Last week we had the opportunity to chat with Donald Wood (AKA “Woody”) and Brian Gillies, the only two cyclists from Michigan to finish this year’s Arrowhead 135 ultra-endurance race. They were kind enough to share their experience and offer some insights into the event with us and several other local folks who also came to hang out. In that spirit, we thought we’d keep on sharing and post the full interview on our blog for fatbikers everywhere to read. Give it a read below, even if you don’t have a fatbike; it’s casual, funny, and full of useful wisdom. Be advised that it is a bit on the lengthy side, but well worth it.
I’d also like to use this opportunity to introduce a new blog segment called Wanderlust Wednesday. Alliteration aside, the placement in the middle of the work week is deliberate, since that’s when I often find myself scheming about what I’d like to do over the weekend, as well as daydreaming about where I’d like to go someday. We’ll feature regular adventure-oriented tips on subjects like navigation, cooking, field repair, trip reports, and of course some gear reviews. We also love guest content, so if you have pictures of a dirty bike in a beautiful spot, a tale of a trip gone horribly wrong or wonderfully right, or a suggestion for something you’d like to see, send it our way to firstname.lastname@example.org, and put BLOG in the subject. On a related note, we’ve also set aside some of the store for our new curated selection of bikepacking gear to help you eat and sleep outside comfortably, since nobody wants to have to ride home tired, sore, and hungry. We’re also working on expanding the outdoor section of the website for you mail-order folks.
Past the break is a complete transcript from last Wednesday’s party/talk/Q&A. I’ve tweaked a bit of syntax for ease of reading, but other than that I’ve left it totally intact in order to best convey Woody and Brian’s wisdom. Their opinions don’t necessarily reflect those of Tree Fort Bikes or the Arrowhead 135, although we do greatly value their experience, and we are of the opinion that they are a pair of hardcore, genuine, friendly dudes.
Woody: Hi, my name is Woody, this is Brian, we went up to the Arrowhead this year, This was my third year going up there, and last year I also went to Alaska, this was Brian’s first year, so we ended up hooking up, we came up and rode together, and we ended up finishing it, a lot of people didn’t finish it, it was extremely cold this year. (Applause). It was really cold, there were freezing conditions, and it really took its toll on people as we were headed up there. A lot of people were dropping after the first or second checkpoint. And, I’m not a fast rider, I told Brian, I know he’s a lot faster than me, he said we should ride together and I’m like ‘you can ride with me, but I won’t ride fast,’ you know, my motto is ‘I ride slow but I can ride all damn day, that’s just how I am.’ So we ended up hooking up just because it was so cold up there, in case something big happend we ended up just hanging with each other, we had a great time up there.
This, the way the bike is right here, this is how I ran it, this is the exact gear I had up there with me. We didn’t have any issues at all, maybe Brian a little bit on his face, but we didn’t have issues at all, that was before the ride. The Arrowhead 135, it’s an interesting race, it’s different up there. You start off, it’s all flat until the first checkpoint, and then you dip into the woods, and then it’s a snowmobile trail and conditions can be extremely good or extremely shitty depending on what’s going on. And the snow conditions–anybody can go out and ride 100 miles, but when you end up pushing your bike for 90 of it, it makes a difference. Weather up there is 100% of the issue why people finish or don’t finish. You just can’t control it, and that video talks about the weather, too. It was extremely cold up there this year, I think it was like, they were saying 45 or 50 below zero, so you had to keep everything covered for sure because if anything was exposed it was gonna get frostbite. A lot of people had bad frostbite up there. Once we took off and cleared the first checkpoint we moved on to the second one, and that was when temperatures really started dropping, and then before we hit the midway point there’s a big lake you cross through there. It was really windy. To me that was probably our craziest point where Brian literally couldn’t see out of his goggles so he had his face completely covered. He could just see my blinking light.
Brian: And you saved yours for that lake crossing. Essentially, my goggles just iced up. Right away.
Woody: Yeah, they were useless. But I knew we were gonna need them for the lake crossing. It was just–I keep saying it was ‘crazy’ cause I don’t know another word for it. I was cruising, and he literally couldn’t see anything and he was just following me.
Brian: I just watched his light. I had everything down as close as I could to my eyes.
Woody: Once we checked in to the midway point, you have a drop bag there for whatever you want, we’re allowed like 10 pounds of food, no clothes, just food. So, it always seems like you pack a ton of stuff then you hardly use any of it. So you pick what you want, check in and grab a sandwich there, and then for me when you leave that point, that’s the hardest part of the Arrowhead. You’re dumped right into the woods and I think it’s about maybe 60-70 miles of nothing but hills. There’s some little rollers and ten there’s hills where there’s no way you can climb them. No way. You’re pushing. You can’t ride them, there’s no way. So you’re pushing up, and it just seems like it goes on and on and on. It took us maybe 15 hours to do that stretch. Then once we hit the last checkpoint, you do the last big hill they talked about, and then it’s prettymuch flat going in to the finish line. But we’re going so slow at that time that you think ‘oh, one Poto loop,’ it shouldn’t take nothin’, but it’s taking us like 7 or 8 hours to get that last little section.
