Having Island Park in our backyard is a real treat, no matter the season. There is all sorts of riding and camping to be had. Hundreds of miles of groomed snowmobile trails approximately 1.5 hours from the house, boarding the winter wonderland of Yellowstone National Park. Being able to ride over the Continental Divide, back and forth between Idaho and Wyoming on a fatbike in the winter, is a snow biker’s paradise.
The start of JayP's Backyard Fat Pursuit couldn't come soon enough, I felt like I had been waiting two days to go, which I was. My mind was all over the place with “life things” I had going on prior to the race. Maybe I was over-ready and that is why I felt so disheveled? I just couldn't get it together. No matter how many times I packed and unpacked my Beargrease (which I've named Fave) with the same gear, it just didn't seem right. Even my pre-ride was disheveled, as I was dropping and misplacing stuff. There have been many times I get to a race at the last minute and feel more prepared then I did in my own backyard, hmmm?
I wanted to go lighter as far as what I was wearing due to the warmer temps we were having. I tried a few different clothing pieces this race, such as arm warmers over my base layer with a short-sleeved jersey. I also used my cycling gloves under my liners, and that worked really well.
I had expected it to be a bit warmer. My last race was at thirty-plus below zero, so the predicted weather of 23-above seemed HOT. I knew there would be some significant climbing so I wanted to regulate my body temperature on the colder side. In the end my choice of clothing was a little too light, but thankfully I had my backup lightweight puffy and rain jacket. I thought I had packed hand warmers, but did not. I left my vapor barrier socks behind, thinking they would be too warm, but since my feet are susceptible to getting cold, this was not a wise choice.
On the starting line, I was swinging my arms, doing jumping jacks to stay warm, and could hardly contain my excitement. It was a long five-minute wait, then FINALLY JayP sent us off. It felt kind of odd to get the holeshot; I think everyone was just being nice. Immediately there was a little thrashing on the trail due to a short soft spot, and then the pace line began.
I held on for a bit but knew it was too fast for me. It was going to be a long day. Once the climb started up Chick Creek, it became difficult to ride due to the fresh snow. Everyone was letting air out of their tires, and then alternating back and forth between walking and riding.
I was cold and uncomfortable! I just didn't have it together and my hydration tube froze within the first five miles. Internally, I started debating if I was prepared enough and if I would be able to keep myself warm. Eat, drink, and move forward, I kept repeating to myself. Although I wasn't able to drink, I knew from my past experience, I would be fine until the first checkpoint thirty miles into the race.
Five-plus hours later, I would have liked to be where there are REAL flamingos, but smiled upon seeing the two fake ones just before the checkpoint.
As I rolled into the first checkpoint, I heard JayP announce, “This is where you will boil water.” I shook my head and was feeling discouraged about continuing on due to my choice of clothing, but that thought soon left when I saw other racers there trying to boil water. I knew I had this test in the bag. JayP was reminding everyone, “Put on your jacket. Stomp some snow down out of the wind. Warm up your lighter. Warm up your fuel”. I did all of this, along with a bunch of jumping jacks.
I got my stove going and water on. With the help of the CP volunteers and a large pot of boiling water, I was able to defrost my hydration bladder tube with warm water. Once my water was boiling I used it to inhale two packs of oatmeal. At this point I was wearing all the clothes I had with me but my feet were cold. I knew that if I kept moving, kept kicking my feet, eating and drinking, I would be fine.
I headed back onto the trail to climb Chick Creek for the second time. It had now been packed down by the 60k-distance racers, which made it easier to ride this time around. Once at the turnoff to West the trail became soft again, so I was alternating back and forth between walking and riding. I had already let a bunch of air out of the tubeless wheels I borrowed from JayP. I wasn't familiar with them and was concerned the tire might pop off the rim if I let even more out. Later I found out it probably would have been fine to have run even lower pressure. I leapfrogged back and forth with Marc and Chris. We were walking…a lot. It took us seven hours to go 14 miles, and the walking was getting old. They both announced that they were calling it quits once they got to West, and I said, “Me too!”
Within a half hour, after coming to my senses, I said, “No way am I quitting! I am T-RACE! I have walked hundreds of miles in very difficult conditions, and this was no different! I am not a quitter, and I want it!”
