Fat bikes are everywhere these days. They are on the beaches and in the deserts. They have their own sanctioned race series. They’re taking big time bike events by storm. Hell, even the mainstream media has jumped on the fat bandwagon.
But before all the hype, there was the Arrowhead Ultra, a 135-mile snow race in the far reaches of northern Minnesota. (And yes, we’re also well aware of the Iditarod Trail Invitational.) Now in its 10th year, the AH135 is set to kick off on Monday, January 27, at 7 a.m. And to commemorate the event, Mike Riemer at Salsa Cycles, an avid sponsor of the AH135, released a short film about the 2013 race that perfectly captures the character and attraction of the Arrowhead.
Kicking off in International Falls, Minnesota, on the US-Canada border, this is a race of extremes. Last year, warm temperatures made for fast conditions at the head of the race, where Todd McFadden set a new course record of 14 hours and 20 minutes, just 30 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Jeff Oatley. Behind them, heavy snow slowed much of the field, with several racers taking longer than 50 hours due to long hike-a-bike passages through deep snow.
This year looks to be a very different race as temperatures are forecast to be -25F at the start and hover around -10F throughout the day. To compensate for such travails, racers must make mandatory stops at checkpoints and carry a huge kit of equipment for their own safety. Among the obligatory gear list is a -20F sleeping bag, an insulated sleeping pad, a bivy sack of tent, eight ounces of fuel, and no less than 3,000 calories of food at all times, which most racers carry in the form of either a pound of butter or a jar of peanut butter. This year, a record 158 racers will line up. Around half of those will be on fat bikes, the fastest way to finish, while the remaining participants will ski or run the course. All racers must complete the 135 miles in 60 hours or less to be awarded an official finish.
You might ask why anyone would subject himself to such an ordeal. I have lots of friends who have done the Arrowhead, and I’ve questioned most of them about their sanity more than once. But filmmaker Riemer, who is also a two-time veteran of the race, does an excellent job of addressing why racers take on the challenge.
“Racers are rewarded by the satisfaction and self-discovery that comes from pushing oneself to accomplish something truly difficult, something many people consider impossible,” he says. The Arrowhead Ultra presents “the opportunity to redefine ourselves.”
Results will be posted live once the race is underway.