27 Hours On The Arrowhead Trail

Travel & Anticipation

There are so many variables to consider before hitting the road for a race like the Arrowhead 135, such as weather, road conditions, and travel time. We chose to drive the 18 hours from Victor, Idaho over flying for several reasons; expense and comfort being the main ones. By driving we are able to save on airfare, shipping of the bikes, food and hotel (all multiplied by two). But there is also the convenience of being able to bring EVERYTHING needed for any conditions the race may throw our way. It is usually a mad dash to get to the race, just to hurry up and wait for the start. We were lucky enough to have mostly clear, dry roads on the way to the race. Due to a storm, we weren't as lucky on the way back home.

'Just flew in and boy are our arms tired'...

During the drive, we talk strategy and go through different scenarios we may encounter in the race. I envision myself during the race, and think of challenges I may face and how I will handle them. Then I visualize myself going really fast, of course. At this point the race has already started in some ways.

Gear Check & Pre-Ride

Everyone is always talking and worrying about the “Gear Nazi”, so there is definitely stress. We rushed to make the gear check by 6pm Saturday so we could have Sunday to do a little pre-ride and dial in finishing touches. The Arrowhead itself always starts on a Monday.

it's official! Looks like I'm racing on Monday!

I know I have the right gear for me and I know how to use it. I chalk that up to the many experiences I have been through. Sure I get tips and tricks from JayP, BUT there are things that work for him that do not work for me. It's not easy and takes time to learn these things. The only real way to learn is to do it for yourself.

Loading the bikes back into the rig post-Gear Check...

Prepping for a pre-ride on Sunday...

We had our Beargrease bikes mostly packed to do a little pre-ride on Sunday afternoon. We left from town and hit the trail. It was slow going for me. Jay is so much stronger and faster then I am. I know it gets frustrating for him, as it does for me, but we've figured it out and made it this far; over 20 years together. It goes something like this, JayP: "Ok sweetie, I'm gonna pick it up a little. Will you be ok?" Me: Yes love, go ahead. See you back wherever we came from. I'm not gonna get lost, am I?”

Sunday afternoon pre-ride...checking the trail conditions and thinking about the coming overnight drop in temperature...

The temps were close to a 30-degree Fahrenheit difference on Sunday during our pre-ride then they were expected to be on Monday at the start of the race. It is so crazy how that can be. -20F is no joke, which many people learned the hard way this year.

Race Morning & Start

One hour till race start...boots on...

I woke at 5am and was feeling stoked. Race start would be at 7am. My bike was ready to go, so I just had to eat and get dressed. I am fortunate to have stayed at a friend’s house that is located just one mile from the start. Being able to ride right to the start of the race is definitely a bonus. You can feel the anxious energy at check in. Lights are flashing all around; people are putting their last minute gear together, adjusting their clothing, taking pictures, waiting to go! The start was odd since in the front of the building someone was yelling ‘bikers to the line’; while at the start line someone else had already yelled ‘go!’ I made my way past many riders. It was interesting to see what everyone was carrying and how they’d packed their bikes.

Blinky paradise...

Dawn arrives in the early miles...

Six miles down...129 to go...

18 miles in...a beautiful sunny, albeit cold, day...

The First Two Checkpoints

Arriving at the halfway point...frosty and out of focus...the sun is down now...

It took me longer then expected to get to the first checkpoint at mile 35. As I checked in and out, I saw many red, uncovered faces. It was -20F, and I was concerned for these people. My plan of ‘eat, drink and move forward’ was going well, I thought. The course started out flat, but had become rolling and twisty. It was all ride-able this year due to the cold and firm conditions.

Getting to MelGeorge’s, the halfway point, is a big relief! Especially after crossing the last few miles on a very soft and windy Elephant Lake. This is where warmth is found; warm food, warm cabin, warm welcoming people to help you, and a dryer! It is a great place to refuel, get your resupply (drop bag), and get stoked for the second half of the race. It is easy to get sucked in to stay, so it is a good idea to evaluate yourself, have a plan and stick to it.

Staying focused is important, as it takes a bit of will power to leave a bright, warm cabin and head out into the cold and dark...

On The Way To Checkpoint Three: Ski Pulk

I saw a lot of tracks, but one rider came upon a pack of six wolves between MelGeorge's and the Ski Pulk checkpoint...

