Tuscobia 2021 – Wrap up

Hello everyone,

First off, Thank You to all our volunteers and partners! You are extremely valuable and necessary – we could not put on this event without you.

Thank you to all who participated. While there were some unique challenges this year, your patience and flexibility is appreciated. As always, your feedback is encouraged. The Tuscobia Winter Ultra is ultimately your event, we just help make it happen.

Overall it was a successful event. We didn’t lose anyone and as far as we know everyone still has all their fingers and toes. It was so great to see old friends and meet new ones. The volunteers were selfless, as were many participants who became volunteers when their own event ended prematurely. It reminded us yet again of the amazing culture the winter ultra family is known for.

But not everything is unicorns and rainbows. Some folks this year figured the rules didn’t apply to them. This provides us all a chance to step back and think about what the Tuscobia Winter Ultra means. We can’t speak for each and every one of you, but we can tell you what we try to foster at this event:

  1. Safety is our highest priority: frostbite, hypothermia, snowmobiles. It ultimately falls on each participant to make sure they prepare adequately and execute a good plan to safely participate in an inherently dangerous activity. Consideration of gear, training, decision making is all important. Group safety is also important – does the decision I am about to make potentially endanger myself or others?
  2. A chance to test the limits of our physical, mental and emotional boundaries. Self supported. This event is supposed to be difficult. What is difficult for one person might not be the same for another, but Tuscobia tries to offer everyone a challenge.
  3. The opportunity to experience the highs and lows of such an event with or without the companionship of fellow participants. Sometimes we need to be alone on the trail to find the cathartic release we are searching for. Sometimes we find ourselves passing the miles with others. Friendships forged while working through the mutual experience can be special.
  4. Respect for each other, the trails we use and the communities we pass through. Events like Tuscobia are unique, and often regarded as “crazy” and “dangerous.” It is important for us to be good stewards of winter ultras. We also believe in financially supporting the communities where Tuscobia happens, which is why we encourage patronizing the communities that allow us a venue to offer the Tuscobia experience. Respect other trail users. Does what I am doing right now show I am aware and respectful of the environment/people/world around me?

Finishing Tuscobia is an admirable goal, but not finishing does not make anyone any less in any capacity. It is quite possible the most satisfying and fulfilling experiences at a winter ultra happen when we don’t actually finish. “It’s the journey, not the destination” could not be more applicable than here. Perspective and ever changing situations in our lives dictate if finishing should be the goal at all. Winning is cool, but should never be a goal ahead of the 4 points listed above.

We’re not here to preach. We know that brains get fuzzy below zero. But it bothers us when we spend time putting together this event, with fairly basic rules, and participants choose to ignore them.

It causes us to pause and reflect on our effectiveness as the event directors and our role in these decisions.

We’ve reiterated some of the key rules further below to highlight their importance and provide background.

We recognize finishers with a hat. We provide podium finishers with (modest) prizes. Maybe we have inadvertently contributed to the temptation of cheating, of finishing no matter what.

We’re not interested in disqualifying people. Anyone who didn’t follow the rules can withdraw their finish by contacting us. Or at the very least, question why a finish was so important that you felt the need to cheat, showing your fellow participants and volunteers that your own motives were more important than theirs, and that you don’t care about the ability of the event to obtain future permits.

We share all of this information with you in the hope that you think about what is important when participating in Tuscobia, and why we have some of the rules we do. Most participants come to Tuscobia for the right reasons, and most follow the rules we set. Safety is paramount to us and it only takes one tragic accident to change the life of one of you forever. If you feel the need to ignore the rules at Tuscobia, it is not the right venue for you.

To close out, we are delighted to share that this year we are making a donation to CORBA’s newest trail system: the River Doc Trails just outside of Rice Lake. CORBA is a volunteer based organization dedicated to building, improving, and maintaining multi-use trails and promoting activities and events on the trails in Wisconsin’s Chippewa Valley. If anyone is interested in learning more about the specific project, please check it out here.

Chris & Helen


Background on some of our rules and why they are important:

1) Visibility and stay to the right – snowmobiles and vehicles. From Chris: while riding my snowmobile on the trail, I can very easily get within 20 yards of most participants going only 20 mph before they realize I am there. When this happens it usually startles most of you. And this is when you have all your faculties. How many of you have ever found yourself traversing the trail while nodding off? How many of you have found yourself weaving back and forth on the trail? When your brains are no longer effective, your preparation and pre-planning might save your life. Imagine this scenario: you are sleep walking/riding or weaving on the trail due to a state of exhaustion or hypothermia or maybe just tough trail conditions that make riding in a straight line difficult; the driver of the snowmobile has had a few beers – or not – maybe visibility is just low and your are just around a blind corner. Clearly you are not proactively ensuring your own safety, but your lights and reflective are. And maybe the conscious decision you made at the start of the event to follow the rules and stay to the right means you are weaving but only from the right edge of the trail to the center. Just maybe you won’t get run over by a snowmobile, which will certainly impact the rest of your life, and most likely will rob others of the opportunity to participate in any future winter ultra, much less Tuscobia. Are there times when it is okay to be two wide and chatting to a new friend – absolutely – but you both better be paying attention – and remember, a snowmobile can get within 20 yards of you going 20 mph before you realize they are there. Assuming the driver of the snowmobile is attentive and in control is an unacceptable risk in my opinion.  Furthermore, all trail users are required to follow the rules imposed on them by the state and DNR to use the trail. For our group, it is required that we stay to the right. Pretty much common sense, we are slower traffic, therefore we stay to the right. I realize many drivers in the state of MN don’t employ this common sense, but I digress. Lastly, failure to stay to the right tells motorized trail traffic that you think you are more important than they are. Considering we are using a shared trail, I do not want to give motorized users the idea that we don’t respect them. The snowmobile lobby is much larger and better funded than the winter ultra community and the snowmobile community has regular meetings with lawmakers and law enforcement like the DNR.

2) Limited time at checkpoints/designated rest stops – while we were very specific about a 30-minute limit this year due to Covid, we have always emphasized this due to limited space and the self-supported nature of the event. When participants lounge at a checkpoint for hours it hampers the ability of others to avail of the same checkpoint. We see this every year. Someone thinks that they deserve to sit at a heater to dry their clothes for hours because they mismanaged preparation/execution or made bad decisions (rain excluded). What this person doesn’t seem to realize or care about is that by monopolizing the checkpoint they are disrespecting everyone else around them – the other participants who wish to use the heater for 10 minutes, the volunteers who are trying to treat everyone equally, the event organizers who trust that when people say they will follow the rules, they mean it.

3) Calling 911 in non-emergent situations, family members calling us to rescue you, knocking on random doors, bivying up on the steps of a business waiting for them to open, using the post office (or similar) to warm up – this tells the communities and government agencies involved in permitting our event that it is too dangerous. That participants can’t handle the conditions or make good decisions and event organizers don’t provide enough amenities. Using local businesses without patronizing them also touches on this situation. You should be making decisions in your prep and execution that keep you out of dire situations that negatively impact your health and safety as well as the viability of this event. We get feedback every year about just these things, which we have to address and assure won’t happen again.

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