Race report by Dave Byers:
Time: 22 Hours, 57 Minutes
Distance: 122.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 6,674’
“Go as fast as you can while conditions are good” I said to myself as I rode alone in the pre-dawn darkness. I knew that the perfect trail conditions would not last. Traveling at 10 mph on a loaded fat bike is flying, and for the first 45’ of the 200K Fat Pursuit I averaged a blistering 10.5 mph. The lead group of 6-7 riders had launched off the start line as if it was a XC race and their red taillights were out of sight within minutes. Less than hour into the race, I was riding alone.
With three checkpoints on the 200K route, the race is broken up into four segments. In long-distance fat bike races, it is almost impossible to accurately estimate split times because your speed is dependent on the ever-changing conditions. Temperature, recent trail grooming (or lack thereof), snow machine traffic, snowfall, and wind have a huge effect on your speed.
|My Salsa Beargrease ready to rock the evening before our 7 AM start|
Start to Checkpoint #1 – 31 Miles
Having raced the 60K Fat Pursuit in 2015, I had seen the first 31 miles of the course and knew what to expect. As we waited on the start line in mild 20F temperatures, I was very calm and focused on what I needed to do in order to give myself the best chance to finish this race.
The riding to checkpoint #1 was truly “as good as it gets” for racing a fat bike on groomed snow machine trails. However, riding a loaded fat bike on snow requires a lot of effort even under perfect conditions. As soon as the trail pitched up at mile 12, my average speed plummeted to about 5 mph and my HR shot up another 5 bpm. “Eat. Drink. Smile. Go.” was my mantra for the day and Michelle’s “secret weapon” cookies were going down nicely.
|Michelle's "Secret Weapon" cookies taste amazing and remain chewy in below-zero temps|
|Staying warm while boiling water at Checkpoint #1|
|Finally leaving Checkpoint #1|
It was almost 11am when I left checkpoint #1. This is significant because the busiest time of day for snow machine traffic is typically 11am to 4pm. Snow machine traffic churns up the trail and makes riding extremely more difficult.
Eight miles after leaving checkpoint #1, the route turned right onto the Black Canyon Loop Trail. As I made the turn, an armada of snow machines descended the steep trail towards me leaving a soft, churned up trail behind them. I did not know it at the time, but my pace was about to significantly slow down. I was now climbing at an average speed of 3.5 mph.
Cramp! Five and a half hours into the race, sharp cramps forced me off the bike as I tried to “walk it out”. The low-cadence, high-torque riding was taking a toll on my body and I tried to do damage control by walking whenever I felt a sharp cramp coming on.
Mother Nature decided to throw us curve-ball as well. As I climbed up onto the 8,000’ South Plateau, the light snow that had been falling intensified and the tire tracks in front of me were quickly filling in. Visibility was tough in the flat light and the churned up trail required max effort to keep the bike moving forward. It was ridiculous how much effort it took to ride at 4 mph at this point in the race.
Keep. Moving. Forward. I “thought” there might be some easy miles once I descended off the plateau towards West Yellowstone…I was wrong. Heavy snow machine traffic plus steady snowfall equals slow riding. The last few miles into checkpoint #2 took forever and I wobbled into West Yellowstone just a little after 5pm. The last 35 miles took me 6:41:00 and I was shattered.
Riders of various physical & mental states were sitting around the large dining table when I stumbled through the door into checkpoint #2. Although I was in rough shape, I had no thoughts of quitting at this point but I knew I needed some food & time before I could continue. As I stripped off my wet layers to dry out, angels from Heaven, aka the checkpoint #2 volunteers, delivered a hot grilled cheese sandwich & chicken noodle soup. After a second bowl of soup and more water, I was slowly coming back to life. In contrast, several riders were pulling the plug on their races and this was affecting my mojo.
|Checkpoint #2, West Yellowstone|
Checkpoint #2 to Checkpoint #3 (Man Cave) – 35 Miles
Based on previous reports and the route profile, this segment is definitely the crux of the race. The Two Top Trail climbs to 8,300’ and includes some very steep sections. The weather can be notoriously bad and whiteout conditions are common.
Chris and I got extremely lucky. The trail groomer had just hit the Two Top Trail and our spirits lifted immediately when we saw freshly groomed trail ahead of us. Freshly groomed trail needs to “setup” before it is firm & fast but at least we were riding our bikes instead of pushing our bikes…most of the time. As we climbed higher, the trail steepened and required pushing our heavy bikes despite the groomed surface.
After four hours of slow climbing, I was ready to be off this mountain and onto the flats that led us into the Man Cave. The chilly descent off Two Top was over in the blink of an eye but the climbing was not. There were several unexpected climbs on our approach to the Man Cave and every one of them hurt at this point in the race. As we were climbing the Meadow Creek Trail, which looked flat on paper but climbed forever, we noticed a set of very fresh mountain lion tracks heading the opposite direction down the trail. This was cool and somewhat spooky at the same time.
Approximately seven hours after leaving West Yellowstone, we arrived at checkpoint #3, aka the Man Cave. Two amazing volunteers greeted us as we wheeled our bikes into the warmth of the giant heated garage. They fed us sourdough pancakes, bacon, potatoes, coffee…and more potatoes as our damp clothes dried on the homemade clothes/boot dryer. In less than an hour, we headed out to finish this beast.
|Gearing up to finish the last 22 miles|
How hard could 22 miles on mostly-flat terrain be? Well, the “mostly-flat” trail turned out to be “pretty f’in hilly” trail. Damn you JayP!
Chris was clearly stronger at this point and appeared to ride the punchy hills with ease while I had to dig deep to clean each one. After riding together for the past nine hours, I had no intention, nor the energy, to “race” Chris to the finish and encouraged him to go ahead if I was holding him up. Chris confirmed that we were in this together to the end. Classy.
|Finished in 22 Hours, 57 Minutes. Epic.|
|My new favorite beanie!|
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for a follow-up post on the gear I used during this race.