Race Day: Saturday, April 9, 2016 – 12:01am

50 miles is a lot of ground to cover. 2016 is the year for long backpacking trips, hiking, walking, slow-walking, and so on. However, I love racing and just can’t give it up. With a few forays into ultramarathons, I realized that they’re really fun and challenging, and I’m pretty good at them. For better or worse, I think that based on my physiology and genetic abilities, trail ultras suit me best compared to other types of endurance racing like bike racing and tris and road running. The real test is to register for a really competitive trail ultra like Superior Spring 50k and Voyager 50 mile and see where I place…

Anyways, I figured that throwing a few trail ultramarathons in the mix for the year would be great training, a lot of fun, and a perfect compliment to backpacking. I registered for Zumbro 50 mile and Superior Spring 50k simultaneously, actually, but Zumbro is the one that I was thinking about every single day a month prior. I was having thoughts of fear, nervousness, dread, excitement.

Training leading up to Zumbro was interesting. I’d been running very, very consistently at about 60-70 miles per week from into February and all of March. This is pretty big miles for me, but I think the big key was running every day, doing a lot of doubles, and back-to-back longer runs on the weekends. I was staying free from injury (maybe riding the line of frinjury… but that’s where you wanna be!), and running was feeling VERY easy. An hour run, for instance, would feel as taxing as a lunch break walk around downtown Duluth. My hamstrings get more sore watching an hour of TV on the couch. This is a good sign. However, 90% of my running was roads. February was really warm, and once the snow starts to melt, it’s game over for the trails until it either snows more and is consistently cold, or it all melts and the trails completely dry out. And in Duluth, that’s usually mid-May. This year is no exception, and the daily highs were above freezing in the day and below freezing at night. Rain, snow, mix, sleet, and all of the above at the same time… yeah it’s not meteorologically possible but I’m pretty sure it happened. So roads it is. 7:30 pace was feeling EASY to maintain, breathing through my nose or carrying on an intellectual conversation even for two hours. I was feeling very confident in my running, especially for, say, a road marathon. If I keep this up, I’m a shoe-in for a PR at Grandma’s! But a technical, challenging trail ultramarathon is what I was actually training for…

Two weeks prior to Zumbro, I started getting really nervous. First it was about training. Roads are different than trails. Will that fitness translate or am I going to break both my ankles on mile 1? Also, I hadn’t done any really long runs. I anticipated doing some 4 hour runs, but push comes to shove and my biggest weekend was 2 hours for 17 miles a Friday morning and then 3 hours for 21 miles the next morning. Both on roads, 3 hours felt so easy, and this was maybe 5 weeks out. Then, a few days before the race… when do I sleep? How do I eat? Naps? Two dinners? How do I pace this thing? Am I going to fall apart on the third lap? Is this like a 50k or is it a different beast? Pretty standard pre-race nerves, but maybe a little amplified because of the scope of the race itself.

Zumbro is made up of three races along a 16.7 mile loop in bluff country near Winona, MN. The 100 mile is six loops and starts Friday morning. The 50 is three loops and starts at midnight Friday night/Saturday morning. The 16.7 mile (17 miles for all intents and purposes) starts Saturday morning at 9. The cutoff for every race is Saturday at 6pm. So my plan was to take work off on Friday, drive to Maple Grove and then drive to the race site on Friday evening to catch packet pickup at 10pm. As far as race plans, my goal was to go under 9 hours. To achieve this, I figured I could pace off 10 minute miles. If I keep a 10 minute pace right off the bat, I don’t think I’d overexert myself but that leaves a 40 minute buffer for the inevitable slowdown. If I can hit 10 minutes for every mile, it puts me at 8:20. Lastly, I want to win. I mean, really, what’s the point of racing besides to beat people and stroke one’s own ego? Otherwise, it’s just a timed training run with a bunch of other weirdos…

So I relaxed, ate and slept as much as I could on Friday. I started driving south and arrived at the race site right after 10pm. Nick’s advice to me was to be full at the start line. I got my packet, rushed back to the warm car, and hung out for an hour. I ate half a Subway sandwich and was munching on trail mix and Combos and candy and various other munchies. I set my alarm for 38 minutes and tried to get some quick shut-eye. I definitely wasn’t tired but figured it’d benefit me. I didn’t really sleep. And when my alarm rang, I gathered some food and a backup headlamp and socks into my little drop bag and set out to the start line.

The overnight low was supposed to be in the 20’s, even into the teens depending on the location. I definitely noticed that the river bottoms were cooler. I chose to wear a long sleeve tech tee and a thin running jacket, running tights, a buff and thin poly liner gloves. A voice came over the loudspeaker and we lined up in the pitch dark midnight. I got up the front row, and saw Bennett Isabella to my right. We raced against each other at Capitol City Tri, I noticed his USA Triathlon shirt and put two and two together. We were chatting a bit… he’s doing an ultramarathon year as well, just had a baby, and didn’t have a target time in mind at all. He said this is pure training, and didn’t really say much about my 9 hour goal.

Then “GO!” and we set off. I started slow and wanted to have some dudes in front of me to lead the way. I was really nervous to run in the dark and potentially get off course, so my initial plan was to latch onto a group going exactly 10 minute pace. High hopes… beggars can’t be choosers! Looking at the start list, I figured Kurt Keiser would win. I want to win, but Kurt set the course record for Zumbro 50 the previous year (8:10), and he’d won Surf the Murph 50 mile the past October, too. So, he’s got consistent 50 mile experience, a just fricken’ fast dude. Another guy who looked like a contender is Jeff Vander Kooi out of Michigan, who popped a 24 hour at Sawtooth 100 the previous fall. And Bennett is a beast triathlete, so you can never discount him. Plus, I’m not too versed in the who’s who in ultras, and unlike the MN triathlon scene, there are lot more ringers out there. Just super fast no-name dudes who decide to race an ultramarathon and kill it.

Within a quarter mile, we popped onto some singletrack. Up, up, up, and it got really technical really quick. Rocks, uneven ground, roots up this big hill. I quickly realized that the course was probably going to be really well marked… it was super easy to see the reflective taping, and it was obvious where to go for every turn. It didn’t take long for Kurt to take the lead and sprint up this hill that everyone else was walking up. Another guy went with Kurt and they were quickly out of sight. The nice part about the darkness is that you could see headlamps from a far ways away… and the two guys slipped into the darkness with 49 miles to go, never to be seen again.

Bennett and I were running together, and we latched on with another guy, who I realized after the race was Jeff. We did maybe 5 miles together, and were in second place at that point. There were four aid stations on the course, and the big one at the start/finish/lap area. After the second or third aid station, I lost Bennett and Jeff, never to be seen again. I was running by myself and feeling pretty good. I made a point to walk up hills that were really steep, half for energy conservation, half for efficiency. I mean, running up these scrambles was maybe slower because of the sheer steepness. Steep up, steep down, but also a lot of flat running on horse trails.

At another aid station, I departed with another guy. I wanted to latch right onto him, and once he sensed my light behind him, he jumped to the side and let me take the lead. And he latched right on to me! Eh, whatever, it’s nice to kind of zone out on someone’s heels, but this allowed me to go my own pace and I get some bonus light from the back. We ran a good few miles together without much conversation, and then bumped out to a nice flat road. He came on my side and we started chatting a bit. His name was Nate and he was from Bemidji. Two first time 50 milers, and we were probably in 3rd and 4th place. He didn’t really have a goal time, but mentioned his wife was running the 17 mile and his kids were at an aid station. We came through the fourth aid station on the course, I lost Nate, and few miles later I completed my first lap. My watch said 2:45 or so… really good time considering 10 minute pace for 16.7 miles comes out to 2:47. Literally right on track. Perfect! I had set the auto lap for 6 miles and was trying to catch my mileage on the hour… so at 1:00, I should be at 6 miles, 2:00 is 12 miles, 3:00 is 18 miles, etc… I fueled up, feeling good, feeling confident, and set off on the second lap.

At this point, I was by myself. I was feeling pretty sore and tight. Nothing really in particular, but I could feel my legs were fatigued for sure. I wasn’t really mentally tired, like “I need sleep”, but physical exhaustion was definitely setting in. I thought it was too early for that and got kind of nervous. Oh, well, I thought to keep running smart, hit this 10 minute pace, and if I can do another 2:45, I have a 40 minute buffer to slow down on the last lap to hit sub-9 hours. I climbed the first big hill out of the River Bottoms start/finish/lap area, looked down and saw the lights from the mini village I’d just departed way down there. “See ya later,” I thought to myself, and started down into the dark wilderness alone.

I was passing a lot of 100 milers, who were going on 21 hours of continuous forward progress with no sleep. Most had pacers, and it was a 50/50 split of good spirits and bad spirits. I tried to be energetic and positive towards all of them that I passed, and half were with it, half didn’t respond! Who knows what’s going in their minds. Not just at that moment but in general…

At the second aid station, I ran up to get drink a little Coke and heard my name. It was Dan, my cousin-in-law! That was great to see him… he started as a triathlete but morphed into an ultramarathon enthusaist. He’d done pretty well at Zumbro 100 a few years back, and said that he’s been volunteering at the aid station the past few years. He thought I was in second place… sweet!! I didn’t really believe him, though. Maybe Kurt was way, way up there and the other guy that went with Kurt off the bat was who Dan thought was leading the race. Oh, well, I left the aid station in a great mindset and feeling good.

The whole second lap, I felt more and more tired; more and more sore. Also, I wasn’t hungry and was forcing a gel every now and again when I felt like I needed to. Nasty, but I knew the race hinged on staying on top of food intake. I was super gassy, and either burping or farting every step. Probably the Chubway sandwich. The second lap felt much more flat than the first. Yes, the hills were extreme, but the course, for whatever reason, seemed to be mostly flat and runnable terrain the second time around. Maybe it was because I was by myself.

Halfway through the second loop, I came back upon Nate. He was going really slow down a super steep section, and again jumped out of the way to let me pass, then latched onto me. I wasn’t really cookin’ at the time, and maybe Nate was going through a little rough patch, but I made some time on him, and his headlamp became more and more dim until it was unseen in the early morning darkness. “Old man can’t hang,” I thought. My stomach was feeling a little off… I was eating ShotBloks intermittently and a gel every 1.5 hours or so. At the aid stations, I definitely went for Coke, but it was freezing! So I’d melt the icy slush in my mouth. I suppose the stuff that doesn’t freeze is like Coke concentrate. Just gimme the sugar and the caffeine! I knew I should be eating food with substance… savory items like grilled cheese and soup and pb&j and stuff, but all that looked appetizing was candy, pretzels and maybe some trail mix. I wondered if this would sustain me?

Running by myself in a sandy river bottom that had been gorged out by thousands of years of water flow, it hit me. The gels and the Scrubway, and nature calls. I had to poop, BAD. I tried to walk it off (cue the Unk song), looking behind me for Nate to pass me in my time of peril, but it was getting worse. I stopped dead in my tracks, half by necessity as not to poop my tights, half in hopes it would subside. “C’mon body, I’m sure you can use some of this!” I thought. “Recycle it for energy!!” I don’t think it works like that and I knew I had one choice, to poop in the woods and keep running. So I trudged off, handful of brown and crunchy leaves, a few feet off the trail. Squat, hope it doesn’t hit my shoes, and get this over with. Sure enough, I looked up and saw a headlamp bobbing in the distance. As not to expose myself to my new buddy Nate (that is not something one can erase from one’s memory), I turned off my headlamp. Ok, now I’m just being creepy, I thought. He can obviously hear me rustling… so I yelled out.

“Yo, Nate! Is that you?”

I saw his headlamp swivel.

“Um, yeah.”

“It’s Mike. I had to take an emergency dump over here.”

“Ummmmm. Ok. Uh, the trail’s over here when you’re done.”

“Yeah thanks,” I replied, as he ran off into the darkness. What an unpleasant experience. Not the Nate conversation, but just the whole situation with the crunchy leaves, and, well, I’ll spare the comprehensive details. Let’s just say…. I had leaves in my butt. On the flip side, it would have been a long 8 miles turtle-walking to the next porta-pottie.

So I was back on track here, feeling much better from an internal organ standpoint anyways. I caught back up to Nate pretty quickly, and we got to the third aid station shortly thereafter. I didn’t need food or slushy coke, but I asked a volunteer if there was a porta-pottie there. “Uh, no,” he replied. Whatever, I just ran off. I thought it was kind of a snarky response, but then realized that this volunteer had probably been out here pooping in the woods for almost 24 hours. How are they going to get a porta-pottie into this remote location?? We were literally in the middle of a million acre tract of state forest. Duh!!

I left in front of Nate and he quickly drifted back, never to be seen again. I ran the flat road by myself this time, and before long, I was done with lap two. It was a tough lap. With the poop debacle, feeling sore, feeling tired, and I’d slowed down quite substantially. I had song stuck in my head for hours, and I was timing my running cadence to the guitar line of REM “Everybody Hurts”.

At my little drop bag, I switched out some garbage for another round of gels and a new pack of orange ShotBloks (with caffeine!). I stopped at the porta-pottie there to take care of some unfinished business, and my watch read 5:50 or so. Eh… a solid 3 hours for the second lap, but I still had a buffer of about 3 hours and 15 minutes to get under 9. That’s a pretty even slowdown, and to be expected. On one hand, I have 33.3 miles in my legs and every single mile after 35 is a new record for the longest I’ve ever ran. It is expected that I get more and more exhausted, and the harder and harder it will be to maintain a pace of 10 minutes per mile. On the other hand, I could see it was getting bright out. The sunshine will surely be a source of energy and positivity. Before I left for lap three, I yelled out and asked what place I was in. Third.

So I set off by myself, a deep violet hue on one horizon… what a beautiful sign of things to come. On the other horizon was pitch darkness. I figured that since I was in third, when I’d seen Dan and he said I was in second place, my Bemidji pal Nate was in front of me and that’s who Dan thought was in first place at the time. Well, I’d passed Nate and it was probably Kurt and this other guy crankin’ out in front. I wondered if they were together and how far up. Who is this other guy? Is he the real deal? I know Kurt is the real deal and maybe this guy is exploding himself by going with Kurt from mile 1 on. Oh, well, my focus was to stick 3 hours. If I can run an even lap, I’d finish right before 9am and get my sub-9 hour race. My watch read 6 hours as I crested the top of the first big ridge right out of the start/finish area. It had become really light really fast, and I finally got a lay of the land. Straight up bluff country. The start/finish area definitely looked like a village now, and I saw hundreds of cars parked. I couldn’t help but yell “MORNIN’!!!!” at the top of my lungs.

