Editor’s Note: Becky Vordermann shares her first crack at fat-bike racing in Colorado.
Last month, just outside of Steamboat Springs, CO, the Bear, a 105 and 50-mile fat bike race, took place. The race was put on by Jon Kowlasky, of Steamboat Springs. The race was sponsored by numerous local businesses from the area, including Big Agnes, Honey Stinger, and Moots. The race started and finished at Hahn’s Peak Roadhouse, about 20 miles from Steamboat Springs. The race offered two distances, a 105 mile and a 50 mile. 12 people started in the 105-mile race and 31 started the 50-mile race. The 105-mile course had over 10,000 feet of elevation gain and the 50-mile course had just under 5,000 feet of climbing.
I competed in the 50-mile event. This was my first ever fat bike race. I am a mom and an elementary school teacher and fat biking is fairly new to me. I was a runner, competing in half marathons before I met my husband. Bryon, my husband, bought me my first fat bike last winter after I had our daughter, April. I have enjoyed fat biking with our little family on weekends and after work. My husband competed in the Fat Pursuits, put on by Jay P this winter, but because we have a young daughter, I was unable to compete with him. For this event, Bryon agreed to watch April, so that I could race.
The race began at 7 am, outside Hahn’s Peak Roadhouse at just over 8,000 feet of elevation. The course wound up the road, from the roadhouse to the village of Hahn’s Peak, before hitting snowmobile trails. There was a layer of new snow covering the groomed snowmobile trail that led out of Hahn’s Peak, from the previous night. The wind was blowing and the temperature was in the mid 20’s when we took off. The course climbed almost immediately after reaching the snowmobile trails. The racers began to spread out at this point. Some racers took to pushing their bikes up the first long climb, others adjusted air pressure and pedaled. By the time I reached the first hill, the leaders had set a decent wide groove with their tires. I was able to pedal up most of the climb during this first section, on my Salsa Beargrease.
The first 20 miles were rideable and fast. The course climbed steeply for the first 5 miles but then was followed by long steady climbs and descents from mile 5 to 20. When I reached the first aid station, at mile 20, about three hours had passed. The first aid station offered water, soup, and a variety of snacks. I grabbed a piece of warm bacon to put on my turkey sandwich, some water, and a couple of vanilla cookies before heading on my way. At this point in the course, the 105-mile racers headed one direction, into Wyoming and the 50-mile racers headed another direction, to complete a lollipop.
After leaving the aid station the course became more difficult, as myself and the other riders reached the steepest sections of the course. The course climbed to 9,800 feet during this portion of the race. Tall trees were on either side of the trail and the wind was whipping, causing drifts across the trail at times. The grades on the hills were steep. Multiple times I looked down at my Garmin, as a pushed my bike up the steep ascents and saw the grade of the hill was between 15-20%. At this point in the race, hike-a-biking was the only option. The snow was soft and although I adjusted my air pressure more than once, I could not ride through this section of the course. This was the first time I have really had to hike my bike for any real distance. I found it very difficult and because there was no one else around me, I struggled through this portion of the race. The hike-bike-section went on for about 2 miles and then there was finally a downhill. The hills rolled in a sense through the next section, but they were still steep enough walking was necessary at times on the uphills.
After coming out of the forest off the steep section of the course, the trail opened up into what I assume is a meadow in the spring. The wind was whipping at this time and I was pretty tuckered, so I stopped to eat some chocolate and drink my hydration mix. At this point, a few riders caught and passed me.
I continued pedaling through the open area and then back into the woods those last 10 or so miles. The course hit a road just over 5 miles from the finish that passed the Columbine Cabins, where the second and final aid station was on the 50-mile course. I chose to check in at the aid station, but not stop, as I was only a few miles from the finish. The course turned from the road, back to the snowmobile trails until the course reached the village of Hahn’s Peak again. I could see the few racers ahead of me, turn into the town. I was happy that I was almost to the finish. I was so happy to see my husband and daughter at the finish. They are my number one training buddies. I had primarily trained for the event towing my daughter in her Burley trailer. This was the longest ride I had completed on snow or without Bryon and April. My first fat bike experience proved to be challenging, but fun at the same time.
Overall, I learned a lot from my first fat bike race. I learned that hike-a-biking is something I need to work to be stronger at. My time slowed a lot during that time the course was not rideable. I need to look into vapor barriers for my feet. My socks were soaked with sweat by the finish. I found that the other clothes I had brought along and worn were perfect for the mild temperatures, the day of the race. I need to practice going down hills. I lost time to others around me on the downhills. One thing is for sure though, I am hooked on fat biking after this experience and can’t wait to get out there again. The Togwotee Winter Classic is next month, hopefully, I can use what I learned from the Bear to do my best there.