Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Personal Race Report: 2010 Arrowhead 135

"I love the man that can smile in trouble, gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection." Thomas Paine

Do you blanch easily? Are you encumbered with a queasy stomach? Are you endowed with a faintness of heart and/or a modest demeanor? If so, I may not be the man for you. Furthermore, if the thought of seeing an old stooped, naked man soaking his frost-ravaged body in the “hurt-tank” for hours on end, whilst continually hacking up immense gooey-green hunks of lung bile-like thingies seems repugnant to you; then maybe I am not the right roommate for you for future Arrowhead 135s. I am happy to report that my 2010 post-Arrowhead 135 roomie, the good Dr. Buffington, seemed to take it all in-stride... If, perchance, these kinds of eccentricities do not bother may be interested enough to read on...and maybe, if you feel there is a potential for a “good fit,” we could perhaps room together at some future endurance event!

At the onset of the main-event, I must admit to getting a bit carried away by all the pomp and circumstance of this year’s Arrowhead 135 extravaganza. Loosing my head, disengaging from my refined, calculating and stoic self-demeanor; awed by the splendor of the shinny new titanium gizmos combined with the pageantry associated with the international nature of the fine field of competitors acted as a kind of aphrodisiac causing me to throw all caution and reason to the wind. Perhaps I burned with the same intensity, as that of Number Forty-two when he first laid eyes on the fair maiden Lewinsky, a manifestation of “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” Had the race conditions not been so perfect, eventually I would have settled down into a doable race pace. I would have most certainly taken my place amongst the Corps d’ Middling and thus fittingly placed, been content to hear about the trials and tribulation of the talented vanguard in the synthetic comforts of one of the more splendid of the Northland’s version of the House of the Rising Sun, several hours after the fact with me faculties all intact...I would have taken sufficient time at the half-way cabin to gather my where-withal and to race it to the end as a Man does, instead of limping along like a forsaken and self-pitying eunuch. But alas, not unlike MENOITIOS, of Greek antiquity, who was given to rash actions, spur-of-the-moment exploits, and a host of other human frailties, I checked my good sense at the arena door upon signing-in at the start area on that chilly International Falls morning. It should come as no surprise that Zeus ultimately struck the impetuous MENOITOIS down with a thunderbolt and sent him to Erebos (the Underworld) as punishment for his hubristic behavior. Whilst in that same vein; old Jack Frost unleashed a deserved flogging unto me tender digitus phalangeus as punishment for my roller-coaster hubristic behavior. Yet, grieve not for me, dear reader, for I deserve all that I get and if the only penalty for my digression is a sore toe (and a slightly damaged self-image) then I count myself a lucky man.

In fact, I submit to you that I gladly trade a little pain and perhaps some Bit-O-Toe for the grand time that was bestowed upon me from the time I met Rick Mangan and Dave Simmons at the Fortune Bay Casino on Saturday morning until I gave my farewell to a fine group composed of several riders and volunteers on Tuesday morning at that same locale. Saturday’s dawn came on schedule, but I was already well on my way to meet the Nordakota boyz at the finish. Of course I was running late as I have left my wallet at my school the night before and thus had to go thirty miles out of my way to retrieve it. These two guyz are about as good as it gets...We loaded up my gear into Rick’s van and made for the Arrowhead 135 Check-in located for the first time at a beautifully majestic old school building that gave irrefutable evidence of the existence of a “Golden Age of Minnesota Mining.” Sadly that was a long time ago, back when America was a different place, but I digress...The Check-in only added to my giddiness with lots of familiar faces and new ones as well. Pierre was sporting a personally designed rig for combining ski and pole for ascents up the steep climbs that characterize a good portion of the middle section of the race course. The volunteers en-mass were gregarious, supportive, and just plain nice…

I find the gear innovations to be particularly compelling in that given the event is relatively novel there does not currently exist a standard repertoire or protocol for successfully completing it. It is also nice that it is too new and too quaint of a race to have attracted the big outdoor gear oligopolies and instead has been the traditional realm of the locally-minded entrepreneur. Black River Sleds, Vulpine Gear/Empire Canvas, Steger Mukluks, County Cycles, and Epic Designs all come immediately to mind. Skiing offers, perhaps, the most room for innovation at this point in the evolution of the race. For example, the jury is still out as to whether a backpack or a sled is the best way to go when making an attempt via ski. However, I must say that the debate regarding the efficacy of the clown-bike as compared with a standard mountain bike (or even a 29er equipped with wide rims) is no longer in doubt. Clearly, one on a Pugsley (or the like) has a significant advantage in this event. This irrevocable truth applies even to the hardest of hard pack conditions, plus the ability to descend really fast on those wide rims because of the addition of significant stability over the standard mtb rim reigns supreme. Consequently, the DBD’s own, namely: Jason Buffington’s (7th overall) and Jeremy Kershaw’s (1st single-speeder) efforts therefore should take on even more special meaning considering the fact that both were on 29ers equipped with normal sized wheel-sets and tires. Of course one should not forget that the pride of the DBD, Dave Pramann, still holds the record of just over sixteen hours, established on a regular mountain bike equipped with wider than normal rims, (but nothing approaching what is now available just five years hence). Yet, even Pramann concedes that the days when a fit, really fast guy could show up and win the Arrowhead on a regular mountain bike are over...It would seem that in this game, the wider the rim, the better one goes…of course I hope I am wrong!

