Alone in the Woods

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


dream big

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 not special and by no means am I anything 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 uniquely draws 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. That’s why there is no gear list like most winter ultras. 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. 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 be 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. However the 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. Bob Coolidge filled me in the first time we went to visit Randy in the hospital. His and Randy’s paths seemingly just needed to cross that day in the middle of nowhere and out of the blue.

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. 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. 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 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 well 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.

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.


2017 Arrowhead 135 – A Journey to remember

“From struggle comes strength.” 

I’ve been blessed with parents who brought me up to believe that through hard work and determination that anything is possible. There is nothing special about my abilities as a runner, but nobody is going to set limits on what I can accomplish. All my life I’ve tried to learn from everyone I’ve come into contact with. In recent years some of those people are very, very, special. By surrounding myself with positive like minded people and distancing myself from negativity my life has improved exponentially.

2016 taught me many lessons in struggle. I failed at Arrowhead 105 miles in. I had three experimental procedures on my knee one month later which had me on crutches, struggling to even walk, and questioning whether or not I would ever be able to even run again. I was pulled from the Superior 100 for missing the final cut off by 6 minutes, but that is when the magic started to happen. You see I thought I was done at Temperance (mile 75), but this amazing group of people,(trail people) whom I had never met, gathered around me and got me moving again after I thought I had nothing left. I spent the next few hours on the trail with certain young lady that was able to get an effort out of me that I didn’t even know existed. Though I failed it set me on a path to what is quickly becoming an almost unbelievable 2017.

On January 6th I completed the longest race of my life and somehow ended up in 2nd place at the finish. See Tuscobia report here: The 2017 Tuscobia 160 Mile Winter Ultra   Now this past week I completed the Arrowhead135. This is all in hopes of completing The Order Of The Hrimthurs. The Order is a Grand Slam of sorts that includes 3 Winter Ultras within 6 weeks. Something only 3 people have ever completed on foot. This year in fact will be the first year that the final race of the 3 has offered a 162k option. So actually nobody as ever completed that as of yet. There will be 4 to possibly 7 of us going up next week to give it a go. Find more details here:

The Arrowhead 135 has a special place in my heart. I love everything about this race. This would be my 4th attempt. The 1st year brought failure at -50 degrees as I had no idea what I was doing and my gear was grossly inadequate for those temps. Wisely I called it quits at mile 36 as I was severely dehydrated and hypothermic. Year 2, having learned many lessons from my DNF, I was able to get my first finish. The 3rd year I made it 105 miles but made a crucial fueling mistake that left me again severely dehydrated and throwing up for almost 12 hours before finally throwing in the towel. Which brings me to this year, my 4th attempt.

Having just completed the Tuscobia 160 3 weeks earlier I had no idea how my body was going to respond. I had every intention of taking it easy and just hoped to get a finish. If all went really well I dreamed of going sub 50 hrs, but I was trying to be realistic. I had signed up to go unsupported so I had no drop bag and didn’t plan on getting any aid at the 3 aid stations. This meant my sled would be even heavier than normal as I would need to carry extra fuel, food, and water because again I would not be able to restock at the aid stations.

7:04am Ken(the race Director) said release the hounds!! We were off and running. As usual I quickly found myself up near the front of the pack because I have very little self control and always start too fast. This meant runners would continue to pass me as I slowed down and settled in to a comfortable pace. Like past years some of the faster guys like Rob Henderson and John Storkamp would come by and we would visit for a bit before either they would take off or I would let them go. It didn’t take long before I realized that there was some major residual muscle fatigue still going on from the 160. My legs felt like stone. Like in almost every Ultra I was hitting the wall by mile 25.



By mile 35 I was questioning my sanity and was already considering dropping from the unsupported category.

Only one mile later I find myself on the spur trail into the first check point. On my way in I see Jared coming out. I tell him how awesome he is doing and remind him to save some energy for the 2nd half of  the race. Cheering him on somehow gets me out of my funk. As I pull into Gateway Store a Volunteer is standing outside with a clipboard to check us in. I see about 10 sleds sitting there so I give him my number, thank him for volunteering, and head right back out.


