ArrowHead 135 – Andy’s Reflection

Andy Lockery, very long time, part time shop helper, is making a habit of chronicalling shop founder Lindsay Gauld’s Arrowhead 135 undertakings. As you’ll know if you follow this site Lindsay, along with two other shop friends Dallas Sigurgur and Ian Hall, tackled the Arrowhead and Andy, along with a few others, was with them to assist in any way he could. Here is the first installment of his reflection of the event:


Once again the Arrowhead 135 winter endurance race for snow bikers , runners, and XC skiers has taken place and once again, in my role as faithful manservant and general Dogsbody to that diminutive cycling ICON Lindsay Gauld, it is my lot to comment, in a dispassionate and factual way, upon the occurrences that make this event so special . Last year,in my first experience of the Arrowhead, I devoted all of my text to the exploits of the Iconic cyclist,my lord and master, Lindsay Gauld. This year my comments will be in three parts….

1. The Arrowhead 135 race
2. The contestants
3. The return of the ICON and friends.

Faithfully recorded by….. Andy Lockery , ICON’s Faithful manservant, Dogsbody, and Tall Person!

I think it is important for everyone reading this report to be aware of the nature of this race and the effect it has upon the racers. The Arrowhead is a race for cyclists , runners , and XC skiers. They all have to race from International Falls in Northern Minnesota on the Arrowhead snowmobile trail through wolf infested forests, carrying enough sweetly smelling food to keep them alive for an extended period of time. There is no doubt in my mind that the desire “to eat but not to be eaten” explains the remarkable feats of endurance and speed of travel exhibited by the contestants whether they be on foot, skis or bicycle. All contestants must also carry sleeping bags, water, cooking stoves, flashing lites, space blankets, insulated sleeping pads, whistles, and warm clothing. All of said items benefit the wolves by keeping their anticipated repast warm, tender , and in the case of the flashing lights and whistle, much easier to locate.
All would-be contestants have to provide a resume of their past exploits that clearly show that they have the pedigree to attempt an event where inexperience could lead to death. It is this very fact that gives the Arrowhead an atmosphere of its own.c As one veteran competitor put it, “there are no posers in this event”! It is clearly evident that this very serious event generates a mutual respect between the contestants, the organisers and the many volounteers, that is invariably absent in less extreme events. I witnessed several occasions where contestants stopped to assist another when problems arose. I also noticed that several racers told the checkpoint officials that someone was frostbitten or in difficulties out on the trail , and one of the snowmobile safety patrols would head out to check out the situation. In my own experiences from a background in xc ski and road bike racing I saw much more of a cutthroat attitude towards other competitors.
In the pre race presentation and banquet, the chief organiser provided an interesting list of individual contestants statements of their past achievements , obviously provided in the hope that it would convince him that the applicant was a worthy entrant. My favourite was Charlie Farrow’s contention that he was George Mallory’s son. Since George died on Everest in 1927, that makes Charlie at least 83 years old and on a par with our ICON, whose own list of past achievements covered half a century of time and three feet of paper. On the other hand there is a possibility that George made friends with the “abominable snow woman” and that Charlie is 50% yeti, which would explain his remarkable cold weather achievements, and unusual use of a Man Diaper. [ With regard to this latter item I am unable to divulge the nature Of Charlie’s relationship to the Man Diaper as Charlie has bestowed upon me the honour of membership in that elite group whose motto is “Death before Dishonour.” I would therefore have to kill myself before I could tell you! ]
When you realise that this race can take as long as 60 hours, in a wilderness area with hungry critters, at temperatures of -37F, you begin to understand just one of the very real dilemmas facing the organisers when they have to decide whether someone with limited skills should or should not be in the race. The very logistics of running this event boggle the mind. For example the first road crossing occurs after only 17 miles of this 135 mile event. The time between the first and last competitor to cross this highway is 5 hours. By the time the first finisher completes the event it is 45 hours before the last competitor appears at the finish. This means that as the first finisher crosses the line, the slower racers are roughly 90 miles behind. In simple terms there are competitors all over the course and even with a plane spotter operating during the daylight hours and 10 sleds patrolling the course throughout the event, one can appreciate that a competitor who has to stop out on the course, rather than at a checkpoint, may be there for several hours before word reaches the patrol. It becomes obvious that each competitor had better be very familiar with all of their safety equipment, had better be certain that their stove fuel will ignite at -37F, and that their food, very warm sleeping bag, bed roll, and bivvy sack will suffice for however long it takes.