We ended up finishing Tuesday or Wednesday morning? Tuesday morning at 3 in the morning we finished and we left Monday at 7 (Ed: Technically Wednesday morning at 3:10am, total time 44:10, tied for 26th out of 30 finishers and 84 total bikers.) And we went just non-stop. Well we did stop at Mel George’s and we delayed leaving there, because when I stopped in there my boots were wet. When I was going to leave I realized they were wet and there was no way we could go out with wet boots, I had to wait until they kinda dried out. So I’m sitting there chilling out–and this is one thing that stick in my head, too–I look down at Brian and he’s sitting there, bullshitting with everybody in there, and I say ‘Brian, have you relaxed enough?’ he goes “Nah, not really.” I say ‘You gotta relax, cause we’re gonna be rolling out of here.’ he goes ‘Well hold on, I wanna talk to ya.’ he says, ‘Ya know… I’m all into calculated risks, but… I’ve done the calculations here, and it’s not workin’ out for me.’ I’m like ‘what the hell are you talking about?’ and he goes ‘Well I’ve got something going on here, and this is it.’ So I said ‘dude’–well I can’t say exactly what I said, but I’m like ‘get your shit together, we’re rollin!’ I said ‘If you don’t leave here right now’–that’s a big thing, too. People roll in there, and they get sucked into that thing. you walk in there, it’s warm, it’s hard to leave there. It’s just hard saying ‘alright, I’ve gotta get all my shit back on, I’m rollin’ out of here.’– I said ‘If you don’t leave here right now, you will be thinking about this for the whole year. And you will regret it.
Brian: A couple hours later, your boots dried out, and we were good to go. I saw daylight, I think that’s what it was.
Woody: So then we rolled out of there, and then I started to–as I’m riding, you know–you’re riding forever so just all this stuff’s going through your head. So I’m starting to do all this math in my head, and I’m messing it all up because I’m not thinking straight, and then I stop and Brian says ‘what’s going on’ and I’m like ‘I don’t think we can make the cutoffs.’ He asked me what I was talking about, and I said ‘Yeah, it’s not making sense here.’ I was actually off by like twelve hours, so I’m like “Alright, let’s just do it!”
Brian: He’d just talked me into doing it, we’re only a mile away, and he’s like ‘We can’t do it!’ I’m like ‘…What?’
Woody: So one of the thing that I like about doing these ultra events is that you ride all day and then for me, you know, I get tired, I get tired, I get tired, and then I reach a point to where I’m totally exhausted, and I know personally that I need to hump over that, and then I’m good to go for like another day. But some crazy stuff can happen. Like when you’re cruising at night and the shadows you’re seeing and the lights and your mind–you see movies, or people talk about going into that zone. It’s crazy some of the shit that I’ve ‘seen.’ Like in Alaska it was crazy, the first year at Arrowhead was crazy. This year wasn’t too bad.
Brian: I kept thinking I saw houses or furniture. (covered by laughter)
Woody: One time he pulled up next to me and his light threw a shadow of my seat on the snow, and the way it was, I thought there was a dog just running with me for a long time, I thought ‘hey, that’s cool, there’s a dog there!’ Maybe it was, I dunno. But that’s just one of the weird things. And then it’s really cool, like, we were riding, and we were really into a long ride. He works with electronics, and he starts talking about all these wire gauges and all this weird stuff.
Brian: I did?
Woody: Yeah, you did. And I just wondered what the hell you were talking about. But this is the first time I actually rode with somebody, and it was–I’m glad I rode with him because of the way the weather was, and it ended up being a good time. When you do something like that with somebody you’ll never forget it, it’s something you can’t buy anywhere. You can’t go to the store and say ‘I wanna buy, you know, what they went through.’ You gotta do it to get it. So these are our bikes, this is everything that I’ve taken. And what works for me doesn’t work for everybody. I know what works for me. I’m comfortable going in the cold with what I got because I know it works.
