Jay Petervary’s Backyard Series races are always epic. It seems as though the trail conditions and weather always throw the event for a loop. This year’s Gravel Pursuit 120 (in September) was rerouted because of snow on the trails, with snow machine tracks going through it… Let that sink in for a second. I know the Greater Yellowstone backcountry is wild, but snow machining in September is next level.
Fast forward to December 17th, race day for the Fat Pursuit 60k. Jay stood in front of the eager racers and shared the current conditions of the course. Snow dumped the night before, rendering the previous grooming efforts completely useless. The roads were now completely covered, making it impossible to see the icy ruts.
We racers think we have it hard, but you know who was up earlier than the rest of us checking the trail conditions at 3 AM? You know who felt morally responsible for our safety? Do you know who coordinated volunteers and pointed them to areas they can help out in? That’s right.
Listening to Jay share his thoughts, you could only imagine the pressure a race director faces — he hid it well. As he shared about what we would be facing that day, you could feel his own experiences coming through. His experiences from cycling thousands of miles in snow became evident as he explained the situation.
And so he broke the news that we would not be doing the original course.
“To complete the original route, you will need overnight gear and I didn’t ask you to bring that,” Jay said.
The new course would be a 17-mile out-and-back twice, totaling in 34 miles. This wouldn’t be easier. A lot of the racers, including myself, thought that as the race went on, the course would get easier as it got packed down. Not the case. What we rode was a rut. It required your physical abilities but demanded your constant mental attention. That was the most exhausting aspect.
This was a completely different experience for me. This was my first fat bike race, which was surprising to a lot of people. I was also clipped into my pedals, instead of flats — a call I made a couple of days before after trying it out on a couple rides. I felt comfortable enough and decided it would be an asset to have during the race. Clipped in helped in many ways, but dozens of times I lost my focus or balance and tipped over still clipped in. Regaining my momentum and building back up my damaged moral was exhausting. It didn’t take long to stop caring what people thought of me — I wasn’t the only one falling over. Those I was riding with pulled away. Those whom I passed caught up and passed me again.
My struggle wasn’t a result of the lack of water or nutrition — I was eating a ton and felt good. For me, this race was mental and a different kind than what I’m used to. I’m not a quitter. It never occurred to me to quit. It’s not an option. I’m grateful to have perseverance on my side because, without that, I would have been defeated. I’m going to attempt to explain why the mental struggle was so real.
The skill factor and deep focus is a significant part. With a wide, groomed course, one could focus on pedaling instead of balancing in a rut. But I know some people who thrive in these conditions.
Besides the balancing act, it was my first time riding clipless in these conditions. It goes without saying that this affected my time and momentum. But why did it keep happening? I was able to unclip a lot of times but didn’t always catch myself (like when I unclipped on my right, then tipped left). Part of this was the skill factor. The other aspect was mental… like when you are playing basketball and you question whether you can make that shot. Guess what, you’re going to miss. I often found myself thinking about being clipped in and not falling. Other times, it caught me off guard. Both resulted in falling into cold, fluffy snow. I tried to take it as lighthearted as possible, but over time it wore on my patience and endurance.
I’ll be honest, riding with others, whether in a casual group or in a race somehow makes me nervous. When people are around and watching it somehow makes me do worse, even if I “don’t care” or try to not think about it. I’ve noticed that while riding in front with a friend, there is pressure to keep the momentum and not stop. When that is at the forefront of my mind, I forget to enjoy all that’s around me. I forget why I’m out there. This was exaggerated even more with the single, two-way traffic rut we were all in.
Even though this aspect made me nervous, it was awesome at the same time! I loved the encouragement from others and looked forward to seeing the progress made by those I knew.
There came a point where I let go and stopped trying to “push hard”. I let my mind wander, didn’t think about the time or mental challenges or trying to keep up with anyone. Pedal. It was at that point that I began to enjoy the ride. My only regret is that I didn’t take more photos.
I have this theory that if I would have started off caring less about who was passing me and more about taking pictures of the riders and the event as a whole that I would have enjoyed it even more than I did… helping me ride even better, thus enjoying it more.
I guess this was a reminder that once in a while even I forget why I’m out there — to experience. Ride to experience.
The day was amazing. The challenge of fat biking never ends and is always rewarding. Biking through the snow in the Greater Yellowstone backcountry is an incredible experience.
What was the Fat Pursuit for me? It was the pursuit of discovering my weaknesses. Coping with my struggles. And overcoming my challenges. It was a pursuit of triumph and proving to myself that despite what my mind or body feels, I will continue. I will finish. I will pursue.
JayP’s events… Always epic. Always a pursuit.
Feature image: Jamye Chrisman Photography