Arrowhead 270: Stronger Together.

*This is the series of events on how I remember it.  Some things started to get blury from the trail so I may miss something or add it in later… or it may never have happened at all.   You’ve been warned.

People have asked me how Kate and I came up with the idea to go for the double this year.  It is so serendipitous I look back now and think it is so like US.  A few months back the Boys (Hrimthurs from 2017) were talking about going to White Mountain in Alaska and they wanted me to go.  It’s too far and too expensive for me so I asked if they wanted to do a Double Arrowhead instead, trying to sell it by saying “heeeyyyy the last half is free.”  No one bit, so my tiny dream was floating around by itself.  Many months later I had been hanging out a little with Kate, she was doing the foot division this year and we logged some training miles in pulling tires.  So one day at work I thought, I’m going to ask Kate to do the double.  And I shit you not friend, she came in to my work THAT DAY and after greeting said “have you ever thought about doing a double Arrowhead?”  I truly believe this was our destiny!

Well then Tuscobia happened!  What a wallop to the old self esteem that was!  Not sure if I was capable of completing the Double or not, I wanted to do it.  I knew it would be infinitely better, infinitely possible, with Kate, so when we got together one night to chat after our DNF’s, and talk about Arrowhead I was nervous.  But there she was, giving me a bag of gummie worms and bears with that fire in her eyes saying “I want to do it too.”  The planning started here, we contacted the local shops we would be visiting, Kate figured out the GPS, and we started packing the bags and making lists.  Sooner than I could imagine, Kate was picking me up at work and we were driving to Tower Minnesota.

We would start early so the idea was to get to the hotel as soon as possible and rest, I packed my sled and went to bed.  It was fun being at Fortune Bay Casino not totally wreaked!  The next morning at about 7:45 we headed down the trail.  Kathy Coward was there to see us off and as we rode our sleds down the hill from the finish line, we laughed at what she must think of us.  I wondered what would happen in between the start and finish, when I would see this place again, and how will it be?

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The first few miles go as any do on a great adventure, easy!  We talked along, laughing, finding gloves and hanging them in trees.  There were no snowmobiles yet this morning so we walked without a care in the world.  At one point I looked down and there was a little bug!  Often during these events I hallucinate seeing little bugs on the trail and I try to avoid stepping on them.  But here one was!  Just walking on the trail.  Kate and I, both fresh and full of energy took the appropriate amount of time to inspect this little visitor and muse about him for miles.  As afternoon wore on, we came to the Crescent Moon bar where we would eat and fill water for the night.  There were a few snowmobilers in the house surprised at how fast we had gotten there!  They had passed us on the trail and were curious about our journey.  It is funny to see peoples reaction, to ANY ultra distance event!  So we ate our bean burgers and Cesar salads talking about how rough and tumble we are to be doing a Double Arrowhead and maybe right now we were Glamping.

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We got to Mount Wakemup in the daylight, I was so happy for that!  We got some photos and then rode our sled down the other side, a first for both of us.  Then we went down the trail towards the Surly checkpoint, 25 miles from the start.  We couldn’t really put our finger on where it actually was, and soon it was dark and I was seeing the trail in a new way.  We had a blast riding our sleds through this section, full of energy we were whooping and laughing down the big hills!  Usually I go through this section head down, totally destroyed, and not paying attention.  But NOW, oh it was so beautiful!  The moon was almost full, and these big trees stood along the trail like sentinels, guiding us, and protecting us.  I promised them I would be back soon.

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11 or 14 miles from Surly is the shelter we would get some sleep at, and we arrived there around… midnight?  It was odd setting up camp here when I wasn’t exsausted.  It was just time to sleep for a bit.  We wanted to rest when we could so upon getting to International Falls, we would have energy for the return trip.  It is not the miles that do either of us in, but the lack of sleep that puts a nail in the coffin.  Before we even left the cities, we made getting enough naps on the trail a priority!  So we climbed into our bivy’s just outside of the shelter, the inside was riddled with frozen rocks, we ate a snack and shut our eyes.  It took some time to get comfortable and I kept snorting awake, apparently I snore!  Sleep came but soon I awoke to this… half grunt, half snort!  I got the impression the animal was either afraid of us or wanted to scare us off.  Either way after the grunt this HUGE animal CRASHED away through the woods, right past our bivy’s.  Wanting an animal to know we were here, I yelled at Kate (sound asleep) to make noise and give the animals a chance to get away, so there we were, two bivy sacks yelling, clapping, and wiggling in the dark.

