Racing a fat bike in the Arrowhead 135(for the 11th time).
February 07, 2018
As I reflect back on my fat biking experiences and competing in 11 Arrowhead Ultras, I’m excited to be part of a sport that has grown so much. It is fun to see how the sport has evolved into a legitimate not so crazy idea. For me, winter biking started in 2007 on a Surly Pugsley with 3.7” Endomorph tires and a dream to ride 135 miles in northern Minnesota. Total weight of that rig including racks, double walled rims, tubes and required survival gear for the Arrowhead was 60 lbs. I was in over my head but I finished my first Arrowhead and caught the bug of fat biking that has been a big part of the adventure in my life.
2007 Surly Pugsley dressed for the Arrowhead
Fast forward to the 2018 Arrowhead riding my new Fatback Corvus with lighter equipment and 11 years of knowledge; I will say, I’m not going back!
2017 Fatback Corvus mile 40 of the 2018 Arrowhead Ultra
We had a cooler start and firm trail this year which made the course about as good as it gets. The race starting temps were around -12 F and we were nervously waiting at the starting line for the fire marshal to light fireworks. After the shooting lights and explosions we were given the go ahead to start this demanding race. Compared to the early years, the city of International Falls now embraces the race and feels proud to host the start.
I had a fast start and made it to the first checkpoint at mile 36 by 10:30am. I saw my first wolf on the trail before checkpoint 2. He was very large and ambled off the trail when he saw me. I stopped were I saw him go into the woods and watched as he was perched on a ridge looking down on me, pretty cool! I stopped at checkpoint 2, MelGeorge’s Resort on Elephant Lake in 9th place. It was good visiting with the volunteers eating a grilled cheese and enjoying the warmth of the cabin. A few other racers started showing up and I didn’t want to get sucked into the lure of a warm cabin with comfortable seating so I started to pack up. With a few hours of daylight left I wanted to see the big hills before the sun went down. Although MN is not known for mountains it makes up for it with several short steep hills. During the course of the race the Arrowhead trail crosses the Laurentian Divide 3 times with a total elevation gain around 7,000 feet.After the 2nd checkpoint the wheels can fall off the bus. Mile 70 to 110 where the 3rd and final checkpoint is located is typically dark and lonely for most racers. A number of the hills are impractical to ride and descending can be dicey. I was able to make good time, taking advantage of the 50 tooth eagle drivetrain and rode more hills than ever before. The stability of the Corvus gave me confidence on the descents and I made it thru the hills crash free. Arriving at the 3rd checkpoint known as Surly Tipi I enjoyed conversation and the warmth of the tipi with the Surly guys. Soon enough the lure of the finish called and I was back in the darkness and solitude. Back on the trail the temps started to dip and I added a facemask for the first time during the race. Keeping my head down and pedaling hard I was looking forward to a fast finish. Soon enough I was in unfamiliar territory when I noticed I was on the outskirts of a town. I rode to the edge of Cook before realizing my mistake! I turned around hauling ass to get back on the correct trail. I met another racer who I informed was going the wrong way and he started to follow. Within a few miles of him following me I felt the death sleep take hold. I sent him on his way so I could be in my own misery. Soon enough I felt my feet, hands, and body getting very cold. I stopped and added a jacket and some warm gloves but when I grabbed the gloves from the front bag it came off the bike. I removed my gloves to reattach the bag but my fingers lacked the dexterity to do it. I decided I was in trouble so I left the bike and went for a short run. After running back and forth, kickboxing the air, and doing some jumping jacks the furnace started to kick in.
With everything back on the bike I made forward progress to the finish. At the finish I felt warm and satisfied I overcame a bad situation. The guy walking me to the racer hospitality room informed me it dipped to below -30 f. Like most cold years the consequences of severe cold can be dangerous as a number of people had severe frostbite.
I finished in 13 place with a time of 19 hours and 35 minutes; it is my fastest finish! My bike, gear, and knowledge helped me to be the first person to finish the Arrowhead Ultra 10 times. I’m proud of the accomplishment and hope the enthusiasm on the bike keeps me ignited for more adventurer’s years to come.