Alone in the Woods

Follow the journey of a very ordinary Ultra runner doing extraordinary things

2019 Iditarod Trail Invitational

Part 3: Day two: The race really doesn’t even begin until you go over Rainy Pass.

By 2pm and 24 hours into the race I had put on another 10 miles bringing the total to 70 miles for day one. I thought to myself, “I’d take that any day of the week.” The mountains in the distance would have something else to say about that however. The going was only gonna get more difficult as those ominous mountains drew near. I was in hot pursuit of Paul and Steve. At the same time I didn’t want to miss the Cindy Abbot experience. She is one of the unofficial stops on the trail that I’d heard was a must see. She is a trail angel known for treating racers like kings. From what I had heard from other racers in previous years is that she has a ton of baked goods, hot soup, and coffee at the ready. That is if you aren’t in too much of a hurry to stop. I think she was supposed to be 20 miles out from the 1st check point. A good place to take a break and refuel. Before I find the sign leading to her place I catch up to Paul and Steve. They had now grouped up with Maren, a Canadian that was running her first ultra. she was doing the 150 miler. We find out she is from Whitehorse on the Yukon River. She mushes dogs for a living with her husband. She is not your average Canadian. Maren had motored by me right after leaving the 1st checkpoint that morning. She was flying! Somehow I was able to close the almost one hour gap Paul and Steve had leaving the check point before me. I was pleased to now have some company. It didn’t sound like they planned on stopping at Cindy’s though so I figured we wouldn’t be together for very long.

We started working as a group taking turns leading and setting the pace. I kept looking for the sign leading to Cindy’s but I never did come across it. Somehow I missed it. Who knows maybe she don’t have a sign and experienced racers just know which place is hers or what mile she’s at. The cabins and lodges along the river are few and far between. We did However see a momma moose and her calf on the river though. The calf didn’t seem too concerned with us, but the momma was not happy. She kept trying to get the calf to follow her off the river and away from us. Momma nervously paced back and forth on the Rivers’s edge. Eventually the calf followed Momma up into the trees on the river bank.

As the sun began wane we came to the confluence of the Skwentna and Yentna rivers. Here we run into a dilemma as a sign points in two different directions to get to the Skwentna Roadhouse. The trail looks better to the right, but the GPS says to go left. As a group we decide to go left. Both directions say it’s only 4 more miles. It didn’t take long before we were cussing whoever painted that sign because there was no way we hadn’t already gone 4 miles. Distance on the trail never seemed to match what we had on our race info. I guess because the trail is a little different every year. Certainly no reason to get upset. It just gave us something to laugh about. In the end we would always get there eventually. Once the trail left the river we knew we were getting close. It began to get dark and we could see red lights through the trees. Like most check points Skwentna had an air strip. The blinking lights were marking this one so it was a year round airfield. Most of the other airstrips were on the ice marked by pine boughs. The remoteness of this adventure is daunting. The only way in or out is via the Iditarod Trail or airplane.

We walked out of the tree line near the airstrip. Somehow we must have missed a turn to the roadhouse. We quickly backtrack to where the trail skirts around the airstrip and finally pull into the 2nd check point.

Inside we are greeted by the cheerful Inn Keeper behind the bar. A piping hot wood stove was against the far wall in the middle of the room. We all head over and start trying to find a spot to dry gear. I quickly string up a 10 foot piece paracord as a clothes line to hang my wet gear. This was one of the few check points that didn’t have a ton of spots to hang stuff. I tied my line to a hook on the wall and strung it right next to the stove tying the other end to the back of a chair. Prime drying real estate. The remaining space on the line was shared with the others.

The Skwentna Roadhouse was nice. It seemed pretty new compared to other checkpoints. Most importantly it was warm. The wood stove was kicking out some serious heat. The inn keeper wasn’t shy about stoking the fire either. Here they offered us the option of lasagna, chili with corn bread, or chicken noodle soup. I got the chili and it was well worth the $15. Paul got the chicken noodle soup which looked equally impressive. None of us had slept yet. Maren, Paul, and I kind of reluctantly rented beds for a fee of $75. As I was assigned my room and bed the owner informed us that we got the last available beds. Poor Steve was out of luck and banished outside to bivvy in the cold. It wasn’t as cold as the first night, but it had to be close to -20F.

I wandered off to my room. I had ear plugs out in my sled, but I really didn’t feel like bundling up to go back out and get them. In retrospect I should have. My room was already occupied by Judd and Steve. They are a couple of bikers sporting single speed old Skool cool bikes. They are a part of the Back of the Pack Racing Team. A sort of outlaw biker band of misfits that seem to scoff at mechanical advantages when it comes to biking. They can often be found at the bar enjoying a pint or three the night before a race. They don’t seem to take anything too serious. How can you not admire that?! No need for fancy gears or suspension for these guys.

I knew of Judd from seeing him at Arrowhead and had read his race report from his first Iditarod a couple years prior. We end up swapping paint out on the trail with these guys from the beginning to the end of the race. Paul and I also sat next to them on the bus ride to the start. Early in the 1st night we even helped Steve get back on course as he was going the opposite direction. Almost every section all the way to the end we were crossing paths with these guys. The even tried to drink all the beer before we could get to the finish line. They were flipping awesome! They were out there to enjoy themselves and it showed. They were already asleep when I walked into the room. Steve was snoring so loud Judd had his ear plugs in. I was having a hard time not laughing my fuck ass off with each ungodly noise billowing out from Steve’s bed. The only open bed was the top bunk of a lone bunk bed. Which just so happened to be covered with what I assumed was Judd’s gear. I felt terrible but had to shake Judd in order to wake him given the ear plugs. Thankfully he quickly moved all his stuff and I crawled up in the top rack. This would be my only good sleep of the race. Our group agreed set our alarms so we could meet downstairs at 5am to get going.

By 4:30 I was wide awake and raring to go. The bikers were still asleep. I gathered my belongings trying not to wake them while at the same time not leave anything behind. As I get downstairs to the main room everyone else is also starting to gather up their stuff. I buy a piece of Pecan pie for breakfast and settle up my bill.

As we prepare to depart I lube up my feet and put fresh dry socks on followed by the rest of my gear. It’s now nice and toasty having been hanging next to the fireplace all night. I fill my hydration vest with water and my pockets with food to last most of the day. As we get ready to go I notice Dimitry (who I later dub the Russian spy) keeping an close eye on us as if he doesn’t want us to get too far ahead of him. This becomes his M.O. for the rest of the race and at some point we expect him to make a move to get out ahead of us. I didn’t know until after the race but we left this check point in 3rd place as a group. Paul, Steve, Maren, and myself would spend the entire day together.

At around 5am we head out into the darkness with basically a full nights sleep. The trail quickly leads back onto the river. Before long the sun began to rise bringing yet another absolutely perfect day.

At about 20 miles into our day the trail had left the relative flatness of the river to what had become gently rolling woods. Soon we reach a sharp descent. We all slide down and spill out onto a good size lake. Over on the distant shore we can see smoke wafting from what looks like a bunch of small cabins. One of which was the Shell Lake Lodge. Shell lake lodge is another unofficial check point that welcomes racers with food, beverages, and a piping hot wood stove. It was the perfect spot to stop for breakfast. Like the other places you take what they are serving at the time and be grateful. We got eggs, pancakes, and ham served with coffee and Tang. Tang seemed to be a staple on the trail as I would later find out. We also had some crunchy peanut butter that was left out on our table. Me and Maren must have been lacking fat and protein because we scarfed it down right off the spoon. Breakfast was reasonable considering how remote this place was. The only power was a generator out back that was probably running constantly. I think they only charged us about $15 for breakfast which included endless coffee and Tang. As we leave the bar tender tells us we have 30 plus miles to get to the next check point. Of course thats 10 miles more than our mile chart, but we take it as it comes. We really have no other choice and it’s hard to complain when the backdrop is this gorgeous.

After about 25 miles Paul starts to pull away off the front. I stop to take some photos of the amazing sun as it seem low in the sky.

By late afternoon the mountains start to close in around us. We knew we were getting close to check point 3 when a large group of snowmobiles pull up. One of them thanks me for my service as he sees my USMC sweatshirt. I thought that was nice of him, but I was soon cursing them all as they completely wrecked the surface of the trail. It was now a struggle with every step sinking 6 inches into the snow. Thankfully we only had a couple more miles to go. Again we spill out onto a lake and go past a makeshift airfield that’s lined with pine boughs. I thought it was strange that this one was out of the sight of the resort, but as soon as we rounded a point the lodge came into view. This was Winter Lake Lodge which is located on Finger Lake.(something I found strange was that the lodge names never matched the name of the lake)

At this checkpoint they have a big canvas tent set up on the ice for the racers. Our drop bags are up at one of the tiny rustic cabins no bigger than a small shed. Here they provided us with a hot meal that the race had catered from the lodge. It was a chicken, bean, and rice burrito which hit the spot after a long day on the trail. The bikers ahead of us had pillaged the condiments so they were a little dry without sour cream or salsa. Still much better that the trail food we had been eating all day. After eating we all went to our tent and made a fire in the wood stove. I pulled out my paracord again and hung all my wet gear above the stove. The second place runner was only one other racer laid out so we had our pick of spots when we laid down. By the time we woke every square inch of the plywood floor was covered with sprawled out racers. Unfortunately those that came in after us failed to stoke the fire. The tent also had a propane stove, but it had run out of fuel as well. Temps had plummeted and it was now freezing inside the tent as we woke. Thankfully my stuff had enough time to dry and was not frozen solid. The 4 of us all gather our stuff and meet up at the check point cabin. We pillage the extra food left behind faster racers drop bags. It’s a nice change of pace from eating the same stuff for the past couple days. A group of three maybe 4 total racers that were behind us beat us out of this check point as we all sit and enjoyed a nice hot cup of coffee before departing.

We head out into the cold around 3am in hot pursuit of the group of racers now just in front of us. Again it was around -20F. Before leaving we are told this next section has 3000 feet of climbing and the happy river steps. Almost immediately upon departing the climbing begins. By sun up we catch the group ahead of us on a very long steep climb. They are speaking a different language and seem reluctant to make room for us to pass even though we came up on them quite quickly. We have no choice but to yell on your left and all four of us barrel by quickly gaining separation from them. After what seems like hours of climbing the trail opens up crossing a few alpine lakes. What goes up however must come down. After all that climbing I knew we’d have some major descending. Sure enough we have a bunch of slidable winding trail down to where the trail crosses the Happy River. The final descent to the river was so steep even I am leery about sliding down it. And I slide everything. I drag my feet the whole way down. Maren is behind me and she goes down on her butt in front of her sled. Amazingly we all make it down unscathed. I don’t know how the sled dogs do that section without getting run over by the sled.

