On January 4th and 5th, this year, Jay Petervary hosted the 200 mile and 200k Fat Pursuit events, in Island Park, Idaho. We are very familiar with this event. Bryon participated in the event last year and I volunteered at the West Yellowstone Checkpoint. Jay is our neighbor and we try to get out and take part in all of his Backyard Series events. Additionally, this year we were honored to have our new bag company FBJ Creations sponsor the event.
We had decided last year that we would pursue the course for the 200k together, this January. After miles of bikepacking and riding in Teton Valley, over the summer months, on our Why Cycles Big Iron fat bikes, we felt we had the endurance and stamina required for the 200k. We arranged for my mom to fly in from Minnesota to watch April, our 2 year old daughter, for the duration of the event.
The week leading up to the Fat Pursuit we pulled out our gear, secured a bivvy to borrow, as we only had one between the two of us, and decided on what food we wanted to take along to fuel our journey.
We drove up to Island Park Friday afternoon. We loaded our bikes with all of our gear and went through gear check with the Salsa rep. He checked that we had sub zero sleeping bags, bivvies, each a stove, insulated jackets, extra batteries, lighting systems, and water bottles to store up to 48 oz of water. We both packed Big Agnes Crosho sleeping bags, which are rated at -20 degrees Fahrenheit. Bryon had packed his Jetboil for stove requirement and I had our MSR DragonFly stove. We each had utilized these systems frequently during our summer trips, and practiced using them in the cold temperatures. We carried our gear in FBJ Creations custom mini panniers, frame bags, stem stashes and post pockets. We each utilized a 15L Outdoor Research dry compression sack, on our Salsa Alternator Racks. We had water bottle cages mounted on each side of our forks to carry our water in insulated water bottles. Both Bryon and myself prefer not to carry water in bladders on our backs, so we each had 32 oz Hydroflasks and an additional insulated water bottle. We each secured Thermarest Z Lite sleeping pads to our bikes for sleeping. Insulated sleeping pads were required of all racers. As we went through the gear check we both hoped we would not have to utilize our sleep systems, unless absolutely necessary.
After the gear check we drove to our cabin, to further prepare ourselves for the event. We stayed at a cabin about 5 miles from Pond’s Lodge, where the race start was Friday night. We fully prepared our Why Cycles Big Iron bikes and packed our food and gear, into our bags. Bryon worked on getting his rear tire to seat, during this time. Bryon decided to switch to 4.8 Husker Du tires for the event, as his Dillinger 5‘s were wearing, on his I9 custom wheel set. We headed back to the Pond’s around 7pm for the race meeting. .
The racer meeting was quick and to the point. JayP showed us the Fat Pursuit video and then talked to racers about what to expect. This was to expect the unexpected with weather, as we were in the mountains. He emphasized the importance of the event being a pursuit, and reminded us of time cut offs for check point, the water boil at checkpoint 1 and where the checkpoint in West Yellowstone would be.
We returned to our cabin, ready for bed. We were optimistic about the next day.
Saturday we woke early, and made breakfast burritos before heading back to Pond’s Lodge, with our bikes in the truck. We unloaded our bikes, adjusted our tire pressure, ready for our adventure to begin. 18 people started the 200k event with us, as we crossed the highway from Pond’s Lodge and entered the national forest, where we would ride about 65 miles of snow machine trails before dropping into West Yellowstone.
The temperature was barely above 0 degrees, at the start. All riders had shining lights in front and red safety lights, secured at the rear. We began to pedal through the dark, into the thick forest of pine and bare aspen tress. The sun rose as we started up the Chick Creek climb. Tyler and Billy popped their heads out of their tent as we passed by Checkpoint 1 for the first time. Both guys had gone out to the checkpoint to assist overnight with riders, coming through from the 200 mile event. They would be out there until the 200k riders came through. Riders pass Checkpoint 1 at about 8 miles and 31 miles, during the 200k. They climb the Chick Creek Climb twice before hopping on to the Continental Divide Trail to West Yellowstone. The climb was long, but never too steep. Conditions were firm. We were able to ride the entire climb. We made it up the climb turned left and headed back towards Checkpoint 1. We reached Checkpoint 1 by afternoon, for the water boil challenge.
All riders are required to boil 8 oz of water, to a rolling boil, before they can move on. We pulled out our stoves. I was able to light my stove on the first try at the checkpoint and have water boiling within minutes. Bryon had his Jetboil system boiling water, just as quickly. I had practiced lighting my stove in single digit temperatures prior to the event, by leaving my stove outside overnight and lighting it the next morning. This allowed me to work out any issues I had and have an idea of how much fuel I needed to let into the stove to get it lit at low temperatures.
We enjoyed cup of noodles and a few other snacks before hopping back on our bikes and down the trail. We stopped a few times to take pictures and chat with JayP, who came along the trail on his snow machine. Then we headed up the Chick Creek Climb for the second time. Some snow machiners stopped to ask us where we were headed at the top and were in awe of the task we were pursuing.
We turned onto the CDT a mile from the top of the Chick Creek Climb. The trail was much more of a chunder at this point, as snow machines had tore it up. We rode most of the next several miles, but did have to dismount and walk with our bikes, at times. As the sun set we carried on toward West Yellowstone. The 5 mile descent into West was enjoyable. Our lights shined bright on the trail, and we could see the town as we wound down the winter routes crossing into Montana.
