Art, fear, and the Tahoe 200

Art only became a struggle for me my last year of college.  You know when you have a professor or mentor that makes you feel like you can do anything?  I had that for four wonderful years.  My last year I was put to the test with an absolutely shitty professor, at first, when I realized that this was going to be a challenge, I was all on it.  It was my “senior year” and this was when I would put everything of who I am into my senior project.  An Athlete, a feminist, a (in my mind) blossoming Anthropologist.  But trying to maintain my artistic self ended up failing and resulted in the death of my creativity and long story short, I just got beaten down and folded.  I dropped my senior project and took the C-, the absolute lowest grade I had ever received, and left the U with the belief that maybe I just wasn’t a “real” artist.  I didn’t fit in to this persons view of what an artist was, and I chose to believe her.

After that, I didn’t make anything for years.  Previously I was never seen without my little Moleskin, jotting down ideas, making little sketches, and slipping little flowers in between the pages to dry.  I have a box of them, all filled with thoughts and sketches, but have not had one since I left the University.  I see now that this period was a kind of death for me.  I can’t “look back” because I am still in it, still grieving for that loss.  But why did this happen?  Why did I, through my inaction, agree?

The “why” is something I have struggled with, and have recently started figuring out.  It was a thought placed in my mind by a post from friend Susan Donnolly.  Essentially, the thing that is wrong with your running is probably in some form of your life too.  Going into that will be another blog, as I recently just said to myself “well maybe I’m not a real runner.”  See a pattern here?

I am still unable to make anything for myself.  Which is okay.  I believe this recovery process is going to take some time.  You’ve seen me start this landscape journey, but before this it was highly emotive work, I put a lot in and it took a lot.  Also understand my friend that a lot of it was bad, but I loved it and it was all me.

The best part of this, because I can’t make anything for myself, I’m making art for my friends.  Art, like Ultra running, can be very selfish.  It is time for me to make things for other people, to give back, and maybe if I give enough I’ll get my voice back.  I am so very happy to take this necessary journey, if only for the look on my friends face when she first sets eyes on this gift.

Alex’s painting of her amazing journey was the first time I felt confident with a brush in my hand for a long time.  Which in itself causes this strange and unnecessary fear.

What a terrible thing.

Ah but what a wonderful journey of life we are on…

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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.

 

 

 

Commissioned Work of the Arrowhead Trail.

After the Arrowhead last year, my friend Scott reached out to me to do a painting of the Arrowhead Trail for him. Scott sent me some photos he took from his race, and I chose the one after a giant hill after MelGeorges.  This is the first true piece that I was making for someone and I was nervous the whole time.  During the process I kept finding “mistakes” and got very putzy at the end, fixing this… adjusting that.  My goal was to have it done by the Superior 100 and it was a full two months after that I could present this piece to my friend.  The timing ended up being perfect, and the feeling I got from giving this to Scott will never be forgotten!

Soon after this, I started on another piece, and as I whip through this next work, I’ve found that confidence is a huge factor.  Already I’m feeling more confident in landscapes and it helps me move purposefully!  I love making pieces for friends because it does make me have a dead line and also do things I might not have done on my own, and it’s meaningful art!  At first I was terrified of Scott looking at this painting in his cabin for years, but now, I get nothing but warm fuzzies knowing this is a gateway to a memory for him, of a snowy day, a big hill, and an Arrowhead finish!

 

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Above is the painting in is’ts entirety, below is a close up of center.  Yes I need a better camera!

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Tuscobia 160: Hell No!

I’ve previously said that fear is an excellent tool going into a big race, looking back on the weekend I see my confidence was one of the variables that hurt my attempt at the Tuscobia 160.  There is a balance of fear, confidence and respect during an Ultra that if done correctly, will get you to the finish.  If not, too much confidence and not enough fear for example, ah well, it won’t ruin your race but it can make things harder.  A lot harder.  At Tuscobia this year I moved the way I know how to move, but without fear, I didn’t move hard enough.  I didn’t move with purpose.  SO, if someone came to me race morning and said “Kari you will DNF this race” would I have done things differently?  Absolutely!  Do I believe it would have made a difference?  I believe the phrase “not a snowballs chance in hell” is appropriate.  A few mistakes were made, not mistakes, my friend Erin calls them “variables that contributed to said outcome.  But I believe those variables assisted in my first DNF more than caused it.  Could I have gotten away with it had the conditions been better?  Definitely.  But, like a teenager, I’ll get away with whatever I can when ever I can, for however long I can until the consequences become dire.  In this case, I was faced with my own limitations, and wouldn’t/couldn’t make a change until I hit “bottom”  Is this where I’m supposed to feel grateful for this hard earned lesson?

 

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I wanted nothing in the world but freedom as I set off on the trail that morning.  I was paying for (what I thought would be) three days of solitude, from work, from family, from life.  All of my gear was perfectly situated as I headed out on the trail leading to the first right turn five miles away.

Shew I was hot!

Dammit!

For the third year in a row I was overdressed for the temperature.  So I stopped to take off a layer.  The hype about the freezing temperature had swayed my outfit choice.  Fun fact, when winter hiking, you generate a lot more heat than you think, so even though it was what… -8 at the start, I was down to my over coat almost immediately.  The quiet black morning crept away to a blue winter wonderland.  When I crossed the road, I noticed that I was working hard, much harder than usual.  I hummed about this as I turned onto the Tuscobia trail.

I moved as I usually do, keeping the pace of three miles per hour or more, I can feel what this is based on effort more than keeping a GPS watch on.  The morning was chilly but I never felt it, and as morning wore on, and the temperature rose, so did my furnace.  I shared some miles with Travis, we talked about adventures from the last year, and this race, and we leapfrogged during the day.  I was also leapfrogging with Kate, who was doing the 160 on foot for the first time.  We had trained a little together, and I distinctly remember telling her and others that the trail is so flat you can overload your sled because you won’t feel it!  Well I was feeling my sled, and working hard.  Karma.  My two liter hydration bladder was totally drained.  I was sweating, drinking a ton, and eating every hour.  It was ON.

Off in the distance I could see Brian Kutz looking cool leaning against his car.   He was doing the 80 the next day and came out to spectate and check out the conditions.  Having consumed my water, I had to go into the reserves and drink out of my Hydro Flasks.  Which would be fine but I was basing everything on “last year I did…” and wasn’t expecting to crack into those babies until 9PM!  When I went to take a sip the water was boiling hot and I couldn’t drink out it.  I asked Brian if I would get the pooping disease if I added snow to the flask.  “Are you kidding!?  This is clean Wisconsin snow”  Good enough for me!

Off down the trail hiked, I had stopped again to shed layers so as on that chilly day, I was wearing two wool base layers, a merino wool hoody, and my gortex shell.  That’s it! There were times I was wearing just my balaclava, and no other hat, it was cold but I was working hard and staying very comfortable.  Stopping to fix things was essential for me to remain warm and dry.  I knew I was working hard, didn’t really know why, and didn’t believe that it would effect me in any way.  Down the trail I saw Mom and Dawn and learned that Erik was just a mile or so behind.  I was glad to hear it, by this time I was getting tired and the idea of going through the night together sounded better and better and BETTER!  Trying to warn Dawn about the conditions without sounding like I was bitching was hard!  “It’s slow, I don’t have any water, tell the girls, it’s beautiful, I drank all my water, it’s slow, it’s beautiful.”

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As the day came to a close and the sun set, I reveled in the beauty and how wonderful life is when I can be outside for an entire day and see the subtle colors of winter.  The trail moves from black, to bright blue, as afternoon changes to night, the trail turns orange and then pink, and then the headlights come on and the world is as big as my beam.  As Travis and I worked together to keep a decent pace going, Kate came up from behind.  Her water was out as well and she stopped to refuel in the last town.  She was moving really well and I made a note to do the same at Ojibwa, I was wanting that pep too!  Just behind her was Erik, scooting along on his skis, his tiny sled following shortly behind.  My relief at seeing this human I love so much died and made way for absolute horror as I saw he was wearing nothing but a light hat and a fleece!  His beard was totally iced over!  Holy SHIT!  He assured me he was comfortable, and we shared stories from the day.  It was now fully night and the temp was dropping, the line of racers was Travis, Kate, me and then Erik.  My headlight was fixed on Travis, just waiting for him to make that left turn on the spur trail, indicating that the first checkpoint Ojibwa was near!

I know this trail, it WAS close, and soon we were all marching down to the park.  Kate said this is fun to bike down because it’s all downhill, I marveled at how different the experience is for each person, for each mode of transportation.  Getting to Ojibwa it was first things first, bathroom!  Then I went in to refuel and re hydrate.  I have a bag of Skratch, my drink of choice, in my drop bag as well as my sled.  I didn’t drink a single drop.  Not fully understanding how much I was sweating, how much I was burning, instead of drinking I yawned, shed clothes, melted my gloves, and let Chaylane work on my calves.  The Weakest Link I like to call them.  I had the ingenious idea to wear leg warmers over my knees to keep them snugly bugly, but they cut off something on my calves and now they were super tight, she wrapped them in pink magic tape and they never peeped at me again.

The Great Sit.  Not only did I spend too much time here,  but I wasn’t doing anything to help myself either.  Drying clothes was the most productive thing I did, but I was probably needing an electrolight drink in a bad way.   I was falling asleep as we got ready to go, and after a while longer, Erik and I headed out into the night.  I was sleepwalking almost immediately.  All we had to do is maintain a 3 MPH pace and we would arrive at the turn around by 10 am.  I still had no idea of my impending doom, I DID know something was wrong.  After crying through my first overnight three years ago, I am now a (self proclaimed) pro at getting through the night.  I know how i get tired and WHEN I get tired…. and I don’t get tired before midnight on the first night!

Regardless there I was, walking behind Erik’s beam of light, eyes closing, then SMACK  I walk into a tree.  “What’s that?!” Erik says.  Then repeat.  I’ve heard of people sleep walking down trail and I never really bought it…. until now.  So I walked and dozed down the trail which seems like multitasking, but it wasn’t sustainable, I was slowing down more and more.  I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t move, I took a caffeine pill and nothing.  Erik stopped to eat, and I took the opportunity to collapse on my sled and immediately fell asleep.  One minute, maybe two and we were moving down the trail again, I felt a little better, a little more focused.  Who knows how much later though, not much, and I was walking into the trees again.

“Ouch”

“What was that?”

“I fell asleep”

At some point I found what I was looking for: a farm road.  Just enough space to park off the trail.  I told Erik I would catch up with him, I needed to lay down.  I swung the sled around and passed out on top, hearing Erik’s skis squeak away but not hearing them stop a few seconds later.  Usually I can’t Shiv-a-biv until day two, but there I was, in a tiny coma on my sled, not yet to the turnaround.  Less than five minutes later my eyes were open, and I cannot express to you how amazing I felt!  Holy shit did that take the edge off!  I stood up, and a few feet away standing guard like a sentinel, was Erik.  Shoving a caffeine pill in my mouth and a gummie bear in my cheek, a few seconds later we were hauling ass down the trail!  THIS is what I was waiting for, clipping along the night, laying out 3 MPH, Erik’s beam behind me. I was setting the pace.

All I need to do is just keep moving like this.  Three miles per hour.  Get to the turnaround.

Three miles per hour.

Throughout the night, I was fairly comfortable temperature wise, I got a little chilly at one point and added a down hat which took the edge off nicely.  I knew the next night would be colder and had a puffy borrowed from Kate to be used then.  I was ready for it.  I was wearing my Hoka Tors which gave me some grief last year, but this year I was warm, dry, and comfortable.  The plan was to change into my Altra Neo Shells for the return trip.  We kept eating and drinking “enough” which wasn’t enough probably.  We were moving “hard” and based on feeling I was on pace, which of course, we were not.  Ah the glory of perception!