The river has overflow and the snow on top looked wet. We all stop to don waders. I only have think black trash bags so I pull them up to my knees. Paul crosses first and breaks through the snow covered ice. I follow and the sharp ice splits my bags instantly. My feet get drenched. By this time temps were in the single digits. I’m a little worried about my feet freezing but as long as we stay moving I should be good. Thankfully it wasn’t colder. That could have been trouble.

After crossing the river we have an equally steep climb out the other side. The trail is a virtual wall of ice. We are literally on our hand and knees trying to pull ourselves up. Dragging a 50lb sled behind us make this extremely difficult. We are forced off into the deep snow to the side of the trail to be able grab shrubs to help pull ourselves up the slope. It’s comical watching each other struggle. I wish I would have recorded it, but all my batteries were dead. After that super steep climb we spend the day going up and down as we seem to skirt the side of a mountain range. Each day changed who was the strongest. In retrospect I think it had to do mostly with fueling. The prior day was Paul’s as he pulled off the front and beat us to that check point. This one However was mine as my fueling was on point. It may have been all the peanut butter. I pulled off the front and kept stopping to see if they would catch up. By noon I had made separation from the group and could no longer see them when I’d look back on the straight ways. After a while the trail opens out on what seems to be another air strip overlooking a lake. I make my way to the other end and the trail veers to the left and makes a sharp descent pouring out onto the lake. On the lake is yet another make shift air strip lined with pine bows. A couple planes are parked out front of the lone resort which we are headed to. This is Rain Pass Lodge on Pintilla Lake. This is where Maren’s 150 mile race finished. During the day Maren confessed to me that she felt like a 5k runner compared to us doing the 350. We all got a good chuckle out of that because in reality it was exactly the way we felt as compared to those going on and doing the 1000 miler.

I make my way up the hill to the little cabin with the Iditarod invitational banner above the door. It’s a little old log cabin that looks to be leaning to the side and about to fall over. It’s a three room cabin with a old wood stove in the corner next to the door. Nothing is level and the door never seems to close all the way. I grab an empty rack and plug in my phone hoping to get a quick charge so I can go back down and record Maren coming across the finish line for her outright victory of the 150 mile race. After putting a dry shirt on and my down booties I grab my camera and make my way back down to the lake. On the way down I meet Dave Mable who’s there documenting the race for the movie 1000 miles to Nome. I tell him about Maren and he does a little interview with her on camera as she finishes. We all congratulate her on her victory.

Paul asked me what my plan was. We were told it was not a good idea to go over Rainy Pass alone or at night. I had been listening to other racers along the way and most were going to take a prolonged break here heading over the mountain pass just before day break. I also knew the next aid station only had room for about 6 people and was just a small wall tent. They also had a rule of first in first out. Which meant if you were the first one in and 6 people showed up after you you were sent out to make room for the new arrivals. I had a feeling if we didn’t head out before morning there would be a huge log jam at the next check point. I made the decision that I was leaving at 5pm with or without them. In the back of my mind I thought maybe this was my chance to get separation from the group. Paul said he’d set an alarm and see how he felt.

Again I string up my line just above the wood stove to hang my gear. On top of the wood stove is a huge pot of water filled with cans of soup. Each racer is allotted 2 cans. Before laying down I scarf my first one down.

After eating I grab my rack and attempt to sleep. A hour of tossing and turning while getting blasted by cold air every time the door opened I finally got up and moved to a bed in the back room where it was nice and toasty. There I got a couple hours of sleep. By 4:30 I was up and getting dressed. At this point I ate my second can of soup. I waited to see if Paul was gonna show. For some reason him and Steve went to another cabin to sleep.

At 5pm Paul came in and seemed surprised that I was dressed and ready to go. It didn’t take much persuading as I explained the dilemma about if we were to wait til morning to go over the mountain pass. He agreed and went to rouse Steve. While I waited I thumbed through the sign in sheet and was pretty sure we would be leaving in 3rd place. 2nd wasn’t too far ahead and Rob Henderson(A fellow Minnesotan) was killing it way out front in 1st. When they came back they were joined by Maren. Sadly we all said our goodbyes and made plans to see each other sometime at a future race.

The sun was setting as we make the bold move heading up Rainy Pass. As we depart I mentioned to Dave Mable that we still had 200 miles ahead of us. That’s longer than any race I had ever done. It’s hard to even wrap your head around that. We are not even 1/2 way into this thing! In the back of my mind I’m thinking this is where the race actually begins…. The 2nd place runner is still within our reach….

Conclusion coming soon:

2019 Iditarod Trail Invitational 350

Part 2: Featured photo above by Jill Homer

Just in the nick of time. IT ARRIVED!!!! Crisis averted. See, no reason to get my panties in a bunch.


Race day was upon us. With 350 miles staring us down somehow there was a calm in the air. Any reservations I may have had leading up to this was now gone. We load our sleds onto coach buses and take a hour long bus ride to what seems like the end of civilization. The race starts at a bar on the edge of Knik lake. During the ride I make one final call to the #UltraWife to tell her I love her and to catch up on the days happenings. I wasn’t sure I’d have service for any of the next ten days.


At Knik we unload and file into the bar to place our orders for what could be our last real meal for 10 days. We have a hour and a half to burn before the start of the race. I order a cheeseburger basket along with a couple cokes. The fries and burger were nothing short of spectacular. The fries were crinkle cut and crispy as could be. Just the way I like them.


After slowly eating I head out to my sled to get some starting area pictures and visit with other racers. I talk with my good buddy Steve Cannon and wish him well on his 1000 mile trip to Nome. He is the epitome of #Dreambig and #Nolimits. Check him out at: (


Steve is doing amazing things. He is raising money to fight Cancer while also making a movie about the Iditarod Trail Invitational.

At 2pm the gun is shot into the air and we are off. It was of course a real gun as this is Alaska after all. They don’t call it the final frontier for nothing.

img_1060 Photo Credit: Jill Homer

We didn’t have a set plan, but if Paul Schlagel and I could we’d stick together as much as possible. We have run hundreds of winter miles together in pursuit of the order of the Hrimthurs. ( The weather was about perfect, probably mid 20’s and a blue bird day. Any forecast I could find had a lot of the same and no real cold even for the overnights. I should now better than to go by any forecast after some of our recent Arrowheads. With the race starting at 2pm we didn’t get very far before the sun began to set.


Yet another unique feature of this race is that there is no set course. As long as you hit the checkpoints you could take any route you want. That first day we saw experienced runners and bikers turning around after going down what they thought was a wrong trail. Most of the time had they kept going they would have most likely met back up with the route everyone else had taken. We tended to stick to the GPS route Paul loaded into his handheld GPS unit. In retrospect it may not have always been the most direct or packed down trail, but it kept us heading in the right direction. This was one of my biggest concerns leading up to the race. By midnight, while alone, I was about to miss a turn as runners, bikers, and a skier ahead of me were back tracking towards me. Thankfully this prevented me from doing the same. By this time the temps had plummeted to almost -28F with a pretty strong wind. The temps surprised a lot of us given the projected forecast. At the time I was only wearing one layer on bottom and two on top. I knew it was getting cold by how certain parts of my body would start to feel. 1st I could feel my face began to tingle. That was my sign to pull my buff up and cover my face. Soon after that my legs and belly went numb. That was my sign to pull out my home made skirt that i made into bibs from an old jacket.


The last thing I wanted was to get pulled from the race for a little spot of frost bite. Finally my hose on my hydration pack  started to freeze up. That was my cue to put my thin down jacket on. Not long after that and I was toasty. My water was again accessible and thawed.

At about 4am the sleep monsters were already beginning to get some of the other runners. They would and pull over to bivvy. In my mind it was not the most ideal time to bivvy being as it was only the first night, and also that it was so damn cold. Just before daybreak we were pulling into the first check point. I had lost Paul, but picked up Steve Hayes a Brit from the island of Jersey off the northern coast of France. Paul was going a little faster than I wanted to go so I had to let him go. I had a hint of a cramp come on as well so that was my signal to dial it back a bit. It’s a long race. I knew I’d see Paul again down the trail.  I picked up Steve at around midnight.  We kind of stayed together until reaching the 1st check point. I was wet all over, but with my pulk set up I was quickly able to grab my clothes bag and shuffle into the warm check point with everything i needed and without wasting any time. Inside there was a little carnage but not too bad. A few competitors had already made the decision to drop. I changed into dry clothes and ordered up some breakfast. In these remote road houses you don’t have options. You either buy what the are serving or you go without. In my case I kindly asked what my option was and once the owner told me I enthusiastically said, “that sounds perfect.” I made the mistake of buying two sodas that were already cold. After drinking the first one while waiting for my breakfast I got extremely chilled. The cold liquid along with being a little dehydrated and cold from running in -28F must have dropped my core temp almost instantly. This happened to me before at my first Arrowhead so I recognized it right away. I quickly switched to coffee and got to someplace warmer. After hanging all my wet gear on the railing upstairs above the wood stove I knew that was the warmest place to hang out.  I sat up in the balcony overlooking the entire place. The only time I would venture down was to refill my coffee. Other racers were renting beds here, but I wasn’t tired yet. I would stay just long enough to get my clothes dried out and to stop shivering.

Steve and Paul were ready to go before me. Instead of rushing I took my time and figured I would try to catch them later in the day.  Below is Paul asking if I was ready to go. I was still up in my perch warming up. I think he has the exact same picture somewhere but from his position down below. This was me getting him back.


They left at about 9:30am and I wasn’t too far behind at 10:30.

Day two was another absolutely perfect day. I gathered all my gear and headed out into the brilliant sunshine. Almost immediately after venturing out on the river in which we would be traveling all day I was passed by Maren Bradley, a dog musher from White Horse up in the Yukon Territory of Canada. She was flying and I later find out she is in the 150 mile race and that this was her first ultra. I could see she also quickly reeled in the runner up ahead of us who just happened to be the Iditarod legend Tim Hewitt, ten time finisher of the 1000 mile race. This was his 11th attempt I think. I caught Tim too as he stopped to have a little lunch. Thought out the first 150 miles i would keep my eye on him as he knew exactly what he was doing. You can learn a lot from racers with that level of experience. I had to introduce myself and thank him for doing the book with Jill Homer. I told him he was an inspiration to all us rookies. Check out Jill’s books about the Iditarod  on amazon at. (


This book is a must read for anyone interested in what the human body and mind are capable of.

The Mountains were still about a 100 miles off, but with every passing hour they were getting closer.


While I was alone for much of the morning I just kept telling myself to keep moving. The race won’t even begin to start until we go over Rainy Pass which was still many, many  miles up ahead. I was like a kid in a candy store. I was enjoying every single step…………

To be continued………


2019 Iditarod Trail Invitational 350

img_0893Part 1

They say we all have a story. Maybe it’s because we are all a little broken in our own way. I am no different. I’m special by no means and at best no better than your average runner. Not only is this old body more than a little broke, but I’m not sure my mind is exactly right either. I struggle every day in one way or another. If I am any little bit different from your average Joe it would be that I enjoy suffering a bit more than the next guy.

