Screaming Into The Abyss

The Much Delayed Actif Epica 2020 Race Report
By Ben Zvan
On June 03, 2020 at 17:41

Starting Line at CN AmpitheaterActif Epica is the third and final race in the Hrimthurs series of winter ultras. At 205k on the prairies of Manitoba, it’s also the shortest and the flattest, which I thought would obviously make it the easiest. After failing the Tuscobia by not considering how checkpoint timing worked and scratching the Arrowhead by choice, I was expecting to bike for most of a day and then hang out in my hotel room for a while.

The gear requirements are similar for all three races, with variations around what temperature sleeping bag, how many lights, and how many emergency calories you need to bring. For this race, my packing list was very similar to others except I tried to lighten my load once again. I kept my sleeping gear the same as usual in a ready-to-use roll on my handlebars. I reduced the amount of solid food in my panniers and planned on mixing a new batch of liquid food at each checkpoint. And I kept my clothing options to what I considered “minimum safe” with enough changes of socks and hand warmers to stay warm and additional layers for the overnight low.

Ready To RollSaturday morning at the start of the race, it was -3°C (26°F) with no wind and a crisp layer of frost over everything. I was happy to be awake for a pre-dawn bike ride. I made one last check over my gear, filled up my hydration pack and put it on, and then heard a dribbling water sound from behind me. There was no bite valve on my hydration tube! What? No! That was my only plan for hydration. I didn’t even have a bottle packed, which was a bad plan now that I thought about it.

I knew exactly where it was, of course; sitting on the drying rack in the kitchen at home where I had taken it off and scrubbed it out and soaked it, trying to get rid of the gunk that’s a byproduct of not using only water.

I brainstormed possibilities and posted on facebook hoping someone would have a spare valve or tube. I was in luck! One of the racers had a whole pack they weren’t using. I headed over to the starting line early so I’d have time to get set up, thanked them profusely, and waited for 0600 to roll around.

Due to high water and broken ice on the trail, the first part of the route crossed a street and was intentionally slow, led by a pacer. Once we crossed at the stoplight and headed onto a narrow singletrack covered with deep, soft snow, the race began and group started to spread out with those who are good at riding a 3” path with 4” tires at the front and me getting closer to the rear with each foot I put down to stay upright. It was good to know there were others just as bad at this as I was though.

The Actif Epica is a unique race in this series, starting at The Forks in downtown Winnipeg and winding through residential areas, the University of Manitoba campus, and along a busy business street before reaching the flat, straight roads that divide the 1-mile squares of farm fields. In previous years, the race started at the US border and made its way north, but climate change has caused the conditions on the southern portion to be unpredictable and frequently impassable, so the race now starts and ends in Winnipeg.

As I made my way out of town, I was sort of adopted by a small group of riders at the back of the pack going about the same pace as me, including one guy who was acting as guide, but didn’t remember every change they made since last year, which was a lot of changes.

Checkpoint OneThe first checkpoint was on a gravel road near the Red River Floodway and reminded me of an ice fishing house on stilts in a maybe more like a deer stand but in a neighborhood. The trail under the bridge over the floodway was completely blown over with snow and very slow-going, but it cleared up on the other side and we were able to ride a bit before crossing over the levee and onto the road. We filled up our water, re-anchored one pack on a rear rack, and continued on after what, in retrospect, was probably too long a stop. The way back to the road on the blown-over trail seemed a little easier, but that was probably the fun-sized snickers bar I ate at the checkpoint talking.

The checkpoint was only mile 20 of more than 125; the sun had been up for a while and the wind from the west was increasing dramatically. Riding east, I had no trouble keeping up with the group, but riding west I was struggling to keep moving, much less keep up, so I stopped trying in order to conserve my energy for the rest of the remaining century.

PierogiesThe checkpoints seemed really close, which I suppose they were, given there were 9 of them in 125 miles. The Niverville checkpoint stands out for me quite a bit. They had perogies that were locally made and delicious with bacon bits and sour cream. The park with the snow-covered trail just after Niverville also stands out for me since it was a bit harder to ride than the gravel. Between Niverville and Crystal Spring was some of the most variable trail conditions I’ve ever experienced. There was ice, hard snow, loose snow, rutted frozen dirt, seemed like every time I got used to a surface it would change again, making it frustrating to repeatedly decide not to adjust my tire pressure.

