The Frozen Otter

A line of Frozen Otter Racers.

A line of Frozen Otter Racers.

This weekend is the Frozen Otter Race. I completed the race in January 2010, and it is one of my greatest accomplishments to date. It’s the toughest thing I’ve ever done. For real.

I will not be racing this year, but I plan to be there to cheer on those that are, and to get in a little training hike for the PCT while I’m at it.

The Frozen Otter has two options. You can race the Half distance of 32 miles and complete it within 12 hours to place. Or you can go for it all and race the Full distance of 64 miles and complete it within 24 hours.

The race spans a 32-mile section of the Ice Age Trail in East-Central Wisconsin (racers complete two 32-mile out-and-backs to complete the full 64 miles), and the terrain is pretty challenging. There are a lot of short, steep hills, open meadows (a beast when it’s windy!), lots and lots of forest, and a few road crossings. There are parts of the trail, especially in the winter, which can be tricky to navigate. And I can tell you from experience, when hiking on this trail in the middle of the night, with no sign of other people for hours upon hours, staring at a headlamp-lit circle of snowy terrain in front of you for thousands of steps, and the same-looking trees passing by on both sides of you… you tend to get a little crazy. I’ve talked to myself, I’ve talked to my legs, I’ve sang to myself and even hallucinated. But just once. I’ve heard of people hallucinating a lot more than I did!

There are several reasons this race is such a challenge. Obviously, the first is 64 miles is a long distance for anyone to hike in one stretch. Second, as I mentioned, it’s on difficult terrain. Third, it’s mostly at night. Fourth, it’s self-supported (there are required checkpoints, which I’ll get to in a moment). But the biggest challenge of all is the weather. You don’t know if it’s going to 40° above zero or 20° below zero. You don’t know how much wind there will be, which can potentially bring the wind-chill temperature to severely dangerous lows. Then there are the snow levels. One year there were snow drifts up to my waist that we had to break through. Nobody finished the full distance that year.

So with all these challenges, it’s a good thing there’s required checkpoints, right? Mostly yes with a tiny mental-challenging side of no. They are great because they provide the race organizers a way to keep track of the racers for safety purposes, and they also provide thawed water (because you water WILL freeze up on you during this race), hot drinks, and usually some sort of snack. They are also great because you can get a little human interaction. This is really important when you’re on the second half and not seeing a soul for hours. I’ve almost come to tears just seeing another person for a few seconds to check in and check out. It’s a major morale-booster.

BUT… these checkpoints have one challenge to them – fire. There’s a warming fire at each one and they are spaced about 8 miles apart from each other. So every 8 miles you are tempted to step in close to that warmth, but when you do… it’s VERY difficult to step back onto the cold, dark, lonely trail and keep going.

Yet, with all of these challenges, the race this year filled up months before event day. 100 racers total will step onto the trail and attempt to push themselves beyond anything they thought they might be capable of doing.

I say good luck to all the racers this year, stay safe, and I hope to see you on the trail!

If you’d like to read my race recap from the year I completed the race… and maybe a photo of my feet after hiking 64 miles (I lost a few toenails, proudly), then check out this link (this entry resides on my old blog): Frozen Otter 2010.

This is how I fuel for 32 miles after just hiking 32 miles. A milkshake!

This is how I fuel for 32 miles after just hiking 32 miles. A milkshake! (2010)

This was my last checkpoint at 56 miles. Somehow, I was still smiling! (2010)

This was my last checkpoint at 56 miles. Somehow, I was still smiling! (2010)

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