Fat Pursuit Workshop 2023… An Ultra Blog about an Ultra Experience
In July 2022, after some time off the bike, I decided it was time to get a gravel bike for some and see where it would take me. In just a few hot months it took me from Denver to Trinidad, so, then Zion, UT and, well, Idaho in January on my fat bike. My joy of biking this past summer and fall rekindled the flame of adventure. I remembered that adventurer inside who had attempted the CTR in 2021, and who dreamed of finishing it as well as ride an even longer race, the Tour Divide in 2024, and that same adventurer had a keen curiosity about winter long distance riding. So it was in this headspace that I surfed the internet and found Jay Peterary’s Fat Pursuit, the first weekend in 2023. And, oh wow, there was also a Fat Pursuit workshop to learn how to bikepack in the snow! In October I signed up for the 60 km race (not a bikepacking race but the longest yet I would ride on snow) and the Workshop held in the week leading up to the race. It would be my first trip to Idaho, just for me and my own growth. It would be a way to step outside my comfort zone at the start of the new year. I was stoked. And let me tell you, it did not disappoint.
Preparation: Embrace the beginner’s mindset.
Although I have been riding bikes since 2005, I have only bike packed for a few trips and am no where near truly self-sufficient on the bike. I had a couple mechanicals that I couldn’t sort out how to overcome stop me from completing the CTR in 2021. I learned a lot (and loved it), but that was already over a year ago.
So when I got the packing list I went at it the best I could and put together my winter bike “kit.” Such the newbie, I thought a “high volume pump” was my floor pump (no — it’s a hand pump suited for huge tires) and that a “hat with visor” was like a trucker hat (no — it’s a cycling cap with a short brim like you see the pros wear). Also I bought my Whisperlite stove to melt snow, and fuel bottle, but didn’t realize it didn’t come with fuel inside. So when I say “newb,” you can definitely take me at my word. But that was what this workshop was for so I embraced it. And I was able to put together a pretty solid kit with warm enough gear to do the darn thing!
The Workshop: Creating a blueprint
As I drove up to Island Park, Idaho, I finished listening to David Goggins’s new book, Never Finished. One of the points he makes is this when you decide what you truly want to do, you then draw up your ultimate blueprint for gifting it done. I was pumped because this workshop would help me create the blueprint and learn how to bikepack in the snow.
On Monday, we gathered at “The Man Cave,” which is a garage that has been repurposed into an oasis for bike packers lot is on the Tour Divide route, with bathroom, shower, kitchen area, and seating area. It was a warm space to learn. Jay led intros, starting with our instructors. Jay Petervary is the race organizer. He started this race 10 years ago to raise awareness of winter fat biking in Idaho, and with his leadership and hard work and the help of his volunteers, sponsors, and friends, he has seen incredible growth and success. He has also raced and repeatedly won the Tour Divide, Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI), and numerous expedition races. Joining him was Rebecca Rusch, professional athlete who started as an adventure racer in the golden era of Eco-Challenge and then became a champion in 24-hour and ultra mountain bike racing and winter bikepacking. Rounding out the instructor team was Kevin Emery, Fat Pursuit veteran, who also spent time on multiple deployments to Antarctica and Greenland, and so he knows how to live outdoors in harsh winter conditions. Also on support team was Nan Pugh, Idaho native, Fat Pursuit veteran, and bike packer. And my class of 7 fellow students was a super experienced group, with several who had even done the ITI. More than the sheer knowledge of this sport and how to survive and thrive in the cold, everyone brought their love of bikepacking and adventure to the workshop. I soaked it all in. As Jay said on day 1, “Expedition riding… it never gets old.”
On day 1, we deep dived into how dress for winter riding. The key points are using layers, avoid getting wet, and use a 4-layer system on top and 3-layer system on the bottom, as well as having
systems for feet, hands, and face. We also went into bike set up and how to organize with the key take home for me being: Be intentional. Pack what you need, bring what you will use, and put it in proper order on your bike. We also learned how to light a store to melt snow for water — an essential survival skill.
