Arrowhead On The Brain

Please note: This blog post has been updated to reflect current event names.


It’s now 6 weeks out from Arrowhead 135 Ultra 2017. I completed the race last year in 40 hours and change. There’s a chorus of thoughts going through my head right now and I’m writing this in hopes of sorting them all out.

The night before the big Arrowhead show…packed and nervous…

Anxiety – I didn’t finish Unbound Gravel this year. I hate that feeling and I’m trying VERY hard not to let self-doubt creep in…but…I didn’t finish that race. I quit. What if it happens again? What caused it to happen? What will I think of myself if I quit two of these in a row? What if it snows too much? What if I get too cold because last year was real warm? What if the snow is even softer than last year?

I hear these questions in my head every day. These questions, along with the memories are what I think about every day. At work, at home, on rides, in dreams. All. The. Time.

Memories – Some of the memories from Arrowhead have been scary to think back on.

15 minutes before the 2016 Arrowhead Ultra start…

I have an amazing wife and wonderful coworkers. 100 miles into the frozen trek from Minneapolis to the Canadian Border on Sunday before the race, my trusty truck started spewing oil. Everywhere. Ashley and I thought maybe - hopefully - it was a ruptured oil filter. After limping the truck to a parts store and preforming a chilly parking lot oil change, the problem persisted. No luck. Broken truck. While it would run and technically drive it lost oil by the quart rapidly. I was convinced my race was over before it started. Ashley disagreed. Ashley refused to let me get negative. Shoving a phone in my face and pushing me away from the truck she made me call Mike (Salsa Marketing Manager) and Scott (Salsa Photographer) who were on their way up to photograph at the race. By nothing more than pure luck they were only 15 minutes away and offered to squeeze my gear and bike into an already over stuffed Saturn Vue. We made it (late) to the gear check and rider meeting while Ashley took care of the broken truck for me, limping it the 100 miles back home, adding oil every 20 minutes. Ashley, Mike and Scott are the reason why I was even able to toe the line Monday morning. I’m still grateful for their help today. Thank you guys!

Most riders never see the horses watching the race about seven miles in…

I was scared at the riders meeting. It was a long, long time since I’ve been scared like that. Scared like when I was a kid and found myself about to get in a fight with another kid who was older, bigger and meaner than me – that kind of scared. I didn’t know if I could do it. I wanted it, but I didn’t know if I could do it. All the racers I saw were so relaxed and happy. I wasn’t. I was a nervous wreck on the inside. I couldn’t shake the feeling of forgetting something. I felt like I was doing something wrong and I couldn’t figure out what it was.

Halfway through the race at MelGeorges, I damn near quit. Mike and Scott were at Mel Georges when I was there. Mike asked how I was doing and I have no idea how I answered because all I could hear was the voice in my head screaming “Tell him you quit! Tell him you quit! Get a ride home!” Mike interrupted that voice with a clear piece of advice. “Don’t make any decisions until the sun comes up.” I can still hear that voice today saying those words loud and clear. They resonated. I decided to ride on a few minutes after sunrise.

There are a lot of types of snow, and you get to experience many of them during a typical Arrowhead Ultra 135…

I remember going 3 miles an hour for what seemed like an eternity. My mind went numb to the point where I believed I could finish, but didn’t want to. I didn’t care anymore. Rolling into the last checkpoint, I just didn’t want to ride any more. I couldn’t stop my mind from thinking about how far away the cars in the parking lot were and which ones could drive me home. Bob and the rest of the Surly crew manning that checkpoint helped immensely in pulling me out of that funk. After a couple hours there I eventually climbed back on my bike and life got a lot better.

Not all the memories were scary. The companionship on the trail was amazing. Everyone was there for one another. I fed off that positivity. I miss it and I can’t wait to get back in it.