“Mornin’ cars! Mornin’ rocks! Mornin’ trail! Mornin’ birds! Mornin’ leaves! Mornin’ wood!”

I had a second wind and knew I had to leave it all out here. My body was becoming really fatigued. The urge to stop was almost overwhelming, but unlike many other races I’ve done, I could actually keep my pace up. But the pain was imminent. It was becoming a mental game here.

I was passing a few 100 milers, and it was easy to give some positive notes of encouragement regarding the dawn of their second day. The light was well received by everyone. I noticed that I was running fast. I was hauling ass. The third lap seemed even more flat and runnable in the light. However, I would become fatigued very easily. For instance, I could stick a 9 minute pace for a mile on the relatively flat horse trails, and would be so happy to get to an uphill where I had to hike up, just when I thought I couldn’t run another step I’d get relief from the hill. It worked different muscles. By the top of the hill, I would be using my hands to scramble, breath heaving, and so thankful to run again. When the downhill came, it felt so nice to rest the calf muscles and let my quads do the work. By the time I got to the bottom of the hill, by toes were so jammed up, knees in pain and would be extremely happy to get back into a groove at 9 minute pace on the flats. The variability in terrain was a huge advantage at this point in the race where all of my muscles were pretty much toast, but I could switch up what muscle groups I was using every other half hour.

I was passing 100 milers power hiking up the unrelentingly steep bluffs, and on the flats, running past them like they were standing still. Well, most of them were standing still! I broke up the loop in my mind… keep it together for the first half, run a solid pace. Keep on the nutrition and eat ShotBloks. Don’t slow down, and power up the hills with a purpose! Once I’m at the biggest uphill section, it’s go-time. After that, a mile along the ridge, then the most challenging downhill part. This last big downhill was a boulder-strewn section right after we run adjacent to a farm. There’s no good path to take. But after that is the flat road for about a mile. Then, it’s 3 miles of relatively flat, relatively easy trails, the final aid station and other mile or so to the finish. Once I get to the flat road, it’s time to crank and bring it home.

The least taxing was the downhills, but I could feel the toll they were taking on my body. First off, my big toe on my right foot was completely jamming the end of my shoe. I figured I’d lose that whole toenail. And my knees were really gettin’ it. Old man status. But I was making really good time. I made it down the last big downhill, past skull-sized boulders everywhere, without twisting either ankle or blowing out my knees, and it’s on. I was running as fast as possible on the flat road, and dipped into the 6’s. Well, 6:55 pace for a minute or two anyways. I was feeling good, only because my brain was emitting chemicals that made me feel so. In reality, I was falling apart big time. My body was toast, hips, feet, knees especially, my shoulders and triceps… just general exhaustion.

I made it to the final aid station and ran right through. I looked at my watch and it read 8:07. Holy crap! I can make 8:20! I really kicked it down on this last bit of trail section in hopes I’d get a sub 10 minute pace. 100 milers were saying I was in second place. 8:20 came and went and it was just a matter of leaving it all on the course. At this point, the mantras kicked in. I was talking to myself, audibly grunting in pain, gritting my teeth, and saying to myself “leave it all out here, leave it all out here”. The urge to stop running was overwhelming.

Finally, the trail curved downwards, then bumped out onto the last little road into the campsite. I sprinted past some 100 milers, past the gate where some spectators were cheering, and saw the cars and the campfires, and the big group of 17 milers congregating for the start of their race. I ran through the finish and hit my watch at 8:32.

Photo Credit: Julie Ward

Photo Credit: Julie Ward

Photo Credit: Julie Ward

I did the celebration I’d been thinking of for five hours. “YEAH DOGGIE!”, I yelled, and then did a whip-crack motion. A volunteer jokingly told me that I was being too excited.

Photo Credit: Julie Ward

My mom was right there, which was nice, and she gave me a big hug. She then bombarded me with what I need. Water? PB and J? Chips? What do I need? She grabbed her phone for a pic with me and my finishers medallion.

“I don’t want anything, no pictures, no pictures, I fucked up my legs,” I mumbled in a disgruntled and disheveled blur.

I plowed past her and sat on a table to take my jacket off. I was really warm, and put my head in my shirt and closed my eyes for a second. A race coordinator came up with a picture frame with ‘First Place Male Open’. Neat! I asked him the scoop… I’d just come in second place and of course, Kurt won in record time. We took a picture and I mustered a big-ass smile.

I talked to mom a bit, but all I could really say that it was really fun but my legs hurt bad and I was in big pain. Throbbing pain in every muscle below the waist where you get no relief if you stand or sit or walk or just decide to blast your legs clean off. I changed clothes, chugged some water, refueled, and spent the rest of the morning around the campfire and watching other racers come in. I did talk to Kurt, he’s probably the most modest dude in the world… and he said that the other guy that went with him got too cold on the second lap and either dropped out or fell way off or something. Wait, HE got cold? Kurt, meanwhile, completed the race in short shorts and a singlet. Coca-Cola was freezing in the 2 liter bottle and Kurt was running with no sleeves??!? And his buddy from Mankato got too cold?

Zumbro was quite the experience. Pure fun, pure enjoyment and adventure. I think it was the best executed race I’ve ever done. In terms of going in with a plan of what is the limit of my abilities and sticking to the plan, it was the best I’d ever done and it paid off. The 50 mile format is certainly fun, and I’d be a fool to skip Voyager 50 mile this summer!

Garmin data


Race Stats:

Shoes: Nike Terra Kiger 3 size 11
Handheld: Nathan insulated 18oz
Food: 4 or 5 gels of various flavors (all caffienated!), nearly 2 packages of ShotBloks, one Honey Stinger Waffle, many handfuls of pretzels, trail mix, gummi candy, and M&Ms, one small slice of potato covered in salt (nasty), and maybe three electrolyte capsules, a few cups of Coke.
Approximate Loop Splits: 2:46, 3:06, 2:40

Time: 8:32:31
Pace: 10:15
Place: 2/128

Project goal:

  • Easy to make
  • Covers the whole hammock and pulls taut
  • Lightweight (under 10 oz)
  • Can be set up as a ground tarp with trekking poles
  • Looks super cool with the dual-color design

Final specs (click here to go to finished pics):

  • Total weight (with string up kit): 262 grams, 9.24 oz, 0.58 lbs
  • 10′ 3″ long ridgeline by 7′ 97″ wide at the widest


  • 7 yards 1.1 oz Silnylon (3 yards Robin Egg Blue, 4 yards Real Teal)
  • 1 yard 2.2 oz HEX70 ripstop nylon (Vader Blue)
  • 25′ 1.75mm Zing-it
  • 1 yard- 5/8″ Grosgrain ribbon
  • 1 yard- 1 3/8″ Grosgrain ribbon
  • Black 100% polyester thread


Lay out and cut fabric:

Cut the Real Teal Silnylon to 10′ 4″ long and lay it out. Cut 2- 20″ wide sections of Robin Egg Blue Silnylon all 3 yards long. Align the Robin Egg strips on each long side of the Real Teal section in the center. That is, leave approximately 1/2 yard of Real Teal on each short side. Stack and pin them so the outside sides are touching.

Stitch fabric together with flat felled seam:

Use a flat felled seam to connect the three pieces of fabric. If you want a better description of this type of sewing technique, go to Google and/or YouTube. To start, run a straight stitch on each side with about 1/2″ seam allowance. Try to keep the layers lined up as best as possible. With the lightweight and waterproof Silnylon, it’s pretty difficult to keep things together. The fabric is super slippery and it takes patience to keep everything lined up.



Then, pull apart the layers, fold the longer layer (in my case it was the Real Teal) over the shorter layer (Robin Egg Blue), and then fold once more so no rough edges are exposed (essentially a rolled hem… look that up on YouTube if you need to know).



Cut to shape:

Following a cat-cut design on the Ripstop By The Roll website (click here and look under the Instructions tab), mark out the corners at 2′ in from the very end. This should leave 6′ between each corner tieout. At the middle of the tarp, measure 6″ up. This will be the highest point of the curved cut. Then, stretch a long and flexible PVC pipe along the marks to trace the curve with a marker. Make a mark in the exact middle of the short sides of the rectangle for the end tieouts/ridgeline. For the side curves, just freestyle it! After the cuts, the tarp should be in its final shape.

Sew a rolled hem around the entire perimeter:

Start sewing a rolled hem. If you need to know what that is, Google or Youtube is a great source. Don’t sew the corners or the end without adding the reinforcement corners!

Sew in corner reinforcement corners:

Custom cut triangles of HEX70 ripstop to fit each of the four corners, and rectangles for each long end. When sewing the rolled hem around the perimeter, slide the reinforcement patch under the fold and sew it in.




It helps tremendously to pin the corners as you sew the reinforcement patches in. This is definitely not the spot that you want a sloppy stitch, and a clean fold will make things much easier!

Cut Grosgrain ribbons:

By now, the tarp has taken shape and is pretty much done. This is the last sewing step. Cut the wide Grosgrain into 12- 2″ (?????) strips. Use two for each corner, and two for each end. Cut the skinnier Grosgrain into 6- 4″ strips for the tie-down loops.

Sew ends:

To make the loops, simply fold the skinny Grosgrain into a loop with and make the same side up.


With the tarp’s outside layer down, stack a loop and a strip of wide Grosgrain on top. Tack this on, then sew the perimeter, then add a few more stitches for extra reinforcement. Then, sew the second wide Grosgrain right below, with a slight overlap. Be sure to only sew three sides, allowing for a ‘pocket’ for a trekking pole or stick for use as a ground tarp. Repeat for the other end.





Sew corners:

Use the same loop technique, but sew the wide Grosgrain ribbons to make an L shape/right angle. Make sure to use plenty of reinforcement stitches!



Tie Zing-it tieouts:

The tarp is essentially done! All that’s left is to attach the tieouts. I used two half-hitches on the loop side, then a taut line hitch to form another loop for the stake side.






21 Feb 2016

Climashield Winter Hammock Underquilt

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Project goal:

  • Good to around 20 degrees in the hammock.
  • Around 1 lb, give or take a few ounces
  • Bungee cinches at the end
  • A channel running the entire length, making it easier to string up and adjust
  • 6ft long, 4 ft wide
  • ~$75 in materials

Final specs (click here to go to finished pics):

  • Total weight: 895 grams, 31.57 oz, 1.97 lbs
    • Without hangup kit: 835 grams, 29.45 oz, 1.84 lbs
  • 69″ long by 43″ wide (5.75′ x 3.58′)


  • 2 yards 7.5 oz/yard Climashield Apex
  • 2 yards 1.0 oz/yard calendared HyperD Diamond Ripstop – red
  • 2 yards 1.1 oz/yard calendared Ripstop Nylon – grey
  • Gutermann MARA 70 thread
  • 5 yards Paracord – white
  • 90″ tiny Bungee cord


Cut Fabric:

Cut one section of Diamond Ripstop and one section of grey Ripstop to 50 inches wide by 78 inches long. Cut two sections of grey Ripstop 5 inches wide by 78 inches long. The two big pieces are the top and bottom of the quilt, and the two skinny pieces make the long channels for paracord for stringing.


Sew hems:

Sew a rolled hem along all edges of all four sections.





Cut insulation:

Lay the two large sections on the ground, match the corners as best as possible. Then, lay the insulation on top and cut any large sections off. Ideally, insulation will stick out 1/4″ from every side.

Layer and pin:

In the sewing machine, the insulation is against the machine. With calendared fabric, the outside side is the matte side, the inside side is the shinier side. Place the matte sides together. The 5″ channel is to be folded in half, with the fold towards the inside. Then layer, from bottom to top: insulation, red Diamond Ripstop (inside layer), folded channel, and grey Ripstop (outer layer). Line all fabric layers as close as possible without bunching up. Pin the two long sides first. Be careful to pin with enough room for the channel. If the channel is out of line, there will not be enough room for the paracord or it will simply miss the stitch.




Sew long sides:

Run a straight stitch along both long sides, trying to get as close to the rolled hem stitch as possible, but without going over (keep the rolled hem stitch towards the outside). Fold the channel in so there is a 2″ gap between the ends.


Sew one short side (foot side):

Run a straight stitch along one small side, careful to sew outside of the 2″ where the channel stops. If you accidentally sew the channel shut, the paracord will not be able to pass through!

Sew 15″ in from each side of the other short side (head side):

Starting from the top of the other shorter side, sew in 15″, leaving a break to flip the whole quilt right-side out. Then, starting 15″ from the bottom, sew down.


Stitch the perimeter:

Once every side has been stitched (except the one short side, where there is a gap to flip the whole quilt right-side out), do another straight stitch to reinforce the previous stitching. Aim to sew just inside the previous stitching.

Flip the quilt:

Make sure that the stitching looks nice and consistent, and that there are no big problem spots. Then, shove the entire quilt through the hole on the one short side to flip the quilt right-side out. Then, inspect the channel to make sure there are no major issues.


String paracord through the channel:

This was tedious at best… In hindsight,I’d make the channel, much bigger. At spots, the channel was no more than 1/8″ tall pulled taut–just wide enough to fiddle the paracord through. Also, when I flipped the ends of the channel back, I didn’t sew it to the sides, so there was open fabric that got caught on the paracord as I tried to get it through the other side of the tunnel. Eventually, I got both sides through and tied a quick stopper overhand knot to ensure it wouldn’t slip back through!


Sew the open end shut:

Mash the ends together and sew them closed. Make sure there are no gaps or holes and you can no longer see any insulation. I didn’t use any sort of special technique here, just try to match the sides so there is no bunching.

Prepare material for bungee cord enclosure:

Measure and cut 2 strips of grey Ripstop Nylon 6″ wide by 44″ long. Measure 2- 45″ lengths of bungee cord. Sew a rolled hem on every side.


Sew in the bungee cords:

Fold the enclosure strip in half and place the bungee at pit of the fold, like a taco fold. Stitch as close to the outside of the fold as possible without going completely on top of the bungee cord.


Make grommets at the ends, then scrap ’em:

Hammer in four grommets to the end of the enclosure so the cord can pass through. Prepare to pin the cinch cord enclosure on to the quilt. Here is where I realized the grommets were not the right way, so I scrapped ’em! The bungee cord runs by the grommet on its way out, hence, no use for the grommets at all.

Pin and sew cinch cord enclosure on the quilt:

Wrap the enclosure strip stitching down, around the short ends of the quilt. Aim for the direct center, where the bungee cord is sewn in, to be directly on top of the quilt seam. Then, sew it on!










