It is always hard to leave home when the riding is good where you're at…but we also know the eye-opening inspiration that one gets from new experiences. With that in mind, Kristi and I set off last January to take part in the first annual JayP’s Fat Pursuit race in Island Park, Idaho.
The view from my home in Spearfish, South Dakota...
We left Spearfish on a beautiful bluebird morning with coffee cups full and stoke high. After some High Plains drifting we made it to the TETONS! I couldn't help myself and had to pull off at Moose, Wyoming, in one of the most beautiful places, to have a refreshment. Dornan's sits right in the shadow of the mighty Tetons. With our thirst quenched and getting close to our first nights destination in Jackson, we were back on the road to meet up with our friend Chance and enjoy downtown Jackson and Snake River Brewing for dinner.
Beer me Snake River Brewing Company...
Friday morning we arose to light snow falling in Jackson and everyone was excited that more snow would be coming over the weekend. Traveling over Teton Pass the snow was deep and the turns looked fresh. It was tough not having our splitboards along, but we knew we would need fresh legs the following morning anyway.
Up and over the pass we drove into beautiful Victor, Idaho and stopped at the legendary Fiztgeralds Bicycles. The stoke was getting higher as we drank good coffee in the shop and questioned the helpful employees behind the counters, while drooling on all the cool bikes and fat equipment.
Soon we were off to Island Park, caffeinated, excited, and ready to pre-ride. We had new areas to explore, snow and mountains galore.
Upon arriving at the race venue we were greeted by the friendly faces of Jay and Tracey Petervary setting up the venue. Our good friend Kid, from Salsa, was also there and gave us nerve-calming hugs and high fives. We checked into our Bunkroom at the Ponds Lodge, which made for an awesome camp right at the start/finish area.
With our gear unpacked we decided to go for a ride and check the first couple miles of the course where there was reported to be a reroute around an open stream crossing. The snow was falling and the temps were relatively warm at around 30-degrees. This made for soft trail and low tire pressure was needed. As Kristi and I stopped to air down along came JayP and Scott Fitzgerald on snowmachines, heading out to mark the 60k course. JayP jumped off his sled and reaffirmed my suggestion to Kristi to air down. He quickly lets twice the pressure out of her tires, which makes me laugh as she would never listen to my suggestion of running that low a tire pressure. It would be the first of many lessons!
Run them soft, folks...
With the tires deflated to around three or four psi, we were back on the trail to scout the reroute. It was a short distance to the reroute and we were glad to know we would not have to wade through open water in the first couple of miles. JayP had told the USFS employees that his riders could take the open water crossing, but after sleeping on it the USFS preferred the races take a reroute around the open stream crossing.
The open water that caused the reroute...
We only rode a short four miles out and decided to return to race headquarters for the registration and check in.
Gear Check had me curious as to how much scrutiny we would be under. Todd was pretty easy on me as I did have all the gear and it met the required equipment we had to carry with us on course.
Later that evening we were treated to an excellent meal and had an opportunity to meet and greet other riders. Kristi and I had a table to ourselves early with two extra seats open, and low and behold the Queen of Pain, Rebecca Rusch, and her travel companion Mitch from Sun Valley joined us at our table. It was an honor to meet them at this intimate gathering. We talked about her Rebecca's Private Idaho gravel event and shared details about our Gold Rush Gravel Grinder and Dakota Five-0 with her.
JayP took stage and began getting into the meat and potatoes of the event we came for. He began with big thanks to the riders and sponsors who made it happen. JayP also thanked Lee Kinder for some special one-of-a-kind trophies that would be given to the top riders. These were very special to Jay and I am sure as well to the riders who were fast enough to be bestowed with one.
Jay Petervary making sure everyone was well aware of what the next day might bring...
JayP was well spoken and adamant that all riders be prepared to navigate and safely ride the course. He also reminded 200k riders that at some point on the course we would be required to light our stoves and bring eight ounces of water to a boil. He wanted us to be prepared! He also hoped this race would be a catalyst to vault riders onto the next level of adventure racing and to dream of bigger rides and events such as Alaska's Iditarod Trail Invitational! This would serve as a boot camp orientation!
With all the info laid out, we left the room for nervous rest before the 7 AM start.
After a 6 AM breakfast burrito, I headed back to the room for some final packing, good luck kiss and a picture in front of the bunkroom. I was off to the start!