As 4 AM passed, I started wondering where the other racers were?  Last year it was 3:30 and I started meeting people on the return trip.  Where WAS everyone?  I started feeling like we were the last people on earth.  Then we passed through the Bivy Graveyard.  Every time I saw a red blinky I thought we were catching someone, but it ended up being a sleeping human.  I have no idea how many there were, but we would pass one and either Erik or I would ask if  we should stop, at this point we were slogging.  Hell no I didn’t want to stop!  I wanted to push to the turnaround, then sleep two hours, get up and go!  We talked about the plan all night: eat, sleep, then haul ass.  Plenty of time.  I kept checking my watch, dawn came, where were the people?  We passed AJ and Mary they had tried to bivy and were freezing!  It was cold, not able to stop we moved on.  Kate came up, it felt so good to hear her voice!  We swapped stories from the night and the day was fully on!  Then a hill came, I told Erik what a treat it was going to be for him to see us all slide down the hill on our sleds!  A few moments later and he laughed at us four as we scraped, clawed, grunted, and heaved our way down the hill.  I was on the DOWNHILL sitting on my sled and it WOULDN’T budge.  Like a hammer the realization hit.  The snow.  It was so dry my sled was gliding like a ball of sandpaper.

Based on time and feeling we should be there any minute, and yet, no site of the other runners on the return trip, the sun was up and 10 am came and went.  11 AM came and went.  Finally we started seeing other people, Kate was rejuvenated by this and was off like a rocket.  I continued slowing down.  The last 8 or so miles I was moving at about a 1.5 mile per hour pace.  Erik said our pace was “moseying.”

By the time we got to the turn around, reality had set in.  We were three hours behind and slowing down.  In order to make the return trip, I would have to turnaround without stopping, and complete the last 80 miles as fast or faster as I did the first one.  My day was done.  I still didn’t give up, we got into the bar and Erik and I were still on the “plan” which was to sleep and then decide.  Still, laying down in a bed upstairs and taking stock at the 80 mile mark meant some harsh realities needed to be faced.

The weaknesses that I had been experiencing this year, the hips, unfiring glutes, Achilles issues, chronic calf pain, all of those things I have put off fixing now ran out of places to hide when I needed raw strength to push through the slow conditions.  I could no longer “push” through and eek out finishes with a weak body.  I had been sick for nearly a month, all of the training I did leading up to race day was wasted, the last month I did nothing but sleep.  I was face to face with IT, that thing that I fear and yet ignored … I just wasn’t strong enough.

If it sounds like a list of excuses I assure you it is not.  ALL of these things could be controlled and/or prevented including being sick.  Work stress was high due to the holidays, my diet and drinking was out of control meaning if I got sick my BODY could not fight it off.  My hip and glute issues that have been a problem for a year have been brought to light but of all the resources I have, I waited until the last minute to reach out to a friend for an assessment.   Thank you Craig from Twin Cities Orthopedics!  A long journey of healing and PT await.  But at the moment, I was in a dark room, above a bar, sitting on a bed with my boyfriend, we were holding each other and crying.

I felt so broken.

Downstairs I called it.  I felt like people were staring.  This thing that was happening made me feel exposed and weak… I WAS weak, but I felt like people could now see it.  Mom and Fred volunteered at Ojibwa that night, so they dropped us off at the hotel to sleep.  I ordered us a pizza and sprite, Erik picked it up, and we sat on the hotel bed and quietly ate dinner.  We continued to discuss the events of the day, everything felt surreal, my legs were fat, and I was exhausted.  Erik was too having done an 80 mile ski.  We did something amazing, and yet somehow it didn’t count because we never finished what we set out to do.

The next morning I opened my eyes to a new day.  Erik looked at me and asked “what do you think baby, should we Mark Smith it?”  Hell yes!

So my parents, Erik, and I ate breakfast and jumped into the car to find our friends and cheer them on.  Kate and Jeff were both still out and I really wanted to find them, the Spots had frozen so we wound up waiting at an intersection for a while.  During that time, we cheered on Sandor, Damionique, and Bridget.  Kate’s day ended before we found her, I felt a pang in my heart, had we stuck together, would we have made it?  Later we found Jeff marching down the trail at a good clip somewhere before Birchwood.  Going out and cheering people on really helped get my head right.  Later we went to the finish to cheer in the last competitors, there were just a couple left out there, the finish rate would be low this year.

As the evening wore down, we hung out in the KC hall drinking beer and talking.  I shared stories with my Winter Women and friends, even though it was NOT the way I wanted to be there, I would’t want to be anywhere else.  Word would get out that someone would finish soon, and we would go out into the black night to watch a tiny white light slowly get bigger and bigger.  We had been waiting for Jeff to come in, Rick, who drove from the cities, Erik and I went outside to cheer him in.  I spent some time talking with Faye about dogs and life.  Often, for Erik and I, our eyes would meet and we would share a knowing look.  We experienced something huge out there together and I was still, AM still processing it.

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The happiness of friends finishing would make my emotions skyrocket, then I would be tearing up as we all swapped stories together.  Jennifer and I had talked about her completing a 100 mile race, and even though she didn’t finish Tuscobia, she finally hit that mile that had previously escaped her.  There was joy here, good stories, better hugs, and a ton of food.  It was time for perspective.  It wasn’t too long ago that this 80 mile race was the hardest thing I had ever done.  It took everything I had at the time, to make it to that finish.  Now, experiencing my first DNF, I needed to tell myself that it still counts for something even if only for me.  80 miles on this trail in these conditions is still pretty fucking cool, my fat ankles could attest to that.  Erik SKIED the damn thing!  No one finished the ski in the 80 or 160, and I was so proud that he was the only one to go 80 miles.  Sure, my race will say DNF on the results, but that is just it; SO much happens out there, and if we let it, our experience can be reduced to a list on a page whether it is a time or a DNF, that is all it is, a name, and a result.   But in between the name and the result, there is time, time filled with jokes, tears, snacks, and friendship.  It is filled with what we choose to take away from it, experience, lessons, and desire.  Am I happy with the result, well no, but am I still that broken person sitting in that dark room?

Hell no.

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Black Hills 100, Go West Young Girl

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In 2016 I crewed and paced for my boyfriend Erik at the Black Hills 100.  It would reach 103 degrees that day.  That experience in itself was blog worthy; driving my tiny red Geo Prizm through the Black Hills of South Dakota trying to get to aid stations ahead of Erik in the blistering heat.  The runners coming in then looked like totally trashed, grey, versions of themselves.  Erik looked at mile 30 like he does at mile 60.  The heat was incredible.  It was this race one year ago that a spectator saw me waiting for Erik, asked if I ever did any of this stuff, when I replied “Yes” she looked me up and down in shock saying “wow, you do NOT look like a runner.”  Gulp.  After staying up and crewing for him, I paced the last 50 miles, it was the hardest pacing job I had ever done.  He was on the whole time, and me, by over extending my duties earlier that day, fell off at the end.  Black Hills gave me a one-two punch, and I left last year knowing I wanted to do it.

The training for Black Hills was totally different than any race.  Winter ultras take MONTHS to fully recover, so I was still eking my way out of Actif when I was supposed to be building miles.  My plan: run a lot of little runs,  and do a ton of strength training and swimming.  That way, I wouldn’t be totally gassed from doing 30-50 miles on a weekend, and could maintain some consistency in training.  This was a total experiment and I had no idea if it would work.  Leading up to BH, I did three 20+ runs, all races or pacing Erik.  THREE.  Dang girl.  But as we gathered our things and drove west, I was ready to see if my little experiment would work.

As we checked in to Camp Rush No More just outside of Sturgis, I finally felt like we were back.  I love this place, we tented here last year, and if you ever find yourself near Sturgis in need of a place to camp, this place is great!  It was good to be out West again, God it makes me feel WILD.  Like I just want to keep going.  When I was a little girl, we frequently drove this way to Montana, how many hours have I spent gazing out of a car window day dreaming, having a thousand adventures in my mind?  Louis and Clark.  The Bad Lands.  Beaver Head.  The Tobacco Root Mountains.  When you are out here, they are at your fingertips, waiting to be touched.  As we crept into night for that final sleep I wanted to run, explore, stay up all night, find rocks and see animals, a very good sign.

That morning, it was like a high school reunion!  Seeing friends I saw, last night, a few weeks ago, or last year when we met.  Chad came over to me, arms spread wide open for a hug.  I hadn’t seen him since last year, I loved this family that I felt very much a part of,  how close the shared experience makes us!  As we gathered in the parking lot, chattering excitedly I still had no idea what was coming, but these great people made me completely fearless.  As the race director quietly counted it off, our small group of runners left Sturgis and headed for the Black Hills.DSC_0464

Well it is stunning, that much is sure.  I had this desire to see all the places so the beginning was great!  I ran with Kate a bit, with Andrew a bit, with Erik a bit, they all moved on and I maintained my slow pace, wanting my legs for later.  Susan was behind me which is never great, that means I’m going too fast.  The open prairie and big blue sky was all encompassing.  Still I found that I was walking… a lot.  I found that I was walking more in these first few miles than any other race!  It was all HILL!  Thus begins the mind game of “Are You Prepared For This Kari, Or Not.”   Still, the strength training was paying off, the hills were tough but I was scooting along quite easily.  Until I was not.  The climbs just got hard all of a sudden.  My heart was trying to break free, and about 10 runners pass me on this one hill.  Just like that.  WTF.  Andy stopped with this concerned look, “do you need anything?” he asked.  I thanked him but no, what was alarming was the way he was looking at me.  I felt like shit.  Did I LOOK like shit?  I began the check list:  going to hard? No.  Drinking enough?  Yes.  Eating enough?  Yes…. how much?……….

a lot……

Really?  Like what?

Well I had that half banana at the first aid station… And then two gummies.   Oh and then four pretzels at the last aid station!  I looked at my watch, it was 2:20.  I had been running for nearly four and a half hours, and eaten enough calories for one.  I’ve decided to rename my blog- “Weeeeehooooo Mistakes!”  Since that is more appropriate to how I roll.

Getting to the next aid station, refueling was number one.  First, Tailwind in the pack, so no matter what I’ll always get a steady flow of calories.  An amazing idea that I came up with several hours into the race.  Then lots of food, but not too much and I was off.  Soon I was running steady again, passing two guys where one of them said “wow you recover quickly!  I want what you’re having.”  “Tailwind!” I shouted as I ran past. Then we saw a rattle snake, sunning himself on the trail and totally pissed we interrupted him.  Oh yeah, I was in it now.  The legs felt great, I was on a reroute that was very runnable so I was hauling ass.  Very much, the whole race my thoughts were, if you CAN run you MUST.  That is, all flats and downhill’s I have to take advantage of.  Eating a cookie and running hard into the aid station at Dalton Lake (mile 30), my friend Rick was there waiting.  I didn’t know how much I wanted to see a friendly face until I saw him.  I asked how the kids were (Jeff and Erik), and they were doing great, a few hours ahead of me.  Leaving the aid station, I knew what was coming.  A long, giant, climb.  It starts out as switchbacks and turns into a  jeep road, and then just keeps going.  At some point my thoughts moved to, we actually WILL run out of mountain at some point, right?  It CAN’T go on forever… can it?  But alas it ended, and off I went, trying to get to the next aid station before nightfall.

