Sunday, January 15, 2017

Pursuing the Fat Pursuit

Start of the 200 mile Fat Pursuit

Fat Pursuit didn’t exactly go the way that I had planned. I don’t think it necessarily went the way that anyone had planned. I think a lot of people signed up for the 200 mile Fat Pursuit expecting to endure on through to the finish.

Only one person, Aaron Gardner, was able to cross the finish line. His family had come out to surprise him at the finish, and one of his young kiddos ran excitedly with him for the last few yards. It was incredibly emotional! I get teary eyed recounting the event. I am unbelievably glad that I was able to witness that moment.

Truthfully, I’m also really glad that the Fat Pursuit wasn’t at all what I expected. I knew going in to it that it was going to be difficult. I knew it was going to be cold and I knew it would push my limits. I think that’s almost the best thing about the whole epic adventure. It tossed me out of the known and hurled me at so much unknown that I came out feeling stronger and more accomplished than I knew was possible (so much more than I thought I could feel after a DNF, too!)

Bright eyed and bushy tailed after the rider's meeting

The funny thing is that as I sat shivering in my sleeping bag in -40 degree weather in the midst of a seemingly relentless climb; I was happy. Just over 12 hours after the start of the race, I had successfully done so many things! I was able to make it out to Idaho, I was riding bikes with my friend Leah Gruhn, and I had warm boots and gloves and I felt like I was winning against the cold. I was able to meet and to hang out with cyclists that I’ve admired from afar for many years, and I was inspiring friends back home. Despite a few set-backs, I was happy with myself for making smart choices and for getting out of my comfort zone. Survival mode made me feel alive and very thankful for the opportunity to get out there and to give it a shot.

After Sunday's toast - myself, Leah Gruhn, Tracey Petervary, Rippin' & Chillin'

Before I had signed up for Fat Pursuit, I had a conversation with Christopher Tassava about the race. I was weighing my options because I wanted to do my best to prepare for a future goal of mine: the Iditarod Trail Invitational. Fat Pursuit was intimidating not only because of the course’s difficulty and the unpredictable weather, but because of the financial investment it would take to get out there. I worried that pushing myself with it and the Arrowhead 135 in the same month would be too much. I worried I wouldn’t be able to afford the travel and logistics for both races… but Christopher got me really excited for the race by dangling the promise of a fun party cabin at the Pond’s Lodge with some really great winter ultra goofballs! How could I stay away? ;)

Every person on this list is a rock star

The people staying in cabin #25 at the Pond’s Lodge were all amazing. I wanted to add up all of the miles everyone had collectively traveled during the winter at events like Fat Pursuit, but with all of the excitement of gear check, a pre-ride, getting ready, the racer’s meeting, and eating good food, I got incredibly distracted. I’ll shoot for collecting data next year! Anyways, hanging out with such a friendly and knowledgeable group of people and talking bikes and winter gear was well worth the travel in itself. I picked up a lot of good tips and tricks that make me really excited for the Arrowhead 135 – and Fat Pursuit next year!

pre-riding before the start

The race for the 200 milers started at 5pm on Friday night. (7pm Michigan time!) I tried to take a nap after the racer’s meeting, but I failed pretty miserably at dozing off. I opted for a hot pot of coffee and had planned to fill my thermos and to take it with me, sipping warm coffee in the middle of the night sounded like such a delicious treat! It wasn’t until the first 5 miles of the race that I remembered my thermos was sitting back at the cabin next to the coffee pot. Doh! Regardless, I felt pretty good. I had a lot of food on me, I had plenty of fuel, and in a pocket next to my heart I held a few packages of instant coffee. I’d be fine!

The first several miles of the race were on a snowmobile trail. I was feeling eager and excited and I had an eye on the lead group of folks riding not too far ahead of me. I looked down at my Garmin and saw that the cold had zapped what would normally have been a 7 hour battery life….down to less than half of that. Whoops. Christopher Tassava had saved me earlier in the day by giving me a spare tips sheet he had made with approximate mileage between turns. My plan became to charge my Garmin once the battery died in my coat pocket and to save a borrowed Garmin as a last-resort option once snow covered the tire tracks of those ahead of me. Between two Garmins, a compass, the map, and my tips sheet, I felt confident I’d be okay. I saw flickering red lights ahead of me turn off to the right and I was excited to ride groomed single track through the woods! Despite being dark, it was still very beautiful! I’m really happy that I began Fat Pursuit with my 950 Lumina NiteRider light mounted to my helmet, because I was able to glance out in to the woods in search of critters! With negative temps, it didn’t seem like many creatures were outside… but there was evidence in the form of foot prints!

Pre-riding with Leah after the racer's meeting

The climbs didn’t seem like anything too steep and yet I was beginning to huff and puff up them. Beat, a new friend who inspired me pre-race with stories of completing the Iditarod on foot, rode up behind me and began talking about how crazy we were for being outside in such negative temperatures. Truthfully, at the start I was cold so I began by wearing my insulated puffy jacket, but at this point I was overheating! I pulled aside and let Beat continue on ahead of me, he said he was going to go find Jill Homer and that he’d ride with her. After a while, I rolled out of the single track and came upon a glowing beacon in the dark. There was a heated bathroom and it looked like a few cyclists were taking refuge inside of it. It looked like a good spot to refill on water: my camelbak’s hose was going through spurts of freezing despite being inside of my jacket and I wanted to refill the insulated bottle I had been drinking out of. As I hopped off of my bike and rolled to prop it up against the fence… I noticed a weird, knobby/dragging noise coming from the back of my bike. “Brraaaaaaaaabbbble!” I looked at my rear wheel and saw that it was completely flat! What perfect timing finding a well-lit bathroom to change my flat in! I was pretty bummed that I would have to use my spare tube so early in the night, but I was really glad that I had found a place to fix it that was so convenient!

There were three men inside of the bathroom. Two were debating how far they wanted to ride, and the third was waiting for Rebecca to come and meet him. My ears immediately perked up at the mention of Rebecca. The only Rebecca I knew of that was in the race was Rebecca Rusch! Part of me wanted to hang out in the bathroom to meet her, but I knew I needed to keep moving forward. The flat had set me back a little further than I wanted and I knew it was in my best interest to keep going. I said my goodbyes to the folks in the bathroom and stepped out in to the dark. Immediately I couldn’t remember if the bathroom had been on my right or on my left when I approached it. I looked at my tips sheet and considered turning the Garmin on, but I swear Greg’s bike had been on my right approaching the bathroom so I took off in that direction.

It wasn’t too long before I saw a light ahead of me. At first I thought it was someone heading back towards the comfort of the bathroom… and then I recognized the rider: it was Leah! She was walking with her bike and I stupidly asked her if I was going the wrong direction. I was. Leah’s rear tire had also gone flat and I was so excited to tell her that there was a warm spot to fix it just up the way!

Leah had made sure her valve stem was tightened suuuper tightly so that none of her air leaked out of her tubeless set up. It’s a great precaution to take to make sure your tire doesn’t slowly loose air, but it sucked with cold hands, wet sealant, and during the Fat Pursuit! Between Greg, myself, and Leah scrambling to find the correct tool in the bathroom, none of us had a pair of pliers to loosen her valve stem! How would we remove it to put the tube in? Leah was about ready to call it quits, but I was able to grab some paper towel from the bathroom and use it to get a good grip on the rubber bushing on the inside of her rim. Roaring applause from the inside of the bathroom, we were back in business!! We tossed a tube in, Greg helped fill it, and we began to pack our things quickly. Lucky for us, Rebecca Rusch made it to the bathroom before we were ready to take off! It was so great meeting her! She was cheery and had frost collected on her face like big, white, costume eyelashes. We joked around with the two of them for a minute before slipping back out in to the night.