Starting at the bottom I’ve got a pair of Salomon boots, I wear a pair of Smartwool liners, middleweight and then expedition weight, then I wear a gaiter. Then on the legs I have a windproof pair of ‘ultimate cold’ Under Armour pants with vents on the side and then I wear a really heavy bib windproof deal, and then I made these little shorts, they were pants, but I cut shorts off. These are just in case because sometimes when it gets really cold my thighs get cold with the wind, so I can throw those on if need be. My base layor is Under Armour with a hoodie on it. This thing is the best thing. It has this little hood that comes up to your neck and covers your whole face. There’s just like an inch where your eyes show. Then I wear another Under Armour, then I have an Icebreaker wool if need be, and then I have an Arc’teryx over jacket if I need to wear that. I keep that in the front. The biggest thing is this outer layer. It’s got the Permaloft in it, and that stuff if it gets wet, it doesn’t matter, it will keep you warm, but the big thing is that it has the vents in the sleeves that zip all the way down, and the front opens up all the way. As you’re riding you get warm, you gotta open up. You can’t ride and be comfortable, you gotta ride and be cold, cause if you’re comfortable, you’re sweating, and it’s gonna be a problem. So you open up everything, and if it starts to get crazy, then I’d start zipping stuff shut and shutting everything down. That thing’s been great for me. Then I have a Spartwool neck thing that I put over my whole face, I run that up to my eyes, then I have a wool hat if needed, and then the hood on my jacket. For gloves I wear Smartwool gloves, and then some North Face gloves, and then the pogies. Usually with the pogies I just wear Smartwool.
For sleeping gear I have a Mountain Hard Wear negative 30 lamina sleeping bag. I use that pad there because it’s small, but normally if I’m gonna sleep out there I’ll use one of those Z-lites, those work the best, then I have an Outdoor Research bivy sack. If I get on that and jump in there I can sleep no matter how cold it is, I’m good. I brought the lights. I always run a backup power light for batteries. I wear a headlamp. I run a Sotol stove, and I like that because depending on where you go sometimes fuel is an issue, but that Sotol you can run regular Gasoline in it. You empty it out, you put it in a suitcase, you can go anywhere and put gasoline in it, and you’re good to go. That’s good, rather than trying to find white gas. Then a frame bag, the gas cap and the fuel, the feed bag I just use for food and tubes, any other miscellaneous junk that I need to take on, that’s where I put it. That’s what I’ve been using for years and it works for me.
Q: You wanna talk about your setup, Brian?
Brian: Yeah, sure. So, obviously, I got together with Woody a couple of times and chatted, asked him what I need to bring. Of course they have a set of gear that you have to have, mandatory gear. Stuff like that whistle, the stove, a certain amount of fuel. You have to *finish* with a certain amount of fuel and a certain amount of Calories, so you go out and buy peanut butter. You have to do the multiplication and say ‘Yeah, that’s three thousand Calories.’ If you have to dip into it, that’s okay, because it can save your life, you’ll DNF, but you’ll be alive.
Woody: This is the smallest thing that has three thousand Calories. So you pack that, but you don’t ever plan on using it. They’ll stop you and do a gear check.
Brian: So I took a lot of cues from Woody, and brought stuff, and he goes ‘No, you don’t need that, you need that.’ That’s before. Then we get to the hotel room and he’s doing further whittling down of my gear. And I think you guys have done this if you’ve done races, you bring too much stuff for the first race. I brought everything, and he laughed.
Woody: He took half of the hotel room up with his shit.
Brian: Well he just kept letting me put in in. Essentially I got the same stuff. You know, wool is the big deal for me. I gotta give credit to my brother. He’s a big outdoors guy out in Colorado, he always has been. He specializes in winter sports and stuff, so he also helped me with a couple of long phone calls. What do do, like this nano-puff. He said ‘I’m a big fan of synthetics. This jacket saved my bacon. I basically rode with that and probably two layers of Smartwool. They’d get wet at times, but it still kept me warm. Like Woody said, pit zips. You can vent, you gotta have them. We talked about that, if you go into a warming hut–
Brian: You never really get rid of all the perspiration and moisture. It must kinda freeze somewhat. But go into that tent and it starts to melt. Then I come out of the tent and I started to freeze up a lot. I could feel my arms stiffening up. You gotta be careful; either fully dry out, or stay outside. So I’m in that tent, and he’s going ‘You shouldn’t be in there, come out of there!’
Woody: He’s like ‘IT’S SO NICE IN HERE!’ I’m like ‘Get the hell out of there!’
Brian: So we carry a lot of stuff we never tapped, we never had to use. It’s there for disaster time, like those sleeping bags. That’s if you’ve gotta bivy. I’ve got a bivy, which is like a little mini tent for your sleeping bag. I carried mine on my back, I put the back rack on at the last second. We trimmed that up in the hotel room. (Woody holds up a hack saw) It didn’t line up right, he had to do it for me. I wanted to use a bag similar to maybe what’s on that Fargo, but I just had too much stuff, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. I had a parka that I’ve sent back to my brother. These pants are synthetic puff pants, this is disaster gear. I’m stopped, we’re working on the bike or going into the bag, these are Mountain Hard Wear with Primaloft, never had to pull it out. The down parka–never pulled it out, but if you had to, you’re clear. A lot of years you don’t have to bring it, but this was the year.