Leaving MelGeorge’s can be a little tricky, as there is a turn, which several people have gotten confused about, including me this year. The course becomes intense with steeper hills. The downhills make it seem like you are moving ahead quicker, but there are also steeper hills to climb, so it can be a bit of a mind game. For myself, this part of the course is usually taken on at night. The temps drop and the long day begins to wear on you. You begin to get tired, so your eating and drinking discipline is crucial here. It is comforting to finally see lights and get to the Ski Pulk checkpoint tent for a final dose of warmth before heading to the finish line 25 miles away.

Ski Pulk To Finish

Leaving Ski Pulk...I had trouble breathing the rest of the way...

The part I have been waiting for! Leaving Ski Pulk there were tons of wolf tracks on the trail and what looked like a pool of blood from a fresh meal. It is about 1.5 miles to Wakemup Hill. I forgot how small it is, but that is relative of course. It does give you a quick, fun downhill onto the flats.

This part of the race meanders through the Black Swamp, where it got the coldest for me, -40F. It was funny to see the tracks swerving across the course from the racers ahead of me. You could tell they were getting tired. Signs start to pop up as you get closer to Fortune Bay, but there are no mile markers until the last mile is in sight. Buildings come into the scene and eventually the finish line! Ahhhh…

Fifty yards to go...I've been on the trail for over 27 hours...

Thoughts After The Race

I finished in 27 hours and 22 minutes...good for first-place woman, and fifth-place overall...

I had a great race up until MelGeorge’s. I got a little lost, which stressed me out and caused me to allow my water tube to freeze. Then it got really cold so I was not willing to deal with taking my jacket off to get water. I choose not to eat because it only made me thirsty. My odometer did not work due to the cold temps. Personally, I do not like the feeling of having a watch on me. I am not a fan of time, and honestly, I like being free of it.

Something happened to my lungs at the Ski Pulk tent which I had never experienced before. I became short of breath and had trouble breathing from there until the finish. It was disconcerting, but the only time I was briefly scared was when I heard myself wheezing and thought the wolves may see me as injured prey. I was also frustrated that I had to walk part of the last 25 miles due to my shortness of breath.

So, my plan to eat, drink and move forward didn’t go entirely as planned, but I was very happy about how I finished; first-place Woman and Fifth Overall.

After returning home, I got sick; fever, chills and a wicked cough that has lasted for two weeks. I'm on the mend now and looking forward to my next adventure, the 200k JayP's Backyard Fat Pursuit!

I'm often asked questions about what gear I use and what I wear when doing winter ultras, like the Arrowhead 135 or the ITI. My answer of “You have to find what works for you” is not about finding a quick way to get out of the conversation. Instead, it is really a critical part of making sure the people I'm talking to understand that these are serious challenges that should not be taken lightly. That said, they are also challenges that aren’t impossible or insurmountable.

If there is one thing I’d love to impart on you, it be this: while choosing the right gear is important, it is more important is to have used it and know it will work for you. Knowledge is key and helps build confidence. You gain that knowledge from studying, practicing, adapting, and improving. To all looking to take on these endeavors in the future, I wish you the best of luck.

Every Arrowhead finisher receives a personal Arrowhead trophy...

This post filed under topics: Beargrease Fatbike Mukluk Snow Biking Sponsored Riders Tracey Petervary Ultra Racing

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Tracey Petervary

Tracey Petervary

Endurance cyclist Tracey Petervary is a New Jersey native residing in Victor, Idaho. She started adventure racing 18 years ago, enjoying multi-day, multi-sport team events traveling to places such as Fiji, New Zealand and across the United States. Her stable includes several bikes (MTB, road, cyclocross, commuter, fat, tandem), which allow her to ride every day of the year in any condition.


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Ann Casamassa | February 12th, 2014

This is a great account of your adventure. It is also very inspiring!

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Perry Jewett | February 12th, 2014

Thanks for the insight and Congrats on your finish.  See you at JayPs Backyard Pursuit!

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Maria Lopez | February 13th, 2014

Great article and thanks for sharing Tracey. Congratulations and continue to get well.

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Joan | February 15th, 2014

So awesome. Inspired for more winter riding!

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dp | February 17th, 2014

Believe too long nice warm skipulk. Contrast lungs -25F to +50F enough to mess with things but you persevered.

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Christopher Tassava | February 17th, 2014

Fantastic race report. Can’t wait for Jay P’s 200k! See you out there!

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T-Race | February 20th, 2014

Thanks all! Fun to share. Looking forward to seeing some of you soon, in the cold and the warm! Agreed DP, way too long at nice warm SkiPulk, live and learn eh? See you out there!

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