Updated: Jan 22, 2020
On January 10th, to ring in the new year, Greg Martin and I headed to eastern Idaho to take part in the 200 mile distance at the legendary Jay P's Fat Pursuit; a fat Bike endurance race produced by ultra cycling legend Jay Petervary.
Jay is 10x Iditarod Trail Invitational champion and his races are always geared toward pushing riders to be self sufficient, responsible and to explore new places inside and out. I started fat biking just five yeas ago and Jay's was my first winter event. I've lined up 5 times, finished 3 times and never completed the 200 mile distance. Fat Pursuit is one of the hardest events I've ever done and despite "failing" multiple times and swearing "never again", I continue to be drawn back due to the ultra cycling community, for the beauty of the terrain and the challenge to be better. Jay is personally responsible for pushing me and empowering me with the confidence and skill to attempt the Iditarod Trail Invitational (IDI) in Alaska last year (for an inside look, check out this Outside TV piece, or this shorter clip here). His winter expedition events have broken me and built me up at the same time. This year was no different.
I approached the Fat Pursuit 200 miler as key preparation for the Iditarod Trail Invitational in March. The goal was to test food, gear, equipment, pacing in a multi-day self support format prior to Alaska. I finished the 350 mile ITI in Alaska last year but it was messy. I fumbled with gear and nutrition and was literally spinning my wheels. I'm heading back to Alaska because winter expedition riding has exposed weaknesses and vulnerabilities that I'm choosing to face. Fat Pursuit was a chance to test equipment, tighten up my systems for dealing with extreme cold, to gain confidence and get in a big training weekend.
As a self-supported event, for me this event was about facing my fears (cold and exposure) and learning to move efficiently and safely in an extremely inhospitable but magical environment. In store would be 200 snowy miles 6,606 feet of climbing and average speeds less than 5mph.
The prep ahead of time involved packing, unpacking, evaluating the course, estimating nutrition needs, studying weather forecasts and trying to control the controllable! Pre-planning is an essential part to any expedition and while it's tedious, time spent organizing in the warmth indoors pays dividends on the trail.
My husband Greg has become addicted to this winter challenge as well, so he was there with me. We were racing individually, but just knowing he was out on the trails at the same time was reassuring.
I expected we would wind up in close proximity and knew we could stay connected via our Garmin InReach devices in case of emergency. On these long solo expeditions, even though competitors spread far apart and we rarely see each other, the tire marks in the snow provide reassurance that I'm not completely alone.
So here's the gear I used and tested in Idaho for the race in Alaska
Bike Set up (see pictured above):
Bike: Fatback Corvus
Drivetrain: SRAM XX1 Eagle 26 tooth front chainring because snow biking is slow due to conditions and a loaded bike for expeditions. Eagle 10-50 cassette gives me a big range in gearing.
Tires: Maxxis Minion
Saddle: WTB Koda
Bags and storage: Revelate Designs' essential on the bike gear storage for short or long bike rides. Here are the items I used to pack everything I needed for 48 hrs on the bike: Nano panniers, Mountain Feedbag, Mag Tank 2000 & Jerrycan for top tube bags, Ranger frame bag, Pronghorn handlebar bag. These bags allow me to use all of the space on the bike for cargo (food, clothing, headlamp, batteries, sleeping bag, etc).
The bags are also designed and attached so that even loaded the bike rides really well and the gear is not moving around or dangling. Getting the gear packed appropriately for riding and accessibility is definitely a puzzle and there are a million ways to do it. My goal was to try a few new packing strategies to further streamline my gear. It’s one thing to put all the gear on the bike, but you also have to be able to access, find and use the gear efficiently while out on the trail. Also used their WamPak hydration pack, which goes close to the body to keep water from freezing.
7. Navigation, satellite tracking and emergency communication: Garmin inReach
Mini is satelite device I find essential for safety and navigation in expeditions like this. Plus, a Garmin Etrex GPS as an additional and back up navigational tool.
Apparel: It’s always hard to bring everything you need and nothing extra. Each piece needs to be functional, fit perfectly and have pockets and zippers in exactly the right places. In extreme environments, clothing is your shelter, so this is an area that MUST be dialed in. I was testing some new items this race.
Wool, Layering and Race Day Decisions:
I’m a big fan of wool base layers because it stays warm when wet and dries quickly next to skin. Mid and outer layers must insulate and protect from elements, but also breath and vent so you don’t saturate from the inside out. Dressing for activity in cold weather is always a big challenge: you want to stay warm but not too warm while exerting yourself for 20+ hours/day.