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Not too much longer, we awoke, it was still the black early morning, packing up our sleds we continued on our journey.  Every time I left a place I would imagine what it would be like on the return trip.  We crossed the swamp, Kate said “this is pleasant” enjoying the first real flat of our journey, and chatted through the morning.  With just a nap of a few hours, we wanted to push to MelGeorges, thinking if we left early enough, we would get there before dark.  Here is where I started getting into the Zone I think.  Much of my time during a race I am alone with my thoughts, no music or anything, just trail time.  So I spent much of this day musing and focusing on our task to get to MelGeorges, our first real reprieve for the trip.  There were a lot of animal tracks on the trail, wolf and moose among others.  I decided that it was a moose that honked at us in our camp the previous night.  Nothing else could be that big!  We spent the day walking and talking about life, sorting out our layers and nutrition, and moving forward on a warming trail.

As we neared MelGeorges the terrain gets hilly and we got slower, it is so hard when you are almost there.  The temps were high that day and the trail had been rapidly deteriorating from about noon on.  A couple of big climbs and white knuckle descents were a treat to fill the time.  Finally we reached “two miles to Elephant lake” and just a few eternal miles later we were there!  We walked into the parking lot and hugged, then stood there in our harnesses trying to figure out where to go.  Then Erik stood up in the restaurant and saved us!  We all hugged, it was so GOOD to see him, especially after a hard last few miles!  He escorted us to our cabin, Balsam.  Inside it was warm and homey with everything we could ever possibly want in life.  I said many times I want a house just like this.  Being outside sorts out my perspective in life!  We popped in the Lasagna that Erik brought and started drying everything out.  The sleeping bag and bivy were SOAKED with sweat, from just a few hours of sleep.  I need to be better at this.  As I was reloading calories, there was a knock at the door and Chris Scotch came in!  We talked about the trail and the double and ate a grand meal; lasagna, bread, kale salad with avocado, and an Indeed beer!

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Chad came in a few minutes later and as my head started dropping from being so full and warm, I said my good-nights.  It was great sleeping in a bed and next to the man I love, so I tried to get as much rest as possible, my goal was to shoot for 6 hours as we would have a big day tomorrow.  Too soon though the alarm went off and it was time to pack everything up.  All dry now, my sled was reloaded with food, water, and fresh socks.  It had started to snow.  Maybe around 4 am on Friday morning we left that perfect little cabin and headed across Elephant lake, Chad hiking, Erik on skis, and a strong tailwind.  We had a few lovely miles together and sharing this trail with him made me feel like he would be with me the whole time.  It gave me strength and resolve, and when they left to go back to Balsam, my heart was dark for a few miles, knowing I wouldn’t see him until my return to the cities.

If I remember correctly, the snow and mild temperatures were wreaking havoc on the trail.  The high was 38 degrees either Friday or Saturday but both days were warm, the footing on the trail continued to deteriorate, a far cry from the cement like conditions on the first day.  Additionally the snowmobiles had churned up the trail as well, so our sleds were wiggling all over the place.  It was beautiful though, just snowy beautiful Minnesota.  It did look like we were walking into a blizzard Kate said, but we were just on the edge of a snow storm.  If it was all easy I remember thinking, it wouldn’t count.  The snowmobiles continued to scoot by, they all waved or gave us a thumbs up.  Then Jon stopped by on his snowmobile in between marking the course and his burger at Melgeorges!  It was great seeing a friendly face after a hard day of slogging!  We talked about the race, he said someone was waiting for us at an intersection “just up the trail”, and that lit the FIRE!  We were so excited to see more friendly faces, especially Kate since I fear I’m a little dull on the trail.

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Way longer then Jon let us believe (we’ve got to talk about this Jon Ha!) we came to an intersection and there was Samantha Frey Carlson!!!  She had water, she had wraps, she had coco, she had the smile!  She had it ALL going on!  We just laughed and hugged and ate food, it was glorious!  Then Sam told us she drove from Duluth, and not sure when we would get there, had been waiting for nearly 5 hours!  I felt like a little worm, how can I describe it!  How do I deserve such amazing people in this life?   It was incredibly humbling.  We said our goodbyes and laughed and giggled about this treat for miles.  It was afternoon and we still needed to get to Gateway, where the staff had put out water for us.  Sam’s aid station made it so we wouldn’t have to stop and boil water, and that meant a little more cushion for time.  Even so, just a few miles later I saw a shape walking towards us on the trail, it wasn’t until he threw his arms in the air that I recognized it as my friend Jeff Leuwerke.  Yay I squealed!  We headed towards the road and there was Sam…. again!  Car reloaded this time with more cocoa and soup!  We chatted some more, refilled our spirits, Jeff said he was a 45 minute drive from I-falls and my brain exploded, and it was time to go again.

