2010 Race Report

 

 

As two of the original 11 Arrowhead racers it was fun to sit at the pre-race meeting at the VFW and recall our first pre-race meeting and gear check in 2005.  That meeting was held at one  table at the Chocolate Moose!  Later, Pierre came to our hotel room to do our gear check. 

 

Yes, the Arrowhead has grown and evolved – and as the years have gone by we have also grown  (older) and we’ve learned at each of our Arrowhead starts from experience, successes, and mistakes.  After missing 2009 due to Dick’s hip resurfacing, we were eager to get back on the Arrowhead Trail to try for our second finish out of 5 starts.    We promised ourselves that 2010 was going to be a good year.  We weren’t going to let any outside forces get in our way.   There would be no self-pity and no excuses – this was going to be a good year. 

 

We had brand new bikes this year.  We bought 9:Zero:7 frames from Chain Reaction cycles in Anchorage – they went overboard to get those frames to us and we built our bikes with some of the old components as well as some new, upgraded components like Ergon grips and mechanical disc brakes (oh so much better than our old cantilever brakes!).  They were done just a week before the race (thanks, Dan and Scott at County Cycles) so Arrowhead was literally these bikes’ virgin run.   I had a sleepless night Sunday night worrying (needlessly) about what could go wrong with them. 

 

The start took us back to 2005, as we started in that same spot in town.  The red flashing lights looked like a Christmas parade as everyone took off jockeying for position.  We tried to stay patient and hold back knowing the long trail ahead but we did get caught up a bit in the hubbub – our pace seemed a bit fast for the long run but it sure felt good. 

 

Not long after the first shelter we were both cold.  It’s weird to be cold in the first two hours but a stop for another layer really helped, and off we went.  We rode easily to Highway 53 only to be told when we got there that we had ridden a section of road (one that had been part of the course in previous years) and we had to go back to catch the trail and ride to the highway on the trail.   Grrr!  Anyone who has ridden extra miles at Arrowhead knows how painful that can be. 

 

Once back on the trail and across the highway, we rode pretty consistently, but at Dick’s quick pace.  At one point he got so far ahead of me I wondered if he was actually behind me and I was trying to catch someone else – but finally he woke up from “the zone” and waited for me to catch up.  We went back and forth for awhile with Chris Finch, John Kurth, and Phil Jemialita, but after awhile we were out there by ourselves.  We rode into Gateway, where we ate, drank, visited with our good friends Ellen and Phil Hart,  regrouped, and left the store about 2:30. 

 

For some reason, the next section into Melgeorge is a tough one for me.  Dick continued strongly and I lagged behind suffering but trying to suck it up.  I sang songs in my head and tried to stay strong and patient.  We were both looking forward to, and dreading, the sign that says “Melgeorge 5 miles” – looking forward to it because we only had five miles to go!  Dreading it because it meant we had five more miles to go!  Being the gentleman that he is, Dick pushed my bike up the two mini-mountains that come before Elephant Lake.  I was happy to accept his silent offer to do so.  The key to this race is forward progress, which we maintained, and we arrived at Melgeorge at 10:20pm.  Interestingly enough, we arrived within minutes of our previous arrival time in 2006 – even more interesting is that in 2005 we were arriving at the Gateway Store about that time in 2005 on our regular mountain bikes, after 4 flats, and a long walk!   

 

We’ve learned that the secret to our Arrowhead success is to take our time at Melgeorge. I think it’s a function of all of the stage racing we’ve done.   Afterall, finishing is always the first goal and recovery time is key to accomplishing that goal.  Perhaps its also a function of advancing age, but we like to think its experience and knowing ourselves.  That means eating and sleeping.  We ate micro-wave mac and cheese (gluten free for Dick) and hot chocolate, and went to sleep, not waking up until almost 7am. 

 

More food, packed up, and pushed off a little after 8am.  We knew what was ahead and tried not to think about it, choosing instead to just keep making forward progress.  The hills don’t really start in earnest until some distance after Melgeorge and we just kept enjoying the scenery and the beautiful day.  The whole trail is so beautiful!  Once the hills started, they never ended.  I am glad that our timing is such that we encounter the hills in the daylight.  I wouldn’t want to try to navigate them in the dark as so many of the riders in front of us had done!   Even with the great trail conditions I did crash a few times on the descents.  We took them cautiously – perhaps too cautiously?  The last thing we wanted to do was risk damage to the new titanium hip! 

 

A snowmobile went by us at one point and told us we only had 25 miles to go to the Crescent.   While it was nice to get the update, the truth is, 25 miles is a long way on that stretch of trail.  Later, Matt Evingson went by on his snowmobile and told us we had the majority of the worse hills done.  I think he was just being nice, because there were some doozies not long after seeing him!  Nevertheless, it was nice to talk with him.  Other than the two snow machines we hadn’t seen any race participants since we left Melgeorge.  Based on tire tracks we knew we weren’t too far behind other bikers but the day was spent by ourselves on the trail.   

 

We rode through a stretch of trail that neither of us remembered…..maybe it had been logged and looked different?  Who added those hills we didn’t remember?  We finally made it to Wake-em up – it was pretty dark by then and as we walked up the hill I didn’t think it was as bad as I remembered.  I started to worry that maybe it wasn’t Wake-em up – but then we got to the top and saw the shelter.  That was a real pick-up for us as we knew the Crescent wasn’t far.  We arrived at the Crescent about 7:00pm and were happy to see Chris, John, and Phil inside eating and drinking.  We ordered a cheeseburger and fries, hot chocolate and coffee and enjoyed all of that thoroughly while warming up and getting ready for the final push to the finish. 

 

We heard varying distances from the Crescent to the finish ranging from 18.5 to 22 miles, but regardless, we knew it to be very flat and potentially very cold.  It was indeed both.  We rode fast and smoothly, riding about half a mile then stopping to walk 100 yards or so, then getting back on to ride.  That was both to keep warm and also to help our sore butts and backs.  A long, flat stretch is tough on the body after so many hours on the bike!    We knew that Chris, John, and Phil were ahead of us and occasionally we saw their flashers in the distance.  We kept at it and finally saw the “Bayview Lodge 2 miles” sign.  Knowing that was the finish line in the past, it was painful to ride beyond that sign not knowing what we had left to go.  It seemed like forever but we finally ahead of us we saw the welcoming markings (thanks, Don!) into Fortune Bay.  The reflective tape pathway on the wood marking slats was like a tunnel of warmth as it sucked us into that left hand turn into the oasis of the finish line.  It was a long tunnel…..that last mile or so went forever but we finally saw the finish.  The final hill was loose and steep but there was no way we weren’t going to ride it!  We heard Chris, John, and Phil, who had just finished, cheering as we rode up and finished!  It was 12:34am and we were done – we did it!

 

The race volunteers lead us into the casino’s abyss, showing us where to store our bikes and then up to the hospitality room.  We talked and laughed for a few minutes, picked out our Arrowheads, and then checked into our room for the night.  A shower felt great and so did the bed. 

 

As is typical of this race, we learned a lot and had a great time.  Ultimately what keeps us coming back is the people.  We’ve made some great friends at Arrowhead, and this year we made more.  It’s a great homecoming every year.  We love hearing about everyone’s race – as we feel that we are amongst some of the greatest people we’ve ever met.  It’s a small community and we all understand what each of us has been through and what we’ve accomplished. 

 

Thanks to Pierre and Cheryl for another great event.  Thanks to all of the volunteers and the city of International Falls.  We had a great time and will be back again next year!