Let me also make you aware of the enormous workload facing the individuals at the check points. ” Gateway,” after approximately 38 miles is the first checkpoint where the racers have to shout out their numbers to the official, Dennis Grelk, as they arrived and again as they left. [ Our ICON is greatly enamoured with Dennis since , in his first attempt at this event when he finished 4th, Dennis finished 3rd, last year when our ICON finished 11th ,Dennis finished 10th. So, this year, with Dennis officiating rather than competing, our ICON figured that a top ten placing was once again within his grasp…… and no, Dennis did not receive a bribe from our ICON, he was merely taking a break to allow his body to recover from all of the efforts he had made in the many long distance events he had competed in over the previous twelve months.
GATEWAY is a gas Station and General store and is one of the very few places where civilisation touches the trail. It is family owned and run , and I have watched the owners now for two years. They provide, for a very nominal fee, large bowls of soup and other snacks for racers and race followers alike. They run their drier continuously to allow the competitors to continue the event warm and dry. The owner demonstrated that resilience and initiative, so necessary for survival in the arctic climate of Northern Minnesota, by coming out into the small parking lot and opening the door lock on a 2011 truck in all of 5 minutes. He had the same professional tools as your average AAA mechanic, whom I had used only 3 weeks previously when I too had locked my keys in my vehicle. The difference was that my guy took 25 minutes and not 5 minutes. I discovered later in conversation with the owner that he had trained as a professional locksmith. I also noticed that both he and his wife had driven down to the finish on the Wednesday and were watching the racers complete the event some 50 hours or so since the first riders had departed from their store. Their dedication to the event greatly impressed many of the competitors and to show our thanks all of the Canadian contingent filled our gas tanks twice at Gateway , and also bought a few gifts for our family members who for some strange reason do not share our fascination with this event.
The second checkpoint is at MEL GEORGE’S, a fishing Lodge some 10 miles from the nearest highway, on the shores of Elephant Lake, and at 70 miles from the start, pretty close to the halfway point in the event. Here, the race organisers have rented a cabin which is staffed by three volunteers, who operate on shifts through two days and nights, and take turns in pampering each and every competitor, with soup, toasted cheese sandwiches , or in the case of our ICON , fried perogies. In addition they take turns ferrying copious quantities of sweaty under garments to and from an industrial clothes drier that is close in size to a 200 gallon oil tank, so that the competitors once again can leave in a warm and dry condition for what is a very long stretch of very hilly trail over a distance of 45 miles before the trail passes by the Crescent Bar and grill some 21 miles from the finish line at Fortune Bay casino. This year is the first in the history of the event where the organisers were able to persuade the owners of the Crescent Bar and Grill to stay open for the duration of the race and this third checkpoint proved to be very popular with those competitors who were able to refuel and get warm at a time when their bodies were so depleted that many might not have completed the event, had it not been for the owners willingness to forgo two nights sleep for the sake of 100 plus crazies who for some unknown reason actually enjoy sleep deprivation and physical self abuse.
Dave and Mary Pramann were the primary organisers of this years event and in many ways the event is even more of an excercise in sleep deprivation and endurance to a far greater degree than for the competitors. For them the event lasts a year and probably requires a degree in problem solving and public relations. Dave requires no introduction to the racers as he is the current record holder in the cycling category [ around 16 hours] and Mary was one of the Angels of Mercy at the Mel George check point. In fact she was the gourmet chef for our ICON’s perogy feast. Mary had never seen a perogy before and made the unfortunate error of judgement of asking my advice on how to cook them. I advised heating them until they stopped screaming and it seemed to work since our ICON is still alive. Mary and Dave were also on the registration desk at the start of the race and Dave was also at the finish looking very much as though he had just ridden the event.
Both Dave and Mary, and Dennis Grelks folks, Duane and Mary , as well as all the other volunteers, deserve a round of heartfelt applause for their dedicated work during the event. It was after all Mary Grelk who singlehandedly carried our ICON to his room after the finish ….. but more of that in a later report.

Part Two ” THE COMPETITORS” will follow

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