I have been going to Arrowhead every year since 2006. Since then I have finished four times, twice on bike, once on skis, and once on foot; DNF'd 4 times, 3 times on skis, and once on bike requiring a snowmachine rescue. Temperatures have ranged from +35f to -40f and trail conditions from a virtual highway to unbroken to bare earth or gravel in spots. I've seen pretty much everything and have nothing to prove.
This race has been a big deal to me and shaped my life entirely for the better (minus a couple of toenails). I am much more mature, capable, and happier than I was at the age of 27. I can't say that Arrowhead was solely responsible, but it taught me that I could do what I set out to do. It was the first thing I had started, struggled with, and completed. Prior to that I was easily discouraged and gave up at the first sign of trouble. I really didn't try very hard at anything. Nothing really seemed worth it or really mattered to me.
It's silly that a race without any tangible value could be the one thing that really mattered to me. Perhaps it is because it was my own goal; no one else had any interest in seeing me finish. One person actually told me that they would support me in anything I did except stupid things like the Arrowhead.
Biking the race told me that I could do it. I went in without any real training and finished. An accomplishment, but without meaning. Skiing though was what became my white whale. My first attempt in 2008 earned me the Myrtle the Turtle award for the last person to the halfway checkpoint. I dropped out there, but that award, just making it halfway was a real victory. The next year I resolved to actually train for the first time in my life. I made it halfway without trouble, but didn't have another 75 miles in me. 2009 with smarter training actually saw me at the finish on skis. It wasn't fast, but it was and is the greatest, most meaningful, accomplishment of my life. It sounds crazy, but it is; maybe my life is empty like that.
I say this because the Arrowhead is the reason that I am back in school. It is what showed me what work really is. It convinced me that I have what it takes to graduate. Of course plenty of people graduate without having to go through what I have. I don't know if it is simply easier for them or if they understood something that I didn't. Sometimes I think that the Arrowhead is a remedial perseverance class. Some of us just need to learn the hard way.
School is something that I failed at. I don't need to go back to get a job. I have one that I'm happy with. I'm not going for anyone else, even though my graduation will make some people very happy. Heck, I'm getting my degree in Philosophy, what more useless degree could I be getting. I am going back because it is something that I failed at and going back is a victory. Every day that I go to class, every assignment that I turn in is a victory. When I graduate it will be a victory. It will mean as much as the Arrowhead. It already does.
Aside from the personal victories everyone I know through the race is an inspiration to me. Everyone who toes the line and gives it their all, no matter how far they go, is someone I like and want to be around. Many of those people I only see once a year and I won't see them this year.
That is why my decision not to go this year is so tough. It is one of the three toughest decisions I have ever made. I feel sick making this decision, but I know that either way it went I would have felt sick. There just wasn't any perfect way out. Sometimes there isn't.
When I signed up for the Arrowhead last year I knew that it was going to be a stretch to do both it and school. I thought I would be able to miss three or four days of class without a problem. It turns out though that I have a lot of work to do. School is hard. I spend hours reading and writing every night in addition to going to class and working 30 hours per week. In particular, next week I have three short papers due, and an exam on Thursday. I was going to have to hurry the race along in order to get back in time for that exam. I know from hard experience that hurrying is not something you should do at -30f. That is the time for slow deliberate action. The race is 60 hours long and you have to be willing to take 60 hours. Hurrying is why I dropped out last year when I had a good shot at finishing. Hurrying is how I got serious frostbite and had to be rescued.
Skipping three days of class and doing a slap-dash job on a few papers and an exam won't cause me to fail classes. That isn't the point. The point is that I can either do both poorly or one well. If I could have done one well and one poorly I would have chosen that.
Well, that's a lot to try and say in one blog post, especially a long overdue blog post. I will miss all of you up in International Falls, at Melgeorges, SkiPulk, and Fortune Bay. Some of you I will see at Trans Iowa, some in Duluth later this year, some maybe not until next January, or not at all. I will miss the trees, hills, flat swamps, and the cold. The Arrowhead chapter of my life is not closed, but will have to wait another year.