440 Miles OF Fitz Barn

Mud. Thick mucky mud. The kind that sticks to your wheels and your drivetrain and rips your derailleur right off. After the brief but powerful deluge, I encountered the first casualty at the top of Red Rock Pass. One of the leaders was attempting a repair. His drivetrain was toast. But the storm had cleared and as he said “It’s a not a bad place to be stuck”.

The Fitz Barn race was held for the first time a few years ago. Scott Fitzgerald, owner of Fitzgerald’s Bicycles in Victor, Idaho, and Chad DeVall, owner of Red Barn Bicycles in Hamilton, Montana, happened to be racing their bikes together in a Wyoming snowstorm. Accumulating powder resulted in hours of hike-a-bike. The two got to talking. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a bike race between their two shops? And the Fitz Barn was born.

A 440-mile point-to-point course, alternating direction every year, the Fitz Barn is a self-supported bikepacking adventure through backcountry wilderness. Starting in Victor this year, it meandered northwest towards Hamilton. Utilizing part of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, it is ridden on dirt and gravel roads through spectacular mountain scenery. Wildlife is abundant. Bears, moose and ubiquitous cattle enjoy traveling on the same roads as the cyclists.

Anticipating trouble from the mud, Rosalita (my Salsa El Mariachi) and I rode carefully down Red Rock Pass. Not wanting to lose my drivetrain too, I worked my way around the worst of the muddy patches. Though I had hoped to make it to Lima that night, I was moving too slowly to get there at a decent hour.

After dark I encountered a few other racers having similar trouble. One found a nice cow path alongside the muddy road and invited me to follow. “This is great”, he said, as I rode behind him. About a minute later “Uh oh, that’s not good”. Sage brush had ripped off his derailleur. He was forced to turn his Salsa Fargo into an impromptu singlespeed and had a long slow journey into town.

Shortly after that incident, I decided I was tired of dealing with the mud and called it a night. What a great spot to bivvy. The moon was full and the stars were incredibly bright. Even in the middle of the night, this was big sky country.

Once morning broke I was able to get through the worst of the mud and make it into Lima. Upon arrival I encountered familiar faces. Jay Petervary was lounging at the café. Knowing that his speed is typically supersonic, his presence there surprised me. It turned out that he too had lost his derailleur in the mud and was attempting a repair. Tracey Petervary was there as well. After a delicious breakfast, T-Race and I headed off together as JayP fixed his Fargo. A few hours later we saw a Salsa kit come flying by, only to stop and chat for a brief moment. JayP was back in the game. Despite knowing that he had many riders to chase down, he still hoped to win the race. Put a rabbit in front of that guy and the rabbit will lose.

The sun was out, the temperature soared, and water sources were scarce. By nightfall we were still quite a ways out from our next refueling spot in Jackson, MT. We got there eventually but since we had missed the restaurant’s closing time, we were going to have a long wait until breakfast the next day. Fortunately the bar was still open and liquid refreshments were plentiful.

The third day on the route seemed to take forever, especially because we were not sure how much further we had to go. At one point T-Race pulled out the map to find our location. I suggested she simply look for ‘Nowhere’, and we’d be right in the middle of it. It seemed like a long way to the end. Undeterred, this was a race, and we planned to finish that night.

The Sleep Monster knows how weak I am. It was dark. I was tired. I could have used a nap. Not so for Tracey. Her lights seemed to get further and further ahead of me and it took all of my energy to keep up. Serious fatigue was setting in. The Sleep Monster was not going to let me finish without a fight.

But finish we did. As we approached the outskirts of Hamilton and rolled into the Red Barn parking lot, we were greeted with applause. Despite serious mechanicals, JayP had won the race and was there to welcome us. Scott and Chad joined in too. It was 2:18 AM. Nearly 68 hours after we had left Victor, we had finished.

I was offered a spot to spend the night but declined. I had planned to meet my wife at the Super 8 motel and asked them if they knew where that was. “Sure. Eight miles away.” Oh good. Bonus miles. Fortunately for me, JayP graciously offered to drive me there in his van. “That would have been the longest bike ride of your life, he said.” No kidding.

This was a very challenging race. At the time I swore I’d never do it again…but you know how that goes. Now I’m thinking it might be pretty cool to ride it from the other direction. Next year?



Mark Seaburg is an experienced fatbike racer and former mountaineer. He is a physican and lives in Minnesota.

This post filed under topics: Bikepacking El Mariachi Gravel Guest Blogger Overnighter Ultra Racing

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