Subject: Mike Stattelman race report
I attempted the race last year but only made it to the halfway point. When I came back home, I made a list of things I would change if I did it again. I wasn't so sure I would do it as the year went on. As the time drew closer, however, I developed a strong urge to attempt it once more. It exerts an odd pull on a person.
I skied and practiced with a backpack this year. I pulled a sled last year and thought there was too much drag. I skied quite a bit on skate skis with a pack around Duluth. Most of January was warm and the skiing was pretty fast. Skate skiing is typically faster with warmer weather but becomes less efficient as temperatures are lower.
I brought classic skis and skate skis along with me as I was still undecided with colder temps forecast for the start of the race. I met up with Matt, Nick and Cait who kindly allowed me to unroll a bag on their floor. A cold forecast for the morning and decided that I would classic ski. 5 people were going to ski.
Woke up at 5:45 to -21 degrees. Went through gear one last time as I packed up. We met at the Kerry Ice Arena on the South of town. Vehicles pulling in the lot in the dark and lines of sleds and bikes with their red flashers blinking parked against the snow banks. The building was open and racers were squeezed in dressing, filling water bottles and using the bathroom. We checked in and indicated whether we were biking, skiing or walking. 102 racers this year.
I was a little late getting out of the bathroom . Made it out to see the bikers just setting off. A school of flashers and reflective gear flowing down the trail. Walkers and skiers filing out too. The trail was wide and flat leaving town. Sky just lightening. A beautiful morning. Snow is cold and slow. Of us 5 skiers; I'm classic skiing with a pack, Matt from Iowa is classic skiing with a sled, Tim from WI is currently walking with skis on his sled, Jim from Duluth is skate skiing with a sled, and Pierre is classic skiing with a sled. Jim is moving slowly with the cold snow but the glide is better than it was last year. A long line of racers stretched out along the trail with their red flashers blinking. It feels good to be moving. Even though it is -20 the skiing and moving keeps me warm. I'm dressed pretty lightly as it is not windy. All of us soon have the rime of our breath and sweat frozen white on our heads and faces. Bearded Matt's face is completely frosted. Even though skiing would seem to be faster than walking, it usually isn't. I go by the runners when they walk and they go by me when they jog. Every one is friendly, enthusiastic, and some of us are a little scared.
Crossed Hwy 53 at 11:45. I was hoping to be there by 11:00. Made it 35 miles to the first checkpoint at the Gateway gas station/mini mart by 5:00. The afternoon was lovely--sunny and a little warmer. Happy to be this far. Checked in and went inside to fill up water bottles and buy food. Hot dogs tasted great.
I didn't stay too long. Matt and I had talked and we thought if we made it as far as the Black Duck shelter we'd have gone 57 miles and be on a good pace. We resolved to stop and rest there. Last year we continued and we were wiped out. It was flat for the first 35 miles but now the hills started up a bit. Some steep enough to take skis off. The moon rose like a bonfire in the East and had a huge ring around it. Orion was leading us down the trail. Getting cold again, but I'm warm when I move. Try to stop every hour to drink and eat. Water freezes up in the bottles. Have gorp, Mike and Ikes (a nod to Mike Curiak), and cheese/bacon bits in my hip pack. The night went well. Matt caught up to me just as we reached the Black Duck shelter. Jim the skier was sleeping there. Tim Roe was going to keep moving. A couple of bikers were sleeping Some guy was unsuccessfully trying to keep a fire going. Matt and I didn't waste any time unrolling our bags and zipping in.
I find one of the hard things is being damp from the skiing and then staying warm when I stop. I was a little cold in my bag. Slept a little despite the shivering. All of us were sleeping around the shelter on the packed snow. We made it there at 12:30 am. At 3:00 Matt called over and said he was going to get up--he was too cold. I got up at 3:30. Felt good to ski again. Started generating heat and comfortable. Snowmachines shuttling racers out. They would roar by with a racer hanging on tight behind and their gear in the sled.
Always nice to have the sky lighten with the coming day. I skied across Elephant Lake and into Melgeorges by 8:00 am. I was pleased to be halfway and feeling ok. A few racers ahead of me over the ice. After the cold and the quiet, the cabin at Melgeorges is a sensory burst. You walk in to noise, humidity, and heat. Racers sprawled on chairs, the floor and in the bedrooms. Gear and clothes spread out everywhere trying to dry out. Volunteers immediately came over and found a place for me to sit. Hot soup, grilled cheese, doughnuts, cookies, bacon, hashbrowns, coffee, anything to drink. Mostly feel thirsty. Eat and drink and find places to hang my wet clothes. Went up in the loft and found a place to lay down with my sleeping bag. Talk seeps in from all the racers. I slept an hour and then packed up again.
Left by 10:00 am with full water bottles and food replenished. Almost feels balmy out (10-15 degrees). I'm excited to be leaving the spot I dropped at last year. Carry my skis along the road to where I pick up the trail again. A long climb. Several long climbs with downhills too steep for me to ski. I attempted the last and had a spectacular wipe out. A stretch of flatter terrain and Jim the skate skier went flying by. After a slow morning he was feeling great. The snow was warm and fast. My skis were slogging along. I went back and forth with Roberto from Italy who was walking. We'd passed each other numerous times since starting yesterday. Felt good to the Myrtle Lake shelter where I stopped to eat with Tim. He's lost a ski boot from his sled and was having to walk the rest of the way. He'd finished it on foot last year. A warm afternoon sun upon us. A good rest of the afternoon but hills and a lowering of spirits hit me as the sun set. A long way to the Elbow Lake shelter. Steep enough I was having to walk up and down hills. When I did ski, I was wiping out a lot. A walker passed me. I asked him how far he thought it was to Elbow Lake. He said he had no idea where anything was anymore.
