JUST TRY AND STOP ME.
Well. Actually. I did try to stop me.
On December 30th at 7:30pm I sent a text to Levi, one of my best friends/bike mechanic guy at World of Bikes. The text….the exchange…
Dre: “I am having second thoughts bout going to Idaho for this race.
Dre: “I’m not ready. At all.”
Levi: “Ahh you got a few days.”
(are you starting to see why Levi is important? Also I am Dre.)
Dre: “Do I just fucking throw it together and go or sit it out? Fucking throw it together sounds good.”
Levi: “Yessss, fat biking is just slow and spinning.”
Dre: “I will start the throwing tomorrow morning, yes, I can do that.”
Levi: “Go up there and kick those dudes ass’s.”
Dre: “YES, it’s really just for fun and kicking stuff.”
Levi: “You need a road trip.”
Dre: “That I do.”
Levi: “You will do well.”
That took all of 4 minutes for me to decide going was worth it. Throwing things feels way better than just holding on to them. Kicking stuff is nearly on the same level as throwing things. Something about adding the word “fucking” in there also helped me decide I was going to the Fat Pursuit.
What exactly is the Fat Pursuit? Well, it involves fat bikes, snow mobile trails, 200 kilometers or 200 miles, a list of required gear, some traveling, but first, the motivation to do it all. The race would start in Island Park, ID on January 7th. Seems pretty straight-forward. I found a place to stay with Chris Tassava’s giant crew, including a very long list of amazing folks.
I prepped myself for a new journey in the same way I always do. I go to the store and get snacks for the race and trip. Pack and unpack my bike. Then do it again. My little red truck got some service so we could get all the way to Idaho. I would scour the bike shop making sure I had everything I needed.Gathering the directions and new road jams aka*music. One the morning of Wednesday, January 4th I began the drive out to Idaho. Little red truck was packed to the brim and I was set west.
The drive took about 20 hours. I really did enjoy it. Being able to experience new places, alone, for the first time. That was worth it. What a trip that was. I drove through Nebraska, woohoo, then into Wyoming. The first place I had never been. This would be the second day of driving. The elevation was gaining slightly and so was my excitement. Seeing the mountains pop up in the horizon made the butterflies flap even more. I stopped in Pinedale, WY for the night. The little red truck and I would have a windy and cloudy ride up and over the Teton pass, then onto Island Park, ID. I could feel the elevation changing. Almost see it. I was driving up into the mountains. UP INTO THEM.
I gave myself plenty of time to drive safely and arrive Friday morning. Christopher Tassava found me right away, handing me a key to the cabin that would be home for the next couple of days. Walking into that cabin you could instantly feel the energy. Literal piles of gear, bikes, more gear, claimed couches, snacks galore, it just felt right. I set my things down and promptly went back to the lodge for food.
So many good people. Good vibes. I chatted with my bartender, who had a goal of completing the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018. I met Perry Jewett, organizer of the Dakota 5-0 and Gold Rush Gravel Grinder. Todd, who will make an appearance later. Countless others. I could write pages about the people that I meet at these events. The support crew in our cabin was Anne. She kept telling me that she was just along for the ride, but everyone involved with these events plays an important role.
After chowing down and meeting the majority of my cabin mates I hauled my gear to the registration area to check in. The gear check was to be done outdoors, just to make sure things could be dismantled in the cold.
- 20 degree sleeping bag
- camping stove
- 16oz. pot to boil 8oz. of water
- ability to carry 48 oz. of water without freezing
- Insulated sleeping pad – minimum size 20″x 48″
- puffy coat
- bivy sac or tent
- Front and rear safety lights. White front, red back.
- fat tires-minimum 3.7″
- extra batteries
- SPOT locator
Quite the list. I have spent the last 3 years collecting the gear and playing with what I have. I am still borrowing a bivy, but it’s because I might be the only person who fits in it. I went with esbit tabs for my fuel, they were much faster and easier to use than liquid fuel. For lights I use a Light and Motion Seca with three extra 3-cell batteries, a small Petzl headlamp, and 3 Bontrager Flare R’s. I use a 20oz. Hydroflask and a Salomon running hydration pack for water. A Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad, a Big Agnes -20 bag, and a Rab puffy coat. Snacks came in the form of “food that usually melts in the summer”, or snacks I don’t like eating in the heat. Chocolate covered cashews, sour gummy candy, pop tarts, cheesy peanut-butter crackers, jerky, and potato chips. I try to keep things pretty simple and not rely on the food to keep me mentally happy, just calories. Clothing wise things haven’t changed much over the last couple of years. My shoes have though! No more frostbite over here. I used some 45NRTH Wolvhammers that are 3 sizes too big. I have a wool liner sock, Bontrager Stormshell over-socks, and toe warmers.
Preparing the gear for these races is more than half the battle. I am pretty happy with my gear set-up, but every ride and race I learn ways to do things better. Even just watching others in my cabin gave me ideas to try in the future.
