Bikepacking races take a lot of planning. You study the route, dial in your packs, and decide what you need to leave behind. It is a process, sometimes difficult and frustrating, but when its time to ride, you have thought through your set up over and over and hopefully, couldn’t be more ready.

This fall I decided I would take a leap and attempt the Arrowhead Ultra 135. If you are not familiar with this race, it is not as easy as 135 miles of bikepacking on dirt in the summer. It is a fat bike race, in the “ice box” of the United States, International Falls, Minnesota. Like your standard bikepacking race, a lot of preparation and research goes into a race of this magnitude. One of the unique parts of this races is their required gear list. Even if sleep is not in your itinerary, you still must bring the means necessary to sleep in -40 degree temperatures… A -20 degree bag, insulated sleeping pad, tent/bivy, etc.

I did my research, got in as best shape as I could for the middle of the winter, and headed off to Minneapolis, Minnesota two nights before the race. Once I got there, things turned south. Here are a few things that happened prior to the race, that ultimately lead to a quick DNF in the 2014 Arrowhead Ultra 135.

Arrowhead
Pulling into Gateway Checkpoint

 

  • I picked up my Borealis Yampa less than 30 days before the race. I own a Surly Moonlander and love it, but when you have an opportunity to ride a carbon fat bike you take it.  I did, but I wish I had more time on it prior to the race.

 
  • Two weeks before the race I finally had the funds to order my frame bag from The Bike Bag Dude. My procrastination lead to me to not getting the bag until after I shipped my bike off to Minnesota. Luckily, it all worked out, but still I could not test it out, or even practicing packing it up.

 
  • I had the opportunity to head to Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in Salt Lake City the week before the race. The smog was at its worst levels they had seen in years. I also drank a lot of beer.

 
  • As I unpacked the bike box less than 48 hours from the start time, I noticed my derailleur hanger was badly bent. To make things worse, it was 8:00pm on a Saturday and nothing was open. To make things even worse, we needed to leave Minneapolis at 6:00am the next morning in order to make the deadline for the required gear check, thus inhibiting our ability to go to a Borealis Dealer to get a new hanger. Milt from Sports Shop in International falls helped me out, but it was still a little out of whack.

 
  • Last year temperatures were hovering around freezing, That is extremely warm for this race. This year was the complete opposite. The start temperatures were -20 °F below with -40 °F winchills.

 
  • Instantly after taking off from the start, my rear tire lost pressure. I could feel the bike drag. I stopped to pump it back up. 20 minutes later it lost all pressure. I got off again and pumped it up. In the 35 mile trek to the first checkpoint (Gateway), I was probably off my bike about 30 times pumping up my tire. My plan was to replace my tube once I got to Gateway.

 
  • Even with -20 degree temperatures, I was very hot. My goggles overheated, fogged up, and then froze, rendering them useless. I was wearing at least one too many layers up top. I would have had to change my layers at every checkpoint.

 
  • My insulated hydration hose froze. Luckily I had a 12 oz. platypus soft bottle. I had to take my layers off, take my hydration pack off and pour the water into the bottle. This was very annoying. Definitely going to invest in a Hydro-Heater for my next long distance fat bike race.  http://arcticinnovations.com/

 
  • Ultimately, my stomach was the piece that made everything go downhill. I woke up after a great night sleep, ready to take on this challenge. I had the motel breakfast that morning and felt fine. About 2 hours into the race, my stomach went south. I started to vomit and could not hold down any water or food. I was running on zero calories and the Gateway checkpoint was the only thought I had. I arrived, threw up in the trash can, puked in the bathroom, and had the EMT check me out. He suggested I do not go on as they would not be keen on facilitating a costly rescue mission 15 miles down the trail. I knew it would be nearly impossible to continue racing at my desired pace, or at all, if I could not eat or drink.

 

This experience was truly first of its kind for me. Although I am very upset with the way it went, I learned a lot and have a lot to build on for next year. I learned how to keep my feet warm and that I overpacked. I learned that eating cold food was tough. I learned that this is like no other race I have ever participated in. I learned that things can’t be perfect and there are some things you can control and some things you just can’t.  Congratulations to all the Arrowhead Ultra 135 participants and finishers this year. To all the volunteers and organizers, this is a very special event and it could not be done without all of you.

 

3 Comments

  1. Great write-up of a humbling experience. Some of my biggest failures in outdoor adventures have also been the greatest learning experiences that propelled me to do bigger better things with success. The motivation to get it right means that failure is incredibly frustrating, but as long as it turns into something positive you can’t consider it a failure.

  2. Racing can be the most rewarding thing one can do in life. But it also kicks your ass and leaves you shaking with frustration, even anger. I am proud that you even attempted this race as I have been too sacred to even get to that start line. There are so many more races and adventures in your future, keep reaching, brother, keep reaching….

  3. Pingback: 11 Winter Ultras That Will Test Your Limits - Bikepackers Magazine

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