Wednesday, January 31, 2018

First DNF

The first Drop

I made it about 72 miles in 10ish hours to the 2nd checkpoint at Melgeorges and dropped out.  I never thought it would play out that way, but I suppose no one thinks they are going to drop.  During the race, the decision was drawn out and torturous.  I almost think mentally it would have been less taxing to just have finished.

From a systems perspective- food, water, strength, cramps, layers, staying warm- everything was going great.  It was empowering to see everything coming together after the hours and hours of prep and training and testing.  It would have been an easier decision to drop if something acute went wrong.  But no, this was deeper. Something wasn't right.

Sitting comfortably at home now, digitally watching the last of the racers come in on Wednesday, my mind is finally clearing and able to reflect upon at everything that unfolded in this years Arrowhead 135.  I've been on antibiotics for 24 hours now.  I got the flu.

Below I have written an account of the race from my perspective.  It is long and I am not the best writer, so continue onward with that in mind.  These words are here to help me remember as the past erases too much, especially when it comes to the powerful lessons provided by failure.

Sunday night after the pre-race meeting I hitched a ride back to the hotel and finished putting my rig back together.  And I ordered a medium pizza and ate it all.  Throughout the day this cough I had was getting worse, but I brushed it off, thinking about all the rides I'd done in the past with a cough.  With my bike ready and all my gear staged for tomorrow I relaxed, read, and eventually went to bed. 

Sleeping didn't work well as the cough grew into a never ending assault that made me riddled with guilt thinking about the racers in the rooms next to me.  My head started pounding and I started to swing between freezing and sweating.  5 am couldn't come soon enough.  Ibuprofen seemed to help a bit, so while I was bummed about this development I was not worried. 

The alarm finally announced go time.  Coffee going and morning business taken care of, but I couldn't get myself to eat.  Maybe it was the whole pizza I ate?  I was able to keep taking in fluids as I got dressed and ready.  I was burning up though.  Turned the AC unit on and that helped.  With the bike loaded with the last bits and my non-race gear packed I headed down to the lobby.  Another racer volunteered to bring my duffel in their car to the starting point.  I headed out at about 6:10 on my bike, a short mile ride to the start.

Immediately my knees hurt.  What!  I'm not even at the start yet!  My mind raced, or rather bounced all over, as I tried to interpret this.  I'd spent the last year addressing the knee issues that arose after last year's Arrowhead and Tuscobia.  I'd worked with a physical therapist, gotten a bike fitting, and in all the riding I'd done leading up to this my knees hadn't hurt a single bit!  During those long training rides I had mentally practiced the thought processes I would use when different obstacles would arise.  But this, the unexpected arrival of both knees being punks, was not a hurdle I had anticipated.  My mind immediately descended into a dark place.  I hadn't even reached the start.

When in doubt and safety isn't a concern, default to no thinking.  This is a valuable mind tool from the climbing world- just keep going and tell your mind to shut up.  I checked in at the start, grabbed my duffel from one car and put it in another that would be waiting at the finish line.  As I waited for 7 am I alternated between standing outside in the cold (-8 I think) and inside the building where we checked in.  Too hot, too cold, not dressed to be standing around- I just wanted to get started.  My mind seemed to be getting cloudy, but I hoped that the pumping of my heart once we started rolling would bring distraction and clarity.

7 am start with fireworks and cheers and energy.  Last year I took it out hard and paid for it later.  This year my strategy was to play it conservative, not worrying about time as it is meaningless when the weather and trail dictates everything.  And, going unsupported this year means I would have no warmth to retreat to should I need to recover.  No recovery, just consistently, smartly moving forward.  With hope I'd have extra energy to spend during the last miles of the race.

The cold air soothed my throat, but the cough maintained itself proudly and my head pounded onward dutifully.  My knees hurt, but the pain was manageable.  My mind was distracted as I tucked in with five others and pedaled forward.  I focused on what I saw around me and not what I felt inside me.