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I was starting to realize that what we were doing was a big deal.  I get into plan mode and want to reach a goal and get very much withdrawn, but this was important, it was bigger than me and Kate, and we had a community that backed us up, that was EXCITED for us and wanted us to succeed!  This is where I started my mantra for the trip “don’t drop it.  don’t drop it” don’t drop it.”  I knew I had the power to do this, but I could not allow myself to be weak in anyway.  I told the cranky parts of my body to go away, and I honed in the night.  We talked about the plan all day, and as the sun set and we switched on our headlamps for the third time, we were getting ready for another reprieve, and after that the Big Push to International falls.

The trees and sloppy conditions were our companions as we made our way to Gateway.   It was a hard push and our energy waned.   Sometime before midnight, I heard men talking.  Stopping with ears up I listened… friend of foe?  Then, walking with boyish glee and boundless energy, laughing with each other, playfully pushing each other, were my Hrimthurs, Paul, Randy, Scott, Jeff, and one more friend who I’m blanking on, walking down the hill at us.  My heart grew and when they saw us they yelled and ran at us with open arms.  Sigh.  Have I mentioned that trail runners are a special kind of people?  We chatted excitedly at each other and told stories from the trail.  Poor Kate had to listen to my Moose story over and over and over again!  They walked us in to Gateway General and it was here we stepped out of our harnesses for the first time since leaving MelGeorges.  They gave us a farewell and goodnight as we entered the Cat Shed.  Where all your dreams come true!  Inside was hot water, coffee, soup and chairs.  On the wall, every kind of obscene teenage graffiti that you could possibly imagine starting from the early 70’s.  Kate and I decided to nap here, out of the wind, and as we ate soup and climbed into our sleeping bags, we recited different sayings from the wall.  Some didn’t make sense, all were offensive and hilarious.

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We wanted to sleep for an hour, but just moments later I was shivering in my bag, EVERY part of my body was shivering.  The temperature was seriously dropping but the wood floor of the Cat Shed was sucking the heat from my bones!  I heard Kate ask if I was awake and feeling the same, we both decided to get up and get moving.  I didn’t put my Hoka Tors in the bag with me so they were frozen solid.  Sitting on them for a few minutes took the edge off and after a short period I was shoving my feet in a frozen boot.  About 12:30 on Sunday morning we left Gateway, heading down the trail, and then we realized while we were resting the most amazing thing happened!  In that hour we were in the Cat Shed, the groomer had come by, and because the temperature was dropping the trail had set.  It was perfect!  I seem to remember Kate bending down and petting it.  We were going to make it!  Energized for the moment we made excellent time on that stretch.  Kate saw a No Trespassing sign belonging to a (probably younger) man who left some poetry on the Cat Shed wall.

We moved easily down the trail, almost too easily as without the assertiveness required for poor footing  I was starting to get the sleepies.  I was starting to weave in and out when I heard Kate yell “KARIIII!!!!”  I wheeled around expecting to see snowmobile lights plummeting towards us…. and there was my friend, leaning over her poles and chuckling.  CHUCKLING!   She said “I just wanted to help you get out of what ever you were just in”  Well it WORKED and I was awake for the rest of the night.  We walked together in single file, Kate behind me, me in front coming up with ways to pay her back for scaring the shit out of me.  Would I say “LOOKOUT!  or SNOWMOBILE or MOOSE?”  The possibilities were endless and I laughed thinking I would get my chance, not knowing that Kate is stronger than me and I would NOT get my chance.

Walking through the night to dawn is one of my favorite things from this trip, but time has passed, and I can no longer remember each sunrise, but the feeling remains and is the only thing I can touch.  It was Sunday morning and we were on the home stretch to International Falls.  The pep from the night before was dwindling and we slowed down.  The closer you are in the foot division the longer it takes to get there,and we eked our way to the Blue Ox trail.  The swamp section was taking a long time, and I started moving hard, getting impatient and wanting to see the shelter.  I lost Kate here, and when I got to the shelter I sat down and waited.  A few moments later she arrived, and I could see she was struggling.  She sat down, and said she felt like we were sprinting and not going anywhere.  Now I’ve only done the foot division so I don’t have a comparison but this is EXACTLY what it is like, for DAYS!  It is something I STILL struggle with, and then here is my friend, who WON the damn thing last year in 22 hours, who is now taking a crash course in the mental strain of the Foot division.  Tenacity is the word that comes to mind.  I didn’t know what to say, nothing would help, we’re walking and it takes forever.  That’s it.  Kate’s feet were also giving her some trouble, well a lot of trouble.  I don’t know anyone who would walk that much and in that much pain, and then turn around and do it again.  It’s incredible.

