Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Arrowhead Race

Well, my frostbite has healed and I'm already looking forward to next year's Arrowhead race. I don't have much to add to this write-up that I did back in February, except to say that Dave Simmons really deserves to have finished the race (hope to see you there next year). Enjoy.

It was -18 when I awoke on Monday morning so I had started with all of my clothes (excepting my windshell) on. I knew that this would be too warm within just a few miles, but I figured that it was worth it to keep from getting chilled at the start. As we started the bikers quickly went to the front in the hard snow and strung out into a loose line. I figured I was pretty close to the back of the pack at that point. I had to concentrate and remember that this was a 135 mile and probably a 2 day race. I told myself to remember to pace myself, but that was hard as I had hoped to be spinning at 80-90 rpm and I was doing more like 60. I calmed down, took off my jacket (it had warmed up quickly), and took a sip from my Camelbak. This would be the last easy drink of water I'd have for the entire first day.

I continued on for a couple more miles and decided I needed another drink. I pulled out the hose and couldn't get the cap off. I had borrowed a cold weather hose cover and cap for the race, but hadn't been able to test it in sub-zero temperatures. I tugged at the cap and pulled the whole valve off the hose. Hot water spilled all over my jacket and tights and gloves. I stuck the end into my mouth and drank. I thought I could just keep the cap off and blow the water back into the bladder, but as soon as I took my mouth off of the hose the water just spurted out again. I shoved the cap back on and hoped for the best. I arrived at the turnaround in about 1:10. Ahead of my projected pace of 5 mph. Dave Simmons snapped the now famous "Santa photo" at this point. Lookin' good. At this point I hardly noticed the frost on my beard. It was pretty light and fluffy. I checked out my Camelbak and noticed that the hose had now frozen solid. I decided to try my insulated water bottle at this point only to find that I couldn't open the valve. I tried to unscrew the cap and found that that wouldn't work either. I was stymied. I shrugged my shoulders and decided to think about it on the 7.5 miles back to Hwy 53.

Here I started to see the rest of the bikers, runners, and skiers coming up to the turnaround. I realized I wasn't in such bad shape. Some bikers looked like they were really suffering and one fellow had a broken derailleur hanger. I offered him my chain tool so he could turn his bike into a single speed, but he said he was dropping out. I felt sorry for him, but I didn't really want to stop and freeze my fingers working on a chain anyway. Speaking of frozen fingers the water that had spilled from my Camelbak had turned my gloves into blocks of ice. My fingers felt okay but they were frozen in place. I flexed them, cracked the ice and moved on. I made it back to Hwy 53 feeling pretty good, but I knew I had to do something about my water situation. I hadn't had water in over an hour and knew that wasn't a good way to race. I tried to make a snowball to eat (against all advice, I know) but the snow was too dry and wouldn't clump together. Next I pulled a chunk of ice out of my beard (which had thawed and refrozen into heavy, uncomfortable, though not particularly cold ice) and sucked on it. It seemed to work, but I knew that all that ice was water that had come from my breath. I couldn't keep up and drink from it forever. Finally I stopped, took off my Camelbak, unscrewed the lid, and drank straight out of the bladder. I spilled some, but I realized that this was the best option. I would continue drinking this way through to the checkpoint at Melgeorge. With 1/10 of the race over I settled into a rhythm leapfrogging with Dave Simmons and Charlie Farrow. The course got hillier, but at this point everything was ridable. I was a little worried about the lack of pedal speed and knew that my knees would be complaining later but there was little I could do on my sturdy single speed.

I reached the Gateway store ahead of Dave and Charlie, but decided not to stop. I felt good and knew that I had enough water to last me through the day (though accessibility continued to be a problem). Just before the Gateway Store I had seen a sign that said Elephant Lake 40 miles. Now 10 miles down the road (by my reckoning) I saw a sign that said Elephant Lake 35 miles. It was demoralizing to realize that every mile was feeling like two, but I told myself to hold to my pace, have fun, and not worry about the finish. Just past the Black Duck River shelter Pierre Ostor caught up with me and we leapfrogged for a while. The hills steepened and some were unridable on my SS bike. Pierre was faster on the downhills (bigger tires) and on the walking uphills, but I was faster on the flats and on the ridable uphills. We kept together until about dusk when Pierre pulled ahead. Shortly I found myself riding across Elephant lake and at Melgeorge resort. I nearly took a wrong turn here but the course marking stakes set me straight and I arrived at the checkpoint just after 6pm.

The cabin was a welcome respite from the race. Donny and Bonnie, the gear checkers from the start served up soup and sandwiches. Even though my right knee was bothering me and I knew I needed a nap before continuing I was happy. I had made it over halfway and was feeling pretty good. I felt confident that I would finish. I tried to nap inside, but it was too small and too noisy. I pitched my sleeping bag on the deck outside at 8 and went to sleep. Shortly after I went to sleep Dave Simmons and Stephen Reginold left the checkpoint to finish the race. I awoke just enough to wish I was going with them, but knew that I needed to race my own race and sleep some more. It turned out to be a smart choice as they returned 4 hours later having gotten lost and gone in a big circle back to Melgeorge's. I finally woke at 2am after a refreshing (if long) nap, and decided it was time to get a move on. I felt bad for Dave and Stephen, but hoped that they would continue after resting for a bit.

