An ultra-extreme race
People driving in Chisago and Isanti counties might have recently seen a man riding a bicycle with big, fat tires late at night on snowmobile trails and probably wondered, “What is that guy doing?”
That guy is 37-year-old Harris resident Adam Curtis, and he’s been training for the Arrowhead 135.
The Arrowhead 135 is a grueling three-day “ultra race” that starts Jan. 28 in International Falls and ends in Tower.
Racers are allowed 60 hours to complete the 135 miles via bicycling, cross-country skiing or running.
About 50 percent of entrants do not finish the race.
Adam completed the race last year on his fat bike in 34 hours and decided to enter it again this year.
He said his goal this time is to finish in less than 20 hours.
Top finishers complete the race in just under 15 hours, Adam said.
Adam, an avid cyclist in the spring, summer and fall, said he got into biking in the winter because he didn’t want to take a break from the sport just because conditions become less than ideal when temperatures in Minnesota plummet.
“I’ve always loved biking, and about three years ago, Surly started producing these bikes called Pugsleys (that allow cyclists to bike on packed snow),” he said. “I figured I’d get one of these bikes and bike in the wintertime, rather than sitting on a stationary bike.”
Before winter, Adam biked about 4,000 miles, some in races with his 33-year-old wife Barb.
He said he had to submit those miles, which he recorded on his bike’s GPS, to the organizers of the Arrowhead 135 in order to be eligible for the race.
“They want to make sure you’re not a liability,” he said.
To train in the winter, Adam hops on his bike as often as he can, finds some good snowmobile trails, dons his warm biking gear—which includes a blinking light for safety—and bikes 10-12 hours at a time.
“I hate being away from my family during prime family time, so I’ll take off at midnight or 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., and then I’ll be back at home at 3 p.m. or 4 p.m.,” he said. “I just hammer away.”
Adam noted it takes some scavenging and experimentation to find the right kind of gear to use for the Arrowhead 135.
Before he completed the race last year, he visited numerous online blogs about the race, talked to people who have completed it and tested out gear in the coldest conditions he could find before entering the race.
Just to keep his feet warm, Adam uses 10 layers, which includes special boots that are rated for temperatures below -30 degrees.
“(During the 2012 race) the temperature dropped to -46 (degrees),” he said.
Coupled with the headwind created by cycling; that made for quite a chilly expedition.
Adam also said racers need to make sure they take in enough calories and water to keep them going.
He said he burned about 14,000 calories when he completed the race.
Adam brings with him a homemade trail mix comprised of chocolate covered peanuts, Sour Patch Kids, Butterfinger bars and skittles.
He also makes 600-calories squeeze packs of peanut butter and honey that can be quickly consumed while he is on his bike.
In addition to the calorie-dense food, Adam carries a Camelbak of water close to his body so it doesn’t freeze.
In order to ensure the hose that runs from the Camelbak to his mouth doesn’t freeze, Adam keeps it under numerous layers of clothes, and wraps the portion that rests atop his shoulder with heat packs.
One with nature
Adam said the first time he completed the race, it was the closest he’s ever felt with nature.
He said at some points he would go eight or nine hours at a time without seeing another person.
The frigid wind would whistle softly through the trees, the Northern Lights would dance across the sky in spectacular waves, and occasionally Adam would see movement in the forest surrounding the Arrowhead snowmobile trail.
He said wolves would get close enough for him to see the glow of their eyes, but they would dart away as soon as he flashed his light on them.
Adam is already planning future bike races—he’s partaking in a mountain bike race this summer that goes from one side of Costa Rica to the other—and he’s drafted a list of “dream” winter bike races he’d like to complete.
One goes 350 miles around Lake Baikal in Russia, and another covers 100 miles in Finland near the Arctic Circle.
Adam said he’d like Barb to get involved in the Arrowhead 135.
“I could ski while she bikes, or we could bike it together,” he said. “I would love it if we were the first tandem bikers to do it.”
He added, “As long as there’s an adventure out there, we’ll find a way to do it.”