Arrowhead Ultra 2009: Report

Arrowhead 2009 Report

This past Monday morning I started my third Arrowhead Ultra 135 experience up near International Falls. I had high hopes for a second successful finish in the event, but it wasn’t to be.

Right now, one word sums it all up for me: Disappointment.

The week before the Arrowhead, I chaperoned 6th grade environmental camp and picked up some kind of bug. It had me down and out 36 hours before the start but I hoped that it would pass. Most of the sick sort of feelings had left me but I guess it took it out of my body. I just didn’t have any energy on the bike. When I made it to the Gateway Store checkpoint and mile 38 I decided to pull the plug.

It took me an hour longer to get there this year. I was in my granny ring for about 4/5ths of those 7 hours, whereas last year I was never in my granny the entire first day.

My legs didn’t feel tired at the gas station. In fact, they felt better than last year. No cramping. No dehydration. But I’d been yawning since mile 20 and thinking about stopping to sleep in a nice sunny place. Thinking of sleeping when you’ve only gone 20 miles wasn’t a great sign.

The Arrowhead course ramps up in difficulty tremendously when you leave the Gateway Store. After suffering through a frighteningly cold experience two years ago on that stretch I had no desire to repeat it feeling as tired as I did.

Like I said: Disappointment.

Here are my random observations on the 5th running of the Arrowhead Ultra 135.

The Arrowhead Ultra is a special event and we are lucky to have it. This year there were close to 60 starters, which is the highest ever. If this event interests you and you want to experience a good old fashioned physical and mental challenge, you should give it a try. Do your homework. Do you prep work. Come with a humble mindset.

The Surly Pugsley (or another snow bike like the Fatback) is the only true weapon of choice. Don’t waste your time bringing up an extra bike with regular size mountain bike tires. You’ll be glad to have the extra floatation regardless of conditions. If it happens to be rock hard, packed snow (which I’ve never known it to be), you can always run your tires hard and you’ll roll along just fine.

Speaking of conditions, this year’s trail looked to be hard packed 12 hours before the event. I thought a new course record would be set. Then it started to snow. We got between 3 to 4 inches of fresh powder during the night. That didn’t make it any easier. I broke trail for about 3 miles and it was really taking it out of me. Luckily I stopped to pee and some folks behind me took over the trail breaking work.

The fast guys (of which I will never be one) are brutally fast. Dave Pramann, Charlie Farrow, Lance Andre, and Terry Brannick went past me like I was standing still. Of course I probably was almost standing still at the rate I was moving.

Dave Pramann was the true hard man of the event. He broke trail all the way to the MelGeorge’s midway checkpoint. Then he continued to break trail enroute to the tipi on top of Wake Em Up hill.

Dave Pramann got played. He made a terrible strategic error by starting the event as early as he did. It put him in the position of needing to do the work, while other fast riders could start later and make use of his efforts. Then he was left with no way to make up time on the riders who had gained time on him…thanks to his own efforts.

Terry Brannick ran the most strategic race. Terry waited until the last possible start time and took advantage of everyone that was breaking trail for him. Perfectly legal. Very smart.

Mike Curiak put on a short slideshow at the pre-race meeting showing some of this images from Alaska and telling a few of his tales from the Iditarod trail. Mike…you need to write a book about this stuff. You’ve got too many great stories and great images. It would be a shame not to share them. I’m available to help edit and photo edit if you like.

Mike Curiak looks smooth as ice riding the snow bike. Controlled and effortless…that’s how he looked.

Dave Gray put in an impressive effort in just reaching the event midpoint and MelGeorge’s. He had a flu bug and was riding on pretty much fumes as he couldn’t take in food. Dave made the decision to drop. That decision impressed me more than anything he could’ve done if he’d continued on the bike. He made the safe and smart choice.

Pogies with no gloves worked great at 10 below zero. I did start to feel some bruising of my hands though because I had no gloves on. In the future I would pad my grips and bar ends in some way to take some of that discomfort away.

The Arrowhead trail is a real treat to ride on on a beautiful cold sunny day. This year it was so pretty as the sun came up through the spruce trees.

Last year I came home and didn’t want to spend any time on my snow bike. This year I come home wishing I could’ve ridden through more of that beautiful landscape.

I don’t regret making the decision to drop out at the Gateway. I sure wish I hadn’t felt so damned tired though.

I want to do the event one more time, but it won’t be in 2010. My wife wants me to take a year off from it and I understand that. It is a huge commitment spread between dollars, time, and effort. I am planning on finishing it one more time…in 2011. As Dave Pramann said, ‘You have to finish on a good note.’

My top three foods for the Arrowhead are:
1. Beef sticks: salty goodness that stands up well to freezing
2. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups: They almost dissolve in your mouth at 10 below
3. Pop Tarts: Blueberry and Cherry flavors please

Pierre and Cheryl Ostor deserve a round of applause for organizing the event. All the volunteers deserve some spirited high fives for all they do to help out.

Props and a shout out to all the fine folks that gave it their best this year. It was great seeing you and I look forward to our paths crossing again.


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Mike Riemer

Mike Riemer

I love being outside. I prefer to ride on dirt. Or snow. If I was born a hundred years earlier I might have been a polar explorer. There's a great natural world out there to see, smell, taste, listen to, and experience. Life slows down out there and the distractions we've created will disappear if you let them. Give me a backpack and let me go.


 Spencer Salmon |

I am thinking about trying it next year, but I would have to walk cause I cannot afford a pugsly!

 Guitar Ted |

Kid, thanks for the honest and detailed write up. You’ll get to the finish line again my friend. Keep yer chin up!<BR><BR>These write ups make me think about taking on the challenge myself. Who knows, maybe I will do just that. I always wanted an excuse to buy a snow bike!<BR><BR>And I thought your musings on a Mike Curiak book were spot on. He really should take up that challenge. By the way, everyone interested in this event NEEDS to go to’s Endurance forum and take a look at Mike Curiak’s awesome detailed report on the event. <BR><BR>Cheers!

 Kid Riemer |

Spencer,<BR><BR>You can find a way to afford a snow bike. Perhaps you’d have to sell a different steed?<BR><BR>RE: walking<BR><BR>I’ve been intrigued by the idea for years but have learned this by talking to some of those serious foot competitors. It is not something you can just show up and do. You have to have prepared your body carefully and deliberately to even have a chance at successfully completing it. Many of those walkers that dropout are very serious in their preparation, but it still catches them off-guard.<BR><BR>I don’t say any of this to discourage you however. If you want to try it! Go for it! Read, plan, and train for it and give it a real attempt!<BR><BR>GTed, <BR><BR>Thanks man. I cried in my spilled milk till it overflowed the bowl and made a big mess. I cleaned it up though and that’s done with!<BR><BR>Same advice man. Read as much as you can, talk to as many people as you can, and prepare as best you can. <BR><BR>Mike Curiak is an exceptional person and athlete. What he takes in stride can put the hurt on a mere mortal like me (and you…not name calling here…just speaking the truth).<BR><BR>The hills that he enjoyed as a rollercoaster have crushed me in the past. Don’t underestimate the challenge.<BR><BR>As above though, that is not meant to dissuade you. Only to inform you of the challenge!

 Jeremiah |

regardless of your finish, you’re still my hero.

 Jill |

Good effort out there. I’d love to get down there for the event one of those days.<BR><BR>Walking is so hard on your body, so much more so than several times the distance of riding, almost regardless of conditions (unless the conditions are so bad that you’re pushing your bike the entire distance.) I have extreme respect for walkers, even as they sometimes pity me for the “anchor” I have to push around from time to time.

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