Finally. I had made it to the longest version of Tuscobia. I have been slowly introducing myself to winter ultras, starting with the Tuscobia 35 in 2014, the 75 in 2015, and now the 150 in 2016. I had also been doing Triple D since 2014. I am really happy with the path I have taken to get to the 150. Slow and steady. I have slowly been acquiring gear over those years, testing and learning along the way. To say I am happy with my gear, bike, and preparation would be an understatement. I have an incredible support system behind me who are willing to answer millions of questions and share wisdom. But anyways, back to the race!
I left Iowa bright and early Friday morning. All packed into my little red truck (now complete with new engine, that is another story), I felt confident finally having my own transportation to get me to my race. Carpooling is always my first choice, but sometimes plans fall through and having my own backup makes me feel that much better. I did know that I would be meeting Bailey from Comrade Cycles when I got to Rice Lake! And some 7 or so hours later Bailey and I converged in the Rice Lake Super 8, rolling bikes, hauling bags, and greeting each other with smiles and hugs.
After settling in we headed over to the new race headquarters, which were indoors! Gear check was a little more official, which I appreciated. Afterwards we chowed down at the Norske Nook, moseyed back to our hotel, and repacked our bikes. I honestly wasn’t feeling 100%. I had been pretty exhausted all week and just kept explaining my symptoms as “weird”. I have a feeling it was a lot of stress, nerves and traveling. To say I was scared of this race would be on point. 150 loaded fat-bike miles is something I have done, but not in this weather yet. In Iowa the coldest point we had gotten to was maybe 10 degrees for a day or two. There clearly a lot on my mind, but somehow I fell asleep quite early, letting my head rest for the days to come.
The alarm woke me up at 4:15…or so. The race started at 6am, so a kind of early morning was key. Getting dressed, eating breakfast, dragging my bike to the truck, this was all done half awake. The second I arrived at the Knights of Columbus hall I was awake. Ready to just start pedaling. My biggest goal with this race was to finish. Plain and simple. Get to the end. Other goals were to focus on eating and drinking. Sometimes during winter rides I forget essentials to keep me moving, I knew they would be key. The temperature hovered somewhere around a comfortable 9 or 10. The sun would be up in a couple of hours. And we were off! A relatively anti-climatic start for a very important race.
I started behind JB Barnhouse and Steve McGuire. Both are from Iowa City, and both are on single-speeds. I rode behind them, letting them set a nice pace. Slow enough to keep my mind relaxed, but fast enough to let me know if I needed to shed layers, and I did. I unzipped my top and middle layer. First mistake. I continued to pedal and pedal. Passing JB and Steve I kept my pace lively. The Tuscobia State Trail is long, flat, and boring. I needed to find a way to keep my enthusiasm up, especially when doubts and fear can creep in early during these races. It would be 45 miles to the first checkpoint. Probably 10 miles into the ride I went to drink my hydration pack. The hose was frozen because I unzipped my middle layer, exposing it. Dangit. I still had my Hydroflask to drink from, but I would have to stop every time. I think the forced stopping early on during the race helped me keep things in perspective. A little bit of a wake-up call to make sure I was eating and drinking.
As I continued on things were going great, until maybe 15 miles from the first checkpoint. My rear tire was slowly losing air. I was wondering why riding was getting so much harder and then I turned around and looked at my bike. A flat. I got off and saw that sealant was leaking out around the bead of the tire. I got my mini pump out, but decided instead to use some of my CO2s first. They worked. For the most part. I was off the bike for less time and I would put more air in the tire when I got to the checkpoint. That was some good motivation to keep that lively pace going. I was more than half way to the checkpoint and I knew there would some warm foods and smiles there. I pressed onward.
I arrived at my first check point at 11:19 am. I was feeling OK. I was skeptical about my rear tire since I had fixed it, wondering when it was going to blow. I set my hydration pack, top layer, and neck warmer by the fire to thaw them out. I sat drinking some soup and watching them warm up. I also put some chicken broth and hot water in my hydro-flask. The best thing about the checkpoints are the people though. Getting a chance to talk with friends and share when we are off the bike is great. After putting myself back together, throwing out all of my garbage, and pumping up my rear tire to probably above a comfortable riding pressure I left. All in I was there for 27 minutes.