We wanted the the trail to be seven miles from the shelter and some ass came by and told us it was 10 miles, how cruel he was!  Fine, it is what it is.  So Kate tucked in behind me and I set the pace to get there by 4pm.  We started seeing bikers on the trail, and it was nice to visit with people getting ready for the race.  Personally I was feeling good.  REALLY good.  I meditated on getting stronger, how every thing we do makes us stronger.  After my first 50 mile I couldn’t use my quads for a week, it was hilarious!  Now look, 135 miles and I felt like I really wanted to turn around and go back.  This was happening.  As long as I don’t fuck up, this will happen.  Don’t drop it.

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I could see it.  Oh my God I could see it!  The start!   My heart felt like it was pulling me towards it, I yelled back to Kate that we made it and then we were there.  John Taylor, Jeff Lewerki, my parents Rhende and Fred, Jim Wilson, were all there cheering us in!  Scott Rokis was there as well, a friend of Kate’s and a photographer living the dream.  I would get used to seeing this giant human on the trail over the next few days.  I felt elated, we took a couple photos then it was off to the race meeting.  It was 3:30 and the meeting started at 4pm, we got in at the perfect time, not a minute to spare.  My parents drove us to the Community center and I saw the Race Director Ken Krueger almost right away.  He asked me how I was and gave me a look that was like trying to pierce through everything to see if I was actually ok.  I felt great but puffed up my feathers nonetheless, if I fail this inspection it’s over!  He touched my nose “what’s this?”  Nothing I said!  It’s just my nose, and ran to make sure I wasn’t so stupid as to get frost bite on my face.  Jon came over and did gear check, pass (shew!) and it was time to sit.  After being so quiet for four days on the trail, I was now in a bright room, filled with some of my favorite people in the world.  It was overwhelming.

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Still, as we went through the meeting, Kate and I shared some knowing looks, and I realized even more that we had gone through something very special together… and we were only halfway!  After the meeting it was time for bed, Kate had already left to start working on her feet.  Getting into the hotel room I was ooohing and awwwwing about the lighting and my Mom laughed at me saying something like “you’ve been on the trail too long.”  Sleep went fast and all of a sudden it was 3:30 am and time to start prepping.  I felt refreshed enough but looking in the mirror I had BIG puffy eyes and sagging cheek bones, no miles are free.  Then I went to Kate’s room where her friend was working on her feet.  He walked me through a “just in case” scenario and I looked at Kate on the bed with what I’m sure was a look of panic, I’m so bad at the bandaging and the things, and she returned my look with a doe eyed smile.  Yes, we got this.

The least drama at a start was the reward for doing it once already, everything was already done!  We just walked on over and were ready to go.  I think it was cold but I was so used to it and so was Kate we just wore what we had been wearing.  Sooner than I could imagine we were back on the Blue Ox trail.  Then we were on the Arrowhead trail, and yes, we did huff about how quickly this had gone and how could yesterday have taken so long!?  But we were moving well and as people around us stopped to adjust this or that, Kate and I, system already dialed in, moved easily down the hard packed trail.  I asked how her feet were, and she said fine, that her friend “said my feet are all arch.”  My heart sank completely.  Why didn’t I ask before?!  We are in the same shoe now, the Altra Neo shell, which although comfortable has no arch support.  I have to have an insole in mine because if I don’t my arches collapse and that means foot pain.  Fully understanding now what she was going through the last few days made me wince.  When we get back to Gateway, we would switch insoles, it wouldn’t be a perfect fit but it might take the edge off.  I was just happy to be out of my Hokas and into my Altras, my toes were LOVING the space!

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I got to spend some time with more friends on the trail, Randy and I got a few words in which I always enjoy.  At one point I was walking and was surrounded by women!  THAT has never happened before and I was proud to be a part of this growing group.  The day went fairly well, it takes forever to get to Gateway and I lose patience here.  My calves and Achilles were on fire since the start, I pushed it away.  “Don’t drop it” I say.  We saw Jennifer on the trail, and knowing we were close I asked how far, and she said “almost there…. 4 miles”  Kate and I, next to each other at this point just stopped in our tracks.  “That is not almost there” Kate said.  “Nope,” I replied, “we’ve got to talk to Jennifer about this.”   One billion years later, we were crossing the road and taking the spur trail to Gateway.  Back again, I waved at the Cat Shed.