Teamwork makes the dream work!

Lucky for me, Leah had a Garmin eTrex. I made a mental note to save up to buy myself one of these battery operated Garmins as soon as I was able to. (Worrying about the life of a USB rechargeable Garmin out in negative temperatures is one stress I am happy to leave behind before my next Fat Pursuit!) Leah and I made plans to finish the race together. Our best chance was to keep each other awake, to keep each other accountable, and to help one another to make good choices. With sub-arctic weather falling well below zero, it’s easy to forget to drink or to forget to eat. It’s easy to zone out and to keep pedaling without noticing if a body part is going numb from exposure to the cold. Neither of us wanted frost bite and both of us wanted to cross that finish line more than anything, and our best chance was to help each other out. I was really happy to have company and riding with Leah made the cold so much more tolerable! Plus, Leah began riding in the correct direction after we left the bathroom, and that was really, really important. ;)

We began making jokes and started making some great time. We saw a light headed towards us, Missy Schwarz, one of the other women in the 200 mile, was turning around and heading back to the start. Her lashes were covered in frost just as Rebecca’s were and she asked if we needed anything before parting ways. Leah and I were both down one spare tube, but Leah had one left and we were optimistic that we would be fine. (In retrospect, if any other racer ever asks me if I need anything during a winter ultra ever again, I will always ask if they have another spare tube!) Immediately after Missy’s light disappeared behind us, I had the exciting and sinking feeling that we were heading out on our own. Being trapped beneath the night sky, a rolling sea of snow illuminated by the moon, and seeing that my thermometer had stopped working because it was a colder temperature than it was rated to… I was excited because we were still making our way and despite two flats between us we were still pedaling forward and we were still in this adventure! It felt a little eerie, knowing that at this time the riders would be stretched out with vast distances between them and knowing that we had so many miles left to just the first aid station/water boil.
My first moose sighting!
En route to the grocery store to buy all of the food after getting back to the cabin.

There were a lot of moments during Fat Pursuit where I began laughing at how absurd a hill or something about the course was. It happened a lot at a lot of hills! I was having a blast and although it was incredibly cold, we were out on an adventure and I loved it! Well before the first aid station/water boil, there was an out and back where we needed to grab a mysterious piece of candy. Leah and I spent a lot of time speculating what type of candy we thought it might be. Truthfully, I was expecting something like a Payday bar - which I LOVE on long bike rides - that would test our abilities to not eat it while out on the course. We needed to bring the candy – although I’m sure the wrapper would have sufficed – to the end of the race (or to the water boil, I can’t remember which…) There was a long descent, which made us cheer as we rode down it. Foot prints on the opposite side of the road meant we’d be walking back up, so we enjoyed it while we could! Once we got to the bottom of the road, it looked like there was a packed down foot path leading to an overlook. We laughed some more, made fun of the glowsticks which had long stopped glowing, like a party we showed up to 5 hours too late, and bounced down the path to find out which elusive candy Jay Petervary loved the most. The view was spectacular, even in the dark. Jay’s candy was surprising, but it made us laugh for the rest of the weekend…

A bag of these candies hung dutifully at the end of the dead glow stick pathway.

We theorized that there probably weren’t many riders behind us and that Rebecca, Missy, and Greg had headed back too early to retrieve their candy, so we each took two pieces!

We walked/rode back up to the top and kept rolling. The course took us through some rollers, through some parks and across bridges, and then to Warm River. Once we started climbing in Warm River, we just kept climbing. There was a combination of walking and riding as we kept climbing, as we tried to stay warm and to keep the blood moving in both our feet and in our hands. At this point, we were excitedly talking about bivying up for the night, preferably once we got to the top of the climb. I started breathing very heavily and it seemed like no matter how long I walked or how easy I pedaled I wasn’t able to catch my breath. I hypothesized that I was feeling sluggish because of the elevation and the extreme cold. I got off my bike to walk and as I pushed it up the neverending hill, I heard the all too familiar noise that I heard back by the heaven-sent warm bathroom, “Braaaaabbbbbbble brabble brabble.” Ugh. That might explain the heavy breathing!

My front tire was flat. Oof. There was no heated space safe from the bitter cold this time around. I immediately kicked myself in the butt for not taking the opportunity to put a tube in the front when both mine and Leah’s rear tires went flat. I also kicked myself in the butt for not asking Missy for a spare tube. I was out of spares and Leah only had one left – what if she was going to need it!? A little over 12 hours after the start of the race, I couldn’t catch my breath, I was miles away from a road and even more away from the start of the race, and I was out of spare tubes.

I’m pretty sure Leah Gruhn saved my life out there. ;)

She selflessly offered me her second spare tube. I was hesitant because I knew that her front tire was also set up tubeless. The frigid cold air caused the sealant to freeze and for the seal to weaken, causing the tires to leak air. I’m pretty sure Leah played the role that I play often when I’m on a trip and things are heading south: tell lies to someone to help them calm down and to keep them moving forward. I’m not sure how much Leah actually believed that she really wasn’t going to lose the seal on her front tire, but she made me believe it! It’s very possible that her logic was spot on - theorizing that my HED rims lost the seal because they were metal and they got colder than hers, which were carbon - but it’s also very possible that she was trying to keep me from doing something stupid, like trying to walk back down the hill in the dark with a flat tire after being up all night. She wasn’t going to let me split up from her at that point and for that I feel really grateful!

I would have given anything to have saved some chinese food from Jackson Hole to eat out on the trail.

We fixed my flat tire with her second (and last) spare tube in stages: I pushed my bike up the hill and she got the spare tube and pumped it up with some air. I prepped my bike so that we could pop the tube in as quickly as possible as soon as Leah got up to me. Leah rode up to me with the spare tube around her neck. I really am quite proud of us! We had great technique and once we got the tube in and started pumping it up I felt so victorious!! That is, until the tire wouldn’t seat on the rim. We pumped the tube up so high that it felt rock solid and started bouncing it on the ground and kicking it with our boots. We were starting to get cold so I put the wheel on the bike and we commenced walking uphill to stay warm. Every once in a while I’d give the wheel a bounce and kick it a bunch of times, trying to get the rubber from the tire to slide over to get a good seal. It wasn’t budging, it was too cold. Despite anything I’ve ever told any customer about not riding their bike if the tire wouldn’t seat… I hopped on my bike and starting riding it. “Friggin’ A,” I muttered to myself, frustrated that I didn’t foresee it being too cold for a tubeless set up.

