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.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Brewery Vivant Farmhand Fat Bike Race

Photo: Rob Meendering
Holy. Cow. HOLY. COW. I don’t even know where to start in my race report about the Brewery Vivant Farmhand Fat Bike Race. If this is any indication as to how the rest of the fat bike season is going to go… it’s going to be one  super fun, super awesome, really great season that’ll wind up ending way too soon! Chelsea Strate got to town Friday evening and stayed at my house until Tuesday morning. Now that she’s left for Traverse City (race #3 of the series is the 23rd in Traverse City!) I miss her. Boooo!

Thanks for this pic, Jenny Scott!
Anyways – the Farmhand race was race #2 in the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series, and quite frankly it’s one of my favorite races hands down. I could be biased since the Farmhand race is pretty much in my backyard, at one of the local trails I ride year round, put on by friends on the Farm Team, and because it’s sponsored by the Grand Rapids Bicycle Company, aka my favorite bike shop and my place of work. ;)

Albeit probably biased, I have other reasons for loving the Farmhand Fat Bike Race.  The first fat bike race I ever did was the Farmhand Fat Bike Race, the inaugural year where they held it at Versluis Orchards. I didn’t have a fat bike and I didn’t know how to ride fat bikes in snow, but a fellow coworker and I signed up to do the duo category together. We shared a demo bike, we were over dressed, we laughed hysterically the whole time, and we weren’t able to stay on that bike for the life of us. The second year I wasn’t able to race because I had had knee surgery. Yada yada. Here we are this year, in the 5th year of the Farmhand Fat Bike Race, and it’s incredible to see how this race has grown and how I’m lucky enough to be in a place that I had no idea I’d find myself in when I was pushing a demo fat bike through an apple orchard in my first winter working at the Ada Bike Shop – now GRBC. I was really looking forward to this particular race this year because I knew there’d be a ton of awesome people there, I knew there’d be a fat bike fly-over, and I knew my dad and sister would be racing it this year. (more on the two latter in a bit…)

Thanks for always getting my bike dialed, Dan!
Nostalgia aside, the course this year was one hell of an awesome and fun course! The last couple of years we were subjected to mushy snow that grabbed your tire and pulled you down and a bunch of climbing. I knew there was a fly-over, I knew there’d be groomed single-track, and I knew there would be a climb up the tubing hill. I was ready this year with my 45NRTH Vanhelga tires. I knew the course wasn’t going to be all mush, but I was prepared for it with a tire that would be fast and grippy. The day before the Farmhand race it rained. I was super expecting sloppy conditions for the race… but when I showed up at Cannonsburg Ski Area the morning of the race, I realized I should have gone with my studded Dillinger 4’s… whoops!

That bike is tiiiiiiiiight!
Side note: Dan had given mine and Chelsea's bikes look-overs the night before the race, and when he had asked if we wanted him to help swap our tires, we instead opted to take some goofy photos.

Zubaz: Embrace the awesome.
Looking around at the competition (aka my friends and teammates) I realized we were all on non-studded tires. At least we were all in the same boat! I think we had all anticipated sloppy conditions, because, well, the Farmhand Fat Bike Race had sort of become known to us as that. Boy, were we wrong! We were super wrong! Matt Acker had pre-rode a lap before the start of the race, and he warned us that the course was very slippery. I let some air out of my tires and helped a few other friends let air out of their tires too. Before I let air out, I had about 8psi in my tires… so by my calculations… I started the race with some psi in there. J