The build up to this race was the culmination of a lifetime of experience. I have been competing in winter ultras since 2013. This race however draws uniquely on a lifetime out outdoor experience not just your ultra running. Every tool you have in your toolbox increases your odds for success.

I’ve been told the Iditarod is a graduate race. unlike most winter ultras that’s why there is no gear list for this one. If you made it here you know what it takes to not only survive, but to thrive in whatever harsh winter conditions Mother Nature can throw at you. It’s often said that one packs their insecurities. Which means the less confident you are the heavier your sled tends to be. This may slow you down, but at least you will have a better chance to survive if the shit hits the fan. You see when it comes to running in the back country of Alaska on the remote Iditarod Trail you better have your shit figured out. Like most winter races any small mistake could cost you not only some of your digits, but maybe even your life. This rings especially true here with not only its remoteness, but it’s lack of traffic. This is not the place to cut corners and pack super light for speed. There is nobody out patrolling the course checking on racers. If you run into trouble your best bet is to keep moving and get to one of those check points. Worst case scenario you have to hunker down for a day or two. That being said you better hope you have the know how and gear with you to do so.


This years Arrowhead could’ve been summed up by saying it was never a failure and will always be a lesson. I learned some very valuable lessons about packing light that I was able to take with me to Alaska. Lessons that helped me thrive out there on the trail. The single most import lesson I received from not finishing Arrowhead was to take what the trail gives you. It sounds simple because it is. All too often we over plan things and when the plan isn’t working things quickly start to unravel. The brilliance of not having a set plan is that you can never be disappointed when the conditions dictate your race and your pace.

More often than not I write a race report in hopes of not only helping others, but in hopes of inspiring people to dream big. If I can do this anyone can. However this year when it came to Arrowhead and the Rambler passing away I just couldn’t find the words to do it justice. He was a big part of why I chose to race Arrowhead unsupported. The year prior he had an extremely difficult time dealing with his unsupported attempt. If I were a betting man I’d bet it wasn’t often Randy came up short on anything. As such it hit him pretty hard. I had a feeling it had because he seemed to have disappeared after the race. I didn’t find out until much later just how hard he took it and where he ended up post race. Bob Coolidge filled me in much later the first time we went down to visit Randy in the hospital after he got sick. His and Randy’s paths seemingly just needed to cross that day in the middle of nowhere and out of the blue. They spent hours that day talkin smart and getting his head back together.

The weather forecast leading up to Arrowhead had most racers that originally chose to go unsupported changing over last minute to supported. With record setting cold that certainly would have been the wise choice. However this year was special. Randy was sick and dying from a rare form of leukemia. The week before Arrowhead it wasn’t looking good. His days were numbered. I made a beeline down to see him one last time. As we embraced the tears flowed. We just happened to have met at Arrowhead back in 2014. We had grown close over the following years participating in many of the same races. We were in a small group that made a run at the 2017 order of the Hrimthurs. I think we both knew this would be our last visit. We shared stories and laughed. He made plans to take me and the family out to dinner the next time he made it up north. When he asked me about going unsupported I told him of course I was and no matter what I would not waiver. This brought on his almost famous wry smile that we all had grown to love. In my mind I knew this would bring him great joy if he was well enough to follow along via race tracking. As the week went on Randy went home from the hospital one final time. We were getting word that cars were lining the streets as friends and family went to say their final goodbyes. Randy was a special individual and all the love he got in his final days was a testament of the man he was. Arrowhead was a somber place without him. It was almost fitting that Randy passed away during Arrowhead.

My not finishing Arrowhead and Randy passing had me questioning everything about my trip to Alaska. Then Sue Lucas(One of the best winter Ultra athletes of all time) decided not to go which had me wondering if I was even worthy of toeing the line at ITI. I was also torn about being away from my family for so long. I damn near pulled the plug on the whole thing as I was feeling sorry for myself.

However somewhere deep inside me I still had that fire burning. I needed to find out just what I was capable of. The only thing I would get from not going would be a lifetime of regret. I had no choice but to go.

The plan was to fly up with a number of other athletes from our area. I was flying out of Duluth and going to meet up with everyone on a connecting flight in the twin cities. From the get go my plans didn’t quite work out. My plane out of Duluth was delayed with mechanical issues for about 5 hours. Already I was scrambling. By the time we were air bound I had already missed my connecting flight to Alaska. Now my biggest concern was losing my checked luggage. All the stuff I needed to survive the wilds of Alaska was in my checked luggage along with my sled. The airline ended up putting me up in a hotel and rebooking my flight for the next morning, but now it wouldn’t be direct. I was trying to stay calm. No reason to panic yet.


I finally landed in Alaska. A day late, but still a couple days before the start of the race. As I head to baggage claim I know it ain’t gonna be good. My sled somehow made it but no bag full of gear. I head over to the lost baggage counter and file a claim. I was giving it about a 60% chance of getting my gear in time. The nice lady behind the counter did a search and found my bag on another flight, but the good thing was at least it was headed to Anchorage. She made sure it got flagged and she said when it arrived they’d be nice enough to send it to my hotel. Feeling a little uneasy I call for the hotel shuttle and go meet up with everyone at the hotel.

img_0857Later that evening we all walk to a bike shop for the pre-race meet and greet. It’s only a few miles away from the hotel. As we mill about I feel strangely out of place. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but as I look around all I see is a bunch of super fit and extremely grizzled world class endurance athletes. I think to myself that I may be in over my head. After another long walk back to the hotel I start the guessing game. Will my bag show? I check with the front desk every time I go by. Still nothing. In the back of my mind I have to begin to hatching a plan just in case my gear doesn’t show up. What would be the very minimum amount of gear I would need to get to the finish line? I certainly didn’t come all the way to Alaska just to scratch because my gear didn’t show. I’m still fairly calm. No need to panic just yet.

The next morning we all decide to Uber to the pre-race meeting instead of walking. Still no gear! The race directors talk for a hour or so and I don’t seem to comprehend much. In retrospect I should have been taking notes on my mileage card about all the course information they were dishing out. Something that would come back to haunt me a little during the race.


After the meeting we walk over to REI to get some last pieces of gear for the race. I purchased a 3 liter hydration bladder so I could carry a little more fluids. The check points in this race are as far as 100 miles apart which made this a very wise purchase.

We head back to the hotel. Now I really needed my gear to show up……… Time was ticking…. The race started the next day at 2pm……

To be continued…….


2018 Arrowhead 135

Part 2: Photo credit: Burgess Eberhardt

Ask not for victory. Ask only for the courage to continue once you feel like quitting.” Unknown

Most us have a choice. Do we follow the easy path? Or do we take the road less traveled and go the more difficult route? The warriors that sign up for this race intentionally under most circumstances choose the more difficult path. It’s what drives us. It may not be normal, but that’s why when we all get together each winter we have such a close bond.

Upon leaving the 1st check point at mile 36 the mercury was in a downward spiral. We had reports of -30 degrees overnight. I was thankful I decided to don my snow pants and nano puff. It wasn’t long and I was wearing the big mitts too. The wind cut right through my thinner gloves yet again. My hands literally stung from the cold. This section is when the trail starts to get a little more difficult and hilly. From experience I also know this section takes me just under 12 hours to complete. I absolutely Love night running. I put my head down and start hunting headlamps. At about 13 miles out from the MelGorge check point, snowmobile volunteers, in the past have made a fire on cold years. As I click the miles off I look forward to the warmth of the fire. The hope of the toasty fire is enough to keep my mind occupied for a long time. All night I make progress up through the field getting to visit with other runners and the occasional skier.

Thirteen miles out I reach the final trail shelter before MelGorge. It’s completely dark and the fire ring looks like it hasn’t seen fire in years. I just laugh and shrug it off thinking what a luxury it was to have in the past. Now It seemed as though it was even colder. In anticipation of the lake crossing I stop and add my biggest down puffer over the top of my nano puff jacket. It helps keep me warm but it’s all I’ve got left. Two of my three hoods are up over my head. All night I am virtually alone. The sky is magnificent. The moon shining so brilliantly you hardly need a head lamp. A few miles out from The Elephant Lake crossing I feel my eye lids are getting heavy. My head lamp is going dim which makes matters worse. Thinking it will help keep me awake I decide to stop and put new batteries in. I only have my hands exposed briefly, but touching the cold metal instantly freezes my finger tips. After I get them changed I have to ball up my fists inside my mitts to regain feeling to my hands. That was dangerous and more than a little dumb I think to myself. I should have just used my back up light and waited to change out batteries inside the next check point. Finally I make my way out on the wide open lake and trek the mile or so across to the MelGorge Resort. For hours now I had been daydreaming about hot soup, grilled cheese, and warm cocoa. Not to mention seeing all the friendly faces. MelGorge’s never disappoints. It’s one of my favorite places along the route. I love sitting there and listening to all the combined knowledge being dispersed. You’ve got the likes of Pam Reed(Ultra legend), Sue Lucas, (course record holder) Eric Johnson(multiple Iditarod finisher), and Marcus Berggren(course record holder) all milling about. Not to mention some of the best and most generous volunteers you ever find.(Rhendie and Fred especially) After getting fed like a king I head upstairs to find a place to lay down. I set my alarm for 3 hours. I start out on the floor at the foot of one of the single beds. Soon a guy on the bed almost steps on me as he’s getting up. I jump up into his spot on the bed. My knees ache, I toss and turn, but do manage to get a couple hours of sleep. Soon I hear my buddy Paul(This Years Tuscobia 160 winner) down below packing up and heading out. This rouses me even though I still have an hour until my alarm is to go off. I head down to get a cup of coffee and gather my gear drying by the fire. There are lots of really good runners dropping with no readily apparent reason other than they have just had enough. I know all too well Arrowhead has a way of doing that. At the same time Peter Ripmaster is getting his macerated feet worked on as he prepares to go back out and battle. Every inch of his feet have tape on them.

I head back out and decide to dress lighter hearing that it is supposed to warm up and snow. It’s still -15 on the thermometer outside the cabin, but I figure thats a lot warmer than the previous night. It’s a blue bird day. The sun is out and the snow is crisp. There is a loud crunch with each step. As I head up the road to the trail entry a snowmobile comes flying by. Scottie is on the back. I’m happy I won our bet, but at the same time sad that Scott’s race has ended. I know all to well the feeling of having to take that ride as well. It’s something you can’t take back and it tends to eat at you until you have a chance to get back and redeem yourself.

