Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Last Great Hero: Sir Edmund Hillary

The 2008 Arrowhead 135: The whole truth and nothing but the truth
By: CP Farrow
Part I: Pre-race antics—
The BIG DANCE officially starts each year with an afternoon pre-race meeting up in International Falls on the first Sunday of February. The Arrowhead 135 is a gala affair that you, dear reader, should seriously consider attending next February. Order your tuxedo, maybe order a Pugsley as well (if you are so inclined), and start training in earnest as it is only a short twelve months away until the snow flies once again from the pitter-patter of boots, tires, and skis along the North Country’s Arrowhead Trail…

Anyway, the meeting is a great initiation to the whole crazy affair as it allows everybody to sort of gather and size each other up. In years past, there were more cool snow-bikes on display, but presumably with an extended check-in schedule, only a few wheeled snow-steeds were available this time for inspection when I arrived early Sunday afternoon. Upon entering the room reserved for the crazy Arrowheaders, I immediately spied Pierre and Cheryl, our charismatic and generous hosts. If not for their arduous efforts, none of this would be possible; it is impossible to accurately estimate the time and money that they donate to this adventure. Bravo Pierre and Cheryl!

With this being my third of such meetings, coupled with my propensity for mild dementia, I pretty much spaced-out all the dire lectures on being safe and obsequious to the sno-MiG oppressors and instead daydreamed about all the unfolding dramas that would certainly occur once the bands started playing and the Big Dance got underway on Monday morning (Digression ALERT!: By the way—“Being safe” is overrated and leads to obesity, I’d take a full-on misadventure any day over being safe, I’ll be safe when I’m in the ground!). In any event, I love checking out all of the various clicks, body types, and facial expressions. I relish the sense of excitement and anticipation that is present with every contender; enthusiasm is readily apparent in all the nonverbal cues, and in all the nervous fidgeting sewing-machine-like bobbing legs. It is this sense of sheer collective excitement and energy that is always apparent at the start of something big and challenging. This raw human emotion (our innate need for adventure) is the addictive pull that continues to draw me to bike racing and climbing after all these years, I hope I never lose that feeling, if I do; I’ll be done, I’ll be played out!…I’ll be looking to get into something more “safe.” As the meeting proceeds, all directly involved, even all in attendance, cannot help but to be at least moderately apprehensive and yet also eager, except of course Dave Pramann, who always maintains the classic poker face throughout these proceedings. I miss wild-eyed Team Evingson, the duo of Jon & Matt, because they represent the complete opposite of Dave P, the contrasts between the two camps are so captivating and just downright fun! And then there is Dave Gray, whose relaxed nonchalant demeanor seems to indicate to this passive observer that he is always thinking about serene peoples, places, and things associated with verbs like; “tranquil“ “real nice” “relax, take it easy” and “mellow”. Although I am clearly an amateur in the art of reading human emotions, I must say that both Pierre Ostor and Joel Cahalan also seem to convey, outwardly at least, a real sense of calm Zen-like contentment and therefore acceptance of their destinies; character traits that have clearly benefited both of them.

But really, itz hard to provide a generalized character profile of your average participant in the Arrowhead 135…so close your eyes and attempt to conjure a standard nondescript generic meeting room in a typical standard nondescript generic McHoliday Inn (methinks it would be so much better if the meeting site could be moved to a classic Italian bar/cafe, like the one @ the start of the RED ASS 300, in Winnipeg, but thatz another story…). Anyway, keep your eyes closed…and Visualize a boring meeting room, yet incredibly, this Wal-Holiday Inn rectangle is filled with sixty or so full-on hand-made nonstandard eccentrics, all of whom look decidedly out of place, add in another forty or so equally eccentric volunteers, all of whom look decidedly out of place, but a little more relaxed than the racers, and mix in another thirty of so mostly mainstream supporters of various racers, all of whom are looking really nervous as they gaze around at all the out-of-place eccentrics. Just from what I could personally ascertain (which aint much, just the tip of the iceberg, as further study is needed especially regarding the psychological make-up of the “runners!”), there are participants that range from a group of wild haired Rastafarian-esque adolescents that aptly refer to themselves as the “Yoga Slackers”; to a delightfully pleasant couple in their 50s and 60s respectively, that attempt the 135 mile distance each and every year; to a steely-eyed Hungarian; to a trio of tanned Brazilians; to a cheerful happy-go-lucky Iowan that resembles a 1960s-style hippy on his way to Woodstock. There are guyz&galz in their 20s, guyz&galz in their 30s, 40s, 50s, even 60s…There are twenty-two, (mostly dysfunctional), bikers; eight daring skiers; even an impressive bunch of brave soldiers (twenty-four), both men and women, that are planning on running/hiking the 135 miles! There are guyz from big cities like Tampa and London, guyz from France, Spain, even South Africa!!! There’s a young woman whose father is a famous polar explorer and a guy that invented, (or at least played a major role to invent) and market the Surly Pugsley. There are a couple old guys from the Twin Cities, one is an engineer (but not the kind that drives trains) and the other one is an air-traffic controller. The air-traffic controller rides his bike likes itz a supersonic jet and the engineer is solid as a rock in all avenues of his life. There’s an unassuming guy from up on Da Range that just happens to also be a graduate from the Naval Academy and currently the commander of a brand new hi-tech Navy combat ship, there’s a former designer of grenade-launchers, there’s an anti-derailleur pharmacist that rode the Paris-to-Brest-to-Paris last summer and he talks about it like most guyz talk about riding up to a local pub for a cold one. There is a brilliant liberal law school professor from North Dakota, a amicable Fed Ex Driver with a baby on the way, and a supremely organized parts manager that would make MacGyver envious, and a Duluthian that just about never, ever rides in a car and instead rides this bike-truck thingy to haul building materials…and the list goes on and on. I guess the point I am trying to make is that it’s a fun, zany, totally energizing crowd to hang out with!!!

