After Tuscobia, it wasn't much of a decision anymore. Not being able to train for skiing for the past 18 months turned it into a bike choice....unless conditions were so favoring skiing there wasn't a choice. They weren't. That said, I might have been better off skiing it, but biking is just easier in general for me than skiing, so I went the easy way out.
This is most probably going to be my last Arrowhead as a participant. I've lost some of "the burn" and adrenaline rush, similar to The Birkie ski race. I still enjoy them, but not so much as a race. Time out on the trail and surrounded by the ultra Community is still very enjoyable but maybe it's time I moved over and opened a spot for another person that wants the challenge.
I envision doing more things with our grandkids.....and who knows what else might be out there before I get too old?
I could tell it's time as I just didn't have the same excitement the days before the race. Getting into the equipment preparations just wasn't a priority to me. It wasn't really needed either, as all I really needed to do was in general scoop up what was already set out from Tuscobia. As the weather was going to be mild and consistent for the Arrowhead (as compared to the opposite at Tuscobia when the mercury plummeted from 30 above to -15/20) there wasn't a lot to think about.
The main thing was going to be tire pressure due to the predicted soft snow.
The week leading up the Arrowhead I came down with some flu conditions but by Thursday I was pretty much back to normal. I knew I was going to be less than 100% based on my less than normal training in Dec. from a broken thumb and my 200 mile ski/bike biathlon at Tuscobia two weeks earlier. I was pretty well spent after Tuscobia and coupled with a touch of the flu leading into Arrowhead I felt I might have some challenges as to my energy/strength.
If conditions were like 2015 I felt I could hold up better, but if it got tough out there, I'd probably suffer.....and I did.
Photo credit, Gear Junkie
The first hour of riding made it clear that tire pressure, fitness (both upper and lower body) and single track skills would rule the day. Unlike last year, the leaders took off and never looked back, so the pace was what one wanted to make of it along the rode in singletrack.
I stopped to let out air at a road crossing from my 8psi down to around 5 but even that was too high and eventually I went down to 3. I was a bit concerned to go much lower than that due to a rough trail from low snow. There were plenty of opportunities over the next 135 miles to burp a tire by banging hard into a frozen tussock or rolling a tire off the bead on a fast descent on the fabled hills 3/4 of the way down the trail.
As I rolled through the first checkpoint I was felling a bit off, but nothing too serious. More energy was required as compared to last year, but that was to be expected. Endurance would be the name of the game.
Photo credit, Burgess Eberhardt.
As we started encountering the gentle hills about half way between the 1st and 2nd checkpoints things were looking good and the rear tire was hooking up, but my bike started to encounter shifting issues, similar to Tucobia a couple of weeks earlier.
After Tuscobia I had gone into my LBS and they checked it over (I had them replace a worn shifter cable a few days before Tuscobia) but we couldn't find anything wrong. We felt that maybe some moisture inside the cable housing had started to freeze up which caused my being reduced to a single speed to finish Tuscobia.
After I broke my right thumb I had moved the shifter (1x11) to my left side for Tuscobia. I felt I could go back to the right side for Arrowhead and had hoped I would be able to keep shifting to a minimum to avoid issues with my healing thumb....well, it was a good idea at the time, but I was having to shift pretty much constantly.
It wasn't cold enough to freeze up the cable today I thought, as the shifting got worse and worse. I admit, even though I do a lot of repairs on my motorcycle, cars and actually worked for a decade as a service tech on automated/robotic equipment, I've never really picked up what I need to know about bikes and shifting. As the shifting rather reduced me to the lowest gear when climbing and something that would kinda work on the flats and downhills I started to loose ground and more importantly, I started to loose energy, as well.
Maybe my attention and dicking around shifting caused me to loose focus on eating or maybe I just got a bit agitated but it just seemed, although eating and drinking very frequently while walking up some hills, I didn't have the normal energy level and couldn't increase it, either, even after downing a few gus, chocolate and whatever else I could put down.
It just seemed like my stomach wasn't processing what I was stuffing down it. I didn't think I was bonking or dehydrated as I wasn't cold and I was still sweating...
Friend Joe and I had been yo-yoing back and forth since the start but now he was pulling away, for good it seemed.
Photo credit, Burgess Eberhardt.
Soon, friend Christopher came up behind me. Normally I can stay in front of Chris and he might have been as surprised as me as he asked how things were going when he caught me. I told him about my lack of energy and he offered me a Red Bull. On occasion shooting one of them has given me a good jolt but I also didn't want to take anything from Chris that would slow him down, so I offered to share it with him to which he replied "great" as it was a large can.
Chris analyses the race in-depth if interested in that kinda thing.
Photo credit, Burgess Eberhardt
I watched Chris pull the hill in front of me and as I was walking it I felt kinda discouraged.....but, it's a long race and I felt fortunate that I was even able to start a race like the Arrowhead. When I start to have a pity party I always try to remember how lucky all of us are to be out there, no matter what we're facing at the moment.
Soon Marcus came up from behind me as well. It was his first Arrowhead and he hung back with me and talked, offering me some food as well but I knew it wasn't from lack of eating I was suffering. With my bike still shifting like crap and my energy not really increasing even after the Red Bull and gus I hoped he'd keep going and maybe even mentioned to Marcus not to feel obligated to hang back. Soon he was gone as well.
A number of other riders passed me during this stretch as well....I just had to truck on.
I think I came up on Joe again....or maybe it was a different rider, but in any case I soon came to the 5 mile sign to Melgeorges, after the mystery rider and I had yo-yoed back and forth some.