30 Jan 2016

Cross River, In Winter

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Hike Date: January 22 – 24, 2016

Trail: Superior Hiking Trail

Trip Plan: 2 nights, 17 miles, park at Cook County Road 1
Day 1 – Hike South to Dyer’s Creek Campsite (1 mile)
Day 2- Hike North to North Cross River Campsite (6.5 miles), then day hike to Temperance River and back (4 miles)
Day 3 – Hike South to Cook County Road 1 (5.5 miles)


Weather: (from Weather Underground)

Grand Marais Temperature 1-22 to 1-24





Trip Synopsis:

Day One – January 22, 2016:

I woke up on Friday, having stayed up late the night before packing and planning my food stores, and questioned whether or not I’d really go to work, leave at 5, bike home, pack the car and leave for the woods in the dark. If I don’t go, I could make sure my gear is on lock, I could enjoy a nice sleep inside, and hike while it’s light out. If I stick to the plan, I get the satisfaction of sticking to a plan. The choice seemed pretty easy, but I kept the option open. When 5 tolls of the bell rang through downtown Duluth, I was off on the bike. It was a beautiful evening and was finally light enough to bike home without a myriad of blinky lights. A few wispy clouds and a pink hue was shining over the hillside. Yep, I had to go out tonight.

It’s been a goal of mine to embark on a true multi-night backpacking trip. Overnighters are so easy, and great fun, but two nights would surely provide a few different challenges and that is the natural progression. Not that I’d be out of the winter camping game after this, but I really wanted to get a two-night excursion in winter under the belt. The New Year’s two-night trip went south, figuratively speaking of course, and it would truly be a shame to see the snow melt having not done a three-day, two-night trip in the wintertime.

I got home and felt disorganized. Diamond looked up at me so longingly, like she’s been patiently waiting all day for this moment for when we could play or go run. She had no idea what she was in for! I quickly ran to the grocery store to get dinner to eat on the road and few snacks. Jack was home, and we agreed we’d meet at the North Cross River campsite, the last one before Temperance River, on Saturday night. He was thinking about hiking from Temperance southbound to the site, which was about 2.5 miles from Temperance State Park. A last minute measurement of my pack weight, I changed into my hiking gear, and Diamond and I were off into the starry night.

The plan was to hike near Temperance River. I’d not been that far north on the SHT, and I found a perfect route from the Cook County Road 1 parking lot, which I saw on the SHT website was plowed for the winter. (Now that I look back, it’s not on the list of trailheads being plowed. I don’t know what I read…). Diamond and I could yo-yo south the first night, double back past the car to the Cross River or maybe even to Temperance,then back southwards on Sunday to the car. The drive up on Friday was looking like an hour and 40 minutes given good road conditions, which was putting us at 8 o’clock or later to start hiking for the night. There were two campsite options: 1.1 miles to Dyer’s Creek, or the next site 4.5 miles south from the lot. From the car, north to the last campsite on the Cross River, but before Temperance River, was around 5.5 miles. We have options, and the plan was to play it by ear. If we were looking at really tough hiking like the Demonstration Forest, there’s no way we’d be trudging 4.5 miles until midnight or later the first night…

The drive to Schroeder was easy. The moon was nearly full and just beaming. It was pretty serene driving along the big Lake with the moon reflecting a silvery glow off of the massive Lake Superior to my right. Around 8pm, we parked. I had a tough time finding where the trail was and where to park, but we found it. I struggled to get everything in order, and Diamond just hates wearing her dog jacket, so it was frustrating to get set up. The anxiety of just getting on the trail escalated the situation. I locked up the car, put on my snowshoes and hoisted the backpack upon my shoulders. By now, I was shivering! I reassured my companion, “Ok, Dime, we’re walkin’!”



My hand were freezing within one second of hiking. We easily found the trail and entered the dark tunnel of trees. I had my headlamp on its lowest setting, and wondered if the moon was enough to light the way. It seemed like my headlamp was doing nothing, but turning it off was scary, as it turned out! It was picturesque night. The snowy evergreen forest reflected moonlight at every angle. The only sounds were our footsteps, breathing, and crinkling of water-resistant nylon. Before long, we bumped out to Dyer’s Lake Road. If my memory of scoping out maps served me correctly, we were already pretty close to the first campsite and had been hiking for no more than 15 minutes. Not bad! Next, we joined paths alongside a creek. This must be Dyer’s Creek. We followed the contours of the crick–up, down, around the bend–and at 26 minutes on the watch, we came upon the Dyer’s Creek campsite and a bridge. That was too fast! 8:30pm is pretty early to get to bed, so I decided we’d try for the next campsite over 3 miles further. We were cruising along at least 2 miles per hour, so I figured we’d be there by 10. Quickly set up the tent, crawl in and go to bed. I tried to do some quick calculations as we crossed the bridge past the campsite: we’d be snuggled in by 11 or so and very comfortable, according to my calculations! Around a bend, through a thicket, and then Diamond stopped. The trail seemed to lead to a huge steep mound. I looked around, but we were on the right track. I convinced Diamond to continue upwards, and I followed. This hill was so steep it look liked a scramble during the other three seasons. Each foot step was just to lift my foot upwards as much as possible. Another footstep and I got a good look at my new gaiters, new shoes and snowshoes I was wearing. Since they looked puffy, I reached towards my ankles and felt the gaiters packed full of snow! Crap… I looked up, looked down at my feet, and kept scanning my eyes down towards the path we’d just tracked. I told Diamond we’d just go back, about one minute past the first campsite. How valiant, I thought sarcastically.

Frustrated with these faulty, dumb new gaiters, we bounded down the 30 vertical feet we’d just climbed. Back across the bridge, I stomped down a trail to the Dyer’s Creek campsite. I let Diamond off the leash, relieved her of her pack-carrying duties, and then took my pack off, too. Her dog jacket was already caked in ice balls. Maybe that’s why she hates wearing it so much… I opened my pack to reach the essentials. First, tent. It went up pretty easily, but the snow was very granular and I had issues setting stakes tightly into the ground. Diamond came back around and decided to bark at me. Perfect, Diamond, this makes my life so much easier. Yep, yep, thanks for the feedback. Shrill barks as to say “screw you, dad”.

I yelled, “SHUT UP!!!!! Quit fucking BARKING!!!!!!” Not that I’m a very foul-mouthed person, but I didn’t think anyone out there would hear me, and yelling at the top of my lungs is the only way I can compete with this loud and annoying beast. Maybe I misinterpreted and she was saying “dad, I’m cold!”. I took off my rain pants and stupid new gaiters, which I’d have to revisit the next day.

I set the items I’d need for overnight in the tent, and left everything else in my backpack right outside the tent door. I shoved that freak animal inside and took one second to mentally prepare for the struggle of getting myself and Diamond in a comfortable position to sleep. I was worried I’d push a misshapen divot into the soft, snowy ground. I grabbed my huge bag of snacks and started munching a bit. I added my wool hat and wool sweater, then situated my puffy North Face jacket, packed into its own pocket, in the hood of my sleeping back. With nothing else to do, I turned out my lamp and laid down. I was a bit chilly that night, but Diamond provided a great source of heat.

Day Two – January 23, 2016:

I fed Diamond early in the morning, then got up around 7:30am. With a full day of hiking planned, I started getting ready as early as possible. I ate a few snacks, let Diamond out of the tent and looked around at the mess, plotting out how to shove it back in the pack. Well, I just started shoving things in. It was not long before Diamond got bored with exploring the campsite and peeing on trees and came back to bark at me. I told her to scram. She spun around in a circle and kept barking. I reiterated, with no regard for her feelings. “Scram, bitch! AHHHHHH!” Why I was screaming, I don’t know. It’s so easy to snap like that when you’re out in the woods in the middle of winter, trying to complete a simple task like rolling up a tent. I thought to myself: my hands are cold, this is dumb, I’ll stomp Diamond into the ground, oh, nice, she grabbed her water dish and drug it into the snowy woods. “FUUUUUUUUUU!”


One of my favorite mantras while racing is “things can be positive or negative. It has to be all positive from here on out.” To say, pretty much, you can have a positive mindset or a negative mindset. The later is not constructive and does nothing for you, so one might as well be positive. However, I found that yelling and screaming at Diamond was kind of fun and relieving. A dog trainer would say differently.



I hoisted the pack onto my back and we were off. I started my timer and was excited to see what the hike last night looks like in the daytime. We got back to the car in about the same time… a tad under 30 minutes. I barely looked at the car, simply acknowledged the fact that I didn’t get towed during the night. We came upon the actual SHT parking lot, covered in deep snow, and the sign said .8 miles south to the campsite we were just at, and 5.5 miles north to our destination. Between that one, the North Cross River campsite, was four other campsites, which makes it easy to track our progress. So we set off truckin’.




I pulled out my phone and tried to warm it. Jack requested I call him first thing in the morning, but I had no cell service. I kept checking periodically. The hike was through a huge deciduous forest. We snaked up a hillside, providing a great view of the woods. A few more steps northwards and I saw the grey lake in the distance. Also, I saw a big radio tower, checked my phone and had full service! I called Jack with no answer. Then, I saw a sign “Tower Overlook.” Nice.



We kept on truckin’. I tried again to reach Jack, and he answered. I noted the time at around 10:30am, and was surprised to hear that he’d just woken up! Jack told me he should probably get his ass out of bed, and we disconnected. I turned my phone off. Walking across a lowland crick, I did a few calculations. If Jack left immediately, drove straight to Temperance River State Park, he’s looking at 3 o’clock or so to get to the campsite. And that’s hiking pretty quickly, too. I’ll give him until 4pm.

We came to the first campsite at 1 hour 20 minutes in, give or take. I figured it was a tad less than half way, and we’d been hiking really well so far. After passing the site, we followed along a bog for a mile or more. It was flat, but the snow had blown around and we went through a few sections of crusty drifts right in the middle of the trail. Everything was still holding up well, and my careful gaiter tie job was keeping my feet dry. Then all the sudden, I lost the trail. Not again! I remembered what had happened last time I lost the trail: I figured the path turned around the trees towards the widest pathway, but it actually just went straight through a thicket. I tromped around, thinking about where the trail could possibly go. Luckily, I wasn’t very far from the last marking. I stood near the tree that was emblazoned with a blue streak, then looked straight ahead and walked that straight path. It went under an evergreen branch, and I was back on track! When in doubt, just go straight.



Soon thereafter, Diamond and I met up with the Cross River. The landscape changed from the boggy lowland to the dynamic riverside. We saw a sign for Cross Falls and the first of four River campsites. These sites were pretty close together, so I figured we were right around the corner.




The Cross had plenty of rapids where the water would appear from upstream, exposed to the frigid air, only to disappear under massive blocks of ice a few feet further downstream. The shapes and formations were cool, no pun intended. We climbed, climbed, climbed, then down, down, down. With snowshoes, the downhills were fun to ski down. We clicked off each campsite. I remembered the Ledge campsite looking really cool… that may be a good spot to check out during the summertime. Time was moving slow and I was ready to set down for lunch. I counted three campsites and knew we had one more.


We crossed a river bridge and headed up a steep set of stairs, then more uphill to a trail intersection. One way was to a spur trail and Adirondack shelter. The other sign was the main trail towards Temperance. I checked my map and realized we bypassed the campsite. I thought back and remembered reading ‘North Cross River’ on the site sign, but didn’t think anything of it until now. So we climbed back down, down the steep ladder-style steps and across the Cross River bridge. Luckily, that last North campsite was right across the bridge. We found quickly that the site we missed was just a few feet south on the trail, tucked away on the banks of the Cross. I set down my pack, let Diamond roam free, and went looking for water. I had been sipping on my water bladder since last night and was running a bit low. I took my 1.5 L plastic water bottle to the Cross. It looked like a glacier and I realized that I didn’t want to die by being trapped between gushing rapids and ice. We carefully traversed the banks, looking for a safe opening in the ice. I found a good option where the water was barely moving and wondered how it was exposed without freezing. I dunked the bottle down and impatiently waited for it to fill with cold hands. Back at the site, I put iodine in the bottle, prepared for a day hike by grabbing an aluminum foil-wrapped PB&J sandwich.

As we set off, walking over the Cross River bridge for a third time towards Temperance, I wondered if we’d catch Jack. My watch read 12:47pm. Weird. Time moves differently when you’re by yourself in the woods! I figured that if Jack was very hasty in getting up and out of Duluth, he could potentially be at Temperance River State Park at this exact moment. But there is literally no way he’d have made it any farther than that. I also thought to myself how I’d like to be back to the site by 3pm. We set off. Diamond was off the leash with nothing on her besides a collar. I had my water bladder with a half liter of water or less and a PB&J sandwich, most of which, at the time, was being chewed. I thought I could run to Temperance. The sign at the spur intersection said Temperance was 2 miles away. A quick 4 mile run would be nice! So I started running, but quickly realized that it was completely exhausting. I’d even ditched the snowshoes… but the 3-hour hike and snowy conditions were too much. I reverted back to walking. Oh, well, it’s still good practice. The first mile of our day hike was relatively easy. It was a beautiful day, we had left the Cross River completely and seemed to be atop a ridge. We curved to the left and stopped at a wonderful overlook. Neglecting to bring my camera was a mistake… I could see Temperance way off in the distance and it looked like a road. From there, it was straight down. This was fun, but I then realized I’d have to hike all the way back up this huge hill.

Before long, we were at the Temperance River. Diamond and I passed an SHT parking lot, then a road that looked like it was for strictly snowmobiles in the wintertime. Across the road, the trail joined the Temperance riverside. Beautiful, and with a markedly different flavor than the Cross, Diamond enjoyed being near the icy spectacle. I recognized some areas of the river that I’d explored a few summers previous, doing some lazy river swimming and cliff jumping. I peeked at my watch, and it was almost 2pm. We’d made it to Temperance, and it was probably a good idea to turn around since we had a big valley to hike out of to make it back in an hour. And still no Jack…

The uphill trek wasn’t as bad as I’d thought, but my breathing was definitely heavier! Diamond was having a blast, and we were both happy to be hiking without packs on. In a flash, we were back to the site. I hoped my water bottle from two hours before hadn’t completely frozen over. A little slushy, yes, but luckily not a block of ice. My plan was to gather firewood, set up the tent, get food going, and then start a fire. I bundled up and looked for good burnables. I thought I was finding good wood, but I’d snap a few twigs and see green. I know I got a few good ones, though… I was having trouble finding nice thick branches for fuel, yet there were plenty of flaking birch trees to harvest the tinder I needed. I made a large pile and then started with the tent. Again, since we weren’t moving or doing anything, Diamond became bored and started barking. Um, I’m doing something, here! And again with the yelling and screaming. “You aren’t TIRED?!?!?!”