I was familiar with what was coming because of running the last half with Erik last year and Black Hills is an out and back course.  Thinking of Erik, I missed him a bit, which was a strange sensation, and was a reminder of my goal: this race, no crew, no pacer.  Susan usually runs like this and I wanted to see if it was for me.  Night came and thus ended the perfectly warm day.  I cannot express how deeply I enjoy running into dusk, and that magical moment when you decide to flip the headlamp on.  Oh yeah…so good.   The cold was coming, so the plan was to get to the turn around by midnight-ish to get my coat.  I continued hiking up the jeep roads and seeing the dust rise in my headlamp, hearing cows moo in the distance, I was completely alone and completely contented.  Bypassing two aid stations gave me a little time and I was soon on my way to the turnaround.  This is always exciting because you start running into people on the return trip, which always gives you a little pep.  I chatted with Angela for a bit, she is one of the Gnarly Bandits, and the most upbeat human you’ll ever spend trail time with.  If you can run with Angela, do it.   Soon Erik and Jeff came out and I smooched on Erik for a bit, they both looked good, and I really began yearning for that turnaround. As I left them I thought, change shoes, get coat, eat food.  Those three things were swarming my mind, but this part of the trail is single track and riddled with big climbs,  and steep descents, and seemed to take forever.

Alas, I made it.  Half an hour, that is as long as I get.  This is also my “one sit” I get every race, so I ate soup (a lot) and changed shoes.  The feet were fine, I just wanted something new, so I discarded the Salomon’s and grabbed my Brooks Glycerin, yup, that’s a road shoe people. I would regret this decision for the remainder of the race. Susan came in and we chatted a bit, I hang on her words since she does so much RIGHT.  A chat felt good and reminded me of my mission, soon after she left, so did I.

Leaving the turnaround is the half way point, it was inky black outside dotted with the headlamps of other runners.  I love this part.  The sky was wide open, stars shinning their brightest now that the moon was out of the picture.  It was cool and damp and I knew it was more downhill from here, so essentially easy right?  Well then right away I was dying on those climbs and thinking a mountain lion was going to eat me.  Then I would hit a cold pocket and freeze my butt off.  Basically from the turn around to the next aid station I unraveled completely, turning every once in a while to sweep my headlamp in the trees ready to see my demise mid air, claws out, jaws wide to eat my face.  So by the time I got to the next aid station, I was a pooped frozen popsicle Kari, and falling asleep.   I needed to take caffeine AND stay warm standing still, tricky.  Until I saw the chair in front of a heater and a blanket.  There, I broke my rule of only one sit.  Plopping my frozen butt down, a woman sat next to me saying “It’s got to be difficult without a crew, no one is grabbing stuff for you.”  “Yeah…..” I replied.  “So can you get me a coke?”  Maybe that’s what I needed, my Mom.  This chic just volunteered.

Then Daryl Saari came into the aid station in shorts, now caffeinated and not wanting to look like a wimp in front of this ITI competitor, I was motivated to follow him out.  Up and out we went, climbing the big climbs I was now warm  and snug as a bug.  I went through the rest of that chilly night unaffected, and when dawn came, I welcomed her as I always do, unaware at the time that during that black  night, my Grandmother had passed away.  She was one of the people that was a part of my frequent journeys out west as a child, and for better or worse, I learned a lot from her.  Looking back at it, I see that night and feel…tiny.

All we had to do was get to Dalton Lake, then, we could just coast.  I was running on and off with Daryl, we talked about ITI, this race, and mountain lions.  Apparently I was right to be terrified!  We got to the descent at Dalton Lake, and I ran down (mostly), my legs felt great.  Like I was riding a horse I was barely in control of.  Yet the “kick” was there, my quads were burning on the down hills but they took them all.   I kept wondering when the wheels would fall off, when would my training experiment bite me in the ass.  But I was good!  Hike the uphill’s, run when you can, hike hard when you can’t.

The last 20 miles were so strange.  First I met a girl at an aid station that was unraveling.  Daryl and another chic continued on, and me, momma bear, stayed with her.  We talked, we had a good clip going and when I found the stray dog she was in a good place.  Enter Poett the dog.  Who was happy as hell to run with me, and I him.  But the poor pup would have followed me to oblivion on that hot day so we stopped and I called his owner.  Yes, in the middle of a race, this bitch made a phone call.  We made arrangements and Poett and I parted ways.  Off I went, running actually really well, legs flying on the downs.  Except when I was trying to find a place to poop (which never actually happened, tragically).   It was warm out, getting to an aid station I was so relieved they had ice for my pack, I told them “It wasn’t 6 hours ago I was bitching about how cold it was!”  We laughed, the volunteers were awesome this year.  My feet were killing me.  DO. NOT. wear road shoes during a trail run.  They are different you guys.  Every rock and root my dear, you WILL feel it.

Then I was almost to the last aid station, exactly where I wanted to be.  No more “next one” or “three more” just the finish from here on out.  As I made my way around the prairie, I saw my friend Kate walking with her husband.  We chatted for a bit, I don’t think I know anyone stronger.  I told her, and I’ll tell you dear one, that what I love about these events is, there is enough distance to make mistakes and have the wheels come off (they will by the way) and there is enough time to learn, adapt, and finish said race.  That EVERY event can be a learning experience and an opportunity to become more adaptable.  I told her my wheels came off at 17 miles!  And look, here we were, 7 to the finish.  It was a great place to be.

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Then the last 7 miles started.  I climbed and climbed and told myself this is the end and to be super positive.  I passed three women on horses and longed to ride out here, to smell the leather and listen to the saddle creak, to hold reigns and touch a horses neck, to lean back as we descend the mountain.  This place puts a spell on me!  Then the spell popped like a bubble filled with will power as I climbed a meaningless hill out of no where.  I stood on the top and said “who seriously cares!?  WHY am I doing this?  This is so STUPID who would do this?  What IDIOT runs 100 miles this is absolute bullshit I’m done no more never again!!!”  So I lost my patience a little bit there.  But scooted along after meeting a woman who was looking for her dog, it’s easy to pull yourself together when you have an audience.  Plus I really wanted to find two stray dogs on this run!  Alas I found myself looking at the pavement, one mile to the finish.  I only wanted to take my braids out, so I undid them and let the wind cool my hair.  I was in a place where I’ve not been before; I lost my ability to run.  But REALLY couldn’t you guys!  No worries really, plenty of time and all, it was just a strange place to be.  Probably from not doing more long runs, still not bad!  I think the training was a success, since I’m not here to win it but get that finish, and oddly felt better in some areas.  More strength training!  Anyway, I saw a shape walking toward me, it looked like Erik but it couldn’t be… and then it was!  Oh lordy my girl heart melted, so I got to walk it in with my man.  Walk by the way, and as we got to the finish and my friends were cheering I yelled “I’m not running!”

As I looked at my friends laying in the grass, I just felt so in love, most had finished and were happy to be relaxing either way.  I felt something then that I hadn’t before, having always having been a person on the move, from those early days going out west, everything temporary, I looked at them and thought this community might be here forever.  That I might be here to stay.

And then on our way home, Erik and I visited the Bad Lands,  I had been here so many times as a child, but distance makes the heart grow fonder, and I did not want to leave.  The open Wild, just waiting to be touched, each path, leading to more Wild, I was drinking it up with my eyes.  Knowing now that the end of an era was happening within my family, I desired so much to just continue driving west instead of going home.  Living a life of freedom pulls at my heart, running the Black Hills didn’t quench any of it, as usual, I want more.

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Rest, recovery, and getting back on the horse.

I’ve had too many things I’ve wanted to write about, what’s the opposite of writers block?  But I need to tell you this last story of the Order first.  Having  never done a winter ultra just two years ago, I binged on race reports and blog entries.  I write these to tell my story but also to put the information out there, to encourage and inspire anyone who wants it.  It is also one of the reasons why I shamelessly speak of my mistakes and weakest moments, they are a learning moment for me, but what good does that do sitting in my brain when I can share it and someone else can benefit!  Not being very clever I would probably be a thawing corps in Wisconsin right now had I not wrapped my sleeping bag around me that first Tuscobia night, an idea I got from reading Chris Scotch’s race report where he did the same thing at another race.  Yes, executing a race takes thought and strength, as does the recovery!  After speaking to my fellow Hrimthurs a little while ago, who were experiencing the same thing I was in some areas, my belief of telling you this final chapter was cemented.  It is easy to be there for each other during the race, but the After can be more lonely than any second night on the trail.  There is also no pushing through the recovery for me, and as much as I try to bypass certain aspects, I still have to go through the motions.  So here is my story of what happened after completing the Order, in all its full glory.

After finishing Actif, I went back to my life, spending the now standard five days in a men’s size 13 shoe due to the swelling in my feet.  This “normal” is mostly from the winter ultras, the feet swell, then they go down, then back to normal.  It never occurred to me that it would be anything else other than water.  Last year it took MONTHS to recover from Arrowhead, so this year I had a plan.  Sleep.  For many weeks I slept 10-12 hours a day, this is the first step to healing for me.  But I also wanted to do it stress free, so I slept and put away any thoughts of trying to start training again or anything like that.  I was TIRED.  So I slept.  This portion was something I actually did right.  I also starting binging on fish, in the last 15 years I haven’t eaten as much fish as I have since finishing Arrowhead.   And sometimes not even fish, you know that fake crab meat in the plastic bag at the grocery store?  BAGS of it!  I won’t use the word “addiction” here but whatever one click above that is, that is what fake crab meat is to me.   I couldn’t get enough.  So whatever my body was craving, I ate.  And then slept.

I started running a little bit.  The first time I attempted a run, I bailed.  It took a day to realize that the anxiety I had been feeling was the same anxiety that plagued me at Actif.  I actually was worried I wouldn’t finish that 3 mile training run!  After some internal coaxing I realized that not every run had to be a massive endeavor and I became the (self proclaimed) Queen of the Twenty Minute Run.  It was GREAT!  I would DRIVE to the park, run for 20 minutes, and DRIVE HOME!  Sorry planet Earth!  But it helped get me over this hump and got me back on the trail.  This was a month after Actif so I was feeling pretty proud and ahead of the recovery game.  Last year I just wanted to sleep during my runs, like actually pull over on the trail during a 5 mile run and bivy.  None of that was happening so life was great.  So far so good.  Then two things happened.  I got depressed and I got fat.  Not sure the order so we’ll just say they happened at the same time.

Sleep turned into my escape, I was sad all of the time.  I felt far away from my dreams and goals and that is a bad place to be for Kari.  The exhaustion was extreme.  To add to this, my car broke (my bad!) so I was biking to work, that’s 150 miles a week, 30 miles a day, for almost two months.  The 20 minute runs were gone, my days piled on top of each other, I rode my bike and my world shrank.  I cried every day.  All of this riding didn’t change the fact that I now have a full extra layer of fat on me!  I couldn’t figure it out!  And it had nothing to do with that sugary fake crab meat so don’t even think it!   There was this puffy fat around my knees, my KNEES!  I had a belly and chubby knees. Oh God!  I just ran 100 miles!  I could not figure it out, and the state of my body compounded the state of my mind.  I’m not super lean or skinny anyway due to chips and the fact that my boyfriend works at a brewery, and generally don’t care about weight unless it’s two weeks before a race and then I freak out about dieting.  But this was different, I looked unhealthy and felt weak and THAT is not ok.  This helplessness went on for… who knows.

There was never one day where I “got better” but it was more like a series of events that cracked open the depression and let some light in.