Wool base layers top and bottom, including sports bra.
Velocio Women's Signature shorts
Velocio Women's Recon thermal long sleeve jersey.
Wigwam Merino Wilderness wool socks plus spare, lighter pair in case my feet get wet
First Lite Catalyst Soft Shell jacket and pants. This is technical hunting apparel that is proving to be great fat bike riding gear.
Neck gaiter (wool), plus extra one
Down jacket: Patagonia Micropuff Hoodie
Waterproof/ Breathable jacket and pants: The North Face Women's Summit FutureLight jacket and pants -- the same jacket and pants I used in Alaska last year. These I LOVE because they are so light and it’s hard to believe they are truly water proof.
Gloves: multiple layers from super thin, to medium shell gloves to puffy down ones. I have poor circulation in my hands and I sweat a lot. This is a deadly combo in cold temps, so I bring lots of gloves and constantly add or remove layers to regulate. Outer gloves are oversized to fit over liners and midweight if needed. Chemical hand warmers are the back up when all else fails to keep my hands warm.
Revelate Designs Expedition Pogies (see above) on my handlebars are like little sleeping bags for my hands and keep them warm when riding.
45 NRTH Wolvhammer Boots: I size them up 2 sizes to allow space for insulated insoles, thick socks and make sure my toes aren’t squeezed Tight boots make your feet colder. They have cleats on the bottom. For Alaska, I will put studs in the bottom for traction when walking across ice.
Crankbrothers Mallet E pedals.
Cold Avenger pro softshell face mask is essential for me when doing sports in cold environments because I have asthma and breathing issues that get exacerbated by the cold. I’ve done this race before and had to drop out because I was coughing up blood and mucous. I’m hyper conscious of making sure I don’t breath cold air directly and try to protect my lungs. Cold Avenger mask is the only one I’ve found that doesn’t get soaking wet with moisture from your breath and is also simple and not a hassle to wear.
Smith Optics Attack Max glasses with dark lenses for day and clear lenses for night time.
Sea to Summit Alpine Down Winter Sleeping bag
Chemical Handwarmers: I use these in an emergency if my hands or feet or body get cold. Also use these with my batteries to keep electronics warm and working.
Thule travel bags and bike rack to get to and from. ______________
One of the most difficult things for me in these cold weather expeditions is being able to eat, drink and fuel myself properly. The cold makes the caloric demand higher but also the cold makes actually eating and drinking logistically harder due to layers of clothing, freezing temps and freezing food/water.
Hydration: 140 oz capacity with Revelate Designs WamPak as 2nd layer, close to my body to keep water from freezing. 2 MiiR thermoses for hot drinks. Stove and fuel for melting snow to make more water.
Calories: For food, I'd use a combination of GU Nutrition, Red Bull and home made snacks. As practice for the ITI, I was experimenting with how many calories I could eat per hour, what provides the nutrients needed and what tastes good and doesn’t freeze too much.
Here's the run down of the food I was carrying:
GU Roctane Recovery drink: I bring multiple packets and will mix these in hot water in my MiiR insulated bottle.
GU Roctane Drink: The warm drink will keep me going, but also being able to drink instead of eat frozen food is sometimes a more reliable way to get calories in.
GU Chews (although these really freeze, so I have to keep them inside pockets close to my body)
Bacon: I made 2 lbs of bacon and put the pieces into ziploc bags that are about 300 calories per bag.
Date/cashew/coconut bars: homemade recipe from Shalane Flanagan’s cook book. These are very calorically dense, taste great, and do not freeze. I cut them into tiny, bit sized squares so I can just pop one in my mouth. About 50-75 calories each.
Chocolate matcha balls: also from Shalane’s cookbook As above, little nuggets that are high in fat, very dense and don’t freeze.
Honey/lemon throat lozenges
Red Bull: 1 can in each drop bag and 1 at the start
Jay P's 200 mile course has two food drops that are prepared ahead of time for miles 70 and 130. These are only two places on course to get shelter inside and get additional hot water and food. The rest of the course has absolutely no services or support.
Food for the start Food drop #1: Mile 70 Food drop #2: Mile 130
The Result? A Different Kind of Payoff:
We set off on the 200 miler at noon on Jan. 10, anticipating finishing about 40 hours later. It was a bluebird day at the start with 20F temps. Perfect riding conditions and the stoke and confidence was high.