I woke early on Saturday morning, around 5:15, to begin my day. I wandered down to the kitchen and was greeted by two of the 200 mile leaders and the race director. First thought, turn around, go back to bed. Second thought, “What’s up guys?” It was cold. Extremely cold, like -40. They had been out all night. The temps were now hovering around -20, which I have dealt with before, albeit not well, but I had an idea. Plus I knew the temps would be rising. The forecast looked perfect. Frigid overnight to set up the snow, then steadily rising to around 25 during the day. The low that night would be around 8. You can’t ask for a better forecast.
I ate some biscuits, bacon, and eggs. A serious breakfast for a serious day. Tossing on my outfit of choice I felt good. Optimistic. Whatever happened with my day I was in Idaho and about to embark on 200 kilometers of something brand new. I had prepared. Researched. Studied. Nothing could beat the real thing. Freaking mountains. Elevation? Not even close to fathomable.
Heading out of the cabin with Jere and John I was calm. My calm exterior was doing a great job of hiding just how scared I was. I couldn’t even find the start. Turning around a quick couple of corners, the blinky red lights appeared. We rolled up behind them just as Jay was sending us out. Tracey shouted a good luck and I was off. Into the dark Idaho trails. My mind at this point is blank. Just pedal, pedal, pedal. I didn’t get to pre-ride anything, it would all be a surprise.
The snow was friendly, finding a line was no problem, and if I bounced off the line the snow was forgiving enough to let that happen. Settling in I was happy with my tire pressure, but not with my clothing. I was too hot. It was probably closer to -5 at this point and I was dressed for much colder. Also probably a little sketched out by seeing some frozen 200 milers before I left. Stopping to shed my first layer I finally had a chance to look around. The sun was rising beyond some pine trees. It would be sunny that day, bright. I didn’t look much at the trail ahead, but the world around me. Just taking it all in. Unfortunately I didn’t take many pictures.
Moving on I found a nice rhythm. There was about 30 miles until the first checkpoint. This is also the place where we would boil our water. Goal set in my mind, I pushed on. The trail wove slowly through a vast land, a place that dwarfed me. During the drive, seeing the terrain change was overwhelming, but actually being in that. Getting ready to ride from 6,000 feet of elevation to 8,000 and having no clue what that was like, just the thought is humbling.
Stopping some 10 miles in to eat I realized my toes were chilly. Nothing to be worried about, I decided to try out some walking. It never really got cold enough in Iowa for me to try out my boots full potential. I walked for about 3 minutes, hopping back on the bike once I could feel my tootsies again. Plus it gave me the chance to eat and drink without falling over myself. I can only do so many things at once when all I really want to do is stare at the world around me. Why hadn’t I been out west before?!
Pedaling onward I was cheered on by the first checkpoint, I would have to loop around on Chick Creek trail and end up back at the checkpoint to boil my water. Honestly, I had a very hard time figuring out the map. I still don’t quite know how to read it. My Garmin is on the fritz so there was no GPX file for me, add in off-season trail markers and my incredible lack of directional sense. I was confident that I wouldn’t get lost though, I had studied the map, I had all of my notes with me, I would be OK?
Turning to head out for the loop I felt awesome. I was happy. Sun was shining. Birds were probably singing. This would mark the start of my first climb. What did I have to worry about?! Things were great! I just kept pedaling. The climb started. 5 minutes in. This is cool. 7 minutes. Look at all the neato mountains! 16 minutes. I bet the end is just around that corner. Nope….it went on like that for probably 30 minutes or so. I gave myself some time to walk to warm my toes and take in the sights. I felt good after the climb, it’s one of my favorite things to do, go uphill. Next would come what quickly became my least favorite.
I stopped at the top of the climb to eat some snacks and take some deep breaths. The elevation didn’t seem to be having a noticeable effect on me. I was still feeling peachy. Pedaling on the downhill began. I did not like this. The snow was crunchy and I was having a hard time finding a line. My emotions were in control at this point, all those happy feelings instantly turned into frustration. Why can’t I hold a line? Stupid snow pushing me all over. I don’t want to let out more tire pressure. You can’t make me. The lack of pedaling was getting to me too. The cold was settling in and my hands were feeling it. Stopping to put on gloves, eat some food, drink some water, taking some deep breaths, then I coasted on. I still hated the downhill.
As I rode on I wasn’t in my “things are great” mood anymore. I was more in the “things are frustrating” and “what is going on” mood. Which is the mood I have been in for a couple of months now. Not terrible, just running around pretty quickly and not paying attention. Things were getting better, the work was getting done, but I was still a bit discombobulated. Ignoring necessary evils, which were now working their way to the surface. Questions that had been pushed aside, left with no answers, were shouting at me now.
“WHY ARE YOU OUT HERE?”
“WHERE ARE YOU GOING?”
“what does the finish line mean to you?”
“Are you OK?”
“Do you even care?”
I let the questions come. I didn’t stop them. I listened to myself.