9 miles in at the first turn to the East.  The trail was packed well, but I felt like I was working too hard.  I decided to stop and add some air to my back tire.  The rubbed gasket on the pump that creates a seal around the valve had become inflexible in the cold and wouldn't create an airtight junction.  Nearly all the air in the back tire escaped as I fiddled with it.  Finally I was able to get it sealed on tight and pumped and pumped and pumped.  Back on the bike, my average speed bumped up by over 1 mph.  This was a positive change.

The Arrowhead give you many things.  One of them is time to think.  Sometimes this is a wonderful gift.  Sometimes it is the end of you.  Time slowly ticked away and it became harder for me to not think about what was coming.  You can think of the AH135 as 4 sections.  The first is fairly flat.  The second section from the Gateway checkpoint to the halfway checkpoint at Melgeorges is the rollers.  The rollers are taxing, with a few super steep hills that demand walking and pushing your bike thrown in for good measure.  The third section to the Surly checkpoint is the hills.  This is the most challenging section.  Hill after hill.  Push your bike up, swing your leg over, roll down, dismount, and repeat.  For hours.  The last section is mostly flat and mind-numbingly straight, with a slight upward grade that wears you down. 

As the first checkpoint approached I found myself asking the forbidden question.  I frame it that way because if you never ask the question then you don't have to answer it.  But I asked it, and so the battle began.  I argued back and forth silently as my legs kept spinning and the snow kept crunching under my tires.  I stuck to my schedule of eating and drinking, promising that I wouldn't let my mental darkness sabotage itself.  Eventually I arrived at the conclusion that I was doing well enough to continue onward to Melgeorges.  The rollers between Gateway and there would answer the question for me.  Gateway arrived.  I rode around the cone and back onto the trail, never putting a foot down, never giving myself a chance to think anything else.
Just after the first checkpoint

The rollers began.  I find the rollers to be deceptive.  They look so mellow and nonthreatening.  But their length makes them zappers of energy.  The snow was weird today.  While it looked packed down, it seemed sticky- even on the gentle downhills I wasn't able to get much of a roll going.  Chatting with other racers as we played leapfrog, it was agreed that the trail was in a weird state. 

It was the steep hills that stuck it to me.  Both knees started to scream as I dismounted and pushed my bike up.  What was more alarming was my inability to make it up these hills without feeling deeply drained.  I would take a few steps and have to stop.  Not to catch my breath, but just to build up energy.  I remember feeling this way last year just before the Surly checkpoint, much further into the race and the depths of exhaustion.  But to feel this way now?  Why?  More importantly, what does this mean?  Ibuprofen did nothing to help.

I wasn't ready to answer the question yet.  Just keep moving forward.  Execute the plan you've prepared, as you have to get to the checkpoint no matter what you decide.  As planned, I stopped at about 3 pm at the 3-sided snowmobile shelter 12 miles before Melgeorges.  My plan was to melt snow to restock my 40 oz themos and eat warm food (ramen!) before darkness arrived.  This would set me up well to make it though the hills after Melgeorges, as I had another 3 liters of water on my back so I wouldn't have to stop in the darkness.  It felt good to stop and rest after 8 hours of moving.  My legs felt strong and the hot noodles went down easily.  I shared the shelter with Steve and his positivity was a wonderful distraction.  At about 3:45 I rolled on, with full water and stomach, ready to tackle the 3rd section in good form.  Maybe I had just needed some rest!

Almost immediately there after leaving a huge hill presented itself.  It destroyed me as I struggled to push my bike up it.  My knees screamed with each step and my body simply wanted to lay down in exhaustion.  It wasn't my legs, but my body.  This confused me.  Why would I be so deeply exhausted after just 8 hours?  Why do my legs feel strong, but the fuel isn't getting to them so they can carry out their strength?  My mind reeled as I swung my leg back over the bike and rolled forward.  I reflected on how the day had progressed, and it was clear that my state was only getting worse.  The sun began to set and I found myself enjoying the beautiful landscape as it glowed brightly.  I stopped and snapped a picture about 5 miles from the checkpoint and looked to the full moon that would soon be casting a much different light on this snowy landscape. 