We were making decent time, but I was in race mode now, I know what needs to be done and what will happen on the trail tomorrow.  We could not stay here, the plan was to refuel, change socks and insoles, and get the hell out of there.  I remember hearing someone say “what’s the hurry, we have two hours before the cut off”  This was dismissed immediately, knowing we would slow down during the night, we would lose those two hours getting to MelGeorges, we NEEDED to be able to lose those two hours.  I gave Kate a time, then lost my hydro flask lid and was wandering about the store trying to find it, frantically shouting if anyone had seen it.  Chuck Fritz who had just dropped let me use his.  Then we were heading out, then I had to go back in, and as usual, Kate was waiting on Kari.  I declare the timeline and don’t stick to it.  Tis my curse!  Dawn Marie was with us at this point and we were planning on going through the night together.   Rumor had it that it was going to get cold.  I put hand warmers in the front of my sled with my down hood and extra mittens, readily accessible.  When the bottom went out I would be ready.

After Dawn and Kate waited for me to get my ducks in a row, we were back on the Arrowhead trail.  The trail is relatively flat on the way to Gateway, and then gets pretty hilly towards MelGeorges, the halfway point.  We were single file and just moving along, we traded places on who was in front, I took the lead at one point and was having a hard time finding my pace.  I wanted to sprint, but it wasn’t sustainable, so eventually I settled into 2.5 or 2.8 MPH pace and we marched in the dark, every once in a while stopping to eat or add a layer.  We started seeing people in Bivy sacks.  I call it the Bivy Graveyard, people stopping to take naps and get through the night, but it was too cold, and the only way I was going to make it was to keep moving!  We saw Todd and Scott up ahead on the trail, probably on Sheep Ranch Road where Samantha had given us cocoa!   Todd getting ready to sweep the night and Scott out taking photos.  Dawn turned to me and said “I think I’m going to join the Bivy Graveyard”  Noooo!  I said, stay with us!  But she was so sleepy and if you can’t move then you can’t stay warm and then it get’s dangerous, it was time for her to bivy.  I was sad to leave her but I know she made the right choice.

It was back to just Kate and I, making our way to MelGeorges.  At one point Kate said “I think it’s colder than they said it would be” meaning -14 or -18.  Nah I said, it is just because we are tired and our engines are not hot.  Keep eating.

I think I’m either a terrible person or an idiot.

So I added a hand warmer and my down hood, this is what I had at Tuscobia and while chilly, was perfectly comfortable.  But here at the Arrowhead I couldn’t take the edge off of my hands, my Outdoor Research Mitts that I love have an insulation layer that I have used once, so I popped them in and ate a snack and yet, I felt the heat continually draining from my core!  I brought two extra coats, an “Oh Shit” jacket and I borrowed a Marmot down coat from Kate I called the “Oh Shhhiiiiiiit!” jacket.  It was time to get out the big guns!  So I put the Oh Shhhhiiiiit insulation coat on over my shell, stating I know this is not how layering is supposed to go, but I could NOT take off my outer layer.  That was it, looking at Kate I could see we were both wearing every article of clothing we brought.  “Kate, I think you’re right, it is definitely colder than -14.”

A few things saved us on that cold night.  I didn’t realize this on my other Arrowheads, but being as we were just there, I noticed the hill climbing to MelGeorges was mostly that; climbing!  I would love to complain about the lack of sledding opportunity, but really, working hard and getting warm, and then NOT going downhill where the wind can be a heat suck, really worked to our advantage.  Also, acclimating to being on the trail really helped.  Not necessarily acclimating to the temperature, but the Trail Mindset, we were adaptable at that point, and when it all came down, we just put on coats and kept moving.  We were getting better at this with every step.  When we saw Todd and Scott again just before dawn, Todd told us it was -27 and colder in the lower areas, Kate laughed out loud…LAUGHED and then shouted “WE ARE SO AWESOME!”

When you find a good adventure partner, never let them go.

