By Eric Peterson
The first ten miles of the race are on an old railroad grade, but now we make a sharp turn to the east and it’s time for things to get interesting. The Arrowhead trail meanders its way thru some really fascinating terrain which frequently dips thru otherwise unused swamps and marshlands. These lowlands are rather difficult to travel thru during the summer and due to the soft trail conditions they are not all that easy for the race. I started out with pretty high pressure in the tires and I’m feeling like I would be more comfortable at a lower pressure so I stop to make some adjustments. I’ve had the idea that I should drop pressure for some time now, but I just hadn’t been able to tare myself away from the tire in front of me and the group that I was with. I pull to the side of the trail and the group pulls away, so I change to my light weight gloves, get some food, drink some water, and adjust the tires. I pause for a second before taking off again to listen for something and I hear it. Silence. It’s the kind of silence that you can only get in the woods during the winter. I do most of my riding near Duluth and it is never quite as peaceful as this.
Now that the group I was riding with is gone I’m alone which feels great, although this early in the race people aren’t too spread out yet so soon I hear someone behind me. Several of us would end up kind of riding together for the next ten miles or so. One would pull away but then would stop to drink water and we would catch up. Then the trail would get smooth and I’d pull away only to have them catch back up when it was rough. Finally we split up totally and I finished the first leg uneventfully by myself. My dad was waiting at the checkpoint and we went into the store for some soup and to take a break. The Gateway General Store was a mess of racers, workers, and volunteers. I was a little lethargic at that point so stepping into that place was like walking into a beehive. I kicked off my boots and sat down to eat my soup at a table which was terribly out of place. It was obviously set up for the race and I greatly appreciated it even though I was really uncomfortable eating there. Something about eating food in a grocery type store just seemed odd. I looked around and saw grocery store type things like shore lunch and flower, a cooler with soda, one with ice cream sandwiches, and gift shop trinkets, but there I was in my bike gear eating soup. It was weird but I was glad to have had the chance to sit down for a bit, eat some soup, and chat with my father.
I hopped back on the bike feeling completely refreshed and was riding down the short spur trail which happened to be completely chewed up from spectators walking on it. I was really looking forward to getting back on some hard packed bike tracks, but when I got there they were gone. Apparently some snowmobiles had gone by when I was at the checkpoint and now the trail was mush. Previously, when you would go off the packed bike tracks it was crusty but now it was like riding thru lumpy mashed potatoes. I noticed my speed was drastically slower than earlier in the day and I could feel the darkness of frustration setting in. It was like a cancer from behind the brain slowly devouring my motivation, but somehow I rode on. Soon I saw a track and I tried to ride it, but it didn’t offer much relief from the dreaded mash potatoes. Creeping up on me from behind was an emotionally dark place and I just couldn't ride fast enough to outrun it. The world around me was closing and I had myself convinced that I could never finish this thing, but then out of nowhere another track would mysteriously appear and then another as if to tell me to keep going…….