Woody: Yeah, if something happened, that’s when you gotta bring it.
Q: How cold did it get?
Brian: I think only twenty or thirty (Ed: below zero) with the wind chill at like forty-five
Q: They said the start was negative forty-six on the website.
Brian: I’m glad I didn’t know that. (Ed: Website said -24F at the start. Wind chill maybe?)
Woody: Yeah, it was cold. For me, though, once it’s cold it’s cold. It’s not like ‘Whoa, it really feels cold today!’ Cold is cold.
Brian: I had a mask to help with breathing, because I’ll get asthma a little bit, so I got one of those masks with the rubber cap thing. Anyway, it was rubbing, and I was pushing it so far up to keep my face covered with just a slit for my eyes that about three quarters of the way through the race I get a look from Woody that goes ‘What the hell happened, what’s going on with your nose?’ It was just bloody. But I had no choice. You can’t change your gear that late. It worked a little bit, with ice and whatever, it kept my lungs working, but it was failed gear. REI has that return policy. I felt bad a little bit.
Q: Do you guys wear helmets when you race?
Brian: No, we’re going so slow. There were sections that could’ve been dicey, there was some downhill stuff where we were going fast. Luckily we got it in the daytime. They didn’t require it, they know the speeds you go. If you do, you maybe do a snowboard helmet. I brought it. It was one of the things I brought that I didn’t use. (Woody holds up reflective vest) Reflective vests, they require that. So this is on a snowmobile trail, and these guys are haulin’. They actually hold the race on monday to stay away from the traffic. We actually test-rode on Sunday for a shakedown ride, and we saw a few. The only snowmobiles we ever saw were the guys that were checking on us. You didn’t want to depend on those guys, but you felt good that they were running by. They’d run by like this (snowmobile pose with one thumbs-up) and you’d give them the thumbs up and they’d keep going. Or Woody would ask them ‘How far is the next checkpoint?’
Woody: So the last guy we saw–this year they were running around a lot more just because it was so cold–but I stopped the guy to ask how far it was and he said ‘Oh, you got like ten miles.’ I was like ‘YOU GOTTA BE SHITTIN’ ME!’ It’s funny because the next morning he goes ‘Hey, you talked to me last night! Sorry, I gave you the wrong information, I read it wrong.’
Brian: I was gonna mention another source I took for clothing was JP, Jay Petervary, in that video. I think Salsa put it up? I downloaded it so I could watch it over and over and over to try to pick up what he was giving out. Now the vapor barrier stuff really requires some practice with that. I would follow–and my brother had never even heard of that–I’m not gonna use vapor barrier, but I did use it on my feet. So we went to Subway to get the bags.
Woody: He was freaking out about his boots because I have the overboots.
Brian: Yeah, I asked if I could borrow some boots because basically I just had Keens, 400 gram. All boots now will tell you how many grams of insulation.
Woody: Normally you’ll run an overboot over your regular boots.
Brian: But still, these overboots aren’t insulated. So, we went to Menard’s the night before. We got this insulation stuff, and I don’t know if I can say that it worked, but mentally it was the idea.
Woody: Brian likes tweaking stuff. The whole time, we’re leaving, he’s just like (motions with hands)
Brian: So I made an insole in this boot out of that same stuff to give me an air cushion.
Q: What did you get from Subway?
Brian: The bags. That’s a cheap vapor barrier. Basically the idea is to keep your insulation dry. So the liner keeps the bag off of your foot.
Woody: Supposedly your feet start sweating, then you stop sweating, and then nothing gets wet. I can not use vapor barriers.
Brian: But it’s gotta be cold enough for you to go with vapor barriers. You gotta be near zero or in that territory, and we were, so I said ‘this is the time to try it.’ Now, what you don’t do, is don’t experiment race day. That’s what I did, and it worked. Don’t–never do that.
Q: Did anyone just wear 45 North boots with like no cover on them or anything?
Brian: I bet you JP did, but he modded his, right?
Woody: Yeah, he’s got a special thing. There’s a handful of people up there. Personally, this setup works for me, and that’s the only time of the year I wear those crazy boots, and when I’m getting ready for it, so to spend three hundred some bucks on a pair of boots, I just can’t justify it, you know what I mean? They may work, but they don’t do it for me.
