Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Part III...Bring it home

'Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood. When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud. I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form."Come in," she said,"I'll give you shelter from the storm."
Robert Zimmerman from Hibbing, Minnesota

Part III: When in doubt; take a nap…
…so where was I? Oh yeah, I limped into the cabin half-a-man. Actually, the term “cabin” is a misnomer as the midway check-point is actually a beautiful chalet-styled modern bungalow complete with two bathrooms, spacious kitchen and a roomy loft-like second floor that is equipped with a multitude of comfy looking, temping berths. The place was populated with hosts that were seemingly direct descents of a hybrid of all the positive traits of Mother Teresa and Gloria Vanderbilt. Consequently the volunteers were incredibly polite, supportive, empathetic, even nurturing. “Minnesota nice” does not adequately describe the warm aurora; with the whole ambiance in some ways simply too accommodating for a man of my social standing.
Upon my arrival, the racers still in the cabin included Don, Josh, and Greg. With Phillip (the skier) arriving not far after Lance; both of whom entered shortly after I stumbled in. There was a funny albeit memorable moment when the skier came in, the light-hearted conservation unconsciously quieted down and we all instinctually lowered eyes in deferential homage as if to acknowledge that with the arrival of the skier we were witnessing a REAL man’s man, a man whose internal fire was something special to behold. We all relished the break from the trail and it was wonderful to sit down and take it easy. A cautionary note, however, one must be aware of the pull to stay too long in such a luxurious setting. A fundamental principle in my strategy for being competitive in any long distance event is to keep the rests to a minimum. Specifically, regarding the AH, the maximum time that I allow myself to relax and enjoy the wonderful, supportive environment of the half-way stop is two hours. This is a rigid rule, one that I do not deviate from for any reason. The rationale is similar to that of the turn-around-time in climbing. On big climbs, climbers (smart ones anyhow) set a time that they WILL turn around. The first year I did the Arrowhead, I was able to get in and out in less than 30 minutes, but that was a year in which both the trail and the weather were in primo conditions. Last year with the super cold temps, I stayed the full two hours and again this year, I allowed for the extended break mostly because I was experiencing frequent bouts of severe leg cramps. Even though I was a hurtin’ cowboy, I made myself leave the warm hospitality because I knew that if I stayed beyond my allotted time parameter, it would become easier to stay… and stay and stay. Again, enough cannot be said about the graciousness and pleasantries demonstrated by the volunteers at the half-way cabin. I sincerely hope that I will one day be able to return the favor.

So after about an hour and forty minutes, I donned my man-diaper, loaded up my camelbaks, and left. I would guess that I was twenty minutes of so behind Don and Greg as I mounted my trusty old Gunnar 29er, hoping to push hard and catch them up. It was obvious that the temps had finally started to descend and so on shaky legs but with a wholesome dinner in me and a dose of full-on optimism, I turned my trusty steel steed into the darkness and started tracking those malcontented Pugslies. There is a surrealistic magic associated with riding solo on snow trails in the darkness. I was energized, pumped-up and even though the conditions were still much less than optimal, I pushed hard and my legs responded favorably. I looked skyward and saw glimmering stars and it was good.
My hard efforts leading out of the cabin bolstered by good cheer, coupled with Don’s flat tire allowed me to catch the duo of Greg and Don about two hours out.
It was great to catch them and ride with them, but just at about the time I met the duo, the hilly sections came into play. The combined stupidity of no granny gear and skinny tires left me really struggling to maintain their pace in the hills. I was being forced off the bike and jogging to keep up and the descents, (usually one of the few strengths of mine), were very sketchy as my front wheel was super squirrelly in the loose snow. Anyway, dear reader, surely you've got your own problems and so you certainly don’t want to hear the laments from some old guy about some inconsequential night ride in the far north. Fact is I did not have long to whine or contemplate my ineptitude anyway as my legs took over and made the call…I started to seize up just like that old ’78 Dodge Charger did; the one that my brother and I burned-up on our way home from a semester at CU in Boulder, back like twenty-two years ago. Yeah, it was just like that in many ways, the red light came on just as we were leaving Sterling, Colorado and yet we kept driving it, sure we would stop every hundred miles or so and try to cool it down, hoping against hope that the old girl could just hang in there long enough to get us back to Minnesota, but only fools hope against hope and it should have been no big surprise when the old girl seized up just outside of Lincoln, Nebraska. The pistons melted into the aluminum engine-block causing the front wheels to lock up. We squealed to a halt, luckily there was enough momentum to skid it off the highway. We sorta looked at each other kinda in an embarrassed sorta silly way, then we got out and hitched-hiked into Lincoln, so it goes…
Same thing in the 08 Arrowhead, the red light came on for me shortly before I reached the cabin. Yet, a little rest allowed my system to cool down, but once I started in on those climbs, the whole thing seized up. I was played out. I threw up the white flag and called out to the boyz letting them know that I was going to need an extended break. To be honest, I was grateful that they did not argue with me. Actually, being the optimist, I took it as a sign of respect. Remember these guys are top-notch and so there is no question that if they had in anyway felt like I was in real trouble they would have stayed. They were doing well and I was pumped for them. As they road away, I took a long breather in the classic defeatist poise (with my fore head on the saddle) and resolved to bivy at the next shelter, (note: normally I would have considered just sleeping out, but it was snowing and I wasn’t in any kind of dire-straits, so I figured a shelter would be nice). Having not paid attention to the shelters and with my map buried somewhere in my gear, I just figured I’d ride at a slow pace until I came upon one. The funny thing was that nearly at the exact moment that I decided to wait until I got to a shelter; I came upon a picturesque shelter situated at the top of a hill. Within minutes I was toasty warm and relaxed in my bivy gear. It was great, I love sleeping out and having reconciled myself to a less than top five finish I faded into contented slumber.
But alas, just as I was wispfully dreaming about Pramann’s frame catastrophically failing at multiple weld points, I sensed an intrusion. It was Dave Simons, the delightful youth from Norddaacoedah. He’s a great guy that too was in search of respite. So then we were two snug bugs in the shelter. As he was bagging down, I told him that my plan was to be back on route in three or so hours, with that bold statement I passed out into a deep sleep; a sleep that I would not have awaken from had it not been for Dave’s misery. Not long after Dave was bived down , Dave Gray graciously peeked in on us and checked that we were Okay, it was nice of him and I remember thinking how it reminded me of when I check in on my little girl late at night. Itz one of my dreams to go to Alaska and make the big ride to Nome, it would be even better if all these guyz could come with me. There’s a silver lining in every cloud and as such Dave’s misfortune was a good thing for me. In other words, he got cold and really uncomfortable, so about three or four hours later he was so cold that he was thrashing around trying to warm up. It woke me up and got us both going. I think we left the cabin around 7:00 a.m. The temps had fallen as evidenced by my partially frozen, but functional camelback.
The sun came out as we rode it home…and it was good………nothing better really!!!!

Thanks again to all involved, especially Cheryl and Pierre and I can’t wait to do it all again in 2009...p.s. Good luck to all who partake in the Ultra of Ultras...the Iditarod Trail, especially Pierre!


  1. I should use your two hour rule. I spent the first two hours at the checkpoint just trying to decide what my plan was. It was another six hours before I left.

  2. I remember when I would lay in bed and my dad would read to my brother and I from a book called "loaded for Bear". A compilation of survival stories mainly of the hunting sort: Men being mauled by bears, the gritty feel of a lions tongue licking the sweat off the victims leg, and great safari hunts ending in disaster. I should print your novel and someday read it to the young ones, so that the story may live on of the great adventurer Charlie Farrow.