Local cyclist shatters record while winning 135-mile race in Minnesota
Jorden Wakeley competes in Arrowhead 135, finishing first during extreme cold temperatures
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
Jorden Wakeley, a local cyclist, recently won one of the toughest outdoor competitions in the country – a 135-mile race held in Minnesota during the middle of winter – and his final time shattered the event’s all-time record.
Wakeley competed in the 2019 Arrowhead 135 last week. The race – open to cyclists, hikers, and cross country skiers – starts in International Falls in Minnesota. He said the course is “point to point,” 135 miles, with the first 30 being flat, the next 70 to 80 being “very hilly,” and the final 20 being “really flat.”
Extreme cold weather has been hitting the country recently, and this year’s Arrowhead 135 featured temperatures well below zero. Wakeley said he heard it was “27 below in the swamps” during the coldest part of the event.
Seventy-seven people started the bicycling portion of the 2019 Arrowhead 135, according to results posted on the event’s website. Only 39 of them finished. (It was worse in the skiing and hiking divisions. Only 13 out of 64 hikers finished; for those who did complete the course, it took between 36 and 56 hours, approximately. Only a few skiers attempted the course, and none finished.)
“Fifty-six hours, I can’t imagine what he went through out there,” Wakeley said.
All competitors have to bring survival gear, Wakeley said. Some stopped to sleep at a cabin at Mile 72, he said.
Wakeley, like most of the cyclists, completed the course in one shot. No break.
“It’s considered one of the 50 toughest races in the world, especially when the weather gets that cold,” Wakeley said.
Wakeley placed first, posting a finish time of 11 hours and 43 minutes. The second best time was 13 hours and 27 minutes. Wakeley’s time beat the existing record for best finish by more than an hour and a half. He was surprised to surpass it by that much.
“I thought the previous record was fast, but everything aligned. The course, fitness level was good,” Wakeley said.
He said the first 20 miles were rough, but it was better after that.
“I thought I was in trouble early,” Wakeley said.
Some of the biggest challenges associated with a race held in such cold conditions?
“Keeping your water not frozen,” Wakeley said. “In a race like that you want to manage your sweat. You don’t want to sweat a lot.”
This was the second time he’s competed in the Arrowhead 135. In 2015, his first time competing in the event, he won with a finish time of 15 hours.
“It was a lot warmer that year,” Wakeley said.
With the extreme cold this year, he said his biggest concern was frostbite. Wakeley had a serious case of frostbite during a 2017 race in Wisconsin that forced him out of the Arrowhead that year.
“My feet were my biggest concern. I had frostbite before. I went all out on gear this year. This time around, I got the best stuff I could get,” Wakeley said.
Wakeley said that fat biking in the snow doesn’t feel much different than trail cycling, as long as the snow is “packed down.” The frigid conditions at the Arrowhead this year helped with creating a fast course.
“I think that record will stand for a while. If not, I’ll have to go back,” Wakeley said. “We had perfect trails. When it’s that cold, the snow just sets up and it’s like concrete.”
He described the course as “pure wilderness.” He said some of the hills were so steep he had to get off the bike and walk it up the inclines.
Wakeley has been racing on mountain bikes since he was in middle school. He said his first fat bike race during the winter was eight years ago. He also competes in cross country ski races.
“Just living up here in northern Michigan, you just have to embrace it,” Wakeley said.
He competes in approximately 10 winter biking events per year.
Wakeley has a race coming up in Alaska in a few weeks. He expects warmer conditions than those the competitors faced in Minnesota this year.
“I’m looking forward to that. It won’t be as cold as Arrowhead. It’s almost like their springtime,” Wakeley said.
Wakeley is still hoping to someday compete in the Iditarod Trail Challenge – a fat biking event that is now part of the famous long distance Iditarod sled race – but he knows the cost would be around $8,000.
“It’s definitely on the radar but not anytime soon. That’s the biggest winter race in the world. It sounds like the ultimate experience,” Wakeley said.