Shortly after fixing my flat, we decided to bivy for the remainder of the night. If we were going to tackle the incoming snow near West Yellowstone on this adventure, we would need as much energy as possible and that meant saving some now. Stomping down a spot to rest and unloading some gear in -40 degrees sounded more ideal than trying to re-pack snowy gear caught in a snowstorm! (most fun game of “would you rather” ever!?) We also theorized that it would be warmer when we woke up, and the thought of temperatures getting to 0 – or even above?! – was awesome! We crawled into our bags wearing all of our gear and I tried to focus on steadying my breathing. Leah can sleep anywhere - which I later found out at cabin #25 when she told me she took several trailside naps after we parted ways - but I was having problems falling asleep. I got all twisted like an uncomfortable cork screw in my sleeping bag and no matter how I tried to catch my breath I still felt like I couldn't. Occasionally, Leah would ask if I was alright and I would tell her that I was, but in my mind I was worried. I’m sure the stress of not being able to catch my breath just caused the inability to breathe even more! I forced myself to drink and to eat snacks and hoped that it would help like Leah said it would. Eventually, the sun came up, and Leah asked if I was ready to keep moving. Although I wanted to lay in that bag until my breath returned to normal, I wanted to get moving, too. I couldn’t wait to get to the aid station with the grilled cheese sandwiches!

We began packing our things, and as I reached to put my 45nrth Wolfgars back on, I noticed there was a ton of frost inside of them. They felt really, really stiff. I went to put my foot in them - planning on throwing them on and then darting around frantically until my feet warmed up - but they wouldn’t budge! A lot of swear words, attempting to hold them over an open flame on my Esbit stove, and a lot of shoving my foot in the boot that I had since brought in to my sleeping bag to help warm up, finally got my foot in one of the boots. I recreated that recipe for the second Wolfgar boot and we were ready to pack up and to get to that water boil!!

I lifted my bike to attach my sleeping bag to the handlebars, and I heard that sickening noise again. “Brabbbb.” Damnit! Not again! The cold had prevented my tire from seating, and all I could imagine was that the cold had also caused something to puncture my tube. As we fought the tire with a hand pump, we saw a snowmobile come our way.

It was a race volunteer on a snowmobile checking on people still out on the course. Chatting with him about the weather, I sadly decided to head back to the start. If Leah had any chance of finishing the Fat Pursuit she’d have to continue on without me. I tore the tips sheet from Christopher Tassava off of the cockpit of my bike and handed it to Leah. I wanted so badly to have more stuff to send her off with for good luck – even more to have another spare tube to send her with! We hugged good bye and we took off on our separate ways.

I am now a champ at melting snow

We were able to fill my front tire with air before splitting up, so I was able to ride for a bit downhill before having to stop and to put more air in my tire. The funny thing is that the night before it seemed like we were endlessly climbing. On the way back down, the terrain seemed to have shifted and there were a few spots where I had to climb again! All of my water had frozen while I was focusing on getting my boots back on, so I stopped to melt snow a few times to get something to drink. It was absolutely beautiful out. Everything we had ridden through the night before was stunning. When I got to Warm River, I stopped to take photos of the scenery. Although I would have a DNF in my first attempt at Fat Pursuit, I was still really glad that I had given it my all. Like I said, I learned a lot, and it’s only going to prepare me better for next year!

Our friend Ann drove to Warm River to pick me up. She did a lot of driving over the weekend, helping folks in cabin #25 where she could. It was really nice of her, and I am so thankful I didn’t have to ride all the way back to the start on my wonky wheel! Thanks, Ann!

Enjoying the views in Warm River

Leah made it to the water boil before she rode back to the campground. Unfortunately, the weather was getting pretty sketchy and with all of the hang ups we had early on she was running behind schedule. She spent the most amount of time out on the course out of any of the women racing the 200 mile, and she’s pretty much reached super hero status in my mind.

Dogs and beer making DNF-ing better! ;)

Christopher Tassava made it the furthest of any of the riders in cabin #25! He had an amazing attitude and won the well-deserved perseverance award from Fitzgerald’s bicycles. I’m not sure if that award existed before this year’s crazy weather, but I really hope that it continues onwards from here because it was a very meaningful gesture. Christopher is basically the poster child for a winter ultra; he’s got a great attitude, he’s willing to help, he perseveres through conspicuous weather, and then he drinks a beer with his breakfast! ;)

Waiting for Christopher to finish persevering...

Everyone who attempted to finish Fat Pursuit inspired me greatly; it was a huge honor to have my name on the roster next to theirs. I’m really looking forward to Arrowhead 135 after this event, and even more so to Fat Pursuit 2018.

My first snow mobile ride!! 

AND I'm looking forward to more snow mobile rides!!!
Thanks for taking me on a joy ride, Mike Riemer!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2016 in Review / heading to Fat Pursuit!!!

Hope everyone had as great of a holiday as these two had!

I am having all of the feelings right meow.

The 45nrth crew is the best!
In 2016, I spent over 5,000 miles exploring the most fun gravel, single-track, fire roads, groomed fat bike trails, secret trail, forest service roads, and city streets. Before making you read through my favorite moments of 2016, check out what's going on this weekend:

I'll be traveling solo (which is terrifying, actually) to Idaho for Fat Pursuit!!!! I'm really geeked because I get to share a cabin with some amazing cyclists that I've met through fat bikes! Riding in a beautiful place I've never ridden with some good buds I've made from doing winter ultras... YESSSS!!!!!!!!

Check out the vimeo about the Fat Pursuit here.

This year is the year of big ass rides. The goal is to prep for even bigger rides in 2018! (#ITIorBust)

To whip my butt into shape, I'll be racing 200 miles in the Fat Pursuit! I'm so stoked and nervous for this race!! Stoked because I've never explored in that area before, because I've never been so close to Yellowstone or the Tetons, because I've never raced at elevation, because I've never traveled so far away from home alone before, and so many thousands of other reasons! Nervous for all of the same. It's really exciting to be in over your head and to trek into the unknown. I have no idea what to expect and I know it's going to be hard... but I also know it's going to be awesome!!!

I have a spot tracker! Follow Lumpy to check out how I'm doing! All racers are required to use GPS tracking at Fat Pursuit, so it should make for an exciting internet dot-watching race!!!

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh this doesn't seem real. I leave Thursday morning! This adventure is going to be amazing!

April Morgan, myself, Chelsea Strate.
in Marquette <3

Reflecting back on all of 2016 and all of the kindness, support, and encouragement that I experienced, I'm in awe. So much awe. I'm humbled, I'm overwhelmed, and I feel like the most loved girl in the whole world! Starting out 2016 with the Arrowhead 135 was definitely a high point of the year my life. The whole year took me on a pretty wild ride!

It's been a real long time since I've written a blog post. I'm going to try to do justice to the last 10 months. The Birkie is the last race of the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series  and I can't believe I haven't updated this thing since before then. Woof.

After getting hilariously lost out on a frozen lake after the Birkie in March with my 45nrth teammates, Matt Acker and Brian Geshel, this is how the year has gone:

Official Katy Batdorff engagement photo

Official Bill Fartindale engagement photo

1) March 21st. Dan proposed to me on the first day of Spring! Dan has been my biggest fan since we met working at Grand Rapids Bicycle Company. He is my best friend, he makes me laugh, he makes me want to get shit done, he makes me feel fierce and strong, and he makes me want to learn as much as I can learn. Spending the rest of my life with him is not enough and there is not enough time in the world to adventure everywhere I want to adventure with him. Sappy sentiments over. I'm sorry to have put you through that.

GRBC has demos - try 'em out!

