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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: Arrowhead135 2012
February 9, 2012
[Note: This is Part 3; jump to Pre-Race or First Half]

I left Melgeorges at around 9 pm, feeling pretty good, and headed into the hills. Snow was starting to fall now, and at one point I decided for a laugh to try my clear glasses. They fogged up right away. I considered chucking them into the woods, but I'm not that kind of person. I sighed and stuffed them back into my frame bag and carried on without eye protection. I was a little more at ease, too, because I knew I was done with video for a while and could just focus on riding.

My lighting plan was working well and I was seeing ok. Having the light on my helmet was great since I was often looking at some other focus point than my handlebar light was pointing. No wonder it was difficult last year with just the little light on my bars.

Again I marked the course by shelters, passing by #5 soon after leaving the resort. In the early part of this section of trail, before the Myrtle Lake shelter, the hills are kind of spread out and not as steep. I made an effort to ride as many as possible and was glad I took the time to practice going fast. I tried to identify places from my memory last year, but that was kind of impossible.

I made the Myrtle Lake shelter at about 11:30, knowing I was doing pretty well, having already knocked off 4 hours. There was none of the freakout that was beginning to take hold last year. I knew bigger hills were about to start, but I wasn't feeling sleepy or overly tired. It was, however, snowing pretty good at this point, I could see the tracks of previous racers beginning to fill in.

I began to see wolf tracks in this area, too. It was obvious they were fresh, being on top of all the bike tracks, including the rider who left the half about an hour before me. Now, I'm not one to be afraid of wolves. The logical me knows that wolves never attack people and don't want anything to do with us. The me that is tired, alone, and deep in the woods in the middle of the night isn't quite so rational, however. I had a bit of tension and kept my whistle ready to scare off anything I saw. At least it gave me something to think about for a while and focus on. There were a lot of them.

Light freezing rain began to mix with the snow for a while, which was kind of gross. But again it was so light that I didn't feel the need for the hard shell and just brushed off my sleeves once in a while to keep too much of it from melting on me.

I passed several racers who were camped. There were at least 4 at shelter #7, and in the middle of a big hill another was camped on the side of the trail (who I later learned was DeathRider). A few miles later a couple more. I don't like to camp, but it was a good night for it (except the rain part). The thought of pulling out all my crap, setting up camp, then having to pack it all us seems more work than just riding.

There was still a lot of pushing - there are a lot of hills I just can't muster after being out for 18 hours or whatever. I did, however, try to make sure to bomb the downsides and make it up as high as I could on the other. The bike was running fine, except for my pedals. I expected this somewhat, but it was still annoying. They were packing with the soft, warm snow and then I couldn't clip in. The cages did me well, but at one point I picked up a stick and carried it with me so I could scrape out the packed snow. I would do this while pushing to the tops of hills.

I began to make a plan for video after daybreak to occupy my mind. I thought of the few shots left that I wanted to get, how much battery I had left, and what might be good places to grab the shots.

I also began to get into more boggy parts of the trail that were a lot more difficult. They were lumpy and soft and more frustrating than the hills. I was beginning to brand this "The Dirty Arrowhead" in my brain. I kept making up depressing names for the bogs and swamps - like "the dismal swamp", "bog of depression", "swamp of decay", "death bog", "swamp of misery" - that sort of thing. I tried to recall the names of some of the lunar seas that I know had similar names.

Around 6 I arrived at the third checkpoint. I had a plan for here, too. In my drop bag I put a baggie full of oatmeal. From the pre-race info I knew there wasn't going to much more than hot water here, so I brought this along to make sure I had a bit of a warm meal at this point. Originally I had thought about bringing ramen noodles, but at the last minute realized oatmeal would be faster and easier to make, whether I stopped to heat water myself or got some at the checkpoint. I pulled out my small eating pot, a spoon and the oatmeal and sat for a bit in the tent. This was kind of a mistake since as soon as I went into the tent all that ice and snow started to melt off. I quickly ditched my helmet and jacket back outside and hoped it wasn't too late. I skipped the cocoa (probably shouldn't have) filled my containers with warm water and rolled out again after about 25 minutes. I probably also should have taken a caffeine shot (i'd saved some for this), but my stomach was now protesting and just didn't feel like throwing it up (even though I likely would not have).

In any case I was looking forward to getting out of the hills. Shortly after leaving the checkpoint I was bombing a downhill and wiped out. I slid about 20 feet on down the hill. Chuckling, I got up and made sure all my gear was still attached, brushed myself off, and carried on. I could see dawn poking through some small holes in the clouds as I pushed up Wakemup hill, then stopped at the top to send E a txt message:

just past chk pt 3. 3-4 hours from fin. feel ok. will txt when imclose to fin


A bit different from last year's message from the same place...

Then I bombed down the other side and headed into the long flat.

Final Segment

I crossed the highway and headed into the final stretch. Right away I knew I was in for a struggle. It was going to be 20-odd miles of "swamp of despair" to get to the finish. I was really hoping to not encounter any snowmobiles as what little progress I was making was because there were tracks to follow. A sled would chew that up and really slow me down.

The sun was peaking through, and I took the opportunity to shoot a couple of final segments of video. 15 minutes later the sun was gone. My hands and ass began to protest the lumpy, grassy trail surface. My hands were going numb and getting chilled, I was wishing for my riding gloves. The gray sky and gray-brown landscape was interminable, and my enthusiasm was hitting a low point. I was slogging on but could not muster the desire or energy to go faster - I wanted to be done but the trail stretched out and went on forever. This was by far the most mentally, and possibly physically challenging part of the course. I was also coughing a lot now, my cold having taken a deeper hold of me. And this is supposed to be the easy flat to the finish.

I had not seen another moving cyclist since leaving the half, and I was disappointed to get passed in this section. It only added to my loathing of this final part of the course.

I tried to distract myself with the estimating my end time, but simple math was getting difficult. Still, the harder it was to do the math, the more time it consumed. I figured I would beat Eric's time of last year, so that was a minor bright point, but it was going to be close and kind of depended on if I had any snowmobile encounters or not. The hills of Tower arrived very slowly, but I finally found myself at the spur to the casino. I stopped again for a moment to let E know i was about 30 minutes out, not knowing if she were at the casino yet. I was thankful - yes thankful - for the return of the little hills. Climbing back up out of the swamp grass was great and I started to think I might be able to shave a full 8 hours off my time. I had to go faster, though, so I added what little extra energy I could find.

Being back in the woods was far less depressing than the open skies of swamp, and my mood improved with the final push to the finish. I rode up the final rise to the finish line, noting that this year there was a tent there and some people by a fire. They, however, didn't move as I crossed the line. The final squeak of my brake jolted them awake :-) Final time was 27:57, or 7h54m faster than last year. Good for 25th bike and 26th overall (got beat by the skier...).

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