It’s a new day and it takes me a little while to get the body moving again. I know I spent a lot of time in the aid station and lots of racers probably left before me. My goal was now to catch as many of them as I could. This is by far the most difficult section coming up. If you have never done it it can be a major mind fuck. Thankfully after last year and having done this section 3 times I know to just add an extra hour to my ETA at the next checkpoint. The hills are unrelenting and it soon starts to snow. This helps motivate me as I can see fresh tracks in the snow. If the foot prints are shorter than mine I know I’m gaining on someone. Over and over I real in other runners. I’m hoping to catch Paul to be able to spend some time with him. Last year we probably spent more than 100 miles between our time at Arrowhead and Actif Epica. He left the aid station about a hour before me so it would not be an easy task to catch him. Just before dark I started seeing the tracks in the snow of a unique sled. I guess it’s Alex because the foot prints seem small. Alex and Paul have similar sleds. My stride is longer so I know I’m gaining on whoever it is. Sometime before dark I catch a glimpse of a very familiar reflective vest I know so well. It’s Paul. I’m happy to see a familiar face. He has been breaking trail in the fresh snow for me for hours. You can tell it’s taken a toll on him. Once I catch him we high five and give each other a big ole man hug. Paul says, “we’re together again!” I ask if he wants me to break Trail for him for a while. He is pleased by my offer as he had been doing all the work for me in the freshly fallen 3-4 inches of snow. I figured we would stay together and take turns breaking the trail. After a hour and a half I’m just about to ask Paul if he’ll take the lead for a while. I look back and he’s no longer there. I’m a little sad, but that’s how this race goes sometimes. It can be a very lonely, god forsaken, and isolated trail. Somewhere in here I catch Dan from Maryland as well. We had spent some time together earlier in the race. He actually thanked me early on for writing my race reports and said that it helped him prepare as this was his first Arrowhead. Somewhere in here his GPS died so he was wondering how much further the Surly check point was. I wasn’t positive, but I told him at this pace I was hoping that I would be there by 9pm. I was a little remorseful telling him. I didn’t want to deflate him mentally if he thought we were getting close. It was still a couple hours out. Usually the Surly check point has Trailside indications as it’s getting close. They put out signs a few miles out to tease us just a bit. This year they had nothing! That was genius! Total mind bend for those expecting to see something. I thought that was brilliant if they did it on purpose. Absolutely mad scientist type of hilarity. I make it to Surly a little sooner than expected. Having spent too much time there last year my plan this time is to blow right by. Unfortunately I’m out of water so I stop just briefly from 8:46 to 8:54. I ask the volunteers if the know exactly how far it is to the finish. Like me, they aren’t sure, but they think it’s around 25 miles. I count it out on my fingers and come up with an estimate that if I could stay awake and moving well I could be done by 4am. This has me stoked! That would be a personal best by far. I thank the volunteers and take off running up wakeumup, the final hill of the race.

It only takes a half hour to get up and over wakeumup, one of the biggest hills on the course. I’d like to say I was a little heartbroken, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. By now I can smell the hay in the barn. I am ready for the torture to be over. The rest of the trail is pretty flat and exposed. Some sections you can see for miles up ahead. Again I’m chasing blinkie lights and headlamps. I pass a couple people and try to go by with authority so that they don’t feel they can come back and pick me off. Soon I catch my friend Alex. She is struggling with a foot issue but is killing it for her first Arrowhead. I am blown away that she as not slept at all up to this point. We visit for a bit before I move on. Her strength and abilities absolutely amazing me. She ends up getting 2nd place female behind ultra legend Pam Reed. I bet you any money Alex will win this race one day.

Not long after and I am out of water. This hampers my game a bit as I am desperately hoping to see that final trail shelter. I get passed by Eric Johnson as I slow to grab a handful of snow. His sled indicates not only does he have multiple Arrowhead135 finishes but that he’s a multi Iditarod 350 finisher. I’ve got to say that made it not hurt so bad to be passed. He was the only person to pass me after the 1/2 way point. It’s about 8 miles from the final shelter. I occupy my mind by thinking about calling the Ten Junk Miles Bonk line. Jokingly I was going to leave Scott a message letting him know that I was not bonking, but that I would indeed #KrushKummer. I also wanted to praise him for his contributions not only to my success over the last year, but the countless others that he’s had an impact on. Dudes got a gift. He is inspiring more people than he can even fathom. His show is a big part of the reason I’ve been able to shed 20lbs and keep it off. Which in turn has helped my running exponentially.

At this point in the race one has got to be comfortable inside their own head. Occupying our own thoughts for 45 hours takes a little bit of insanity. I start trying to count how many sets of footprints are ahead of me. The left side of the trail is pretty easy to count. I see four sets. On the right side they are a little more over lapping but I’m guessing 5 or 6 more. If I’m right that puts me in 10th or 11th place. I have dreamed of a top ten in this race, but with the growing competitiveness of the athletes I didn’t really think it would ever be possible. As I near the final road crossing I see I’m going to be close to the 45 hour mark. Last year I was dreaming of breaking 50 hours if all went perfectly. I see the sign that says 2 Miles to go. It’s going to be close and I have to run a lot and hard. As I cross the road I see Ray Sanchez. He’s standing there looking for a lost glove. I almost feel guilty passing him, but I’m on a mission. I sure hoped my math was right. You just never know this late in the race. That final section seems to take forever and I realize I’m not going to make it in under 45. No big deal. I just shift the goal to get as close to 45 as I can. I get in at 4:07am 45h01m. A 3 hr 44 minute personal best for me and third finish. At the the time I have no idea about place other than the foot prints. It couldn’t matter less. I just achieved something I didn’t think I was even capable of. So much so it brings tears to my eyes as I write this. I’m a flippin mess!!

Upon finishing the volunteer brings me in for a quick mandatory gear check. Of which I have way too much extra. Then he escorts me to the hospitality suite where I get to collect my trophy and finishers hat. I could not be more pleased and thankful for this opportunity. I am humbled that Ken allowed me to enter this race once let alone 5 times now. Many thanks to Ken and Jackie and all the selfless volunteers. You are true ambassadors of winter endurance.

The hospitality suite is a special place. They have tons of food and drink, but more than that it’s a place racers hang out for hours and celebrate overcoming adversities out on the trail. I had been dreaming about chocolate milk for the entire race. That was the first thing I asked for and amazingly the had it again this year. I was jealous of those enjoying my favorite beer(Surly Furious), but I’m afraid my stomach would not have handled it too well.

Attempting an unsupported double presented another problem. I had no drop bags and my vehicle was back at the start with all my clean clothes. Thankfully I still had extra stuff in my sled to change into otherwise I would have been miserable. I had a few hours to burn before I could check into my hotel room, but the amazing Rhendie and Fred offered me their room to shower and get a quick nap since they were heading out for the day to find the equally amazing K2(Kari& Kate) They were in route to finishing up their Double Arrowhead. These folks are the epitome of kind. I am fortunate to have gotten to know them.

Lastly I would be remiss if I were not to thank my beautiful wife and daughters. Without their support none of this would be possible. Hopefully one day they to will see value in me out chasing my crazy dreams. So much so that they will find a passion and chase after their own. It helps that my wife has found a little humor in mocking me a bit too.

2018 Arrowhead 135

Part 1


Mike Tyson

It don’t matter how good your plan is. Always have a back up plan. Improvise, adapt, and overcome is a phrase we learn early on in the Marine Corps. So much so it sticks with you the rest of your life. This race is extremely grueling even under perfect conditions. If Mother Nature unleashes her fury you have to be smart or it could cost you some digits, worse yet, maybe even your life. Winter ultra running is not to be taken lightly. Not only do you have to know how to self rescue using your mandatory gear but you have to have the wherewithal to do so before you are in so much trouble that it’s too late.

“Only those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly.” JFK

I’m not going to lie. I had a monumental goal for this year and I failed miserably. In retrospect my plan was severely flawed from the get go. I planned on racing for a P.R.(personal record)Then upon completion of the race I was going to turn around and go back to the start going after the FKT(Fastest Known Time) for the double Arrowhead. If that wasn’t dumb enough, I wanted to do it completely unsupported. Fortunately for me my back up plan worked out and while failing miserably I pulled off something I didn’t even know I was capable of.

Because my goal was so monumental I got absolutely zero sleep the night before the race. My mind just would not shut off. I kept going over what could go wrong during the race and how I would need to deal with it over and over in my head. This made for a very long night. All the while Kummer’s snoring in the bed next to me with seemingly not a care in the world. Scottie, from the and I had become friends while completing The Order of the Hrimthurs last winter. He beat me last year at Arrowhead by 31 minutes and had made sure I knew it as often as possible. He passed me with 8 Miles to go as I had to bivvy on the side of the trail. Because of this we’ve also become friendly rivals at every race we both attend. We have an on going bet for an undisclosed amount of money as to who will win each time we race together. Kummer uses his Podcast to remind me as such every chance he gets. It pretty hilarious. Nothing wrong with a little shit talking every now and then. He’s a master at it. Little does he know that even if the bet was for only a quarter that’s all the incentive I would need to push me even harder. My response to him cocking off on the show is to post pictures of my sled while I’m out training with the #KrushKummer or #BeatScott written on the back.

Race morning Mother Nature throws us a curve ball. For two weeks the forecast was calling for warm temps throughout the race. The night before it changed a bit and said day one could be -10. Still not a big deal for most of us. However race morning we wake to -20 and a nasty wind. It is cold and only going to get colder through the 1st 24 hours. My sled is extremely over loaded with extra food, clothes, and water in hopes of doubling unsupported. I have 160oz of water, double the required fuel, and 13,000 calories on board plus enough extra clothes to go both ways.

Race start:

Because it’s so cold some racers congregate in the hockey arena lobby and don’t go up to the start until the last minute, myself included. We don’t want to be standing around in these temps for too long. Soon fire works works irrupt and the bikes are released. Two minutes later the skiers take off. Then they release the hounds. I find myself a spot up front and take off in the lead like the moron I am. It only takes a couple minutes in before I realize I made a very poor choice in gloves. The wind is cutting through my gloves and my hands begin to sting. I do all the tricks I can think of to get some blood flow so I don’t have to pull over and dig out my big mitts. It doesn’t work. My hands are going numb. I stop to dig out the big mitts that Randy Kottke had loaned me. I didn’t bring any big mitts thinking it wasn’t supposed to be this cold. I can’t find them. My bag is a mess because at last minute I decided it was too full. Instead of storing my sleeping bag inside the bag like always I just strap it into the sled on the outside of the gear bag. I know the mitts are in there but it’s taking too long to find them. I grab a pair of wool socks instead and use them as temporary mitts until my hands warm back up. First crisis Averted. By mile five the fast guys start going by. At mile 10 we make the turn onto the Arrowhead Trail and head east. The wind is now more at our back and I can shed the socks from my hands. Mile 12 or so I hear the oh so familiar sound of the most efficient use of poles one will ever hear. It’s John Storkamp(4 time winner and this years champ)closing the gap on me like always, but this year it’s a couple miles farther down the trail. We visit a bit then he is off like a light on down the trail. Quickly he is out of sight. I ran almost the entire way to the turn. My over weighted Pulk is already taking its toll on me. Both my knees are aching like a son of a bitch and my lower back is on the verge of going out. Again I don’t want to waste time so I don’t go back to the sled for much needed ibuprofen. By the second shelter I am completely shot. We are only 20 some miles in and I’m already having a conversation with myself about throwing in the towel. Some snowmobilers are stacking wood at the shelter. I go over and take a seat after digging out my bag of pills. I joke with one of the guys that this is the dumbest thing I have ever done. What the hell was I thinking. Soon, Just like last year, as I sat in the exact same spot for a quick break Tony Stensland comes on by. Last year I took some cool pictures of him as he went by.