Brian: Remember the guy who was the runner, like him and–if you’re gonna race it like JP, if you’re gonna race it the whole time, you can dress kinda like him, but if you dress like him and move like us, you can get in trouble. So if you’re not moving all the time with his boots, and his setup, you could get into trouble. With those 45 Norths, and I think there were a lot of people with frostbite.
Q: What were the main causes of dropout?
Woody: Frostbite, cold.
Q: Did you ever find out what happened to that cat with the frostbite?
Woody: Yeah, I talked to him, he spent two weeks in the hospital, said they put him on some crazy blood thinners. Actually, he got out of the hospital, he and his wife went to Finland and did that 150 ride out there. He didn’t do it, he was just there watching her. He posted a picture yesterday, and his feet actually look great right now. He lost all his toenails, but they’ll come back and in comparison they really look good. Last year both of them were there and they both didn’t finish. This year she did and then they went to Finland and did another 150 miler there last week.
Brian: He wanted to finish that race to qualify for Alaska.
Woody: Yeah, they both wanted to go to Alaska.
Q: For the Iditarod?
Woody: The Arrowhead is a qualifying event for the ITI (Iditarod Trail Invitational) which it was for me when I finished it three years ago.
Brian: The qualifier for this race is if you’ve done a 24-hour mountain bike race.
Woody: When they open up the registration in September or October they take veterans first, and then it used to only be 135 people, this year it was a little more. Usually about 80 or 90 veterans get in there, then they open it up to rookies. You have to send a resume in saying what you’ve done, and they go through them. They check them and they yank people out. But if you want to do an ultra other than the Arrowhead, another good one that you can get into is the Tuscobia. It’s a good cold one, you can get in it no matter what, the lower mileage races have a cap, but the long one has no cap. (Ed: The 150 does require previous winter and/or endurance experience.) So if you want to give it a shot, head up there.
Q: Where is that located?
Woody: It’s in Wisconsin, it’s actually closer for us if we’re driving. It’s just over past Ironwood. It’s not as hilly, but it’s a qualifying event to get you into something like that. Realistically, if you’ve never completed something, you could put in for the Arrowhead your whole life and not get in.
Brian: That’s what he told me, I just mailed them like 40 bucks.
Woody: You give them money, it seems to work. This one guy, he’s sponsoring all the sandwiches and the soup, he’s in the race that year. No, if somebody wants to get into it, dibble-dabble in the little things first. Do a fifty-miler. Do a thirty-miler. ‘Cause you gotta be comfy in your gear. This works for me, it may not work for you. I’m totally fine–I make a joke, I always say I have a pair of long johns and a pack of hot dogs and I’m rolling out. I’m comfy with what I got, and if something happens, I’m outta there. I’m not gonna lose a damn finger or something.
Q: How much were you guys sleeping outside?
Woody: We don’t sleep at all at the Arrowhead.
Brian: So the only guys who slept outside were walkers, or kinda like and emergency bivy. For those temperatures, nobody wanted to sleep outside, they had to.
Woody: We passed some bikers who were sleeping, and they ended up not finishing. If you’re bivying, just going up there, I know, you can get to Mel George’s, and then you can refuel and then knock it out. So if you got a problem getting there, you’re gonna have a problem.
Q: What was your average speed?
Brian: I didn’t even do the math. Probably like four, maybe? (Ed: just over three, but that includes stops. For comparison Jay Petervary won it with an average of about 6.7mph.)
Woody: It was slow this year. Normally when you’re cruising, you can reach like eight, and water’s not a problem. This year to get a drink you had to stop, you had to get your shit ready, lift up your mask a little bit, drink really quick, then cover it up. People don’t realize that you actually have to drink more in the winter than you do in the summer.
Q: What precautions did you take, do you have a hydration system?
Woody: Yeah, it’s called a hydro heater. The guy’s name is Bob.
Brian: I got it because of you.
Woody: He comes up there every year, he’s from Alaska, he’s actually going to ITI right now. He designed this and actually got new gig of the year through Alaska and they gave him like thirty grand or something. Prettymuch if you’re wearing your pack, the bladder is not gonna freeze because of your body heat, Your problem is your line. He’s got these lines that run through there, it looks like like a regular CamelBak, but if you look it’s got this crazy liner. So what happens is it’s got a battery pack, and you put in on. If I’m getting ready to drink, and it’s frozen, then I hit this button, and this thing flashes and then it goes red. That means it’s heating it up. It cycles for ten minutes. Normally, if I hit this within a minute it thaws and I start drinking, then I shut it off to save the battery, but up there I was cycling this thing for thirty minutes before it was thawed because it was so cold up there. The other thing I run–this thing works, but I hate carrying a backpack. I just hate it when I’m riding long distances. I like to use the Hydro Flask. Those things work great, stuff won’t freeze in them. I put warm water in there, and it won’t freeze. If you have to melt water, it can kinda taste shitty, I’ll put a little coffee in there, and then I’ll drink that. (Ed: Put a bit of leftover water in your pot and get it heated before adding snow and you’ll avoid that burned taste that melted snow gets if you just throw it on top of the stove.) But the bad thing with these things is that if it’s really cold out, the lids freezes in the threads really hard. But I found that if I don’t get it so tight, that it opens up pretty easy.