I got the tent set up, I got the stove set up, and now I started on a fire. I had a terrible base for it, and figured I could build up a platform with the green twigs, layer birch bark on top of that, and then add some of the dry twigs I’d found. I lit it, the birch bark went, and then the twigs took. I could see my small fire struggle to succeed, but offered some large lungfuls of oxygen. Then, “HEY THERE!!!”, and it was my long lost friend, Jack! I peeked at my watch: 3:58pm. Funny. He crossed the Cross, and we regaled of our respective hiking stories. Jack was dressed in his blue rain suit and looked pretty sweaty. He began setting up his area, and I looked back at the fire. Out. Dang. Jack made a confused remark about his tent. He misplaced his poles. They were on his bed and he was sure of it. I offered some solutions how we could string his tent up along the trees or look for branches. He’d taken my 30 degree down sleeping bag, my 20 degree synthetic bag had a bit of water and ice on it… Jack decided it wouldn’t work. He said he was going back, and offered me a ride. A compelling choice, but it was an easy decision. No, bro, we can string something up, I offered. But then, I realized and agreed to how uncomfortable that would likely be… a 30 degree bag in 20 degree weather. Or a a 20 degree bag frozen in my breath. And a ramshackle tent setup… probably not smart. However, it was already 4:30pm or so, and that meant Jack would be hiking back during dusk. I declined his offer, and just as soon as he’d arrived, he was gone and I was again left by myself. Oh, man. At least I have this restless beast as a companion. Not…

My food was almost ready, and my second attempt at a fire while Jack was there had already failed. I ate while Diamond watched carefully from the tent. I’d shoved her in there after her incessant barking drove me to the edge of sanity. The food was Ramen, half of my stroganoff mix, a few pieces of block cheese and summer sausage. It had all blended to a brothy, cheesy, noodle mixture that was unbelievably good. The cheese really added a fantastic element. After that, I packed the kitchen up and focused on getting a fire up once and for all. This time, however, I’ll do it right. My other attempts had burned a hole to the ground, so I have the advantage of a solid base instead of snowy sticks and half burnt, half frozen logs providing the ledge on which my fire would sit atop. I broke the tiniest and driest sticks into small pieces and made a pile. I gathered my tinder and compressed it into a ball, then made a shapely teepee with the kindling and had some bigger burnables nearby. One match, and the fire took. Then, I saw the twigs take a flame. I carefully put the larger sticks in a teepee formation, and kept blowing the whole time. I finally had a bonfire! I sat back, only to see the beautiful warm fire wane, the flames reduced to embers. I kneeled again to the freezing cold ground to blow and blow and blow. The fire started back up, but I quickly realized this was going to take drier wood and more effort to be a self sustaining, chillin’ fire. Screw this, I thought. My feet are freezing. I’m sick of blowing on these dumb twigs and getting smoke in my eye. The frustration set in and I decided to skip the fire and simply entertain myself inside the tent.

I snuggled in with Diamond and jotted down some thoughts in my trail log. I read some past entries to kill some time, and let my mind wander a bit. Becoming increasingly uncomfortable leaning on one arm, I laid my head down. What am I doing, I thought? I’ll just turn the light out for a bit, I figured. I checked my watch, which read 6:53pm. Jeez… I was going to be in this same cramped position for 12 more hours. But then my mind switched to a positive note. Here I was, night two in the dead of January in northern Minnesota, in my sleeping bag and tent in the middle of woods. And I was warm, dry and comfortable! I wasn’t going to die! Well, back up… I wasn’t warm, dry or comfortable at all. But I was warmer, drier, and more comfortable than someone who was to surely perish in the frigid Minnesota winter from hypothermia! To clarify, I was warm, dry and comfortable enough. I figured, from here, I’d just hang out for a while lying down in the dark. During the week, back in the real world, all I ever want is the time to do nothing… deliberately nothing. I yearn for the ability to stare at a wall. Work, dog, social life, exercise, chores… there is always one more thing on my list before I can do nothing for once. And here I was, with literally nothing else that I could or should do besides look at the top of my tent. It’s not so bad after all! Against my plans to hang out, I effortlessly eased off to sleep.

In typical camping fashion, I woke up periodically through the night. A warmer night, I shed my socks and long underwear and was truly warm snuggled next to Diamond. Maybe my bag stretched out or something, but I found many more sleeping positions that were comfortable, and the sleep was revitalizing after a full day on the trail.

Day Three – January 24, 2016:

Hearing snow, I rustled in the morning, wondering if I was to wake up with my gear buried. I arose again at 6:30am to feed Diamond. I rested my head as she scarfed her breakfast from the cramped corner. I realized I had indeed been cooped up in here for about 12 hours, and decided it was a fine time to pack up. So I hastily started organizing. Knowing that all I needed to have access to was some relatively dry hiking apparel, some food to fuel me on the 5.5 miles back, and water, I shoved as much as I could into the backpack, leaving a nice slot for the tent. Everything came together quickly as the morning light slowly illuminated our site. It was a cloudy day already, and halfway through rolling my tent back up, I was able to pack away my headlamp for good.



Everything together, we started hiking back south to the car. The first stop was the water hole. Again, this was the most dangerous part of the whole trip. How tragic would it be to survive a two-night backpacking trip and then perish on the last day trying to refill my water bottle in the aggressive Cross River? Would I be stuck under the ice until an unassuming early-season backpacker spots my icy fingers grasping a vial of iodine tabs on the half-melted river bank in spring? These are the thoughts I had as I precariously walked along the river in hopes to get a water refill and a cool picture of the frozen cliff a bit upriver.





We set off at a nice pace and knew that the first hour would be pretty tough walking. Past the Cross River section, though, the hiking is relatively easy, especially given that we’d packed down the big snowbanks along the bog the day before. Walking was surely easier this day, and my body felt great. 10 miles the day before really hadn’t worn me down at all, and I couldn’t decide if the long rest was good or bad. One way or another, I did feel good, even considering I spent half of a day of laying on the cold, hard ground.





Soon enough, we climbed out of the Cross River valley.



Into the boglands, we were trucking. We hit that last campsite at around 2 hours, and I knew we had less than an hour left. I was munching on a few snacks, but it wasn’t even worth the effort to refuel my body knowing we’d be out of here in a few hours and able to eat a large breakfast at a roadside cafe or wait for a big ol’ greasy lunch at Culver’s in Two Harbors. We passed the real Cook County Road 1 parking lot and I knew we were close.




Sure enough, there was the car, peeking through the woods. I took a shortcut across a gravel pit access road, and we were back! I switched my shoes, packed it all in the foggy car, started her right up and we were off! An hour of driving and I decided breakfast was the ticket, and I stopped for a tremendously tasty meal of eggs, sausage patties, pancakes and coffee at a diner in Two Harbors. Judy’s Cafe was the spot, and it was great.

Planning and packing-wise, this trip was pretty much perfect until I look at the food I didn’t eat. My clothing setup was planned perfectly, and I had two pairs of socks, a pair of boxers, and a pair of gloves that I didn’t even touch. However, I wouldn’t want to keep much less than that out of my pack as backups. I never felt like I needed more insulation. Everything stayed relatively dry, and my 25 pound pack was svelte given the conditions. I did have a ton of left-over food, though. That’s tough call, because it would be a bleak existence to run out of food. And if worst comes to worst, I can wear my clothes, dry them out as needed, indefinitely. My sleeping bag can dry out if it became soaked. I have everything I need for an endless supply of water, and so realistically, my food would be the first thing to be depleted in an emergency situation. Then again, if worst comes to worst, I’d be able to walk to civilization within a few hours. And if it was truly an emergency in which I couldn’t walk out of (like the river ice scenario), I definitely would not be worried about having enough food to survive! So I think I can definitely work on being in tune with exactly how much food I need for future trips. Less, I guess!

This trip had its frustrations, but the happiness of success trumps the feeling of anger that arises as a beast of a dog is barking in your ear. And I can’t wait to go back.


Race Day: Saturday, January 16, 2016 – 9:30am

What a weird race! This was a fun way to ring in the 2016 race season. Time to knock the dust off… I felt like I hadn’t close to fast for months and months and I was very curious to whether I’d have any fast fitness. Actually, I started getting nervous! I recently read an article of an older guy named Ned Overend who was tearing up the cycling scene at 60+ years old. His secret was high intensity and cutting out the excessive volume. Crap! I’m doing the opposite! And at 26 years old, not getting any younger.

The excitement was for the frigid cold. I did the 5k and 10k last year, but the temperatures were in the 30s and I wore shorts. Forecasts were for a -7 high, below -15 for the overnight Friday to Saturday low, and that’s air temperature! Wind chill estimates were in the -35 range. Yeah, baby! The FYGBR tagline is “Only The Bold Run The Cold,” and I was excited for some actual cold air for once.

I drove up pretty late on Friday night with Kris and Skeeter. We stayed with Grant and Nick, and Kris and Grant were on timing duty the next day. We were at this nice cottage on Rainy Lake in Ranier, MN, just outside of International Falls. Kris and Grant were up really early, and Nick, Skeeter and I were able to sleep in to the luxurious hour of 8am. We fumbled around and got on the road by 9am or so, and miraculously had plenty of time to get our packets, get dressed up and warm up.

Nick and I did a little warm up jog, and boy, it felt great to open up for once! I wouldn’t say my legs felt super snappy, but it was fun. I could tell my wool cap on my head was going to be too warm, so I took it off before the race started. Even the 15-minute warmup was enough to know that my base layer tee-shirt and thicker poly long-sleeve was going to be sweltering, even in -15 degrees!

We lined up for the 5k, and I saw a bunch of singlets for the Northstar Running group. I asked a guy, complemented him on his sweet Nike Terra Kigers, and he told me that they were a running club out of the Twin Cities. Hm! All these guys looked a bit older, and I figured that Nick and I would go 1-2. I was warm from the pre-jog, and just stood there as everyone else was jumping up and down to stay warm. Then, ka-POW! The guy pulled the gun trigger and we were off.

I started off fast… really fast, and was out front immediately. It wasn’t long before Nick passed me, and not long before he had 10 feet on me, then 50 feet on me, then 30 seconds on me. Just as I suspected… There was a short out-and-back at the one-mile mark, and I had a decent lead on the the 3rd place guy. Yep, just need to keep a sustainable pace. I was feeling nice and toasty, and even had pulled my facemask below my mouth. My lips were feeling a bit numb, but otherwise, good clothing choices so far.

My mile 3, nothing had really changed. Nick was too far up, and the 3rd place person was too far back. I was feeling pretty good about my running, and had a good sense of my exertion level. However, it could be a 6:30 pace for all I know! By now, I was getting too warm. Also, my eyelashes were freezing up and my vision was actually narrowing because of the ice buildup! The course bumped out into this driveway or trail, and we could see the finish line. There were a few people, and I saw Nick finish. When I got to the last little stretch, I could see Grant swing the clock around towards me. 17:30 or so… nice. I finished and high-fived Nick. Then, when I turned back around, I saw the 3rd place guy coming through and volunteers near the trail hurriedly setting up a barricade to block the entrance that I took to get to that last little stretch. The runner was taking a different route to come through the finish the opposite way! Nick and I looked on inquisitively as people started coming in the wrong way. Or, we came in the wrong way. We did cut off maybe 400 meters or so… but would have won and got 2nd regardless. We talked quietly about what would happen. Would we get DQ’ed? Would there be an asterisk next to our names forever? Who knows… we headed in to warm up a bit and prepare for the next race in 40 minutes.

I stripped down immediately once we got inside the community college to avoid getting sweaty. I stripped off the thick poly long sleeve, and traded it for a thin quarter-zip long sleeve tech shirt. Then, we hung out and questioned what would happen in the results. Eventually, Nick and I decided to go back out to get some blood flow to our legs. I lost him, and did a really short and slow jog around the parking lot. It seemed colder! The wind whipped up, and I felt the difference between those mid-layer shirts.

Lining up for the 10k, I was jumping around with the rest of ’em. Grant told me that Nick and I would be disqualified from the 5k. Bummer!! That’s a motivator to race hard for the 10k, I guess. Dang. Mid-jumping jack, the race started primed the gunman for the start, then ka-POW, another gunshot rang through the frigid January air.

Again, I started off fast… even faster this time! I could tell Nick was right behind me for a while, and eventually went in front of me. I felt good. I was running fast, I could tell, but my breathing was under control and it felt like a sustainable pace, even at mile .25. Before the first mile, I was passed by a kid in snowpants, road Aisics, a hoodie under a jacket and a stocking cap with a poof on top. I wondered where he came from. I could see his eyes fixated on Nick up there, and we were evenly spaced at 15 seconds apart before too long. Unless this kid is the real deal, there’s no way Nick would let him catch up. We hit the first mile and I was a solid 3rd place.

Nick was pulling away, but me and this kid stayed about 15 seconds apart. I noticed his apparel again, and really thought about it. A hoodie? Stocking cap?? This kid must be sweltering!! Yes, it’s -30 Fahrenheit with windchill, but we’re running hard, and I know I’m wearing way less clothes than this kid. That is the Achilles heel. If can keep this kid in sight, I have over 4 miles to reel him in as he bakes in the heavy layers.

Just like I planned, I kept the kid in sight, and was slowly making up ground on him. At mile 4, we took a turn, and back on the straights, he was right there. I surged to get right on his tail. Then, I stayed there. I could feel our pace slowed, but I stayed right on his shoulder. Very hypocritical, as I hate when people do that to me, but I was pretty much as close to this kid as possible without running into his legs. I could see ice forming on his stocking cap, tipping me off that he was perspiring from his head, the vapor was evaporating to the outer layer, then freezing. He’s GOT to be hot. And, besides my elbows, I was the ideal temperature! I started formulating a plan: I’d stick on his shoulder for 2 more miles, playing mental games, and then pass him with authority the last .2 for the 2nd place title. However, it only took .2 miles for him to drop back. I wasn’t going to stop my momentum, so I took the lead. Now, he was sticking on my shoulder! Regardless, I wanted to keep it manageable and have enough in the tank to outlast the last half mile if necessary. Luckily, before the last mile marker, I’d built a pretty big lead on the kid. Turning into the home stretch, he was at least 15 seconds out, which was enough of a buffer to feel confident in a 2nd place! I paid extra attention turning in the finish chute, and was assured that I finished correctly! My eyelids felt the weight of icicles on them, and I had to do a quick cool down shuffle.