We were getting close to the check point, but still far enough that we had some work to do.  Right at dawn we ran into Bridget and Ed, Bridget was whispering with big wide eyes, I could tell she was almost sleepwalking.  I didn’t recognize Ed so gave a generic greeting although in hind site who else would it be?  I talked with Bridget a while, they had a hard night, and Kate clapped her hands at them to wake them up.  We kept walking and I soon found out it indeed was my friend Ed, dammit!  A few times I have wanted to go back and this was one of them.  Knowing I’d see them again soon after the lake, we pushed on.  No short time later, we got to Elephant lake, I asked her to be kind as we cross and we started the mile or so final stretch to comfort.  In true form, shooting pain radiated from my calves to my hips, the body knows when we are close to resting.   Kate and I started talking about the food we would eat.  Then we started singing the “If you’re happy and you know it” song but changed the words to things like “If your happy and you know lengthen your stride” and then we would!  GREAT way to loosen up.  Also, I was content to know that if we lose our minds we were in sync to lose them at the same time!

MelGeorges.  Food.  Sleep.

Mom came running across the lake with her cow bell, I asked Kate why Mom was breaking trail.  That’s my Mom.  We walked up to the lodge together, I waved at our cabin from a few days ago, unzipped my sled, pulled my food and socks out and went inside.  It was maybe around 9 or 10 in the morning.  We needed to get everything in order and get to sleep, Mom and Fred gave me soup and grilled cheese while I put my wet clothes next to the fire.  We would try to leave by 12:30 or 1, I wasn’t worried about this cut off as any rest and sleep here will pay dividends on the trail tonight.  After an unladylike amount of time my belly was full and it was time to lay down in bed.  Right away my hip flexors were screaming at me, if I lay on my back or stomach, it felt like they were being ripped apart, so i curled into a ball knowing THIS is going to hurt later, and tried to sleep.  We had allotted time for two hours of sleep, but maybe an hour later we were both up.  Randy came upstairs and while Fred fixed the beds, we lay on the floor talking about his race.  His day was done, we talked about the limits put upon the body, and sometimes it is not in sync with the mind, when it is fighting and pushing to go on but the body says no.  The winter ultra is a high risk event, and it goes deeper than anyone can tell.

Walking downstairs Kate was on fire, she had a plan and we were going to hammer it.  Picking up on her energy I shook off the sleepies and started to dress.  Where was my Balacalava?  Yet again there I was at a checkpoint shouting for my missing item.  After some searching Joe Lang came in and offered his, then he came back with his AND mine accidentally popping it in his sled earlier.  Joe!  We were ready to go.  Looking outside it was snowing and blowing… shit I never zipped my sled shut!  Walking out I started digging snow out of Claude, the good news was it was cold and nothing would melt in there.  Re energized we headed toward the road, hugging parents and waving goodbye.  This is where it gets hilly so we were heading out to hit this section hard.  The climb from the lake is significant, and by the time we got to the Big Hill I was comfortable and warm.  Plummeting down the hill is great fun, then followed by a slow slog up that same hill, it’s more like a gorge.  As I limped up the hill, my fears bubbled up, the section to Surly is so hilly, what if I don’t have the strength to climb?  The ever present Tuscobia hangover voiced its opinion too, what if you’re not strong enough to make the cutoffs?  When I got to the top I said to Kate and to my fears “That is the hardest climb on the course and it’s behind us.”

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Then it started to get real.  We were in a flat, 3-4 inches of fresh snow on the ground and we were moving straight into a driving snowy wind.  Head down, I pushed HARD.  We were going to do this.  For miles we pushed, 3 or so MPH on this long highway from hell.  At one point I broke my rule and voiced my frustration on the footing to Kate.  Then I moved on through the woods, “she’s not going to let us have this easy, Kate”

“Who?”

“The Trail.”

That day we continued to push hard, we ran a little, marched a lot, and I was continuously pulled along by the Surly checkpoint in my mind.  As night fell, up and down the hills we went, passing places that we had just visited, seeming like a lifetime ago… and yesterday.

“Here is the shelter with the snowman Kate”

“Kate I do NOT remember this hill”

“Snowmobile up!!!”

“Kate I do NOT remember this hill”

It was the blackness of the second night, when the deep sleepies come in.  I call it the second night because that is all I could handle mentally, if I truly acknowledged how few hours we had slept in the last 6 days I would have dropped it.  We were trying to get to our shelter with the moose, to take a nap.  The closer we got, the slower we got.  I kept pushing us to get there, trying to keep awake and keep Kate awake.  This is where my writing skills will always fall short, how can I portray how deeply I wanted to be at that shelter, how with every turn that led to more trail, my heart would plummet.  I imagine seeing us from above, two tiny headlights, slowly making their way to a certain point.  From above, it looks like a short distance, from the ground, achingly far away.  Around midnight we got to the swamp, indicating just a few hills later we would be at the shelter.  When we arrived, Kate opened her sleeping bag and was soon snoring.  I lay on top of my sled not wanting to pull out the bivy, but was soon shivering.  When Jim Wilson popped his head into the shelter I was already relenting and climbing into my bag.  I tried to coax him in to the shelter, but with sleepy black eyes he went back to the trail to take a nap.