I foolishly didn’t get any warm up in before the race start, and on the first climb I cursed myself for not doing so. It wasn’t very huge, but it was a climb right off the start and I could see fat bikers bottle necking and turning to the right in to some single-track. I fell in behind some riders and wished that I had gone out harder to get ahead of more people. I could see Danielle Musto and Kati Krikke a handful of people ahead of me and wanted to get as close to them as possible - but it was impossible! The single track was so icy that everyone was crawling through it. Good job, Farmhand Fat Bike Race, you got us! Four years of mushy snow, of course it’s hard-packed and icy this year! ;) The single-track spit us out to a wider section with some of the only sloppy snow on the course and I passed a few riders safely before dodging back in for more twisty, icy, groomed single-track. Then it spit us out again to a wider segment where we rolled past the pit area and – ahhh! – we were pointed at the first fat bike fly-over I have ever ridden! (and may I add the only one I’ve ever ridden!) I didn’t get a chance to practice it, I heard it was steep, and I aimed my front tire at the fly-over, shifted into a lower gear for balance, and pedaled, pedaled, pedaled! There was a brief moment of victory where I paused and thought to myself, “How cool did that just look?!” while I was on the top of the platform before I veered back down. Every time I came upon that fly-over I had all of the feelings of being excited, nervous, stoked, worried, and relieved.

I LOVE THIS BIKE! // Photo: Rob Meendering

After the fly-over, there was a little more mushy snow before you had to attack the tubing hill. There were families, kids, and really cool looking teenagers riding a conveyor belt tow up the tubing hill. They were moving up the hill faster than some people were riding it. Uh oh. Here is one of the spots where I was actually really happy that I had my Vanhelga tires on my bike! Here is also one of the spots of the course where I was really happy that I had been training for the Arrowhead 135 with a fully loaded fat bike and at the same time really bummed that I had been training for the Arrowhead 135 with a fully loaded fat bike… I had done some longer rides earlier in the week and ended on a 6 hour ride Thursday with all of my gear. I had purposefully gone places where I knew I’d have to push my bike up steep hills in preparation of Arrowhead. My bike felt incredibly light (especially with my new HEDAluminum rims!!! – I’ll post on those later) and I was stoked at how fast it climbed! My legs, however, felt a little heavy, and I knew that if I had gone in to the race with fresh legs that I could be climbing faster. I couldn’t stop laughing while climbing that stupid tubing hill. Any time I’d start grunting or breathing hard, I’d look up and realize there were people on the tow watching within reach of where we were climbing. I’d start laughing uncontrollably, which made climbing harder, which made me laugh more. Ha!

I love this pic!!! // thanks Rob Meendering!
At the top of the climb, you pull a 180 and start careening down the other side of the tubing hill. Then immediately at the bottom there’s a 90 degree turn to the right and you head over the last segment of mushy snow on the whole 4-mile course and head in to the woods. Once in the woods, you find yourself on glare ice once again. Chelsea Strate and I rode a lot of the 3 hour race together, which was actually really awesome to ride with one of my 45NRTH teammates. She would pull away on the climbs and I’d catch her again on the single-track. I tried to pass her once and got wiped out by a patch of ice that was disguised as regular snow. Chelsea hollered through the woods, asking if I was alive, and I shrieked back that I was going to make it! Mid-way through the single track we hit the sand bowl – usually a sandy, open area on the back of the ski hill. This year it was all ice. Once through the sand bowl, there was a sharp left hand turn that dumped you down a slick, steep descent. 

Women's Solo Podium: Danielle Musto in first, Kati Krikke in second, Chelsea, myself, and Kim Thomas in fifth.
On my fifth lap through this part of the course I felt the rear end of my bike sliding sideways, so I released on the rear brakes and tried to grab just a tiny bit of the front. My hand didn’t get the full message from my brain and clamped down hard on the front brake. Vwoop! I went over the handlebars and slid down a little before regaining my ground and hopped back on the bike, laughing. On an earlier lap, I had seen my sister off her bike in that spot -  this was her first fat bike race - and I had tried giving her tips as to how to ride on the ice. Imagining her there to see my crash made me giggle as I tried to ride as fast as I could on the ice to try to catch up to Chelsea. Once I hit the last segment of single-track, I knew I had to play it safe so as to not kill myself (or wreck my bike) on a crash before Arrowhead… but it’s almost like my brain doesn’t get how to “play it safe” and I still tried to dab through the single track to make up for my lost time. Alas, I couldn’t catch Chelsea, but I am still incredibly elated to have made it across the finish line with 5 laps as 4th place female! I’m really, really proud of my 45NRTH (and GRBC) teammates for how we all did in this race! 

