Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Iceman/woman Cometh

photo by Caitlin Johnson
When you think of -20F with a windchill of -40F do you say, "Hey, today seems like a GREAT day for a bike race"?  If so, maybe you should consider entering the Arrowhead 135.

As I write this, in my 65F house in Madison, Wisconsin, it's -17 in International Falls, MN--the start location for the 8th annual race.  Come January 28th/29th, 135 brave (some may use different terminology) souls will make their way to the sign-in/gear check meetings.  That Sunday night, they will fall asleep with bellies full of spaghetti, hoping for good trail conditions and minimal equipment failure.

When the Arrowhead 135 started in 2005, only 10 racers made it to the start line.  Now, it has somewhat of a "cult" following and is used by Alaskans training for the Iditabike.  Racers fall into three categories:  bike, ski with pulk sled or foot with pulk sled.  All will start at 7am, Monday January 30th.  All must finish the 135 miles of snowmobile trail, ending in Tower, MN by 7pm Wednesday.  Most choose to bike because of the speed, however, with fresh snow, many of the cyclists will push their bike for miles.

foot racers
photo by Dave Pramann

Anything and everything can happen during this race and although the top finishers won't spend a night out "camping", every racer must carry mandatory gear at all times--or become disqualified.  Racers must be prepared to sleep out if poor conditions hit and since this race is 100% unassisted, this usually means carrying 30-40lbs. of gear.  Although there are three checkpoints, racers cannot receive assistance from non-racers unless there is a medical condition.  From start to finish, all racers MUST carry a -20 degree sleeping bag, an insulated sleeping pad, a tent or bivy sack, firestarters, a stove, 8 ounces of fuel (they must finish with 8 ounces left over), a pot, a 2qt. insulated water bottle, a headlamp, red LED blinking lights (so as not to become a hood ornament on a snowmachine), a whistle, and 3,000 calories at all times (must finish with this leftover).  Remember, this is just the "mandatory" list--the recommended list doubles it.

Lance Andre, Jeff Oatley, Jason Buffington

The male record holder is still Dave Pramann, current race organizer with his wife Mary Pramann.  In 2006, he finished on bike in just 15 hours, 45 minutes!  The women's record was shattered last year by Alaskan, Heather Best.  She finished on bike in 20 hours 14 minutes and placed 8th overall.

As you might guess, people are a  part of this solely for the love of it.  It's 100% non-profit--all entry fees go to operational costs.  If there is any money left over, it goes to helping provide college scholarships to children of US Special Ops soldiers that were killed or injured.  Volunteers make this race possible!  Although the organizers rotate, Dave and Mary Pramann have put the race on for the past two years.  Without folks like these, Arrowhead 135 would not exist.

So, you've read this and still want to try your hands at winter racing?  Fantastic!  First things first.  Read Dave Schlobowske's blog piece on winter bikes at  Next, go out and test ride as many winter bikes as you can (there are often times demo days).  Read "Of Wolves and Men" by Barry Lopez--if you're riding in Northern MN or WI in the winter, you'll encounter a few.  Try your hand at a shorter winter race--there are several in the Midwest.  Okay, you're set.  Slap on a smile underneath that balaclava and layer of Vaseline and have fun!

Dan Dittmer
photo by Allison Long
Dave Pramann and Charlie Farrow
photo by Mike Curiak

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