There was a slight possibility that all this listening is what caused me to get lost. Or the fact that I kept riding even though Todd, who was standing in the middle of the trail facing the other way and probably yelling at me to figure out where I was going….I kept riding. Just for a little bit longer. He followed me that little bit more. We stopped together where the trail came to a T. Hmmm….this is not the destination. I had met Todd the night before. He is a solid dude, from the area. He started talking about all the ways we could go, different trails and how they connected, how we had gotten lost. Finally it was just us laughing about the irony of getting lost together, sharing a Reese’s, and laughing. Giggling almost. He asked me where I was.
I said “I don’t know.”
“Well you probably won’t get to where you are going if you don’t know where you are.”
dangit Todd. I needed that.
After some contemplating we decided to head back to the race. We were probably lost for 45 minutes or so? Not much. I wasn’t mad about that. If anything it gave me the chance to clear my head. To actually answer one of those questions, even though it was Todd’s question. Now to answer some of those other questions. Could I picture the finish line? No. That was easy. Did I care? Yes. Also an easy answer. Was I mad? Maybe? Did I want to continue.
I have not finished things before. Usually ending in tears, anger, fear. Confusion. Unanswered questions. Consolation comes from my support, both sympathy and empathy help build me back up. But I never personally take the time to reflect about those DNF’s.
This was the time. Respect my decision. People always tell me to stop being so hard on myself. This was hard. Making the decision to not continue. Something I had trained for, researched, gathered gear, tested gear, made the commitment, and let defeat me. I could not see me crossing that finish line. If I couldn’t mentally get there, the physical me was never getting there. I kept pedaling. Not knowing what else to do. Making it to the checkpoint and boiling water was my only goal at this point. Seeing beyond that was impossible.
I stopped some 3 miles out of the checkpoint and made a phone call, but only after I fell off the trail, up to my waist, surrounded by snow. Somehow (roaming) the call went through. It was the person who I had been using as my phone a friend for the drive out. Giving me directions and weather when my phone was useless. Now he had to listen to me work through this DNF. He was the first person that learned about my DNF. Sharing the information made it more tangible. I wasn’t going to finish this race. Riding for another 20+ hours was not in the cards.
Rolling into the checkpoint I was directed by volunteers where I should boil my water. Beginning that felt nice. Something I would accomplish. The volunteers asked how I was. “Good, but done,” I said. A couple of minutes of trying to convince me otherwise only confirmed my decision. I just didn’t want it. After the boil I went into the heated tent and got a chance to talk with Kellie. She told me her story. That was not her fat-bike. She just signed up for this race, like, yesterday. Another dude who was riding was someone she had been training with. She had a huge smile on her face. This crazy look in her eyes. She was in control. On point for Fat Pursuit destruction. That made me happy. Getting to meet people as their genuine self. Deeper than I should get to know someone right away really. The Fat Pursuit was opening up a little bit of her soul. Something like that. There isn’t enough of that in the world. Real, raw moments where words aren’t even the important part of the exchange, but just the understanding. That feels good. I watched her roll out of the checkpoint, fist in the air, and a giant smile on her face. I won’t be forgetting her.
I stuck around the checkpoint. Joe from St. Paul, rolled in. We had stayed in the same cabin. He was a part of the 200 mile race. He was also done. Sitting around the checkpoint we hung out, I told him that if he wanted to ride back to the cabin together we should. We did. After drinking some fresh made french press coffee (because the Fat Pursuit volunteers are a class above all others, not kidding, I could go on about that coffee), handing off my gloves to a fellow cabin-mate, Joe and I headed back.
The ride back in was a part of the Fat Pursuit. Joe had been riding since 5pm the night before. Sometimes he had to wait for me since I was still hating on the downhills so much. We talked, shared peach gummies, and enjoyed the ride. As we rolled up to the cabins we had to pass over a little bridge. I stopped. There is something about a river that just stops me. Gets to me. Maybe it was the 7 years of rowing on water or the consistency, the sound. That was where I finally stopped. Cried. Own my decision. Not 8 hours after starting the Fat Pursuit was it done. Yes, I would have to explain for a long time why I didn’t finish the race, but that is the right answer this time around.
I didn’t finish the Fat Pursuit because I could not see me crossing the finish line. I could not see myself getting past that first checkpoint. The love that I pour out during long bike rides was all given to that decision. The respect that I finally allowed myself taught me that a DNF is just that. I have so much to learn, it’s races and events like the Fat Pursuit that are teaching me. The teachers are the race organizers, volunteers, fellow riders, past finishers, cabin-mates, my Mother, my Brother, Levi, phone-a-friends, Steph, and now myself. I finally listened to myself. I wasn’t happy with my choice, it was not easy, but that feeling of acceptance and understanding beats most things. The Fat Pursuit let me take a huge leap. Experiencing so many new things in only a couple of days. Meeting so many great people. I will be learning from this race for years to come.
And don’t worry, I will be back.