By: Gabe Klamer/Forest Dramis
Over the years several winter ultra-fat bike races have been popping up. The sport has been gaining popularity especially in the Midwest. The Tuscobia, Arrowhead Ultra, White Mountains and the granddaddy of them all, the Iditarod Trail Invitational, pull hundreds of racers each year. Three years ago there was a new kid on the block, the Fat Pursuit, hosted by our very own world-renowned Jay Petervary. The Fat Pursuit, held in Island Park, ID has quickly gained a reputation for a relentless race course, challenging weather conditions and spectacular views. Born in 2014, the first 2 years a 200k took place. This year Jay upped the ante and added a 200 mile distance to the race. I chose the 200k distance just to get my feet wet in winter ultra-racing. One hundred and twenty miles on snow with 8,000 feet of climbing, “meh, piece of cake” I thought from the comfort of my warm home.
With these types of winter ultras there is a list of gear each racer must carry. This gear is in case of emergency. The required gear was as follows:
● Zero degree sleeping bag minimum
● Insulated sleeping pad
● Down jacket
● Stove, 16oz pot and enough fuel capable to boil water several times
● Front and rear blinky lights to be turned on at all times to avoid being run over by snowmobiles
● Light suitable for riding at night
● GPS and map for navigating
Jay calls his race the ‘Fat Pursuit’ because everyone has a unique pursuit of their own. Some show up knowing they will likely not finish, others show up to finish and then there’s the hardcore racers showing up to place. I’ll let you guess which category I fall into.
The 120 mile race course is broken up into three aid stations. Aid station #1 is at mile 35. Aid #2 is in a house in West Yellowstone at mile 65. The final aid is at mile 100 located in a barn known as the ‘Man Cave’, more on this later.
At Aid #1 all racers are required to boil water. This is to prove that you can make water if needed while on course. The trail travels through very remote country from this aid forward so the ability to boil water could literally save your life. I entered this aid tied for 1st riding with well-known adventure cyclist Blake Bockius. Knowing we would be required to boil here I incorporated water boils into my daily training rides. I saw the water boil as a part of the race and you need to be quick and deliberate to win the race. I was in and out in 4’30”. This stop included filling my 100oz camelback, making 20oz’s of instant mashed potatoes and restocking some of my food. I attacked for the next hour attempting to separate myself from Blake. Blake is a formidable predator and I did not want to give him a rabbit to chase so I did my best to break visual contact with him. I would look back often but no one was ever there. I just told myself over and over, “Don’t let up, he’s just around the corner. Keep working, eating, drinking, wiggle your toes”. This became my mantra.
After aid #1 the trail quickly became soft and the riding was beginning to be marginal. I had to adjust my tire pressure several times to help with traction and managed to ride 100% of the trail all of the way into West Yellowstone, another 20 miles. Although I managed to ride into West, it started to snow and the temperatures were dropping forcing me to break trail. This added to the amount of work that the hilly terrain already demanded.
“I want to know minutes, seconds and miles” I barked as soon as I entered aid #2. We were all carrying Spot GPS trackers so our progress could easily be monitored from a computer or wireless device. One of the volunteers told me I was 10.2 miles in the lead. At first I thought they were mistaken but realized my competitors were struggling in the same conditions. The aids offered me soup and an arm chair. I guess they thought I wanted to catch up on the football game. I apologized for not being able to hang out for lunch as Liz DeRuyter handed me a grilled cheese for the road and out the door I went 5 minutes after arriving.
The re-entry into the mountains in West Yellowstone is a daunting experience. You are riding farther from civilization, warmth, food and safety. I was stoked for the challenge! What lay ahead of me was a 2,000’ climb up and over a beast of a mountain called Two Top. Two Top should be named Four Top because I am pretty sure I crossed four peaks, not two.
The trail was soft from the snow and hundreds of snowmobiles that passed over it earlier in the day. My speeds were decreasing as the trail steepened and my legs weakened. Often I was forced off of my bike and required to push. I found it was easier to push than grind my way up some of the steep pitches. By the time I got to the top it was 5 degrees, dark and currently a blizzard. Visibility was 5 meters and I was navigating by an arrow on my GPS. My 270 lumen headlamp could not penetrate the heavy snow and dense fog. It was something out of an Earnest Shackleton story but I was in the lead and nothing was going to stop me. “Ride forward, ride forward and get off this DAMN mountain” became my new mantra.