The Holiday Inn has been our staging area for the last three Arrowheads and for me it is one of the highlights of the whole affair. Guyz park their bikes out in the pool area and commence to do what all guyz do—sit back, size-up, and embellish. I alwayz enjoy hanging with Dave and Rick and the rest of da North Dakota boyz, Chuck Lindner and his lovely wife, and a host of other fine folks. Greg Ames and his lovely wife showed up with a fine new baby in-tow. Finch and Kurth were there as was Matt Evingson (the first winner of the Arrowhead 135 ever!), Josh Peterson, Dave Pramann, Lance Andre, Don Gabrielson and his cool brother from Grand Rapids, Chris Pelsko, Jim Kalb, and a bunch of other guyz all added to a most festive atmosphere. I must also include a reference to Jim Grijalva, Pat White, and Steve Moulds, all of whom are unique and fascinating characters. I also enjoyed a reunion with Canadian, Bill Shand and a first time meeting with Paul Errington of the UK. Errington has embarked on a quest to ride in the coldest, hottest, and highest of the world’s mountain bike challenges. Accompanying Mr. Errington was a lovely lass whose love of a good challenge belies her pleasant nature for she is a veteran of the Great Divide Race! After a meal at the “Something or another Moose” which included most of the above mentioned and also Charly Tri and Jason Novak (from the southern latitudes), on Saturday night we have a few beers with the “iconic” Lindsay Gauld and his loyal, hilarious, and always “chipper” man-attendant, Andy Lockery in the motel’s bar. Jason Buffington and Jeremy Kershaw, my two buddies from Duluth arrived on Sunday and that only added to the fun...But alas, sooner than I would have liked, the idyllic time spent hanging with my buddies, waiting for Monday’s race went by too quickly...

Overall, mine was the antithesis of a well constructed and consistent endurance effort, the kind that leads to a top personal performance. I was all over the place—going fast, too fast, bonking to the point of walking with head bowed in shame, then reviving a bit, going good for a little while, then too fast again, then walking again, then feet start to go bad, so I am forced to power walk until they warm up, then feet start to go bad again, real bad, then add-in wild swinging leg pendulums on the half-hour into the mix, then more self-loathing, repeat...Think ugly, vile, repulsive…real ugly…I ain’t gonna lie to you! You can quit reading now if all you wanted was a summation. If, however, I have piqued your interest to some degree, read on for more of the miserable specifics...

The pretenders in the lead pack all pretty much got spit out the back by three or so hours into it, (myself included), while the contenders in the lead pack consisting of the two intrepid Alaskans (Pete Bassinger, Jeff Oatley), the wily Dave Pramann, the stalwart Lance Andre, tough-as-nails Brannick, the imperturbable Dan Dittmer, and the well-oxygenated Coloradoan, Tim Stern battled on. This is not to say that smarter, more constrained competitors did not have a shot at a top five finish (which was my goal). This race is only lost by starting out too fast. However, it is won in the night-time when one confronts the Frost Demons of the Darkness. After falling back from the lead group, I significantly slowed down, did a little foot maintenance (as me feet were uncharacteristically cold) and waited... as I fully expected to see the likes of Tri, Buffington, Gray, Grelk, Gauld, Novak, Plesko, and even Gabrielson (although Don had not have time to train as he is otherwise engaged with top Pentagon affairs, yet he will always be a force) to come by and offer me a lift (both literally in the form of a draft and metaphorically in the form of the need for human contact).

It did not take long as Charly Tri caught me up, I jumped on his wheel, but he was going good so I set him free. I was still trying to establish some kind of cadence for the long haul, still optimistic that I could get a top five spot. [Note: Charly had to bail soon thereafter because of a problem with asthma to which I say, "Sucks to your ass-mar!" so it goes...but he shall be back and could win it someday as he is at that kind of level.] To be honest, I did not expect to see Jeremy Kershaw as I figured having a single-speed 29er would act as a considerable governor on his ability to ride fast (again making his 24 hour finish that much more impressive!).
Young Jason Novak caught me up and we rode together into the first checkpoint. Jason Novak is the consummate “all around great guy,” great family man, great medical professional, great athlete—the whole package. We go way back to when I was his cross-country running coach at good ole Rochester John Marshall High School and it was fun to get to ride with him. I felt better riding with him and sensed a positive ebb in that fickle intangible known as “momentum.” Since I was out of the lead pack, I went with our pre-race plan to take the extra time at the first checkpoint to top off the fluids, which I did in good order.