After Crystal Spring was the really interesting part, and I mean that in the most Minnesotan of all possible ways. Between Crystal Spring and St. Pierre-Jolys, the “trail” dropped down onto the Rat River. After taking a wrong turn on the way down because I followed the track with more bike tire prints (which is always the wrong choice because the wrong track always has twice as many tire prints from the people who took the wrong turn and came back again) I got onto a nicely plowed section of river and enjoyed the change of scenery and the shelter from the wind. But the plowed section disappeared quickly and the change of scenery morphed into “I’m literally going 100m right over there but the river winds so much I’m never going to get there” for turn after turn after turn. The snow quality was difficult to predict with some drifts being quite passable and others only being passable for a few feet before my cycling race became a foot race.

Shitty SnowThe time I spent walking on the river and pushing my bike was soul crushing. There were obvious tracks where other cyclists had just ridden through, probably because they were fast and light and only packed the required gear, keeping their bike even lighter. I am not and will probably never be one of those people, so I had to keep reminding myself that these events are events where I compete with myself, not anyone else. As only one person came the other direction, I was pretty sure I had been in last place for quite a while.

When I finally arrived at the end of the river section, I wasn’t sure if I was exiting in the right place because the “trail” up to the road at the bridge was easily a 150% grade for 12 feet or more. So add another trail surface to the list I guess? Time to climb off the bike and climb up the bluff using tire studs and brakes as a makeshift climbing axe.

At the turnaround checkpoint, there were a couple people just getting ready to leave, so I didn’t feel like I was too far behind everyone else. I took a little time to dry off my wicking layers and have some food and drink. I need to drink more while I’m actually riding, which is something I remind myself of at every checkpoint, which is clearly not often enough. I chatted with the folks at the checkpoint for a while, they gave me a commemorative pin, and I discovered I was running critically short on time to make the checkpoints on the way back before they closed. Once again, I was bitten by the fact the finish-line cutoff was timed for runners, not cyclists and that I need to really look at the timing of the last checkpoints when planning a race like this. So...out the door I went, leaving some unfinished ham and a lot of morale behind. Back down the paved road to the bluff, which I decided to ride down while riding my breaks and crossing my fingers. On the way back up the river, I kept trying to judge my distance by the quality of the snow I remembered. But I kept waiting for the really shitty snow to start and it kept not starting, meaning I had a really long way to go. But then my GPS told me to turn right off the river and cimb up to the road again, so something must have changed.

The Tail EndA likely explanation for the firmer snow is that I guess I hadn’t realized how much colder it was now than when I started. When I left St. Pierre-Jolys, it was -17ËšC and it was all the way down to -23 by the time I left the river. My tires were getting softer, my feet were getting colder, and my time was running out. There was another rider at Crystal Spring who was also feeling the cold. I tried to give as much of a pep talk as I could while changing my socks for dry ones for better insulation and cramming a sticky bun and some soup into my face.

We ended up leaving at the same time but I was slightly faster down the road because I was so worried about time. The final checkpoint closed in a few hours and I had a very long way to go. It’s ok though, after we rode together for a while, I was going too slow for them to stay warm, so they passed me and finished an hour before I did.

Another big drain to my morale was a (surprisingly short at 2 miles) section of farm road that was completely impossible to ride due to footprints, soft snow drifts, and ice. I tried riding in the field next to it but that didn’t work either, so it was time to walk again. My bike computer says it took 45 minutes, but there were several times it didn’t think I was moving at all, so it was probably longer than that.

Fronch SignMore pierogies at Niverville; more slow progress as the temperature continued to drop. After St. Adolphe, I had two concerned support drivers basically shepherding me in and giving me directions and encouragement all the way to the University. I wasn’t sure I’d make it before it was officially closed to the 205k bikers at 0300, which was just a couple hours away, but they kept telling me they wouldn’t turn me away because the checkpoint was open until 0430 for the runners. I still don’t understand how that works, but I arrived at the checkpoint at 0315, which I guess was good enough. 25 minutes later I was back out on the road and on my way to the finish. But I got kind of lost on the way out of the rec center and took a scenic tour of that block of the campus.