I laugh at the coincidence and call his name. He comes over and takes a quick break. I turn my phone on and take his picture again.

I get one photo and my phone freezes and shut off immediately. Now I have no safety net. I’m kicking myself for not having a better set up for my phone to stay warm. Dumb, dumb, dumb!!! I should have known better than that. Anytime you take your phone out at -20 it shuts down. Thankfully Burgess Eberhardt was out there taking some excellent photos.

Photo credit: Burgess Eberhardt

As I press on I have about 13 Miles to decide what to do. Things were going south quickly. Quitting was already on the table. Thankfully experience has taught me that the pain of regret far outweighs the pain of continuing forward. My lack of sleep wasn’t helping matters as my eyelids were getting heavy. I get to the final hill that leads to the road crossing  just up from the 1st check point. A female runner is just ahead of me walking her sled down the hill. I slide right by and yell out on your right as I fly by. As I near the road crossing I can see there are no cars coming so I slide out into the road. I hit a jump as the trail meets the road and jump to my feet all in one motion. There are two cars parked at the roadside watching this all unfold. As I get to my feet I start to run in front of the car. I get tangled in my ropes. This trips me and I go sprawling out right in front of the car. I feel like a steer that was just wrestled to the ground and tied up by a championship rodeo cowboy. I just lay there laughing in embarrassment. The guy gets out to check on me. I say I hope you didn’t get that on video. (He’s got a huge camera in his hand) He said, “no, but that jump was awesome!” It’s only 4:30 as I get to the first checkpoint. It’s still daylight out so I’ve got tons of time. I decided if I am to go on I need to change my plans drastically. I turn in my unsupported ribbon and begin hatching a plan to somehow get to that finish line by any means necessary. Gateway general store is awesome! I get some hot food along with a much needed coffee. They take my wet clothes and throw them in the dryer. I buy a charger to get my phone working again and send my wife and Dad a quick message. “Feel like death, trying to regroup and move on soon.” I take my time, change into dry stuff, and fix my feet. I already have some blister issues. Thankful I caught them early and addressed them. I lugged 108 extra ounces of water for 36 miles for absolutely nothing. I refill my 64 oz hydro bladder from the containers that had been dead weights for the past 9 and 1/2 hours. The left over liquid is dumped to cut weight. I spend a hour and 29 minutes in the first check point. We get word temps may drop to -30 overnight. Hearing this I make the decision to put on snow pants with just tights underneath as I ready myself for the next section. I also add a light weight puffy jacket for the first time in the race. I figured if I got hot it would be easier to shed layers than to add them out on the trail. 6pm and I was back out on the trail facing the coldest overnight of my running career….. Somehow I overcame the first big hurdle of wanting to drop. Once I leave check point one the option to drop is off the table.

Part 2 coming soon

2017 In like a Lion out like a Lamb

What an amazing year. Could not of dreamed it would turn out the way it did.

The year started off with a rag tag group of individuals I hardly knew on quest to enter the Order of the Hrimthurs. I was so unsure I could complete the task that I waited until the last minute to enter the final race up in Canada. It was the shortest and warmest of the three winter ultras but it threw us all for a loop because it may have been the most difficult. The relationships that developed between the six of us that completed the task grew stronger with each race we attended. Now I wouldn’t hesitate to say that they are some of my very favorite people.

The 1st race of the year was the Tuscobia 160. Somehow I pulled off a 2nd place finish. My 1st podium of my life. The second was the Arrowhead 135. I hoped to beat my previous finish of 53 hours. If all went perfect I dreamed of sub 50. I pulled off a 48 something and 14th place. One behind that damn Scott Kummer from the Ten Junk Miles podcast. That bastard passed me with 7 Miles to go while I was sleeping on the side of the trail. Not even so much as a, “are you alive?” from him. He just snuck on by. I tried to get my revenge on him at the very next race in Canada, but I couldn’t talk him into the long race. Luckily for him too because he ended up winning his race and becoming forever known as the International Champion. My revenge had to wait until we went head to head again in the summer at the Voyageur 50. My Canada race didn’t go too shabby either. Again I pulled off a 2nd place finish tying my fellow Hrimthur Paul Schlagel. In less than six weeks we had raced almost 400 miles. A story Book winter for me. I still can hardly believe it.

Then came the summer races. The Curnow Trail Marathon and the Voyageur 50. These were training runs with aid stations leading up to my A race in the fall, the Superior 100. The two summer races were a struggle in the heat. I was also working on changing my diet to eliminate sugar and grain almost completely. It was working and I was dropping weight I had desperately needed to drop, but it isn’t advisable to do so close to a race. I pulled off a small PR at the trail Marathon, but the 50 miler was a struggle the 2nd half of the race. My body was still in transition learning how to burn fat as fuel. I finished none the less, but the performance wasn’t what I had hope for.

A month later was the A race. Training went good. My weight was down 23 pounds. I didn’t know what to expect in the 100 miler. I was coming off a DNF the year before having gotten pulled at the final aid station for missing the cut off by 6 minutes. Come to think of it, that may have been the fuel for my fire for the entire 2017 season…. Anyway I was ready. This time I had a crew of three friends there to help with pacing and crewing duties. I was hoping for a PR and if all went perfect going sub 34. We ended up going 31 something with a PR of almost 5 hours. I could not have asked for a better year. I am forever thankful for the people that have come into my life through trail running. Knowing you all makes me better. Having positive people and doers of the unimaginable to surround yourself with has got to rub off somehow. You inspire me every single day. Thank you.


2017 Recap:

Tuscobia 160- 2nd place

Arrowhead135- 14th place- PR by almost 5 hours

Actif Epica 162k- 2nd place tie

Curnow Trail Marathon- small PR

Voyageur 50- finish

Superior 100- 58th place- 4 hr PR

Yearly mileage: 1600- PR by over 200

HAPPY NEW YEAR My friends! Dream Big in 2018! There are no limits.

2018 Schedule:


Putting in for ITI 350

FKT attempt at SHT (supported) so I will be looking for volunteers

Voyageur 50

Superior 100

Now the out like a lamb comes as I sat at work for the last two and a half days.  All my friends were valiantly out in -20 something battling the cold at the Tuscobia winter Ultra. Because the Tuscobia had the race in the same calendar year as the last race I was out of vacation and couldn’t make this weekend. It was fun following from afar, but not nearly the same.

Congrats to all who toed the line this year. It sounds like it was brutal out there. Paul my friend great job on the win. So happy you pulled it off and that you won the entry into the ITI. That is so amazing.

2017 Superior 100

Part 2

Throughout  the day I had slid from 98th to 121st. Arriving at mile 46 I felt good. I had worked my way through some major cramping and managed to get my hydration back under control.

Co. Road 6 to Finland 7.7 miles

Darkness was about to fall and I had done no harm. My race is about to begin. Technically I’m not racing anyone but the voice inside my head that is telling me I got no business being out here and that I should just quit. I have a goal of 34 hours which would be over an hour off my PR. The day went well and I know I’m ahead of my projected split times. For now I ask my crew not to tell me anything about splits. I know there’s a lot of race left. I love night running! I practice it and I’m used to staying up all night having been a shift worker for the past 10 years. For every 8 day swing I work two 12 hour night shifts back to back. This section starts out very runnable. Then it climbs and climbs. You can see a mountain top through all the dead or dying birch trees. Fortunately we don’t have to crest this one. We only go about 3/4s of the way up, but it still makes for one hell of a climb. Then the trail skirts the side of the mountain. Ahead we hear a cowbell. I ask Don if I had imagined it, but he assured me I did not. Sure enough we come to a lady in the middle of nowhere cheering us on. As we don our headlamps I begin to hunt. It becomes a game to us. Each light we see ahead is a new challenge. How many can we pick off by morning? I think of Jason and Kevin saying gets very runnable as we get closer to Finland. We are making good time. As we get to Finland we have moved up 30 spots to 91st.

Finland to Sonju Lake Rd. 4.2 miles

As we leave Finland I prepare myself for what may be the most technical section of the race. We take what the course gives us. I run when I can but more importantly I keep a steady pace by power Hiking thru the worst of it. I don’t let the rocks, mud, and monster roots get to me mentally. It don’t take long before we hear a party in the woods at the Sonju Lake Aid station. We get in and out and avoid the pitfalls of the raging bonfire.

Sonju to Crosby Manitou 7.5 miles

We continue our game of hunter and hunted, but not surprisingly the runners are starting to become fewer and farther between. Our game pouch is still bulking just not as fast as before. As we near Crosby I hear a familiar voice ahead. It’s Mark Smith and his runner. With a smile I call out to him in the dark. He introduces me to his runner. We have something in common. We were both in the Marine Corps. We are brothers. Quickly I slip past and the section makes a long descent to the road crossing. I can hear Mark let out an eerie howl from the hill high above. Someone on the roadway answers by beeping there horn. The sound of civilization can’t be more welcome as I climb out of the woods. I make my way up the 1/2 mile dirt road to the aid station. One more big section ahead and then the race will seem so much more manageable. We’ve moved up another 8 spots to 83rd.