First, I spoke to Craig the physical therapist who comes into the store.  We talked of training and racing and recovery, that we, the Order, should be guinea pigs for some mad scientist to experiment on.  That the swelling in my feet was not water but some creepy residue from my body eating its own muscle, LEAN muscle.  WHAT!  What an asshole!  So yes, when you actually traumatize your body it does react to keep you alive…by eating itself.  ewwwwwww!  So that’s where the fat Kari came from.  I decide to join a gym.  Touché universe, as this was something I said I would never do!   But I needed to get strong, I needed a huge change up, I needed to swim in the pool, I needed to get my muscle back and the fat would take care of itself.  So I joined a YMCA to play and swim, and every day my heart shoots out of my chest and dramatically swirls to the bottom of the pool and it feels great!

The mental recovery takes as much time to heal, and that healing for me truly began at the Zumbro 100.  I was reunited with my fellow Hrimthurs and as we talked of the ITI we had tears in our eyes.  It was so good to see them and it filled the giant hole that was in my heart that I didn’t know they could fill until then.  Catharsis.  I talked to my friend Ed, and as the morning went on we swapped stories, talked dreams, and we spoke of the actual reason for doing any of it, and that is the connection with our fellow runners.  My ship was being set right with each conversation.  Later that night, I paced two of my friends to their first 100 mile finish.  One was during the Witching Hour, the shitty part of the night, and the other I paced her last loop, the victory loop.  Watching these strong women give everything to get the hard earned buckle was HUGE, I was focusing not on my own insecurities and out of touch dreams, but instead was focusing on them and their finish.  It was so wonderful to watch.  Zumbro was a wakeup call, and when I went home I was ready to get my duckies in a row.

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One of my favorite pictures from Zumbro.  Not sure what we were talking about, but it is very symbolic to how I was feeling!

Since then, I’ve been focusing on strength at the gym, swimming, and consistent running.  Even if it’s for a few minutes, I try to run 5 days a week.  I’ve started fixing things that need fixing, IT bands and those pesky tight caves.  All of this to be a better runner for next winter and injury free.  Being an addict, balance is hard for me, so I’ve already over done it twice by working out three times in a day and having to sleep for a day.  This puts me right back at day one after Actif so I am REALLY trying to move to consistent training vs acting like a slow Olympian.  Adrenal fatigue is a huge concern, so I’ve been taking Adrenal Support drops and Hammer Mito caps, whether these work who knows, but it makes me feel proactive and that helps.  I’ve changed my version of challenge and have started to meet with friends again, spring is here, and winter is coming.  This all comes down to getting ready for next year.  Training for winter starts in July and I have added more to my training blocks.  I have every intention of going for the Order again, with an Unsupported Arrowhead mixed in.  Actif is almost a given, as dramatic as it was, I think about her every day.  I know my mistakes and want one more go of it.

I remember my recovery after road marathons being two days.  But this is a whole new world, this winter ultra shit and those days are gone!  It’s not the distance, it’s the TIME.  Staying up all night messes you up!  For a WHILE.  And the recovery isn’t just, put your feet up and rest, it is multi faceted.  I am reminding you and Future Me to be our most adaptive selves when it comes to recovery.  If something doesn’t work, change it.  If you’re not motivated to do something, do something else!  And what ever you are going through, chances are so is someone else, even if to a different degree.  Regardless of the detours this spring I’m already better at recovering than I was last year, and I hope you find this last chapter of 2017 to be your Sleeping Bag, use it!

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Back at it during the Chippewa 50k, happy to be running without the sled.

Adding Art to the Art Blog.

Below would be one of my first landscape paintings, and the first in years.  I did this for my friend, mentor, and now boss, Jan Guenther. Jan has been a shining light as I grow into an athlete, and she has supported my dreams, let me borrow base layers, and offered encouragement whenever possible.  I see she is like that with many people, and am reminded that successful people want YOU to be successful too!  Jan is very much a giver, and I wanted to give her something that no one else could (as she certainly had all the gear she needed)!  After going to her cabin in Hayward, she made a comment joking about how all paintings she had were “Colorado mountain scenes” and inspiration hit.  My roommate at the time had just been skiing on the Birkie trail so I asked him for some photos, and chose this one taken close to Fish Hatchery.

That was TWO years ago.  I have eked my way through the painting, and it has changed its face many times.  I have learned a few things painting this, one, I am still trying to find my voice in painting.  Which is why it took so long to finish, I was changing how I wanted it to be because I didn’t know how I wanted it to be!  Two, in order for my landscapes to look the way I want, I have to let go of my obsession with detail.  You’ll see at some point in my bone drawings, I LOVE getting the tiny details in, but winter cannot be contained in this way!  So I fought this urge and went back and forth between big brush strokes, and tiny detail, which resulted in my learning experience below.

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It looks way better from a distance.

Actif Epica, Chasing the Order Part Three: Attack of the Manitoba Gumbo

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I still have no idea how to start this story.  It has been almost two weeks since we finished our race in Winnipeg and I still feel so raw from the experience.  Actif Epica was the shortest and flattest event out of the three, and throughout the last 6 weeks I have looked at this race as no more than an easy long run to finish the Order.  Rumor has it, it was tough, from my friends and acquaintances.  I was warned not to do the race and by no means do the longer version.  But I was determined and signed up for the 100 mile, and tried to convince the others to do the longer one as well.  Days later when my friend and mentor asked how it went, I burst into tears.  Jan asked, “you didn’t finish?”  Well I finished, but that wasn’t enough to heal the wound, and I realized that just because you finish a race doesn’t mean you get this blissed out euphoric feeling of accomplishment.  Sure that’s what I have experienced so far, but Actif left me feeling broken and I still am trying to figure out why.  So in the retelling, I hope to reach this catharsis that I truly need.  For you dear reader, I fear this post might be as boring as a long Manitoba dirt road.

Driving up to Winnipeg was a long and flat drive.  We got a taste of what was to come, the 8 hours of driving across the plains was the perfect opportunity to figure out our GPS units.  Actif was an unmarked course, we were given cue sheets and GPX files to load onto our GPS units to find our way.  Up until this point we had been unable to load the files, the GPS Drama was the most stressful pre race scramble to date!  We drove into Winnipeg and arrived at the Forks for gear check and in all honesty, by this time I was not in a good place.  My anxiety level was in the red, I couldn’t calm down!  It was the GPS, getting us ready, trying to make sure we’ve interpreted the odd gear requirements, and a slough of other reasons.  This anxiety sky rocketed during the race meeting, as the RD’s were discussing the race rules, trying to figure out what would constitute a disqualification, and what the gear requirements actually were.  I was trying so hard to calm down, but seeing the guys put me in a good place.  They were all excited, Randy, Scott, Paul, Jeff, and Daniel.  We had been on this journey together and now we were at the beginning of the end!

During the race meeting, we were told that as the race moves along the US border, there is a chance that one could come across a refugee fleeing the US.  That particular area had seen a lot of refugees recently, and it was a cold reminder of the state of my country.  We were given instructions on how to help them, give them clothes/food, and who to call.  I felt proud of this place that was welcoming those who weren’t welcome in my home, and ashamed that that was the case.

The race meeting ended and we headed to the hotel, where, we finally got the files loaded onto the GPS!  What a drama!  We went to bed for a few hours of sleep, we needed to head to the start at 4 am.  The morning came, Erik, Mom, Fred and I drove the long black drive to the start.  We arrived at a town with an abandoned church, and a few other dark buildings.  We were the only ones there.  No bus filled with my friends was in sight and there was the anxiety again, were we in the wrong spot?!  They arrived shortly after 6, filing out with a tiny blue stripe on the horizon.  With the entire field out of the bus, I became aware of how small we were.  Just 14 of us would go on this 100 mile journey.

Hugs and kisses to my parents, and in the quiet morning, we started our trek on a black dirt road.  Mark and Paul started at a brisk run, and Erik and I walked quickly after.  I had a pack on, opting out of a sled due to the plethora of dirt roads.  Looking at my tiny GPS screen, we made our first turn.  It would be a completely different experience from the well marked course of the Superior 100, or the wide, white snowmobile trail of the Arrowhead.  We were on a road, following the blue arrow that was us.  We crossed a frozen field in the beautiful morning, the openness was just gorgeous!  I was in Canada!  Doing one of those destination races, I felt super fancy and my belief that this was going to be a cake walk was reinforced.  Erik and I walked along a dirt road, and then turned onto another dirt road, and then our blue arrow told us to turn again.  Open fields dotted with  abandoned barns or houses watched us pass.  Places that were once something to someone.

We came to a trail, and the lead biker passed us.  He was the one who checked us in at gear check and complimented my bright yellow pants.  Shortly after that he face planted, head over handlebars, into the deep snow.  He shook it off like a pro and began walking his bike.  Erik and I, just after him, started punching through the snow.  Take a few steps, then down past my knees in snow.  I’ve never seen snow that deep and it was awesome!  I felt like an arctic explorer!  Day dreaming about the Iditarod, we slowly made our way through the field.  Then we came to another field, with more snow.  I’m not sure how long it took for the novelty to wear off but it wasn’t long.  Each step that dropped me down was like an electric shock from my knees to my hips.  I had been to the Chiropractor earlier the week before to work on my IT bands and they had felt great up to this point, but the jarring was deleting everything he had done.  I tried to make myself lighter by stepping quickly which turned into a series of slightly out of control falls.  Every once in a while I could hear Erik say “careful” as I slapped myself down the trail.

Randy caught up to us right before we got to the water drop.  The group of us took a reprieve, joking and filling our water.  We were at something like 15-ish miles.  And I was pooped!  We crossed the bridge and now were in yet another field.  Erik calmly made his way and I flopped down the trail, post holing, as the guys called it.  At one point Jeff and I made our way tediously through the snow, and the Canadians walked right past us in their snow shoes!  Talk about a brain melter!   Then we were at yet another road, my pretty yellow pants now streaked with mud, we followed the blue arrow.  Erik and I had a good system, he checked the queue sheets, I confirmed with the GPS.  There were a few discrepancies, sometimes there was a sign when there shouldn’t have been, but we made our way.  In the afternoon sun, as a group we walked quietly down the muddy road.  Then Randy yells “this is boring” and I laughed out loud.  How true, where was the white winter, the beauty?  I was just on a road.  This was so unlike the Winter Ultras I had become spoiled with.

We got to the first checkpoint, and it was here where the End came.  The end of my battle to be positive, to be a good competitor, to enjoy the journey.  I found out that our pace  was minutes ahead of the cutoff, that in order to finish, I could not… slow…down.  And I always slow down.  I fear I passed my anxiety onto others as we gathered to go.  I had no idea how this was going to happen, I had no faith in my ability to maintain this pace to the end.  Erik and my Mom spoke words of encouragement as we left the checkpoint.

As we headed down the dirt road, Erik, Jeff, and I were passed by more bikers offering their words of encouragement.  One even let us know we went the wrong way in the first bad post holing section, and we went extra miles.  What!?  The day went on, passing another abandoned building or funny goat.  We met up with Mark on the trail, his feet were in bad shape and they were working their way up to the rest of his body.  The wet snow and mud were brutal, we offered words of encouragement and I willed his feet to get better.

We met a Real Canadian on the road who told us about the trail ahead, the sun was going down and the open prairie was just incredible!  We crossed it, ate some snacks, and came to a T.  The trail continued on, but to get to it, you had to cross what looked like a tiny swamp.  I could smell the stagnant water, oh hell no was I dousing my feet in that shit! They were already wet and I was not going to get them soaked!  We started to walk around, Erik took one step and was down to his knee in water.  So we went WAY around, moving down a driveway a little bit before post holing through the brush back to the trail.  As we moved back along there were signs of other riders doing the same.  One more biker came after us and we helped him pick a good place to cross, that swamp was a nightmare!

