Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Arrowhead Recap Part 2.

Leaving Gateway, there is about 12 miles to go until the next landmark, trail shelter #3, which I was sure would be abandoned and covered with snow. This can be a real low spot for some and it was for me. A call home lifted my spirits momentarily but right after hanging up, the reality of where I was at and what I was facing sunk in. Cold, dark and alone with many hours to go before seeing sunlight and other people. Little did I know what lay ahead. Coming up on the trail shelter, I could hear voices and could smell a stove. Before my eyes could focus on what I was seeing someone said, "you want a cup of hot chocolate?" Not much thought had to go into my shout of "YES!". I pulled my sled off the trail, unhooked and they handed me a cup and said I could go in the tee pee where it was nice and warm. Now feeling warmed up on the inside, I didn't need the warmth provided by the tee pee. This was just what I needed. And to top it off, the guy that handed me the hot chocolate was none other than Ed Bouffard from Ed's Wilderness Systems and SkiPulk.com. I use Ed's hardware for attaching my sled to my body. It was an honor to get to meet him and show him some of the things I've done with my sled to make it my own.

I probably spent 15-20 minutes standing out in the cold talking with Ed and his partner. I could tell they were getting cold standing around listening to me ramble so I thought it was probably time for me to hit the road. I waved goodbye and they wished me success as I headed off into the dark. My insides were warm from the hot chocolate and I got a warm fuzzy from getting to meet Ed and his crew. What a nice thing for those guys to do.

Now it's 25 or so below at this point, I'm really doing well cruising along the trail headed for the next landmark which would be trail shelter # 4 about 10 miles ahead. My mind was busy thinking about sled stuff since I left the hot chocolate Tee Pee and I was kind of puzzled and again slow to focus on what I saw up ahead in the distance. At first I could see a couple lights and some blinking red LED's - though they looked like they were off the trail a bit. As I got closer, I could see it was a couple of gals that were going to get some sleep as they had their sleeping bags and bivy sacs laid out in the snow. They were in various stages of undress when I came by and I tried not to stare. I did think for a minute I might be hallucinating although that usually doesn't happen until the second night without sleep. As I trotted by, not acknowledging the elephant in the room, one of them said, "I'll bet you never thought you'd see naked ladies out on the trail." "No, I didn't. Have a good sleep." I said and I was off into the darkness again wondering what the heck had just happened.

It was about 2:30 in the morning and -30 when I got to shelter #4. There was a good- sized fire going and a guy trying to thaw out his hydration pack. I sat down by the fire for a bit, not to get warm but to take a load off my feet. The fire did feel good. I tried to strike up a conversation with the frozen hydration pack guy but he shushed me and said people were trying to sleep in the shelter. I was too antsy to just sit there so I decided to press on to Melgeorges which would be about 5 hours away. I wished him well and headed off again into the darkness.

It gets fairly hilly the 15 miles or so leading to the Melgeorges Resort Checkpoint. Some of them are so steep that I pondered how much the bikers must struggle to push their bikes up. I was having a struggle and I have poles I use for assistance. No way the skiers were skiing up these hills but at least they'd have poles to help them.

It dipped down to -35 during the night and right at sunrise I was able to make it to Melgeorges. I felt pretty good checking in at just after 7 a.m. and was looking forward to a little rest before heading out for the second half. My clothes were damp so I got those off and placed them on the heater and threw a pizza in the oven. I didn't dare sleep before the pizza was done as I thought I might not wake up so I continued to get things dried out and reorganized for the second half. Once the pizza was done, all I could think about was sleeping and really wasn't that hungry. I put some clothes in the oven to dry and again didn't dare sleep for fear of burning them so I ate a couple pieces of pizza and re-hydrated myself very well. I was almost all ready to head back out when I realized I hadn't slept at all. I flipped open my cell phone to set an alarm to wake me up and realized that if I don't have cell coverage, I don't have a clock. If I don't have a clock, I don't have an alarm. I set the timer on the stove for 15 minutes and laid on the couch. I was out instantly and sprung to my feet at the buzz of the timer. Within a couple minutes I was out the door and headed back to the trail wishing that I could have had a few more minutes of sleep. I was behind schedule as it was, so that wasn't going to happen. Maybe if I got back on schedule I could nap a bit later on but until then, I'd just have to press on.

