News / USA

    Harrowing Minnesota Race Tests Endurance

    Athletes battle extreme conditions in Arrowhead 135

    The cyclists who placed first and second crossed the finish line just one second - the width of one wheel - apart.
    The cyclists who placed first and second crossed the finish line just one second - the width of one wheel - apart.

    Multimedia

    Audio

    Frostbite, sleep-deprivation and harrowing descents in pitch blackness are all part of the strange allure of the Arrowhead 135, a two-day 135 mile (217 kilometer) race that takes place each winter in far northern Minnesota.



    The competitors ski, bike or run along a snowmobile trail from the Canadian border, through a remote stretch of forest, to the small town of Tower, Minnesota. One hundred and thirty-five athletes started this year's eighth annual Arrowhead 135 in late January.

    Last year, overnight temperatures plummeted to minus 31 degress Celsius. The year before, minus 37. That year, cyclist Jason Buffington saw one of his friends - a fellow racer - who'd stopped.

    Competitors at Ski Pulk, the last checkpoint, 110 miles (177 km) into the race.
    Competitors at Ski Pulk, the last checkpoint, 110 miles (177 km) into the race.

    "I came up on Charlie in the last 20 miles of the trail standing and waving his legs back and forth trying to get circulation back in his toes," Buffington says.

    Charlie Farrow, 52,  kept going, crossing the finish line about two hours later. Buffington, a doctor from Duluth, Minnesota, and 10 years younger than Farrow, was there to meet him, and quickly helped him remove his boots.

    "His toes were swollen and purple like a plum," Buffington remembers. "He lost probably about half of the skin off his big toe about two or three months later."

    "My toenail never came back," Farrow adds, "so I'm a man without a toenail."

    Nevertheless, both men were still at the starting line for this year’s event. Farrow's bike was outfitted with snow tires as wide as his fist. After biking the past two years, Buffington raced on foot this time. He rigged up a sled to pull behind him, loaded with more than 11 kilos worth of survival gear every racer is required to carry for the extreme cold.

    Cyclist leaders at mile marker 109 (175 km) at night.
    Cyclist leaders at mile marker 109 (175 km) at night.

    "You get what's called the kennel cough," Buffington says. "Where your lungs get frozen, your eyeballs, your corneas get a little frostbite, and everyone kind of walks around, and everything's real foggy, and you just have this dry coughing going the whole time."

    Then there's the lack of sleep. The walkers and skiers take almost two days to complete the course, and may only sleep a couple of hours. The fastest bikers take nearly 20 hours, and don't rest at all.

    This was Farrow’s seventh Arrowhead. He’s done all of them except the very first race. The high school social studies teacher says every time he does the race, his fatigued mind starts playing sinister tricks.

    "I have a recurring hallucination regarding the Wizard of Oz. I always have this vision of the trees coming after me... and then I also have this vision of the Emerald City... but I can't ever get to it," he says.

    Isolation is also a factor. As the course meanders from International Falls, on the Canadian border, through a national forest and around and over some of Minnesota’s 10,000 now-frozen lakes, the racers are spread out far apart.

    "That's definitely the biggest danger," Buffington says. "Both years that I've biked it, even though it's taken less than 20 hours, there are times where for six-and-a-half hours, in the middle of the night, 20 below, you don't see a soul, and if anything happens, you're out there on your own."

    That means racers have to be extremely prepared and careful. Three aid stations and nine shelters are spaced along the route.

    Jeremy Kershaw, 40, a cardiac nurse, has completed the race for the past three years; first by ski, then bike, and last year on foot. With about 32 kilometers to go, he caught up to a racer struggling on the side of the trail.

    "He was kind of frantically trying to get new clothes on and eat," Kershaw says. "It was a scary situation because I was really at the last several hours of the race, and so I was really at the end of my reserves."

    Luckily, the racer had a cell phone, so Kershaw was able to get hold of a support crew which hauled the racer to safety by snowmobile.

    Kershaw says it was a good reminder of how things can go wrong. "If you're not paying attention, things can go south very quickly, particularly when it's that cold and you're that tired."

    Every year, about half the racers in the Arrowhead 135 drop out before reaching the finish line.

    And that's partly what attracts athletes like Kershaw. "I'm more drawn to it by the fact that there's so much carnage, that people don't finish, that it's so tough."

    There wasn’t as much carnage this year. The temperature at the start was a relatively balmy minus twelve degrees Celsius. And racers benefitted from the conditions. Minnesotan Casey Krueger smashed the ski record by 14 hours, finishing in just over 22 hours.

    The first woman biker across the finish line - Eszter Horanyi from Colorado - took a bit over 18 hours to break the women’s record by two hours, just two-and-a-half hours behind the winning biker.

    And Jason Buffington, the doctor from Duluth, set a new course record for runners. He finished in just over 37 hours.

    You May Like

    Republicans Struggle With Reality of Trump Nomination

    Despite calls for unity by presumptive presidential nominee, analysts see inevitable fragmentation of party ahead of November election and beyond

    Spanish Warrants Point to Russian Govt. Links to Organized Crime

    Links to several Russians, some of them reputedly close Putin associates, backed by ‘very strong evidence,’ Spanish judge says

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    Iraq needs stable, central government to push back against Islamic State, US says, but others warn that Baghdad may not have unified front any time soon

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora