Alone in the Woods

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


Winter ultra

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.


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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