Darkness finally came and after that long day, I was feeling physically ok but ready for the checkpoint.  As I think now, many parts of this race are “missing” from my memory, or switching places.  Either way, this is the official disclaimer of the accuracy on time and checkpoints.  Erik and I walked into a checkpoint, fully dark, I think midnight, and I needed to refuel.  My feet were totally wrecked.  The severity was one that I hadn’t had to deal with ever, as I usually take care of them.  But the conditions meant there was little one could do to “fix” them.  I thought of Mark.  Peeling off my socks, a crescent shaped blister was taking residence on the ball of my feet, Trench Foot came to mind.  Shit.  I tried to eat and relax with Erik, Jeff, and Paul, but  I knew we were close to the cut off and Randy and Daniel were not in yet.  The volunteers were amazing, so jovial, asking us to hang out with them and eat ribs!  Then something happened, we’ll call it “It.”  I decided to leave it out of my report, it’s not a lie leaving it out, but would take away from the spirit of the race which I believe to be good.  The confusion of the cutoffs was becoming stressful and we four left the checkpoint and It, slightly renewed but very much working hard to get to the next checkpoint before the cutoff.  I bit back tears wondering where Randy and Daniel were, and as we turned down the road their headlamps appeared!  Erik yelled “get in get out!”  We were getting too close to this thing.

The blackness of night on the Manitoba plains was quite the experience, just flat black sky and ground, dotted with lights in the distance indicating some kind of life.  We would cross a road with no signs, that just stretched off into nothing.  Jeff made a comment about not being particularly fond of smelling pig shit for 10 hours.  I agreed.  Behind us, I could see the headlamps of my friends and relaxed a little.  Turning onto a field and uneven terrain I started stumbling and slapping my way down the trail again, Jeff and Paul’s lights quickly faded in the distance.  Four or so hours later Erik and I made it to the Niverville checkpoint.  It was four am, we needed to leave at 4:30 to pass the checkpoint.  Holy crap I was tired!  Erik got some pierogis, and we drank pop.  The volunteers were again so amazing, it still brings tears to my eyes. It was the way they looked at us.  I’ve never seen that before.  Looking at Paul, Jeff and Erik, everyone had the same look on their faces.  This was taking its toll, but we were doing it!  Randy and Daniel came in, with only 20 minutes to rest and refuel.  We all left together, but my legs were tightening up, and it took a long time to catch up to them. We laughed and joked a bit, talked about “It” but soon wiggled into single file.  Now we just have to get to sunrise.

Eating caffeine pills, we quietly marched along, the blackness of the prairie not letting the sunrise come for an incredible amount of time.  I watched our blue triangle inch along on the GPS, it had to be soon.  We turned onto a road, and then missed the turn onto the trail, so Erik and I walked back, it was one block but it seemed like more!  In the bright morning we made it to the checkpoint.  I could feel the defeat in my face, I barely could talk to the volunteers as they gave me food and orange juice.  All too soon, we had to head out once again.  Then it was fully daylight and we were on a long dirt road with open sweeping fields.

*If you have to go to the bathroom on the prairie expect some delay as all the trees are connected to houses and yards.  That was a dark time.

At the end of a road, there was the truck, and my Mom and stepdad ringing that bell.  Mom was looking so cute in her little sweater, I was just mesmerized by how pretty she looked.  Probably having something to do with how good it was to see them!  She offered well wishes and words of encouragement.  It helped!  Still marveling at how pretty Mom was, Erik and I moved easily and quickly to catch up to the others, they got ahead of us during *.  Out across a field, on some black dirt road, we trotted along.  I was starting to feel good, and eating again, something I hadn’t really been doing at all.  I chatted with Daniel a bit and ran to catch up to Erik.  But Actif wasn’t going to let us feel good for too long, as the day heated up so did the mud.  Manitoba Gumbo they call it.  Every step you take adds a layer of heavy mud on your shoes that will NOT come off, I tried pushing it off with my poles, which in turn added a layer of Gumbo to them.  Poles swinging wildly we “kitty-foot” our way across, the going was painfully slow.  Looking down at my shoes there was an inch pancake around the soles.  Thank GOD we reached the turn and the end of that hell, only to be on yet another section of post holing torture.  Picking my way slowly, as it started to mist/rain, I started to cry.

There was a bridge in the distance, and I knew that was where the water drop was, making my way, a giant golden retriever started running wildly toward me.  It was my Moms dog, and to see her joy lifted my spirits!  I was greeted by the volunteers and my parents, we took pictures and the rain stopped.  Our group, my friends and brothers in this journey, were the only ones left in the race.  The conditions and cutoffs had taken their toll.  But we were getting close, Winnipeg was getting close, Daniel pointed out the skyline on the last hellish section.  We were doing it.  Nothing was in the bag though, so off we went.  Under the flood way and over the bridge, I heard someone scream in pain.  This race was REALLY taking its toll.

Randy waited for Daniel, and Erik and I moved toward the final checkpoint.  We were so close to the cutoff, it was time to move hard.  Erik was pulling me with his words of encouragement, and we stumble ran to the college.  Through the neighborhoods, I tried running as hard as I could, I could FEEL my legs were just dead weight.  I didn’t know how this was going to happen.  To be this close to a finish and still not know if a finish was even possible was a new experience.  I folded.  I let Erik pull me, he took charge of the GPS and I ran until I could only muster a slog.  As we got close, Randy and Daniel appeared behind us, and we reached the final checkpoint together.  Fred said it was the first time he had seen me get to a checkpoint and not smile.  Sitting down I wanted no food or drink, just get that damn pack off my poor ladylike shoulders.  Mark came over asking if anyone needed food, his race had ended the day before.  Instead of doing what I would do which is to cry in my martini alone for 4 days, he was here!  He took my shoes off, cleaned off my feet, brought me mountain dew (gross but no coke means tough decisions must be made).  He offered words of encouragement, and more importantly showed me a better way to be.

Kissing my parents, Erik, Daniel, Randy and I left the final checkpoint and headed to the finish, 9 miles away.  We were sticking together, my legs were gassed but I know we could maintain 2.8 miles per hour to finish within the cut off.  A while later, there was Mark again, directing us to the trail, he was in full volunteer mode!  Through the neighborhoods we went, the open prairie replaced by suburban Winnipeg.  As we walked, a runner passed us and with a cheer shouted “hey, Actif Epica?!”  I was with Daniel at the time and neither of us said a word.  Not one little peep of acknowledgment.  We were so deep in the pain cave, the thought of that poor runner now makes me laugh a little bit!  We came to a bridge and there was Mark again, lord every time I saw him I started to cry!  It was so awesome seeing him out there being such an amazing ambassador for our sport.

At last the road for us ended and we were once again coming to a trail.  This time the same volunteer that had been at many of the checkpoints was there.  I’m sorry I don’t know his name now, he started walking with us, and continued to walk with us for the duration of the race.  He was seeing us to the finish.  Soon another volunteer joined us, a young girl, who paired up with me as I walked behind the boys.  We talked about the race, her school and work, and she told me how far to the finish.  Another volunteer joined us on our final march to the finish.  My heart swells now thinking of it, and this is going to be my takeaway from Actif.  The people that walked us in were a true testament to the race, that is not a race, but is.  They wanted to be and very much were a part of this, and to be walked to the finish will be a huge memory for me until death.  Maybe it was because I felt so broken, and they made me feel cared for.  Maybe it was because I felt big and strong and they were escorting my amazing self and my amazing friends into this realm of awesome.  As we topped a little hill, there were my parents and the cow bell and it all became very real.  Another volunteer joined us, and another, and then the RD came and with an amazing amount of energy walked with us chatting about where our friends were.  This troop made its way to the Forks.

Daniel was a few steps behind so we stopped to wait, Randy, Erik, Daniel, and I would finish this together.  From someone who previously did not like doing events with other people I will gladly eat my words, there was no where else I wanted to be.  With Fred ringing the cowbell announcing our arrival, we four walked through the busy square.  The young girl pointed to a spire with a Canadian flag telling me that was the finish, I told her she should do this race someday.  As we came to the finish, there was Paul, Jeff, and Scott cheering us in.  God we did it.  I was so proud of them, of us, to do this strange and hard thing.  Scott, who made the CHOICE to finish and did, the definition of mental power.  Paul, his first winter ultra was the Tuscobia 160 and he made it and them all look easy.  Jeff, who lives up to his name, so rock solid in mind and body during the grueling parts.  Randy, whose hilarious humor is outweighed only by his true care for others.  Quiet and strong Daniel, who I saw at Arrowhead breakfast and was too shy to ask him to join us, after chatting with him and hearing stories by others I know our table missed out and I’m reminded to include everyone, you never know what new friend awaits.  Erik, who pulled me selflessly those last miles and who I PROMISED this was not like other winter ultras.  We all did it.  I can’t say anymore on the love and bond I have with these humans, because it just won’t do.

There we were, after the photographs, in a warm room, sitting in chairs, and not worrying about cutoffs.  We finished with 20 minutes to spare and were now enjoying the luxury of time.  Mark had the presence of mind to bring food from the last aid station to the finish, and we took our medals in a haze.  Mom and Fred had pizza, and wine, so Erik and I left to head back to the hotel.  I still want that pizza.  Too tired and beat to pig out like a little…well piggy, it was an early night.  After a restless sleep we prepared to leave and meet the boys for breakfast.  That was a good idea, seeing them again, all of us on a long table eating food and laughing at how miserable we had been just a moment ago.  Mom made us “mug rugs” of our Hrimthurs experience, she brought many of us to tears with that kind memento.  I got a chance to thank Mark, and listen to the boys stories.  All too soon we were back in the car, heading to North Dakota.  Driving to the border, we passed exits that lead to towns that previously had no meaning, but now have been marked by our suffering and bonding.  My legs were so tight I could barely stand.  Stopping at a rest stop I was leaning on Mom trying to get to the bathroom, unable to keep my balance.  This race had also marked itself on my body.

And here I am, living this again, crying again, feeling the anxiety of the cut off again.  Have I reached catharsis?  The beginning I think.  But I know now that this race and experience is very important.  I’m still working on the how, but there is a relevance here that I need to live with and listen to for some time.  Until then, I reached my goal of getting into the Order.  That a little over a year ago I heard Chris Scotch talk about it in the race meeting of my FIRST winter ultra and I thought, “Oh Shit” knowing I had to do it.  That I’m standing on the platform of my goal and it is yet again, not what I expected.  That it was not a podium of victory, but a hard march to a finish with people I actually don’t feel up to par with.  That it was the shared experience, it is always the shared experience (as this loner humbly admits) that makes everything worth while.  That we, none of us do this alone.  And I’m not just talking about Acif Epica anymore.

actif-3actif-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arrowhead 2017: Chasing the Order Part Two/Gummie Bear Feast.

Driving up to International Falls for the Arrowhead my head was brimming with the expectations of what was to come.  I was filled with excitement to see my fellow participants and friends, and eager to get out on the trail.  Arriving at gear check was like coming downstairs on Christmas morning.  Jennifer was there, my eyes caught Race Director Ken, and moments later Paul, Jeff, and Randy sauntered in.  This topped off my giddiness and we laughed about Tuscobia, recovery, and what the Arrowhead had planned for us.