About to start what would be a very long day...
It was not long before the two-minute countdown passed and we were off. Like all races the pace was a pretty good clip for the first 30 miles to Checkpoint One, where we were told to light our stoves and boil eight ounces of water.
It was colder than most riders expected and many riders shivered while lighting stoves and sucking down hot drinks and soup. Here I tried to light my old school alcohol stove. I fumbled with the lighter trying to get my cold fingers to work on the micro light, but after warming I got it to take. Luckily I had practiced using this in cold temperatures, as I know they can be tough to light in the cold or at elevation. It worked well once I got it fired up and I had a boil in ten minutes.
The chaos of Checkpoint One as racers refueled and did their mandatory water boil...
By this time I had my down jacket on and was shivering, while my toes went numb. I now needed to take the time to remove my gaiters and boots to add another layer of wool socks. The time spent fiddling with my boots off further chilled my toes and I was worried. I ran up and down the trail and warmed my core back up. I was worried about my toes but it was time to move on, and it wasn't long before my toes had feeling and were toasty for the rest of the ride. Phew! Oh what a feeling to have feeling!
Just keep moving forward...
The next 30 to 40 miles to Checkpoint Two, in West Yellowstone, Montana, was supposed to be the crux of the ride. I was feeling good, as it was still early in the race, and my toes had warmed up once I’d walked for a while. I continued to drop tire pressure on my Beargrease, rode what I could, and worked my way up into third place.
Sunset on the way to West Yellowstone...
That was all good until dark, at about mile 60, when I hit a COLD wall. My fingers got cold and I could not get my warmest gloves to go over my fingers. I fidgeted with them and finally had to ride with my finger just not fitting the glove well. I wasn't sure if they were swollen or damp or what was making it difficult. I kept moving and it wasn't long until the fingers warmed up and slid into position.
Arrival in West Yellowstone at Checkpoint Two...
Fatigued, my pace fell off and several riders passed me. I reached Checkpoint Two at about 11 PM just as some of the leaders were leaving.
Warmth, shelter, refuge at Checkpoint Two...
Banjo hoping some food might drop...
I became comfortable inside and enjoyed the company of JayP, Kid, Banjo the dog, volunteers and other riders. I ate homemade soup, jerky, nuts, chocolate, AND pounded a Coke, RedBull and 5-Hour Energy! What was I thinking? Time swept by and I was now jolted back into ride mode.
Leaving Checkpoint Two and heading for the Continental Divide...
It was nearly 1 AM before I hit the cold streets of West Yellowstone to find the snowmobile trail leading to the big climb up onto the Continental Divide. Leaving town I was happy to be riding set-up groomed trails. Feeling caffeinated, I accelerated beyond the gravitational pull of inside, warmth, and town. I was now committed to climbing Two Top Trail and the Continental Divide.
Jay had told me the climbs were doable with good trail and fresh legs. I was climbing what I could and the trails were finally packed and set up, but the fatigue was setting into my legs. The stars shown brightly as I climbed higher and I watched for a falling star to wish upon fresh legs.
I crisscrossed the Idaho and Montana state line. It was vast on top of the Divide and I rolled along into a cold, eerie fog that enveloped everything. The temperature dropped dramatically and I hunkered down in my jacket pulling shut the pit zips. I could see huge mounds just off the trail and wondered at first what was going on. It took a little rubbing of my eyes and focusing through the cold haze to realize they were snow ghosts; trees plastered and encased in snow!
When the trail showed signs of descent I thought I was ready and let go of the brakes. Of course, just then my headlight went out and I was riding with just my dimmer headlamp. I reached up to brighten the light as my speed was picking up and the darn thing went black and I couldn't turn it back on fast enough. I brought my fingers back to the bars and brakes, grabbed a handful and hit the snow-covered trail.
It was like a baby lying down on his favorite blanket: a soft, safe and sound landing. I wanted to lie there, but crawled to my feet and laughed at my imprint.
Back up and moving again I descended for a long way on some big swooping turns headed into Henry's Basin. I soon realized again that this is big, isolated country. As the trail climbed in and out of small drainages, I was beginning to not feel so good. I hadn’t eaten much since leaving West Yellowstone, just more junk that I was not used too.
It was not good. At about 3 AM the dry heaves started, but I continued knowing it was best to gag and roll on. Finally, at around 4 AM, I unloaded a stomach-full of syrupy mess. I was hoping it would still leave me with the caffeine, but my sails were deflated. My throat was raw and I was no longer feeling the stoke.