2) April 2nd. I raced the Lowell 50 spring edition on a Cannondale Slate demo from the shop. The same weekend that I found out my Grandma's partner had died. A rainy and cold race was definitely fitting for the overall vibe of the weekend. That race beat me up and the whole weekend beat me up. Maybe it was the recent engagement between Dan and I that tore me up about it. Maybe it was the fact that my Grandma had been married twice before she met the love of her life and it broke my heart that she had lost him. Either way, I was pretty bummed about it. I needed something unfamiliar and some mud to help me process the whole thang. Bikes are good like that. I hope that my Grandma has something in her life that helps her to put things into perspective and to put her mind at ease. She's an amazing lady.

Pizza crit for my birthday

3) April 16th. We skipped the Barry Roubaix to go bike-packing for Dan's birthday. I was super sad to have missed the BRX, because it is always a ton of fun, and am super looking forward to racing it this year!!!!! We had a rad time bike-packing through parts of the Manistee National Forest, though, and getting lost and having an adventure was most definitely the right choice!

Happy birthday, Dan!

4) May-ish. I got a promotion at Grand Rapids Bicycle Company! I no longer do social media, events, the website, or the email newsletter. Scratch that, I still do the newsletter. (email me to join if you're not already on the list!) I still help with events. However, NOW, I get to manage the Fulton location! So the events that I help with are incredibly biased in that they're held at my favorite shop! (Jen took over Facebook and Instagram, and she's the best at it!!!)

A little loopy from Active Commute Day

It was a lot of work in the beginning. I've never managed before (other than the student-run radio station at Grand Valley State University a THOUSAND years ago! - okay, not that long ago.) and it has definitely been a work in progress. I am so thankful for Tom Smith and Chris D's patience in giving me the keys to the shop and to the amazing, talented, bad-ass staff that I get to work with. Not everyone can say that they work with their husband and awesome friends and I am most definitely the luckiest bike shop employee in the whole freaking world!

#nerds at the Boyne Highlands

4) May 21st. Zoo-de-Mack with the family. Fun, social ride! My dad always rallies to get a group of family together for this ride and I absolutely love going! We get into shenanigans and it's always a hoot. My sister fielded wedding questions and created a buffer. Wedding questions are stressful. I'm glad she was there to defer any/all questions and to keep Dan and I focusing on goofing off. After finishing our ride, Dan and I drove to the Jordan River Valley Trail for some car-camping, fishing, and exploring. I found a teepee in the woods. Then I saw Dan in the river without a shirt on. It ruled!

Another place we need to go back to,

5) June 18th. Dan's nephew got married near Indianapolis. It was a beautiful wedding! We rode Brown County. Dan's family is amazing and riding Brown County was challenging and such a blast to ride! Technical stuff, especially technical climbs, is still one of the things that I struggle with. I definitely got some climbing Brown County bucks on this trip!

6) August 20th. I raced the X100 in Traverse City for the first time ever and I will most definitely be back!!! I got to stay with the Doerr family at their cabin near Timber Ridge Resort and am so, so, so, so, (a thousand so's) glad that I've become friends through racing with Megan Doerr!!! Megan is funny, smart, and super freaking fast (and getting faster!!!) and being able to rally with her was amazing! I love racing so much because of all of the strong and amazing women I get to meet in the sport, and Megan is most definitely one of my absolute favorites! She is also one who will undoubtedly kick my ass over and over again, whether we're riding for funsies or racing. Becoming better friends with her this year has definitely been one of the highlights.

Women's podium at the X100

I just got sappy again, I apologize.

Julie Whalen, myself, Sophie Kinkle

Petra and I raced in the Double Diva category! Hilarious!
7) August 28th. Skirts in the Dirt at Cannonsburg Ski Hill. Heads up: sap-city, USA! Super sappy. We're talking suuuuuper-duper sappy: In our third year of organizing Skirts in the Dirt, a women's only mountain bike race, we saw so many women improving on their mountain biking skills! We saw incredible support from Grand Rapids Bicycle Company, Cannonsburg Ski Hill, the mountain biking community, other sponsors, and from all of the folks that came to the race! Leading up to race day is always incredibly stressful. I feel like myself, Julie Whalen, Danielle Musto, and Sarah Jaromin are always running around like mad spending more than 24 hours a day (how is that possible?!) getting last-minute stuff figured out. Come race day we are always sleep-deprived, exhausted, and incredibly, incredibly in-love with the whole event. I am so proud of seeing all of the first-time racers cross the finish line with smiles on their faces and am really looking forward to Skirts in the Dirt 2017!!!!! (Sunday, August 20th, 2017 FYI - save the date!)

Skirts in the Dirt pre-ride and clinic

8) September 30th. We went on the Fargo Sub-48 at the end of September and got to spend more time bike-packing through Manistee National Forest! It's absolutely beautiful up there and being able to peruse around with some cycling friends was exactly what Dan and I need to relax from all of the stress of wedding planning! Melissa Werkman got the well-deserving nick-name "Tank". Dave and Petra Taggart, Dan and myself, Tank, and our friend Andy aka "Dozer" got incredibly lost. (After having gotten lost in the woods the night before with Dan and Dozer trying to light off fireworks in the rain.) We ate gas station pizza, we cheered each other on, we laughed hysterically at being so off of the map that we were in the Salsa logo, and we rolled into camp near nightfall, dinging our bells, while receiving a standing ovation from all of the other riders, who had just finished eating tacos. Hilarious! I am so excited to do this ride year after year!

Dozer and Dan. I wish Dan were shirtless...

9) October 8th. Dan and I got married. More sappiness. Most fun day of my life. Most of our favorite humans in the entire world were there. It meant a lot, especially from those who traveled from out of state to Grand Rapids to give us hugs. Knowing that people were gathered just to be sappy with us was pretty surreal. I'll never experience anything like that ever again. I want to blow up all of the photos from the wedding and display them everywhere in the house forever. Nobody told me getting married would make me this sappy!

Thank you so much to Katy Batdorff photography for capturing the best moments.

Side note: Dan made that bad ass arch!

So many awesome people in one place!

My favorite tree at Cannonsburg.

Our honeymoon turned into a mountain biking/exploring/hiking/adventure-a-thon and it was a complete surprise! I had thought we were going to spend a week and a half camping up north (which would have still been AWESOME). Instead, Dan whipped this trip up:

Poison Spider's shuttle to Burros Pass

So much stoke!


Arches National Park

Kokopelli trail

I want to go back!

10) Despite having a pretty relaxed year (in terms of bike racing) everything else was pretty busy. Sadly, I didn't have as many miles on my bike as I wanted and I was feeling a little anxious because of it. Riding up to Traverse City with Danielle Musto and Julie Whalen was exactly what the doctor  ordered! Although our electronics died and we had gotten a little lot lost, it was one of the best bike rides I have been on! We left Danielle's house at around 3am and hauled straight up to the Iceman expo in one day! Over 150 miles in one straight shoot! Definitely the longest ride I had been on ever! The fun didn't stop there: we got to help Tank at the IMBA booth at the expo and I won the women's fat bike category at the Iceman! My dad raced on his fat bike for the second year in a row. Like the Zoo-de-Mack, the Iceman is now becoming a family tradition!

So proud of my dad for finishing his 2nd Iceman! Beist!

midway from GR to TC!

So many other incredible things happened in 2016. Personally, it was a pretty good year. There are a lot of other things going on out there that aren't so heart-warming. Being surrounded by such incredible humans makes life pretty dang great. I'll try to keep things less sappy in 2017, I swear! ;)

Courtney Joesel and I enjoying Art Prize via bike!