My next goal was to make it to the Myrtle Lake trail shelter by 4 o'clock p.m. If I was a little early, I would take a little nap. I made it there by 3:30 so I took out my sleeping bag and bivy sac and laid on top of it in the trail shelter and dozed off for about 15 minutes. When I woke up, I poured myself a cup of coffee that I had made and put in a thermos back at Melgeorges. Laying on my side with the bright sun shining, drinking coffee and eating a frosted strawberry pop tart I thought to myself, " What a life." I was truly enjoying myself for a few moments until it was back to the grind.

2 miles ahead there was a highway crossing. When I got there, my brother John and my friend Karl were there to greet me. Even though I was still riding high from my coffee and pop tart, this was a very welcomed meeting and it really lifted my spirits. 2 years ago they were at this very same spot when they loaded up my sled as I had called it quits. We chatted for a bit and they told me they would see me at the next checkpoint, Crescent Bar, which was over a marathon away. As much as that was a goal of mine to get there, I still had a hurdle I needed to get past and that was the point at which I had quit last year - The Elbow Lake shelter. That was about 10 miles ahead. There would be many hills between here and there that would not just let me pass through. They were there to test me. I felt strong at this point but tried really hard to contain myself and pace myself appropriately. The sun was just going down and I hoped to make Elbow Lake by 9 p.m. Once I left the highway and dropped down onto the trail, I felt the temperature drop dramatically. It was 15 below already so I knew that I was in for another cold night.

Making it to the Elbow Lake shelter at around 9 , I celebrated by having another cup of coffee and a pop tart. There were some people bivied up and I could hear snoring as I quietly sipped my coffee. I thought about sleeping but just couldn't do it. Making it past this hurdle I knew if everything fell apart at this point, at least I could say I was making progress every year. Truthfully, I felt stronger than I did 24 hours before. I finished my cup of coffee and was off to tackle the many, many hills that were before me.

I didn't see anybody for many hours and the endless hills were very taxing. I was definitely at a low point. It was maybe 1:30-2 a.m. and I was exhausted, sleep deprived, delirious and hallucinating though I was still moving forward and making the progress I wanted to. Carles, a young man from Spain and Arrowhead veteran, came up behind me moving much faster than I was. I was looking for a sympathetic ear and whined to him that I was having a hard time staying awake. He said in his broken English that singing was helping him to stay awake. I said "great idea" and pulled out my iPod. He cruised by me and I could hear him singing as he pulled away. Later on when I thanked him for the tip, I found out that he did not mean listening to music on an Ipod as he explained .. "no, no. A Capella." I laughed and said that I couldn't do that as I had more respect for the hibernating bear in the area than that.

Though the distraction of the iPod provided a bit a help, eventually I found myself back down on my knees, leaning my head on my poles with my eyes closed. I would allow myself a minute like this and I'd be back moving again. Crescent Bar was 5 miles away and couldn't come soon enough. I knew I would make it though I was growing impatient and starting to make some bad choices.

I picked up the pace and started sweating more. I stopped to take off the fleece pants that I wear at night when it gets really cold. That didn't help control the sweat much as I had on a barrier pant that doesn't release much moisture. The trick is, don't create much and you don't have to release much. I was creating plenty and it was starting to cause me some trouble which I could sense was starting to get out of control. I took the "barrier" pant off and put the fleece back on. Now I could feel my legs getting cold. I ended up stopping several times trying different configurations of dress until I realized the madness. I stopped once and for all to put everything back on like I had had it for the past 112 miles. I was only 2 miles from the checkpoint and didn't want to freeze this close to sanctuary. I slowed down to stop sweating and just held a steady pace to the checkpoint. Tragedy (hypothermia/frostbite) avoided.

When I got there, Rachel, John and Karl were there to greet me. What a sight. It felt like the finish line. Right at that point was the first time I allowed myself to think about the finish. The hills were behind me. The sun would be up soon and if I was lucky, I'd get to take a little nap before heading back out. The uplift I got from seeing familiar, friendly faces was immeasurable. I surely would have no problem getting through the last 21 miles with no hills.

I enjoyed my time at the Crescent checkpoint talking with Rachel, Karl and John, finding out about other friends and where they were out on the trail. It was disappointing to find out that those friends weren't on the trail at all and had withdrawn at either Gateway or Melgeorges. I wondered what had gone wrong as they seemed to have it all together the last time I saw them.

I ate 3/4 of a pizza, drank 2 0r 3 cups of coffee and a coke, napped for 10-15 minutes and headed back out on the trail. My crew had renewed my spirit, the sun was up and I knew I would not have to endure another night on the trail. All of that was certainly uplifting enough to get me to the finish line. But as usual, fixes like these are temporary and I figured I had at least 6 hours to go. I moved fast for the first 5 or six miles and then slowed down as the sleep monsters started coming after me again. I stopped a few times and laid down on the side of the trail right on the snow closing my eyes for a minute or so. I really don't know if I slept but it seemed to help.