After the race, I knew my legs were pretty beat up. The 10k was far enough, and given the 5k right before, to feel some muscle soreness. However, I was pretty excited about how the race went! I jogged inside to warm up, and congratulated Nick on his second first place of the day… but the only one that actually counts!

Afterwards, we stayed for awards. Nick won a sweet wooden carving, I got a picture frame age group award and happened to win a 5k entry to another International Falls race later in the summer. Cool! Local Duluth runner Savannah Kent took the female win in both the 5k and 10k, and a bunch of Duluthians regaled in icy stories of the races. We all went to the runner’s reception at the local community center, and it was a jolly time! I-falls puts on a fun event!

Race Results

Race Stats:

Shoes: Nike Terra Kiger 3, size 11

5k (unofficial)*:
Time: 17:28
Pace: 5:37
Place: 2nd place*

*Cut the course, DQ’ed from the race

Time: 37:40
Pace: 6:04
Place: 2/87

Hike Date: January 1st – 3rd, 2016

Trail: Superior Hiking Trail

Trip Plan: 3 nights, ~50 miles, park at Lake County Demonstration Forest
Day 1 – Hike North to Silver Creek campsite (15 miles)
Day 2 – Hike South past Demo Forest parking lot spur to Big Bend Campsite (25 miles)
Day 3 – Hike North to Lake County Demonstration Forest

Gear: 1-1-16

1/1/16GramsOuncesPoundsTotal OZTotal LBS
First Aid21.521.34
First Aid Kit31611.150.70
Reflective blanket
3/4 full hand sani (2 oz)
6 band aids
2 large gauze pads
small roll athletic tape
Iodine taste tabs
Chap stick
4 AA batteries
15 matches
In a quart baggie
Quick Kit331.160.07
Full size Bic
Book of Matches
3 band-aids
In a quart baggie
Energizer lamp light combo2619.210.58
Red fuel canister9.50.59
Msr Stove40.25
Blue Spork100.350.02
3 socks1445.080.32
1 boxer
Long Underwear1675.890.37
Dark Blue Wool Sweater31511.110.69
TNF Thermoball jacket
Fleece Hood1344.730.30
Work Gloves
Leather Choppers
Comfort Items13.210.83
Pack towel3.40.21
Composition Book w/ pen2789.810.61
Triple pad: al ccf, 2/3 ccf, Gander self inflator117341.382.59
TNF Cat's Meow and compression sack45.22.82
Fly Creek UL 1 tent99835.202.20
Bag liner12.050.75
Diamond's Bag36.352.27

Trip Synopsis:

Day One – January 1st, 2016:

A new year is here, and what better way to spend the first three days than backpacking? The more I think about a Superior Hiking Trail through-hike, the more amped up I get. Therefore, I’m pretty dedicated on training myself as best possible to hike big miles day after day. Yeah, triathlons are very fun. Also, to be able to run really fast is great. However, I’m putting everything on the wayside (including, largely, my social life!) to best prepare myself for long distance backpacking. Long and slow, baby! I think it’s kind of funny talking to my running buddies… “nope, I’m going for the slow and long training approach this year. Really slow, like walking.”

Anyways, I knew I had a three-day weekend for the New Year, and started planning routes a bit out. I wanted to do a yo-yo style where I could just park in one spot and sandwich a big day between two shorter ones. Also, I wasn’t really getting any takers to come with for the whole trip, except my roommate Jack wanted to get out there for a night. Truth be told, a winter multi-day trip is pretty intimidating. I wanted to do one last year and didn’t get to it, and was super excited to face a whole different set of challenges. So without the ability to go point-to-point, I planned a 30-mile trip from the Demo Forest outside of Two Harbors, MN. Then, I started thinking…. I can do more. 25 miles in a day is possible, but it would take all day, sun up to sundown. I have to go out on a limb here, I have to put myself through the same rigors of Ironman training but for backpacking. I mentally prepared for some big miles, and decided that this is definitely the way to go.

Looking at my gear, I decided that the best bet for water would be a mid-layer water bladder carrier worn backwards on my chest. I used that for the Heck of the North bike race and it worked great. I can fill up using an empty 1-gallon jug and iodine purification tablets. Melting snow is slow and uses a lot of fuel and can result in nasty tasting water. Not that iodine is delicious… because it’s not, but I figured I can melt snow if push comes to shove, too. I got food that would probably not freeze, and the real mystery was pb&j sandwiches for lunch. As long as they’re not rock hard, they’d be edible. My last real concern was Diamond. Would she be able to haul ass for 8+hours a day? How much abuse can her teats sustain before they freeze off?? I’d just picked up a really nice dog jacket, though, and thought that would really increase her comfort levels at camp.

So on Friday, New Year’s Day, I loaded up the car and got ready to head out. I told Jack “I’d be there” in regards to meeting up on Saturday night at the Big Bend campsite. We were kind of slow getting going, and we left maybe an hour later than I was shooting for. It was no issue, though, and I was simply hoping to get to the first camp at Silver Creek before 4. If we can hike 3 MPH, that would be easy.

I thought I was going to get stuck at the hardly-plowed Demo Forest parking lot. I found a spot without getting stuck, but pondered the terrible situation of hiking 50 miles, then not being able to leave the lot, stuck in a rut all by myself!



We set off walking at around 10am and headed north out of the 1.2-mile spur trail from the lot. I decided to use snowshoes, cloth gaiters and lightweight trail runners. With the multiple pairs of socks, I knew I’d be able to have dry socks at night and to start the day, but I also knew that there’s probably no way around stone-cold frozen shoes in the mornings. The snowshoes were pretty clutch because there was a decent amount of powder on the ground, I’d say 8-12 inches, and I was breaking trail right off the spur trail.



I quickly noticed that the heavy snow had bent any weak limb in towards the ground with the aid of gravity. In sections of bramble or tight tree-lined corridors, the trail would be nearly entirely blocked. I could shake away the snow and the trees would spring back to their vertical stature, but to be shaking snow off and lifting trees many times each mile made for slow going and cold hands. And when the wind blew, or if I slightly nudged a branch, or perhaps an earth tremor occurred, I’d be at the risk of a cold dump of snow down the back of my neck. On the flip side, Diamond was having a blast.


I was making my way along and actually feeling pretty cold. Diamond’s sleeping bag and mat didn’t stay on her pack for one second, so I was carrying it in my hands as a warmer. I could already feel my feet soaking wet, but luckily not cold at all. I got to a section where it looked like a cross country skier made their way through. That must have been rough… all of the sticks and bramble were tough enough for my little running snowshoes. I couldn’t imaging getting through that thick with long, cumbersome skis on.

I was thinking about when I could stop for lunch and put on a layer. I knew there were a few campsites before the next trail head on Reeves Road and County Road 2 near Two Harbors. That would be a good spot perhaps halfway through the first day. I figured I was 4 or 5 miles in when I got lost. It had happened once or twice already, where Diamond and I got off track in the homogenous landscape–brown trees blanketed in white as far as the eye could see–to feel lost in it was dizzying. So we turned around and found the last blue blaze, then looked ahead. Never mind, we were on the right track after all! We kept trucking. Except it wasn’t the right way… there is no way that was the trail. So we stopped and looked around. I was squinting for a blue blaze on any tree. None! So we backtracked once again. I tried to coax Diamond into leading us to the correct bearing using her trail instincts. Once again, we were bushwhacking. I thought there was huge tree blocking the real trail, we hiked around it, but no nothing! Lost! I felt really panicked for a second. My feet were freezing, hands freezing, this is stupid! What am I doing? Ok, get back on track here. What can we do? There were a few options in my mind: hike back to that last blaze AGAIN and try something different, or keep going forward from here with no compass and no idea where on the map we actually are, or scrap this whole dumb trip. We’d already wasted at least a half hour just walking in circles in this small area in the woods in the middle of nowhere. Yep, we’re going back. I anger-walked back to that stupid last hash. I took one more glance around to see if I could come up with any other ideas on where to go. A straight-shot trajectory puts us right into a pine branch. Maybe that’s the right way, but today it is not. We’re going back. So I continued with the anger-walking and we backtracked. My chronograph said 2:15 or so.


The walking was much, much easier back through my own tracks. We were making pretty good time given the knowledge that in a few miles we’d be back in the car with the heat blasting. While hiking back to the car, defeated, I thought about staying overnight at a shelter near the Demonstration Forest parking lot. We could still meet Jack. Nah… this is over, we need to recoup. Plus it’s cold out. I figured Jack and I could come up with a totally new route for the next night.

We got back to the car in a flash, perhaps an hour and half or so. Luckily, the Subaru started up with no issue and we got out lickety split. We hungrily stopped at Culver’s in Two Harbors and then Diamond and I embarrassingly headed back to Duluth. It wasn’t very nice to explain to my roommates that I bailed after, like, 1/10th of the journey, and I also posted a valiant exclamation on Facebook about this trip. But alas, we were back. I figured we trekked between 6-10 miles all said and done, which is still 3 hours and 40 minutes of great practice!

Later that night, I talked with Jack and we decided it could work to park one car at Reeves Road and County Road 2, the other car back at the Demo Forest, and do the 11-mile section from the opposite way I was going the day before, camping at the Stewart River campsite right in the middle. This would be great because we would come to where got lost from the other direction, which would be nice to at least know where I went wrong! Jack and I didn’t make a solid commitment until right before bed, and aimed to get on the road by 9:45, stop at the gear shop to get Jack a closed cell foam sleeping pad, and be off by around 10:02 AM.

Day Two – January 2, 2016:

The next morning, we were a little slow to get off. Jack and I drove in separate cars to the Minnesota Surplus in downtown Duluth. When I parked and walked in, Jack was already hurriedly walking out, pad in hand, and said he forgot to go into work! He had to do a few simple work duties, and it would only take 15 minutes or so. We ended up caravaning up north by 10:40 or so.

The plan was to leave Jack’s car at the Demo Forest, drive up with my car to Reeves Road, and hike back to Jack’s car. Jack got terribly stuck in the Demo Forest parking lot and we both got pretty wet and worked up and frustrated getting the car out. Eventually we did, though, and were off in the Subaru. The Reeves Road lot was not plowed and we uneasily parked my car right on the side of County Road 2. Neither of us knew the laws on that and figured that I bike to work anyways! It’s not a huge deal if my car gets towed away. Jack smashed two sandwiches while we were getting ready, we saddled up, locked up, and set off.


We hiked a quarter mile of snowmobile trail right off the bat, then got into the woods. I recalled my experience with the droopy, snowy trees, and we both got big dumps of snow down our backs pretty quick into the trip. The day was beautiful, however, and it was hard to be in bad spirits! It was great to be back on the trail, warm and ready to get to camp!

I made a few substitutions to my pack over the night at home. I took out a bunch of the snacks, my two pb&j’s and threw Diamond’s sleeping bag into my pack. I may have made a few switch-a-roos with clothes and such, and I packed on two beers, too. A fitting brew for the journey is Bent Paddles Harness Winter IPA. Also, I ditched the snowshoes and trail runners for waterproof hiking boots. I was curious to see what would work better.


It was tough going, and we realized we were walking pretty slow about an hour in. We passed the first campsite and hiked through some hilly country, up and up and then alongside creek ravines. It reminded me of the mountains out west. The sun was shining and we were doing good. I was surprised Jack was hauling ass with me since he had a 52 pound pack and I had only about 28 pounds on me.



Jack soon realized his inner legs were chafing pretty bad. He was wearing running tights–nothing else. I was wearing bamboo boxers, running tights, and rain pants over it everything and was getting warm. Also, I threw on a running windbreaker this time, and it made all the difference. Warm legs, yes, but I could regulate easily and for all intents and purposes, perfectly comfortable.

Neither of us brought a map this time. The hike out was 5.9 miles, and we through we’d be doing 3 MPH. At 2 hours in, we definitely weren’t going that fast. Also, both of us were feeling ready to get to camp and relax for a second. It was a textbook trudge through the snow. We made a bunch of wrong turns, but would quickly realize and get back on track. It was so clutch to have someone else besides Diamond to consult with, because again, we were breaking the trail and it wasn’t a very clear path.

Evenutally, I broke away from Jack. Not intentially, but I got into a rhythm, looked back to see nothing, and just kept going. At least he could see my tracks! I didn’t think we’d get separated or go the wrong way or anything. Every now and again, I would hear a shriek. I’d stop, and notice the complete silence of the windless winter day. Stopped, all I could hear was the white noise of my brain’s electrical circuitry. I yelled back, “WHAT?!??”, and nothing. So I kept going, and it happened three other times! At this point, I was just excited to get to camp, so Diamond and I were trucking.

Finally, I saw the Stewart River. There was a big bridge and the river was not the crick I’d envisioned. It was open in some spots, and the ice formations were cool. I knew the campsite was right over the bridge, and we hooked a right off the bridge to find it. My spirits got a boost, I yelled out that we were at the Stewart River but with no reply. I couldn’t find the campsite, though! I was trudging around, and went back to the bridge. I saw the hash to the left, and had to blast past a huge brambly bush covered in snow to get to the trail. There were so many sticks in the way, but a few footsteps away was the campsite. Nice! My watch chronograph said 3:08 or so. I started clearing away and packing down snow and looking for what I needed to find first, a good place to set up my tent and some easy firewood.

My plan was to cook some lunch right away. Since breakfast, I’d just been munching on chocolate and snacks. I boiled some water and tried out my zip-lock cheese noodles and mashed potatoes. It was an experimental recipe. Jack trudged in just a few minutes after me.

Getting camp set up was a low point. Jack immediately went into survival mode because he was chafed, cold and wet. I tried to do my own thing while he frustratingly set up the tent in his hiking garb. It went up and I got a fire lit somehow. He took forever to change in his tent, and I was checking on my food and the fire and trying to set up my tent. Meanwhile, Diamond was terrorizing me by running around like a maniac through camp and barking really loudly. I yelled, “aren’t you tired?!??” I got frustrated when a gust of wind threatened to lift my tent back to St. Louis County, which is when the fire went out. CRAP! This is stupid… there is now way I would be able to hike 25 miles and then set up camp in the dark. I would have been a frozen stiff!

Jack walked out of his tent with a huge parka and a smile back on his grill. He looked like an arctic explorer and very warm and comfortable for once. It sounded like his loins were pretty chafed up from the repeated friction, but I’m sure it was nice to simply get that huge pack off. I got my tent pitched decently well, and then focused my entire world on warming my hands back up! I looked at the small indent in the snow where the tiny twig fire burned out, and check on my noodles. They were freezing cold and crunchy hard. Ok, I guess snow as an insulator doesn’t work in this situation!