I once quit a race over a decade ago, and I still remember how horrible I felt. It is something I never want to experience again. I had to push through this hard time, remember what I have gone through before, try to enjoy the time I had on the trail, and keep moving forward. It wasn't long before I was back on the bike riding again, downhill into West. It felt great to be riding on a familiar part of the trail, knowing where I was.
Once I got into West, I had to stay focused. I wanted to rest, but I knew I couldn't stay too long. This was a race and I would rest when I was done. I devoured two bowls of potato chips, a very tasty grilled cheese made by chef Evan, a couple cups of hot chocolate and some tea. Then I spread out and dried my clothing. I closed my eyes for eight minutes but was eager to get back on the trail and continue my adventure. I got up, got dressed, resupplied my bike, and was on my way.
I had spent two hours at the second checkpoint, more than I originally wanted to, but I felt the time spent regrouping and warming up was time well spent.
It was motivational to know the groomers were out on the trail. As the temps dropped and the trails were groomed they began to set up and become hard. It was time to ride again! I had ridden parts of the course over the past few years and vaguely remembered this section. I recalled JayP stating there was one-in-your-face hill out of West. Yes, one LONG in-yer-face hill riddled with several short, steep climbs. The trail I was riding had been groomed and was in good shape. I got about five miles in when another groomer came towards me. Ugh! The track got churned up and was soft again. So, it was back to walking some, riding some. I finally caught up to Bill who informed me he had been hallucinating. This was something I’m pretty familiar with from past competitions; it's just part of the ride.
When I came to a long downhill, I put my lightweight puffy and rain jacket on and dove in, only to find out my brake hardly worked. I was scared and it was hard for me to refrain from putting my foot down and screaming, but I had to keep calm. I was riding the most stable fatbike I have ever ridden! I just had to hold on and enjoy the ride. Although I topped out at only 26 mph, it felt like I was screaming downhill through a twisted trail in the dark. Whew! I made it down with no crashes. I was on the flats and on my way to the Man Cave, checkpoint three.
It was such a great feeling when the sun started to rise and I realized I had made it through the night without getting sleepy. I chose not to look at the clock at all. A few miles from the Man Cave I spotted a biker ahead. This rider passed me in the night and I had no idea who it was until I got to the Man Cave and saw it was Ben. Bill had caught back up to me and we walked a couple of miles through big drifts to the checkpoint.
The Man Cave RULES!! There I was greeted by JayP, my volunteer friends, Kim and Shanna, and Miker taking photos. The plan was to take a few minutes to eat and regroup for the final 22-mile push, but once I heard there were three racers not too far ahead, I quickly ate the potatoes Kim made, a bowl of soup, and a couple of rolls with butter, and I was outta there in 18 minutes! Ben knew the chase was on and was out the door just ahead of me. Slowly he pulled away from me and disappeared. I began to get short of breath and starting wheezing, not like the Arrowhead, but I was concerned it would get worse, and I knew I had to push myself to catch those ahead of me.
Within five miles, I saw someone ahead, which was total motivation. It was Rebecca. She was pushing her bike and informed me she was sick. I had no idea how bad her condition really was until after the race. I pedaled on and caught up with Mike. He was alternating walking and riding.
My adrenaline shot through the roof! We rode together for a bit, but eventually I pulled away. I knew where I was and how far I had to go, so I picked it up even more. I wanted it! I pedaled as fast as I could, smiling and feeling great, knowing I was so close to finishing. Then suddenly, I could hear people and saw the finish arch! YES! I was finished and had taken second place overall. It felt so GREAT! I didn't get sick AND I think this is the first time in a long time that I didn't get lost during a race!
I was greeted at the finish by a large group of friends, volunteers, and fellow racers. I had just missed the noon toast but was handed a beer shot and given a hug by my man, race director JayP. I had put my training and years of experience to the test, and had risen above the self-doubt, and “weathered the storm”. It was an incredible feeling!
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Endurance cyclist Tracey Petervary is a New Jersey native residing in Victor, Idaho. She started adventure racing 18 years ago, enjoying multi-day, multi-sport team events traveling to places such as Fiji, New Zealand and across the United States. Her stable includes several bikes (MTB, road, cyclocross, commuter, fat, tandem), which allow her to ride every day of the year in any condition.