An hour later, maybe more, maybe less, we were packing up, it was around 1 am.  I was COLD.  I had also dozed on my phone so I didn’t hear my alarm.  When I tried to wake Kate, I couldn’t remember her name so I roused her with “Hey…. it’s time to get up.”  Now to Surly.  We knew this trail and it was a final push to that last checkpoint.  Revived somewhat, up and down the hills we went.  The moon that was more than half when we started our journey was in FULL glory on this night.  It was so bright my headlamp was practically useless.  We came upon Jim again and he told us there would be an Eclipse tonight.  I half believed him.  When I got to my Sentinel trees I thanked them for safe passage, and told them all about our adventures so far.  Then we got to the bridge where on my first year having never been here before, told someone it was an hour to Surly.  “Hey Kate, more than an hour from here” I shouted back.

Walking through the swamp I turned toward the moon… it was half full.  I stood there staring… how long have I been here?  Did the moon change back to half full?  Have I been here for one month already?  Then I heard Kate shout from behind “Kari!  It’s the eclipse!”  Shaking me out of a stupor, I looked again at this perfect Lunar Eclipse, it was incredible!  How lucky we were!  To spend all these nights on the trail, and our last night was just perfectly topped off with the most remarkable event.  I had never seen anything like that, I felt blessed and lucky, and undeserving.

Then I saw my Mom dancing on the trail towards us with her cowbell.  “Kate we made it to Surly!”  I waited for her and we three walked up to the final checkpoint just at dawn.  We would stay for an hour so we could leave at 8am, that is two hours before the cut off and two hours I wanted to have for cushion.  Sitting in the teepee, a volunteer added water to our hydration bladder and I sat in a chair and tried to eat.  Up until this point I had eaten more in a race then I ever have, and it totally paid off!  But now, I did not want to eat or drink anything!  There was a wood stove so I took my frozen bacon and put it on the stove to cook, I was no longer in the mood for cold food.  Eating the warm bacon helped and I cared not that I was probably eating food off a surface that many people had dried their socks on.   After slathering some desitin on my feet I put my last pair of wool socks on.  We both would make the trip with no blisters and no frostbite, let this be the lesson, take care of your feet!

At 8 am we left the last checkpoint, we made our way up the hill towards Mount Wakemup for the second time.  In order to make the cutoff at the finish, we need to maintain at least two miles per hour.  “Don’t drop it” I silently repeated to myself, “don’t drop it.”  We got to the top and hugged each other, “after you” I gestured to my friend, soon I was laughing and barely hanging on to Claude as we rode the final hill on the Arrowhead course.  If we had one more day of work, we would have been fine.  But the “finish” is a dangerous time, as I repeated “Don’t drop it” I was also obsessing about napping.  How would I nap?  Where would I nap?  Where ELSE would I nap?  We got hit with fatigue at the same time and we were spiraling.  It was going to be a push.

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Walking along the trail, bright blue sunlight coated everything, the blue snowy trail and the deep green trees.  What a beautiful day!  Where am I?  Deep concern set in as I walked.  What am I doing here?

“What’s wrong” I hear Kate’s now familiar voice behind me.

“Nothing…  I forgot where I was”

Well THAT has never happened before.  Soooo I started to “drop it” about here.  We came to an intersection filled with my parents and Scott Rokis.  7.7 miles to the finish, we can do this.  I was SO tired.  Scott took photos and a tiny part of my girl heart wanted to wipe the snot from my face but I just couldn’t manage.  So there will be photos of me and my snot, I was too tired to care.  We walked single file, “hey Kate, this is where we found the bug.”  We went from moving at a mosey to over 2 MPH, and back again.  We were getting there, slowly but surely.

Why am I holding a trekking pole?  Ah!  There’s another one in my other hand!  I look behind me and see Kate.  Oh that’s right… Arrowhead.

