I have this tendency to get my mind set on something and then totally obsess over it. It’s not all bad, though. This is what got me to hike across America. It’s what got me to run a marathon. It’s what got me to thru-hike the PCT. It’s what helped me become a truck driver. It’s what I do. I enjoy the dreaming, planning, preparing and obsessing stages of these adventures – especially the nervous and excited anticipation when said adventure draws near.
Well, my latest obsession is in full swing, and I’m about four and a half months from go-time. What’s next, you ask?
The mighty Frozen Otter.
While I wish I was sharing news of another multi-month traveling, beauty, nature and freedom-seeking mountainous super-adventure, that will have to wait until a later time. Current circumstances limit me to adventures that don’t require such extreme time commitments. So I instead immerse myself in crazy stuff like this.
So what is this Frozen Otter? If you’ve known me for a while, you’ve heard of it, because I’m sure I’ve mentioned it. I love this race. It’s brutal. It’s tough. It hurts. It’s cold. In a few later blogs I’ll try to explain my history with this event and how I’m attempting to prepare for it this time around.
So… The Frozen Otter. It’s a 64-mile ultra race. That’s just a little over 100k. So it’s far. It takes place on a hilly section of the Ice Age Trail here in my home-state of Wisconsin.
To be considered a finisher, you must complete the 64 miles within a 24-hour time limit. That comes out to an average of about 2.6 miles per hour. That doesn’t sound so bad, right? I mean, most of us can hike faster than that. But there’s more to it than just that.
The event is held in mid-January – the dead of winter. In Wisconsin. The weather during this time is totally unpredictable. Temperatures can dip down to 20 below zero. It can be windy, and let’s not forget about snow. There might not be any snow, but there could also be drifts up to your thighs. It could snow three feet the night before the race. You just don’t have any idea… until you show up the morning of race day. You can’t use snow shoes, and you can’t use skis. Just your two little feet.
And since it’s a 24-hour race, a big chunk of it is overnight – through the frozen, dark forest. All that will illuminate your path is the circle of light from your headlamp. For hours.
2.6 miles per hour might still seem like no biggie, but once you start factoring in potentially challenging trail conditions that could slow you down, and then breaks, it starts to look a little tougher. What really makes it a challenge to hold this average pace are the manned checkpoints set out to help you. They occur about every eight miles, and these checkpoints have warm fires, hot water, and possibly food.
Once you sit down in front of that fire, it is incredible how quickly 20 minutes passes by. Or an hour. Or two. By the time you’ve checked in, pulled the empty bottles out of your pack to be refilled, and talked to a few of the racers and volunteers while letting the fire’s warmth soak into your frozen face, you’ll find yourself feeling comfortable and not wanting to head back out into the cold, dark forest all alone… on aching feet and tired legs. And if you’ve been enjoying this break a little too long, you’ll now have to hustle. And these stops (which are also required for check-ins) are every eight miles, so not including the start, there will be seven of them to tempt you and pull you in.
Oh, did I mention the race is totally self-supported, too? This means you can’t receive any outside help. Your buddies can’t give you water or food, supply you with fresh batteries for your dimming headlamp, or hand you a set of warmer gloves at the next road crossing. You have to carry everything yourself, and you can’t skimp on the essentials – there is a required list of items that must be carried, including a 15-degree sleeping bag if the temperatures drop too low. The only thing your friends can do for you out there is cheer you on.
There is support, however, at those manned checkpoints, in which you can take advantage of – but only from the volunteers. For example, a volunteer can give you some hot water and some Ramen noodles, but your buddy can’t give you the Snickers bar and hot coffee he picked up for you at the local gas station. That’ll have to wait. There are also no drop bags allowed along the course, except for the start/finish staging area. So if you want to, you can keep a bag or bin of dry clothes, a resupply of food, some anti-chafe roll-on – whatever your little heart desires, in your car at the start. But again, there’s a catch to this. You can’t access this gear until 46 miles into the race.
If you’re still not convinced that this sucker is brutal, consider the finisher rate of only 20%. The first year of the race, there was one finisher. A totally badass girl, might I add! Years two and three had zero finishers. ZERO. There were some freezing temperatures one year and thigh-deep snow another. Since then there have been some milder years, with sometimes 50 finishers, so we can all go in hoping for such luck with the weather, but again, you have to be ready for anything.
With all that being said, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you enjoy trail running, winter, hiking, endurance challenges, comeraderie, food, cold, forested silence, and pushing yourself physically – any of these things – or all – you should sign up and give it a shot. And if you complete the full 64-mile distance within the 24-hour time limit, you become one of the “Frozen Few.” And if the weather is foul, and the trail conditions are less than desirable for a 64-mile trek, it will feel even more awesome to finish. My hope is for a nice balance. Well… my hope is really just to finish.
Get more info and sign up here!
Tonight I love the reminder that I’m healthy even be able to attempt stuff like this.