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Friday, February 3, 2012

Arrowhead 135 (2011) - Andy's Reflection Part 3

Just in case you hadn't yet had your fill of Arrowhead posts, we inexplicable just received the final part in a 3 part update on last year's event, from support crew member and long time Olympia part-timer Andy Lockery.  We can only assume this means he's now at work on this year's edition, so in all likelihood this isn't the last you're heard of Arrowhead for a while.

What the heck are we talking about?  Scroll further down and you'll be able to piece together some other posts from this year's event.

Read the conclusion to last year's race below (click on 'read more' to expose the additional text), and if you'd like to refresh your memory with parts 1 & 2 of last year's tale click here and here.

ARROWHEAD 135 2011.     


  What a difference a year makes !!!!   Our ICON had his titanium Fatbike all tricked out with the latest and greatest in lightweight accessories such that his bike and all the required survival gear weighed in at 47 lbs. Not only that, his camelbak had a lid on its bladder and its hose was carefully insulated against the severest of winter temperatures. The ICON was prepared ! 

   After a leisurely drive down from Winnipeg we arrived at race headquarters in plenty of time to register for the race. This year , in addition to our ICON , we had with us Dallas Sigurdur, an ultra distance runner and cyclist, who would be running his first Arrowhead, Ian Hall, a proven ultra distance cyclist who would also be entering the Arrowhead for the first time , Hal Loewen, who would be acting as Ian's faithful Manservant, but was also scoping out the race with a view to entering the 2012 Arrowhead 135, and last but certainly not least Al Dixon, [Mr Dixon to his friends]. Al , who is retiring from his lifetime career as a "Corrupter of Youth" [Teacher] in September of 2011, has somehow equated or confused the word "Retirement" with  " Now I can ride the Arrowhead 135 in 2012 "  Not content with just checking out the event Al had shown his public spirit by volounteering at the crossing of Hwy 53 some 16 miles or so into the race.

      So, this motley crew wandered into the race registration and equipment inspection room in the hopes of dodging the next days line-ups  and so allowing for a leisurely Sunday prior to the start of the race on the Monday .  Before  leaving Winnipeg our ICON had enlisted the help of a passing troupe of Orang Utangs to help him pack his -30C rated sleeping bag  into a stuff sack the size of an ostrich egg on steroids.  If it was his hope that the seasoned inspector of survival gear would accept our Icon's word that he had  both his outer sack and sleeping bag inside this miniscule stuff sack , he was sadly mistaken, and out it had to come .  So, aided by his faithful manservant ,  our ICON was required to re stuff his sleeping bag  into a container more suited to holding a negligee.   After making very little headway for about 15 minutes , something inside our ICON snapped and he started hopping up and down like the proverbial blue heron trying to stamp out a forest fire. Taken quite by surprise at this sudden change of tactics,  the sleeping bag seemed to visibly shrink and begrudgingly vanished into the stuff sack, where it remained, sulking, for the rest of the event.

         Some of you may recall that at last years arrowhead or ICON had brought with him a painstakingly modified Camelbak that he had insulated and tested down to -40C . His hope was to cut back on the time he took drinking from bottles ,and so improve his overall race timeby over an hour without having to ride at a faster pace. Sadly a Camelbak bladder requires a lid to seal it and our ICON had left this vital part in Winnipeg.  His Faithful Manservant had managed to locate a replacement hydration pack in an International Falls outfitter's store but a different bite valve mechanism had lead to it leaking , leaving our ICON with initially soggy underwear that gradually turned to ice, thus putting our ICON in a very downcast mood. It was perhaps the memories of this incident that inspired our ICON to invest $200 in a new invention that was being promoted by its inventor, in the hallway  outside the room where our ICON had just finished subduing his wayward sleeping bag.  The new invention was a modified camelbak where the hose and bite valve were heated by a built in battery pack.  So, with a huge smile on his face our ICON and his faithful manservant headed for their hotel room  and the prospect of a delightful supper in good company, washed down with a few dark ales.