Elephant Lake finally appeared and the crossing to Melgeorges unfolded in front of me as I rode alone across the iced up lake under the darkening sky.  The last two hours and 12 miles had answered the question for me.  I would drop.  There was too much happening inside me that I did not understand.  I wish it had been a clear, decisive moment where the answer magically popped into my head and I felt relieved by it.  But no.  I wrestled.  Thoughts swirled like sparks from a fire that has been provoked too much.  Questions of worth and character and strength and implications flooded.  I was crushed and torn and frustrated and beat down.

I wrestled with it even as I laid my bike down and walked up the steps into the cabin to check in.  I opened the door and quietly provided my number.  Seeing the bright yellow ribbon pinned to my number the volunteer respectfully asked if I was giving up my unsupported status, and I replied "No, I'm dropping."  He read the situation well, and kindly offered to ask me again in 20 minutes once I'd had a chance to rest a bit in the warmth of the cabin.  But no, I was done.

I sat there for a long time, mostly silent, listening and watching the other racers, trying to find ways to reconcile the madness in my mind.  Three other racers dropped around me, which, though it seems shallow, provided some comfort in knowing that I wasn't alone in this moment.  The longer I sat, the more comfortable I became with the decision as I noticed that even in the warmth of the cabin my throat, head, and exhaustion were continuing to worsen.

I eventually made it back to Fortune Bay.  I turned in my satellite tracker, which it turns out never worked (frustrating), and headed to Virginia to collect my duffel, where I slept for a few hours at Bryan's house and then headed home, feeling whatever sickness continue to grow stronger.  I made it back in time to see everyone off to school and work, then finally slept.

At the clinic it was confirmed that I had the flu.  Reflecting back, I had sworn I'd gotten a flu shot in the Fall when I took my kids to get theirs.  Nope.  That was dumb.  The pain in my knees receded to almost nonexistence in 24 hours, making me wonder if this was tied to the flu? 

Remotely watching riders arrive at the finish line and hearing accounts of the brutally cold night temps (between -20 and -30) I find myself coming to terms with my decision to drop.  Yes, it was the right decision.  Yes, it would have been stupid to have continued into the difficult hill section through the depths of such a cold night with no easy way to retreat.  It was smart to drop.

No, I'm not happy about it.  I'm frustrated and disappointed.  Owning a DNF (Did Not Finish) is going to hang over me and mess with my head for awhile.  These aren't bad things I suppose.  They are fuel.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Push by Salsa

A great video about the Arrowhead 135

Fat, Sweet, and Easy to Eat: 2018 AH135 Food Prep

2018 AH135 Food Prep

Fat, Sweet, and Easy to Eat

On Body/Bike Drinks:
Skratch Start Bottle Mix:           200
Skratch Start Bladder Mix:        480
Skratch Refill Bottle Mix:         200

On Bike Packed Food:
Bacon (4 slices): 160
Meat Sticks (3): 330
Bacon Cheddar Chipotle Instant Potato:  440
Ramen Oriental Flavor: 380
Ramen Chx Tortilla Flavor: 380
Reeses Xmas Trees (4): 340
Almonds- Smokehouse: 340
Fudge Elfwhich Cookies (8): 680
Swiss Rolls (2 packs): 540
Cinnamon Bears: 330
Brookside Blueberry Choc Balls: 170
Ginger Candies: 225
Cinnamon Jolly Rangers (4): 100
Skratch Energy Gummies (2 packs): 320
Salted Chocolate Bar: 475


Emergency Calories: Required by race
Peanut Butter Jar: 3200

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

2018 Arrowhead 135 Trackleaders Link

Satellite Tracker link:

Follow the blue dot at

Race starts at 7 am on Monday!  All thoughts of fast snow and mild temps are appreciated!