Although the trail is very flat and straight the last 21 miles, it still is interesting and I enjoyed looking around and taking it in. Something you don't get to do in the dark especially on the second night when everything you see off in the woods is kind of creepy. This seemed to pass the time a lot faster than thinking about the finish line and about everything that was hurting. I continued to grind out those last few miles.

Many thoughts went through my head those last 4 or 5 miles before the finish that I'll share another time. Being this was my 3rd attempt at Arrowhead, I had to work very hard to not feel a sense of entitlement. Though everyone was telling me that they knew I'd get it done this year, I knew I didn't "deserve" a finish and I knew I was going to have to work for it just like everyone else. Now that I was within striking distance, I couldn't help but think about those that wouldn't make it and wondered why I was to be so fortunate. It was an emotional moment for me and in my fragile state, I was really starting to feel sad and a little depressed. Then I got a text message from my buddy Jon who I knew was following my progress online. He texted me a phrase his wife hollered at him as encouragement in the last mile of a half marathon which only got her a dirty look from Jon. The text said "Sprint it out" and was all I needed to get me out of my funk. I laughed out loud and chuckled for quite a while after getting his text. The timing couldn't have been better and I actually was able to pick the pace up a bit for the last 3-4 miles.

The last mile of winding trail leading to the finish was never ending. I turned many a corner hoping to see the Arrowhead banner and my crew waiting for me there, but it seemed like it was never going to come. Finally, it did and all of the pain and suffering was gone. I could hardly feel my feet those last 100 yards. Once I reached the finish line, all I could think about was sitting down. Although I had sat down a few times in the last 54 hours, I really couldn't enjoy it. Now I could and for the first time I told myself that I deserved it..... I had finished the Arrowhead 135.

Well, that's the nuts-n-bolts of it. I'll offer some of my observations, thoughts and feelings over next couple days.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Arrowhead Observations

My friend Rachel posted her first hand account of the Arrowhead 135 on her blog.


Star Tribune

Here is a good account of the Arrowhead event from the Minneapolis Star Tribune.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Arrowhead Recap Part 1

One week after completing Arrowhead I still haven't gathered all my thoughts. Getting my thoughts, much less my head, back together has proven to be the most difficult part of the recovery. Though I may have a physical ding here or there it isn't much different than any other post race recovery for me. An ache here and a pain there comes with the territory and I am pretty close to 50 years old so I guess some of that is to be expected.

The morning of the event I got up after a good night's sleep and did my normal morning routine. My friend Rachel, who was volunteering at one of the checkpoints, swung by to pick me up 30 minutes before the start. Dropping me off the night before I said to her, "see you at 7:30" and she said, "you mean 6:30". "Does it start at 7 or 8?" I said and she reassured me that it was 7. I'm glad I have good people in my life to help watch over me. It would have been most embarrassing walking up to the start and being the only one there.

It was around 15 below at the start which is about what was expected. I was dressed appropriately and ready to start putting some miles behind me. I was able to figure out a way to keep my Garmin Forerunner 305 charged for more than 9 hours so I was able to rely on that to pace me through those important first miles. Sweating being a big deal in an event like this and with all of the excitement, its hard not to work way too hard those first few miles. The Garmin kept me at a pace that would hopefully get me to the first checkpoint at right around 5 pm.

The terrain is not very hilly in these first 35-40 miles so a good combination of running and walking is used. Run easy until I could feel some sweat building and then walk until the clothes felt dry again. I don't know what the high temp was for the day but it couldn't have been much over zero. It was cloudy as well. Of course, as it got late in the day the clouds moved out and you could just feel it in the air that the night was going to be very cold and very dark with a new moon.

Getting to the Gateway General Store, which is used as the first checkpoint, I felt really good. I wasn't very tired, I had been eating and hydrating well and I actually wasn't even very hungry. Last year I remember I was starving when I got there. This year I went in and had 2 hot dogs and a coke, dried my outer layer a bit, chatted with some of the other competitors and I was back out the door. I ended up spending a fair amount of time outside in the parking lot changing the batteries for my lights on the sled. We are required to have red LED's front and back that must be on at all times. Last year, I started out with new batteries and they lasted until I quit which was about 40 hours. I don't even think at that point they were dim. This year, I started out with a new set of "Copper Top" batteries, which I always use, and they didn't even last 10 hours. Of course I brought spares but at this rate, I'd need 10 sets of spares to get me to the finish. And then I started wondering about my headlight that had batteries from the same new pack of "Copper Top" batteries I'd bought for the sled LED"S. How long would I have light? I got everything changed and blinking brightly and we were on our way before 6:30.

