AH135: Ten Years After
Persevere: to persist in an undertaking in spite of counter influences, opposition or discouragement.
I usually set personal goals when doing Ultras like the Arrowhead 135. My primary goal was to enjoy the experience as long as possible. The next goal was to finish, and my last goal was to break 30 hours. Those were in the order of importance.
My first Arrowhead was the 2nd annual event in 2006. I went up with Dave Gray, his Dad, and Uncle. The Pugsley had just come out the previous year, and available gear for these type of events was thin and mostly customized from other winter sports or bike touring. I rode a Surly 1x1 with Snow Cat rims and 3” DH tires. It was a learning experience, to say the least. I finished 6th in the bike category out of 24 starters. My most vivid memory was stopping to camp at the 100-mile mark. I pulled out the map and wondered how the hell I could get off the course to somewhere warm. The map indicated that my best route was to finish the race course. There was no 3rd checkpoint in 2006, and I rode the last 63 miles without seeing another rider. I was so exhausted I ended up sleeping trail side for about 4 hours.
My set up for the AH135 in 2006.
Since that first AH, I have returned three times. In 2012, I skied the event with my oldest brother Mike. We also took an unsuccessful shot at the race on foot in 2014. Last year was the most enjoyable AH135 as I helped Surly with support at the checkpoint three instead of racing. My brother was making his 2nd successful attempt on foot. Spending time outdoors in the winter skiing and camping in the surrounding national forest for three days reminded me why I enjoy this event so much and keep coming back for more.
This year I signed up for the bike category to join my brother Mike and his son Patrick. I originally had planned to ride the Wednesday, but after reading the snow report two weeks prior to the race, I switched to the ICT. It had been an abnormally warm winter with low snowfall. Trail reports were poor with some of the wetland not yet frozen. I did not regret that decision.
The temps at the start of the race were in the mid 20's and foggy. Since I knew the trail conditions would be a factor today, I positioned myself in the front half of the field at the start. I felt good on the section to the first checkpoint at Gateway, which is relatively flat. About 12 miles in I made a quick stop to lower my tire pressure from about 8 to 5 psi. This adjustment improved floatation and traction.
En route to Gateway. Photo courtesy: Scott Haraldson
After a short break to eat some hot food and refill water bottles at Gateway. I headed out for Melgeorges lodge. This was a tough section for me due to some cramping in my right calf caused by a knee injury in December. Doubts of finishing started to creep into my head as I needed to take frequent breaks to stretch. I eased up my pace and was walking more hills. The soft snow conditions required constant mental focus to keep the bike moving forward and not bog down. A fellow rider named Jerry caught up to me and helped motivate me to get on the bike and ride more. It was just the push I needed to get me through to checkpoint 2. The comradery you get from other riders in this race is like none other. The volunteers are always very supportive when you check into the cabin at Melgeorges. They serve you hot food and beverages that help recharge you for the next leg of the journey. I took the offer to dry my jacket, fleece, and gloves as they were all wet from the moist fog from the morning. I then laid down in a bed for about an hour to get a short rest. After eating some more food and refilling my water bottles, I pushed on toward checkpoint three where the Surly crew was waiting.
There is a bend in the trail somewhere
This section of the course is the most challenging due to the relentless short steep hills. For me, this is when enjoyment ends and the suffering and doubt kick in. I start to ask myself why I am doing this and wonder if I can finish. There was flat light and light snow falling most of the night which made it tough to find the best lines. The downhills are steep, fast and rutted. I was glad I choose to run 5” Bud and Lou tires as they kept me upright on many of the downhills. The downhills are one of the rare opportunities on the course where you get a break from pedaling.
Top of Wakemup hill.
After 9 long hours, I made it to checkpoint 3 staffed by my Surly coworkers. They lifted my spirits and refreshed my confidence to finish. I poured myself a hot coffee fortified with some whiskey and took refuge in the Tipi to warm up, dry out my gloves and thaw my Redbull on the stove. I didn't stay too long since there are only 25 miles left to the finish. I filled my bottles and left to a small fireworks show set off by Christina, Thor, and Bob.
Surly CP3 on the Arrowhead Trail
The warm up
The last section of the course is mostly flat after the climb up Wakemup Hill. I was feeling better and after checking the time, I realized it might be possible to break 30 hours. This was just the motivation I needed to start pushing the pace whenever I could find a good line. The lines to follow are usually on the outside edges of the trails where it is firmer. Multiple snowmobiles had just passed me and softened up most of the trail. I think I added an extra couple miles during the race by crossing back and forth trying to find a firm track. After the last road crossing, I knew I was close to the finish and was looking forward to getting off the bike. As I rode up the last climb I was stoked to hear the yells from my longtime friend Kid Riemer! After a quick gear check inside the resort, I was awarded the coveted AH trophy.
Surly Ice Cream Truck
1x10 SRAM X5 drivetrain
Rear X5 brake, no front brake
Wheels: Surly Bud and Lou tires on Salsa hubs and Whiskey rims
Custom steel handlebars with Ergon grips
Revelate frame, seat and stem bags
Foam insulated pad
North Face Tundra -20 F sleeping bag
REI Minimalist bivy
OR and Granite Gear insulated water bottle covers
Two 1 liter Nalgene water bottles
Esbit stove and 12 fuel tablets
Vargo 1 liter Ti pot
1 16 oz. jar of Jif Peanut Butter
2 MSW TLT-200 taillight
1 Planet Bike taillight (backup)
Princeton Tec Apex headlight
2 10” Reflective strips pinned to tights
Wool ibex cycling shorts
Craft Storm tights
Wigwam wool hiking socks
Vasque winter boots
Surly long sleeve raglan base layer
Patagonia R1 fleece insulation layer
Patagonia breathable shell
Mountain Hardware wind vest
Ice Bug wool hat
Ibex wool beanie
Wigwam glove liners and Swix 3 finger over mitts
Peanut butter and honey sandwiches
Salami and cheese sandwiches
Almonds, dried berries, and chocolate chips
Peanut butter filled pretzels
Clif shot hydration drink mix
Finish at Fortune Bay Casino. Photo courtesy: Salsa Cycles/ Mike ‘Kid’ Riemer
Thanks to Ken, Jackie, John, Russ, and all the tireless volunteers who also do an Ultra event supporting all of the racers for three days. Also, to the Surly crew for creating an awesome trail side checkpoint 3: Christina, Jeff, Steve, Thor and the Bobs.