The last 15 miles or so were hard. So hard. The temperature had dropped from -3ËšC at the start to -30ËšC a few hours back and -27ËšC as I left the last checkpoint. I was bundled up for warmth, which slowed me down. My bearings and wheels were cold, which slowed me down (probably...that’s my excuse). I had been riding for almost 24 hours straight and a little faster than I should with a little less food than I should, which slowed me down. But, by the magic of foot race checkpoint timing. I had 5 hours to go the last 15 miles of city streets, so it didn’t really matter how slow I was. I could probably walk that if I had to.

I was met a couple more times by the support drivers and given more encouragement. From time to time on the roads, I could see a car or truck sitting by the side of the road ahead with its lights on making sure the racers were ok. I passed many runners between 10 and 5 miles from the end, another reminder that this was a foot and bike ultra, not just bike.

Cross a cool old bridge again. Ride through a park again. Slip around a bit less on the narrow singletrack again. Cross the street at a stoplight again. Finally arrive at the finish line under the CN amphitheater at The Forks at 0600.

TrophyI walked my bike into the bunker under the stage, gave them my name, picked up my trophy, and biked back across the ice rink and the park to my hotel to take a hot shower/bath and sleep for as long as it took.

Overall, I guess it was a good effort. I finished in just under 24 hours for an average of 5mph including zeros, which is honestly not that bad for a single effort in winter.

As I keep doing these things, I keep learning things. The biggest thing I learn every time is I need to decrease my weight even more if I can. When I unpacked my bag, I had a couple pairs of socks and a hat and a bunch of food I didn’t touch. The food...I feel like I should have eaten that along the way, which is the next biggest thing I learn every time; the clothing and especially the hat...I’m still glad I had them because so many things could have gone wrong along the way and caused me to need them, which I learned on my first Arrowhead.

I’d post a gear list here, but it really was basically like every other gear list I’ve written. Most of the ride I was wearing a merino bottom base layer with my Naughtvind bib under wind pants, and a merino top base layer with a PI winter jersey and winter jacket.

See you next year!

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Arrowhead 135 2020 Unsupported...DNF
By Ben Zvan
On February 01, 2020 at 15:52

Loaded fat bike next to a sign reading it's the most wonderful time of the yearAfter the Tuscobia in December, you may recall I had some mild neuropathy; a slight numbness of the tips of my middle two fingers. I gave myself until January 19th, one week before the Arrowhead, for it to clear before making my decision on whether I was going to do the Arrowhead or not.

Fat bike on a stand half upside down

The week after Tuscobia, I took my Mukluk over to Paulie at Go Physio for a bike fit and to get some PT exercises for my fingers. Turns out at some point my saddle had wandered backward by almost 2cm, causing my position to change radically from my previous bike fit before the 2019 Arrowhead. A few other tweaks and a new stem later, and the bike should fit much better. I’m still considering extra padding and some custom parts to give me more cush and more hand positions inside my pogies.

On January 19th it had not gone away, which meant I was not racing the Arrowhead. Since I had failed to complete the Tuscobia, thereby botching my chance at an Order of the Hrimthurs this season, I at least had less incentive to go back on my earlier ultimatum.

As race day grew closer, the weather forecast looked more and more like the forecast we had for Tuscobia. The predicted high temperature kept increasing to just a few degrees below freezing and I was glad to not have to deal with that crap again.

But I already had a room booked and had paid the price of admission, so I decided to go north and at least pick up my t-shirt and goodie bag and have dinner with a bunch of bonkers people doing a bonkers thing.

Over the final week though, the forecast started trending cooler and looking much better. 20˚F with no rain seemed like nearly perfect conditions and I started itching to ride the trail. At the last moment, I decided to bring my bike and get out onto the trail the day before, then decide if I was going to be a DNF or DNS for this race. Since my fingertips were still numb, I wasn’t going to finish, but I might just start.