Heading out I started wondering if I could make it to the halfway point before dark. I decided I could. As long as I kept up the drinking, eating, and pedaling. I wanted to use as much sun-light as I could. There was 35 miles to the half-way, and I was feeling much better about my rear tire and just in general. I knew there was a very strong lady in front of me, so I wasn’t worried about trying to beat her. I kept bouncing off of a couple of people. Mark, Bonnie, Sue, and Jesse. I would stop to eat and drink and then they would either catch me or I would catch them after stopping. It was nice to have a constant flow of happy faces. This was also when the 75 miler bikers and runners started rolling by. I cannot even count the “good jobs”, “stay strong”, and one-liners that were shared. That is something magical.
I was stopped with Sue Lucas at one point. I asked her if she was liking the bike knowing that she usually runs these events. She told me running is easier.
She also told me that we were at mile 62. Apparently I hadn’t set up my Garmin to tell me mileage, just time moving and time of the day. That really turned out to be helpful. Instead of slowly watching miles tick by, I just payed attention to the time of day. There wasn’t any sun to tell me how the hours were moving, just that little clock on my computer. There was 18 miles to the checkpoint. My least favorite miles were coming up. I have covered the end of the Tuscobia trail just two other times, but it is painfully flat and I start to think that every intersection is the end. None of them are. Mark Scotch passed me and I think I complained something at him about hating this part of the trail. Sorry Mark.
I arrived at the halfway point at 4:07 pm, meeting my sub-goal of getting there before dark. I was hungry! I ate a giant bowl of soup while taking my boots off. My feet were doing good. I could still feel them and my socks weren’t wet. I also took off my top layers. They weren’t wet either. Success! Putting on new socks was pretty great. I had packed them in each of my drop bags. Leaving halfway I knew that there would be no more daylight. I accepted that and turned on my headlamp. I left the halfway mark at 5:26 pm. At this point I put in my one headphone. A little musical motivation always help keep the demons out of my head in the dark.
35 miles back to that first checkpoint. Ojibwa. The darkness was nice really. It hid the fact that I had already ridden this trail. I was feeling good still. Strong. My hands and feet were still warm and my extra layer was on. The 35 miles back to the my checkpoint were surprisingly nice. I am very happy that I waited to turn on my music. That always cheers me up. I also like getting to see all of the red blinkies in front of me and use them as a tiny beacon to chase. During the second leg of this ride I was still bouncing off of Jesse, Bonnie, Mark, and Sue. It was nice to still have this strong group of people out there to keep finding.
Rolling into the last checkpoint I knew I would hang out for a while. I arrived at 10:10 pm. I was still making good time. I removed my two top layers, hydration pack, and shoes again. This time I sat them by a giant space heater to dry. I was wearing down a little. I drank two cups of potato soup and ate probably 4 pancakes. All given to me by the race volunteers. Bless those people. I found myself a seat on a bench and sat. JB, Jesse, Mark, Steve, Sue, and Bonnie were all there. I was happy to be surrounded by a field of happy people. After sitting and drying my layers for 30 minutes or so I started piling them back on. I knew I would have to change the battery on my light and put more food on my bike. Other than that my mind had one place to be, back on the bike pedaling. Jesse was fighting some stomach issues so I went outside for the first time since arriving to get him some ginger tabs. It was cold. Way colder than when I had arrived.
Heading back out I left around 12 am. I remember saying “ONWARD.” Then just pedaling away into the night. Headphone was still going and I knew where all of my food was. 45 miles to go. That is when things started to go a little haywire. My hands were freezing. Cold enough that it really scared me. I didn’t know what to do. I had gone maybe 15 miles when I started to worry. I wrapped my extra neck warmer around one hand and my wind shell around the other. It helped. But every time I wanted to use my hands I had to unravel them from my makeshift insulation. I was getting tired and started hoping that a gas station would be open somewhere. Of course none of them were. I saw signs for a 24 hour gas station, which I decided just meant that you could get gas 24 hours a day. I didn’t need gas. I just wanted plastic bags. I started looking for anything to use as more insulation. Could I pull plants out of the ground and shove them in my pogies? Snow? Magically find a garbage pail full of bags? Nope. I just had to keep wrapping my hands over and over again. I stopped drinking water and eating as frequently. I just wanted to finish. At this point I still knew that Bonnie, Sue, and another lady were in front of me. I wasn’t worried about winning. I was worried about what the cold would do to me. Passing a bank sign that temperature read -22. That was about 10 more degrees colder than I had anticipated. I thought about the gloves I had left at the halfway point. Why was I so naive to leave them. After a couple hours of beating myself up I knew I had to distract myself.