Huge thanks to the following:

Dan. My parents. My friends and family. All of my coworkers. The folks that serve on the board of directors for the WMMBA. These rad companies: 45NRTH. Grand Rapids Bicycle Company. GR Dog Adventures. Tank and Petra at Moxie Wild. Velocity USA. NiteRider. I'm humbled to ride with some of the most fun people in the entire world and it's awesome to be friends with all of you!

Tank makes an emergency shelter

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

My first Arrowhead 135

Lucky number 83!!!
I started watching the Live Tracker for the Iditarod Trail Invitational at 2pm on Sunday and I am so excited for everyone finishing and participating. What a cool event! It entirely blows my mind that some folks are out there who have done other winter ultras this season. I cannot wait to hear their stories and to pick their brains once they've finishing the Iditarod! I'm full aware that the human body can do amazing things, but I want to know how their body fares after pushing it race after race and still getting out there and getting it done. It's awesome. It's inspiring. It makes me want to keep pushing and working towards being able to do what they do.

The Arrowhead 135 was over a month ago and I’m just now starting to feel back to normal. I did a race a few days after the Arrowhead (the Iron Line) and felt really good. Three weeks after the Arrowhead I did another race (Fatbike Frozen Forty) and I felt like I had just gotten off of a 100-mile ride. This past weekend I raced again (906 Polar Roll) and I felt nearly back to normal, still fatigued, but in way better spirits. The common theme to all three of these races has been “Perseverance.” I know it takes time to heal after doing a long race like the Arrowhead but I wouldn’t trade the experiences of the Iron Line, the Frozen Forty, or the 906 Polar Roll for anything in the world. I love the racing, the people I meet, the women I get to race with, and I feel like a kid in a candy store – stuffing my face with as much as I possibly can because it’s awesome and I love it and I can’t help myself! This is my third year participating in the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series and I couldn't miss out! The GLFBS races are just  TOO MUCH FUN!
The Iron Line in Iron River, Michigan.
Myself, April Morgan, Chelsea Strate.
These ladies killed it at the Fat Bike Frozen 40 - I, however, did not.
Chelsea (2nd), April (1st), Pam Nielsen (3rd)
906 Polar Roll threw really mushy conditions at us.
So happy to share the podium with April Morgan and Danielle Musto!
Photo by Ryan Stephens
Dan drove with me to the Arrowhead 135. As a surprise, he rented a jeep with AWD, so we didn’t roll the vehicle on the way home like we did after the Tuscobia 150 last year (very thoughtful, Dan!) I know I thank him all of the time but I cannot thank him enough! This guy got me a set of Paul Love levers to use with mechanical BB7’s because he thought they'd work best for me out in the cold (better than roses) picked out which color aluminum HED wheels he thought I’d like best (he nailed it), built them up, built up a spare wheelset for me to use just in case I needed them, and when I decided I wanted to run the 45NRTH Vanhelga tires he helped me get them set up tubeless and he trusted my judgement, despite hearing that a lot of other Arrowhead racers were running the Dillingers (I am so happy I had the Vanhelgas!) Dan had me laughing as he used the luggage rack at the hotel in International Falls as a bike stand to run through my bike. He’s a great mechanic and my bikes are always working well, and I think the final run through was to put his mind at ease more than my own; he worries about me when I go out on these grandiose adventures and wants to make sure I roll through the finish line in one piece. I’m really lucky to have his support and wouldn’t be able to race as much as I do without him! Knowing that everything is in tip top shape and not having to second-guess my own mechanical abilities at the start of a race gives me one less thing to worry about and I can spend my time obsessing about food that I want to eat, trying to decipher what type of animal left those footprints in the snow, and focusing on moving forward.

He's resourceful.
The drive up to Minnesota was an adventure in itself! My minivan is from 2001 and the jeep had a leather interior, heated seats, a heated steering wheel, a rear-view camera to help with backing up, compartments hidden all over the place, and headlights that were a bazillion times brighter than my Pontiac Montana’s! Dan drove and I got to put my feet up and keep myself entertained by making fleece neck warmers for some friends. Like I do with a lot of other things, I turned it into a competition soon after driving out of town: how many fleece neck warmers can I make before the bridge? Well, I guess I was trying too damn hard and the universe decided to help me set a new world record: just as we drove up to Mackinac City we saw a billboard, “Bridge closed due to falling ice.” Whaaaaat?! We made a lot of jokes about how I had willed the bridge to close so that I could make all the neck warmers. We were sad that we might miss the pool at the hotel I had booked in Duluth, Minnesota. Then we realized we had forgotten to pack swimsuits. Being the opportunist that I am, I made a bikini and some swim trunks for Dan out of leftover fleece. The bridge was still closed. We played around a putt putt golf course that was closed and tried breaking icicles off of the side of a building with snowballs. Still closed. We went to the Keyhole Bar to grab some food and a beer and lo and behold – once we ordered, we heard a ruckus outside – people were running through the streets yelling, “the bridge is open!!!” We quickly grabbed the bill, slammed our beers, and took the food to go. It was like mass exodus leaving Mackinac City. Luckily we were able to hit the bridge before the long line of vehicles and we were again on our way. Side note: once we made it to Duluth the fleece swimsuits WERE NOT appropriate for public use.

I won't quit my day job to be a swimwear designer.
We made it to Duluth around midnight and were surprised to see so many people walking around town. Wait, were they high schoolers in floor-length gowns? I don’t know why a bunch of 17 year olds walking around without jackets was so funny, but Dan and I kept chuckling about it. I asked a group of kids if it was prom or something and they started snickering at us. Touché. I had been all excited because I had booked a fancy room at the Radisson downtown Duluth and I was looking forward to a bed made of clouds, a giant bath tub, and to a view of Lake Superior. Apparently I hadn’t noticed that I booked a room in “the tower” and there were no corners in the room which was weird, we had a view of the side of a building, the bathroom shower head screamed when you turned it on, and aside from the high school dance there was also a hockey tournament in town – we were sharing our floor with a bunch of drunk hockey players who were running around the circular hallway and leaving their plethora of candy bar wrappers and cases of empty red bull outside their room doors. What?! We got a solid night’s sleep anyways and headed to International Falls, Minnesota in the morning.

Candy, cool shades, even cooler pizza robe.
Compliments of Jenny Scott before we left town.
The drive was really pretty and I was getting really excited the closer and closer we got to our destination! We made it to gear check-in in record time and I was a little embarrassed to run to the car three times to grab required gear while volunteer’s checked off my checklist. I didn’t pack my things smartly and had stuff thrown in bins and bags and had to rummage through everything in order to find the items on the list: headlights and a bazillion taillights, -20 degree sleeping bag (thanks for letting me borrow yours again, Dan Jansen!), insulated sleeping pad, bivy, 3000 calories (a jar of hazelnut butter, some gels, and a snack bar), firestarter, stove (I usually take an MSR pocket rocket camping, but took an Esbit stove and fuel tablets to save on weight and space), insulated water container (Camelbak’s 100oz Gambler winter pack and an insulated 24oz bottle), reflective material (I used a sticker-like crazy reflective material that I stuck all over the front and back of my jacket, all over my Camelbak, and all over my bags and bike!), and a whistle. I also had on way more batteries than necessary, extra base layers, headwear, gloves and socks, duct tape, a Joshua Tree winter-stick to smear all over my face, a glow-in-the-dark compass/thermometer, reflective triangles for the front and rear of my bike (seriously had so much reflective stuff I looked like a UFO), and a whole lot of ziplock bags.

