Arrowhead 135… roll’n WAY in the back OF THE pack

3200 miles and 11 states later – this is the story…

The Race Link:
The Arrowhead 135

The Narrative:
When we provided our justification on the race entry form we stated ‘we will not challenge those at the Front of the Pack… as our competitive days are long gone… but we will have the most fun at the Back of the Pack’. Well, I am prophetic. As usual.

Going into the race we were convinced that we’d finish… as we have significant experience with the suffer factor and have spent countless hours roaming the great Southwest. Plus the hundreds of miles (ok, 1200+) that I’ve logged on the Colorado Trail gave me the confidence that I would endure. (Yeah, time to plug my SingleSpeeding on The Colorado Trail blog. cuz I’m proud of that massive dataset.)

But the weather threw everyone into a tailspin. Some fast dudes and dudettes made it deep into the race / trail before the weather became an issue… thus there were a fair number of finishers – like 35%. (The 2nd lowest in race history.) Others were hit at the midpoint of the race… creating a mind numbing decision of ‘walk & push or quit‘. Others, like us that roam at the back of the pack, were hit hard with snow / sleet / rain many miles short of the 1/2 way check point. And finishing, due to the long push and cuttoff times, became impossible. (AND… continuing on the trail after a missed cutoff IS NOT an option… race rules.) Yeah, it was a serious set of conditions for many of us. And when you roll with the adventure attitude vs the race attitude you must make decisions that are based in safety and not glory. That’s just the way it is.

A WARNING: this is a long blog post. I don’t expect anyone but The Founding Fathers to get through it. But Hell, I don’t want to go to work today. (I like staying at home while getting paid. It’s called a ‘benefit package’.)

the goal… at the back of the pack:
Quick Background… for those that may not yet know about the fundamental movement at the back of the pack. The goal is not to ‘race’ at the race but to make the most of life and create great memories with all those that hang… at the back of the pack. Therefore we entered the Arrowhead 135 with one goal – have a great time on the snowbikes. And we did.

the decision… to bivy up:

It started to snow and sleet early in the night. And for some reason the section of trail that was rideable in the late afternoon and evening turning into soft snow. Around 10pm we couldn’t ride much, we were wet and wasted and were walking all but the downhills.  So, around 12:00am I felt like rest & regroup was the best option. Maybe there would be a miracle turn around in the weather and trail conditions, maybe the trail would firm up… considering the sleet. If not, then I knew that we would miss the cutoff times due to our slow walking / pushing / hike-a-bike pace. 

the decision…  to stop:

there was no way we could walk & push to check pt 3 and make the cutoff time, so there was no option to continue… unless we wanted to push heavy snowbikes through the snow… for fun… until we were hauled off the trail.

just some thoughts to WASTE YOUR TIME

if grown men could cry… I’d tear up when:

  • the weather forecast calls for wintery mix.. and the race director says… ‘looks like rain’
  • at the edge of darkness it starts… snow, sleet, rain, snow, snow, sleet, rain
  • you roll into the race with the best nutritional strategy… ice cream bars. AND the ice cream bars MELT one hour into the race.
  • the hard edges of the trail are ‘churned’ up by a pack of snowmobiles, I mean snow machines – thus transforming a nice ride into a very strenuous ride. 
    • but that’s OK, trails must be shared by all cool dudes and dudettes… and every single snow machiner greeted us with a wave and nice hello.
  • we were told that the last 3 miles into check point 2 were a ‘nice’ road. then, when the chaffage was oozing, I realized the trail ain’t on the road and I’m still pushing… for 2 hours.
Just Because…
I’m brain damaged

Arrowhead 135 – body movin from Judd Rohwer on Vimeo.

Lessons learned:
  • if you are in it for the adventure, roll with gear and supplies for the ENTIRE adventure
    • we were convinced that we’d finish around 24 to 30 hours. Thus we were out of food after 30 hours, check point 2. if the cutoff times weren’t an issue, we’d be cruising the trail with very little food… aside from the mandatory 3000 ‘survival’ calories.
  • roll with 3 sets of gear. pick the best set based on the forecast right before the race
    • warm weather gear, wet weather gear, cold weather gear
  • use the bitch’n titanium racks to full potential. using a backpack for easy access ain’t justification for the unnecessary weight on the back. 
  • poggies are awesome. but sweaty hands (not gloves) and rubber grips create major skin issues – blisters and split digits. 
  • when bivy’d up – wet ain’t a way to survive. must figure out how to keep the sleeping bag dry, even when setting up the camp in the sleet.
Gear… what worked and what didn’t:
  • my complete gear list is embedded in this post… SnowBikePacking and the End of the World Party.
  • Vasque SnowBurban Winter Boots – perfect. the feet stayed dry. Cold Weather performance proven in NM fatbike / snowbike trips.
  • Woolrich wool pants – perfect, even in wet conditions
  • Mountain Hardware rain jacket – not so perfect, worked on the Colorado Trail… massive thunderstorms. But not on the Arrowhead Trail… snow, sleet, rain.
  • The North Face Inferno -20F sleeping bag. Terrible. It was a wet mass of crap. I had no option for another night on the trail. So, ditch’n this POS and looking for a new -20F bag.
  • manufactured wool hat – not so perfect.
  • Handmade wool hat – perfect
  • Go Lite backpack – slightly stoopid choice when ‘wintry mix’ is on the forecast. I need water proof backpack and more dry sacks.
  • roll with the Esbit – no need for white gas for a 60 hr (max) race. if you gotta melt snow (create water) you are outta the race and have time to wait on the slower melt rate of the Esbit. 
Were we prepared?
Yeah, we were prepared… for riding 24 to 30 hours in very cold conditions. We were not prepared, mentally, for pushing bikes through heavy snow. We have unmeasurable experience with the hike-a-bike lifestyle. So it’s not like we couldn’t handle a 70 mile walk through the snow. But our game plan, our strategy, did not provide for adequate time & food and mental energy to trudge through the snow for 24 to 36 hours. (Full Disclosure… our slow pace, at the back of the pack, put us ‘way out’ when bad conditions hit. And that’s our fault… for cruise’n at the back of the pack… but that’s how we roll.)