Q: Do you guys stop to cook often?
Woody: No, you know, I took food to cook, but it was so cold that I didn’t want to do it.
Brian: You’d start getting cold by the time you got the fire going. If we had to, we’d have to do it, but we’d rather not.
Woody: I had my wool gloves on, and like I said, wool when it gets wet still keeps you warm. I needed air in my tire. So I stopped and I took my gloves off for a second, pumped it up, grabbed my gloves, and they were like a board. We missed a turn-off, we’re rolling down this trail, and I said ‘This trail, I don’t like this trail.’
Brian: I’m sleeping at this point
Woody: Yeah, he’s like ‘Whoa, huh, when did we turn?’ I didn’t like the trail because it was groomed and I’d never seen a groomed trail out here. So I pulled my phone out and I called somebody at the finish line. I pulled the phone out, made a phone call, put it away, and our hands were just on fire.
Brian: With cold.
Woody: They were literally on fire. And I couldn’t move.
Brian: So we got going again, and I’m going ‘(Ed: not sure how to transcribe this noise, but EEEAEAUARGRAEEAAH might come close.) SOMETHING’S WRONG, THESE THINGS AREN’T WORKIN’!’
Woody: ‘WHY AM I NOT RECOVERING?’
Brian: So there was the chemical packs, and they saved my hands. I was in trouble.
Woody: But it was that cold out, to where anything–and that’s what got people, where they’re cruising down the trail and their face is friggin’ smoked. Or taking their gloves off–you gotta keep everything covered when it’s that cold. So we took it slow, steady.
Brian: Didn’t make too many mistakes.
Q: Any mechanical issues?
Woody: Nope. Well, when we left, we saw several people–the big issue when you go to extreme temperatures is the grease freezing, your hubs not working. We saw I don’t know how many people off the back, their hubs weren’t working.
Brian: (Can’t understand name, maybe Petervary?), he froze his near the end.
Woody: And he had to walk the last bit. And that was one of the reasons I went with the Hope hubs, because they say the got the different grease in there. But then on my crank I have a special set of bearings that I take out, and I take the covers off, and there’s no grease in them at all, and I put those on for the Arrowhead and I just run oil. I’m not worried about the headset because you don’t do anything there.
Brian: Well I talked to the Salsa rep and he said basically Tri-Flow. And now I’ve got to switch it out.
Woody: Yeah, I just run those when it’s crazy cold.
Q: Is shifting affected at all?
Woody: Well, my brakes froze up completely. But when we got to the hills we weren’t slowing down at all down the descents. It was just controlled craziness.
Brian: I was trying to ride it like a singlespeeder. I normally singlespeed and I thought “Let it go, man.’ We were flyin’ down there. Without a helmet.
Woody: But it was so cold out my watch just stopped working right from the start, and I got my that for eating and drinking. The lights stopped working because it’s so cold. He’s got these that last for 15 days. They stopped working. I had my little one, but he kept putting his on and off, on and off. He was behind me, and I didn’t say anything, but it was driving me friggin’ crazy. Cause all the way up he’s talking ‘Yeah, these lights, they’re expensive, they last forever.’ But it was messing me up going down hills because it was throwing crazy shadows. But it’d be on off, on off. He says he’s saving them. On off, on off, on off.
Brian: You use them on the downhill, turn them off on the uphill. I didn’t realize it. That’s what’s cool about him, he doesn’t say anything that’s bothering him until the end.
Woody: Nah, if you’re out there, man, and you start bickering with people about the little stuff, you guys’d be battling. And that’s pretty much it in a nutshell.
Q: did you use bike shorts at all?
Brian: I did. I have them here, I have the wool ones with a little bit of padding. They say that you really don’t need it with all the layers you have on, you really don’t.
Woody: No, but he started having problems with those.
Brian: Oh yeah, did I say, never use something for the first time in a race.
Q: What was the reason that you needed to finish with so many Calories of food?
Woody: In case something happens out there, and you’re out there–most races are like that–if you’re out there for a day or whatever, you gotta have something to eat. So you say you gotta have this, that’s part of their mandatory gear. And the moment you go up there, we throw our stuff in the bag, and when they check you in, they give you your number, you have to go through everything. They lay it out in front of you, they take your picture, you sign a waiver, and then they stamp you and you’re outta there.
