ARROWHEAD ULTRA 135
JANUARY 27, 2014
After a giant snowstorm last year while on the trail I was ready to try the AHU again on a skinny tire 29er.
The weather forecast was calling for clear and cold. Looking back on my other attempts at the AHU 135 I realized that I seemed to do better in the cold years. We’ll see if that holds true this year. I also had my new TI 29er so maybe that will help also.
Gear List: -20 degree sleeping bag (synthetic) with a double layer bivy on the handle bars. My sleeping pad was in the triangle. On the rear rack I had the bike bag with down jacket, Lined wind pants, spare gloves, 2 pair of spare socks, a few tools, spare parts and heat packs. I carried a fanny pack with some food in it and I wore a 2 liter camel back under my layers for water. I carried a bar mount flashlight and a head lamp plus a blinky light front and back. I believe my sleeping rig and spare clothes, tools, and parts weighed about 16 lbs. This did not include my water or food.
For clothes I wore a pair of tri shorts than a medium weight pair of running tights than my pair of Sport Hill pants and finally a pair of bike shorts. On my feet I had on 2 pair of heavy socks and my Solomon boots. On top I first put on a vapor barrier which was an old full zip wind breaker, than I wore 3 layers of medium weight full zip synthetic jackets. On my head I wore a light balaclava, than my DXC cap, than a face mask that covered my cheeks and nose, than a medium weight fleece balaclava with a draw string face opening. And a heavy pair of snomo mitts for the hands. And of course I have a pair of bar end gauntlets on the bike.
The event always starts with check in and then the racers meeting and dinner the night before the start. Saw lots of old friends and even won a blinky tail light which ended up dying on me 20 hours into the race. The race director Ken’s words held true that you were much more likely to win a prize at the pre race meeting than you are of finishing the race! Ken also showed us a graphic that showed the historical chances of finishing the race fell at exactly 50%. That number will be a little lower after this year’s race is added in.
The weather at the start was no surprise, about 25 below zero with a light wind. Luckily the prevailing winds are from the North West and the trail goes mostly south east. I almost missed the start, I was taking my time in the warming house adjusting my gear and at about 5 mins to 7 headed out to the starting line, I had just got up onto the trail when the start signal was given. I think they were a little early with the start.
The trail early on was hard packed as expected with these temps and the riding was good. When we made the turn at mile 9 we hit freshly groomed trail (it must have been groomed the night before because it was set up hard) so the going got even better. A quick stop to eat and drink and back at it. The trail continued to be in good shape all day although it was deceiving that it wasn’t especially fast.
I was about 15 minutes faster than last year getting into check point 1.Arriving at 12:26. My problem? I thought it would be a good idea to try and dry some of my clothes so I spent the time waiting for my clothes to come out of the dryer and in the process lost my balaclava, luckily I was able to buy a new one, and then the clothes really hadn’t dried much they were just warm and wet. I spent 1 hour and 45 minutes here where as last year I had spent 30 minutes.
I left chp #1 at 2:13 the next section is where the hills start, nothing really big but lots of rollers, it’s a very scenic trail and I really enjoyed it. I stayed pretty warm, at chp 1 I had put 2 heat packs in each boot rather than just 1 and that really made a difference. I rode most of the day with my hands out of the gauntlets because they were getting to warm. Sometime during the afternoon my front shock collapsed (I knew it would because I was having troubles with it) this caused my sleeping bag which was hanging from my front handle bars to drag on the front tire. Luckily I was able to reposition things so that it wouldn’t drag. I also lost my back brake, but again I knew that was coming, I think I got some air in the lines or the pads are just worn down, any how ya don’t need brakes much on the Arrowhead.
I pulled into chp #2 the halfway point at 8:53 PM about 40 minutes behind last year’s pace. Last year when I was here the place was nearly empty but this year it was nearly full. Where last year it was fairly warm outside and I stayed for 2 ½ hours, this year it was headed for 30 below so my plan was to get my clothes good and dry and rest and head out in the morning. I accomplished all of the above. It is kinda interesting at this check point because you finally get to meet and talk to some of the other competitors instead seeing them as you pass one another on the trail.
I tried to sleep twice while there and both times I only slept for about 15 minutes. The first time I snagged one of the beds but it was so hot up in that loft I couldn’t stand it so I had to go down stairs. The second time I laid on the floor and it was a little cooler but less comfortable. I did get a little to eat here but wasn’t terribly hungry.
As planned I got out of checkpoint 2 at just before 5 AM. I was cool outside to say the least but the trail was nice and firm and I felt good. The next leg of the race is the longest and the hilliest at about 40 miles and some of the biggest hills. I walked a lot of the hills but not all of them. Passed and got passed by several other riders. A few of the riders had left about 2 AM and ended up getting so cold that they ended up bivying along the trail till it warmed up a bit and I passed these guys just as they were getting moving again.
It’s a long haul getting to chkpt 3 but then all of a sudden it appears out of nowhere right in the middle of the trail. All chkpt 3 consists of is 2 ice fishing shelters set up on the edge of the trail. There is room for about 6 people there and if they get overcrowded they start kicking out the ones who have been there the longest. They do serve ya hot chocolate and you can fill up on water .I arrived at 12:45 and left at 1:52.
The next obstacle is “Wake’um up hill” The biggest hill and the highest point on the trail. All of the other years I had done this part of the trail at night so it was nice to see it during the day. Wake’um up hill is a lot less daunting during the daylight. It also is getting a lot more tree cover over the years. The first couple of times I went over the top it was a bald knob but now there’s quite a few trees up there.
After descending Wake’um up the trail crosses the highway goes thru the woods for a couple more miles and then enters the giant black spruce swamp which goes on flat as a pancake with no trees taller than 20 feet for over 20 miles. I kind of enjoyed this area in other years but this year it was drudgery. The trail was starting to get soft, the wind was blowing causing drifting and I was tired. There was a biker just a few minutes ahead of me and their tracks would disappear under the drifting snow before I got there. There were a few more snowmobiles here which also made the trail softer.
Well I did make it to the end. I crossed the finish line just before sunset at 5:27 PM for a total time of 34 hours and 27 minutes
Total time at the checkpoints equaled about 11 hours so a riding time of 23 ½ hours divided by 135 miles equals an average speed of just 5 ¾ MPH. Ya that sounds about right. The winner averaged about 6 ¾ MPH and the record holder from last year (who this year was pulled from the race at the first checkpoint because of frost bite) averaged under 10MPH.