The 2009 Arrowhead 135 from the perspective of the tipi checkpoint volunteers (Carrie, Kurt, and Caytlin Neuburger, Chad and Kelly Brancamp)

 

2/2 11AM We arrived at the trailhead near Cook, MN after a wonderful breakfast at the Chocolate Moose in International Falls. We packed all gear and tipi on our homemade sleds. All went well until Kurt pulled on the sled holding the tipi and ripped out the front end of it. Modifications were made to allow the sled to be pulled, but it was a sign of things to come. We made the nearly three mile hike in to the base of the hill that we were to set the tipi on. The hill was a big one. We half expected kids on tubes or downhill skiers to come flying down at us. The steepness of the hill made it impossible to pull the sled up, even with three people pulling on it. We unloaded the sled and carried the tipi up the hill piece by piece.

2/2 3PM - We started shoveling out the area we were to set up the tipi on. The snow was more than 2 deep. It was decided that the girls should go get the water and wood while the boys set up the tipi and finished shoveling. By the time the tipi was mostly up, it was dark, and well below zero. A fire was very hard to start since the wood had been sitting in the snow for a while, and we were starting the fire basically on top of snow. By the time we got a fire started, the girls were back with more wood. We did not get the tipi set up perfectly, and it did not vent or protect us from the wind as well as it should have.

2/2 10PM - It was decided that the girls would go back to the Casino for the night while the boys stayed at the tipi. The girls hiked out. Chad and Kurt hunkered down for a very long night. The first racers (Dave and Lance on bike) appeared shortly after midnight. Both were a few levels up the hypothermia and exhaustion scales and unable to continue for the night. They had planned on being done with the race already, and were not happy about spending a night in the cold. We did what we could for them, which was not much except offer some company and to try to keep the fire going. Throughout the night, we saw about 10 people in varying stages of exhaustion come through the tipi. We later found out that it got down to around 25F or -30F that night, and it was probably not much warmer than that in the tipi. We were in doubled up sleeping bags trying our best to stay warm, hydrated, and alive. It seemed that since the snow was so deep, we were in a 2 deep freezer that sucked out all heat produced by fire and bodies.

2/3 10AM - Chad returned from another trip to the road to replenish our wood. Snowmobiles carried Chad and Kurt out and Carrie and Kelly in for their shift in the tipi. The girls were in high spirits and ready to "put a woman's touch" on the tipi (their words). Chad and Kurt made their way to the casino for some food and rest. Carrie and Kelly went to work fixing the liner and smoke flaps, organizing the gear, chopping wood, and generally making the tipi much more livable. From the sounds of it, there was much less smoke and wind in the tipi, and it was much more comfortable. They saw about another 10 people come through, most in much better shape than the earlier racers.

 

2/3 8PM During dinner and a nap, Chad and Kurt started feeling really bad physically. We were struggling to keep dinner down, probably mostly because of all of the smoke inhalation, also from not eating and drinking enough the night before. We were both coughing a lot. We decide to talk to the race directors and to not stay the second night. The girls wanted to stay out there longer, but we opted to send snowmobiles to get them and bring them back to the hotel with us. We felt horrible for not staying the second night, but we probably would have needed to be helped by the racers rather than the other way around. In reality it may have been okay that we weren't out there because there would not have been enough room for all of the runners that stayed there overnight.

2/4 9AM - We headed back out to the tipi sight. We saw the last runner go by and one get taken out on snowmobile. We broke down the tipi and had snowmobile help to pull everything out back to the road. On the ride back, Chad and Kurt got to ride on the tipi behind the snowmobile. We packed everything up and headed home.

All-in-all it was a very challenging experience. The trail and surrounding woods were very beautiful. The view from the top of the hill was breathtaking. There is something about being in such a harsh environment that draws us in. Everything is stripped down to the basics of survival, which is probably the reason this race is run. The combination of the raw beauty of the land and the raw emotions brought out by incredible excersion in extreme conditions, makes for an unforgettable and epic event for all involved. Even though we didn't make it both nights, and there were a lot of little things we could have changed to make for a more comfortable experience, we are already whispering about next year. Just a few weeks withdrawn, we miss the excitement of it all...the "larger than life" feelings that come with this event, the idea that maybe we helped a few racers to be safe or to finish, and the feeling of growth as people and as friends.

 

Carrie, Kurt, and Caytlin Neuburger, Chad and Kelly Brancamp)