          After supper our ICON decided that it would be wise to test out his newfangled camelbak and after installing the 8 batteries read over the instructions which were very straight forward the button and a red light will flash, release this button after 2 seconds and the flashing red light will change tempo and the unit is on and heating.  To turn the unit off press and hold the button down until the red light stops flashing.   Assuming that all was well, and after a long day of travelling, our ICON's faithful manservant was relaxing on his bed reading a novel before settling down for the night.  Ever attentive to his Lord and Master's needs his Faithful Manservant detected a slight change of tone in the murmurings and mutterings  coming from our ICON. Perhaps all was not well, and sure enough the mutterings overpowered the murmurings as the advanced technology of the electronic world refused to bow to our ICON's wishes.  More simply put...  "The blasted camelbak wouldn't turn on"    His faithful manservant quietly asked if he could examine the unit and read the instructions. They appeared to be very simple and had been clearly designed to function in extreme cold when the user would be wearing large mitts. All one had to do was depress the on button and release it when the red light flashed . Releasing it would change the tempo of the red flashing light and the user would know it was working. Depressing the button after use would turnoff the unit and the light would stop flashing. In other words, a very efficient and well designed unit that could be used in light or dark conditions and be readily seen to be in heating mode or turned off.  The problem that our ICON had encountered was resolved by pressing the on button and then releasing it before the red light stopped flashing . If you waited until it stopped flashing you had turned the unit off. All it took was a couple seconds and our ICON was back in happy mode and looking forward to what the next day would bring .  His faithful manservant was also wondering what the next day would bring.


Race day dawned clear and COLD ! [Temperatures hovered between -37C and -40C for the entire event]   Really cold temperatures require competitors to burn a lot more energy staying warm with the result that less energy can be used propelling one's self along the course. So no one was expecting record fast times.  [Nobody told Jeff Oatley ,or his wife Heather about this so Heather broke the women's record by 6 hours and Jeff just missed the men's record by a minute or two.

    Our Icon, who works year round as a bike courier in Winnipeg rides anywhere from 120 to 140 kms a day in all weathers , was delighted by the weather as his race results over the centuries clearly show that he excels in tougher conditions.

      This is his 3rd Arrowhead and after last years problems with his equipment  his preparation has been immaculate. The race started on time as usual and at the first road crossing Lindsay was riding in a group of top riders just a couple of minutes behind the leaders. At the first checkpoint he rode in with Heather Best and another Alaskan, Jacques Boutet, again only 12 minutes or so, off the leaders pace.

    By the halfway point at Mel George's, Heather had moved ahead and Lindsay came in with Jacques and Dave Gray [Dave is the designer of the Surly Pugsley that revolutionised winter bike racing, and also the most recent addition the even fatter tired Surly Moonlander]

      Jacques noticed that Heather was getting ready to leave so refueled quickly in order to ride with her. he asked Lindsay and Dave if they were ready, but neither were close  to being ready. Lindsay was first to leave after Jacques and Heather, and Dave followed Lindsay out about 30 minutes later. That finishing order was maintained to the end of the race with Heather finishing 8th , Jacques 9th , Lindsay 10th and Dave 11th. Sounds like a picture perfect race for our ICON. A finish in the top ten in North America's premier winter ultra Marathon competing against entrants from 12 different nations, most of whom were of an age that they could be his children.  However, one tiny glitch in our ICON'S planning very nearly cost him the race and warrants further comment.

      Living on the Canadian Prairie , a region so flat that the Flat Earth Society holds its annual conventions there in the hopes that it might attract a new member, does not prepare  the competitor for one of the obvious side effects of travelling down hill at speeds not reachable with a Fat Bike on the Prairie. When Lindsay left Mel George's he was on schedule for a  finishing time somewhere between 21 and 22 hours, but was over an hour slower than he should have been.  All was revealed when our intrepid cycling Icon approached the finish line, weaving from side to side  like the proverbial Scotsman pedaling home on January 4th from a New Year's Eve party.

    It turned out that after darkness fell our ICON kept his eyes open on the descents to avoid hitting trees and was not wearing any eye protection. The results of this  were first noticeable just before the final checkpoint at the Crescent Bar and Grill when he felt like his glasses had fogged up , even though he wasn't wearing any. By the time he left the checkpoint and got to within 15 miles of the finish he could no longer see adequately to stay on the best line and was soon not able to separate trail from trees.  The last 10 miles were a mix of walking and riding where the riding part was only possible when the light was sufficient that he could tell where the trail was relative to the bush. By the time he finished he was clearly blind and was guided to his room by Dennis Grelk's mum, one of the incredible volunteers that make this race so special .

       Fortunately freezing his eyeballs did not have long term consequences for our Icon, and he once again is able to distinguish which is his Faithful Manservant and which is a tree[ An important point if you try asking a tree to help you replace a dislocated shoulder or drive you to the nearest hospital]. What also  matters is the realisation that even the most experienced winter  competitors are not immune from the side effects of a climate best described  as one where humans are able to survive only because of their technological innovations.