While my parents were at the volunteer meeting I was working on repacking my sled…again.  The conditions were looking favorable, but I was worried about a repeat of last year.  Knowing this year we wouldn’t have access to dryers, I laid 12 pair of  wool socks on the bed.  Maybe excessive?  I left them there to think about it.  Before the pre race meeting started , Mom, Fred, and I sat one of the long tables and reconnected with people we’ve all met this last year.  Thomas sat by us and I asked as many questions as I could about the upcoming Actif Epica.  Thomas is so thoughtful, you can see it behind his eyes, and I tried to hang on to every nugget of advice.  I asked him how many socks he was taking: four, hmmm not enough for me.  A few people came over to wish me luck, and ask “soooo…. how ARE you feeling?”  Referencing my escapades on the Tuscobia trail 3 weeks earlier.  “I feel great, I think!”  Knowing full well for the past few weeks I had been whining to my boyfriend about how my ankles hurt, my calves hurt, my hips hurt, I’m tired and fat.  But we were at the Arrowhead, my game face was on and I wanted to start!  Rachel came over, she was doing the foot division self supported and I could see she was down to business mentally already.  I asked how many socks she was taking: six.  That sounded reasonable, so I told her that’s what I will do as well based on her decision.  “Please don’t” she said.  Too late I chuckled on the inside.  It’s amazing I’ve finished one race.  The meeting is one of my favorite parts and I laugh at Ken’s jokes too loud, like an awkward first date.  We eat our food, and head to the hotel for one last comfortable sleep before the Uncomfortable starts.

The morning was beautiful, the temp was in the easy high teens, and the 4-6 inches of predicted snow fall was down to “maybe one.”  Still fearing the sloppy/mushy/sandy conditions from last year, I wasn’t going to relax until I see the trail myself.  Ken promised us a surprise at the start, and as we headed over, fireworks went off!  Fireworks!  For us, I felt so special!  Getting last minute hugs from Julio, Mom and Fred, I was still looking for Alex.  Then I heard her yell and we exchanged hugs, she was following her boyfriend Jared at the Arrowhead after her win at Tuscobia, “He has it in him” I said squeezing her, so much wanting both of them to fulfill their winter ultra dreams this year.  Ken yelled “Release the hounds” and we moseyed down the trail, hugs and kisses went to my parents in the dark, and the adventure started.

You could feel the excitement, marching down the trail the sounds of chatter, laughter, and dragging sleds filled the air.  I walked and talked easily along, saying hi to friends and wondering how this will be.  When will my body say enough?  This was so hard last year, and I just finished my longest race ever a few weeks ago.  When will my knees and heart just say no?  As the sun rose, the answer was “never.”  I felt energized… correction, I felt cocky!  The snow was perfect, the temperature was perfect, my sled was perfect… I started to run.  Not to win or get a good time, it was pure jubilance.  Passing Chris on the trail he shouted “I think you’re on fire!”  Smiling I ran on, this was where I wanted to be.  Moving easily over the hard packed trail, I ate my naan wraps, vowing to keep eating and drinking consistently over the next few days.  After burning off that excess energy, I wiggled into my march.  The miles pass and then I hear that sound, THE sound that anyone who does a race with me comes to love: my Mothers cowbell.  Running again I round a corner and there they are.  Mom, Fred, and Julio, cheering on participants at an intersection.  We exchange smiles and laugh at how great it is, I take the opportunity to go to the bathroom.  For guys, they barely have to stop, nay, they don’t even have to go to the side of the trail to pee, just right there in the middle for Kari to drag her sled through.  For the ladies, the harness comes off, the fanny pack comes off, and then find a tree.  It’s a process.

A few hours later, walking along the still easy trail, I started wondering where I was.  Last year I got to the first check point exhausted and well after dark.  Nothing seemed familiar and my energy was ebbing, but I shook off the wondering and put a gummy bear in my mouth.  That gave a little energy burst and my quick step returned.  I passed two people and then heard behind me “oh there is the road, Gateway is the next turn.”  Whaaaaat?!  It was afternoon!  Daylight!  And I felt great!  What a huge difference the conditions were making, I charged into the first checkpoint with Scott and we laughed at how this race was “practically over.”  30 minutes, that’s all I was allowing myself here, wanting to push hard to MelGeorges where I would take my reprieve.  Downing two Gatorades and a sloppy joe, I changed my socks and looked disdainfully at my jacket.  My wet jacket.   Shrugging it off, I left the first check point as the sun went down.  Helen came in as I was leaving, gliding over the snow,the reflective strips of her parka lighting up the night.  Then Thomas came in and we shouted at each other, I took a right and was back on the trail.  Laughing as I reached the point on the trail that last year I had my first breakdown.  HA!  What was the problem Kari?  Into the first night I went, confident and happy.

I’m still a newbie at all of this ultra stuff, but the more I do them the more I learn.  One thing I’ve discovered, like clockwork (pun intended) is that at about 12:30/1 a.m. is when the deep sleepiness sets in, then, after pushing through to 2 a.m. I take some caffeine and coast to daylight.  The deep sleepiness does set in on that first night…at 9:30 p.m!  Thinking to myself that this is going to be a long night, it took every ounce to not take a caffeine pill, but to hammer it out to at LEAST midnight. The Tuscobia Hangover had arrived.  A grey silent shape swooped into and out of the beam of my headlamp just yards ahead.  Heart skipping a beat I looked for the owl again but she was gone.

Feeling so tired,  the thought of bivying entered my mind.  Oh hell no!  I put a gummie bear in my mouth and the familiar energy burst followed.  A plan!  I’ll eat a Gummie Bear Drip, one gummie in the cheek at all times until midnight and then I can take caffeine.  This was going to work.  As I was calculating I slowly became aware of a sound, like background noise that you unknowingly got used to. Stopping my loud sled my heart practically burst with joy as a wolf howled in the distance!  A short time later I started walking and it became clear we were moving toward each other.  He was so close that I could hear his howl was a bit raspy.  That was a big boy.  A few hours later and a whole wolf chorus penetrated the night, I could still single out the first wolf, the others were piercing and high pitched, he was low and raspy.  Being out on the trail with them was so energizing, and was a reminder of how deep in the woods we were.

The Gummie Bear Drip got me to midnight, and I took some caffeine.  Then I was hammering it, moving well and feeling awake again.  Getting to Gateway before dark was great, now I wanted to get to MelGeorges before dawn.  I had been walking with Joe on and off throughout the night, we had met last year when he had dnf’d Arrowhead for the second time.  Looking at him and his cool sled set up, I told him this was his year.  We moved easily, and I kept putting a single Gummie in my cheek.  Meeting people along the way, we chatted a moment before Joe and I passed them, I could smell the barn.  Soon enough the “five miles to Melgeorges” sign appeared, unreal!  We were going to get to the second checkpoint before 6 a.m!  When we got to the lake I shouted “Hey Elephant Lake we’re back you big bitch!” I could see a line of red blinkies ahead, indicating other people heading to the reprieve of the halfway point.  Looking behind I saw Joe’s headlamp and others behind him, we were all experiencing the same thing heading across that lake.  Almost there.  It is a long trek and goes on forever though, my IT bands were massively inflamed again and I was unfortunately taking vitamin I to help.  Being so close to a checkpoint, they began to hurt worse, the body and mind are an amazing thing!  Either way, we got there, unclipping my harness I walked up the stairs into my Mothers arms.  We laughed at how early I was and that felt great!

Getting into the lively cabin is a great experience.  Right away I started asking about my friends, where was everyone!?  Where was Randy and Helen and Chris, where was Rob and  Jared?  Paul had just left, and every time I heard that some one was out already and doing well it was a sigh of relief.  I looked up and saw Thomas, “when did you pass me?” I asked.  With a  beaming smile he replied “I dropped.”  The relaxation on his whole person was evident and I was instantly happy for his decision.  The Arrowhead is tricky, it makes it ok, even when it’s not.  I ate a lot, but there were so many people around I was having trouble concentrating.  Mom and Fred were bringing me soup and grilled cheese, I watched Mom bob back and forth looking after other participants.  She was more in her element than anyone else there.  Leaving a pile of wet clothes and headlamps with empty batteries I climbed upstairs to get some sleep.  I had plenty of time, hoping for two hours of sleep, maybe three, and I could stay up for another day and a half.  Slapping some desitin on my blisters, I stretched out on the bed and napped for one restless hour.  Dreaming that Mom had tried to wake me, I prematurely came down to join the chatter not knowing that tiny hour would be my only true sleep at the Arrowhead.

Daylight had arrived and more racers were moving in and out of the cabin, I started to ready myself.  Not taking care of things before I lay down meant more work now and the going was slow.  Joe and I talked about leaving together, I sternly told him that we can keep moving together but I don’t want him waiting for me, “if you want to go, go.”  He replied “no problem, chivalry is rightfully dead.”  It was wonderful leaving the halfway point before I even got there last year!  The marveling at how easy the trail was in comparison to the year before never stopped.  Hugs and kisses to Mom and Fred and we walked down the road back to the trail.  I looked out toward Elephant Lake and saw more people making their way across, and feeling a bit sad that it would be a year before I could cross it again.  Getting to the trail I reached into my pocket for my watch… and it was gone!  The last time I used it was when we were crossing the lake, dammit!  I looked out at the lake again with a desperate little whine before turning onto the trail.  Had I not gone through a watch-less Tuscobia the year before this would have melted me, instead it was just a minor inconvenience.

Wow what a beautiful morning!  The trees had a fresh dusting of snow, the sky was white and the trail lay out before me.  There are a couple giant hills right away and my climbing skills are not great so I lost Joe almost immediately.  Relaxed now that I wasn’t trying to keep up, I settled into the grove.  Those downhill’s are AMAZING!  I just love riding my sled down the big ones… and the little ones too come to think of it!  But you have to work for them, and my Tuscobia Hangover reared its ugly head at every uphill.  I had no power and walked up each hill at an embarrassingly slow clip, and was eating an unladylike amount of Ibu’s.  I know they helped, but I didn’t/don’t like the idea of telling my body to be quiet when it’s trying to say something.  But the sharp pains in my knees and deep in my hips was intolerable and I had to maintain the anti-inflammatory.  It’s not a good place to be and I hope to come back on my own power next year.

Enough of that.

I was having a GREAT time riding my sled!  I came upon Rachel and we chatted for a bit, talking briefly on how it was going.  She is so calculating and smart, I was happy to get some trail time with her.  Then I came upon Helen at the top of a hill.  She was half in her sleeping bag doing things, getting ready for a sleep, it was so sunny and she was so cute the image will always make me smile.  Rachel was going to sleep there as well and as I left them, I shook my head in amazement.  Both going unsupported, the true Arrowhead.  Next year.   I caught up to Joe, well he let it slip that he was waiting for me (what!) and then Randy and Jon.  Going up and down the hills everyone was in good spirits in one way or another.  We began to have contests for who could ride down the hill better!  The trail flattened out again and we moved easily along.  Randy was giving me tips for doing the unsupported division, like don’t melt snow that you gather from beneath a tree gesturing to his water or as he called it “Pine Tea.”  It was a great day.  After feeling broken for so long, I was starting to knit myself back together, the people I have spent time with on the trail had much to do with it.  Randy is one of those people.  I had started to bond with all the guys doing the Order as well, it made sense as we were all equally nuts for doing it.  There was a puddle in the trail, one puddle.  I stepped in it!  No worries, at Melgeorges I put bags on my feet, I was getting good at this Ultra stuff.