I munched on a few handfuls of nuts, and we decided to really go hard on getting some firewood before anything else. The sun was starting to fall behind the ridge line of our gully campsite and we’d definitely need a lot of quality firewood if we wanted to be comfortable outside of our sleeping bags.

We found a tree that was definitely dead, and had a bunch of lodged logs stuck up there. We worked on pulling some down, and within no time had a really big pile of good dead wood. We got the fire back going again, and it was roaring soon enough. I put my noodles into my kettle and shoved that over the fire to heat up. Also, I added my bag of instant potatoes to soak up some of the water. Now things were starting to look up. Before long, we had a roaring fire, food on the stove, and we were finally warm and somewhat dry. And it was dark.


We ate, which was another warming agent. Despite the snow and the cold, it was sure good to be out in the wilderness. We both kind of questioned our sanity and whether we’d ever do this again. Probably not… The first had burned a big hole in the ground and it took a bit of blowing to get oxygen to the bottom where the coals lay. But we had a lot of dry sticks and could keep it bright and hot with a quick minute of fire maintenance. Just getting up and moving was a chore… once you found a nice dry spot where all your stuff was perfectly placed around you–flashlight, big gloves, food–it was a bummer to have to get up!

Diamond was anxiously barking and stealing my stuff to bring into the woods. Also, she would dig into the snow and circle around and try to lay down, but then realize that it’s all snow and nothing is warm. I tried to bring her into my arms or on the foam pad between my legs, but then have to get up and she’d run away. Eventually, I threw her in the tent, unraveled my sleeping bag and hers, and got everything set up. I wondered how we would be comfortable in the one-man ultralight tent. But she was certainly comfortable, because we didn’t hear a peep the rest of the night!

It was a great night. The campsite was really cool. We could hear a strong wind high up in the trees, but we were in a valley right next to the river and there was hardly a breeze at our surface level. The flowing river added another ambiance on top of a crackling winter fire. Yep, this is fun even despite my wet feet inside these boots that are beginning to freeze solid. It’s risky to get my nice gloves wet, but worth it to be enjoying natures bounties! Or this mentality is my brain’s way of convincing itself I made the right decision. Winter camping is a lesson in cognitive dissonance.

A few hours went by and I made my second dinner, freeze dried lasagna. Backpacking meals are so easy, it’s no wonder why they’re more expensive. Calorie for calorie, and considering ease of use, they’re probably equally expensive! Also, Jack boiled some water for me to fill up my water bladder. Getting water from the river was a bit sketchy. The hot water was really warm on my chest as I hadn’t taken off my reverse chest water pouch.

When every rock in the fire pit was eventually exposed and the fire waned to an orange glow of the embers, we went to bed. It was 9 PM or so. I hit the headlamp, shuffled some things between the tent and backpack and bench, careful to avoid dropping anything heavy! It would be a bummer to have to come out repeatedly in the spring to look for a tool lost in the snow.

Diamond was pretty sound asleep, which made it hard to scoot around and find a comfortable position for myself. She’s a lug. Also, she made a huge indent in the snow. I guess just stomping around and setting up my tent didn’t do much to compress the powder beneath. I started peeling off layers, and decided to keep my water bladder on, but pretty much took everything else off. I had my long underwear and socks nearby, but decided to go no socks and just boxers for now! My feet were wet and this would hopefully give them a chance to dry. It would be very hard to sleep with freezing wet feet, but they actually felt fine getting into the sleeping bag and liner. I wrote my thoughts for the night, and me and Dimey shuffled around to get into a good position to sleep in. The ultralight tent was surprisingly accommodating! It was going to be nice to get some shuteye.

I dozed off pretty quickly. Like any overnighter in the woods, I wonder if I really slept at all. Sure enough, the morning light was there in no time. The night was actually super comfortable. Diamond didn’t really peep, and seemed warm the whole time. I was even sweaty during the night, and woke up to take my legs out of the bag liner! I could feel a very wavy contour under my body where my hips protruded into the snow, but my divot actually felt nice! I was joking with Jack that sleeping on snow is like a memory foam mattress–it conforms to your body, but then freezes solid!

Day 3 – January 3, 2016

I fed Diamond from in the tent at around 6 AM. She ate from where she was sitting and we went back to bed until 8 or so.

When I got up, it was a beautiful morning with a dusting of fresh snow. I was kind of anxious and worried that I’d be so cold with no dry clothes left, but once I got situated and moving, it was just my feet in the frozen solid boots that were cold. Also, I couldn’t really use the gaiters as they were completely hardened frozen, so every wrong step packed more snow into those frozen boots. I boiled some water to make coffee, and started munching a bit to engage my digestive system and get some more blood flowing. Jack got up too, and we contemplated making a fire. I decided to take some pictures instead.





We thought we could be back on the trail in an hour or so, and started packing up shop. Half of my gear was frozen solid.



Jack lent me his gaiters, which I initially lent him from home, and he stuck with the plastic bags on his feet. Finally, we were ready to rock, a bit behind schedule. Diamond’s gear was very icy, and I felt bad putting it over hear face! Jack’s pack was huge… to see everything go back into it reminded me.





We both had the feeling that this was going to be a tough hike out, but it was reassuring to know that once we got to the point I bailed the day before, it would be pretty smooth sailing. Jack said his chafed legs were feeling pretty rough, but we suited up, gave our farewells to the campsite, and headed up the big hill out of the Stewart River valley towards Jack’s car 5.1 miles away at the Demonstration Forest parking lot.



The theme was just keep hiking, and we’ll be out soon enough. We motorboated through the first few miles, and it was nice to see my snowshoe prints about 55 minutes into our hike home.





We kept pushing, and seeing the spur trail to the Demo Forest was great. We stopped for a rest not too long after.



1.2 miles later, I saw a familiar rock, and we turned out of the narrow single track to the Demo Forest parking lot. Then, we saw Jack’s car. I got the moment on camera as we neared the car, and took our packs off for good.



We got to my car at Reeves Road, and it was doin’ fine! I still don’t know the laws for parking on a road like that… but no harm no foul. We were talking food and decided to go to Culver’s. When in Rome, as they say. The food was great, and we felt good about the trip being in civilization and certain safety.

There are a few tweaks I can make clothing-wise to cut down. Also, there are always creature comforts to make the camping better, but I am already excited to the next opportunity to go backpacking in the snow and the cold! Why it’s fun, I’m still not sure. Or maybe it’s not fun at all. I just don’t know. Regardless, we’ll be back.

27 Dec 2015

Winter DIPA (Dark IPA)

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Brew Day–12/21/15

Bottle Day–

Original Gravity–

Final Gravity:


-6 lbs Dark Liquid Malt Extract

-3.15 lbs Superstructure Liquid Malt Blend (for IPA)

-6 oz Fuggle hop pellets

-4 oz Chinook hop pellets

-1 package Safale-04 English Ale Yeast

-1 Tbsp Irish Moss (for clarity)



  1. Get 5 gallons of water boiling
  2. When the boil is rolling, add all malt extract
  3. Add hops:
  • 0:60 – 2 oz Chinook
  • 0:45 – 2 oz Chinook
  • 0:30 – 2 oz Fuggle
  • 0:15 – 2 oz Fuggle
  • 0:05 – 2 oz Fuggle

4. With 10 minutes left in the boil, add Irish Moss (for clarity)

5. After an hour of boiling, turn the burner off.

6. Add a half gallon of cold water to the wort, and use the wort chiller to drop the temperature to ~90 degrees F.


06 Dec 2015

Easy Calypso Session Ale

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Brew Day: 12/6/15

Original Gravity: 1.040

Final Gravity: 1.020

Estimated ABV %:


-6 lbs Light Malt Extract Syrup

-8 oz Calypso Hop Pellets (13.3% alpha)

-Safale US-05 Ale Yeast

-1 tablespoon Irish Moss (for clarity)

-1/2 cup white sugar


  1. Rinse out equipment
  2. image
  3. Get 5 gallons of water boiling on the propane burner.


  1. When water is boiling, add extract.


  1. Add ~6.5 oz hops over the course of the hour boil
    1. 0:60
    2. 0:45
    3. 0:30
    4. 0:15
    5. 0:00 (end of boil)
    6. image
  2. Add 1 tbsp Irish Moss (for clarity), with 15 minutes left in the boil.
  3. After boiling the wort for one hour, turn the burner off and hook up the wort chiller to the hose
  4. Run the wort chiller until temperature falls to under 90 degrees F.
  5. Aerate, then pour the wort through a mesh bag into the sanitized conical fermenter.
  6. Pitch yeast.
  7. image image image image


Bottle Day–12/21/15

  1. Flush the yeast from the bottom of the conical fermenter.
  2. Start ~2 cups of water boiling and dissolve 1/2 cup white sugar for the carbonation primer.
  3. Add sugar water in with the beer and stir it in.
  4. Bottle the beer in all bottles.
26 Oct 2015

Pumpkin Spice Ale

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Brew Day: 10/25/15

Bottle Day: 11/8/15

Original Gravity: 1.060
Final Gravity: 1.010
Estimated ABV: 6.77%


-1 lb 60L Carmel speciality grain
-0.5 lb Biscuit
-0.5 lb Victory
-3.3 lbs Amber Liquid Malt Extract
-3.3 lbs Extra Light Liquid Malt Extrat
-1 lb Light Dry Malt Extract
-3 oz Mt. Hood hop pellets
-1 packet Safale US-05 yeast
-1 lb dark brown sugar
-1/2 cup brown sugar
-pumpkins (2 small ones)
-1/2 oz ginger root
-1 cinnamon stick
-1/2 tsp nutmeg
-1 tsp Irish Moss
-1/2 tsp vanilla
-1/2 tsp allspice
-5 whole cloves
-1/2 cup vodka

Brew Day–10/25/15

1. Slice pumpkins and bake in oven for one hour at 350 degrees.

2. Scoop pumpkin innards into 5 gallons of water and place on the propane burner.


3. Bring water and pumpkin mixture to ~160 degrees. Add grain and steep for 50 minutes.


4. Sparge grain: pour partial mash wort over grain in a strainer.



5. Crank up the propane burner and get the mixture boiling.

6. When the wort is boiling, add all sugar (dry malt, liquid malt, and brown sugar).




7. Add hops: 1/2 ounce every 15 minutes, one ounce at the end of the boil.



8. At 45 minutes into the boil, add spices (ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon) along with Irish Moss (for clarity).

9. After boiling for one hour, remove from heat and start the wort chiller.


10. When the wort has cooled to below 90 degrees, pour through a strainer to the fermentor.



11. Take gravity reading.


12. Pitch yeast.

Flush yeast–11/5/15

Bottle Day–11/8/15

1. Empty yeast catch again and take some beer for gravity measure.


2. Start boiling about a cup of water. Add 1/2 cup brown sugar and dissolve to make carbonation primer.

3. Mix 1/2 tsp vanilla, 1/2 tsp allspice, and 1/2 cup vokda for extra seasoning mixture.

4. Add seasoning mixture and priming sugar to beer and mix it in.


5. Fill growlers and bottles.


Flavor Profile:


25 Oct 2015

American Raspberry Wheat

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Brew Day: 8/23/15

Bottle Day: 9/28/15

Original Gravity: 1.050

Final Gravity: 1.004

Estimated ABV: 6.08%



  • 3 lbs Plain Wheat dry malt extract
  • 3.3 lbs Wheat liquid malt extract
  • 1 lb American Wheat grain
  • 1 oz US Hallertau hop pellets
  • 1 oz US Saaz hop pellets
  • 1 oz Mt. Hood hop pellets
  • 1 packet dry wheat beer yeast
  • 1 tbsp Irish Moss (for clarity)
  • 2 cups (plus more) fresh raspberries

Brew Day — 8/23/15

1. Boil 4 gallons of water in the brew kettle over the burner.

2. Steep one gallon of water and the grain at 170 degrees for 30 minutes.

3. Prepare sanitizer bath and sanitize all equipment (conical fermenter, siphon and hoses, brew paddle, etc…).

4. When the water in the brew kettle is boiling, add all malt extract.

5. Combine steeped grains to brew kettle.

6. Add hops

  • :50 mins – Mt. Hood
  • :30 mins – US Saaz
  • :05 mins – US Hallertau

7. With 15 minutes left in the boil, add 1 tbsp of Irish Moss (for clarity).

8. After one hour of boiling, remove the brew kettle from the burner and add ~2 cups of fresh raspberries.

9. Use the wort chiller to bring the wort temperature down to ~90 degrees.

10. Transfer the wort to the conical fermenter by pouring from the brew kettle over a mesh bag to trap any sediment.

11. Oxygenate the wort.

12. Add one gallon of cool water.

13. Pitch yeast.

Flavor Profile:

This wheat beer is subtly flavored with the raspberry, which adds a perfect fruity kick. It is a tasty, easy drinking beer. Definitely tasty, I don’t think that a stronger raspberry flavor would have added anything positive to the beer flavor, and I prefer the more balanced flavor that allows the wheat flavor to shine through a bit more.

Race Day: Saturday, October 17, 2015 – 8am

Time for the pain. The Superior Hiking Trail brings the pain every time. It isn’t very runable, so why not try to run 31 miles as fast you can on it? I love this very fun race, though, and couldn’t resist registering for it to defend my title.

However, I knew the whole time that I wasn’t going to put in the necessary training to feel super confident. Leading up to race day, I was banking on pure “residual fitness” to put me up near the front of the race. Not only was I neglecting long runs, I did several four-hour runs on hard terrain to prepare for last year’s race, but my day-to-day running mileage dropped off after Ironman. Yeah, I was running fast for a 20 minute race, but I definitely didn’t have a ton of confidence to maintain a decent pace for 4+ hours running. Nevertheless, race week came and my strategy and mindset was to race to win.

Looking at the start list, I didn’t see any major contenders besides a local dude Jakob Wartman who is pretty fast. In fact, in my opinion, we are very evenly matched. I think it’s a toss up head-to-head for any given running race, and we’ve raced head-to-head a few times (mostly at NMTC trail races). My opinion was confirmed on race morning when we both laid out our respective goals to run between 4:30 and 4:40. I had some intel, though, regarding the fact that Jakob is a new dad, and that the large responsibility of a child is likely eating in to some quality training time! Regardless, I was really excited to duke it out. Nobody else would content with us all alone up front, and the one who races the smartest race will prevail. I forecasted some raw racing ahead.