Me next to a wooden statue of a bear making the same rawry face as the bearI arrived in International Falls to a balmy 26˚F, literally 72˚F warmer than the -46˚F the morning before the race last year. I was staying at the Falls Motel again, since it’s convenient to the starting line and reasonably affordable. My room was a little awkward for my bike, but at least it opened directly outside, so I didn’t have to deal with hallways or stairs, like I did at the Tuscobia.

At gear check (and online), I was encouraged multiple times to at least start the race, if nothing else to keep the finishing rate low. Some folks wanted me to disregard my neuropathy and ride to the end anyway, but I like my fingers and I had already made plans to leave for Minneapolis Monday afternoon. At this point, my plan to ride to checkpoint one and then drop was pretty well solidified. I just couldn’t stay off this trail.

Black cordura duffle bag with the Arrowhead logoNote: The goodie bag was totally worth the 5-hour drive to International Falls. A little food, a great (still confusing to me) ¾ length t-shirt, and a snazzy black duffle with the Arrowhead Ultra 135 logo on it, among other things. I was super chuffed at the tube of official Arrowhead Winter Ultra lip balm which was just in time since my previous one is running out.

Sunday, before the race, I went out for a quick, two-hour ride on the Blue Ox/Arrowhead Trail to test conditions and tire pressure. The trail was mostly hard and fast but difficult to read. There was a shelf on the right edge that looked perfectly smooth, but it had a thin crust over the top that sucked Watts as my tires broke through it, and there were snowmobile-churned sections that were even worse. Sometimes the snowmobile tracks had a narrow strip of hard, easy trail and sometimes the hard, easy section was actually on that crust-covered shelf. This reinforced one of the things I learned at Tuscobia: I’d have to ride back and forth on the trail a few times to find the best line and if I ever thought my line wasn’t the best, I’d have to do it again.

Tracks in snow from running, biking, and skiingThroughout my test ride, there were times I thought I should increase my tire pressure to go faster and times I thought I should decrease my tire pressure for more stability. I don’t set my fat tire pressure by PSI anymore unless I just want to set it to 20 for fast commuting, and whatever pressure I was at seemed like a decent compromise. Several people asked what pressure I was running and my only honest answer was “I have no idea.”

That night at dinner, I was chatting with a few other racers and realized that there is no support between the start and Gateway. Since that was as far as I was planning to ride, there was no difference between supported and unsupported. I checked with Race Director Ken and I had until the next morning to make a decision and announce it when I checked in at the starting line.

Turns out it was an easy decision to make. The choice was basically if I was going to bike to checkpoint one and drop there or if I was going to bike to checkpoint one looking like an unsupported Arrowhead badass and drop there. So when I checked in, I announced my intention to go unsupported and got the big orange “X” through my bib number that broadcasted my badassery to the world.

Fireworks at the starting lineAt 7:00 AM sharp(-ish) the fireworks went off and I got passed by most of the other riders while I put my phone away after taking pictures.

If anything, the trail was better this morning than yesterday. Since I am not a fast or strong rider and a I am a photographer I was well toward the back of the pack so the fat-tire-packed line was wide and solid. I averaged about 8 MPH up to the first turn where the Blue Ox and Arrowhead trails split at a small shelter. Last year, this was where I remembered I hadn’t eaten breakfast and pulled half-frozen chicken tenders out of my pocket. No need today, just a few small clothing adjustments and a photosphere and I was back on the trail.

My bike at the junctionThinking back to last year again, mile 13 was where everything started to get slow. The trail had more churn from snowmobiles and deeper snowdrifts causing me to lower my tire pressure to keep from washing out. This year, I couldn’t detect any change in the trail at all. Maybe it was my new Dillinger 5 tires having more float than my Dillinger 4s from last year. Maybe it was because my bike was packed much lighter. Maybe the trail just didn’t change. Whatever was causing it, I was glad for the continued speed and easy pedaling.