It was -10 when I left the checkpoint with a predicted low of -25. Before I left I took a quick glance around the inside of the store at some of the other competitors. Some of which hadn't moved since I got there. I knew they wouldn't be joining me out on the trail and their Arrowhead journey was over. For some it was their first try and for some it was their 2nd or 3rd. I felt a little bad for them as I dashed out the door like a teenager on date night. I really felt great even knowing that I still had nearly 100 miles to go.

After leaving Gateway and settling down into a steady pace, putting 10 or so miles behind me I had a chance to make a phone call. Cell coverage is kind of spotty and I knew Kristy would be headed to bed soon so I called and told her all was well and said good night. That was tough. It was getting colder, darker and hillier. And lonelier. It was going to take me until morning to reach the next checkpoint and with little or no cell coverage there as well, I knew it would be a long time until I'd hear a familiar, friendly voice offering me encouragement. Until then it would be just me, the Arrowhead Trail, and a couple of naked ladies.
To be continued.......................................................................

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Arrowhead Build Up

Here is a good story out of the Mankato Free Press that came out the day before we started. Gives a pretty accurate account of what goes on at Arrowhead.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Thanks For Pulling My Sled

It's taken a couple days but I'm starting to feel somewhat normal again and I'm happy to report that no major injuries have popped up so far. It's been nice to have some down time to reflect.

At the time I crossed the finish line Wednesday afternoon, as much as I wanted to "just get it over with", and besides being really tired, all I felt was humility. I knew before the 56 of us on foot took the starting line that less than half of us would finish. It turned out to be a 35% finish rate. I felt so fortunate to be one of the few people who have attempted Arrowhead on foot to cross the finish line.

Since the first Arrowhead 135, about 170 people have started and 59 times the finish line has been crossed on foot and that is among 42 different people. I know some of the people who have several attempts and no finishes. These are the people I look up to as some of the best ultra runners and toughest people on the planet. I can't help but wonder why I am so fortunate and then I am saddened when I reflect on the series of events that has brought me to this place and time. It's too bad that we have to suffer tragedy before we learn these simple life lessons. It doesn't have to be that way and I hope some of what I do can help people to understand that. I truly believe what I'm doing is for a higher purpose so with my faith along with the love and support I receive from my family and friends, I know that is what carried me through this most difficult event. When you are stripped of all you have you'll quickly figure out what you truly need.

Knowing there were many people back home tracking me via the SPOT Tracking Device, I at first felt like I was carrying them on my back. Almost feeling pressure. When things would get ugly I would think of all those tracking my steps and could feel their encouragement and it would pull me out of my low spot. I relied on that support many many times during the 54 hours it took me to travel the 135 miles. So, those of you that tracked me, prayed for me, read Kristy's updates on the blog and sent me an encouraging text or posting on FaceBook, thank you so much for the support. You were with me all the way.

Stories of the event to follow.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

135 miles in 54 hours 25 minutes

Unofficial time of finish at the Fortune Bay Casino - 1:26 p.m.
Kristy W.

Crescent Bar & Grill

At 5:14 a.m, Rick got to the Crescent Bar & Grill checkpoint. He once again took to the trail at 7:20 a.m and has around 25 miles left to go.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Pitch Black with a Definite Bright Spot

9:58 p.m. report. Pitch black - no moon, surrounded by woods. Bright spot - reading on Garmin says 99.53 miles surpassing the mileage mark where Rick ended his Arrowhead journey last year. He took a brief rest at the Elbow Lake shelter, ate a poptart, drank some coffee, rested the feet. Pray for continued strength during the night for Rick, all the other participants and race volunteers.
Now glory be to God, who by His mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of -- infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes. Ephesians 3: 20

"The sun is shining"

Those are the words from Rick. Getting close to mile # 83 and is still plugging along. He will be stopping at the Myrtle Lake shelter for a bit. He wasn't able to get much rest at Melgeorge's as he was drying clothes on the heater and in the oven. Hopefully, he pulled whatever he was drying out of the oven before he put the pizza in!

Halfway point

Rick arrived at Melgeorges Resort (the half way point) this morning around 7:09 a.m. He brought along a Pizza Corner pizza that he was hoping to get a chance to eat while there. I see now from the SPOT tracking that he is back at it again at approximately 10:30 a.m.