First task completed: passing gear check
I had wanted to rent a Spot Tracker but had some weird issues with trying to rent one – I made a rookie mistake and didn’t rent one from Track Leaders, who would actually be at the race, but from a different company who had to mail the tracker to my house. I was excited to play around with it for a while before the Arrowhead and to go out on a few trial rides, but it actually never came. By time I realized I could rent one at the race it was too late and I didn’t get in my request in time. You’ll be happy to know that immediately after Arrowhead I managed to snag a Spot Tracker that I now own and will be able to use in the future. You live and you learn, right?!

Piles everywhere.
The whole drive I remained pretty chill, probably because I’ve been traveling to so many races recently that it felt normal. Once we got to gear check I started FREAKING OUT. It wasn’t nerves, it was sheer excitement! I was so stoked to be there! I wanted to take pictures of everything! (Total tourist.) I tried to play it cool but I wanted to say hello to everyone, thank the volunteers a million times, and gawk at the gear that everyone else brought. In one part of the room a 26” Trek was propped upright by a kickstand, with a knobby tire up front and a semi-slick in the rear and a department store headlight perched on its handlebars. A handwritten note on a cardboard sign read, “2007 + 2008 Finisher (Ken Krueger)”. Talking to Ken’s wife, Jackie, I learned that Ken cut 20 hours off of his finish time just by getting a fat bike. That’s awesome and respectable in so many ways! Ken and Jackie now own the Arrowhead and do a fantastic job putting on this race.

Ken's bike.
After gear check, there were a couple hours to kill so we checked in to the hotel and my stuff exploded all over the room. I could tell Dan was a little tired and wanted to lay down, but somehow I had accidentally managed to spread my gear over both of the double beds… and all over everything else. He sat in a chair and watched as I made tiny piles of things, combined piles, made more piles, and sealed things up in ziplock bags. A pair of merino wool liners and socks in one bag. Headwear in another. Firestarter, emergency blanket, a first aid kit, and waterproof matches in one, snacks in another, extra batteries and a portable USB charger in one, a long sleeve wool base layer in another, and a spare pair of cycling shorts in the last one. I packed things on my bike in order of how likely I’d use something, putting the most important items in an easy to reach spot: sleeping bag got crammed inside of the bivy and got packed in a compression sack (with the 3000 calories I needed to finish with) on my handlebar bag. Sleeping pad got crammed in the bottom of my seat bag, followed by wool leggings, a pair of my Sturmfist 4’s, my pot (with the camp stove, esbit tabs, waterproof matches, tinfoil, and fire starter packed inside of that), and another wool long sleeve base layer got piled on top of that. The plan was to not even open these two things during the race, but I had everything I needed in case I decided to bivy up easily accessible so that I wouldn’t get cold while setting up camp. In my frame pack I put hand warmers, snacks, the ziplock bags full of extra headwear and gloves/socks, a pocket knife, emergency blanket/first aid bundle, and my insulated water bottle. If I was super cold and in a pinch I could wrap up in the emergency blanket while setting up my bivy, or wrap up in it for extra warmth if I needed to repair something on my bike, or lend it to a friend, or whatever. In my insulated hydration pack I put the extra batteries and lights, long sleeve base layer, spare tube and flat kit, duct tape and more snacks. Snacks were loaded in my gas tank bag on my top tube and inside of my Cobrafist poagies. Snacks were basically hidden in every nook and cranny on the bike.

Fat bikers, skiers, and runners. All in one gymnasium.
We went out to dinner after the racer's meeting with our friends from Surly and laughed about a bunch of things unrelated to the race, had a couple beers, and made our way across the parking lot back to our hotel. There was a Rocky marathon on TV and I was pretty convinced that it was a good omen. I made a few more piles of things, obsessively checked the weather to make sure it wasn’t going to change, and ate a couple more snacks. 

The alarm went off at 5am and I bounced out of bed to make coffee. All I had to do was slap my riding clothes on, eat breakfast, throw the bike in the car, and head over to the start. The fact that I was about to hop on my bike and ride for so many hours kept dancing around in the back of my head and again instead of nervousness I just felt extreme giddiness. I wanted to see wildlife, I wanted to make new friends, and I wanted to ride my bike! I also wanted Dan to ride with me because I love adventuring with him, but I knew long-distance bike races aren't his thing and I kept telling him I'd see him in a little bit. ;)

I had read a few race reports from previous years and I had memorized how far in between checkpoints, but I was really looking forward to discovering the unknown by myself.

Tracey and Jay at the start - 2016 Arrowhead champs
Dan and Jill at the start - also feeling like 2016 Arrowhead champs ;)
I'm so lucky to be on team 45NRTH with this lady.
At the start of the race there was a freezing, drizzly rain. I felt confident because the temperature was around 20 degrees, but also worried because I didn’t want to overheat during the race. A lot of participants were hanging out outside, acclimating to the weather, adjusting their eyes to the dark, and excitedly chatting with other racers. All of the red blinky lights were dancing everywhere and I was trying to pick out the people I knew by the silhouettes of their packed bikes. I saw Jay and Tracey Petervary inside at the check-in table and wished them both luck, eventually found Kurt from 45NRTH, and saw Pam Nielsen and Leah Gruhn, both ladies I had come to know through other fat bike races in the Midwest. It wasn’t long before I heard a gunshot and someone yell, “Release the hounds!” and we started pedaling! Luckily I had positioned myself near the front, and because the trail was soft from the get go racers formed a pace line, saving energy for the 135-mile journey by riding in the trail of packed down snow instead of charging through the slop and tiring their legs. I knew a few of the ladies I was racing against were behind me and that Tracey was ahead of me, and I wanted to put as many people between me and them as possible without pushing too hard and burning all my matches – so I picked off a few people, one at a time, and pushed my way a little farther ahead in the pace line, even finding Tracey at one point and passing her. Eventually things started spreading out and I could only make out a handful of riders in each direction. A rider came speeding from behind me and passed me; it was Tracey. "Well, that was short lived," I thought in my head. ;)

The first checkpoint, Gateway, came up pretty quickly and I reached back to check how much water I still had in my hydration pack: it felt pretty heavy and I knew there was still unfrozen water protected in my frame pack, so I just rang my bell, waved, and cheered as I rode past. Just another 30-some miles to the next checkpoint. That’s just another 30-some mile ride.
18 miles in, totally got caught and passed by Tracey
Photo courtesy of Salsa Cycles/Mike 'Kid' Riemer
I think one of the tricks to a long-distance ride or race is breaking it up in to portions. The first checkpoint was 36 miles in – that’s the Barry Roubaix. I’ve done the Barry Roubaix fat bike 36-mile category plenty of times. I’ve been able to finish with enough energy to keep partying and hanging out afterwards until 2 or 3 in the morning! The next checkpoint, Melgeorge’s, was 35 miles away from the first one. I still had enough water and food easily accessible for another Barry Roubaix, or so I thought, so I just kept rolling through Gateway. The course at that point was tolerable and although mushy in spots, it wasn’t that bad. I didn’t realize the next 35 miles would be incredibly different from the first portion and it took a little longer than I anticipated: mostly because of the hills. I ran out of water barely before the first checkpoint, and was so happy to have hit the frozen lake signaling Melgeorge’s existence just as I heard the gurgling from my empty hydration pack! Holy wah, that was cutting it close!