Friday, January 19, 2018

2nd Go AH135: Training and Prep

About a week out now.  Wrapping up a cold.  You know, one of those sore throat, groggy head, wondering how big this is gonna be and how much will this set me back pre-race necessities.  Better now than in 7 days though.  Maybe its a good, forced mental check.  A moment for your sane subconscious voice to finally speak through the roar of the last months' chaos.

So where am I at?  Still a rookie.  Still feeling like its a new adventure and not a repeat, which I like.  Trying hard to not let the faded memories of last year misguide my prep, while still digging back to those difficult moments for guiding wisdom.  Making sure to prepare not for what I want conditions to be, but rather for whatever the end of January may throw under our tires throughout the 135 miles.  I appreciate the confidence gained from having one race under my belt, but the mystery of whats to come keeps my mind fully engaged as I continuously analyze, experiment, and hone my systems.

How is this year different?  No Tuscobia this year, which has made the Fall and Winter much more chill than last year's madness of preparing for both races.  Given my knee pain after last years AH135, I spent some time working with a trainer in the Spring and finally ponied up for a bike fitting.  Turns out I should have sought that assistance a lot earlier- its been quite a game changer.  Comparing my training efforts to last year, I've probably put in less miles total but my training has been much more purposeful.  Rather that just going for quantity of miles I've done a lot more with cadence work, intervals, and strength training in the weight room.  I try to be in the weight room when no one else is, as I have no idea what I'm doing and I'm sure there is some sort of unspoken weight room rules or etiquette that I am violating with my wheezing, profuse sweating, and lack of understanding of what all that stuff does.  But, I think it has worked.  I haven't had any issues with knee pain and I most definitely feel stronger than I did pre-race last year.

The biggest difference coming this year is that I am racing in the unsupported category.  Meaning I am on my own from start to finish, with no access to the three heated checkpoints that provide food and water along the course.  I will need to carry and prepare all my own food, melting snow for water as needed with a liquid fuel stove.  Why do that?  Because its the next logical step.  No, I can't explain that reasoning to you.  Its a necessity to moving forward.

Some new things I am trying this year:

  • Vapor barriers: old school plastic bags on the feet AND vinyl medical gloves for my hands.  Both go over a thing liner, with insulating layers on top of the vapor barrier.  My testing of this so far has matched all the commentary I've read and it has worked great down to -17 for 9 hours.  And the price is right.
  • Frame Bag: I sewed a frame bag out of Cordura, polyester webbing, and X-pac.  It isn't pretty and zippers are dumb, but it functionally performs just fine.
  • Liquid Fuel Stove:  Given that my cooking system won't be for emergencies but will be used without a doubt to make warm food and melt snow for drinking water, I switched from the Pocket-Rocket and pressurized gas canister stove to the liquid-fuel Whisperlite.  While the Whisperlite system is bigger, it is bomber, fast and powerful, and won't crap put at low temps.  Below 0 the pressurized gas canisters like to liquefy and there is way for that type of stove to use the fuel in liquid form.
  • Vapor Barrier Jacket: This one is odd, but it seems to work well so far in my testing.  I'm using a ultralight jacket by CAMP called the Magic Jacket.  While it isn't a true vapor barrier, the fabric allows water vapor to transfer very slowly.  When I've tested this I've worn it over two thin merino wool shirts (one short sleeve), then put my insulating layers over the Magic Jacket.  What I've noticed is that this keeps my insulating layers dryer and has prevented massive ice/frost buildup from forming in my outermost layers.  The two base merino layers are wet, but I don't get cold at all.  I think, given my research into this, that this system works by limiting the effects of evaporative cooling.  My first time testing this system was for 9 hours at -17 degrees and included an hour stop in the middle to melt snow and make soup- it seemed to work great- I had no problem staying warm once I through on my puffy "resting" layers.
  • More puffy "resting" layers:  Anticipating difficulty staying warm when I have to stop and manage my food and water, I am carrying the same down insulating jacket I did last year, and an additional large polyester-fill jacket to go over everything.  I had trouble staying warm at the last checkpoint last year and it wasn't even that cold, so I know I need something warmer this time.
  • Easy-access sit pad:  Again anticipating the time it will take to manage food and water, and knowing that these stops also must serve as rest periods, have a non-freezing surface to kneel or sit on will make these stops so much more valuable.  I took an old Z-rest style foam sleeping pad and cut 4 sections off it- just enough to sit or kneel on and be insulated from the ground.  This is strapped right to the front of my bike.
  • GPS:  Last year I had a cheap bike computer that died at some point and left me riding blindly forward into eternity.  Luckily, another rider had a GPS and every time we leapfrogged past each other she would update me on how much further we had and I was eternally grateful.  I swore then that next time I would not allow myself to be swallowed up by that blindness.  I've been slowly gaining confidence in operating my Garmin eTrex 30x and I think it is going to be a game-changer for my mental state throughout the race.  

