Monday Feb 1 At 7am: Myself and 101 other racers started out on the Arrowhead 135 mile course in Northern Minnesota. There is an on foot, snowbike and ski divisions. I would be participating with 44 other competitors in the on foot division.
As we started down the snow covered trail the temperature was minus 21 degrees!! On top of that it was a wet cold! It froze me to the bones!! I have never been in conditions that felt this cold!! As we moved down the trail I noticed nobody was talking, it reminded me of Badwater when it is 125 degrees. You are just to miserable to talk. I had Showed up and now I was definitely going to to Suffer!!
As the sun came up the temperature would vary from minus 10 degrees to plus 10 degrees during the day. I was making good time. The trail was hard packed and fast. I was averaging under 20 minutes a mile for the first 27 miles. Not bad when your pulling a 40 lb. sled. I was with two great guys John and Tim. We were having a good time and moving along briskly. However after 8 hours on the trail as the temperature began to drop as night approached my camel back hose froze. I would now have to stop, open up my camelbak and drink direct out of bladder. This would become a big problem as the temperature dropped below 0 degrees. Everytime you stopped within a few minutes you would start shaking. The longer you stopped the harder you would shake. I started out stopping every 1/2 hour to drink and eat, pretty soon it was every hour and then every 1 1/2 hrs. I just didn’t want to stop, the extreme cold was just so painful! The problem was the less I ate and drank the more depleted I became and the colder I got! My hands became numb( Do to my depleted state and in addition to mittens that just weren’t warm enough) I didn’t eat or drink anything the last 1 1/2 hours heading to the 35 mile check point! I was afraid to stop because I felt my hands were to numb to be able to function properly to eat or drink. I was however still with my buddy Tim as I pulled into the Gateway store at the 35 mile check point at around 7pm after 12 hours. This would be my first break of the race and I was Bonked and Freezing! The first thing I saw that was warm was a hot dog machine. I put my hands over it and tried to warm them. It was suggested to me I might be more effective to use the sink and put warm water on my hands. After 10 minutes or so at the sink with warm water pouring over my hands the feeling came back in to them.
There was about 10 racers still at Gateway when I got there. 1/2 would be going on and 1/2 were dropping. I ended up staying at Gateway 2 1/2 hours eating and drying out anything I had that was wet. I had to stay long enough to get myself out of my bonked state in order to head out into the sub zero night with any chance of making the next check point at mile 73. As I headed out I was better but still weak. I was back on the trail in last place one hour behind the second to last person in the race. There was a look of surprise on several of the people faces at the checkpoint as I headed out into the subzero night!! It was around 10pm.
I had several new strategies as I went out into the dark . I would stop and drink at least every hour, no matter how much I shook or how cold I got. I also changed my inner gloves to a thicker inner mitten which I hoped would keep my hands warmer. I put fresh hand warmers in each mitten. And even though I hadn’t had problems with my feet I put over boots over my gortex running shoes. I had thoughts of being able to push all the way through the night with no sleep. But after about 3 hours I started to fall asleep on my feet, I just wasn’t strong enough to make it all the way though the night without sleep. I had dug myself a big hole by bonking so bad before the Gateway checkpoint. The temperature was now minus 20 degrees on the trail. I would have no choice but to bivy. My strategy would be to pull my puff pants and heavy coat out of my sled and then put them on quickly before I started shaking so badly that I couldn’t do it. Then I would set up my pad and sleeping bag. When I quickly put my puff pants on I realized that I had put them on backwards and couldn’t snap them they fell to my ankles but I did manage to get my thick coat on. I waddled around with my pants around my ankles and set up the pad and sleeping bag. After that I crawled in it and zipped it up. It was ugly but who can argue with the results, I was in the sleeping bag and warming up!!
After one hour of sleep I again headed out on the dark trail. After a few hours I came to fork in the trail. I studied the hard packed snow in the dark with my best tracking skills to figure out which way 90+ racers had gone. After I thought I had figured it out and was about to go left. I heard a snow mobile coming. It was a race official the only person I had seen in hours. He told me instead of going left I needed to go right!! Can you say good Karma! I now thought for sure I would be able to make it through the night with no more sleep. But about 4am I started hallucinating and again falling asleep on my feet. I stumbled along for a few more hours trying to make it to the energizing daylight!! During this time I lost not one but two of my mittens as I tried to battle through the nodding off and hallucinations till daybreak! I was down to my last 2 mittens both right handed when I decided this was a battle I wasn’t going to win! I had to sleep again! I didn’t even try to put the puff pants on this time. It was now around 6am I quickly set up my bivy and I slept one more hour and awoke to daylight.
After I woke up, I headed out onto the trail. I took out my two right handed mittens. I put one on my right hand and then made my left hand into a fist and shoved it into the right handed mitten and said “NO EXCUSES”!!!