Crosby Manitou to Sugar loaf 9.4 miles

Lindsey and her pacer Biz are getting ready to leave at the same time as us. Now I have another rookie pacer Travis in tow. Not wanting to worry me he doesn’t tell me that this is his first time running with a headlamp. I can’t believe we’ve caught up to Lindsey. Lindsey’s soon to be husband Bob was my pacer for my 1st 2 Superior finishes. Both Lindsey and Biz’s Uncle Stu, is my crew chief and 3 time Superior pacer extraordinaire. This was Lindsey’s first attempt at the 100 mile distance. She took 3rd at Zumbro this year in the 50. Her coach is Jake Hegge, the Superior 100 course record holder. Before the race I sent her a message of good luck with a P.S. Jokingly of, “Don’t to let me catch you!” For the rest of the race we play leap frog. She leaves most the aid stations first and I try to catch her. It’s a game of cat and mouse. I think she was using me as the mouse. It is the most fun I’ve ever had in a race. We spend a lot of time together over the final sections. Leaving Crosby starts with a gigantic bolder riddled descent down into the Caribou River Gorge. Once we cross the bridge I think it’s the 2nd longest, but for sure the steepest, climb back out of the gorge. Someday I have to go back in the daylight. It has to be absolutely gorgeous. Climbing out it’s hand over fist up the rock ridden ascent. It is extremely difficult but to top it off there are multiple false peaks. So just when you think it’s over you turn and continue to climb. As hard as it is we’re having a blast with Lindsey and Biz to keep us company. This section has been a death march for me in the past. This time however I was in a groove. My biggest concern with having two first time pacers was that it wouldn’t be fun for them or that they would hardly get to run at all because I fail to perform. Toward the end of this section we got passed by the leaders of the 50 miler. I ask Travis to notify me when he hears them coming. As they catch us he steps off the trail and notifies me how many of them are together. This method works brilliantly so that I barely have to move over. Yet at the same time it lets the fresher runners scoot right on by. As a small train goes by I make a monster effort to latch on as their caboose. I startled the rear runner as we catch back up. I confuse him a bit as he says he has never been caught by a 100 miler before. He thinks I want to pass, but I tell him I just want to ride their coat tails as long as I can. We were flying. Somehow I stick with them bounding down the long descent to the next aid station. My heart rate felt relaxed and somehow my breathing was in complete control. For once this section was not so bad. As I look back to Trav all is right in my world. He was breathing heavy and glistening with sweat. We gained 15 more spots and move to 68th.

Sugarloaf to Cramer 5.6 miles

Cramer is the Marathon starting point. I have a new objective. I wanted to get there and get out ahead of the marathoners. Stu is now with me. This section is not bad at all. It’s very runnable. It don’t take long and the trail opens up on two different occasions to power line sections which make you think you are at the aid station only to find out sadly you are not. It don’t take long and we hear a car door. We pop out of the woods and to our amazement see our buddy Jason right in front of us as he’s arriving to get ready for the marathon. We laugh, say hi, and cross the 1st road only to jump onto a parallel road that leads to the trailhead parking lot. 77.7 miles in and for the first time I change my shoes. I sit by the fire and take the time to thoroughly address my feet. I pop the one tiny blister that had formed using a bib pin, relube, and put on fresh shoes and socks. The aid station is serving pancakes and bacon. They may have been the best pancakes I had ever tasted. This time we had only gained 2 spots. We were now in 66th.

Cramer to Temperance 7.1 miles

Lindsey again leaves ahead of us but we are in hot pursuit. This section is mostly down hill. The trail rolls along side the cross river as it gently rolls up and down. Again it is very runnable. photo credit: Cole Peyton

It goes through several campsites along the beautiful river. As we near the river crossing we again catch Lindsey and Danielle and scoot on by. photo credit: Cole Peyton

We cross the river and climb into to forest on the other side. Trav and I latch on to some more 50 milers which gets us moving. I can’t keep their pace the entire time so each group that passes I stick with them as long as I can. It’s another long descent down to Temperance aid station and the last half mile I stick with some more 50 milers or what could’ve even been marathoners bounding down the trail. Travis is working hard which makes me happy. We again gain 2 spots to move into 64th.

Temperance to Sawbill 5.7 miles

Now we are into familiar territory. Having run three spring 50Ks and now on my 4th 100 miler it makes 9 times that I’ve been through these final 3 sections. I know exactly where I can make good time and where to conserve energy. Lindsey is in and out of the aid station super quick! I can tell she is smelling the hay in the barn. Stu and I are together again. The first part of this leg is super quick and slightly downhill. The trail is nicely buffed out and heads along side the river toward the lake to the big bridge that crosses high above the Temperance River.

Photo credit: Amy Broadmoore

After crossing the river the trail starts the biggest and longest climb of the race. At first it’s a scramble up some big rocks. Just after that is a great spot to get in the river to cool down or wash the salt and mud off. This is the first time I blow right by without going into the water. Again the trail is very runnable along side the river. Then the long climb begins. This is one of the tricky ones which can be a major mind fuck late in the race. After climbing for what seems like an eternity you come to an opening in the canopy only to be demoralized by this gigantic rock of a mountain still far up ahead. If you don’t know it’s coming this can break you mentally. We make good time and by the time we reach the top we are in a conga line. About 10 Marathon and 50 milers in front and 2 or three behind. I hear a guy behind me complaining that he should be in front even though the trail Is super tight. There is no way I am stopping to let him by as I am right on the heals of the runner in front of me. Also I have a big plans as we crest The top. As we start the descent I say on your left and bound by 6 runners at the same time latching onto two of the lead guys also hopping down the rocky descent. I stick with them all the way to the road as the trail is all downhill on this new beautiful wide wooden boardwalk. I bet we were doing sub 9 min pace easily the whole way quickly gapping the group behind us. I love that section! It’s so much fun. Another 2 spots gained moving up to 62nd.

Sawbill to Oberg 5.5 miles

Lindsey is leaving as I arrive. The crew has a chair for me off to the side in the shade. I don’t stay long or even fill my water knowing this next section goes quick. There are no major climbs and it’s again very runnable if you still have legs. Don is with me for his final leg. We make really good time. Toward the end I latch onto another group of Marathon runners and let them pull me into the aid station the final mile or so. We pull into Oberg and I am grinning ear to ear. Up another 2 spots to 60th. I take a quick seat and wave to Beth who’s working the aid station with her whole family. Stu breaks the news to me that if I make it to the finish by 4pm I’ll break 32 hour. That’s almost 3 hours for the final section. My math is all screwed up. It just doesn’t making sense. I still was just hoping for 34. I know I can do this section in closer to 2 hours. This has me chomping at the bit to get going to see if I can finish closer to 31 hours vs 32 hours.

Oberg to the finish 7.1 miles

We take off a blazing. The quicker we get there the sooner I have a cold icy beer in my hand. I have never felt the pull of a finish line more than this one. Only two major climbs and this sucker is in the bag. I can’t believe I’m still able to run. Then we hit it. The stairway to heaven. The long climb up the back side of Moose Mountain. It’s a steep, dark, and narrow rock and root infested climb that’s shadowed by the towering pines.

It is never easy. Especially when you’ve already got almost 100 miles on your legs. Travis and I are right behind a couple girls throughout the climb. After we crest the peak the sky opens up and you can practically see all the way across the Lake to Wisconsin. Moose Mountain is a long one. The trail follows the crest for what seems like at least a mile before we drop steeply off the other side and into the open hardwood forest below. We are catching other runners. Most likely Marathoners. Soon we start the final climb up Mystery Mountain. Which isn’t too bad because of all the switch backs. At the top I start to strain my ears listening for that glorious sound we all love. The sound of the Popular River as it plummets off the back of Mystery Mountain. I also start looking for the campsite that signals the final descent. This year something is different. It takes a bit longer than I remember. We come to the campsite, only to find out it’s on the left instead of our right. I guess they must have rerouted the trail to make up for the bridge being out and the lost mileage at the Split Rock water crossing. By this time however nothing can phase us. We hit the jeep trail and float on down to the bridge. photo credit: Superior Fall Races

We pass a few people as we climb out onto the pavement and make our way through the ski resort village. I look around to make sure no 100 miler is going to catch us. As we turn back off the pavement and enter the finish chute we catch another 100 miler. I feel bad passing him but there is no way I am walking it in. I hear my name over the loud speakers and couldn’t be more proud as Storkamp says my name and that this my 3rd finish. I can’t believe it. It’s over. We gained another 2 spots to finish in 58th place out of 169 finishers and bout 250 starters. With a finish time of 31:25. Almost a 4 hour PR.

So many people to be thankful to…..

First and for most my family for putting up with me and allowing me to chase my crazy dreams.. Then to the race directors extraordinaire John & Cheri Storkamp and all the 285 amazing volunteers. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It’s like everyone wants you to succeed more than anything else and they will stop at nothing to make it happen. It is truly the people “trail people” that make this event so special. Finally to my selfless crew that made my race what it was. Thank you guys! You knocked it out of the park…..

#DreamBig my friends. There are #NoLimits…..

2017 Superior 100

fullsizerender 3Part 1:

This may be lengthy as I try to paint a picture of the course section by section.

You’ve got to love it when a plan comes together.

My heart is filled with gratitude. Three guys rallied to my side and selflessly gave of themselves all without ever even being asked. Their generosity is still a little overwhelming to me as I sit here and think about what transpired this past weekend.

Don, Travis, and I headed up to Gooseberry Falls to set up Travis’s camper at the campground where the race would start the following morning. I had the whole week off, but these guys took half the day off Thursday and a whole day off Friday. Stu would join us after school on Friday. (He’s a teacher) After unhooking the camper we headed to the fairgrounds to the mandatory prerace meeting. We all ate spaghetti that was served up by the local 4H kids. This is my 4th year doing this race and the atmosphere is more like a summer picnic with extended family. It’s a blast getting together with these amazing people that know no limits. We sat with a group of Hrimthurs and a couple friends(Bob and Lindsey) from Cloquet. Scott Kummer, also a Hrimthur, and host of the podcast Ten Junk Miles got there a little late and was scrambling to find a place to stay for the night. I told him where we were staying and he said he might come visit after the meeting. As soon as we got back to the camper Scottie was messaging me that he was coming over. When he arrived we cracked some beers, sat around, and shot the shit for a few hours. Scottie is one hell of a story teller. If you ever get a chance have him tell you the one about the Italian girl. One beer turned into 4 or 5 and soon it was midnight. That was my cue to turn in. After all, I had a race to run in the morning.

Race morning the alarm went off at 6am. Bob and Lindsey had a dead car battery so I headed over to there campsite to give them a jump. When I got there they had already got it going again. Letting it sit overnight seemed to have recharged it enough to start. I head back to the camper to make some java on the camp stove. After coffee and a quick shower I take extra care to lube up real good knowing it was going to be a wet race with all the rain we’ve had. I pay special attention to my feet and make sure they are coated with lube. The race starts at the visitors center at Gooseberry falls State Park. It’s one of the most beautiful places on the north shore with its gorgeous waterfalls plummeting into Lake Superior.

As usual John Storkamp(The Race Director) gets up on his ladder and gives us some last minute instructions. Mainly covering the two early water crossings. This year Split Rock Bridge is out and the beavers (a little further up trail) had a pond over flowing it’s banks. He warns us the river isn’t bad if you rock hop, but the beaver dam will be mid thigh deep. This doesn’t bother me one bit. I knew we would be wet anyway. There would be no avoiding having wet feet for most of the 103 miles. Then he starts the count down at 99, 98, 97…. He was only kidding and got a good laugh out of all of us. With a quick 5,4,3,2,1 we were off.


The first 4 miles is a gorgeous paved bike trail overlooking Lake Superior on our right side. Everyone uses this time to visit and find their place in line before we turn left and head under HWY61 through a tunnel and onto the single track of the Superior Hiking Trail. I run with Lindsey, Mary, and Aaron. Aaron and I met thru Facebook, but this was the first time we got to meet in person. Mary and I ran this section together last year too.

