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Lessons from Fat Pursuit and cycling in -40F

The Fat Pursuit is a winter ultra event located in and around Island Park, Idaho. There are two distances, the 60k and 200k, and there are three different disciplines, biking, running, and skiing. I did the 200k on a bike last year and had to come back for more. Looking at the weather prior to the race I knew it was going to be a tough one. Lots of new snow had fallen making the course soft and slow and with lows in the -30F range plus wind chill it was sure to be an exciting one.

The race started at 7 am and of course, it wouldn’t be an event put on by Jay if there wasn’t some sort of twist. Jay led us in a neutral rollout around the resort it started at and after getting back we had the water boil test, at the start line, all together, less than 15 minutes into the race. I didn’t get out first but was certainly not last and after getting my water to a rolling boil I was off. Once I was on the first part of the snow I could tell it was soft and almost immediately had to air down my tires. Everyone spread pretty quickly and I soon found myself riding with a group of around four. We all took turns breaking trail and stayed relatively close together. I had expected there to be snowmobiles because of course we were riding on snowmobile trails and I had remembered them from last year but the sheer number of them out there was incredible. There would be waves of them and sometimes they would ride in groups of up to 30. The constant drone of their engines was everywhere and you couldn’t go five minutes without getting passed by one. Not only was there the annoying noise but the exhaust from their engines would hang over the trail making it hard to breathe. 

Thanks to Eddie Clark Media for these photos from the event!

Getting to the top of Two Top was an accomplishment and fortunately, it was sunny and you could see the beautiful scenery for miles. However, the wind was also blowing making the chilly weather feel even colder so getting down quickly was a priority. The way down was interesting, to say the least, the lack of a packed trail made it hard to keep in a straight line and the snow would take your front wheel making you swerve. After the steep descent, we met the first “moto whoops.” These “moto whoops” are lots of evenly spaced bumps or “whoops” that are about two feet tall and are created by the snowmobiles. Though it may seem fun when you get to pump some whoops on a downhill trail this was far from that. It made the slow progress even slower and made you work even harder to control the bike at a slower speed. 

I made it to the first aid station, which is only 28 miles in, around 1:30, six and a half hours after the start. At the aid station, I refilled my water bladder, put some hot water in with some freeze-dried soup, and grabbed a couple of snacks. After the first aid station, the real challenge starts there is another 2,000-foot climb but this time you’re not fresh and you’ve already been racing for hours. Not only are you exhausted but the climbing seems to never end, especially on one tough part in particular. This specific part is a straight in the road where you can see miles ahead, and it doesn’t look too terribly steep or hard. However, this must be some sort of optical illusion because it lasts forever. You can look up it and see people that seem only a couple hundred feet above you but are easily half an hour ahead. Every time you feel like you’ve gotten to the top you go over another little bump and find a whole other climb. And the top isn’t a satisfying top, there is no steep downhill to reward you instead you have to do another twenty miles of ups and downs, this was just the high point. 

Photo by Eddie Clark Media

By this time it was dark and I was back with the group of four. The next couple of hours were a blur and I kind of zoned out because nothing really interesting happened but by no means does this mean they went by fast, it was the same old soft snow, annoying whoops, and constant getting on and off the bike after hitting a particularly soft spot. Eventually, we turned onto another road that was even worse, there was no chance of riding it because of how soft the snow was, even though it was on a downhill grade. After being able to ride for a couple hundred feet I had left my group, in these slow conditions that was all it took and now I was alone. The only thing that was keeping me going was the hope that after turning onto the next road there would be a nice groomed downhill. There was a downhill but it certainly wasn’t nice and groomed and pretty much the same as the last road. I was occasionally able to hop on my bike and ride for a bit but it was usually limited to a hundred feet. There were the tracks from the few people ahead of me but they weren’t packed down because everyone was walking so that wasn’t much help. 

The hill was gradually getting steeper so I was able to ride more and more often and eventually I could see the lights of the leaders. They were still walking because they were breaking trail so I was able to catch up pretty fast. I walked with them for a little bit and then tried hopping on the bike and riding. Since I am a lot lighter than the bigger and older people, I could float above the snow more easily and continue riding. The four other leaders were able to start riding in my tracks and we took turns breaking trail. The trail had been groomed from the base of the descent and once we hit this packed snow it made life easier. I once again was able to get out ahead of everyone and thought it would be a perfect time to put some more air in the tires. I quickly grabbed my pump and fumbled around trying to get it to connect to the valve. By this time it was already -25 degrees so I tried to keep my hands in my gloves. After finally getting it connected I quickly put enough air in and started to unscrew the pump. I saw the valve core twisting so I quickly stopped and tried to get it to stay in. After a couple of minutes, I decided it was not worth it and just unscrewed the pump with the valve core. I grabbed a pair of pliers and wrenched the valve core out of the pump and made sure to get it extra tight into the wheel so it would not come out again. I finally pumped the tire up again, put everything away, and started riding. All the leaders had passed me by now and once again I was alone. I was able to ride for about half an hour but my tire started to feel low again I looked down and saw that it was nearly flat. I pumped it up and continued riding but it happened again. When I was taking the valve core out of the pump I had damaged some of the threads so now it wasn’t sealing properly. With the temperature still dropping, I knew I wouldn’t be able to put a tube in with thick gloves, so I decided to bivy and wait for someone to pick me up. 

I had also unfortunately let myself get dehydrated while I was out there. I had run out of water around the beginning of the descent and because of how cold it was and I had just caught the leaders I didn’t want to stop and boil water. I thought I was going to make it to the second aid soon enough so I just continued riding. After laying in the bivy for about an hour three side-by-sides came by, they stopped and I asked them for a ride and they said yes. They were coming out to check on some people so we ended up staying out there for about three hours until we went back to the highway. I somewhat regret not continuing to the second aid but I feel like it was my best option considering that I would have had to stop many times to fill my tire and it would’ve still taken me three to four hours to get there. 

After getting back to a warm house and getting some sleep I couldn’t help but think why couldn’t I have just gone a little bit further, warmed up and resupplied at the aid and continued to finish the race. I also feel a little ashamed that I had to get picked up but it is just something you have to deal with and you hope you made the best decision. I feel like if I was determined and feeling great I could’ve probably finished however most of the night I was coughing pretty bad and I just didn’t feel like it was worth it to continue on in the frigid temps. Despite all of these mishaps I definitely still had fun (maybe it was type two fun but fun is fun) and it was a great learning experience just seeing what it is like at that temperature and how big just a small mechanical can turn into. And last but not least a huge thanks to Jay and all the volunteers for making Fat Pursuit possible. 

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1 Comment

  1. Well son-shine…so durn proud of you and nice recap :)
    You forgot to mention that all four of the race leaders(Including heavy hitting: Logan Kaspar, Kurt Refsnider, Jacob Hora) you caught up with also dropped out at the second aid station. As did 69 or so others, out of 73 at the start line. Thank goodness you did not lose any of your digits, as I know there was at least one fellow that came back with a blackened thumb tip. When I caught up with you around 6am the car registered a solid -40…ooofta!


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