My pace was starting to increase, in direct proportion to lack of hills (missed shifting) it seemed. I hit the lake and there was a blinking red light maybe 150-200 yards in front of me. It was soft on the lake but I found a gear that seemed to work and took off after the rabbit.
It was Joe and we rolled into the checkpoint together.
Melgeorges check-point cabin.
Photo credit, Gear Junkie
My original goal was to spend the same amount of time here as last year, 18 minutes. I knew that was not going to happen. I had decided on the trail to eat but more importantly, rest and try to get some sleep if that would happen. I knew I had to re-group to be able to finish the much tougher 2nd half.
After eating a couple bowls of wild rice soup and a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches washed down with a few cokes and hot chocolate, I decided to search out a rider that had dropped to see about looking at my shifting issue.
Joe and I at Melgeorges. Nice butt, Todd!
Photo credit Tina Stiller.
No outside help is allowed, but riders can help riders as well as race officials can help. When I asked the head Check Point person about it, she offered that an Official Mechanic was available to all riders. With that, he came out to my bike and after I removed the pogie he discovered that all that was wrong with it was that the cable had stretched. With a little barrel connector tweeking it was set and ready to go....dah, wish I'd have discovered that, but I was too nervous about doing any adjusting out on the trail in fear that I'd make it worse and as I had crashed once on my right side, I thought I could have bent the hanger.
Fellow racers son Chris and DIL Helen, who do it on foot, rent a cabin to rest up some, so I took advantage of that and tried to get some sleep. I set the alarm for 90 minutes and laid down. After 15-20 minutes sleep wasn't coming so got up, got dressed, tried to eat more and took off, 3 hours after I had arrived. It was 9:45PM.
I pretty much knew the "race within the race" for the "fastest old guy" was pretty much over. Although I was told that Dave was suffering as well, with beating me easily into Melgeorges and a 3 plus hour head-start on me out of the check-point, unless something crazy happened, he'd beat me easily.
Dave, "fastest old guy".
Photo credit, Kevin Boneske
Fellow racer Sveta took a picture of me as she pulled into Melgeorges and I was heading out.
She has a great story.....she stopped along the trail to nurse her baby, check it out.
There is a long rather gentle uphill out of Melgeorges and to my surprise I was able to ride the whole thing. I took it somewhat easy, but with the bike shifting well and feeling good, I started looking forward to the 2nd half of the race.
Soon it started to snow. It was light and fluffy and covered all the tracks although it didn't seem to hamper biking. I had dropped the air pressure further at Melgeorges, in anticipation to more, steeper hills and was at 2f-3r psi.
Hour after hour I rode, all by myself. It was fun. I felt good, the bike was shifting fine and as the temps dropped a few degrees, the snow was setting up some and making it possible to ride further up the hills and over many that a number of riders in front of me had walked up.
It kept snowing but I could look up and see the moon through the flurries to my left.
Eventually, one set of tracks began to get more defined and I knew I was coming up on a rider. After awhile I saw a head light shining ahead of me as a rider either was making a tight left turn or his/her bike slide off to the side. It was a turn....and soon I came up on Justin. We stopped and talked for a minute and I complemented him on climbing pretty much everything up to that point, which he had.
Then I took off.
After a bit I again noticed a couple of sets of tracks getting clearer and clearer. As the snow had stopped, it was difficult to determine how far ahead of me they were.
I found it interesting that I was embracing the hills. For the first time out of the 4 Arrowheads I've done, it didn't seem to matter how many there were or how steep they were. Maybe because it might be the last time I'd scale then bomb them or maybe, although I was still "racing", I had resigned myself to the fact that it wouldn't be one of my fastest races. That said, I still was trying to finish as fast as I could but trying to also notice and enjoy the small things along the trail and not run "race" things through my mind as much.
It wasn't that long, almost 9 hours after I left Melgeorges, I came up to the Ski-Pulk aid station. Ken, the RD was there, although I didn't recognize him in the darkness and shadows as he handed me a hot chocolate I had asked for to wash down my sub-sandwich.
I was impressed that he was there, helping out.
Photo credit Gear Junkie
Ken invited me into the tent and inside were Chuck and Paul. Paul recognized me as he had biked the Tuscobia this year. We talked for a few minutes and soon Chuck and Paul took off. 2 minutes later, I followed them out into the darkness.
Photo credits, Gear Junkie.
Paul and Chuck stopped after awhile to eat and I rode up to them. We rode together from that point on, chatting and getting to know each other.
At the finish, we lined up and crossed together, all tied for 20th place out of the 58 riders that finished.
After a short stay in the race reception room we all joined a friend spectator of mine in the bar and had a refreshing brew before he took us up to I'Falls to get our vehicles.
Experienced foot racer, John S. gave me some idea when Chris and Helen would be crossing a major hwy past Melgeorges. Helen came by 2 minutes after that time and Chris 16 minutes later.
I went to our cabin and slept.....then the next day I was there when Chris and Helen crossed the finish together.
Being a skier, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the skiers. Oldish guy Mike Brumbaugh was flying. He had passed me before the first checkpoint with a broken pole. He passed me for the final time after he had concocted a repair at the first checkpoint on his was to a new course record!
For a second or two, I thought that skiing would have been better than biking for me....but then realizing that skiing takes more out of me than biking, I didn't think about it anymore.
Photo credit Burgess Eberhardt.
The other skier was friend Jason that completed his a'Trois award, finishing all 3 disciplines, as well as did buddy Mike collect his a'Trois.