Trudging up another hill, skis over my shoulder, Markus from Germany (I think) walked up behind and asked if he could carry my skis for me as it seemed I was limping a bit. I thanked him but declined. "OK, here I go then" he said as we reached the crest of the hill. He swung his sled ahead of him and leaped on it like an otter. He went flying down the hill. Such an odd, uplifting encounter. I was able to ski more of the trail now and eventually saw his flashing light ahead of me. I picked up more speed than expected as I raced up to him. The trail split and I was headed for the trees. He yelled "Go left, Go Left" but I was too far gone and slid done to avoid a crash into the trees. Hat, ski poles, headlamp, flashers scattered over the snow. "Are you alright?" he asked. A bit bruised.
The next checkpoint was past Wakemup hill at the Crescent Inn. At one time earlier in the day, my hope was to make it there before 1:00am and buy some hot food and dry out in warmth. Too far away. Hadn't seen snowmachines for a long time. Two guys came through and checked on us. Stopped to look us in the eyes, question us and assess our state. They continued on but soon returned shuttling out other racers. It looked like a cold ride out on the back of a snowmachine.
I was running out of water. What water was left was frozen. I knew I needed to melt snow and eventually pulled off to the side and pulled out my stove. Don't have much time to stay warm and do this. Had trouble last year with my stove and thought I had it licked with one I borrowed and fired up at home on some -20 nights. Cold stove, cold fuel bottle. Set it up, pumped it and no fuel would come out. Tim came by at this point and stopped to see if I was ok. He had a full camelback of water but the valve and lid were frozen fast. He tried to wrench it open but couldn't. Carles from Spain walked up and offered me water from his slushy water bottle and I took a drink. They cheered me up and I got going again. I took my water bottles and placed them inside my shirt, next to my skin. The next miles I was able to liquify them enough to drink.
Kept looking for Wakemup hill. The hills were supposed to end after this steep anomalous hill on the edge of the spruce bog. Eventually rounded a corner and saw the trail climb a steep and long hill. Happy enough to be hitting this land mark. Took off my skis and climbed on up. No smoke filled Teepee. Instead dark and quiet. The hills behind me and miles of open country stretched out before me. Distant lights of towns and communication towers. The night sky beautiful. Walked and then skied the last of the downhill. 3 miles to the turn off to the teepee checkpoint at the Crescent Inn. Took off skis and walked edge of road to checkpoint. Teepee set up in parking lot. Blinking lights on parked sleds and bikes scattered around. Racers curled up in their bags on the ground. Teepee checkpoint volunteer came out and took my number down. 3:40 am. They had a cooler of cold water. Cold but necessary comfort. The Inn closed and dark. The fire outside the teepee warmed my hands while the rest of me started to freeze. Knew I needed to keep going. 20 miles of flat spruce bog to the finish. It finally hit me that I might make it. Skied on down the trail.
Probably skied for 1 or 2 hours and I was getting very tired. Every time I would close my eyes, I would start to dream. Skied until I found a place where a snowmachine had gone off the trail and packed the snow down. Propped skis up, set up flashers on them, and rolled out my bag and pad. Loosened my boots but kept them on. Brushed off as much ice as I could and crawled in my bag. Rolled up in my bag and fell asleep immediately. It was a deep and warm sleep. Heard a few racers go by. Up and awake by 8:00am. Packed and skiing by 8:10. Felt good. A frozen spruce bog with all the trees flocked with snow. I was wondering which ones Jeremy Kershaw was talking to last year. I wasn't moving very fast at all and took many breaks. The last biker went by me. Matt skied with me for a while too. On a high open plain of spruce. Only 20 miles of flats but it was not easy. At last turned off the trail on to the spur to the casino. A few rolling hills. A walker ahead of me wondering if he was going the right way.
And then around a corner was the end. A woman from Iowa waved me in from the balcony. I skied by the Arrowhead 135 sign and took off my skis for the last time. Followed signs to a basement door and propped up my skis and pack amongst the sleds and bikes. Followed a friendly guy upstairs to a conference room where racers and volunteers were recuperating. Gear and racers sprawled around. So happy to take off my boots. Sat down in a chair and let it all wash over me. Matt and Tim had gotten in within the hour. Chose an arrowhead for the trophy from Pierre and had my picture taken. I was very stiff.
A block of rooms were rented for the racers to shower and sleep. I went upstairs and took a long hot shower. The friendly Iowa woman was very helpful. Took a long time for me to maneuver my limbs and peel off my cloths. Went back down to put my name on a list for the van ride back to I-Falls. So warm and sleepy. Nick saw me nodding off and led me back to his room where he let me lay down on his bed. A deep, deep nap. They woke me up when the van was going. Nick and Matt helped me once more to schlepp my gear to the van. Our gear was loaded on a trailer and then I climbed into the back of the van. 4 of us, very stiff, were on the floor. In and out of sleep with Anton's voice drifting back with tales of the land and wolves. I only saw Northern birds. Some of the snowmachiners did see wolves. I'm sure the wolves saw me.
Into I-Falls by 9:00 pm. I called Jen. Car started right up and warmed while I loaded my gear. Stopped for food and caffeine. Tried Red Bull for the first time. I'm not sure if I was just cooked, but that is the most vile thing I've ever tasted. Stopped and slept twice. Home by 2:30am. I'm pretty stiff. Blisters on my heels. Feeling cold. Not sure about the pack--made me very top heavy on the hills. Worked well in flatter sections though. Need faster skis!
I feel very satisfied to have completed this. If trail had been any slower I might not have. I was pretty much spent by the end of it. Like everybody else has said; Pierre, and Cheryl, Don, Anton, all of the volunteers--They made it a welcoming, wonderful event.