Yeah, it’s all about The Mental issues – it’s all about planning and expectations. Next year, we WILL BE better prepared, mentally, for any and all conditions… for a complete 60 hour effort.

3 Fundamental Tactical Errors:

  • stopping before MelGeorges. Gotta get there on Day 1 to ensure options for Day 2 and Day 3
  • relying on a 30 hr ‘race’ strategy and relying on resupply points
  • not having a wet weather strategy – this includes appropriate overnight gear to survive NOT 1, BUT 2 or 3 nights in wet / cold weather. 
Therefore… the Options For Success:
  • patience. wait it out. if you have 60 hours, plan for 60 hours. conditions turn, both ways, good and bad.
  • the right attitude. gotta have the right attitude. and that attitude is based on enduring ALL conditions for the 60 hours.
  • pace for cutoff times WITH adequate MARGIN. can’t bivy up at 12am if there is a possibility of 20 to 30 to 40 to 50 miles of hike-a-bike. keep going until a time surplus is established
  • roll with supplies for a 3 day adventure. yep, broken record… can’t rely on two small resupplies at check pt 1 & 2. we do this on the Colorado Trail. why on Earth did we roll with ’35’ miles of supplies and count on resupply points. that’s a rookie / juvenile approach to hardcore adventure riding. (Note: I didn’t say adventure racing… you get’n how we roll?)
Will we be back?
  • absolutely. I wish we could roll out today for attempt #2.
  • we don’t leave unfinished business. we leave business on the table for another day. but we don’t leave unfinished business.
  • Minnesotans are the best and we want to return to Minnesota. am I biased? probably. 
    • but I’m a native Minnesotan – born in Hennepin County / Wayzata / Lake Minnetonka in 1973. I’m a semi native Colorado dude – moved from Minnesota in 1977. now I’m stuck working for The Man in New Mexico.
Like I Said…
I’m brain damaged

just some data and pics… if you’re really bored

The Route:

RED is our path, BLUE is the complete track.

The Road Trip:

We traveled the south route to International Falls
And traveled the north route home – to miss the big storms ripping through Iowa and Kansas and…

The Pictures… back of the pack style:

Arrowhead 135 – Jan 2013 from Judd Rohwer on Vimeo.

a subset of the pics:

the night before… working on a strategy… for Polka Dancing

Arrowhead 135 – at start – January 28th, 7AM

The Morale Chairman crank’n out some miles

a beautiful (?) view in the AM – January 29th @ 7AM

The Lt Col eating… again… and again… and again

The Lt Col push’n The Pugs… down a hill

my favorite pic… I think

The Unexplainable:
The Lt Col’s food stash. Everytime I stopped and waited, which was every 20 min, The Lt Col would catch up then go for his stash of food. And he never ran out? And THEY say that I have a GARBAGE GUT

And Finally… an example of Ludacracy: 
A short trip into Duluth turns into a $500 and 2 state adventure. Just the norm… when roll’n at the back of the pack. 

How about a pickle? At the Thristy Pagan in Superior Wisconsin

Question(s) of the Trip… as uttered by The Lt Col:

Location: The Thristy Pagan Brewery.
Question(s): Hey, do you have a 2nd pub in Wisconsin? … What? We are in Wisconsin right now?

Final Thoughts:
  • Super Freaks are Super Freaks. And there are no super freaks at the Back of the Pack
  • the weather factor is a random variable for everyone
and the question all are asking… why did The Judd grow a beard?

and just some added info:

Yes, The Lt Col WAS a Lt Col. Now he is The Lt Col (ret)

The Glory Days of the Brothers Rohwer
Chill’n on Lake Minnetoka. 1970s.

what the…?
The Lt Col really rolls with strange gear

three final words:

solemn oath, dawg

4 thoughts on “Arrowhead 135… roll’n WAY in the back OF THE pack

  1. Yo, Sioux_me in GF. Thanks for the info. Great stuff. I'll definitely do some research and roll into the next snowbiking adventure with a better strategy. Glad you liked the blog post. I like to focus on the fun stuff, the crazy stuff… cuz that's how we roll.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s