Brian: You know they’re serious, when they take your picture and that’s the contract. And you need it, it’s for an emergency.
Q: So you DNF if you don’t have it?
Woody: No, they would add time to you. If you look on the finishing times, you’ll see on some of them it’ll say two hour penalty, somebody helped him deal with something. And if they do stop you for a gear check, they stop your time. I don’t care, I’m just going to finish.
Q: What was your time?
Woody: I don’t even–what was it, 46 hours or something? I dunno. Couldn’t even tell ya. (Ed: 44:10 including stops.)
Brian: I totally was not concerned. I’ve had another race like that where I just wanted to make the cutoffs.
Q: What’s the first thing you did after?
Woody: Took a shower, we were dying to eat food. So we’re at the casino, I wanted a beer and I wanted food. So we go there and they’re like ‘We don’t sell beer until noon.’ I kept saying ‘What kind of casino is this?’ There’s a new race director who took over this year. In the past, Dave and Mary who used to do it, they were great, and the finish line they would have food and pizza, this and that. So we go there, they take your picture, give you your trophy, and we’re like “Dude, where’s the food?’ He’s like ‘Well here, we got a peanut butter sandwich, and some tomato soup!’ I’m like ‘Are you effin’ kidding me, dude?’ So we took showers, we sat there, and then as soon as we could we went down there and tore it up. And we had a beer and got out of there for the long drive home.
Q: You didn’t sleep after that?
Woody: No, we took a shower, ate, and Franky started driving, we just sat in the van. Took us like 16 hours to drive home.
Q: How spaced out are you after doing that ride? Like the idea of going home or being around, like, a large society–sometimes I’m just driving back from the U.P. and I’m like ‘Whoa, a billboard!’
Woody: When we were coming over, they actually shut the Mackinac Bridge down when we went over it. We started heading West on 2, and it was literally a complete whiteout. He’s looking out the window at the snow drifts, going ‘You got about a foot here.’ Everybody was rear-ending each other. All of a sudden we stopped, everybody’s hit each other, I say that we’ve gotta get off of this road. So we pull to the side, but just driving there across the U.P. this year was nuts. I’ve never been in anything like that. We like stopping in Marquette, chit-chat with some people there that we know up there doing riding, and continue on.
Q: What’s the most invaluable piece of gear you guys have? Or, rather, what piece of gear are you the most in love with?
Brian: The bike.
Woody: The biggest thing for me, the game changer, is your outer jacket. If you don’t have that, and until last year I got stuck in the snow and I was going to Alaska and I had to chance something because I never had an outer jacket. I had a fleece or something, and I ran into some extreme temps. Then I was talking with some people in Alaska, and they’re like ‘You gotta go with something like an outer layer.’ and I did, and that’s been the game changer for me.
Q: So what’s next? I mean I assume Arrowhead next year if you’re up for it, but what else is on the itinerary for both of you?
Woody: I did the ITI last year, and to me, that’s like the big thing, so I’m just fine now. You know, I love riding the bike with my wife, and she’s not really into biking, but she actually has a fatbike, and we’ll do biking in the summertime, and believe it or not, man, I’d rather put like a six pack on the back, and just bomb around in a pair of shorts on fatbikes up north somewhere, you know? The thing I like about cruising is to me it’s just like, when I go out and do that, this is the first time I was with someone for the Arrowhead, I’m usually by myself. But to me it makes you appreciate things. Like a friggin’ glass of water, something you grab every day and don’t even think about it. When I was in Alaska we had to make our water, you know, it makes you appreciate a friggin’ glass of water, and everything you take for granted. That’s just me, that’s why I like to ride.
Q: What’s the best advice you have for someone who’s aspiring, or that you gave to Brian?
Woody: Brian talked to me, I’m one of these guys who if you hit me up with something, I’ll tell you anything. A lot of people don’t, they don’t like talking about stuff, but I don’t have any problem. I would say you have to start out on a smaller race, in the cold, and you have to be comfortable with your gear. You can’t just go and buy a jacket and pants and say ‘Yeah, I’m gonna go out and ride today and it’s gonna be thirty below, and I’m gonna be good,’ ’cause your shit’s gonna hit the fan. You have to be comfortable with your gear, and I am.
Brian: So the gear I rode with, I normally don’t need it here in Michigan. I’m riding with tights, an insulated jacket, and maybe a tech t-shirt, and that’s it, with a pair of light boots.
Woody: So for us here it’s hard to try stuff in the cold, because you’re burning up.
Q: How do you judge training in Southern Michigan for what you’re gonna need in Northern Minnesota?
