2012 Graduate Aaron Arnzen Places Second In 2018 Trans South Dakota Bikepacking Race

In July, Notre Dame graduate Aaron Arnzen participated in his first bikepacking race: the 2018 Trans South Dakota. Not only did he finish second overall, but along with the first place competitor, broke the previous record held for the 740-mile race by almost an entire day.


At 8 a.m. on July 20, Arnzen took off from the Black Hills in South Dakota with 23 other bikers. He’d been training since February to handle the self-supported nature of the race.


“You know, so many things go into it. Being able to ride your bike a lot, of course,” said Arnzen. “But especially things like nutrition, hydration, shelter, and how and where you’ll take care of each.”


The race was also untraditional in the sense that riders would not be traveling on smooth pavement.


“We were biking on gravel roads, B-roads, service roads, and even a bit of single track, which required mountain biking,” said Arnzen.


Considering these circumstances, he used a gravel bike, which classifies as a mountain bike, but with a road bike frame. This wasn’t his only form of transportation for the whole 740 miles, though. When Arnzen hit Pierre, the state capital of South Dakota, as part of the course, he paddled 5 miles down the Missouri River.


“We basically had to pop off the wheels of our bikes, and attach them to a packraft, an inflatable boat,” said Arnzen.


In terms of rest, Arnzen didn’t get much. He said there were many ways to approach sleeping and the accommodations necessary to do so.


“It’s much more enjoyable sleeping in the day and riding at night, considering the heat,” said Arnzen.


He brought along a bivy to sleep in and a pyramid tent, which fit both him and his bike and withstood a bit of harsh weather, including hail. The first night, he set up the bivy nearly a mile down from Mount Rushmore and slept for only four hours. The second and third nights, Arnzen crashed at hotels for short 4-5 hour visits. A fight for the top 3 positions caused Arnzen to ride through his last night.


Only 8 miles behind the biker in first place, Arnzen took a quick 2 hour nap before biking his last 160 miles, and finished at 2:02 a.m.


Arnzen completed the race in 4 days, 18 hours, and 2 minutes, an hour and a half behind first place. The previous course record averaged around 5 days and 8 hours.


On saving time, Arnzen had to get creative, and recommended doing things on your bike that you would typically do while standing.


“You can save a few minutes here and there, and if you do that a couple of days in a row, maybe save an hour or two,” said Arnzen. “It’s fun as well, like, ‘Hey, can I brush my teeth while I’m riding?’”


And, he wasn’t completely alone.


“The cool thing about these events – although there are things at stake and it’s at the core a race – everybody’s in it for each other,” said Arnzen. “Of course, you’re not going to put yourself in a burdening position to help, but if someone can help out, they’re by all means going to do so.”


Arnzen plans on competing in the Colorado Trail Race and the Arizona Trail Race next year, and hopes to make it to the Tour Divides – a 2,800-mile race which follows the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from Banff, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico – in the summer of 2020.


“This race was a great stepping stone, and good event to either say ‘never again” or ‘I’d do it again,” said Arnzen. “I took a shot into the unknown. Be willing to try new things and learn from them, instead of being turned down from negative results.”


Arnzen graduated from Notre Dame in 2012, and currently works at Cyclewerx in Cape Girardeau.