Anyways, I picked up my packet on Friday and negotiated a clutch car ride to the start line on Saturday morning with my good friend Kris. I had some cereal and some coffee and Kris and I hit the road at 7am. It was super chilly that morning, which made it nice to sit in Kris’s toasty warm car until the last minute. Plus, it was nice to joke around and talk and stuff right before the race. I chugged the rest of my Mountain Dew, shed a bunch of clothes and made my way to the start.

I saw Jakob and looked around for anyone else who appeared fast. It’s pretty hard to tell with a long trail race… it’s not an easy equation like at a 5k, where the guy wearing running shorts with the shortest inseam will probably win. No leads today.

It was certainly cold on the start line, but the sun was out and it was surely going to be a fine day to run. Everyone lined up and GO! We were off. There was a quarter mile road run to the trail, then trail for 98% of the rest of the race, Superior Hiking Trail for 85% of it. I started out fast to get a nice position on the trail. Also, I wanted to send a message. I was way out front right off the bat. I could hear Jakob sprinting to get up to me and he got right on my side. He mentioned something about it being really cold. The open air rushing past my face was numbing. Next, we popped onto the trail and I stayed in front. The first five miles is on windy singletrack mountain bike trail, and right off the bat, we had a lot of separation from the rest of the group. On the switchbacks, I could see that there wasn’t anyone else back there. Just as I suspected. Ok, so there isn’t some no-name ringer pushing the pace. Just Jakob and I. Perfect.

Jakob took the lead for a while, and we split the time up front until the first aid station at mile 5 or so. We were definitely going pretty fast. I knew I was going to push it a little, and when I was in tow behind Jakob, I wasn’t going to give an inch for a second. At the first aid station, I ditched my headband, long sleeve, and gloves. I didn’t grab any food or water since I had my stocked handheld waterbottle, and I took a decent lead while Jakob was refueling. He was quite quick to catch back up, though.

I noticed that I was gaining some time on the uphills, but Jakob would catch right back up on downhills and flats. So I would jet up the hills pretty fast to try and break him. Stick with me, I was thinking, because I can endure! The next aid station was at mile 11 or so, and right after that is a rugged climb up Ely’s Peak. I formulated a plan to ditch Jakob on that tough uphill and run alone to the win. I’d do a super quick water fill at the second aid station for a small head start. Nobody will see me the whole rest of the race!

Meanwhile, as I was plotting to win the race, we were joined by another guy who I didn’t recognize. He didn’t make a move, just latched on the back, and I continued to lead the race. How did this guy come out of nowhere?! It was like the extra body behind was pushing me even faster, so I was really blasting through the technical woods above the Fond du Lac neighborhood and Mission Creek. Two fast runners were following my every step.

When we got to the second aid station, I was still in the lead and still had the two guys in tow. Just as I planned, I did a fast water fill and jetted. I was sprinting. There was a small gravel trail that wraps around the base of Ely’s Peak to get to the rocky uphill trail. I was pushing super hard to get to the climb out of sight. I saw John Storkamp going the other way in first place for the 100k. I couldn’t mutter much in terms of encouragement because I was breathing too hard. Then, I began the climb. I was already tired but told myself that this was my chance to make a big break, which would demoralize everyone behind me. The climb was tough. My breathing was labored and I was going hard. I didn’t feel like I was going much faster than if I knocked it down a notch, though, but I kept pushing. I saw the top of Ely’s, ran past it, and tried to keep pushing hard. Unfortunately, I was pretty spent and couldn’t go very fast on the flats. Plus, this section of the race is a lot of exposed rock and is tough to run really fast on. I could tell I was running a tiny bit softer than in the woods when we were in a pack.

Almost to Bardon Peak, my two competitors caught up to me. How could this happen, I thought? I blasted myself trying to make a gap, just to get caught in fifteen minutes! Did I slow down that much in five minutes since I got past Ely’s Peak? How frustrating… Nevertheless, I took the pull once again. We got into more runable woods, and I noticed again that I couldn’t find that spring in my step. It was mile 14 or so and I was getting a little tired. OK, that is normal, though. He who wins is the one who slows down the least. We were blasting through the woods back there and unless this other guy is the real deal, we’re bound to slow down a little over time. Or is Jakob super fit? He’s got a very fast road marathon time. Maybe I’m toast from the first half. I ate a gel to stave off these negative thoughts. It helped, temporarily, but all of the sudden Jakob darted past me and took off. I wasn’t willing to sprint. He can go ahead. I’ll race a steady race and catch him eventually. The guy behind me told me he was going after him. They quickly escaped from my sight. My race plan deteriorated.

I ran alone until the Magney-Snively aid station at mile 15.3. I was good for food so just ran right through, knowing the Spirit Mountain aid station was only two miles away. There’s a nice uphill from the bottom of Spirit Mountain, which means I’d get another chance to test my climbing skills. These fools ran their gas tanks down and won’t be able to hold me off. I’ll catch ’em before that, even. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling good. I was feeling bad. My legs hurt. I was tired. I ate food to quell these terrible thoughts. It didn’t work, I’m toast. No! He who wins is the one who slows down the least. I just need to keep chugging along and it will pay off.

Anxiously, I began to ask the slower 100k racers how far back I was. A few minutes back, they’d say. Two minutes is no cause for concern. By the time I got to the bottom of Spirit, I got an update from a local bike and ski enthusiast Nikolai that they were indeed together about two minutes up. I filled up at the Spirit Mountain aid station with water and a quarter of a PB&J and some M&M’s. That tasted good. Now up the hill. Unlike Ely’s Peak, climbing up Spirit is a pure grinder. Not super steep or rocky like Ely’s, but just relentless elevation gain. A few minutes later, I saw Nikolai again on his bike. He informed me that the two split up and one of them was suffering. Suffering, I thought! That gave me just enough incentive to power hike quickly (as opposed to slowly, which was my strong preference at that point), up a brutal set of wooden steps. I ran down the back side of a river, across a bridge and I saw Jakob standing there. He was next to some spectating running buddies (and newlyweds!) Chris and Andrea. I was confused and didn’t really say anything right off the bat, but kept running. They didn’t say anything right away, either, and I finally muttered out a question about how the guy up front was looking. He was five minutes or so up and running strong. Jakob had just dropped out.

I ran past. Ok, this is good, this is good. No Jakob… Second place. No, this is bad. This other dude broke Jakob down and he’s the real deal. I realized that my mind was getting the best of me and I needed to zone out for a second and just run. I was definitely getting slow at this point. I remember that this was where things fell apart last year. The trail gets close to the freeway and it’s kind of exposed. It feels so far out but it’s past half way. Last year, it was all pain from here on out. I tried to estimate how long until the next aid station because that would be a good way to micromanage the rest of the race. Just make it to the next aid station, but don’t slow down. That is easy.

Eventually, I crossed Cody Street for a quick quarter mile on roads to connect the trail. I saw a woman parked and clearly spectating so figured I’d get an update. She said the guy was up front by ten minutes but he had stopped and was walking for a little bit. Enough said, I thought, now is the time to pounce. I had a short-lived surge of pure running but quickly reverted back to a quick shuffle. I was getting progressively more sore and could feel different muscle groups sending out their pain signals.

Finally, I got to the next aid station.

12032903_10207760211065582_3846839841533801702_oPhoto Credit: Shane Olson

12045219_10207760211025581_489617833738560959_oPhoto Credit: Shane Olson

I was passing some of the slower half-marathoners, and some were giving me feedback on where I was at–still about five minutes back or so. I saw some friendly faces at the Highland-Getchell aid station and listed to some feedback while I ate pretzels and drank coke.

12140905_10207764887502490_4339358751197840013_oPhoto Credit: Shane Olson

This guy up ahead of me apparently had stopped for a while at the aid station and said he was sick of rocks and his feet hurt. Yes, I thought, he burnt up his matches. It’s not realistic to blast past him. I need to keep consistent and slowly reel him in. That is the way to win, because I’m sore and he’s sore. He will slow down more than me. Hearing that intel motivated me more than ever, and I picked up the pace for a good mile or so. I could catch him. I was asking every half marathoner that I passed where the guy in the blue was at. Much to my chagrin, I wasn’t making up time. I was losing time. I inevitably slowed down. I can’t let myself slow down. Resist the temptation to walk, I told myself.

But I was definitely power-hiking up bigger hills and even slowed to a walk on a few sections that were flat and runable. I was just too tired to run. Oh, well, I’ll settle for second. This guy is the real deal. I heard that he was fifteen minutes ahead of me and running really fast. Even if I was running at a good clip, he’d be in the lead. Too bad, but hey, you can’t control when someone who is on a different echelon of running fitness registers for the race. Second place is good, anyways.

I was getting close to the last aid station and had quit asking people about the race progress. I’m in a solid second. I doubt I’ll get passed. I’ve settled into a nice pace. I know I’m not making time on this guy ahead of me and if he’s going to die, he would have died already. He ran a smart race! All I can do now is chug along as not to get passed in the final five miles. I can stop and have a nice break at the last aid station where I know there are friends, and waltz it in for second place. I was really sore at this point, but feeling pretty good. I definitely was not feeling fast, though, but that is OK. After the last aid station, it’s a little jaunt up to Enger Tower, then all downhill from there.

I popped out of the woods and heard my name from the crowd of faithful volunteers at the aid station.

12006601_10207760210985580_5492358411568841816_oPhoto Credit: Shane Olson

I quickly realized the urgency of the situation and finally made out that the mystery kid in first place was currently still at the aid station! It took me a second to comprehend the situation, but all I needed to hear was “GO, GO, GO!!!” to pick up my step. Then, I saw the guy in blue with my own two eyes and it was on. I jetted through the aid station. He was standing still, but started moving immediately, and I was right on his tail. My initial thought was that I was going to win. There is no way that this guy has juice left if I’ve finally caught him. I’ve been chugging along for hours by myself. This guy lost a ton of time to me in the last few miles and he must be toast.

We were sprinting across the Skyline Boulevard bridge over Piedmont Avenue towards Enger Tower. He was running fast. I noticed his long, gangly legs and loping stride, and I felt like a kindergartner putting so much effort into running a 10 minute mile for the pace test in gym class. He was pulling away already. I couldn’t respond. No matter. His feet hurt and he was sick of rocks. If I can keep him in sight until Enger, the race is on. I could pass him on the rocky downhill. In the time it took my mind to process these strategy formulations, he was out of sight. I had nothing. I was pushing so hard but not going fast. I would slowly overtake half marathoners, and then they would stick with me for a while. And I was in the middle of the pack of the half marathon race… ladies with large hydration packs would stick with me as I slowly passed. No offense to ladies with large hydration packs on… but not good for my situation.

I put in a few surges, especially once I passed the large bell at Enger. I bolted downhill and nervously spared one brain cell of concentration at a time to peer ahead and look for blue. No blue, now look down. I would catch him on the road… no matter.

Once I exited the woods once and for all, I could see a ways down the race course. The last mile or so is all pavement–a bridge across I35, then paved path to the finish. No blue was in sight. No matter, he got lost in the woods I think! Wow, that is bad luck! I was staying surprisingly optimistic that I was to win the race despite my miserable status of pain and fatigue. I only saw half marathoners, who I roped in one-by-one on the last bike path section. Onto the finish chute, I ran it in, very excited to be done.

IMG_2576Photo Credit: Jack Krouse

Obviously, Ryan, the new champion, did not get lost. He won the race and gave it one hell of a go. I chatted with him a bit after the race, then ate some soup to recoup. My muscled were jacked up.

I think that if I ran a bit smarter in the first 13 miles, I would have had more energy during the meat of the race. Then again, you’re going to get tired over 50 kilometers regardless, so you might as well create a buffer right away when you’re fresh. Also, I was not about to let these guys blast past me right off the bat. I’ll never know how to race a 50k wisely, because I can’t limit myself at the beginning, and it’s a long freaking race. But I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I had objected to walk all those times. What would have happened if I saved a few matches in the matchbook, using them up at Enger Tower versus Ely’s Peak? Would Ryan still run away from me at mile 28? As I left the race site, another Ryan, Braun, cruised into the finish line a mere two minutes after me. Well, I didn’t have second place wrapped up as tightly as I thought!

Upon finishing the Wild Duluth 50k, I quickly realized that this is the first time in a long time, perhaps years, that I’m not currently registered for any races. And that is a nice feeling.


Race Stats:

Shoes: Nike Terra Kiger 3 size 11
Handheld: Nathan insulated 18oz
Food: Nearly 2 packs of Honey Stinger Chews (Cherry Cola and Orange Blossom), one Maple Bacon Gu gel

Race Day: Saturday, October 3, 2015 – 8am

A great way to quell the post-Ironman blues is to register for more races. I had this one in the books for a long time and was looking forward to do some casual training and participate in a fun-time, low key race. Little did I know, the Heck of the North Gravel Cycling Classic would be RAW racing. Pure grit. I didn’t predict that I’d be sucked in to the mix, only to be shot out the back and left alone to bike home with my thoughts and my useless, toasted quads…

The Heck of the North is a 100+ mile gravel bike race in the deep woods north of Duluth. The race starts and finishes a few miles out of town from Two Harbors, MN. The course is made up of mostly gravel roads, but also some pavement and some really gnarly and tough riding. I’m talking about rocky, rocky, bumpy logging access roads, ATV trails, soft snowmobile trails, and perhaps even a bit of singletrack mountain bike trail. The variability of terrain is what makes this race so cool, and also why everyone in Duluth needs a cyclocross bike. I had so much fun going on training rides because you can explore anything you want. Need to connect on the pavement? No sweat, you can haul ass at 24mph. Cut through on mountain bike trails? A little precarious, but it’s do-able. Then the gravel…. oh, the gravel. So fun.

Another super fun part of the race is that the course is a secret. Nobody knows the route until Friday night at packet pickup, when we received cue cards with turn-by-turn instructions. Some of the instructions were comical: turn left at the brown gate with the tall grass onto an unmarked gravel road. Then right onto an unmarked gravel road. Then right onto an unmarked gravel road. Then left onto an unmarked ATV trail.