My bike is loaded.  It has been since November 1st.  Every training ride has been on a fully loaded bike.  I'm pretty excited to ride it in 3 weeks when there isn't anything on it and it weighs half as much!  Tomorrow morning I think this cold will have waned far enough to get out for one more good sized effort.  Then a week of easy spinning, sleeping, eating like a Sasquatch, and packing.

Looking forward to it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Arrowhead 2017 : First Go

Two years ago this idea presented itself.  This race.  But it is not really a race for most, it is an adventure, a challenge, a test, an endeavor that is surrounded by a fog of unknown and mystery.  In a time when data is everywhere- where people fully expect to know everything before they agree to try something, the Arrowhead remains an unknown.  Not because it is shrouded purposefully, but by its very nature as a long race in a remote area during the depths of the darkest, most unpredictable winter days.  The only way to part the fog is to do it.  You can read all the past racers' accounts or talk to as many people as possible, even watch the movie about it, but there is no substitute for the effort itself.

Two years ago I didn't even have a fat bike.  Two years ago I wouldn't even have considered myself a cyclist.  I suppose I still don't.  But this idea of experiencing the Arrowhead was enough to get the tires spinning.  Upon further research, it turns out they won't just let anyone sign up and try the Arrowhead- but you have to actually qualify!  Which is smart, and necessary.  To meet the race director's entry requirements I would complete the Tuscobia 150 first in January of 2016.  That race, while I did finish, was a hot mess of a learning curve.  For the next year I continued to cycle and then began training with purpose in August.  At the end of September I sent in my registration by snail-mail and by mid October there it was- my name on the roster for the 2017 Arrowhead Ultra.  I decided to again tackle the Tuscobia 160 three weeks before the Arrowhead, giving myself the chance to test my systems and finish in a better state of mind and body than my first attempt a year prior.

Tuscobia went really well for me this year.  That positive experience got me excited for the Arrowhead- maybe too excited.  In the three weeks between races I focused on recovering and evaluating how the two races would be different, how I would need to adjust my bike setup, equipment, and clothing.  Sunday morning showed itself quickly and off to International Falls I went.

The Arrowhead race is a well oiled machine.  Gear check, the pre-race meeting, and the spaghetti dinner went quickly and smoothly.  It was eye opening and humbling to chat with so many other racers and volunteers who have been part of this for so many years.  Listening to their stories, soaking up their hard-earned wisdom, seeing their joy in recounting the struggles encountered on the trail in years past, and studying their mindset as they once again choose to endure this sufferfest- it made me wonder how it is even possible that I will be lining up with them tomorrow morning.

Snow.  The trail was in great condition.  But snow was coming.  This made me nervous.  3-5" falling during the race and warm temperatures in the day.  This is not a set of conditions that I have much experience with.  I went to bed trying to not think about it.