The trail stayed great all the way to the next shelter where there was, thankfully, an outhouse of sorts. Really, it was more of a box with a toilet seat inside. Looking down through the opening, there was a surprising amount of sunlight illuminating what could have been either snow or frozen toilet paper. I didn’t matter but I did consider the difference between peeing off the side of the trail and peeing under an elevated box was maybe not that significant.

My speed continued to stay high. I’m not sure I can trust the average reported by my Wahoo Elemnt Roam since it showed my max speed as 378.1 MPH, which seemed somewhat unlikely. I suspect there’s some interference between my Garmin InReach transmitting my information to space and my Wahoo trying to read GPS signals on a similar frequency.

Construction on the trailJudging by my speed though, it was somewhere around mile 31 where a construction crew had torn up half the trail to get their trucks through. That left the right-hand side for snowmobiles, which meant it was too chopped up to be stable for bikes. Where the trail had been plowed down to frozen dirt it was extra fast but where there were ruts and drifts it was extra sketchy. It was even more sketchy when a dozen snowmobiles were sitting “off the trail” in the plowed down section so they could all stare at some mechanical problem one of them had. I didn’t quite fall while moving over and I didn’t quite walk past them on the other side.

Bicycles on snow heading into the woodsOnce I got past the creek where a backhoe was installing new culvert, the trail returned to its prior awesomeness and my speed went back up. The hills just start to begin this side of checkpoint one, so I had a few fast descents and slow climbs. At one point, I must have hit a soft spot I wasn’t prepared for because I was suddenly under my bike on the side of the trail. Luckily, the waist-deep snow off the edge was very soft and the trees were very small. Any landing you can walk away from, right? Besides, it’s not an Arrowhead without a couple snow angels.

IcebeardJust like last year, as I approached checkpoint one I wasn’t sure if I had somehow missed the turn. Even though I had a distinct mental image of what the turn looked like and no memory of passing anything like that, on a ride like this strange things happen. I needed to stop for a drink anyway, so I checked Google Maps. Less than a mile to go, of course.

I sped down the hill to checkpoint one at Gateway General Store and called out my bib number to the volunteer checking people in. Normally, as an unsupported racer, I would just turn around here and head back to the trail once I knew my number was in the books for this checkpoint, but I was dropping, so I continued on to tell the next volunteer. They all gave me a hard time about quitting at 35 miles, but I had accomplished my goal for the day and was ready to stop. Oddly, I felt as though I could continue unsupported to the end even though I would need to melt snow for water and eat all the solid food I had with me because I hadn’t packed as though I would ride without support.

On the drive home, I was super hungry and thirsty. I really hadn’t managed my nutrition well for those 5 hours and I lost a lot of exhaled water to my epic ice beard. Next year, I’ll plan this better, and maybe I’ll take home one of the “toughest of the tough” trophies for an unsupported finish.

Things I learned:

  • Packing lighter helps. Like it helps a lot.
  • Cover your face even if its warm. You’ll save on hydration and reduce the risk of a migraine later on.
  • It’s never too late to switch to unsupported.

Trees against a field of white snow

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Tuscobia 160 2019 DNF
By Ben Zvan
On January 30, 2020 at 22:12

After completing the Arrowhead 135 in 2019, as a rookie, with a bad knee, during a polar vortex, and loving the scenery and the accomplishment, I started considering the Order of Hrimthurs. “I’ve completed the hardest race of the three, in some of the worst possible conditions,” I thought, “so how hard could this be?”

Last summer, I signed up for the Tuscobia Winter Ultra 160-mile bike, The Arrowhead Winter Ultra 135-mile bike, and the Actif Epica Winter Ultra 200k bike, with the intention of finishing yet another impossible task on my first try.

So here’s how that went.

Optimistic MeThe weeks leading up to the Tuscobia, the weather looked grim; temperatures right around freezing with the possibility of precipitation. What’s so grim about that, you ask? Warm weather and snow sounds great, but soft trails and rain sounds terrible. Back when I used to winter camp as a boy scout, we were always glad when it was a few degrees below freezing and snowing instead of a few degrees above and raining because winter gear is rarely waterproof gear.

In 2018, the conditions were similar and the trail conditions were the subject of much talk from the participants. To add to the concern, the weather forecasts as the event grew closer kept predicting even warmer weather and an even greater chance of rain.