As soon as I get on the single track I find myself next Lourdes who was also at Arrowhead with us winter Warriors this past winter. She had come all the way from Calgary, Canada. Kummer was going to crew and pace for her later in the race. It don’t take long and we were to the Split Rock River crossing. There are 3 or 4 volunteers there for safety. I know 3 of the 4 and say hi to them as we make our way across. It’s pretty easy to stay on the rocks in the shallow water. The water is just over ankle deep if you rock hop and the crossing is about 40 feet across.


The trail basically follows both sides of the river before and after the river crossing. Then after the water crossing the trail steadily rises to the cliffs high above Lake Superior. It’s a blue bird day and the views are absolutely spectacular overlooking the lake.


Soon we are turning onto the spur trail down a long stairway that leads to the aid station. With it being an out and back down the spur trail you get to see where a lot of other runners are at this point. I top off my water, grab some endurelytes, and head back out. I thank Angela whom I met last year and go to give her a fist bump. With a big smile she smashes the hell out of my fist.


Leaving the aid station it’s a long climb back up the stairs to the top of the cliffs. This section always gives me trouble. These early sections there is a lot of ledger rock and it is very unforgiving. The trail is also very exposed as it overlooks the lake as the day starts to heat up. Not too long and the trail heads inland away from the lake. The trail goes through a couple real good ups and downs in this section. On one of the downs we skirt a beaver pond. I figured this would be our other water crossing but soon we are climbing high up on the cliffs again in among the giant majestic pines. Once again the views are amazing from the cliff tops.

Now the views are of an inland marsh land instead of the the lake. When we descend again we skirt yet another pond and come to the flooded section of trail that the beavers have wreaked havoc on. We slowly make our way across the mid thigh deep water. The guy in front of me trips on something and almost goes down. At the same time I trip on a submerged log and I almost go down as well. This has us all laughing because we notice Cary off to one side taking photos of our misery.


Shorty after the beaver pond crossing I run out of water. I still have a couple miles into the aid station. Being  without water will come back to haunt me. Up to this point I was still running up some of the smaller climbs. I chose not to use my poles from the start and I could tell I was starting to over exhaust my quads. My quads started to cramp. My feet are also beginning to have some trouble spots. They needed to be addressed quickly or I would be in major trouble later in the race. As we arrived at Beaver Bay it is bustling with activity. I get in and out quick leaving with Lindsey.

Beaver Bay to Silver Bay 4.9 miles

Knowing my quads were being over taxed I start using my poles on this section. We leave Beaver Bay on a 1/4 mile of dirt road. As we veer off onto the single track Lindsey stops for a bathroom break. I go ahead as the trail goes along the river. I stop at the river to address my feet. I find a rock to perch on and remove both my socks and shoes. I rinse them thoroughly to get all the built up mud out. As I go to put them back on my legs start to seize up. As I sit in the icy water my leg muscles are in full out revolt. Fortunately I stocked up on endurolytes at the first 2 aid stations. After getting back on trail I take 4 endurolytes to help with the cramping. I even break the last one open and put it on my tongue. This helps but this entire section I’m right on the edge of completely seizing up. I go into catch up mode with my hydration after running out in the previous section. With this being a short section I attempt to drink the entire 2 liters in my hydration pack. This section only has a couple big climbs. In past years I’d have to stop to allow my heart rate to get under control. This year I am able to just power right up them. This section used to play mind games on me as well because the trail brings you close to the aid station then circles back away around the back side of two big hills. This year I am ready for it. I catch up to April Anselmo(The 2013 Superior 100 winner) It is so cool to get to share the trail and get to know her a little. She is planning to pull out at the next aid station due to knee trouble. As I make the descent into Silver Bay I have a plan to Hydrate as much as I can and fill my bladder plus an extra soft flask for the next long section. I hope to get the cramping back under control.

Silver Bay to Tettegouche 9.9 miles

I leave Silver Bay I am with a guy from the state of Virginia. Him and I will pass one another about a million times over the course of the next couple sections. It’s almost comical. Starting out on this section I keep telling myself to do no harm. Take what the course will give me. I must have listened to Kevin Langton and Jason Husveth say that on the Rub Some Dirt On It Podcast about a dozen times in the 4 times I listened to the Superior 100 preview show. I also kept telling myself that Jason says it’s very runnable in the second part of this section. That is exactly what I do. I embrace it and just keep plugging away enjoying the views as we climb high above Bear and Bean Lakes. I even take a detour to take pictures and video from one of the overlooks.


I know the race doesn’t even start for me until sundown so I am just out there enjoying every single minute. After coming off the overlook I start looking for the 1st creek crossing. From a training run I did 3 years ago I know It’s about the half way point for this section. It’s also when I’m guessing it gets a lot more runnable like Jason says. We are now over 50k into the race and I hadn’t gone to the bathroom yet. This worries me a bit so I continue to work on my hydration. I also start working on keeping my energy up by eating a trail size Baby Ruth every time my energy wanes a bit. Who would have thought a candy company would make a bar specifically for trail running! 😉 I had gels with me too in case the candy bars didn’t work, but they end up being the only on trail calorie source I used for the entire race. Gels have become increasingly difficult for me to stomach as of late. It didn’t take long and we were to the drain pipe. The drain pipe is a super steep technical descent that goes straight down. It has some gnarly rock and roots, but this lets you know this section is nearing the end. Tettegouche is teaming with activity. I’m very pleased at how early I make it there. I even start to think I may make it to the next aid station in the daylight. Something I haven’t done in the 3 years previous. Stu has now joined the crew and this makes me happy! He was with me for my 1st two Superiors 100s.

Tettegouche to Co. Rd. 6 8.6 miles

Leaving Tettegouche aid station the trails are well worn and built up with it being a State Park. There is a lot of stairs leading down to a magnificent bridge that crosses the river. Climbing out the other side I am passed by Susan Donnelly. She is going for her 100th 100 mile finish. Usually she passes me in the second section around Mile 15. This and the fact that there is still a lot of daylight left let’s me know I’m doing well compared to previous years. I’m still using Jason’s and Kevin’s do no harm method and I couldn’t care less about the people that are still passing me in this section. This section really is gorgeous to go through in the daylight. After the river crossing we travel through the Wolf Ridge learning center vicinity. It’s got one of the most beautiful overlooks of either Raven or Wolf lake.

This is one of my favorite spots. We never get close to the actual learning center but their campus contains 2000 acres. The Superior Hiking trail cuts right through their property. There is a big set of stairs in this section too that seems to be in the middle of nowhere. Some how toward the end of this section I get in with a train of other runners. They start wondering when we will get to the aid station. Having done this race 3 times before I explained to them that once the trail turns back to the left we will be high above the aid station. From there you are able to see the it from the cliffs high above Co. Rd. 6. From that point it’s a good mile or so of descent down to the road crossing where we will have a 1/4 mile to go in the ditch along side the road leading into the aid station.

^^Photo credits: Mike Wheeler^^

Over the day I had slid from 98th to 121st. Soon darkness would fall and it was going to be time to hunt headlamps.

Co. Road 6 to Finland 7.7 miles

I got to Co. Road 6 and I had done no harm. I felt good. I had worked my way through my cramping issues and managed to get my hydration back under control. I even finally went to the bathroom at the end of the last section. I picked up my 1st pacer here and we were on a mission. The sun was about to set and the goal was to not be passed the rest of the night and gain as many spots as possible by morning.

Part 2 coming soon…….

Actif Epica and The Order Of The Hrimthurs 

DISCLAIMER: Long and drawn out. These races are very personal. For some reason I have an insatiable desire to find out what I am truly capable of. I find it fascinating that things I once thought of as impossible are actually possible with enough hard work, stubbornness, and intestinal fortitude. Sharing these endeavors is very difficult for me for fear of being judged. I realize that I am not the best at putting pen to paper, but that fear is out weighed by my gratitude of those that have come before me. Not only have their reports played a huge role in my development, but they have also motivated me to dream big and go after those dreams. If I can play even just a small part in motivating just one person to go outside their comfort zone then it is worth it. My words cannot begin to explain how difficult this race was. Hard to believe warm conditions can make the shortest flattest race the most difficult of the 3, but it absolutely did.

It’s 3a.m. as the alarm sounds. I awake in not only a strange house, but a unfamiliar country. I’m in Canada for the first time, and it is very foreign to me. While some things are similar many are unfamiliar. My normal morning routine is off because we are house guests of a family we really don’t want to bother. Amazingly these folks so graciously opened their home to three of us on our quest to join the Order of the Hrimthurs. Mark Smith is also with us and this is going to be his first winter ultra. His in laws are from Winnipeg and are our hosts for the weekend.

By 4a.m. We make our way to the center of the city where the race will finish. There we stuff ourselves like sardines along with our gear on an old school bus. It’s a 2 hour ride to where we get dropped off to start the final leg of our journey. We arrived at starting point just before 6:30. I have yet to have my morning coffee. This makes me extremely nervous. When you start every day with coffee your body expects its morning dose of caffeine. Not to mention the other things morning coffee helps, but let’s just say that it can really throw a loop in the plan when you are about to venture out on a 100 mile journey by foot where the facilities are few and far between.

This is the first time the Actif Epica is offering a 162km or 100 mile option to their race. 16 of us brave souls gather outside a tiny community center in a town that can’t be any larger than a dot on a map. As the clock strikes 6:30 we are told we can go. We are already a half hour behind when we were supposed to start according to the race website, but as Ultrarunners most of us take great pride in being able to go with the flow and adapt to whatever difficulties come our way. This is a very minor one at best. The only worry would be that this could bring us dangerously close to the early cutoffs because as in most races the early ones can be tight.

This race is unlike most races as the course is not marked. This is new to most of us and it really throws a wrench into my plans. I had a GPS unit but I had absolutely no idea how to use it. The other option for navigating the course is to use cue cards and some sort of distance tracker. This is how I planned to go but this too seems to be troublesome because many of the turns are onto unmarked trails or roads. This wouldn’t be to bad if you only had a few turns, but our cues sheets contained 5 pages of turns.

I quickly changed my plans and hope to find someone going my pace with a GPS and team up with them. I had originally hoped I could team up with Paul since we had spent many miles together already at Arrowhead. The only problem was that I didn’t want to hold him back if he decided to go out fast. He’s a much faster runner than me. Mark is as well and from the get go I can see those two decided to work together and go out fast. Them and one other guy take off and open up a gap right away. Not thinking I could keep up I hang back near the front of the main pack still trying to come up with a good navigation partner.

I find myself with Chuck Fritz whom I’ve known for over a year. He’s also a former Marine and he actually did this race last year. I spent the weekend last year tracking his spot device during that race. So I knew he had what it takes to finish this. It was fun getting to hang out with him for a while as we have a lot in common. Soon we find ourselves heading off road onto the first of many untraveled trails. It’s already warming up nicely but this proves to be a huge problem as it makes the deep snow very slow going and arduous.