Just keep pedaling. My Mother, ever since I was little, would always chant “Pedal, Pedal, Pedal!” That was running over and over in my head. I saw a mile marker for 19, then 18, then 16. Torturous. I was halfway done with the last stretch of trail. I wanted to cry. I didn’t, but my brain was mad. I pedaled even harder. My mind was set on the big dip that was less than a mile off the trail in Rice Lake. I knew I was far away, but I needed that distraction. I was still drinking too little and eating nothing. I just kept pedaling.
Passing mile marker 9 was not exciting. This was also around where I passed Mark and Bonnie. Those red blinking tail-lights of theirs was a lure for me. Catch those lights. On to the next pair of lights, be it a runner or biker. I didn’t care. They were helping. Next person I caught was Sue. I was still in second. I didn’t care. I am good at having a fourth wind. I was starting to wind all over the trail . I was tired. But finishing strong is something I am good at. Just keep pedaling.
The last four miles were hard. My big light died and I was left with my tiny headlamp. It was enough because thankfully the small hill section was over and it was a straight shot along the highway to Rice Lake. I finally stopped to eat. A lot. I ate a whole hostess cherry pie, peach gummies, and drank nearly half of my chicken broth mix during those last four miles. My hands were doing OK in the wrapped up insulation. I was going to make it. The last four miles felt like they went on for 40. Rolling up the the Knights of Columbus building may have been the best feeling in the world. A huge sigh. I was tired. Lisa was manning the finish line. Just the person I wanted to see. She greeted me with a huge smile and this line, “I don’t want to say it this way, but you are the first lady!” I thought she must be wrong. What had happened to the strong blonde lady in front of me this whole time. Was she a figment of my imagination?
Too tired to think, I took my sleeping bag out, took off my shoes and layers, crawled into that bag, and went to sleep for the next 5 hours.
Waking up I thought that they would tell me I was in fact the second lady. I was still first. Mind blown. I was the youngest lady by 10 years. Many of the people I was riding with were 10 years older than me. I have a lot to learn about this type of riding and a lot of time to do it.
Thank you Chris and Helen Scotch for putting on this event. The amount of experience I have gained over the last three years of riding and volunteering is priceless. Thank you Steve McGuire and JB for convincing me to finally do this. Thank you to Bailey for sharing a room with me, lending me some extra gear, and being a great support system before, during, and after the race. I look forward to more adventures with you! Thank you to Sue, Bonnie, Mark, Jesse, Steve, and all of the riders and runners I had a chance to talk with. Your positive spirits really help out there.
ALRIGHT.If you have made it this far here comes the big truth. A couple of people know by now and I trust if you spent your time to read my report that I can share this with the world….
but I ended up with frostbite on my two big toes. I drove home that Sunday, toes seemingly normal. About 2 hours from home I noticed blisters forming. Nothing was too painful, but I was scared. I went straight to the hospital when I got home. They checked my toes for blood flow, which they had, and sent me home. They also told me not to go to work for a week. I am not good at that.
Fast forward two days I went back to the hospital to have a blister removed. My toes are healing faster now and will recover fully.
I will not be at Arrowhead. They already know.
I know this is something I will deal with for a very long time. I made a mistake and didn’t pay attention to myself enough. I was so preoccupied with my hands and the finish line that I didn’t stop to check in on my feet.
One of my favorite posts that I had known about before this happened was written by Matt Maxwell. It was about frostite and unacceptable consequences. I remember reading it last year and it had an impact on me. I did this to myself, like a lot of the dumb things I do they are my own fault. Be that physical, emotional, or mental. Pain is always there, but it can be managed better and it will be. I will not be making this mistake again. I will be going over this experience and how it has affected in a post to come.
Here is Matt’s post: http://lonesomeluddite.blogspot.ca/2014/01/unacceptable-consequences.html
I think that it is important that you guys all read that!
I will be back to Arrowhead next year with more experience and knowledge. This will not stop my winter riding, but make me a better winter rider.