Despite the predicted conditions, I felt like I was reasonably well prepared. Waterproof outer layers, sufficiently wicking under layers, multiple changes of all my layers packed in my paniers, and an optimistic view of the relatively flat course ahead.

Geared UpMy hotel was about 3 miles from the starting line, and check-in was at 5:15 AM, so it was an early morning for me. It took only about 15 minutes to bike to the KoC hall to check in, but nobody was there for at least another 15 minutes. Not a big deal, but the lack of hot porridge did change my breakfast plans a bit.

The race started promptly at 6:00 AM and we all set off down the Wild Rivers Trail toward the start of the Tuscobia Trail...and pretty much all of us at the back of the pack missed the turn and had to back-track at least a few feet. (We were a bunch of rookies.)

The first 18 miles of the trail were amazing. Hard, fast, flat, and scenic. I was really looking forward to a quick 160-mile ride and step one of three completed for the Order. Then we hit the town of Birchwood and everything changed.

The trail east of Birchwood was oddly softer and more churned-up by snowmobiles. Constant snowmobile traffic (we were warned they were not required to slow down when passing bicycles and there is no speed limit for snowmobiles in Wisconsin) kept breaking up the hard crust I was riding on and turning it into a soft, sloppy mess of half-baked mashed potato snow.

For folks who haven’t fat biked before, mashed potatoes is how we describe the worst snow for biking. It has this stick/slip thing going where you can be riding along fine and then your tires just move to the side, throwing you off balance. This is, however, what fat bikes were built for; the trick is just to lower your tire pressure until you start rolling over the top without it shifting under you. The downside is you lose a lot of speed.

After letting some air out of my tires, my average speed dropped from around 7 mph to around 5 mph. Not terrible, and it still gave me a reasonable finish time, but it was a solid kick in the morale.

Ice BikeBy the time I reached checkpoint 1 at Ojibwa, 30 miles and almost 5 hours later at 1:00 PM, it had been raining long enough and cold enough that my bike and all my gear was covered in a layer of ice that had broken and fallen off more than once. My outer layers were soaked through but I had dressed right and my base layers were mostly dry and I was in no risk of getting too cold.

Continuing down the trail after spending too long trying to dry my gear and refuel, the conditions kept deteriorating. It took me far too long to figure out that the left side of the trail was faster since the 80-mile crew had set out that morning and kept to their right, meaning all the snowmobile traffic passing them had torn up my right side of the trail, making it nearly impassible. This is about when the winner of the 160, Neil, passed me going the other way so fast I barely had time to wave as he called out “hey yo!” on his way by. “He’s going to finish before any of the 80-mile racers, isn’t he?” I thought, as I kept pedaling. (narrator: he did)

As the hours and miles lumbered past, the snow got softer and softer, making it hard, even with 4.8” tires at 1-2 PSI, to keep from falling through. The extra weight of my tendency to over-prepare certainly didn’t help, and I considered trying to figure out how much disposable stuff I had with me, but I couldn’t come up with enough weight to make a difference.

Eventually, 30 miles and nearly 10 hours after I left checkpoint 1, I arrived at checkpoint 2. It was 11:20 PM and the checkpoint closed at 11:30. In the last few miles I had been doing some math over and over in my head. I was right on track to complete Tuscobia in the same time I finished Arrowhead last winter. I was halfway there and it was before midnight, so I was even ahead of schedule. I finished Arrowhead in 38 hours 9 minutes, and I had a full 41 hours to finish Tuscobia, so I was doing great!

Beautiful TrailThe Park Falls Gastropub was full of people who had decided to drop and a few people who hadn’t decided yet. I took too long again to refill my hydration pack and recharge my electronics. They had a delicious soup, but my stomach did not want to have anything to do with it, so my cup ended up wasted, but I did have some coffee to keep me going. I was still soaked and kind of tired of it to be honest, so I switched for a hard shell to try to stay a bit dryer on the way back. Every time I reached into a ziplock or a pannier, I dumped water into it and the softshell jacket I took off probably weighed an extra pound from rain. So much for keeping all my stuff dry.