We reached the West Yellowstone checkpoint around 8 pm where we were greeted by the Nobman’s who own and operate Fitzgerald’s Bicycles in Victor, ID and Jackson, WY. Niki and Jeremy two riders for Fitzgerald’s, and Tracey Petervary, were all manning the West Yellowstone Checkpoint. We enjoyed soup and grilled cheese. Then retrieved snacks from our drop bag before heading out the door towards Two Top Mountain, around 9pm. We had been warned snow was on the way, so wanted to get up and over Two Top quickly.
We were able to bike into the night for about 8 miles, after leaving West Yellowstone. Conditions made it impossible to ride any longer, after that. The snow was falling heavily, as we trekked up the mountain pushing our loaded bikes. We were tired. I was nauseous. It took us hours to reach the top of Two Top. We joined up with Dennis, another rider as we continued up the snow covered path. The three of us pushed on together. Bryon broke trail most of the time. We had to stop more often as we grew exhausted. When we finally reached the summit, the wind was roaring at least 30 mph and the visibility was poor. We struggled to find our route. We did a complete 180 and almost headed back toward West Yellowstone. Thankfully we had routes on our Garmin’s to help us find the trail as we post holed in and out of where the trail should have been.
We found the course and for quite some time battled the wind, while struggling to see the snow machine trail markers that were on each side of the trail, to stay on the trail. There was no shelter from the wind as we traversed this section of the route, still pushing our bikes. Any time we tried to ride we quickly fell down.
We pushed for nearly 10 hours before finally deciding to bivvy down for an hour. We had already passed a few other bikes and bivvies set up along the trail. We had heard of a warming hut, and had hoped to reach that to sleep in. We still had not reached it just before 6 am, and rest was necessary. Bryon stomped some snow and we pulled out our bivvies and Crosho bags, and thermarests. I shoved my thermarest in with my sleeping bag and climbed in boots and all, wrapping the bivvy over my head. Bryon struggled to get into his bivvy. He had forgotten the pole for it and his boots wouldn’t go into his sleeping bag. They were too big! He became frustrated, snow was filling his bivvy set up, so packed his gear and sat in the snow, dozing off next to me, while I slept for an hour.
Bryon woke me up after about an hour and told me I was snoring and it was time to get going. He helped me repack my stuff sack and reattach my gear to my rack. We tried to ride as we pushed on, but it was still impossible. We discussed our plan for getting out of the forest. We decided we would end our pursuit when we reached the highway. We were exhausted and worn down and we wanted to ride our bikes, not push them! I have run marathons in the past and this endeavor was much more challenging. We heard a snow machine coming toward us as we staggered along the trail. The tracks of the riders that had been ahead of us were barely visible, as the snow fell fast.
The snow machine rider stopped, it happened to be Travis was from the Man Cave checkpoint. He volunteers his place for Fat Pursuit each winter. We asked if we were near to the warming hut. He said we were almost there. We then asked how far to the Man Cave. He said that it was at least 13 miles. We groaned at this response. He advised us to keep going, as he was packing the trail with his machine and would come back through one more time, but as the snow dumped the trail would be covered again quickly.
We moved forward. We caught sight of the warming hut about 10 minutes later. Kevin, a neighbor of ours also taking on the 200k, and two 200 milers were just getting up inside. We went in and enjoyed the shelter for about an hour. The 200 millers took off after Travis stopped by with water and miniture candy bars. Kevin took off and we followed. We were able to ride occasionally, but walking and pushing the bikes was still our main mode of moving on at this point.
We reached cell service and we called my mom, to check in. She had April. They were doing well. We asked if she could get us at the highway. She agreed to, and told me to call as we got closer. The next few hours were tough. We pushed on but as we emerged out of the forest the trail was impassible except for on foot. The wind howled, the snow was constantly drifting segments of the trail. Derrick, the owner of Fitzgerald’s, came by on his snow machine He later told us we seemed so ready to be done, he decided not to stop when he passed again. Michelle and Joel, two other riders from South Dakota, that had bivvied just before we had on the trail passed. Michelle urged us to push on. We told her we would do our best.
Around 1 pm, we were a half mile from the highway and about to turn into the gusting wind, across an open field. Our struggle must have been obvious, as snow machiners passing by stopped to offer us a ride. We decided to go with them and they carried us, with our bikes to the highway. This was where our Fat Pursuit ended. We were exhausted. We were wind burnt. We were hungry and still nauseous. We were ready to be in the warm vehicle. It took us 5 hours from the time we first encountered Travis on his snow machine to go the 13 miles to the highway. We maybe rode 1-2 miles of those 13. My mom found us on the road and we loaded our bikes and gear.
We have reflected on the Fat Pursuit over the past few weeks. We take this as a learning experience. We should have bivved down earlier. We had the appropriate sleeping bags and gear but were not prepared. We had not practiced using this gear in winter conditions. We had enough food and water. I should have drank more water and kept myself more fueled. Carrying food and water doesn’t do you any good unless you utilize it. Nausea set through the night as we pushed. This could have been avoided.
We are both glad that we took on this challenge together. That assisted us in the mental aspect of the Fat Pursuit. I can not imagine what it would have been like a top Two Top Mountain in the white out, without Bryon. Conditions are always unknown when one takes on a challenge such as the Fat Pursuit.
We hope to take on this endeavor again in the future. Finishing the 200k Fat Pursuit is still a goal of ours. We may not have finished this year, but the lessons learned are valuable. They will be carried with us as we pedal on, in our future adventures.