At 4am I left the checkpoint, 10 hours after arriving. It was cold as I left, but I felt pretty comfortable in my down jacket and oversized mittens. Soon my hands were sweating so I switched back to my Swix gloves (dried on the radiator at Melgeorge) and continued on more comfortably. I knew I had 20 miles of rolling hills, 20 miles of steep and by all accounts Himilayan hills, and a final 20 miles of flat marshland. I found myself riding along on logging roads in the dark with logging trucks my only company. Suddenly, the temperature seemed to drop and I became chilled, I must have entered a valley or something like it. I didn't really want to put my mittens back on so I just pushed through and seemed to get used to it.
Not long after dawn I started to find the hills that had been promised. They didn't seem too bad. I could ride many of them and the ones I couldn't were a welcome change of pace. The downhills were really a blast and I never felt out of control and rarely had to touch the brakes. I had been told to expect hills almost too steep to walk up or ride down. I was pleasantly surprised by how ridable it was. Unfortunately a trail grooming machine came through and turned the trail from hard pack into soft fluff. It slowed me down a lot and forced me over to the left side of the trail at times when I really didn't want to be there.

Eventually the hills ended and I started the last flat 20 miles. It was about this time that I realized I didn't know where the finish line was. I couldn't remember the name of the resort at the finish, nor could I remember how to get there. I found the name in the Emergency numbers list, Bay View, but I still didn't know where it was. I saw a sign that said Bay View and followed it for a while, but I only saw one set of tire tracks (I later found out these were Dave Grey's. He'd gotten lost too) and the trail twisted and turned in a way I wasn't expecting. Soon I came to a big hill and as I looked at it and the prospect of walking up I decided I was going the wrong way and turned around. I reassured myself with the thought that someone had said that the Bay View resort was right on the trail. I also convinced myself that it was on Highway 1. I was wrong. I reached Highway 1 only to find no sign of a resort. I kept on in the hope that I would soon find it. Shortly I reached the terminus of the trail where it joins with the Taconite trail. Now I knew where I was and I knew that I had gone 5 miles too far. I turned around and rode back to Hwy 1. There I decided that I had ridden enough trail and decided to ride the road back. After a couple of miles I stopped at a marine store to get directions. The fellow who helped me asked where I had come from and gave me a thumbs up as I left. I only had a mile to go. I rolled into the finish just as the sun was setting.

Most of my equipment worked well. My Weirwolf 2.5" tires on Alex DM32 rims were sufficient for the conditions, but I think I would have wanted wider if the snow were any softer. The Surly 1x1 frame was a great choice. I wanted a single speed so I wouldn't have to mess with frozen shifters or broken deraileurs, but I think gears would have been fine in the conditions we had. The 33x22 gearing I had was okay, but a lower gearing, say 30x22 would have been better.

The pogies I had were excellent, just a windshell, but they allowed me to go with thin gloves or even no gloves for much of the race. On my upper body I wore a thin 4-way stretch under layer, a heavyweight short sleeve jersey and a Craft Thermal jacket on top. On my lower body I had biking shorts, lightweight tights, and Craft Stormtights for the entire race. This worked well for me as I was rarely sweaty or cold. Two Jandd Mini Mountain Panniers were sufficient for all of my gear and the -20 down bag and inflatable sleeping pad strapped on top were very comfortable overnight. The Camelbak with cold weather kit was okay so long as I kept it under a jacket and blew the water back into the bladder, but I was taking a risk any time I wore it on the outside as I had to more often than not. The Polar water bottle I carried was a total flop.

I carried way too much food. I only ate one waterbottle full of gorp and 5 gels during the race (I ate quite a bit at Melgeorge). Next year I'll only take 1/2 or 1/3 of what I had this year.
As for training, the 15 miles per day of commuting I do plus 4-6 hour gravel road rides on the weekends seemed to do the trick. I would like to have put in a century shakedown ride, and some truly cold weather rides, but wasn't able to squeeze it in.

If I had done better planning I wouldn't have gotten lost at the end. If I had reviewed my maps I would have known that the Bay View resort was clearly marked on the map and never have taken a wrong turn. I can't blame anyone for that except myself. I also spent too much time sitting around at Melgeorges I probably could have cut 2 hours off of my time there and been just as rested. With just this better planning I could have cut 3-4 hours off of my finishing time.

All in all it was the best race I've ever been to and can't imagine it being much better. Thanks to Pierre, Cheryl, Don, Bonnie, Ron and all the other volunteers who made it possible. Thanks also to all the riders who were so friendly and encouraging especially Dave Simmons and Brian Block. See you all again next year.


Paul said...

Great write up Matt! I am sure you are psyched for next year!

Paddy Humenny said...

wow, truly epic!

Simmons said...

That was a great event! Great job again on finishing. I can't wait for next year. See you next week :)

Are you guys ready for the pain?

Endurosnob said...

Well Written. Now I want to freeze my tail off in Minnesota too.