On the way out, I guess my stubbornness convinced a couple other people not to drop and four of us rode across the slick, icy streets of Park Falls, Wisconsin back to the eastern end of the Tuscobia trail.

At this point, the trail was absolute garbage. As the early morning went on, the number of times we fell through the crust increased. Eventually, the other three riders decided to take a left on a paved, ice-covered road, dropping from the race and making their way on more passable surfaces. But I checked my time and, even with the newly-reminded knowledge that checkpoing 3 closed at 10:00 AM, math told me I just had to do 3 MPH for the next 9 hours to make it.

Three hours later, I had gone 10 miles. Now I had to average 3.5 MPH.

Three hours later, I had gone 8 more miles. Now I had to average 4 MPH.

The next two hours, I only went a mile each. 5 MPH became 10 MPH...

I’m not going to make it.

TiresThis is when the logistics of winter ultras became my foremost obsessive thoughts. Checkpoint deadlines should never be considered as goals. If you’re getting to a checkpoint as it closes, you’re probably in trouble. Of course, I considered this when planning my time for the race. But I was too stuck on my Arrowhead time being less than the available time to think much about the checkpoint deadlines themselves and completely missed that checkpoint 3 closed 13 hours before then end of the race but only 10 hours after checkpoint 2.

As I hiked my bike, postholing with every 3rd step, I thought about how the fast racers have completely different events than I do. At the Arrowhead, I was out in -35˚F weather well after the winner (and newly minted course record-holder) had finished in a relatively balmy -20. This morning, the winner of the Tuscobia had finished the day before, with a relatively passable trail, not this delicate surface of iced-over mashed potatoes.

At one point, there was a section of trail that was obviously saturated by rain. I had already had some experience with the deep snow in the gutters really being slush with some snow over the top, and I knew there was no way to ride over it, so I hopped off my bike and carefully chose a path that looked the driest. I was wrong. That path was also slush with some snow over the top. Oh well, my boots were already soaked through (they took days to dry out).

About 9:30 AM, with another 10 miles to go to checkpoint 3 and 101 miles into the 160-mile race, I got picked up by a snowmobile. We strapped my bike into a sled pulled behind and made several stops to make sure nothing was too loose. On the way, I learned there were many sections of trail with standing water on them and was kind of glad to not be trying to ride through them, even if it meant my race was over. We arrived safely at the checkpoint, my bike with a significantly more scratched up steer tube, as it officially closed but nobody had been through in a while. Everything was pretty much packed up.

Dip In RoadLater, at the hotel, I took a long hot shower, once again forgetting to turn on the fan with the pleasant sign above the switch warning that the fire alarm may go off due to steam (narrator: it never did). Lying on the bed, checking up on social media, I fell asleep at about 4:00 in the afternoon, 36 hours after I had woken up the previous day. When I woke up at 8:00 in the morning, I felt pretty well rested and super hungry. Luckily the hotel breakfast was still going on and I made good use of the waffle maker. This is when I noticed the tips of the middle two fingers of my left hand were slightly numb. Oddly, the same thing happened to the same two fingers of my right hand after the Arrowhead; it eventually went away. Is something wrong with my bike fit? Why didn’t I notice it the day before?

What did I learn?

  • I pack too much and need to lighten my load. I can’t eat everything I bring and more weight in the back just makes me more likely to fall through the trail.
  • Start with a hard shell if it’s raining. Even though my wicking system kept my base layer dry, I didn’t need the extra weight or the reduced insulation of wet layers.
  • There’s always next year.

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So...the Arrowhead 135 then.
By Ben Zvan
On December 23, 2018 at 13:58

When I heard of the Arowhead 135, I thought "that sounds like a lot of fun!" and when I found out registration was open, I knew I wouldn't be accepted but I thought it would be good experience to go through the process. So I tackled that application with all the gusto of a medeocre white man.

Then I received the acceptance email...

Oh my, what have I done?

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Why Tai Chi is a Devistating Art
By Ben Zvan
On October 15, 2008 at 22:53

Somebody I knew in high school was posting some aikido stuff on their facebook page. It made me want to find some good videos of Tai Chi push-hands.

