and make any other adjustments.

We did just that - the gun went off and the bikes took off. For being warm and soft, the trail was still fast. I think the small snow depth (just a few inches) was giving us a solid enough base that the softness didn't matter all that much. The first 9 miles I rolled with 4 other guys at over 13 mph. The light snow / drizzle wasn't really being a problem, but I sort of wished for some kind of eye protection. At the first turn, I stuck with plan and pealed out of the line and let them go. I admit, I was feeling good at the pace of that run and the energy I was using and was kind of sad to drop out. But I had other goals, too. I adjusted some stuff, got a camera out and rolled on. Soon I was alone.

The trail condition took a noticeable turn for the worse almost immediately. Soft, lumpy, dirty, grassy - there were no good lines to follow, but rather it looked like everyone ahead of me picked something new. I was glad to have left the faster guys - I'd have never been able to keep up with them in this soup anyway. Happy with that decision, I focused on keeping a comfortable pace going and shooting some video.

I was able to spend a lot of time in my middle ring even in the crappy trail conditions, so I knew I was making ok time. I didn't have easy access to a watch (purposely) so I just focused on moving. I forced myself to stop a few times and set up shots. The warm temp allowed me to do this easily and efficiently. A couple times while doing this riders would pass me, then I'd pass them again after a while. This really broke up the ride (in a good way) and helped keep the "trail monotony" from settling in or thinking too much about the sorry state of the surface. It was better to think about shots than the immediate situation.

I arrived at Gateway at a few minutes before 11:30. I could not remember my exact times from the previous year, but I knew I was ahead. I limited myself to 30 minutes. I sat for a bit, refilled my bottles, ate some food, chugged another eBoost energy shot and rolled on just after 12. At this point I'd already gained 90 minutes on last year, plus I had about 10 or 15 video shots in the can.

Felling good, I left the checkpoint and headed into the hills. This is where other parts of my riding plan took effect. First was no coasting. Pedal until I run out of gears or it was really unsafe. But if I felt like coasting don't be lazy and instead just shift up to another gear. Second, bomb the hills. This was an effort to get used to going fast on the downhills in daylight so that I was already used to it by the time it got dark. Third was ride everything that was ridable, no matter how short. Even if it was only ten yards between up hills, ride the space. Last year I walked a lot of this crap because getting on and off my bike seemed like a lot of work.

Soon after getting on the second segment of the trail, I got passed by a skier while I was setting up the camera. Holy moly that guy was flying! I passed him again a few miles later while he adjusted clothing, then he passed me for good not too long after that. Just another freaky thing on this year of the freaky Arrowhead. Skiers are not supposed to pass bikes. :-)

I rode on, shot video, ticked off the shelters and plotted my progress on the map in my mind. For a while I rode with another guy, Dallas, but we separated on the hills. I had sort of hoped to make Melgeorges before dark, but in doing the math in my head I knew I'd be a little late. I was riding well, but was getting tired, and wondering why the hell it took so long last year. I rolled into the lake which kind of goes on forever after the previous hills, and arrived at the checkpoint 2 hours ahead of last year.

The limit (self imposed) here was 2 hours. I had a bag loaded on my bike of gear for the half, including a camera charger, some spare clothes and batteries, new vapor barrier bags, etc. I pulled out that bag and headed into the cabin. They had a better plan going this year for drop bags, and someone handed me mine right away, along with some food. The thing that had kept me motivated for a while was a baggie of recovery drink that I was planning to add to my nalgene of water for a halfway point kick. That, along with 2 grilled cheese sandwiches, some soup, a red bull and a few butter finger bites was a nice pick me up.

I rested on the couch, sent some clothes to the dryer, and only made minimal small talk with the other riders. After a bit I remembered to plug my camera in and charge the batteries. 2 hours goes by pretty fast. I repacked my stuff, went to the bathroom, put the rest of my clothes on, and checked out. It was nice to get back outside.

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