Nick and his pops, Dave, were both registered to race, and Nick invited me to stay at their hotel in Two Harbors on Friday. Dave is usually the race photographer, so that duty was transferred to his wife Rhonda. We all went out to get pasta after packet pickup with Nick’s grandparents. Then to the hotel. I hadn’t really looked at my bike at all. In fact, it was still pretty dirty from a muddy ride the previous weekend. I had a knapsack full of spare tubes, tools, bike boxes, and sugary exercise food. Once we got to the hotel, I tried to sort everything and plan how I’d like to pack it all on. I seemed to get it all on… about 1,000 calories worth of maltodextrin, two spare tubes, a co2 cartridge and spare pump, plus one bottle of Gatorade. I affixed my number 182 to the front and was pretty much ready to rock for the next morning. The only challenge was water and the cue cards. I had won a weird vest water bladder thingy that was designed for skiing or snowboarding, almost as a midlayer to keep the water from freezing, but had been collecting dust unused. It definitely wouldn’t work for running, but was my primary hydration solution for this bike race. However, I was nervous get too hot or irritated with 2 liters of water on my back in this weird meshy vest. The alternative, carrying another 20oz water bottle on my frame, has its own challenges–running out of water and having to refill and the chance of ejecting the bottle on the inevitably bumpy ride. I attached my second bottle cage to my bicycle and decided to sleep on it. As far as the cue cards, I’d likely have to reference them, but I could also be in the pack the entire time and not need them at all. I figured I’d just throw them in my pants or something… I’d sleep on that, too.

We woke up the next morning at 6am or so. First things first, I went to get coffee and cereal. Lots of Raisin Bran. I had the vest bladder filled up from the night before and tested it out with my race kit. It felt fine, but the water was full of gross hotel tap water. But eh… this will work.

IMG_0060Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I looked down at my cue cards and decided to mount them on the top of my handlebars. With a pen, I punctured each one and laced a twist tie through each top corner of the stack. They were surprisingly well affixed, and I could simply rip the cards away as I progress through the course. OK we have to go because we’re late!!!

Nick and I drove out, following the rest of the Nygaard clan. I got my bike out and rode it down a little rocky hill to a big fire and tent area where people were beginning to congregate. I felt the chill of the morning through my whole core. My fingers were already frozen. Maybe fingerless gloves weren’t the best glove choice… Nevertheless, I didn’t question my choices. It’s bound to warm up. I forgot my sunglasses, though, and had to run back to the van to grab those.


IMG_0082Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

After dawdling around for 20 minutes or so, someone started yelling and everyone moved towards the entrance road where the race was to begin. As the race director Jeremy was outlining some race details, a truck came roaring down the road and the bikes spread to the sides of the road like the Red Sea for Moses.

IMG_0094Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

Next thing I knew, we are starting off. I was kind of far back… perhaps the middle of the pack. I wanted to be in the mix for sure. I was biking faster than ever on the TT bike and I knew I was very aerobically fit and had the endurance to complete a 100 mile bike ride. Then again, I knew that some of the people up front were no joke. Arrowhead finishers, beasts on the mountain bike circuit, and former winners of this race. Pretty much, I’m a tri dweeb and a chump. But I heard a funny piece of advice about how to race the Heck: a local enduro mountain biker Dave Cizmas told me to go with the lead pack until you completely explode. Then, eat a lot of food and just have a fun rest of the day. I went into the race with this mentality. Maybe I could stick with them until the end!

The first 9 miles of the race was a loop back to the start/finish area. It was mostly gravel road. The pack was manageable. It was a little sketchy at times to be so close to so many other people. Especially on the gravel, sometimes you’d hit a rough spot or washerboards and there’s nothing you can do except ride it out. I stayed pretty far to the right side of the road right off the bat. When the gravel turned off into an ATV trail, I realized my hands were so cold I couldn’t feel them. Ouch. A guy behind me was yelling at me. He said that my spare tube that I shoved in between a strap on my flat kit was dragging. I looked down and it was flapping around in the wind. I scooped it up and held onto it. The same guy informed that if the tube got caught in my derailleur, it was be a very bad situation. Yes, that would be bad!!

We did that first loop and I was feeling pretty good. I don’t know where Nick was, but was happy I didn’t get straight up dropped.

IMG_0111Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

IMG_0115Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I didn’t know what this race was going to be like, and things were looking smooth! I stopped to shove this dumb tube into my bike shorts, then got back to it. We crossed a main road, Hwy 2, and got onto a small access-type road. I think it was Alden Grade. Essentially, it was a two-track trail. It was hard to pass people, but everyone was cruising at a pretty good clip. We jetted onto a more standard gravel road and I got an idea of what the main pack was like. It was large. There was probably 50 people all jammed together. It felt like we were going so slow. Why wasn’t anyone making a break? Well, it’s not going to be me! I hung in the pack and was feeling good. Then, I saw Nick come up on my side. Yeah baby, we were in the mix!

After a few more miles, we turned into a really chunky road. The pack quickly split up. This road was clearly a logging access road. There were two divots on either side of the road for tire tracks, and the road was littered with large rocks. Signs of logging activity were all around us–forested land, large stacks of tree trunks, and equipment. Plus the sign that said “logging activity”.  The road was windy, up and down, and pretty technical. I was zinging by guys with flat tires. You’d hit a rock and bounce into the air. I was trying to crank as hard as I could and kept pedaling through the divots and bumps. It was this section that I noticed that my hands were hurting. The frozen fingers had vanished, but I was squeezing so hard on my handlebars. I couldn’t let up, though. A guy in front of me flipped over his handlebars and was down. We were zinging through muddy puddles. This technical section was taking its toll. When I thought that I couldn’t take it any longer, we popped out to another gravel road. This felt like biking on glass compared to the logging road. A pack of the five or so people around me formed and we were off. Quickly, we realized we were going the wrong direction as we passed two or three other cyclists going the other way who had made the same mistake. The group grew to 8 or so, and when we re-passed the logging road, finally on the right path, a group of 4 or 5 latched on as well. And there was Nick, back in the mix! A tandem bike was hauling us along and we were off on a pretty good clip. At this point, we were probably 3 hours in.

A few miles of gravel and we got into the first section of State Trail snowmobile trail. Our nice little pack broke up once again. I was excited about the State Trail sections because I loved training there. Trying to go fast is a different story. The soft grass just saps one’s energy stores. Nick jammed his nuts bad on a culvert. We were making our way along, though, and before long we turned back onto another gravel road. To my surprise, there was the main pack. Everyone was stopped. Some people had their bikes upside down, some were maybe peeing or eating. We rode up to them and this big main pack started up again. It was another 10 miles of gravel and pavement until the half way point.

I was trying to eat a lot of food while in the pack getting strung along. I was feeling pretty good except my hands. I shook my hands out and was doing everything I could to grip softly. All the sudden, it was hard to keep up. I was towards the back of the pack. Then on the back of the pack. Then, the pack dropped me. No, no, no. My worst fear was to be literally left in the dust. Ok, I’ll just keep them in sight and they’ll maybe slow a bit, I thought to myself. A solo guy behind me was gaining ground, and he caught me. He told me that we’d work together and catch the pack. We took turns surging ahead and sure enough, it worked. I burnt a few matches on that one, though. I stayed in the mix and recouped some energy stores. Then, I made a few moves and was up towards the front. Then, I took the lead. It was fun up there! We turned onto Lester River Rd, and it was just this pavement section and what sounded like a little bit of mountain bike trail until the halfway point.

We were cruising in a large pack down towards Lester Park. Then pandemonium. Yelling, people turning, stopping, skids, and I slammed on my brakes. They weren’t stopping me fast enough and I thought I was going to crash hard into a tree. The turn off of the road came up quicker than anyone thought or saw and it was a traffic jam. Luckily, I was towards the front and didn’t get to jammed up. More luckily, I somehow made it onto the trail quickly and without incident. I could hear the chaos from behind me and something told me to just go. I tried to jet through this woodsy singletrack as fast as possible. I’d have the upper hand going into the halfway up front. I could hear cheers ahead, rode down a hill and saw a table with goodies and Rhonda and the Nygaard clan.

IMG_0150Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

IMG_0152Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I chatted to Rhonda for a second and turned around to see Nick coming in. I grabbed some Mountain Dew, threw away some garbage, and grabbed some food to shove in my bike bag. Rhonda took my second tube that had fallen out so long ago, too. Nick said that we’d have to dip out quickly after he filled his bottles. I had to pee, so went ahead to do that in the meantime. I peed in the trees and saw Nick bike away in my peripheral vision. I must have evacuated a liter of pee! It took forever and was a heavy stream.

I hopped back on my bike and started the ascent out of Lester Park. I was feeling tired. This was the first time I really felt fatigue in my legs. There were a few guys up ahead of me and I wanted to get in with them and then rejoin the main pack. Out of Lester and onto some gravel roads, I wasn’t making up any ground. In fact, I was losing ground. I didn’t want to blast myself trying to get up there, so I started just riding at a comfortable speed. It wasn’t fun being alone! The pack is so key.

I was by myself for a long time. The guys in front of me were long out of sight. After a good 45 or 60 minutes, I finally got in with a group. I heard my name “Mike Ward!!!” and was joined from behind by Ross, a Ski Hut mechanic, a coworker of his, Matt, and another guy. Ross had just won the Heck Epic, a two day gravel biking event a few months prior. I was in good company here, I thought to myself. Hopping on the back of their pack, it felt so good. So, so, so nice. I was able to let my legs rest a little bit. I got amped up and took the pull for a while. After a few minutes, I was spent and went to the back. We were together for another 45 minutes or so until another section of State Trail. We made it through just fine, but lost the last guy. Also, I lost a lot of food. Somehow, three Stinger Waffles and a gel were ejected from my bike box on the State Trail.

We didn’t wait for him and kept trucking along. After a few miles of gravel, we bumped onto Pequaywan Lakes Road, a paved road. Still trading pulls, we swallowed up another guy and he latched on. Another few miles and we entered Fox Farm Road, which is pure gravel. I glanced at my cue cards and saw that we’d be on Fox Farm for a good while. Then, it’s a quick 15 miles or so back to the finish. The end is in sight! I was feeling decent, but it didn’t take long to realize that I was falling apart. I’d pull for a minute or two and get spent. When I was on the back, it was so hard to stay on the wheel in front of me. I’d fall of ever so slightly, then have to dip into the hurt tank to get back. I’d fall further and further back and it would hurt more and more to get back with the guys. Then, I gave up. I stopped pedaling and watched the guys ride away. They realized I was off and actually turned around and yelled at me. I told them to go on without me. I was done. This is what Dave was talking about. When you blow up and get dropped, just eat a bunch of food and have a fun day. Except my food fell out. I ate my last few gummis and was completely out of calories. Ok, I could still have a fun day. Except my legs were totally shot and I was out here on damn Fox Farm Road alone. I looked both ways. Behind me was nobody. Ross, Matt, and the other guy rode out of sight. It was like a light switch. A marathon run is like slowly chipping away at your energy stores… falling apart slowly. Today, I hit a point where I was dead. Toast. I couldn’t pick it up at all and had no energy. One minute, OK, next minute, done. I don’t think it was a food thing or really bonking–my legs were simply out of energy. I burned too many matches and was out.

Fox Farm took forever and it was tough. When I turned off onto Laine Road, I was at least in somewhat good spirits. I wanted to just enjoy being out here. It’s OK to pedal an easy gear really slow. I wasn’t going to win. My race was really over at the halfway point. Just finish and have fun, I thought. Soak it in. What else would I want to be doing right now!?! I was about 5 or 6 hours in and at mile 90 or so.

Eventually, the dude we lost on the last State Trail section came speeding up behind me. He was the first person I’d seen since Ross and Matt dropped me. He told me he fell on the State Trail and I could see his face was bloody. He told me that we could work together and get through the remaining miles easier. Yes, I thought, I need to work with this guy. Being alone is terrible. I took the draft for a while. It didn’t last long and it wasn’t very strong. He took his turn and dropped me almost instantly. I sped up, he slowed down and I caught his wheel. A few more minutes of struggling to keep up with him, and I gave up again. Nope. I told him to drop me. Alone again. I turned off onto the State Trail for the final snowmobile section. This was fun and I was in good spirits. I could stand up and just push through the soft and slow grass and it was a welcome relief from the relentless gravel. It was really muddy through there and I thought it was funny go get a fresh coat of mud. I was laughing at myself thinking that the mud was getting old and I needed some new mud. I felt positive because I knew I was close…

The final section was on a gravel road that turned into an ATV/ horse trail. We cross the Knife River with no bridge and it’s just a hop, skip and jump to the finish. I looked at my cue cards and realized it was just a few more miles of pain. I didn’t think those final miles would be so terrible. The terrain was impossible. It was flat but rocky. It jumbled up my already shredded hands. My finger tendons were screaming. My triceps were done holding my torso up over the handlebars, and my quads simply wouldn’t work right. I could get more power by pushing my knee down with my hand. I was mercilessly passed by a few people in this last bit. I was looking down and didn’t even acknowledge them.

It was going on forever. It was pretty mental at this point and I was getting hungry. Not that exercise food sounded good, but it probably would have been beneficial. I was strung along by the idea of going straight to Culvers with a “no limits” approach to ordering food. I daydreamed about what I’d get. Definitely a Butterburger. Definitely ice cream.

Meanwhile, this fricken path wouldn’t end. Did they get the miles wrong? I thought about sitting down on the side for a second, just to recoup. Maybe I’ll walk my bike for a minute, I thought. No! I biked it in. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t fast. It surely wasn’t comfortable. But finally, I saw County Road 2. This was the road we passed way back in the morning after that initial 9 mile loop. I knew the finish was right there. So, I picked it up! I saw a volunteer and started smiling uncontrollably.

IMG_0228Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I saw Rhonda and was so happy to finish. A left turn and I saw the finish line.

IMG_0230Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

IMG_0235Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I was so happy to coast on in, but there was a car exiting blocking the way. Gah… I weaved around and crossed a line of tape in the gravel. A girl ran up to me to get my race number and I confusedly hopped off my bike and stood there. I felt so exhausted in every way. Nick came over the hill and had a very funny mud line from his glasses. I’m not sure how his entire face got caked with mud. Rhonda snapped a few more pictures and I loaded up my bike.

IMG_0246Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I chatted with Nick for a second, but had to hit the road.

IMG_2563Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I spent $17 at Culvers. On the drive back to Duluth, I nearly fell asleep repeatedly. I hit the rumble strips a few times. Just completely tired.

I was very quick to forget how terrible the race was. In fact, the next day, I was jacked up and I want to do another gravel race. There is something weird about endurance events. It’s definitely an addiction. I’m a compulsive biker and runner. An endurance freak. I am who I am.


Race Stats:

Place: 21/145
Time: 7:05:40
Speed: 15.08mph

Bike: Diamondback Haanjo Comp

Food: 1 package of Trolli Britecrawlers, ~1 package of Honey Stinger Chews (Cherry Coke and Cherry Blossom), 1 Bearded Brothers Bar, 1 Honey Stinger Waffle (chocolate), 1 bottle blue Gatorade, ~2L water, some Mountain Dew, a quarter of a peanut butter and banana sandwich, a half a banana, 2 squares of caffeinated dark chocolate


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