I bunked with the boyz from Nordaakota and a better bunch I’d wager can’t be found…We wiled away the afternoon and evening packing and unpacking, laughing, telling jokes and being charmed (on and off for most of the evening) by a gaggle of slightly inebriated youngsters for Rainy Lake on a hockey holiday. From time to time other mercenaries of pain and suffering stopped by to offer social commentary on topics ranging from the potential athletic performance attributes of lobectomy to the appropriateness of wearing adult diapers in an effort to mitigate chapping and sweat issues during ultra-endurance cycling events to the constant, albeit strange eye-twitch that all the skiers seem to possess. Notable characters that moseyed by included Lance Andre, an up-and-comer from Northern Iowa that, once he gets it figured out, is gonna be a force in the snow bike racing community. My buddies from Duluth, Phil Rogers, Jim Reed and Pat Susnik also stopped by and partook in the traditional Pugsley hoist to feel for themselves the disparaging weight of the two-wheeled abomination that dominated this year’s cycling corps.

Sometime after the amazing conclusion of the Super Bowl, my comrades and I bedded down for a few ZZZZs. I never stress about not beig able to sleep the not before a big gala event like the Arrowhead, so I spent much of the night laying there snickering to myself about the absurdity of the human condition. One really funny thing, in particular, occurred during the wee hours of Monday morning. The alarm clock unexpectedly went off at 2:00 a.m. Rick, the organized one, immediately began to robotically prepare for the race by putting on layers of insulated clothing. It was like watching Skinner’s rat go through the motions! I let him go on dressing for quite awhile, it was so funny watching him. Finally, I called out, “Rick, what are you doing?” “I’m getting ready for the race,” he whispered. I respond, “Rick, itz two in the morning.” He apologizes, “Oh sorry.” And then-- just like that, he’s back on the floor sleeping, but he still has his gear on!!! Then, I realized that our young domestique had gone missing! It is feared that he has fallen in with the band of merry hockey players, who by the echoing sounds of their chemically-induced gaiety, (even at this early morning hour), are obviously still on the prowl for wayward youthful North Dakotans. I paternally worry for a few minutes and then cast off again into a lovely dream filled with rock-hard snow trails, hungry Pugsley-eating wolf-monsters, and vast lakes filled with Guinness Extra Bitter Stout. Upon awakening, it became obvious that Nathan, our young domestique, was still missing! All sorts of scenarios arise, but alas the loyal lad is sleeping out on our poolside deck! He states matter-of-factly that he was out a bit later than anticipated, and so rather than disrupt our slumber, he opted to sleep on a chair out on the desk! This generous, courteous, and completely unsolicited act represents the embodiment of these guyz from North Dakota…these guys are the best in the WEST!
The time was now 6:30 A.M. on Monday , February 5th; time to pay the fiddler!
To be continued…Part II: The race begins and …the dream dies


  1. I'm on the edge of my seat!!!

  2. What a great way to introduce a race report. Love it.

  3. You're crazy, but in a good way. Looking forward to the next installment. P.S. you make me want a pug for next year. I'd do it. Hey, that sounds like a good enough use of a tax rebate if I've ever heard one.