On day 2 we showed our bike “kit” to the group and optimized our individual packing set up. We also learned about stove maintenance and Rebecca’s approach to nutrition. Again, the message is to
do things with intention — plan your nutrition to suit your needs and make some you eat and drink when you race. It is so easy to get behind in winter racing, and then you’re in trouble.
On day 3 we got into ease specifics, goal setting, and overall approach to a 200 km expedition race. We went through the course and I started to see into my future.
In addition to the indoor theory work, each day we did daytime and night rides, putting theory into practice in one of the most beautiful places I have ever ridden on snow. Island Park is on the outskirts of Yellowstone right at the Idaho-Montana border, and because it is a famous destination for people who love snowmobiles, there is an extensive network of groomed trails. It was the perfect place to practice.
Then are so many details I could dive into on each of these topics, but to learn those you’ll need to register yourself for the Workshop next year! If you are even thinking at all about doing it, just do it.
Surpassing expectations, for the workshop and myself
When I signed up for the Workshop I knew we would be sleeping outdoors both nights under the stars, but I did not know how I would do with it. Would I stay warm? Would I be able to light the stove and melt snow for water? Would I hold the class back? Would I get hypothermia? Would I have fun or hate it?
The workshop was the perfect way do find out. On the first night we rode our packed bikes a few miles came back and set up our minicamps just outside The Man Cave. That way, if there were any issues, safety was just a short 100 yards away. I made it through the first night and learned that I would not get hypothermia if I had to take nature’s call at 2:30AM in 10 degree temps. On the 2nd night we rode about 4 miles out onto the trails and set up away from the base. Our instructions were just to be back by 9 AM. It went well. I still have to get used to sleeping in a sleeping bag inside a bivvy sack, but I did sleep better, and I was plenty warm. And each night and morning, I lit my stove and melted snow for water. Success.
The workshop surpassed my expectations. It was really a great time with good people in the first week of 2023. And just as significantly, I surpassed expectations of myself. After it ended I drove to Bozeman to tweak my gear. I continued to work on it through the week. I was super tempted to dive into the 200km race instead of the 60km I had planned, but in the end I stuck with my game plan. I want more practice, and next year a I will return and do the 200 km race.
The Race: Fat Pursuit 60
On Saturday, I was set to race this race. I woke up, did some last journal work to mentally close out 2022m so I could focus forward, and then put my bike outside to cool down about 30 minutes before the race. I had ridden in soft conditions the day before to ran a little lower pressure “crinkle tire” for grip at Harriman State Park. I thought I had enough air in the tires, but after the start I was bouncing like a beach ball on my back wheel and and people told me I was riding on rim. So I stopped, struggled a bit with my new HV pump, and actually wondered if I’d have to walk the mile back to use my floor pump in order to ride my Pursuit. And then Mark from Cheyenne stopped and by lending me his Lezyne pump, saved my Pursuit. After that I went to Zone 2 place, stopped several times to fidget a bit with my back brake, and rode the 60 km and enjoyed riding the farthest I had ever ridden on snow. Thank you for making that possible, Mark!
Biggest Lessons from Fat Pursuit Workshop…
① Live with intention. You can be organized, where everything has a place, a use and a purpose. Or you just shove life into a stuff sack and try to make it fit. This year in riding and in life, I am going to strive more for intention.
② Ride forward. Do your work. — Jay Petervary
③ When setting goals, be honest with yourself. Be deliberate, and don’t make decisions too quickly.
④ Fill your spirit cup. — Kevin Emery
⑤ Be good. — Rebecca Rusch
Thank you to Jay, Kevin, Rebecca, Nan, and fellow classmates Allen, Jen, Jason, Stafford, Will, Dan, and Joel. Best wishes in all your adventures and I hope to see you out on the trails again someday!
And thank you to my family for looking after Ollie, and to Darlene, Vera, Ann, Jordin and friends for “minding the ranch” back in Denver so I could ride my bike in the snow for a week.