I hit the trail bound for the Melgeorge cabin well ahead of years’ past and I was pumped to get ‘er done and maybe even pick off a rider or two up ahead of me. The hills leading into the cabin are impressive and yet I rode well into the halfway point. My spirits were buoyed when I passed Tim Stern, and even more so when I came in to see that Brannick and Dittmer were still at the cabin and I was further elated to learn that I was less than an hour behind the lead group. On reflection, this news clouded my judgment as my feet were cold and needed significant attention. My goal was to get in and out of the cabin in thirty minutes and I would have easily achieved that parameter had I not taken a few extra minutes to attempt to warm my feet by the hearth. As it played out, I was in and out in about forty minutes, but I made a substantial miscalculation by not getting my toes warmed up.

As the sun set and the cold crept in from Hades, Erebus, and other wicked abodes of the damned, my toes began to pain me and I realized that I was going to have to start a measured cycle of swinging, walking, and riding if I was to avert the dreaded frost bite. Frost bite is not something foreign to me as I was bit something fierce on my right big toe fifteen years ago while climbing Mount McKinley. So I know the score and I know the proper procedures for keeping the vital, warming blood flow to the digits, which involves swinging the legs combined with an exaggerated walking method that forces blood downward. I committed to a regimen that involved riding for forty-five minutes, swinging hard one minute for each leg, and then walking “the walk” for the remainder of the hour.

Once I got to the La Crescent Bar (the last check point), again I took sometime to warm my toes by the hearth, but again in hindsight, I should have stayed longer and done the job right. Dave Gray’s dad was there and it was so cool to hang out with him, although it was but a brief rendezvous. As I write this, I am compelled to wonder if I had become too complacent with the basic logistics involved with pulling this event off without any problems. I have really warm neoprene booties that kept me warm during the race several years back that involved super cold temperatures. Stupidly (and with hubris), I left them at home this time as I felt the temperatures were not going to be cold enough for me to justify the extra it goes...

Just as I was about to regain the trail proper, I noticed a cyclist heading en-route to the last checkpoint and upon closer investigation, realized that it was my training partner, Jason Buffington. I was pumped to see him and also greatly impressed by his high placing...He joked later on that I called him “Novak” and this is true because I did expect Jason Novak to be in the hunt, just as he was in last spring’s Trans-Iowa. Another reason why I was surprised to see Jason Buffington was the fact that while conditions were good for the snow bikes, the course was not optimal for a regular 29er, so I was astonished that he was going so well. Note: I will not in the least bit be surprised to see him in the “front-row” at this spring’s classic, The Trans-Iowa!

Well the rest of the story plays out to be just a drawn out forlorn march to the finish involving swinging, walking, riding, and so on...I do want to take this opportunity to thank Pierre and Cheryl Ostor for the opportunity to partake in this grand event every February. This is a jewel of an event that is made possible only through their passionate commitment. It is also a testament to their amicable natures that they can assemble such a top notch group of volunteers as well...I am fired up to go for Number Six in 2011 and happily with all ten of me digits intact...

Bravo Arrowhead 135....Bravo!!! Also one last recognition of the top five...Well Done MEN!!!


  1. I lost to the Frost Demons of Darkness. Not enough fitness, cold to the bone, and a secret desire to camp in the coldest weather I have ever slept in won me over.

    I'll be back next year to take on the night.

    I'll raise my glass to the DBD'ers on this race. You guys put up when the going got tough.

    I look forward to riding through the carnage (a few hours after it happened) that the DBD crew is likely to leave behind this spring on gravel.


  2. I am really proud of you men and for sure will have a hearty drink to clear the gravel from our throats in April,

    take care,

  3. A recollection of the highest LAUREATE status.

    You are too kind with your words towards me, likely recompense for the post-war visions of a naked man with plum-like toes lying in the warm shower for 2 hours, splattering the walls with pneumonic content.

    Heroic effort once again Mr. Farrow. The lower echelon of the DBD is once again awed and inspired. Hear Hear!

  4. A telegram arrived at me estate the other night informing me of the board's reaction to old and new DBD members completion of the toughest event Minnesota has to offer. "Jubilee - stop" was all it said. As one of the original "living" inductees into all that is DBD I must admit that I brim with pride as I review the accomplishments of the old guard as well as the promise of the new. Well done chaps, well done! Bully, bully. And, if I dare say, another finger of rum for the MEN.

    Sir Eki

    "Make us proud in Iowa - stop
    Mallory - stop"

  5. Charlie,
    Nice job 'saving' what could have been a serious disaster. Glad to hear you have all the digits you started with.
    One of slow-twitch muscle fiber and bones, I wouldn't last more than a few hours out there!
    Congrats again.