Upon leaving check point 1 I was chuckling that I gained so much ground while everyone else was enjoying hot food and a warm place to relax. I knew this could come back to haunt me, but I was happy to be ahead of previous years having never left there during daylight. As darkness approached the legs finally started to feel good. Night time is my favorite and things begin to click. Throughout the night I meet and leap frog a few different runners. Parker Rios, Tosh, and Paul Schlagel. I did know Paul having met him at Tuscobia and we rode up to the race together. About 1/2 way between check points my stomach began to go south on me. I could no longer eat. I knew that this was bad, but thankfully I had jolly ranchers to suck on. Somehow this was enough to keep me moving. Tosh, Paul and I started to work together taking turns breaking trail. Early in the day when Tosh had passed me I guessed he was a former Marine just by the way he carried himself. As we talked he confirmed my suspicion. Come to find out not only were we both Marines, but we were both infantry, and  we both went to the same Security Force School. I was hoping to reach Check point 2 by morning, but as we got closer I figured It would be more like 4am. As Tosh and I reached Elephant Lake Paul had gapped us a bit. Tosh stopped to pee and add a layer.  I went ahead and also stopped to put on my puffy jacket. I was now chasing the red blinking light that was already crossing the wind swept lake. I gained on him, but never  was able to real him in before we got to the resort. As I rolled back onto shore I knew I was in trouble having not eaten for the last few hours.

My best option at that point was to change to the supported category and utilize the final 2 aid stations. I entered the aid station and began changing into dry clothes immediately. Then I attempted to replenish the calories I so desperately needed. I had a couple cokes, a couple chocolate milks, and a grilled cheese sandwich. Unfortunately the sandwich was not going down well. I ended up only eating half. A volunteer gave me 3 Alieve. It took a few tries to even get them down. I was having a difficult time swallowing without throwing them back up. Finally I was able to choke them down. I put my shoes on the heater and headed up stairs to lay down for a quick nap. As did Paul and Tosh. I set my alarm for 2 hours. I slept, but did a lot of tossing and turning. While we slept Parker was outside melting snow to replenish his drinking water. The alarm went off way too early, but I knew it was time to get moving. I head down stairs and grab a cup of coffee. I quickly gather all my belongings and fill my water containers. With one last thank you to the volunteers Paul and I head back out at 7am. Tosh was still asleep, but we were in hot pursuit of Parker.

Day two brought more snow and the unrelenting hill section of the Arrowhead trail. It was fun having company for this section. Paul and I were working well together. Eventually we caught up to Parker as he had stopped to make a fire at a trailside shelter and dry out his shoes. We stopped to join him for a few minutes as I knew I was way behind on my fueling again. I hadn’t eaten anything but Jolley Ranchers the last few hours on the trail. After grabbing a couple different types of food that I hadn’t tried yet I climbed into the shelter and took a seat along the wall in the dirt. This shelter was just three walls and a roof but it didn’t have a bench around the inner wall like some of them. I ate a big stack of Pringles and a few chunks of beef jerky. After quickly eating I hopped back up and readied my sled to depart. Paul was doing the same as I began to violently throw up everything I had just eaten. After about 5 hurls I apologized to them for having to witness that. As we leave I think to myself I guess it’s back to Jolly Ranchers.

As daylight on the second day starts to come to a close Paul tells me we just passed the 100 mile mark. We celebrate by sliding down yet another of the endless hills.



Soon it was dark again and going off the mileage card all day I was estimating that we would be at the final check point by 7pm. Then Tosh caught us and straightened me out. He said it would be more like 8 or 8:30 before we made it there. That caused me to unleash a whole slew of cuss words because it had already seemed to take forever. I didn’t dwell too long however knowing that that kind of negativity can absolutely kill your race. I just adjusted my target to 8:30 and hoped we would get there before that. You would not believe just how much your attitude can affect your race. It can be the difference between a DNF and a finish. That was my last negative thought of the race. We arrived at the Surly check point at 8:15pm. Paul and I were both having stomach issues most of the day. We needed desperately to get a little break and rally.

I grabbed my clothes bag from my pulk and headed into the teepee to change into dry stuff. My feet were pretty thrashed. Coming into Surly I had concerns that my toes were frostbitten. Thankfully the pain I was feeling was not frost bite. It was just a nice collection of blisters. I sat down in front of the wood stove and began to operate on my toes using one of my bib pins. It felt so good to release that pressure. After that I decided to try to dry out my feet and shoes at the edge of the stove before putting socks back on. The next hour or so I just sat there and shot the shit with other runners, volunteers, and supporters. These are some of my favorite times in these races. The camaraderie of this fraternity is unmatched anywhere.

Photo Credit Robbie Skantz (man is it hard to keep your eyes open when someone’s using a flashing the dark)

As I sit there I can’t help myself from doing the math as I begin to smell the hay in the barn with only one more climb and about 25 miles to go. I try to get Paul going as I think just how cool it would be for us to finish this thing together. We both agree, a couple of times, just a little bit longer. Finally the pull of the finish line has us both up on our feet and gathering our things. We spent way too much time there. The warm teepee had left us both battling the sleep monsters.

As we hooked up our sleds we begin our 3 mile climb up the final hill. Paul is still throwing up and he began to worry that the black color of the vomit was serious. Maybe even blood. I give him a couple tums hoping it will settle his stomach. I’m also still having issues as all I can keep down is Jolly Ranchers. Paul asks if I have any left. I dig the rest out and gladly give him half of what I have left. We finally reach the top of  Wakumup hill. I give Paul a heads up about the big turn at the bottom and we ready ourselves for one final slide. After Wakumup we click off a few final miles. Everytime we stop he throws up. Now we are both worried. Paul starts talking about bivvying for a couple hours. I’m not ready to bivvy, but I stay to help him figure out where to set his up. As we part ways I get an overwhelming feeling of guilt for leaving him. I start to pick up the pace now that I’m alone. However, after a couple hours I find myself standing in the middle of the trail asleep on my feet. From past experiences I know it’s now time to bivvy. Instead of trying to push through and continuously finding myself standing there making no headway I promptly pull over and set up my sled to bivvy. The first time I just put on my puffy jacket, cold weather mitts, and pull my neck gaiter up over my face.  Instead of taking out the bivvy I sleep right on top of the sled. I hope all I need is a quick 15 min nap to get me to the finish. It don’t take long and I wake up chilled. I pack up and get moving again. After only a couple hours it’s happening again. I can’t keep my eyes open. I know I’m close to the final trailside shelter so I push on to the trailside oasis.

This time I do it right. This will be my last bivvy. I pull out my whole kit and crawl into my sleeping bag. After about a half hour the cold wakes me once again. I hastily pack my stuff and quickly reference my mileage card to see how many miles are left. Knowing I’m going to be slow I figure the final 10.5 miles could take me as long as 3 hours. I put my head down and embark on the final leg of my two year odyssey to get back to the finish line. Minutes later my biggest savior Robbie rolls up on his snow machine. Robbie, with his always smiling face, came to a complete stop to reveal some desperately needed encouragement. That is when the supernatural happened. Robbie told me I had only 6.4 miles to go. When he said that I was in utter disbelief. I must have looked at him like he was crazy! Could my card possibly be 4 miles off?! With his big old grin Robbie pointed to his odometer and assured me he was correct. What happened next I’m still trying to thoroughly process. It was as if my body no longer had an internal governor telling me I had just gone 130 miles. It also didn’t hurt that the trail was finally firming up for the first time since the very beginning of the race. I was off and running! Everytime the footing got good I’d pick a tree up ahead and make a surge until I’d reach it. I was making really good time. Soon I realed in another runner. It was a young lady from New Jersey. I’m not sure what I said to her, but I’m sure we exchanged pleasantries as I passed. Now I had one more goal, not to be caught. I continued my surges to try and open the gap between us. I knew I was getting close to the finish. I started to search for any sign of the up coming road crossing or signs that the Casino drawing near. Soon I come to some power lines as I make my way to the final road crossing. After crossing the road I know I’m on Casino property. Two years ago Harvey Lewis came out here and interviewed me about what I thought of the Arrowhead 135. At the time I was in rough shape. This year was a different story. I pulled my phone out to document just what a difference a couple years can make.



Soon the Casino is in sight and I make one final push to the finish line. At 7:49 am my race comes to an end. As I cross the finish line a giant of a man with a monster beard comes out to greet me. With an enormous grin and his arms out wide Steve Cannon welcomes me home with a big old bear hug. Now I’m not normally a hugger, but even I can make an exception when something this special has happened. I have been blessed with many really good friends and Steve has quickly become one of them. My place is of absolutely no consequence. The only person I was racing was myself. I beat my finish time from two years ago by 4hrs and 43mins. If all went well I had a dream of breaking 50 hours. I finished in 48:45. Somehow I still have a lot of room for improvement.

My biggest take away from this race is that we all have an enormous untapped potential. Our biggest limiting factor is our own mind. The only reason I write these reports is to hopefully inspire someone to go outside their comfort zone and dream big. There truly are no limits to what one can accomplish if only they believe.

So many people to thank. Ken, although I don’t know why you allow me to be chosen to run this race I want you to know that I am extremely grateful for the opportunity. Thank you Ken, Jackey, and all the amazing volunteers for all you do.

Last, but certainly not least, thank you to my beautiful wife and kids who pick up my slack when I’m gone and enable me to chase my crazy dreams no matter where they take me.


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