The second day passed in a bright blur of gentle hills and sledding.  We would spread out, and then come together.  At one point we scooped up Christiano, a Brazilian doing the Arrowhead for the first time.  Night finally came, and as I switched on my headlamp I noted “last one.”  It had started to snow again, the gentle flurries that had been falling on and off for the last few days were harmless.  Until the sun sets.  Then, you are sliding down a hill in the dark, the beam of your headlamp is cut short by the falling snow, you ride kind of squinting and praying that there are no surprises at the bottom.  As Christiano, Randy, and I get to the flats, the temperature is mild but the driving snow and wind put us all in quiet business mode.  There was a streak of frozen slush stretching out on half the trail, not wanting to go around but remembering the puddle incident from earlier, I smartly stabbed my poles (approximately 4 pounds of pressure) in the slush to make sure this portion was firm.  When it held I took my 150 pound body and stepped down in to icy slush that went up to my calves, over my baggies and into my shoes.  SHIT I yelled climbing out of the ice, “IDIOT I’M AN IDIOT!” Randy looked at me with a seriousness that shut me up, “what’s the plan?” he calmly asked.  We were just a few miles from a shelter, I didn’t want to stop in the open and the temp was mild so loosing a toe wasn’t an issue.  We would move to the shelter.  Luckily I knew exactly where we were as I had come upon someone pooping in this very spot the year before, and you don’t forget something like that.

We make it to the shelter, and take a reprieve.  Two bikers were getting ready to bivy and a fire was going.  Randy lay down on the frozen ground to shut his eyes while I worked on my feet. The bikers kept chatting with us and I looked at Randy trying to sleep, I felt protective of the little time we had here, instead of asking them to be quiet I offered them Pringles thinking that might give him a moments peace.  Fresh baggies, socks, and desitin did the trick for the feet, but I fear the slush water put a chill in me that would be there the duration of the race.  Stopping was sapping our heat as well and we made a move.  I’m tedious on the trail so it takes a long time to get my harness and gloves right, and as I’m adjusting the boys are waiting getting cold.  Finally we move, 10 miles to Surly, the last check point.  This was happening!  This is the hilliest part of the trail, the uphill’s are steeper and more frequent and the going slow.  I was still slow going up but my sled was on form for glide, at each hill I would loose the boys, then catch up to them on the downhill’s.  I loved watching them come down the hill that night, just headlamps moving at an unnatural speed in dark.

Maybe I didn’t wait long enough to write this, so that I could process it.  Maybe my writing skills are lacking.  But I can’t tell you, dear one, how absolutely unending the last ten miles to Surly are.  Other than to say, they are unending. Unending.  It makes no sense, you cruise for seemingly miles down the hills and yet, the miles creep and creep by.  Or they cease.  I had no clue what time it was, we were all tired and it was early morning or so I thought.  After seemingly hours two snowmobilers came by and spoke with Randy, after they left I asked “did they say 2.4 to the check point?”  “6.4” was his response.  On and on we crept to the checkpoint.  Randy called it, ready for a nap, he was doing the unsupported so getting to a checkpoint was meaningless to him.  I lay on top of my sled and immediately fell asleep.  A few moments later I grunted awake, got up and started walking.  We have to be only an hour away, I had to push through.  Christiano caught up and we walked together. Getting closer to Surly there were signs and mannequins shoved in the snow, a mask here, a leg there.   I prayed for patience.  Finally a snowmobile came around the corner and said the check point was right there, I babbled quickly at Christiano and a few moments later we were there.  Praise the baby Jesus we were there!  And so was Mom.  Totally drained we hugged and I got my camp meal going, heading inside the giant teepee to sit down I mumbled at Joe who was in great spirits.  He was rocking it to his first Arrowhead finish!

So far ahead of the cut off and 19 hours to finish the last 25 miles meant I was in NO hurry.  Chilled to the bone (probably from the mini plunge) I sat next to the fire soaking up the heat and eating my mesquite bbq camp meal… not recommended by the way!  I should have slept, gone outside and bivyed, but stubbornly did not.  Instead I sat there doing nothing until it was time to go.  Rejuvenated a little knowing we were so far ahead of the cut off, I once again set out on that final stretch to Fortune Bay.  Into the night once again, I thanked and hugged my parents before heading to Mount Wakemup.  Christiano and I hauled ourselves to the hill, this time I would be going down in the dark which was thrilling in its own way.  Sliding down into blackness I reached the bottom and waited for Christiano, we laughed and kept walking.  Not too much later, my wheels completely came off.  We were both tired, I was swerving, the temp was dropping and wind was picking up.  We picked up the pace to warm up but soon dropped down to a slow slog.  I took a caffeine pill which made me feel absolutely sick to my stomach.  My body didn’t want caffeine, it wanted sleep, and as a result my core temperature was dropping.  I had just a few moments of sanity left so at 14 miles to the finish with a blue stripe on the horizon, we bivyed.  Just a few moments after I climbed in and shut my eyes, a snowmobile stopped.  It was Robbie, we were on the trail.  In my desperation I just plopped myself down in my sled, a very big no no.  He picked up my sled and moved it a foot over, in my sleeping bag and bivy I attempted to hop on top of it.  Which looks about as funny as it sounds.  We laughed and he scooped me up and set me on my sled.  I snuggled in and closed my eyes.

It’s debatable whether or not I slept.  It just felt so good to rest, but soon my wet feet were chilled, and then my body started to shiver.  I rolled off of my sled and sat up in the morning brightness.  The sun had not risen, so I guessed we stopped for less than an hour.  I told Christaino that I was leaving as I gathered myself.  Very cold now from stopping, I shoved everything into my sled, made sure he was awake and charged into the dawn.  Not wanting to eat food because of a nauseous stomach that was plaguing me for the last day, it was time for a Gummie Bear Drip.  Yes!  Life and sugar pulsed through me and I was moving fast over the last flat portion.  Just stopping to rest my eyes worked wonders and I was once again hauling ass!  Now that I was alive, my mistake from the night before came crashing down.  I had not taken care of myself and pushed it to the point where my decision making skills were compromised, stopping on the trail, you IDIOT!  I angry cried and hoped to find Robbie again before the end to apologize.  Shaking it off, and shoving two gummies in my mouth, I easily took down the last few miles.  Getting to the bog was wonderful!  It was here last year where I totally cried my butt off, I laughed at myself and how weak and dumb I had been, completely forgetting the mistakes and tears made earlier on the trail this very morning.  Isn’t life grand!

Gummie Bear Drip maintained, the Arrowhead trail wound through the marsh and trees, a bright sun and blue sky lit up my whole world.  It was perfectly beautiful.  Turning a corner, I saw a car and my heart leaped thinking it was my parents… then sagged seeing that it wasn’t….then leaped again seeing that it indeed WAS!  My Mom climbed out and I stopped at the top of the hill and did a little dance.  We laughed and hugged each other, 1.5 miles to go!  Jon and Randy were just ahead so I headed down the last portion trying to catch them.  What a beautiful day it was, walking through the trees, and when I saw the snow fences I wept with joy.  Odd that  I had been surrounded by beautiful scenery for two and a half days and it was an orange plastic fence that got the water works started.  I thanked the trail for passage, and said goodbye vowing to be back next year.

The finish was amazing, Mom, Fred, and Jennifer were there along with a few other volunteers.  We talked excitedly at each other and took pictures, the fatigue of the last few days gone.  The trail was packed and easy, I had pr’d by HOURS without even trying!  Heading into the casino finally, I passed the final gear check and went into the room with the other participants.  Everyone has the same look on their faces, and the same waddle!  I walked over to Ken and told him it was too easy, he said he would work on making it harder next year.  I was reunited with my watch, which FRED found under the bed I was sleeping on!  When Robbie came in I apologized for putting him in that position, I want to be an ambassador for my sport and in that moment I failed.  We hugged and I was calmed by his reassurance, was again floored by the efforts and care that the snowmobilers have for us, Todd, Robbie, and others who were faceless helmets for days.

My friends were all accounted for, celebrating in their red faced and fatigued way, and I began The Feed.  Two buffets, one for dinner, one for breakfast, that is all I wanted in the world, and a good sleep.  Mom, Fred, and I ate like kings, we swapped stories and began planning for Actif.  It was awesome celebrating with them, it makes the whole thing worthwhile, having them there, but they were tired too from 25 hours of volunteering at Melgeorges, so we made an early night of it.  I slept easy, the Arrowhead is the One for me, I was grateful to be there, the sadness wouldn’t come for a few days and I already miss it.  But that next morning at breakfast more war stories were swapped, more orange juice drank, and talk of the Order continued.  One more.  When I finish it I’ll be only the second woman to do so in the foot division.

One more…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuscobia 160, chasing the Order part one.

The Tuscobia 160 mile ultra had been on my mind for a year, ever since I had a successful 80 mile first attempt the year before.  It was my first winter ultra and this year the 160 would be the furthest I had gone, I wanted to be prepared.   I had been meeting with a small group of women every few months to talk logistics and dreams, each of us supporting the other in our own way.  It was our Winter Women group.  After a year of planning, passing gear check, and one last night of sleep, I was driving to the start in Rice Lake Wisconsin.

Once there, I was feeling happy and surrounded by my family and friends, as Chris Scotch laid out final instructions, Helen yelled “1,2,3, go!” and we were off.  Waving kisses to my Mom and Step Dad, all of us 36 runners moved into the darkness surrounded by dozens of red blinking lights.  The start was a confusing time for me, less than a mile in and I dropped a glove, returned to me by the beautiful Jennifer.  I was over dressed, so after moving along at a fast walk I was already over heating.  So I stopped to take off my puffy.  Soon I was freezing.  So I stopped again to add a layer.  Then my hydration tube froze, so I stopped to put the pack under my two coats (where it should have been).  This all happened in the first few miles, I was not in a groove at all!  Meanwhile I got to chat with a few runners, my ladies Alex, Jennifer, and AJ, and the sun rose.  The Tuscobia sunrise was beautiful, it was a bright winter morning.

The plan was to move hard through the day and night until the turn around in Park Falls, sleep, and then coast to the finish.  Easy as pie.  Going for the Order was my final goal, so I wanted to sleep more during this race so I wouldn’t bottom out at Arrowhead.  All of this was swarming my mind, I was sweating and thirsty, walking I continued to crack my hydration tube trying to coax water out.  Ten miles in, I could finally drink.  I was making a lot of tiny mistakes, feeling spread out, and discombobulated.  Walking along the trail that was in my dreams for a year, I looked into the woods at the snowy ground and sweeping fields.  It was here I became aware of how still everything was, and how loud and intrusive my body and mind were in comparison to the landscape.  The panic and anxiety of everyday life that had become my new “normal” became apparent, but had no place here on the trail, if I was going to succeed I needed to drop it immediately.  Taking a deep breath, my race started then, in the quiet and healing winter.

Eating and drinking, the miles passed, and it was fun recognizing places on the trail from last year.  I started leaving bits of “power” on the trail for the return trip.  Stab a pole in the ground, power.  Stab another pole in the ground, POWER!  I saw Mom and Fred at an intersection, we chatted momentarily and I eased on.  The blue snow started to turn orange, and the shadows of the trees stretched from one side of the trail to the other.  The first day was coming to a close.  Still regularly eating and drinking, darkness came and I started looking for the first check point, Ojibwa.  Patience is not a virtue I possess, and the closer I get to a resting point the worse it gets.  Fully dark and my mind bent on Tiki lights I hurry on, impatiently shoving Pringles in my mouth and following a red blinkie miles ahead.  A lifetime later, the red blinkie was gone, a good sign!  Then I saw a white headlamp look back at me, then turn and walk away (I found out a short time later that it was my friend Alex), I was at the spur trail to the check point!  Rejuvenated I took the left off of Tuscobia to Ojibwa, and met Faye on her way out, it was good to see a Winter Woman on the trail!  Soon, Moms cowbell could be heard in the distance, 45 miles is a long time.