Ian, the only other rider in the race from Manitoba, was riding his very first Arrowhead 135 . He does however, have an illustrious palmares of ultra distance cycling wins, primarily from summer events. How he would survive his first winter event was uncertain,but knowing Ian made me sure that he would give a very good account  of himself. This was confirmed when he rode into the first checkpoint after 36 miles only a few minutes behind Lindsay.  You have to realise that Ian is a man of few words so determining from him as to how he is feeling can be a challenge. Don't however, assume that his frugality with speech , or the written word for that matter, is a measure of lack of ability . Quite the contrary, when Ian speaks you listen , because you will learn more in a short time than you would believe possible. The same is true when he expresses an opinion in writing.

    So to summarise Ian's race in his own words , at the first checkpoint he was "FINE", at the second check point he was "OK". at the third and last checkpoint he was "GOOD"    At the finish where he powered in in 14th place overall he was " GLAD IT IS OVER "

      In a lengthy conversation with Ian after the race, that lasted all of 7 seconds, I learned that " he had a rough patch the first 3 hours after he left the halfway checkpoint but otherwise he felt strong."


Dallas is a highly respected Ultra marathon runner who has competed all over North America and is very well known amongst the ultra marathon racers . He also has a cycling background and finished second in the TRANS- IOWA race behind Lindsay Gauld, the Canadian  cycling ICON. In the ARROWHEAD 135 Dallas was the first Manitoban to attempt the run and we were all curious to see how he would do. It is very obvious just from watching the event that the runners are the true hard men of the event. Whilst a top cyclist will complete the race in less than 20 hours and sitting down for much of the race, a runner will rarely finish in less than 40 hours and will more likely take nearer to 50 hours all of it on their feet. At the 2010 race Lindsay and I gave another Canadian ultra runner, Marcus, of German origins a ride from Winnipeg to the race after he had flown in from his home in Montreal Quebec. Marcus was a past winner of the YUKON QUEST ultra marathon and in 2010 was attempting his first Arrowhead 135. He finished in the top 10 and I photographed his feet immediately after he removed his shoes . The skin on the whole of the soles of his feet had gone, all you could see was raw flesh. Needless to say we were intrigued by Dallas's entry into the race and were anxious to see just how he would do and whether he would still have soles on his feet at the finish.

      Dallas by nature is , in marked contrast to Ian , a afficionado of the spoken word, a conversationalist of the highest order, so to describe his race in his own words is not possible as my computer doesn't have 128 gigabytes of data storage capacity. Again don't assume that because Dallas  is a talented conversationalist that much of what he says is irrelevant . Quite the contrary, Dallas is fun to be around and his conversations are both fascinating and entertaining and I would be intrigued to know the corollary to the old saying that when a tree falls in the forest and no one is close enough to hear it . Does it make a noise ?  If Dallas is holding a conversation on the Arrowhead trail and no one is close enough to hear. Does Dallas make a noise ?

      Energy expenditure for the runners during the Arrowhead is a major issue and Dallas impressed the heck out of the rest of us on the journey from Winnipeg to International falls by telling us that he had, in addition to his compulsory equipment ,  38,500 calories of food on his sled for the race.  I know that calories are a nutritional measure and do not relate to either volume or weight, but I suspect it probably equates to the size of a dead goat. I have also read in Nutritional journals that the human body can only absorb about 300 calories an hour. So, in  a race of a maximum duration of 60 hours a competitor can only absorb about 18,000 calories. 

     Any way Dallas raced well and seemed to be in great spirits after 36 miles at the first checkpoint. We later learned that he had had to withdraw from the race at Sheep ranch Rd some distance before the half way check point.  Apparently he had a muscle tear in his groin from pulling his sled and was unable to continue.

    His comments after the event really brought home to those of us who have backgrounds in XC skiing and cycling , just how much more difficult it is to run this event and everyone of us has a greatly increased respect for the runners and for those few very special individuals who have successfully completed the run , the ski , and the bike disciplines of this race.

      Dallas's final comment after the race was that he would be crazy to try and run the Arrowhead again. He would instead, buy a Pugsley and enter the cycling category in 2012.

   So ends this brief synopsis of the Icon and friends for the Arrowhead 135 2011.

Humbly submitted by the ICON"s Faithful Manservant and General Dogsbody