This race is consuming. Consumes me with “Arrowhead Fever”. You know, you’re sitting in an important meeting and thinking about gear for the race, jotting notes how you’ll pack, extra stuff to bring, or not. With my job I’m looking at a lot of internet weather and all week, besides focusing on the weather at MSP airport, I’m looking at INL and Lake Vermillion Webcams, and reading the snomo trail reports. Working airplanes out headed for Winnipeg or International Fall wondering if they’re flying over “the trail”. In bed I’m thinking about the race. Everything is consumed by “Arrowhead Fever”.
2008 on the drive up with Gregg Pattison and my lovely wife Mary we believed this would be a great year, mild conditions and good trail grooming should make for record numbers to actually finish, even the foolish but brave skiers and runners. Lots of competitive bikers would make the winner earn it.
Gregg had done little training this year due to job travel and family commitments so was feeling pessimistic. We constantly force-fed positivity to him, “This was the year to get the Arrowhead monkey off his back”! We were mostly right.
Trail recon from Cook north indicated lots of sleds chewing up the well groomed trail, nights not cold enough to really set it up again, good snow cover (except for reported logging stretches at Sheep Ranch and the Spur Trail), enough mashed-potato trail to make it surely a Surly Pugsley race. Leave the medium Bontrager in the truck. Likely my bike record would be safe for another year. Somehow we avoided any beer the night before and got a good nights sleep.
With Charlie Farrow’s urging a bunch of us started together about 8AM. Simmons, Pattison, Farrow and I had a nice paceline going the first 18 miles. I went to the front only to slow the young horses down a bit as we’d creep up to 14mph at times, way too fast this early. Wow, 50F degrees warmer than last year, this was nice! Then it started to get kind of soft, “Wow this is going to be a real trudge!” The trail to MelGeorge doesn’t get any shorter. Skiers will despise my joy at seeing “logging trucks ahead” signs as they made riding much easier.
Again rather surprised to find myself leading (at least position-wise) with no one else in sight across Elephant Lake. Knowing a couple real good riders started after me kept the pressure on though, throughout the race I had little idea I was truly the leader. Felt relatively good at midway, got out of the nice cabin really quick after lovely soup and grilled cheese to get on the hills before complete darkness.
A lot of people think Eagle Mountain off the Sawbill is the highest point in Minnesota. This is not true. West of Elbow Lake there is an uncharted range of 102 mountains at least 4500’ high right on the Arrowhead. I am sure of this. After being a wuss on some of the loose downhills using brakes, I decided, “What the heck, you’re 50, your life is half over, now is the time to take chances, you have great disability and life insurance, you have a will, if you lose by 10 seconds you will never forgive yourself!” It seemed to work except: At the bottom of one of these hills is a frozen spring/waterfall with large iceponds covering the trail. Did anybody else hit these in the dark as hard or fast or recklessly stupid as me? My life briefly flashed before my eyes.
With cooler nightfall and flatter trail near Cook, the rest was a blur. My lovely wife and Fireman John greeted me as I burst onto the Finish Cabin porch. Oh yeah, “They all started way after you at MelGeorge”. Gee, I would have given a lot to know that about 7 hours ago!!! Terry, Joel and most of all happy Gregg and Don’s finish were fantastic to watch before we hit the road for a BIG breakfast and drive home. A TOAST to all of you in this really unique race, especially the Ostors, and all the wonderful volunteers who make it happen….
Thanks Dave Pramann