At the cabin, I got three hours of sleep and then rolled back onto the trail, determined to finish. I pedaled close behind a pair of racers, watching for the elusive missed junction.
The day dawned bright and soon the air was above zero. I stuck with Matthew Staehling, an attorney from St. Cloud, Minn., and his partner for much of the morning, ticking off 30 miles by early afternoon.
We pedaled nonstop for an hour or more at a time, tires churning in loose snow. Maintaining momentum required constant cranking; a moment of coasting in snow brought the bikes to a halt.
The trail climbed and dropped, weaving around lakes, cresting a huge hill near Lake Vermillion. “Only 35 miles more,” Staehling said at one point.
Then, in a daze, 12 hours after leaving Elephant Lake, the finish line materialized out of the dark. It was Tuesday evening by then, and I was riding alone again under the stars.
I parked my bike and walked inside the cabin to finish, collapsing on a couch. “Hey, you made it!” someone shouted. The room was hot and bright, people laughing, coffee cups steaming. I sat back and closed my eyes, off the bike, out of the wind, a rush of warmth, finally, at the journey’s end.
More Information: The Arrowhead 135 Ultramarathon is a self-supported 135-mile endurance race through Minnesota’s Kabetogama and Sturgeon River State Forests. It is organized by Pierre and Cheryl Ostor of White Bear Lake, Minn. Participants carry all their own food, water and survival gear. They bike on snow, ski or run the course, which follows its namesake route, the Arrowhead State Trail, from a parking lot near International Falls, south to a lodge on Lake Vermillion near Tower. This year’s event, its sixth running, is February 1 – 3. www.arrowheadultra.com
—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com.