Riding from MelGeorges to the Ski Pulk during the day was so, so beautiful. I love Northern Minnesota, especially in winter. Riding through there, by myself, was spiritual. All I had to do was look around to feel better. Negative thoughts were mashed into the snow under my tires when I looked around at the pines and birch trees, wondering how different it all was in the heat of summer, wondering what the hearty animals thought of us passing through their home, wondering how the hell the trappers and loggers called this place home a few generations back. Minnesota winter is beautiful.

20 miles to go at Wake ‘em Up Hill. I didn’t believe I was finishing this race until I got to the top of Wake ‘em Up Hill. In the dead of night, with temperatures falling (and the trail firming up) I stopped at the top and had a fairly loud, colorful conversation with myself. I came to the agreement…with myself…that I was, without a doubt, finishing this race. The next 20 or so miles were euphoric. I was focused, hungry and resolute. That was the best 20 miles I’ve ever rode. I finished the race.

The finish…

Motivation – “…because I’m finishing the race.” That’s been the end of a lot of sentences for me lately. “I’m not eating that because I’m finishing the race. I’m going to bed now because I’m finishing the race. I’m waking up now because I’m finishing the race. I’m taking the long way on this ride because I’m finishing the race. I will NOT let up on this ride because I’m finishing the damn race. If you repeat it enough, it’s true, right? I think it’s working. My fears are giving way to faith. I do believe I can do it. I want to finish. I can finish. This year when I toe the line at the Arrowhead 135 Ultra, I will have a very different frame of mind. I won’t be scared this time. I’ll be excited. I’ll be excited because I know I’m finishing the damn race.

This post filed under topics: Beargrease Bikepacking Blackborow Brian Hanson Bucksaw Fatbike Mukluk Snow Biking Ultra Racing

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Brian Hanson

Brian Hanson


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Ben Doom | December 21st, 2016

Heck yeah!  Awesome recap of a scary race.  I felt many of those same feelings my first time.  I still do!  I guess that’s what keeps me coming back.
Mike sure does have a way with words!

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Jim Cummins | December 22nd, 2016

Congratulations, my friend.

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LeLan Dains | December 22nd, 2016

Heck yes my friend! Thank you for sharing and have a blast out there!

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Ashley Knadle | December 22nd, 2016

The softy in me teared up reading this while knowing you and knowing your spirit. We love you and are rooting for you always.

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Bob Ostrom | December 22nd, 2016

Love it.  Thanks for sharing.  Embrace the fear!!!

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GREGORY BERRY | December 22nd, 2016

Awesome job!  So glad I had the chance to meet you at Winterbike!

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Leah Gruhn | December 23rd, 2016

Great account! I love how you’ve captured how the Arrowhead (and other lofty cycling goals) inspire us to make healthy choices throughout the year. I’m looking forward to seeing you in less than six short (ack!) weeks! ... and I’ll remember to keep an eye out for the horses!

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Gwynn | December 24th, 2016

Good job. I’ve been thinking about the DK 200, should I do one of the shorter rides? Try for the 200? Deciding is a major part of the battle. Then the training, or, is training and then deciding on the perfect race? Fat Bike, or ElMar SS? so many questions.

Keep up the hard work you will finish the DK in 2017. Remember, you will FINISH THE DK IN 2017. Or, for you personal to begin thinking… I WILL FINISH THE DK 200 IN 2017!!!!!

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Brian Hanson | December 28th, 2016

Leah - Looking forward to seeing you up there, too! It’s coming up quick!

Gwynn - Thank you for the kind words. I can’t really say which race you should do or do first. As I’ve started to explore long distance races, I’ve learned that sometimes I need to take steps and sometimes I need to take leaps. I never know with 100% certainty when I should leap or simply take a step. When making that decision I trust my intuition and and that’s worked out well so far.

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Josh Brindle | December 31st, 2016

I really like the scared like a little kid going up against bigger kid part.  I know that feeling….  Thanks for this man!

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j4jacket | July 27th, 2017

Brain Hanson you are winner on cycling.. I appreciate you..

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