Once I hit the bottom of the Two Top descent I came into an intersection that was a bit confusing. My vision was damaged from the snow that had been hitting my eyes and my brain was starving for food and water. The next thing I knew there were lights. I figured the chasers had caught me but I was wrong. It was a trail groomer. He exited his machine puffing on a Marlboro and approached me. I explained I was a tad bit confused and he pointed me in the right direction with a chuckle and off I went.
I had 15 miles between me and Man Cave, my final aid station. The snow was soft but better than Two Top. I knew I needed to keep moving forward because the chase group was now on recently groomed trails and were likely making time on me. I would eat and drink when the trail permitted but my main objective was to get to the aid station where I knew there would be people ready to help me.
I pulled into Man Cave at 10pm and there stood the aid station volunteers, my wife, the owner of Fitzgerald Bike Shop and fellow Fitzgerald team members. Man was I happy to see those people. They stripped off my wet clothes and immediately began serving me warm food and drink. I may have been a disaster but my motivation was still strong. They told me 4 chasers were coming quickly and were now within 7.9 miles of Man Cave. That’s all I needed to hear and 20’ after arriving, still shivering, I exited the Man Cave and pushed on for the final 22 miles. My stomach was again digesting food so my legs were coming back. The trail was groomed earlier that night and I was making good time. I told myself, “This is what you wanted. You wanted this pain. You have to suffer to win this thing. If you hurt so do they”. I turned onto the Ponds Trail which takes you directly to the Ponds Lodge where the finish line was. At 12:26am I crossed the line to a serenade of police sirens and a small group of cheering fans. I raced for 17 hours, 16mins, 2sec for 1st place.
Thank you JayP for putting on a beautiful, beast of a race and for encouraging me to register. Thank you to Derrick Nobman and Fitzgerald’s Bicycles for building a spectacular race machine on Wednesday night before the race. Thank you to HED Wheels for rushing me a set of the fastest wheels on the planet! Thank you to my wife Jenny for putting up with me the two weeks leading up to the race. I love you.
Full Gear List
Sponsors Fitzgerald's Bicycles, Trek Bikes, Snake River Brewing, Kate's Real Food
Frame Trek farley Carbon
Wheels HED B.F.D
Tires 45NRTH Dillinger 5 (tubeless)
Pressure Front/Rear Between 3 psi and 6 psi Don't be afraid to adjust pressure as conditions change
Pedals Crankbrothers 4Ti
Pogies Dogwood Designs
Computer Garmin eTrex for navigation, Garmin 510 for time, distance etc.
Lights Princeton Tec Push & Swerve for safety. Princeton Tec EOS Pro headlamp for light.
Clothing system Nike DryFit baselayer and Sugoi full zipup long-sleeve jersey. Added a LuLuLemon wind shell when it got dark and temperatures dropped (I like to look good). I wore a nordic beanie and Buff on my head at all times and added a 45 NRTH Dozer cap when it got cold.
Gloves I rode half of the race without gloves. When it got cold I wore a light pair of Under Armor fleece gloves. Pogies work really well.
Boots 45 NRTH Wolvhammers with an Outdoor Research 'Huron' gaiter with neoprene booties, Medium weight Swiftwick wool socks
Number of bottles consumed? Rode with a 100oz Osprey bladder underneath my outer layer and two insulated water bottles. Consumed approximately 300 oz's over the entire ride which wasn't enough.
How many aid station stops/for how long? Aid #1 - 4'30", Aid #2 - 5 minutes, Aid #3 - 20 minutes
What did you eat? I ate 2,000 calories of homemade walnut/date/chocolate cookies, 1,000 calories of yogurt covered pretzels, 1 package of instant mashed potatoes, 8 gels, 1 grilled cheese sandwich, a couple handfuls of Pringles, a few boiled potatoes, 3 M&M's and 1 sourdough pancake
Did you do any special training or prep for this race? I practiced boiling water on my training rides because we were required to boil water at Aid #1 and I wanted to be able to do this efficiently. I also did several rides with a fully loaded bike.
What’s one piece of advice that you’d give to someone thinking about racing next year? Be mentally prepared for anything, but hope for the best. You CAN finish this!