Fireworks at 7am, and we were off.  Beautiful.  As the sun rose and the sky brightened, we dove further into the boreal forest of the north.  The trail was fast.  How do you let your mind behave in this scenario?  How do you manage and control the thoughts that can make or break you, and how do you alter flow this as the hours and miles pass by.  There is a time to hold back, there is a time to push, there is a time to laugh it off, and there is a time to let your head rest on the handlebars.  When your race is this long, every decision has to be made with purpose, as the results of those decisions made now will exponentially influence everything that happens 12+ hours later.  I understood this dynamic, had tested and tasted it as a climber, but today I would make a wrong choice early on and pay for it dearly in the dark hours.  Before the race started I checked the radar and it looked like the snow would be mostly missing us, splitting on either side of the trial.

The first leg of the race to Gateway is relatively flat, and with the great trail conditions I pushed it harder than I should have.  I was flying, pulling into Gateway (35.5 miles in) at 10:30 am and leaving at 10:43 after a downing a coffee.  It was snowing beautifully.  Not a ton was coming down but enough that I needed to put on my clear glasses to keep it out of my eyes.

This leg of the race to MelGeorges resort introduces the first topographical interests, what most veterans referred to as rollers.  These hills were something to reckon with, made you slow down and shift smartly, but not steep enough to force you off your bike and walk.  A few of these walking hills were smattered throughout the leg, but the miles ticked away quickly and the snow steadily kept falling.  Everyone's pace seemed to be slowing a bit now.  Conversation sprung up as people leap-frogged back and forth.  The downhills began to get exciting with the increasing snow.  My earlier hard pace started catching up to my legs and the ever-lurking tendrils of the cramp monster started to show.  I caught up with a rider, Kate, who had completed Tuscobia with me.  Her knees were giving her trouble so I passed on some Ibuprofen and we rode for awhile together.  Soon enough the trail popped onto Elephant Lake and the mile to MelGeorges flew by.

I pulled into MelGeorges at 3:10 pm, 70 miles done and feeling good.  Having listened to others, I knew that the hardest part of the course was the next leg to the Surly checkpoint 36 miles away.  I ate two grilled cheese sandwiches, a bunch of salty chips, a bowl of soup, and two glasses of Coke.  I refilled my water bladder and checked out at 3:35.  I was nervous about this next section, and happy to be starting it in the daylight.

The hills started right away.  Ride, push, white-knuckle descent and repeat.  Into the darkness.  At some point I found myself with three other riders.  We would separate on the downhills, regroup on the uphills pushing.  Two of them were well versed veterans, the other a rookie like me.  The vets words' were helpful, although worrisome.  "Conserve your energy, this is the easy part" they said.  I wanted to stay with them.  I found comfort in their presence.

Enough snow had fallen to make the trail squirrely enough to require your focused attention.  As long as you stuck to the worn line you were usually good, but at any moment the sneaky snow gremlin could reach out and whip your front tire wonky.  We all lost it a few times.  Frustrating but manageable.  The veteran racer's bike handling skills were much better than mine.  We opened it wide up on the downhills- a bit sketchy but fun!  Every downhill was refreshing, in that scary-but-I-like-it-cause-it-breaks-the-monotony way.  But it was too much for me.  I hit it hard.  Lost control of the front and was slammed to the ground, my head smacking the well-groomed snow with a distinct whack that left an identifiable mark.  I have no idea how fast I was going, but the skid marks left behind were enough to make the next rider stop and check that I was ok.  My head was rattled, I tasted blood in my mouth from where my teeth split open my inner cheek, and one of my rear red blinky lights was shattered.  I forced myself to slow down and just breath.  Check everything.  Check your body.  All is good.  Check your bike- did you wreck anything else?  Just the light.  I found all the light parts and was able to get it back together and operational.   That was close.  That was dumb.  From now on, brakes on the downhill.