I was still feeling weak and my pace was slow. I knew at this point I wasn’t going to make the 60 hour official cutoff. But I was still determined to finish the race. After a couple hours back out on the trail around 9am. another race official pulled up on a snow mobile to see how I was doing. He looked at my grey glove on my right hand and said “Hey I found your other grey glove”. Then he looked at my left hand that had the right handed red mitten shoved over my fist. He said “Hey I found your red mitten too!! What the heck were you doing out here last night!!” ” I was having a Yard Sale!!” ha ha” I replied. As I pushed on I kept to the plan eating and drinking regularly a minimum every hour. I finally felt my strength start to come back. I had battled through a 17 hour low but I was again Strong and started knocking out 20 minute miles. At the 61 mile mark around 2:00pm after 31 hours of racing. A race official came down the trail toward me towing a big sled behind his snowmobile. He had that Look!! I thought this must be what the sag wagon looks like at Arrowhead. He informed me I had 12 miles to go to the next check point and I was six miles behind the next competitor in the race. He thought it would be best if I got on the snowmobile and took myself out of the race. I said” Absolutely not I had gone through a 17 hour low but I was now strong and determined not only to make the next checkpoint but to finish”. He left me shaking his head and looking none to happy with my decision. I was now in the hilly part of the course but I still felt strong.
As the sun began to set man did it get cold fast. It dropped from positive 10 degrees to minus 20 degrees in a hurry. I did not put on my heavy jacket because I thought I was very close to the next check point. At this point I thought the check point was at mile 70. I would later learn the checkpoint was actually at mile 73. It was now dark and it was so cold I went against my plan and cut back on my eating and drinking because I didn’t want to stop. I kept thinking the check point would be around the next corner or over the next hill. But it never came again I was getting weaker and weaker. My pace was drastically slowing! I hit the 70 mile mark in 36 hrs at around 7pm. It would take me 2 hours to go the last 3 miles to the check point. It was just after 9 pm. as I approached Melgeorges restaurant where I was told the check point would be. I was again Bonked and Freezing. It was deja vu to how I entered the 35 mile checkpoint. As I pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant I was shocked to see no cars in the parking lot and no lights on in the restaurant. I was thinking this couldn’t be!! Someone forgot to tell them I was still coming! I ran around the building knocking on the windows and doors. I became colder and colder I was shaking more and more. I was going in to hypothermia! I looked around and could see no other buildings where the checkpoint could possibly be.
The main thing I had learned from the Alaska survival camp I had participated in about these situations was you need to get into your sleeping bag while you still can! I ran to the sled, panic was now setting in and I was shaking badly in the negative 20 degree temperature!! I just grabbed my sleeping bag out of the sled. I didn’t even think I had time to throw down the pad. With badly shaking hands I opened up the sleeping bag and got into it right on the ice covered parking lot. By the time I got the sleeping bag closed up I was shaking uncontrollably!! I was hyperventilating and in full blown hypothermia!! I had blisters on my finger tips that I would later find out were burns from having the death grip on the heating pads with my bare fingers that were inside my mittens. But at the time I thought it was frost bite which further stressed me out! I had to talk myself down from the panic. I took deep breaths and reminded myself I was in a sleeping bag in a restaurant parking lot and someone would be there in the morning. I soon stopped hyperventilating. But I continued to shake hard! After a good thirty minutes or so I eventually began to warm and the shaking stopped! I then tried to use my cell phone to call my family and tell them I was okay and to order me a cab!! Always Thinking!! But there was no reception. Nothing to do but wait in the sleeping bag till morning. I was mentally prepared to stay in the sleeping bag for the 10 hours till morning.
After about 3 hours I heard a voice say “Hey Bill do you want to come sleep in the cabin? ” It was my buddy Tim whom I had been with earlier. Someone had seen me in the parking lot and he had come out to get me. The cabin was only about a quarter mile away but behind a hill. I was told there were some sticks that led to it but in the dark and in the state I had been in there was no way I would have noticed those sticks. As we walked into the cabin it was just what I had been visualizing as I had approached the restaurant 3 hours earlier! A big warm fire and warm beds with mattresses! I now answered Tims question ” I normally prefer a firm Ice covered paved parking lot to sleep on, but this will do!!”
It was now after midnight. Man I thought I was in heaven to go from such an extreme cold to such a homey warm place. Unreal! The lovely Joy was in charge of the MelGeorges check point. I called my family to let them know I was okay. I then sat down in front of the wood burning stove to thaw out. Joy whipped me up some soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. I told her my mom used to make me grilled cheese sandwiches when I was sick. It was way Cool!!! She also awarded me the Legendary Lone Wolf Award given to the last person to arrive at the 73 mile check point!! Hey what can I say I am good at being Last!!
I was informed by Tim my race was over! There would be no attempts to finish the race unofficially. Just to Dangerous for the race officials let any racers try to go the last 60 miles unsupported!!
Out of 45 racers who started on foot only 19 would finish!
Arrowhead was definitely the most extreme and dangerous race I have ever been in!!! The Wet Biting negative 20 degree weather had not only Bit me!! But it had Chewed me up and Spit me out!!!
What doesn’t kill you makes you not only Stronger but Smarter!! The Arrowhead 135 has not seen the last of me!!!
I want to thank everyone for their support especially my family who tracked me all through the day and night and had to deal with reports on the website that I was unaccounted for, for over 3 hours. I Love you guys!!!
Show Up and Suffer and be Thankful you are not related to me!!!