I see a shelter ahead,  “Kate I need five minutes” as soon as my head hit the sled I was dreaming.  A few minutes later Kate woke me and we were in the swamp.  Walking next to each other now, we chatted on this final stretch.  I pointed to a snow bank that someone had written “GO KARI AND KATE” in the snow.  I didn’t know who wrote it, but at that moment it felt like everyone was cheering us on.  I found out later is was my friend Jeff.  I looked at the Tamarack trees blowing in the wind, that wind that had been plaguing us was up again but now it was a raging tailwind, every once in a while it pushed the sled forward.  I said a silent prayer of thanks and an extra prayer that it wouldn’t turn into a headwind.  Up ahead, I saw a shape, we mused about what it was and when we got close we saw it was a human pulling a pulk towards us!  It was Scott, and he was not sure which way to go, I told him stick with us and we’ll go in together!  We were all losing it.  I was trying to stay ahead of an incredibly nauseous stomach, not drinking anything since Surly, and Kate was eking out every last mile on her tender feet.  All in all though, we were in good shape.  Then we saw Kate’s Mom down the trail, and soon my parents appeared.  1.5 miles to the finish.  I asked Mom to stay behind and point Scott in the right direction, not wanting him to miss it.  For the last time I looked out at the blowing snow in the Tamaracks, now pink as the sun was setting, how it could look so desolate and inhospitable to some, but to me, this was life, we respected her and she rewarded us with passage.  I was absolutely marveling at how incredible it was that we did it.  I wanted to stay.

Just a little bit to go.

“Seriously!” Kate exclaimed as we rounded yet ANOTHER bend in the woods that led to yet another turn and NOT the finish!  The last mile is ETERNAL!  But then there we were, being escorted to the finish by orange snow fences.  Todd rolled up on his snowmobile, turned it off, and stood up and clapped as we walked by.  I gulped.  Looking to the top of the hill to the finish, there was a group of friends waiting to welcome us home.  So many people believed we could do it, and all of them were a part of our journey.  The Hrimthurs were there including the under dressed Daniel Slater, my loving parents… then I saw through tears Erik, standing in the middle.  Something clutched my heart and my eyes darted away from him.  If I looked for one more second I would lose it.  At the top, I cried and clutched this woman who shared a dream with me, who put up with my awkward introvert ways, and blessed me with friendship.  We did it.  Alone and together.

Hugging my parents and finally Erik “what are you doing here!?” I cried at him.  It was the most complete moment in my living memory.  We had made it, our loved ones were here, the sun had set.  We did it.  Ken came out and I ugly cried at him, thanking him repeatedly for letting us do this and trusting us to not kill ourselves.  Ken is the first one, in both of our Arrowhead stories, who believed in us.  Kate and I talked about it a lot on the trail, and I know the importance of that belief is not lost on a person like Ken Krueger.

Inside, there was a chair.  A chair INSIDE.  That I was sitting on.  It was glorious!  Eating some soup I wanted to hold Erik’s hand and stare at my parents, life was complete.  Taking my shoes off, slouching, listening to friends chatter and banter, welcoming new arrivals like Jennifer and Jim, staring at a beer, drinking ginger ale, being warm in a yellow room, sitting in a chair.

I stink.

I needed to shower.  So I went up to the hotel room to freshen up before hitting the buffet.  I was swollen and my appetite was not back yet.  We went down anyway and my goal of eating an offensive amount of food would elude me.  Electric shocks were firing from my feet up to my calves as I sat and tried to eat, I remember staring at Erik’s plate to my left, then Jeff’s plate on my right, eating the food with my eyes.  Ok that DOES sound weird but it’s what happened.  I walked over to the end of the table to say hi to Kate, she was sitting next to a man who I ignored but upon finally looking at his face found it was our photographer Scott!  Oh that’s what you look like!

Holding Erik’s hand my head started to bob, it was time to sleep.  He and Rick would drive back to the cities tonight, what incredible friends we have!  Up stairs, my Mom literally tucked me in.  I think my last words were “but we have to drink champagne” before passing out.

After that, every sleep I’ve had is a dream of being on the trail, trying to wake up, trying to sleep, feeling the pull of my harness on the hills.  In waking life, the gravity of our accomplishment is still coming to light.  I want to always believe in adventure, that no matter the outcome, it is always WORTH going out there and trying.  We had so much support in so MANY ways, it is overwhelming to think of all the people rooting for us.  I want to instill in you and my future self the importance of supporting each other, how HUGE it was to have some one say “I know you can” sending love and aid, words of encouragement via email, txt, and written in the snow.  Seeing friends on the trail, at our halfway point, on our page, how can I express the confidence that results when someone believes in you!?  We are so much stronger together, we can do SO MUCH more than our biggest dreams.  Without the love and support and excitement from my friends, trail family new and old, I could very well be writing a different story.  Kate, Mom and Fred, Erik, trail family, family and friends, thanks to you, I’ve yet to find my limit.

 

 

 

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