The hills continued.  I caught up with Kate and we pushed onwards together for hours and hours.  The hills got steeper and closer.  This is when I started laughing.  Between hills you might get 15 seconds of actual pedaling.  Then hop off and push again.  Count the steps- 15 more and then rest.  Another hill.  Laugh at it and repeat.  We didn't see anyone.  Even the little flat sections were getting sketchy with the quicksand-like fresh snowfall  It was hard to keep a straight line, or even just get started pedaling.  We kept dropping air pressure.  It helped keep the snow gremlins away, but efficient motion at that low of a pressure doesn't happen.  Sometimes it made more sense to just push to the next hill instead of trying to ride.  Our conversation helped pass the time.  We probably didn't talk that much, but it doesn't take much to fill that kind of space.

A few miles before the Surly checkpoint the course levels out and we actually were able to pedal for long stretches.  The characters at the Surly checkpoint make the most of their position on the course, torturing us with spray painted signs starting a few miles out.  Both Kate and I shouted with joy upon seeing through the trees the generator-powered lights of the massive teepee.  We rolled into the checkpoint at 10:46 pm, elated to have finished the most challenging section of the race.  The volunteers welcomed us, offered us oodles of drink choices and warm places to sit around the campfire or in the heated teepee.

Kate and I decided to head out on the last 26 mile leg together.  We left at 11:40, having enjoyed the warmth and rest of the checkpoint.  It quickly became clear that I was toast.  Kate dug deep and took off- ultimately finishing a full hour earlier than I.  I was drained.  My hard pushing during the first half of the race came back to get me on this last leg.  With slow-rolling low tire pressure to keep the snow gremlins away, fading ability to focus on the quicksand trail, and a constant upward slope I was reduced to a crawl.  During that last leg rider after rider passed me.  Hours passed.

Fortunately I was not completely alone.  Another rider, one of the veteran riders I'd been with earlier, was in a similar state and we played leapfrog endlessly.  I was tired.  So I set goals.  Ride for 10 minutes.  It doesn't matter how slow you go- you just have to keep moving for 10 minutes.  Done. Now you get 2 minutes to rest your head on your handlebars and close your eyes.  Drink, eat, and repeat.  At one point as I leaped past the other rider I found her laying on the ground in the middle of the trail.  Concerned, I stopped and asked it she was ok.  Knowing that she is one of the most experienced riders on the trail, I knew she meant it when she stated that lying down for a few minutes helps reset everything, so I continued onwards.  Later, as I rested, she passed by again- positively sharing that there was only 4.6 miles left to go.  That was a beautiful thing to hear!

4.6 miles takes a long time at this pace.  Well over an hour.  With the low clouds in the sky, the glow from the Fortune Bay Casino taunts you endlessly.  Two more riders pass me- seeming to fly by at a million miles per hour.  My legs were tired, more tired than I've ever asked them to be.  Spin spin spin- if your legs aren't moving you aren't moving.  Finally, the turn at 2 miles out.  Little rollers and a few walk-up hills.  The taunting of the casino glow hovering above the trees.  The finish line pulling like a magnet hiding in the distance.

The orange snow fences emerge as the trees give away.  Flat.  The finish line is in sight.  It glows in the dark, early morning hours.  Oh no, there is a hill.  Really it is just a bump but at this point I remember thinking to myself "you can't walk your bike through the finish."  Somewhere a little gas pumped in and up, over, and through the finish I went.  Done.  Grinning, drunk with happiness and relief.  Like returning home after a big climb.  Happiness warmed by exhaustion.

22 hours and 18 minutes.  I am torn by this.  On one hand, I am incredibly proud and happy to have finished the Arrowhead 135, to have experienced it.  On the other hand, as I sit here looking at the finisher award, the same one given through the years to all the finishers, I can't help but feel undeserving.  This year's course was the fastest ever- the winner smashing the course record.  I'm left wondering what if.  What if it hadn't been such good conditions?  What if it was like last year's trail? Would I have been able to finish?

Every year is different.  Finishing means something, but not everything.  Your time means something, but not everything.  Every year would give you something new and different to walk away with.  Maybe this is why people keep coming back.  Maybe that is why I'll have to come back.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Finished! Rolled in around 5:30 this morning.  Details and pics later.