Photo Courtesy of Dave Pramann
Pre race meeting and race director Dave Pramann is giving his trail report “Like the Alaskans say the trail is what it is…” i really thought that was the best advice anyone can get when they do a Winter Ultra. Don’t complain about it, adapt to it. everyone you’re racing is on the same damn thing. If the trail is good ride fast, if the trail is poor ride slow. if there is no trail, push.
morning of the race i was up by 5 doing some last minute packing and sitting on the toilet, trying to lighten my load in either case. my stomach was a mess i couldn’t eat anything until Jeff Oatley came to the door, probably to making some smart ass comment about my dirtbagedness (i don’t think that’s a word). he suggested Mcdonalds for an egg mcmuffin, problem solved.
we got to the start ready to roll. Dave shot off the gun and I imagined a 100 person bike gang taking off to cause a ruckus throughout international falls, it made me laugh out loud, from then on i relaxed and it was mostly just fun.
Jason Buffington took off at a good pace, i spent the first 5-6 miles just hanging back. i got a chance to talk to Dan Ditmer, Ben Doom, and Charly Tri. it’s nice to be on the trail with a lot of good people. Oatley had dropped some air from his tires and caught back on “you wanna go get Jason?” he said, and took off, my speedometer read 20 mph in our quick sprint ,before i knew it we were all just shootin the shit. (Jeff Oatley taught me two lessons that day; a 300 meter lead 12 miles in means nothing… a 300 meter lead 112 miles in means a shit load more.) There was a small pack maybe 5 or 6 strong that held together. I remember Charly Tri asking everyone “What’s your Favorite breakfast? GO.” i couldn’t talk, i knew there’s no way to hold our pace and a conversation at the same time. Im not a multi-tasker.
Thats the last i remember of a big crew, before i knew it we were cruising through the first check point. 35 mi. in there’s a spur trail for a 1/4 mile to Gateway store. I rounded the cones and cruised back out. it was just the three of us (Todd, Jeff, and myself). we had at least a 1/2 mile lead.
It felt good to shake out the field. the trail often had a good 10″ ribbon of hardpack on the far edges and as long as i could hit that, i would hit it hard. We all pushed the pace between Gateway and Mel Georges. Our split for that section was 30 minutes faster than last year. I remember last year a lot of soft pedaling, this year there was none. Todd tried to take off a couple times, and i was fortunate to have Jeff there and would reel him in. In this section never worked together, we just individually pushed the pace. for a solid 20 miles the trail was freshly groomed, we mostly rode three abreast and didnt talk. Again, im not a multi-tasker. hours and hours went by, rolling through endless hills, kinda hoping not to break or bonk.
Elephant lake and Melgeorges came up fast. 2pm and we’re already halfway. i knew we movin. Rarely did our speedometers read south of 10mph.
i wanted in and out, 3-5 minutes at most. The checkpoint hadn’t opened and we waited a bit for some grilled cheese. in the mean time i found my drop bag and picked out some choice food (dr. pepper, frosted sugar cookies, honey stinger waffles, and 2 bottles of ensure). In a race like these there’s always someone you don’t expect. I was use to taking that roll, but this time it was Todd.
i think some people will get overwhelmed when your 7 hours into a race and only half way. it is a very easy time to get complacent and stay too long. i quietly walked past jeff and said “Im out, lets roll.”
We road out the driveway and back onto the trail, i wanted to catch todd by surprise, push the pace and honestly not see him again. We took turns pulling for a couple miles through the hills, but we couldn’t gap him. he was right back on our wheel. That was one of the biggest turning points for me. i knew todd was not going to fall off our pace. That kinda felt like one of the only tricks i had up my sleeve and it was a fail.
We got word in the checkpoint that a Winter Storm Warning had been issued for the area 8-12 inches of snow. i think that all pushed us harder. We went hard for a long time trying to beat out the snow…My theory (crank as hard as possible while the trail is good, maybe that gets us within a few hours of the finish before snow falls, then even at an 1″ an hour we can hold a strong line through 3 inches of snow…race over.)
So that’s what we did, the miles seemed to fly by. Our split for 100 miles was 10hrs 29 min…madness.
At that point i knew it would just take small mistakes to lose the race or a sprint at the finish. but small mistakes come easily. in the endless series of hills i fucked up shifting and had to push. i didn’t think it was a big deal. i got to the top and pulled some more food from my frame bag to reload a bit. it wasn’t the pushing that lost it for me. it was my indifference to the gap they had just created. i thought i could bridge it. just like 10 hours ago when we sprinted up to Jason. i chased them for a few miles into the last checkpoint.
i knew Todd and Jeff arrived a couple minutes ahead of me and Jeff was nearly ready to go. Todd was still filling his camelbak with water. I had to pee but i didnt, i need to rest but i didnt. Jeff took off, “I’m out” i said, “if he goes, no one will catch him!” i yelled back.
i hadnt stopped more than 45 seconds and my legs were mush. i needed that few minutes, but i didnt take it. Todd got going soon and blew past me like i was standing still, “go get him” i said. The race turned into a chase for me. We went up and over wake em up mountain (still dont know what the big deal is there). i flashed my light one more time on those two guys to let em know “fuck you, im still here!” (in the nicest of ways). The pace was insane after that. We cut 40 minutes off our split from last year. thats over just 23 miles! i watched my average speed tick up. after 115 miles of riding, We went faster. it was an awesome feeling, and something i honestly didnt know i was capable of.
Those two guys took turns pulling and i just didnt have much of a chance. it spit some ice and snow on us, but nothing bad. i put on my headphones and enjoyed the chase. Soon enough i could see the lights of the hotel. cheers from the finish line and i was stoked. Todd gave me a high 5 while i crossed the finish line, i dropped my bike and gave Oately a big hug “HOLY SHIT” i said.
The three of us stood around a talked for a few minutes. I had some lame ass grin on my face, just happy to be there.
I listened to Jeff and Todd exchange stories about racing over the past 20 yrs throughout the day. i wondered how many races they had between each other…hundreds easily. this was my 8th bike race ever. i was in fine company.
the guys rocked AH for sure…. Insane…
The really scary thing is that all three of them borke the previous course record. They did it in a year where quite honestly the trail was less than perfect. Amazing to think what could be accomplished if the Arrowhead has a good year anytime soon.