Stepping into the warm shelter was awesome, and I was all business.  Immediately drying gloves, headwear and coats.  There was frost everywhere, in between every layer of coat and shell, and base layer.  Once that was started, I put new batteries in my lamp, resupplied food in my fanny pack, and ate as much food as I could.  There was no hurry to leave, and the resupply took about an hour.  Getting ready to leave again, I noticed (for the first time) that my socks were wet, being warm I literally didn’t feel it!  Feeling a rush of adrenaline at this potentially deadly mistake, the sock swap was made.  I asked about the weather for the night and dressed “appropriately” for it, there was an emergency over coat in my drop bag, thinking I was prepared for the night, I stupidly left it behind.  Kissing my Mom on the cheek, I moved toward the night, 35 miles to the turn around, easy as pie.

The first few miles were great, I was moving fast over the trail, smiling at the perfect sky above.  The stars were bright and beautiful, the white  Moon just behind me casting long shadows on the ground.  It was truly lovely.  Slowly but surely the temperature dropped.  No worries, starting to get a little chilly I picked up the pace and soon warmed again.  Then it got chilly again.  So I picked up the pace…and didn’t warm up.  Walking fast, my core temperature dropped, eating more food trying to get warm, my hands started to freeze from the exposure.  Frost was building up again around my face and I moved at a fast clip.  I was chilly but that was fine, I could maintain this until the turn around.  Hours pass.  It became clear that I could not maintain this until the turn around!!!  Not wanting my hands to refreeze I opted out of eating and drinking, this put me in a downward spiral of cold and Bonk.  I was getting dangerously cold and something had to be done.  Idea time!  I had a thermarest insulated sleeping pad, I could wrap that around me and be snug as a bug, right?  Knowing that stopping would make my core and hands get even colder, I committed one last time to stop and get the pad out as quickly as possible.  There are many things that I am grateful for: Smooshie, my Mother, a warm bed, and that no human ever saw the “Thermarest struggle of 2017”  Flailing about trying to get it around my shoulders looked something like a cat chasing its own tail for MINUTES.  No thumbs made the task impossible, and after an embarrassing amount of time, I gave up. Needlessly  chilled even more, I moved down the trail, chiding myself for not taking my extra coat.  More time passed, this was not sustainable.  My sleeping bag!  I could use that to wrap around instead.  One last time I stopped and cracked that baby open.  Easily wrapping it around, I soon felt the warmth returning, and walked with the heavy bag over my shoulders for the rest of the night.

Early in the blackness of morning, a headlamp ahead stopped me in my tracks, as it drew near I asked “am I going the wrong way”  The spirited balacalava said he was on his way back.  I stared stupidly at him… then broke the silence by asking him to zip my pit zips shut!  We chatted and parted ways and I marveled at how fresh and cheery he was.  Dawn came, and I yearned for the turn around, daydreaming at the food and sleep I would soon enjoy.  Feeling a little pep, I dropped the sleeping bag and tried to move quickly.  In the dawn, another human was walking toward me, I have tears in my eyes recounting that sight.  I was desperate for Park Falls.  Shoulders on fire from carrying the bag all night, I was gassed, physically and mentally.  Crossing an intersection, I heard Moms cow bell, turning around I saw they were behind me.  In a daze I turned my sled around to go toward them and my Mom “white fanged” me telling me to keep going!  Two miles later, moving through the city streets, I arrived at the school.  No cheering in my heart, no “shew girl you did it”, just an internal sigh at arriving at the turnaround.

I gentleman opened the door and sled and all, I walked into the gym.  Inside, Awesome Alex was just leaving, we chatted for a bit, but I was focused on getting out of my cold and frosty clothes.  Food.  All of it, bowls of soup, crackers, cheese, cookies, doughnuts, and hot cocoa.  The man who opened the door brought me a cocoa, I thanked him for volunteering and he said he wasn’t.  He and his son were in the bike race, but I “looked so miserable” he had to help!  HA!  Eyeing the sleeping pads while eating soup, I chatted with Mom and prepared for a much needed nap, not thinking about the next 80 miles, just bent on rest.  Laying out my clothes to dry, I climbed into my sleeping bag and fell asleep.  The gym is where the 80 mile bike and run start, but throughout the pre race meeting and hullaballoo, I slept without hearing any of it.  Two hours later, Randy was standing over me singing Sweet Child of Mine.  It was time to go.  Preparing to go was slow, I wanted to eat more but was peeing brown (we’re friends right?) a sign of massive dehydration.  I guzzled water promising myself not to leave until my pee was a more ladylike color.  AJ and Jennifer were there, we chatted, shared stories and tears, and ate more food.

Feeling massively rejuvenated I continued the preparation for the final half.  My stuff was spread out EVERY WHERE.  I must have undressed as I walked across the room, and gathering myself took more time.  Repacking the sled, I was ready to go, kisses and hugs to my parents and friends, I left the school a completely different person.  The sun was bright and it was a beautiful day!   Mom, Fred, and Julio were at an intersection a few blocks later and I yelled “I’m more than half way done!”  On this 35 mile portion of the trail, I had some fear that it was going to be a suffer fest like the previous night, and I made the decision to not allow my mind to be weakened.  Stay on top of your food and water, don’t think, just walk.  I had started taking Vitamin I for my inflamed IT bands, they were excruciatingly painful, but I still didn’t like taking anything.  The day passed in an instant and darkness came, along with another beautiful night.  Instead of looking at my feet burdened under the weight of the sleeping bag, on the return trip my head was up, the direction of the trail was facing the Moon, and I eagerly walked toward her.

35 miles, done.  HOW could something be so hard one day and a breeze the next?  Either way, I was again at Ojibwa.  My parents and Erik were there and we shared hugs and words.  Maybe it was because I was feeling so good, but my diligence at preparing for the next leg dropped off here.  I warmed some clothes, but not all.  I ate some food, but not ALL the food.  I drank some water, but was back to brown piddle.  I should have slept, but ended up closing my eyes for 15 minutes.  By the time I was to leave, I was fumbling and unprepared.  Kissing my family goodbye, I left for the final stretch of the trail.  45 miles to go, less than a Voyaguer. Easy as….pie.   I later told my Mom that the first half of the Tuscobia 160 feels like a half but the second half feels like two “half’s.”  Think about it.

I walked most of this portion with Randy and Paul, I’ve never done a race like this with someone before and it was nice having company.  But I was falling asleep and veering all over, I had to take a nap on my sled at one point and when I found them waiting for me further up on the trail a wave of guilt rushed over me.  I was starting to hallucinate so I took a 5 hour energy, and this aided in making me hallucinate faster!  At one point I was standing on the trail staring at the ground waving my hand in front of my face trying to figure out if the bugs I saw were real.  I like bugs and fear I wasted plenty of calories avoiding stepping on them.  Sunrise came and my heart cheered.  It had been a long night.  We stopped to eat, I would nap or eat or drink, not enough of either.  The three of us walked through the morning, occasionally chatting, and I yearned for a gas station.  I wanted a breakfast sandwich, and was going to “wait” to eat.  Literally hours pass, I was feeling so nauseous and couldn’t figure out why!  Totally zapped I gave in on my breakfast sandwich extravaganza and started to munch on bacon.  The nausea was gone almost instantly and I felt life and energy pour into me.  We stopped and I drank more water, and felt more energy.  Todd was out on his snowmobile, and it made the experience even more real.  We happened upon an 80 miler, his “sled” had broken and one of the awesome volunteers made him a new one.  He was dehydrated, hungry, and swerving.  One of the boys gave him water and I gave him a bag of peanut butter pretzels.  We moved a little way down the trail and there was Mom, we were very close to the last town and my freaking breakfast sandwiches!  It was well after 1 pm.

I practically ran to the gas station, once there, I sat with Mom and Fred, slamming a Gatorade and two of the best eggie sandwiches in living memory.  I went to the bathroom, and looked in the mirror for the first time in days, and wow, red faced, puffy eyed, bad assness happening!  Getting ready to leave, I looked at the boys, and they looked the same.  Chatting with Mom and Fred brought me back to sorts, and I felt a little fire grow inside me again.  We left at 3pm, with 16 miles to the finish and plenty of time to do so.  I was practically frantic with the energy from the sandwiches, some of that precious energy was wasted as I dropped items and fumbled along.  Turning onto the last flat stretch of the Tuscobia trail, the energy was palpable.  The boys were moving hard, no one was talking, we had a mission and were so close to completing it!  Looking at Paul and Randy  move down the trail ahead of me, I felt a deep sense of pride for them, to move all day when it’s hard and when our “fun cards” had been punched was quite the accomplishment.  Soon we started spreading out, and night came once again.  A driving sideways snow had begun, and the last few miles of the Tuscobia trail eked their way out.

I continued moving hard, eager to finish.  Hallucinating only mildly but some things I started to see were disturbing and slowing me down.  Two miles to the turn, then one, off in the distance I could see cars and knew I was approaching the final turn.  Soon I was there and so was Mom and Fred.  It was fully dark and the driving snow had stopped.  We cheered at each other!  The last part of the race was here, and I was standing at the foot of the four miles that had derailed me last year.  I was determined to not let that happen again.  Kissing and hugging, I turned into the night.  Randy and I walked some time together, then I scooted along.  I was bent on finishing but finishing well, only letting positivity in and saying goodbye to my short patience.  The four miles passed, I reveled in the adventure we had been on, and the tears streamed down my face.  I pondered on the point of all this and could come up with no answer at the time, looking back at the process I need to go through to mentally handle a race like this, the purpose is for my soul, and a tool to battle my depression.  Hopefully these continue to emulate life.  Moving closer I saw a blinkie that didn’t move, and soon heard my Moms cowbell.  Another reason to do this?  Making memories with my two favorite people!  We reached for each other and I cried tears of joy in their arms.  I couldn’t believe it, at the finish of the Tuscobia 160!  Chris Scotch said some complimentary words which I shyly mumbled a response, he and Helen have the power to make me feel like an awkward middle schooler.  They are just too cool!

We took pictures and I was inside sitting down, sharing victory smiles with my fellow participants.  The inside of the KC Hall was bright but quiet, pizza and pop lay about as well as other racers.  Helen came over and chatted for a bit, and I gazed starry eyed at her, knowing we would be sharing the trail at Arrowhead soon.  Mom brought me Sprite, so dehydrated again I drank two liters before bed.  The three of us headed to the hotel, driving past the finish just as Scott was completing his race.  Pulling my boots off, knees screaming, calves rubbed raw from my wool socks, my biggest cheerleaders and I ate pizza and drank wine.  We shared stories, and they told me of the people they met during their 62 hours of volunteering.  I loved that they could have an experience that was exciting to them, beyond my tiny race.

The Tuscobia 160 was a “perfect” race for me, I made enough mistakes so I could learn something, but not so many that it resulted in a DNF.  I always feel so humbled after an event like this, and the reality is, I haven’t truly been tested by the elements yet.  The temperature was in negative double digits for the entire race, and yet it is still not THAT cold.  Thinking now about using my sleeping bag at -18 gives me pause, what would I have done if it was -45?  There is a lot of room for improvement, and I am grateful that Tuscobia allowed me to pass this year.  I’m getting better at fixing problems as they arise, and am working on the patience bit.  These are not natural actions for me but are crucial to winter ultra success.  All in all, it took 24 hours before I started getting excited for the 160 next year, until then, the Arrowhead awaits!

…and if the Frost Giants permit, the Order as well.