The funny thing about the Arrowhead 135 is that a few months beforehand I had been in Marquette, Michigan with the rest of the 45NRTH crew and Jay and Tracey had said “it’s not that hilly” regarding the course – I had also talked to a few friends who lived in the Midwest (where I live) and they had said “it’s really hilly.” I decided to worry about each hill when I got to it. The hills on the Arrowhead trail were a little steeper than I was used to and that the snow basically made the hills a whole different animal. On a lot of the hills, you could see a deep tire rut to the right and a man-made stairway to the left: the snow was almost too soft to climb on and a lot of the folks were walking them. As typical with other fat bike races, the more people start to walk, the harder it gets to ride because of the foot prints. On a few of the climbs early on I started off trying to ride them. My legs burned and my rear wheel would frequently spin out. I gave in and decided to save some of my matches for later use (I knew it was hilliest in the mid-portion of the race) and to walk those hills. I got passed by a few riders while walking up these hills and felt like I was moving like a snail, but judging by all of the footprints on the climbs I figured I wasn't moving that much slower than the people ahead of me. By time I made it to Melgeorge’s I saw Tracey preparing leave and I was really surprised because I wasn’t expecting to see her once we left the first stretch of trail. I knew I had to make my transition time at that checkpoint as quick as I could because I wanted to stick close.
The second check point, Melgeorge's
Photo courtesy of Salsa Cycles/Mike 'Kid' Riemer
I had decided before the race start that at Melgeorge’s I would stop to change in to some dry clothes before heading out into the night. I wanted to change in to warmer gear, to have a fresh set of lights, to fill my stomach, and to head out with a fully-loaded Camelbak bladder and water bottle. I wanted to spend a little time warming up and taking care of myself, and I wanted to treat the next 40-miles of the race as a new ride. It became harder to treat it that way when I saw Tracey getting ready to head out. I wanted to just keep riding and to chase her: but I knew I needed a little bit of self-care before tackling the next leg of the race. So I ate two grilled cheeses, went to the bathroom twice, I changed from a short sleeve base-layer to a long-sleeve, put on fresh socks, grabbed some dry headwear, re-situated some snacks, laughed when I saw Tom and Scott wearing the fleece neck gaiters I made them, and went to put on my dry gloves, excited that I had been there for less than a half hour – only to realize I had packed two left-hand merino wool liners instead of a right and a left. Shoot!!! A really nice volunteer at Melgeorge’s saw my disappointment and asked politely if I wanted to wait for him to dry my wet pair. I almost got sucked in. After a quick moment to contemplate the situation, I decided to wear both left gloves and to ride out in to the night looking like a goofball – two left-hand gloves made more sense to me than waiting 20 minutes for a proper pair to dry and I didn’t want to give up those 20-minutes to chase after Tracey. Besides, my 45NRTH merino wool liners didn’t have much padding on the palms and there wasn’t much difference between wearing the right and left glove, I told myself. (After the adrenaline from the race wore off and I found myself in the hotel room at Fortune Bay Casino, my palms got whiney - they were complaining from being trapped in wet gloves for so long -I think I should have swapped for dry gloves a few more times throughout the race – whoops!) I rode off cheering and dinging my bell from Melgeorge’s, hoping to stay ahead of the women behind me and hoping to close the gap between Tracey and I.

Inside Melgeorge's
Photo by Tom Morgan
The gap between Tracey and I grew. I can only imagine that every hill I walked up she managed to ride up. She’s magic like that. At one point, Christopher Tassava passed me on a climb, and I was both really excited to see him and a little bummed to see him. Chris and I have been internet friends for a while, and I wanted so badly to hang with him and to keep chatting as we rode, but he was moving faster up the climbs than I was and he eventually left me in his dust. I came upon a rider walking on the side of the trail and asked him if he was okay – it was Steve Cannon, who I’ve since learned is an endurance athlete tackling many other endurance feats (running around Lake Michigan, as an example). Steve’s pedal had completely exploded. Just this past summer, someone had helped me with a blown up pedal mid-race (Thanks, Sarah Temby!) and I made it a point to stop and to help Steve. I had some duct tape and thought maybe we could somehow rig a platform on to his spindle and we could make it work. Although the final product looked decent, it lasted approximately 37 seconds. When Steve caught up to me on the trail I was bummed for him but I was also really excited for me - I was getting tired out there and had started talking to myself and shaking my head to stay awake – finding someone out there to talk to was sort of awesome! Although I could pedal on the straightaways better because my pedals were intact, he caught me on the climbs because his long legs could walk faster uphill than my stubby ones could. We stopped at a few hilltops to eat snacks and to celebrate making it up another hill, and it made the time between Melgeorge’s and the Surly Checkpoint go quickly. Although there were a few mirages (I’ve never hallucinated so many igloos and teepees in my life) by time we finally saw the Surly Checkpoint and I heard Dan howling like a wolf, I thought only a few hours had passed!

Someone posted this item they found on the side of the trail on facebook.
WHY would Steve leave this piece of work behind?!
Dan, “I’m glad you’re safe, it’s getting pretty late.”
Me, “I know… it’s got to be like, what, 1am?!”
Dan, “Jill, it’s quarter to 5…”

Surly CP3!! Thanks for all the fun and encouragement!
Photo by Christina Julian
At the Surly Checkpoint, I knew I had to change my headlight. At Melgeorge’s I had put a really bright NiteRider 750 lumen light on my helmet and according to my math once we made it to the last checkpoint I had zero hours left to ride with it – it was a surprise that it had actually lasted all the way to there, considering I was four hours off from how late in the night/morning I had thought it was! I had used a battery operated 200 lumen light up until Melgeorge’s  and had stored it away for the night wanting a brighter one to carry me through the eerie night. I laughed because I didn’t expect the 750 one to have lasted that long in the cold! My chilly, fatigued hands tried twisting the top of the 200 lumen light off and I couldn’t do it. It was too tight and I was too much of a baby. I used my teeth and the top of the light came off, but it wasn’t the right part and the light bulb and shiny metallic cone that reflects the light stayed in-tact, taunting me. Dang it! Dan’s usually so used to helping me that I knew it was torture for him. The Surly folk also knew they couldn’t help me, so they started cheering for me and jumping up and down. Steve Cannon had gone inside of the teepee and I knew I was all on my own: so I started yelling at the light and bashing it against the log pile for the bonfire, trying to knock something loose and to try to magically fix it. FINALLY, the piece I needed popped loose and we cheered our brains out! I put new batteries in triumphantly and kept cheering as the top clicked in place. Yes! I chugged the rest of the hot coffee that they had poured for me and headed out in to the darkness towards the finish.