The first 6 hours were dreamy. Cold, crisp and clear. Bike, body and mind were humming.
As the sun went down that first night, the storms settled in. I didn't realize we wouldn't see blue sky again until Tuesday.
The snow came and the pace slowed. When it got too deep, I walked and pushed the heavy bike load through the fresh snow. I kept moving through the entire first night because I knew the storm was scheduled to grow in intensity.
I wanted to get as far as I could before the trail was completely obscured with new snow. Snow can also make staying dry really challenging from the outside, but also from the inside. Walking your bike makes you sweat, so there is a fine line between staying warm, but not sweating. If you sweat, eventually that moisture will freeze
and then you’re in big trouble out there. With heavy snow, I knew the conditions would be really challenging and slow moving. It took 20 hours to reach the first stop at mile 70. 8 hours longer than anticipated. Completely out of food,
Greg and I met up at the rest stop with the lead riders.
We got our first drop bags, refueled, filled up water and made some hot drinks. There were 50 miles with a ton of climbing before the next rest stop and indoor shelter. I was tired and stumbling like a drunk, but pushed on with Greg to try to get to West Yellowstone for shelter and a big rest.
The storm was getting worse, so we expected 12 more hours.
We did have some on-course magic that kept our spirits high, including the breathtaking beauty of Mesa Falls (worth taking my gloves off to snap a pic), a visit from Jay P himself and a local trail angel who gifted us a can of Red Bull.
Mesa Falls Jay P in the wild (r) Trail angel appeared w/ Red Bull for us.
Ultimately, it was Mother Nature who took the overall Fat Pursuit W.
The snow kept coming as we trudged and rode slowly up and over the continental divide between Idaho and Montana. The heavy snow muffled all sound and I formed a cocoon inside my hood.
I worked hard to stuff down a few hundred calories an hour to keep my energy up. I drank my water and laboriously tried to refuel my way out of the hole I'd gotten into during the night.
Greg was doing the same. We didn't speak much. We both knew we had to just keep moving until we got to West Yellowstone. The storm would continue and we were alone. The only choice was to push onward and focus on efficiency and our wellbeing. We knew there was shelter at the next rest stop so that was our goal.
Our bikes and gear were dialed. We were just moving at a snail's pace, but so was everyone else.
The storm continued to rage and we finally reached the rest stop around 9 pm on Saturday night. 13 competitors had started the 200 miler. Only 6 of us had made it to this checkpoint by this time. Greg and I had been moving non-stop for 33 hours and we'd gone 125 miles. Bigger storms were on the way, so we made the decision to stop racing here.
In fact, everyone in the 200 mile distance called it, except for one super determined guy who decided to keep going, traveling sometimes as slowly as 1 mph.
My decision to stop was not quitting in any sense of the word. Yes, I was exhausted, and since this was a training ride for a future goal, I felt that trudging on and walking my bike another 24 hours was going to have a detrimental affect on the next weeks of training and preparation for me. The goal of this event was to test out food and gear and put in a long ride. And we did that.
Stopping early meant returning to the finish line with our fellow DNF friends to hang out, swap stories and get gear tips. Honestly this was the first time I got to sit down casually with so many of the riders that I normally only see behind face masks. Greg and I did a download on what worked, what we would change. I talked to veterans and new riders about their experience in the snow. I also got to spend time talking with Jay P about his next adventures. This was an unexpected and massive bonus to the whole experience out there. Ultra endurance riders are a rare breed and they don't slow down that often, so having so much off the bike time with these people was a gift.
Fat Pursuit Tradition: at noon on Sunday during the event, no matter where you are, all racers, volunteers, family stop and toast how lucky we are to be here and be part of this great community. I'll toast to that! Cheers!
Ultimately, I took away a big payoff. Fat Pursuit was priceless training en route to Alaska in March. My food and bike/gear storage strategies are on point. I'm feeling even better prepped and more fit than last year. Mostly, I have more experience and more confidence in my ability to survive and hopefully thrive in the Alaskan Wilderness during the Iditarod for my 2nd year.
Events reflect their founder and Fat Pursuit is as tough as Jay Petervary is. His event will expose you and force you to #BeGood. As a race director and athlete, his passion and commitment to help everyone ride forward shines through every detail.
Thanks Jay for the experience. I love you and hate you at the same time. I guess that's why I keep coming back.
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