My Sister, my Dad, myself: Fatty Martindale(s)
I’m also really, really proud of so many other people who were at the race! My dad had raced Iceman back in November, and the Farmhand Fat Bike Race was his second race ever and his first race on ice/snow. It was my sister’s first fat bike race (she had only raced the Never Ever! category at Skirts in the Dirt prior) and her first time ever riding on conditions like we had. New GRBC teammates and ambassadors had raced Farmhand as their first fat bike race ever, including my old roller derby teammate Jess, who had only ridden her new SalsaBeargrease X7 once before race day! Seriously, everyone went in to the race with such excitement and such gusto that it was one of the most fun races I’ve ever done! Everyone from the hecklers to the racers, the solo and duo categories, to the volunteers had smiles on their faces. What a blast. Thank you Farm Team Racing for putting this race on! You can find full race results for the Brewery Vivant Farmhand Fat Bike Race here.
Sunday, Chelsea and I headed to Merrell and we found the new WMMBA groomer!! Best weekend EVER!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Chasing the Solstice, Running Away from a Cold

With December leading up to the Solstice Chase, the first race of the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series, I could feel myself getting a little sick. It’s been relatively “warm” in Michigan, and although I love the snow and the cold, it was sort of nice to not have to worry about my water freezing or whether or not the gravel roads would be covered in ice. Sure, it rained a little bit, but nevertheless my lungs felt warm and I felt like I was in a pretty good spot in my winter training. Everyone at work seemed to be getting sick and I was desperate to not catch what they had. I started taking two, sometimes three, packets of Emergen-C a day, I started sleeping more, I started eating more greens and drinking more water, and I kept training.

Danielle, our friend Steve Bartzen, and I carpooled out to St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin for the Solstice Chase. The three of us had talked about how we hadn’t gotten sick yet, the measures we were taking to make sure we weren’t getting sick, we talked about avoiding our friends who were sick, and how excited we were for Christmas, New Years, and for fat biking all winter long! Bartzen was thinking of adopting a dog, and truthfully a lot of the drive was finding adoptable dogs at the Humane Society or the Kent County Animal Shelter and showing them to Bartzen, ooing and awing and imagining how great it would be to give a pup a home for the holidays. (He has since adopted Pezzo, an adorable pittie mix and they are inseparable!)

Selfie game was tight this trip.
The cold weather once we stepped out of the van in Wisconsin felt like a slap on the face! It was about 7 degrees and it felt SO cold! With a shocked expression, I looked at Danielle and said, “If THIS is cold, how am I going to do Arrowhead?!” We both started laughing nervously and ran back to the van.
Photo by Chelsea Strate
There wasn’t a lot of snow for the Solstice Chase, but it still felt like a fat bike race because of the cold temperature, because of the atmosphere at Big Rock Creek Retreat (big, shaggy cows, bonfires, white lights, etc.) and because of nearly 300 fat bikers showing up for the race! It seems at the start of every winter I have forgotten how to dress myself for the first race. I’ve been doing a lot of training for long-distance stuff, and the issue I ran in to last year at this same exact race was overdressing. I wind up riding faster than I train, exerting more effort than I’m used to, and getting drenched in sweat. Did that happen this year at the Solstice Chase? Yep! I nearly had it this year, I was in a long sleeve base-layer, a long sleeve thermal jersey, and a wind-stopper vest with my 45nrth greazy cap when I looked around and saw that everyone else was wearing more… so I ditched the vest and thermal, put on my heavier jacket and added a buff… It wasn’t long after the first couple of hills that I regretted that decision! Everyone’s internal temperatures run different, and I should have known better! By time the race was over and I took my jacket off to change in to dry clothes, my wool base-layer was sopping wet with sweat and steaming! I should have gone with my gut decision! Despite over dressing, I was really, really happy with how I did at the Solstice Chase! I got to chase after Jenna Rinehart, April Morgan, Danielle Musto, and Kyia Anderson…all super-fast, super great ladies! There was a total of 23 women who did this race, and I am so excited about how many strong, awesome women were there! It made me so happy to see so many friends there! Huge difference from the first year at the Solstice Chase when there were only 3 women on the long course! I also caught a glimpse of Scott Patterson, from 45nrth, just as I was climbing the last hill of the race and tried so hard to catch him! Alas, I couldn’t catch that speedy guy. Maybe next time. ;)

You can find full results here.

