If the last post was how I felt (emotionally, etc.) at Arrowhead this one is about how the race went pedal-by-pedal. Hopefully it is a little more positive or at least neutral than the last one.
At the start I lined up with the skiers, just because I wanted to see who they were and what gear they were carrying. Lots of mid size backpacks (~35L). Not too many sleds this year. I guess that's passe now. Looking over the skiers got me started at the back of the biker pack. Did I mention that I was biking this year? Maybe you missed it. A lot of people did.
The first nine miles or so to the first shelter (old turnaround) were pretty uneventful. Fast smooth well packed trail. Bikers spread out a little, but not much. My legs felt slow. I felt like I should be passing other riders, pushing towards the front, but I held off. It's a long race.
Two of the skiers passed me early on. The first one was carrying a tiny pack and Wassberging (V2) along like nobody's business . The pack wasn't much larger than 20L. I wondered how he got all of the required gear in there. Likely he had nothing more than the required gear. No warmer gloves, jacket, etc.. What would he do in a more severe year? Likely not ski, I think.
After the turn onto the real Arrowhead trail I managed to distance myself from some of the other riders. I don't like doing endurance events with others nearby. I end up feeling too competitive and racing too early. The trail softened up and got pretty rough at this point. This part of the trail has less traffic and more grass and willows were poking through. This is also where the trail first passes through bog-land. Without snow and cold there would be no trail.
It was slow going, but I made sure not to push myself. Any time I noticed my heart rate creeping up (when I could hear it in my ears) I made sure to drop down to a lower gear and spin more. In spite of the flat trail I was spending much of my time in the granny gear.
We came to Highway 53 (mile ~18) fairly quickly I wasn't sure of the time, but it was nothing compared to how long it took to walk last year. Soon we came to a mile or so of logging road, then back onto the trail, and to the second shelter. I stopped for a few minutes to take a photo of the second place skier, Mike Ziegle, who was resting and eat some of my secret formula (cheese and sausage). Then I was off to the Gateway store.
On the way I saw the familiar landmarks: the trail junctions, the hills, the shelter, and finally what I call the "friendly tree" a lone white pine amongst the spruces that pokes up just before the Gateway store (I don't know why it's the "friendly tree". When you ski or walk the Arrowhead I guess it's good to have friends).
I didn't stop at the Gateway store. As I was coming in I saw that fast skier coming back out. He had backed off to a comfortable Mogren skate (V2a) at this point. I was really missing my skis.
I was pretty good on food and water. I wasn't cold. I wasn't in any kind of trouble so I just went on. At this point I still had the idea that I might go the whole way without support. On I went into the hills. I was happy to be riding most of them, but I knew that wouldn't last. I was spending a lot of time in the middle ring which made me happy. I figured I had passed a lot of people at the Gateway store and my competitive spirit got a little boost. The distance between landmarks got longer as I ventured into territory I hadn't seen in the light since 2006. I crossed Ash River Trail then Homan Road and Sheep Ranch Road. Then up the hill to Ash River shelter.
The Ash River shelter is one of my favorite spots on the trail. It is hidden from the main trail and located on a little spur to the left. Most racers miss it and don't even know it is there. I only know because Pierre pointed it out to me when we rode together in 2006. I spent the night there with Scott Wagner in 2008 on my first attempt to ski; the year I earned the Myrtle the Turtle award. I took a little break and ate some more cheese and sausage.
I rolled on into the real hills and had to start pushing some. I wasn't going really fast, but I felt okay. I knew there were only about 25 miles left to Melgeorge's resort on Elephant Lake. I can't think of any good landmarks in this section. I have seen it in the dark too many times and there aren't any road crossings or "friendly trees" that I know of. Just lots of rolling hills.
Black Duck shelter came soon enough. I was hungry for some "real" food a this point and so I fired up the stove and cooked up some freeze dried Teriyaki Chicken. Since I had the stove going I melted some snow just for fun and to make sure I didn't run out before Melgeorge's, 15 miles away. Mike Ziegle stopped for a few minutes and I talked with him about skiing. He was carrying a more normal sized pack and mentioned that if he made it to Elephant Lake he would double his miles for the year. I guess I gave up on skiing too soon. Other skiers might have training and technique on their side, but I have (relative) youth and stupidity on mine. The weather and the trail were holding for the skiers.
It was dusk as I left Black Duck shelter and soon enough I needed my headlights. More and bigger hills were to be had, but I managed to gear down and ride most. Landmarks were: the hill where it was too cold to wax my skis, the hill with the suicide turn at the bottom, the first 5 miles to Melgeorge's sign, the second 5 miles to Melgeorge's sign, and ski jump hill. Then suddenly I was out on the lake rolling easily towards the resort. I knew I could have just checked in and kept going, but the lure of soup and a grilled cheese sandwich (American quesadilla) was just too much. So much for my goal of going unsupported.
In the next installment: What happened at Elbow Lake shelter?