A weekend away for a dry run on the Tuscobia Winter Ultra course couldn’t have come at a better time–just days post-2016 presidential election. Add in the company of good friends, spouse, and no cell service for a much needed, albeit quite temporary, reprieve from the increasing uneasiness accompanying the results.
I take that back; Jen and I acknowledged the risk of four women venturing to rural Wisconsin post-election. I can’t get over that there was even the need to be appreciative that we didn’t encounter any trouble. I suppose it helped we stuck to an empty campground and a mostly desolate trail… only one confederate flag strewn across a pickup truck crossed our path. As someone who falls into the realm of gender non-conforming and a skin tone whose origin is often left up to viewer discretion, the recent increase in hate crimes left me with a valid concern, but like I said, no harm done beyond heightened awareness.
Back to the trail…
After a pre-sunrise departure from Minneapolis, we set up our tent with a 35-degree overnight forecast in mind. Similar approach to dressing for the weather: Layers. We lined the tent with a space blanket, grandmother-made sheep’s wool quilt, inexpensive plush mattress pad (that yellow-ish foamy kind), sleeping pads, and finally, cozy zero-degree sleeping bags.
Day 1 – 20 miles
We (four humans, one German Shepard and one chihuahua) set off on the Tuscobia Trail toward Birchwood, fully loaded with two heavy duty garden wagons and one little Burly for the chihuahua. Since we hadn’t yet pulled a wagon in training, Jen and I opted to switch off every couple hours hauling our new wagon and trying out an ancient (yet quite effective) pair of ski poles that worked well as trekking poles. We lucked out with another gorgeous fall day, around 50 degrees and sunshine.
The trail, a mix of sand and gravel meant for ATV’s, was a welcome mindless switch from our other long walk endeavors. No maps or trail markers to watch for, no distance or route decisions to be made, just keep moving forward on the seemingly endless trail (spoiler: it does end at 74 miles in Rice Lake).
The goal was to keep a 3-mile an hour walking pace (20-minute miles), and despite quick breaks for snacks, water for the dogs, re-adjusting wagon set-ups, and a 40-minute lunch break, we averaged an overall 25-minute per mile pace.
To pass the time, we chatted, sang (some of us sang, not me, I don’t sing for the best interest of everyone), walked ahead in silence, and occasionally noted that with each step we were that much closer to the tator tot hot dish awaiting us back at camp. Exhaustion, aching feet, and antsiness crept in, but not one of us complained. We simply kept moving forward.
While rope is suggested for rigging up our sleds in the race, rigid poles work better for controlling a wagon in training. Jen and I learned that the hard, wobbly-front-tires way.
Don’t stick a nice winter hat in your little pants pocket expecting it to stay there. It will fall out and you’ll realize it two miles down the trail. On the bright side, you’ll get a gear-free, bonus run in to find said hat while your training mates hang out near a local gas station and bear witness to the aforementioned confederate flag. (Don’t worry, I found my hat.)
Day 2 – 12 miles
We headed the opposite direction of day one with two major highlights: no wagons and only six miles out and back to easily cover in four hours. Compared to Saturday, the miles flew by and we ate lunch while in motion.
- Altra Lone Peak neoshell (zero-drop trail shoe)
- Merino wool socks
- Long boxer briefs without too many seams
- Adventure pants (quick drying active-wear pants with pockets)
- Lightweight merino wool long sleeve
- Heavier weight 1/4 zip running pullover layer
- Light zippered jacket with a hood
- Lightweight gloves
- Winter hat
- 400 lb. capacity yardwork wagon
- Attachment set-up: $17 padded tool belt, two carabiners, thin rope looped through the axel meant for the wagon handle
- Snacks: Lone Grazer cheese curds, turkey sticks, dark chocolate chips, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, homemade banana walnut muffins, beef jerky
- Lunch: Homemade beef, spinach, cheddar cheese tortilla wrap; apple; Pirate’s Booty (a luxurious slightly salty co-op treat)
- Extra trail shoes
- Extra socks
- Bladder filled with H20 plus Tailwind
- Red LED lights
- Reflective vest
- Pocket knife
- Water bottle
- Portable USB charger
- GPS watch attached to one of the straps with a carabiner
Logging so many miles boosted our confidence. Sure, 20 miles wasn’t easy (to me it felt more tiring than running 20 miles, but I’ve also never done a long run pulling a wagon), but we pushed through it and only have to tack on another 60 miles in two months (breathe in, breathe out, on repeat!). Jen and I are feeling on track with training, but also re-realized the importance of pulling weight at our waists, so we’ll be breaking out the old car tires for a weekly longish walk.
Experiencing the boredom, fatigue and hiking from daylight to sundown provided critical physical, and likely more importantly, mental training. I don’t know that I’ve ever said this before, but… I’m eagerly awaiting snow so we can practice hauling our gear on sleds.