Immediately after leaving the last checkpoint, I had to go to the bathroom. Dang it! Steve Cannon was close enough behind me to where I was worried it’d be awkward if he caught me with my pants down, so I hauled for a while until I couldn’t see lights behind me and stopped to go as quickly as I could. Luckily Steve didn’t catch me while I was peeing, but he caught me as I was clamoring back on to my bike. We had a laugh and started riding, about to climb the next hill. We hiked up it, knowing that it was the last of the climbs, and I wanted to stop so badly at the top of it and to take a picture – the view was beautiful! Tons of lights were sparkling down in the valley below and it was such a good feeling knowing that the rest of the course lay below us. Instead of whipping out my phone, I snickered at the top of Wakemup Hill and started careening down the side! Seriously, the downhills on the Arrowhead trail were a blast – especially with my velcro-esque 45NRTH Vanhelga tires gripping and tracking the way! I couldn’t help but smile, knowing that there were less than 20 miles to go to the finish. That distance is literally less than riding to my favorite mountain bike trail and back home – I was so excited! I’d be to the end in no time!

It was actually bittersweet once the last hill was over and I knew I was on the homestretch – after all the training, the riding, the worrying, the excitement, and all of the other emotions: my first Arrowhead 135 was nearly over. I had spent a lot of time wanting so badly to make it to this race, and despite how many fat bikers were ahead of me the biggest victory would be to finish it! I was really stoked to finish my first Arrowhead, to finish without mechanicals or without injuring myself, and I was especially stoked to finish behind Tracey Petervary! Dan had told me she was walking with her bike when he saw her at the Surly Checkpoint, and I don’t know if it was all in my head and that I had imagined it or if it were real – but I swear there were Dillinger tire tracks and Wolfgar prints growing fresher and fresher ahead of me! 

On the last bit of the Arrowhead trail, nearing the casino, you ride down these long corridors towards a sharp turn. On the Arrowhead spectator map it looks like this segment of trail is a straight shot towards the end – don’t be fooled! I’d sprint down a corridor towards the turn and my excitement would grow, only to see that it sharply turned and there was another straight corridor bordered by trees ahead of me. The sun steadily began to rise and despite the frustrating never-ending corridors, I couldn't help but smile and think, "I love the sunrise lap!" I raced down a few of these corridors for a while before seeing a cyclist ahead of me. Luckily my legs felt fresh, and I can only assume that it’s because I walked up so many hills in the middle of the night instead of burning all my matches and trying to crush up them. I’d pick off that cyclist and keep moving. Eventually, I saw a guy ahead of me that looked familiar - Christopher Tassava! It made me really happy to see Chris and I started dinging my bell like crazy mad. He started moving off of the packed trail towards the slop and I immediately felt bad for ruining his groove, “You’re good! I’ll pass you! On your right! You got this!” I was so excited for the two of us to be nearing the end! I couldn’t wait to high five him at the finish line! (Check out Chris's Arrowheadata here.)

Photo by Scott Patterson from 45NRTH
Shortly after passing Chris, I got hungry. I reached in to my Cobrafist Poagie and realized my snack supply in there was empty. I felt bad for passing Chris and for having to stop in his way so I started pedaling like mad to put the space between the two of us so I could stop and snag a snack without obstructing his way. By time I stopped and looked back to make sure there was enough space between us, I didn’t see him at all. “Woah.” I thought. “Where'd he go?” Those Dillinger/tiny Wolfgar prints were still appearing on the trail and I didn’t want to spend too much time worrying about what was behind me, so I grabbed the last of my snacks from the frame pack (marshmallows and yogurt covered raisins, obviously not my first choice but they’re there so I’ll eat them...), dumped them in my poagies and kept riding towards the end of the current corridor.

Eventually, after a few of these never-ending corridors, I saw some orange temporary fencing. Pedal, pedal, pedal! The orange fencing kept going. What? Ugh. Longest. Corridor. Ever. There was a turn in the orange fencing and I was so stoked – except it led to more orange fencing. Finally, it led up another hill (ugh) and I saw an arch and a few people hanging out underneath it. Then I realized, “that’s the end!” Tracey was posing beneath the sign for photos and Mike “Kid” Riemer was with her. There was a bonfire, a few other folks, I could see the Fortune Bay Casino, and it seemed so surreal to be at the finish line!! I almost didn’t believe that I was there! The funny thing is that somewhere in the middle of the night I had made it up in my head that the finish line was this big elaborate loop around the main floor of the casino, through an elevator, and up to the top floor. I immediately started laughing at the finish line because I realized I was full of crap and that I had made that scenario up! I don’t even know how I got that in my head!!! I came through the finish line at 25 hours and 53 minutes after I had left the start – only 3 minutes behind first place female, Tracey Petervary, and 16th overall.
Two left merino wool liners.
After high-fiving Tracey and Jay at the finish line and congratulating them both on their wins, cheering on a few other finishers, and making my way inside, I found a very surprised and stoked Dan, who wasn’t expecting me back in that soon. I got the finisher’s trophy (it's awesome!!!), snagged a photo in front of the banner, and Dan took me to our room for a nap – nearly 26 hours earlier we had discussed what time we’d thought I would finish and that we would immediately start driving towards a friend’s house in Minneapolis. I was REALLY happy to have a bed beneath me within an hour of finishing and so, so happy that there was a refrigerator there to hold all the snacks that I had left in Dan’s care. (I inquired about my cooler and didn’t learn until later that Dan had put wolf poop in it to take home to our friend Ted, which is both funny and disgusting – I will never use that cooler again.) Pulling really old sweaty and wet socks off of my feet is a feeling I wish upon no one, and the stinging shower afterwards was also a punishment that I didn’t expect. After getting out of the shower and feeling like I didn’t want to put clothes on for days, Dan told me that some friends were coming by our room to congratulate me – yay! I was really excited to see Scott and Tom and shoved snacks in my mouth as I got ready to welcome them at the door. There were a lot of hugs and high-fives once they found our room and we were all so excited to meet down at the finish line arches to see Kurt roll across the finish– he had bivied up with the crew he was riding with and would come through in a few hours. I crawled back beneath the covers, set my alarm, and had such a hard time sleeping because I was so excited to cheer for Kurt. Eventually I gave up on a nap and scoured the hotel for a balloon to congratulate him with at the finish line. I drank a few whisky & cokes while decorating his Fortune Bay balloon and waited for him. I was so stoked to have finished my first Arrowhead, super hooked with wanting to come back again, and a little sad that it was already over. I was also so excited to share this feeling with a friend who was also a rookie finisher!

I can't wait to come back again!
I will tell you: the Arrowhead trail did not disappoint! The woods were thick and dense, big clumps of snow hung to branches, the snow was beautiful, the people were amazing, and there were footprints spattered all along the trail (I think I even saw a spot where an owl caught a mouse beneath the snow – that’s so cool!) At night the woods got a little eerie, and although sometimes I got a little creeped out being by myself in the dark, I just rung my little handlebar bell and imagined all the scary animals running away, terrified of it. Ha! It’s all a mental game, right?! I still can’t believe it’s over. Thanks so much to Grand RapidsBicycle Company for encouraging me to chase my goals and to 45NRTH for sending me out in to the wilderness with warm and cozy boots, gloves, and poagies, and for making the best tires for the course. As always, a bazillion thanks to Dan for being my partner and mechanic and for believing I can do it, and to all my friends and family back home for being the best and rooting for me through the middle of the night. I don’t know how I got so lucky to deserve you all, but somehow I see you smile and it makes me want to keep pushing towards stuff like this. Gah! 

It feels good to be back home riding with friends.
and gettin' into trouble with Dan around town.

and having relaxing Sunday afternoon strolls. ;)
But for real, I can't wait to do it all again.