Photo from Solstice Chase
Huge thanks to Tom Morgan for giving me Danielle’s insulated water bottle with CarboRocket in it for my second lap! Despite having an insulated hose, all of the water in my hydrapak froze. Chelsea Strate suggested I try shoving the hose in my jacket to thaw it out, so on a big climb I hopped off the bike and shoved it in there. It never unfroze. So when Tom handed a bottle in my direction I was surprised, but excited, and then also worried that Danielle would need her water! Tom assured me she didn’t want it…so I took it, thinking, “Thanks, teammate!” Apparently Danielle had told Tom she didn’t want it on her first lap, so he assumed it was fair game, but as she came through again for the second half of the last loop… she reached for it and he was so, so sorry! Whoops! (I’ll bring you an extra bottle next time, Danielle! Thanks again, Tom!!!) 

We hung out a little while after the Solstice Chase and took off to drive straight back home. Blech! There were some things we wanted to get to on Sunday and we theorized that waking up in our own beds would let us be more productive. So we loaded up and started driving… and then we saw a black Ford Transit behind us… It was Matt Acker and Jenny Scott! Danielle started driving slowly and I started unbuckling my pants. Steve started giggling uncontrollably in the back seat. We hit a passing lane and took the left-hand side… Matt and Jenny started to pass us on the right. BOOM! I got them! Moon-city USA!! It wasn’t long until I had gotten some texts from Jenny… “Nice fake butt!” “Emily looks good!” “Do you want to stop for pizza in 15 minutes?” I love traveling to races to meet up with friends who don’t live in the area, but I also love traveling to races because I get to do shenanigans with my friends from home! We stopped at a small-town pizza place and ordered some food with those two, and then headed out for the trek back home. 

Photo and costume compliments of Jenny Scott
Sunday afternoon, Danielle and I, and our friend - the head trail coordinator for the West Michigan Mountain Biking Alliance - Ben met with the Dirty Herd running group at Robinette’s Apple Orchard. We wanted to start cross training…but also wanted to meet the people who had been maintaining the trail at Robinette’s to see how we could help. Turns out we had shown up to the Dirty Herd’s annual Eggnog run, and some runners were drinking an entire quart of eggnog out on the trail. We were dressed to impress, so obviously the three of us couldn’t say no! Five miles and a bazillion calories later, we were told that we needed to sprint to the finish. You can imagine how that went. So in case anyone was wondering, the best way to make friends with runners is to run with them and to make big, big fools out of yourselves.  ;)

Please... no more eggnog!

Then there was Christmas. Then Jenny Scott had a birthday pub-crawl bike ride. Then it was New Year’s Eve and the Hair of the Dog Ride on New Year’s Day. Pair all of that with training and you have a recipe for one thing: congestion in your entire face. Despite doing my best to keep my immune system bumping I caught the cold that everyone else has had. Doh! Too much brapping. L

This tree was too big for my folding saw.
2 riders 1 bike // Hair of the Dog mid-ride-race // pic by Jenny Scott
Bike Parking
Scouting land for fat bike trail
Thanks to Jeffrey, we learned what "Horsemanning" is
"This counts as a bivvy, right?"
(Thanks for the meme, Scott Spoo)
So I sit here, on the couch with a space heater on me, surrounded by orange juice, tea, water, cranberry juice, and ginger ale, covered in blankets. I was supposed to do two long rides this week fully loaded as a last training push for the Arrowhead 135… buuuut I took extra naps and got ahead on doing some computer work. Doh!  If I can kick this thing by the weekend then I’ll do the long rides Monday and Tuesday and I should still be fine. Good luck to everyone racing the Tuscobia 150 this weekend! Feel better, everyone out there who has a cold! Fingers crossed I kick this crud!
Race #2 of the GLBFS, the Farmhand Fat Bike Race is next weekend!
Are you ready? My dad and sister are! ;)