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Exercise Does Not Mean Taking Shortcuts
By Ben Zvan
On September 22, 2008 at 12:13

The ShortcutThere's a car ad, I think it's for Acura, where a guy is running down a trail through the woods when he sees a divergent path going straight up the hill, he takes it. Initially, I thought they were trying to show the runner as a risk-taking maverick character, a hardcore runner going for the challenge. That would have made a great ad for outdoor gear. The end of the commercial shows the runner reaching his car and talks about how buying a "pre-owned" vehicle is a great shortcut to getting what you "deserve."

Okay, fine, I get the buy-used line, but the guy is skimping on his morning run so he can get back to his car faster? He's probably just going to work now in order to pay off his car loan anyway. I'd rather stay outside for a while longer.

Earlier this summer, I saw a guy taking a shortcut to get to the running trail. You read that right. He was coming out of what I assume was his back yard, hopping a fence, crossing active railroad tracks, then hopping another fence to get to his run. To add silliness to potential injury, there's a road not 100 meters from his fence-jumping spot that crosses said tracks and trail.

Every time I see something like this, it really confuses me. The point of exercise is to get out and expend energy. You want to do more work in order to burn calories and fat and cause new calories and fat to be stored as muscle rather than fat reserves. Taking a shortcut can only short-circuit the whole concept of exercise.

Each day I ride, my goal is to come back a little sooner than I did last time. I don't do it by taking shortcuts, I do it by going a little faster. A few seconds less per mile each time, a minute or two less exercise each time. As I have extra time I add a few miles to my ride and start the cycle over again. A few seconds less...

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Thank You
By Ben Zvan
On September 02, 2008 at 15:00

Cycle-Ops MagnetoI'd like to thank all the people I see running, skating and cycling on my morning bike rides. You are the folks who keep me getting out there and exercising.

To the women in low-cut and bare-midriff shirts, shorts, bikinis and sports-bras, I thank you for providing your scenic vistas of skin and muscles. I look forward to seeing you at every opportunity. It may seem like I am just speeding past you, concentrating on the next mile, but I am so checking you out.

To the men with chiseled abs and brand new, 5 pound, carbon-fiber bikes, I thank you for giving me a goals. I look forward to passing you at every opportunity on my 40-year-old, 30 pound steel-frame Schwinn. And when I am passed I feel the thrill of competition carry me forward until you are out of sight.

To the people listening to their ear buds rather than the traffic around them, walking three abreast in the bike lane, or blindly zooming into traffic at the trail crossings, please stop. You're making it hard for the rest of us, and that last one embarrasses me every time.

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I Can't Believe I Just Added a Sports Category
By Ben Zvan
On August 23, 2007 at 15:11

Two sporting items of interest:

I went to a Twins game with my mom on Tuesday. They lost. Not a big surprise, but as my wife pointed out the next morning, It's amazing how many people go to games to see the Twins win. Most of the crowd had cleared out by the end of the seventh inning. What fickle fans we are...

I actually enjoyed the game. They actually had decent beer; Summit was the same price as Budwiser. The Mariners played some pretty good ball, I thought. I still prefer Midway park because you can get much closer to the action. A bad seat there is still better than most of the seats at the Dome.

The second item is that I've re-taken-up cycling. In the last few weeks, I've put on over 100 miles and quite enjoyed most of them. The 90°+ days sucked, but that was also at the beginning of my "season". I think I've gotten better since then. Since the power was out for part of the morning here at the office, I had some time to work up a Google Map on the subject while I was waiting to connect to all of our servers.

I've been taking most of my rides in the early morning since the "hot days". So far I've found very few things that will get me up that early. Hunting and road trips are a couple others. This morning, I might as well have been biking in the mountains for all I could see of the landscape around me. There was a bike path, then a walking path, then nothing. It was quite pretty when I could see it, which wasn't often due to the dew on my glasses.

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New Pictures 8: Sarah Jones
Minneapolis Institue of Arts
04/18/2013—02/02/2014 - Free

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