This is us the day before the race checking out the conditions of the first section of trail. I had heard people describe portions of this race with the term post holing, but it didn’t take long before I got to experience it first hand. Post holing is when the snow is deep and you basically sink up to your knees or even mid thigh with any given step. What makes matters worse is that with a crust on top of the snow you just never know when you would be able to stay on top or when you would break through and sink. I found myself doing two things, wishing I had brought my snowshoes, and trying to step lightly. Stepping lightly was only wishful thinking for a guy that normally tips the scales at over 200 lbs. Not to mention the fact I was carrying another 20 lbs of mandatory gear, food, and water on my back.

It wasn’t long before I was asking myself what the hell had I gotten myself into. Usually that takes 25 miles or so, but here it happened only after a few miles of post holing. Take a look at my face in one of the early sections of post holing. This was a look of concern to say the least.

At this point I was in 4th place with Chuck right behind me. After a couple more miles the pack closed what little gap Chuck and I had opened. This was a beautiful section of trail that followed a river bank. After an extremely difficult and long section of post holing we came back onto a dirt road. The road was a nice reprieve, but it only lastest a few minutes before we were back on a trail leading down to a swinging bridge that crossed the river. Before heading down the river bank a group of 8 or 9 of us gathered at the top where water and snacks had been left under a small canopy with a bench. Those that had snowshoes sat down to put them back on. The swinging bridge was very unique. Apparently it was made mostly from old tractor parts.

After climbing out from the river bottom we encountered more open fields and what seemed like miles more post holing. I was breaking trail, but soon a Stampede of snowshoe wearing runners in a conga line make their way around me. This makes it much easier for me as they laid down a decent track to follow. Finally we make it out to another section of road. Everyone wearing snowshoes had to stop to take them off.

Me, Erik, and Kari start to make our way onwards as the others securely stow their snowshoes. Hoping the worst sections are now behind us we spend a couple hours opening a gap as we make our way toward the first check point at mile 26.45. Upon arriving Kari is already getting word that we need to be in and out as we will be close to the cutoffs at the next aid station. At the first aid station I finally get to do my business after holding it all morning. Thus far my feet are wet but I didn’t have any hot spots so I decided to not change socks. I drank a can of Pepsi, had a couple snacks, and changed my headlamp batteries. I quickly filled my hydro blatter to just over 1 liter and I was ready to head out. So were Kari, Erik, Randy, and Danial. We all left together.

This next section is 17 miles so we won’t get to the next aid station until after dark. Kari, Erik, and myself are moving a little faster than Randy and Danial, but we all stay within sight of each other most of the afternoon. Eventually we start to real in Mark. As we pass him you could tell his feet were bothering him. He already had quite the hobble going on. After a couple hours we started to close the gap on Paul as well. Once I could see Paul up ahead I started to push pretty hard in an attempt to catch him. I couldn’t believe we were able to catch either one of them because I figured we wouldn’t see them again until the finish. As Paul made a turn into an open field I made one last really hard push to catch him. Somewhere near the middle of the field I finally caught him. Once we were together at about mile 35 we would stay together right up to the finish. We made a great team. It was getting late in the day and as a road section came to a (T) we could see the trail went straight ahead but unfortunately the trail also went straight through an enormous puddle with virtually no way to go around it. Paul lead the way sinking up to nearly his knee in the icy water. Seeing that he broke through in a really deep spot I took a slightly different line through and only got a little bit wet. After that I knew my feet were going to be in trouble. 60 more miles to go and with wet shoes. I was going to definitely need to change my socks at the next aid station.

Just after dark Paul and I made it into the Sugar Shack aid station. We hear Kari’s Mom ringing her cow bell before we see the aid station. The sound of that bell will bring us overwhelming joy more than once during our travels. The aid station had some phenomenal volunteers. They were all over us trying to help in any way possible. They even offered to dry my shoes and socks with a hair dryer. I laughed and said,”thank you, but I would never put someone through something like that.” However they did get to watch as I operated on my feet before I changed into dry socks. My right foot was in rough shape already from being wet. It had developed a huge blister on the ball on my foot. It took a while but I did get it to drain before lubing my feet up and putting on my only extra pair of socks. The kids working here were some sort of Cadets, probably in their late teens. They seem pretty fascinated by my rough looking feet. Paul and I had some split pea soup and a couple cups of coffee and soon Erik and Kari showed up.

As Paul and I took off Randy and Danial made their way to the Sugar Shack. The next section was about 10 miles. This section we were alone on the trail. Toward the end of this ten mile section was the only section of trail that was marked. I think it may have been a detour, but anyways it was really nice to have a marked trail. The trail was good too and it weaved its way through one of the few wooded areas up to what I believe was a hog farm. At the hog farm they had an amazing aid station set up. They welcomed us in and had quite the spread for us. It was almost midnight so the sleep monsters were upon us. I had 2 more cups of coffee, a bowl of soup, some BBQ spare ribs, and some cookies.

Again Erik and Kari were right behind us and came in as we were finishing up our coffee.

As we were about to leave we made the mistake of asking about cutoff times. This got us all in a panic as we were going to be cutting them awfully close. We weren’t even sure Randy and Danial would make it here in time as we were being told 12:30 was the cut off. With 10 minutes to spare the four of us were out the door together. Randy and Danial were coming in as we were leaving and virtually had to check in and check out. All six of us were now together as we had 12 miles to go to the next aid station in which we had to be there by 4:30. Working together we gained some ground. We spread out but stayed mostly within eyesight. At one point we all missed a turn into a park and had to back track a bit. We arrived at the Nivervill Arena well ahead of cut off. Here volunteers had Pierogies for us. I had never had a pierogie, but I was willing to try anything that was warm and contained the calories that I was desperately seeking. They were absolutely scrumptious. Apparently pierogies are a potato dumpling filled with cheese of some sort, but damn were they good. As we were about to head out a group of runners were brought in and we’re dropping or had been pulled from the race. Mile 65 and we were the only six left on the course other than the leader. All of us other than Erik were still on our quest to join the Order or the Hrimthurs. Now more than ever we were in this together. Each of us wanting this for the other almost more than we wanted it for ourselves.

We all left together just after 4 a.m. Now the cutoffs would no longer be hard cutoffs so we were able to put that stress behind us. As we spread out again Paul and I ran into a couple navigational problems. We made a right turn using my cue cards onto a dirt road that was clearly the right road according to the cue sheet. After a half mile or so Paul says,”we were supposed to go the other way.” We stop and I double check my cards. I assure him it’s right. However Paul’s GPS clearly says it’s the opposite direction as my cue sheet. Now this could have been bad and we could have just as easily parted ways because we both felt strongly about which way we needed to go. However we were in this together and if one of us was going to get lost we were both going to get lost. We went with Paul’s GPS, but that made us back track the 1/2 mile back to the intersection. After a few more turns we realize both ways would have got us to were we needed to go, but never the less we lost about 15 minutes and added a mile to the course. No big deal. Just a better value for our money. It didn’t take long and it happened again. This time the cue sheets brought us down a hwy heading into town. Paul realized his GPS was telling us we should have gone straight to what looked to be a paralleling frontage road. This time we chance it a stay the course instead of back tracking. Erik, Kari, and the others go the other way and follow their GPS. It wasn’t long and we were turning off the Hwy and climbing up onto a dike and back on GPS course. On top of the dike there wasn’t much snow but all the bikes and runners ahead of us had left tracks in what must have been slush. Now it was frozen, uneven, and very unforgiving. It felt as if we were running barefoot on a gigantic cheese grater. All of our feet were taking a beating from being wet so long. For me each step was excruciating. After a mile or so we made it to the Pharmacy aid station at mile 73.

It was nice to be in the company of these winter warriors. As we sat there we all knew we only had about a marathon left to go. The volunteers again took good care of us. I had a couple hash browns and some coffee.

One of the volunteers tried to explain that he would be sitting at the end of the spill way waiting for us. I had know idea what a spill way was but we were about to find out. We all left together again and it was a couple more miles on top of the gigantic cheese grater before we had a couple miles of roads. Finally the roads gave way to the vastness of the spill way. As far as the eye could see was open fields with a tractor path zigzagging its way across and towards the dike off in the horizon. As the sun came up the frozen ground gave way to what is known as Manitoba gumbo. A slippery almost impenetrable black mud that collect on your shoes as if being weighted down by cement. Every few steps you would have to try to knock it off he soles of your shoes.

Once again our groups had spread out just a bit. Finally after a few hours of this torture we were at the dike. This meant back into the deep snow, but the surface was still hard enough to mostly prevent post holing. We had about a mile of following tracks laid by the shorter race runners and bikers as we made our way along the dike. Near the end we heard that glorious cow bell. We high five them as we pass by. We aren’t allowed to use the bridge to cross the spill way but they do have a path marked to go under the bridge. Once we climb out of the spillway on the other side it seems as though we are on the outskirts of the city. We will only have road ways and sidewalks for most of the way to the finish. After the crap we had been through that was a welcome relief. Paul and I were making pretty good time. We could no longer see the other four behind us, but we knew they were still close. Some of the neighborhoods we go through along the river are really nice. It’s a nice change of scenery from the vast nothingness of the country side. As we make our way onto the U of M campus we can’t for the life of us remember what the building was called that we were looking for as the last aid station. My cue sheets had the wrong final aid station so we were at the mercy of the GPS. Before long we heard more cow bell which brought a smile to my face. Kari’s Mom told us we had a surprise waiting in the final aid station. As we walk in Mark is there waiting for us. Even though his race didn’t go as planned there he was to support us in our final push to the finish. Such an amazingly selfless act of Brotherhood.

We didn’t stay long as we were beginning to smell the hay in the barn. As we were heading out Kari and Erik were just arriving. As we get outside Randy and Danial are also arriving. All that is left is a 6 mile section of mostly sidewalk and then 3 miles of riverside trails. As we cross a bridge Mark is there to direct us through a park. Paul and I start to pick up the pace. We are ready to be done. Normally we would finish the last section on the river, but because of the warm weather the city closed the river ice trails for safety. A race official was at the other end of the park to guide us to the final trail since it was a last minute change.  As we got close I texted Scott (who ran the shorter race) so he would know we were getting close. As Paul and I climbed up from the river trail into the Forks court yard it was almost fitting that a band was playing. With a huge smile we see Scottie waiting for us. Finally with much relief we cross the finish line side by side. We made it. We were about to enter the realm of legends and the Order of the Hrimthurs.

The rest of the crew was not far behind.

Every one of us that went to Actif Epica in search of the Order made it. I find that remarkable and a testament to the toughness of the people that make it this far on this quest. This is a bond we will share forever. I am honored to call these folks my friends.


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