Woody: You know what, if I’m gonna go out this weekend and it’s like 20 to zero, I know what I gotta throw on. And then going up there, they say it’s gonna be this cold, so I brought the extra pair of Under Armour pants, and some extra layers in the middle, knowing that I just need to keep everything covered. Personally, when I’m riding, I’m like a friggin’ furnace, man, look at me. So generating heat’s not an issue. For me it’s getting rid of the sweat and stuff. If I can maintain that, I’m fine.
Brian: I’m actually the same way, like a furnace. I think my favorite gear, I don’t know why, but it’s pogies. That’s the biggest thing for winter riding.
Woody: Now I’ve had these pogies, and this is the first year I’ve ever been able to use them, that’s how warm I get.
Brian: These are actually too warm for Michigan.
Woody: Those are the heavy ones he has, these are the light ones, and this is the first time I’ve ever been able to use them.
Brian: He was amazed that I was able to ride with them in Michigan, and I was able to, but with no gloves, and my hands were still sweating. And of course, I don’t know if you mentioned, but of course fuel. Fueling yourself is important.
Woody: Yeah one thing this year, Brian is in our room making all these food things up (holds up concentrated Calorie ball thingers), they ended up being great, we ended up nibbling on those the whole time.
Brian: Brown sugar, oats, water, there’s two sticks of butter, it’s a lot of Calories.
Woody: One thing you gotta remember is that everything’s frozen up there. So you can’t have like a sandwich and go to take a bite. If you have a sandwich, like I’d chop them up into quarters. Those little ball things are perfect because you throw them in, and in like a minute they start to defrost. Everything gets rock hard. You gotta test everything, put everything in the freezer. These power bars really work for me, but you gotta break them up beforehand. I chop everything up and put it in bags.
Brian: The classic is, Clif Bars fail. Put them in the freezer they freeze solid, unless you cut them up. You gotta think what’s gonna go wrong, and keep things on you. Like batteries, if they’re away from you, they’re getting cold, they’re not gonna be there when you need them. Some people even carry their pumps, because pumps fail. I believe somebody’s pump failed.
Woody: That may have been the issue that we were having, when we filled up after, when it was inside it was good, but at the midway point, I tried three or four times to get air in there and it just wasn’t.
Q: What kind of pressure were you guys running?
Woody: This year we were running it high. Years past I may have run it low, but the trail was in such good shape.
Brian: There was this guy Irv, he said he was gonna run like thirty.
Woody: He’s like, what, 71? 70? The guy’s an animal, man. He’s knocking it out.
Brian: He goes up there and kicks everybody’s tail.
Woody: He said he was running 25 or 30, and he finished this year.
Q: What’s the camaraderie like up there? All you guys go through this.
Woody: I look forward to it, I see these guys once a year, some of them a couple of other times, we chit-chat on Facebook a lot, and then getting close to it they’re emailing me, ‘Hey, you coming up?’ and then when you get up there, the day before you go we have a race meeting in a big hall.
Brian: He knows everyone.
Woody: Yeah, because there are some world-class endurance people there.
Brian: Like the guy we sat and rode over with, gave him a ride over, he was third in Alaska.
Woody: He took third in the ITI. You know, you bullshit and chit-chat with everyone up there a little bit, and then you run into the guys that fail it every year, but then this year Jim from Texas, I think this is his fourth or fifth year, and he finally finished it, and in crazy conditions.
Brian: That’s where the camaraderie is, but when you’re out on the trail, there’s not a lot of time. You’re so bundled up you can barely tell who’s who. And then there’s a little bit of misery at each of the checkpoints, or at the convenience store where everybody’s like this (hunched over, dead eyes) and you have to not look at them. So there’s not a lot of camaraderie at that point.
Woody: A lot of people drop at that store, man.
Q: Is there not really any competition at that point?
Woody: It’s really competitive among the frontrunners. I’m never gonna be there.
Q: Did you have enough light just between two lights, or were you charging?
Woody: No, my heavy-duty battery went and died out, I always take this little battery deal with me. It takes like three AAA’s, and I’ve had that thing, I use it every year, and in Alaska, and when it’s really cold I can run this on high for like four hours with the little batteries, so I just calculate how many I’m going to need, then I take one extra set, so I know I have it. You gotta have a light up there.
Brian: You gotta have a backup, too, or else you’re gonna not ride in the dark. You gotta have a light.
Woody: That’s it!
Mike: Let’s thank these guys with a round of applause!
Thanks indeed to Woody and Brian, who we are blessed and proud to have as customers, to all of our other awesome customers who came out for the party, and to the Arrowhead 135 for hosting such a rad event! Best of luck to them in future events, as well as anyone else who wants to get into winter and/or endurance racing.