Monday, February 12, 2007

Don Gabrielson's Arrowhead 2007 report

Fellow nutcases,

Navy guy here...

Since the order of the day seems to be telling our collective stories, mine follows below...

But first...

Jeff, thanks so much for the kind words. I'll ride with you any day brother. That goes for you too PJ, Chris, and Charlie-- the spirit matters most when the chips are down-- I know I'd say the same thing about so many others that I just frankly didn't get to know and that bums me out because this is a special group. You guys totally rock man. How do we get together so I can finally find like minds to train with??????

I'd like to take this post-race discussion a step further-- I'm working on an article for a national magazine (I'll tell you all which when it posts), and my intention is to capture the essence of the race from multiple perspectives... which means I need your help... please feel free to share your stories with me, and include information on your backgrounds, how you prepared, why you entered the race, and whether you'd do it again, as well as things you experienced out there... there's a lot to cover and obviously I'll have to pick and choose from many amazing details, but I can't include your story if I don't know about it... do it now before you forget!

But wait there's more... I also have close to 500 photos from 2 photogs (my brother Todd and Rick Spokely), and we're working to find the best way to get them distributed-- I might have to ask for a few $$ for a CD or two as we get them together, as both my brother and Rick covered quite a bit out of pocket to get these... If you have good photos from on the course or particularly the finish, I need more to choose from-- If yours is published, you'll be paid whatever the magazine pays in full-- I need some good scenery shots, I have tons of people shots of pretty much everyone--

GPS Trivia-- we gained 3400 feet between the start and Mel George's. We lost 2900 total in the same leg. At one point, you're 2.6 miles from Mel George's but have over 11 trail miles before you get there. Nice. What was that about flat? ;-) And next year I'm bringing an ultralight and flying.

I have to say it was funny that I had to go home to find the toughest event I've ever raced, and that includes well over a hundred events around the globe... the fact that each of you dared to toe the line out there speaks volumes about your character, and if others question your sanity, they certainly can't do so about your resolve, your discipline to simply get there, or even your toughness in so many dimensions. I salute everyone and hope to see you again!!!! We don't do these things for others, we do them for ourselves...

I'm hoisting a virtual beer in toast to the finishers, and tossing it back in celebration with my partners in a truly incredible event.

Thanks to Cheryl, Don, Seve (Steve Bobusch), and everyone else on the course-- and thanks to Pierre for daring!




Don Gabrielson's 2007 AH135 Race Summary...

Brutal. Conditions were unbelievable but I loved it out there. Had to drop at 23 (Orr-Buyck road, about 90-95 miles) after considering that I had about 28 isolated miles to go from 3:30 PM with 2 broken lights, tires with shattering rubber, and fingertips tingling after getting too cold the night before while helping another rider into his bivvy on the trail-- I felt really good and was physically and mentally ready to press on but the above issues as well as the reports that the snow would be even harder to handle in the next leg, along with having to consider eating only frozen food for maybe another 24+ hours made me realize that sometimes the best decisions are those that lead you to come back another time... I thought about Ed Viesturs' recent comments about finishing all his climbs with zero casualties and had to convince myself that stopping was the right choice.

You can probably tell I'm disappointed but at the same time I know I made the best decision under the circumstances (still trying to convince myself of that...). I'd pedaled/pushed for 17+ hours on day one, then understood why people sleep at Mel Georges', and hit the trail again the next morning and the 20 miles to County Rd 23 took almost 6 hours-- Out of my total mileage I think I pushed 20+ miles and am convinced I spent more hours off the bike than on it...

A couple defining moments for me-- first, on the way back to the start line after the turn-around... I see a pair of our running friends on the trail struggling, and ask if they need anything... I'm asked for a screwdriver to poke some holes, so I offer a knife... I wonder what my ice-bound eyes did when I heard the first hammer strikes on the plastic handle of my titanium military blade into a steel bucket... would've made a great pic I'm sure... I know that because the other guy (sorry no names) looks at me and says, "...He's an engineer..." Of course. The precision blows gave that away... the knife survived (thank plastic and Blackie Collins for that!).

Second moment-- seeing the vista just a couple miles south of Mel George's. Broad, open canyon in between two 3-500 foot ridgelines. Gorgeous. I made the tactical error of deleting my little camera from my race kit. Never again. That was a two-page spread shot from either side of the canyon walls, and I've considered going back just to get it. Awesome. It almost made the 15-minute push up the far side easy. Yeah right. Chris Finch can tell you about our push. It was cool. What was that on your ipod again? Parliament Funkadelic right? Tear the roof off the sucker... and you did man. Awesome. Susitna? I wish you'd been at the 23 crossing when I arrived. You probably could have talked me into it... but in some ways, I'm glad you weren't there because little things were adding up...

Everyone who finished has my undying admiration, particularly Sarah who simply wouldn't quit, and Charlie for gutting out 5 flats on a skinny-tired 29er-- but Sarah apparently said that if it hadn't been for the charity she was supporting, she'd have dropped at Mel Georges' like all the 'sensible' people... that's funny. Only two of us left MG's and didn't finish and we dropped together; I think that I had the only traditional 26-inch wheeled MTB that got as far as I did (?), and I believe that 7 of 8 bike finishers were on Pugsleys (?) and one on a 29er (Charlie Farrow)-- so I don't feel bad about how it went and am sure I'll go back and stick a fork in it at the first chance I get. And I'll bring a Pugsley. I am totally convinced that they had a major advantage in that snow and I would have been far ahead of where I was in the same time with one. But that's that...

My brother decided that he's going to try and organize support for the race next year with Arctic Cat and I think that will help the race-- that dimension of the event was not as mature as it needs to be and frankly lacked some confidence-inspiring elements, which was also a bit of a factor in my decision given the extreme cold-- it is just a race after all, not a polar discovery expedition... I would have been totally alone for quite a while out there and spent 5-6 hours+ that way on the first night so it had me thinking when coupled with the little cascading casualties in my gear... I had to remind myself that my day job has high stakes in terms of physical readiness and permanent frostbite damage out of vanity or ego wouldn't keep me employed... the tingling came from a few minutes in the cold helping another rider out, and leaving behind a (third) spare set of mittens in the name of saving a few ounces. Lesson learned. I was otherwise amazed at how comfortable I stayed even at -30. Face masks were the only other challenge-- ice and snot are hard to handle and there's no way around that... I carried 3 balaclavas and that was about right I think. Maybe one more in the future. Just for luck. Along with my camera. And more hot food. And a better water setup...

All told, I have over 6 pages of notes on what I did right and wrong, what I didn't have or should have had or what worked or didn't work, along with other ideas, so that was productive-- I'm totally convinced that I know how to prepare for success and better prepared to make good decisions on mid-race gear or strategy changes-- I made several last-minute choices that I'd do differently now, and brought some gear that didn't work at all like it did in my training despite its apparent depth... surprises abound.

The good news was that from a physical and mental perspective I was well-prepared and already am doing some easy riding and running again. As with many things, luck and tactical decisions on the scene play a hand as well as preparation... I made some important mistakes but learned from them. And I'll never regret losing time to others who needed a hand out there. It wasn't time lost, it was experience gained.

A couple takeaways-- a buddy asked how this event compared to Ironman... I said if AH135 is a '10' then Ironman was about a '4' for me... I've done many long events, and it used to be difficult to name a single hardest event for me... not any more... I got what I hoped for here and then some. It was simply awesome. I'm a better, stronger person for having done this race.

Don Gabrielson
Commander USN
Prospective Commanding Officer (Blue)


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