I noticed the skies turning from black to dark navy and eventually to dark blue; morning was coming! I was ready for Checkpoint Three; the Man Cave!
I rode, pushed, rode, pushed and rode for several more hours before I checked my GPS. My biggest scariest Sleep Monster had come to life! This section of trail was huge, the nice groomed trail of the night was long past, and I was now on wind-blown sugar snow. Hours crept by with more push-n-ride and ‘just keep moving’ tactics.
I worked up the energy to nibble on this and that but mostly ate jerky. I had tried to air my tires down but my front would not release air. I fidgeted with the valve while stepping on the tire but nothing would come out. I tried to break it loose by pumping air into it but still nothing would come out...even though air would go in! Frustrated, I kept moving to pass the time. I was low on energy, sick and tired. The sun was up and I was still in my down puffy jacket and too warm. In fact, I was hot, but didn't want to stop moving to shed the layer.
I thought Checkpoint Three must be close, so I checked the GPS and saw a long slow five miles to go. Wow, what a monster! Finally, I dropped the bike, cursed the snow, and shed my layers.
Out across Henry Basin I thought I could see a highway. With renewed energy I pushed on. Upon finally reaching the highway I contemplated taking the smooth paved way. Nope, couldn't do it. I was going to make it to Man Cave.
A couple cars honked and waved, one stopped and I thought they were out to belittle me, as I felt belittled, but they were shouting words of encouragement, "Man Cave is just ahead! Keep going!”
I pulled into the first-class Man Cave, a huge garage with a friendly, manly-faced Travis. It was 11:45 AM, 28 hours since the start, and I was worked, but the volunteer said I looked good compared to the others that had passed. ‘Please don't try and flatter me’, I thought.
A couple magical sourdough pancakes and pounds of grub later, I was ready to finish. Another rider, Jason Wolf, had pulled in while I rested and talked of calling it quits. But he too was fleeced into continuing by the friendly Travis and together we rode out of Man Cave with confidence, dry clothing, and fuel in our bellies.
Thinking I'm at the finish...
We started out on the final 20 miles. It was foggy and overcast, warm and wet, soft and rough. My mind was foggiest of all and I settled into a slow pace. Jason and I exchanged some conversation and it was nice to finally talk with a fellow rider. I could tell he was ready to finish, and like a good horse smelling the barn he pulled ahead. I was alone to soak up the final miles.
The trails that were once groomed were track-washed and slow, or maybe it was just me? Slogging along I came upon a snowmobile parking lot and heard a cowbell. It was a beautiful mirage! Wait, no! It was my wife Kristi and friend Kid! I thought I was done!
But ‘Nope’, they informed me, ‘Five more miles to go.’
Tatanka! Time to apply some Pedal Power with five miles to go!
The last few miles were beautifully brutal as a whole. The sun was dropping, the lighting magical, and I was going to finish any hour now. I walked some flats and felt a little guilty as I knew peeps were watching my dot on Trackleaders and waiting on me to finish.
Back on the bike, I rounded a few corners and spotted the finish. There was a small gathering of riders and friends to greet me. I was elated to be done with my first fatbike race and rode under the finish banner to receive a hug from race director and friend JayP. What an honor!
I survived JayP's Boot Camp and thank him for all he did to make this experience possible.
As a race director myself I know how much effort went into this first-year event. The Fat Pursuit went beyond my expectations and I can't say enough good things about the Ponds Lodge and their embracing of this event. The food, accommodations, and venue were perfect. We left sore…and hungry for more.
ABOUT THE GUEST BLOGGER: PERRY JEWETT
As a lifelong cyclist, I rode and raced BMX through the hay days of the 80’s. I joined the ranks of the small, local Ridge Riders Of The Black Hills Mountain Bike Club in 1985, doing my first mountain bike race in 1986 and racing every year since. I have been involved in racing as a racer, volunteer, trail builder, advocacy, and race director. My biggest satisfaction comes from trail building /maintenance. This year I, along with my wife Kristi, will be race directing three rather large events; 28 Below Fatbike Race, Gold Rush Gravel Grinder, and the 15th Annual Dakota Five-O. I am also a career Firefighter for the Dept. of Veterans Affairs and live in Spearfish, South Dakota. Pedal Power!
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