I started planning for the Fat Fish Forty a couple of months back. I pinged mi amigos but a couple of dudes planned on hitting the Balls Ride that weekend and the others were otherwise disinclined. That’s the way she goes with things. Trying to get a bunch of bike rebels to commit to anything is like herding cats. In the end, it turned out that Angry Andy stuck my invite up on his fridge #oldschool and joined me in this little escapade. A day or two after I registered for the race, I heard from my gnome-cousin Joe that he and a buddy were planning the Mayday Mayhem Klunker Race on the same weekend as the FF40 in North-Central Iowa. I was torn between two bike rides (feel’n like a fool). Never one to let fifty bucks go to waste, I made the decision to stick to my original plan to race the FF40. Cousin Joe did make me commit to planning some kind of a Klunker Funduro later this year, so my hat’s off to mi primo, Jose for running a Klunk’n Rodeo! (but I digress)
The Fat Fish Forty checks most of the traditional boxes for a fat-bike race, without the need for snow. The race is described as an all-terrain bike race and (spoiler alert) the overall winner this year, rode to victory on a fat bike. The organizers made it pretty clear that this year’s race would cover 43 miles of bike fun that favored flotation due to soft sandy sections on the course. The race is held in Webster, Wisconsin. I’d say that eight out of ten of my fellow Wisconsin residents couldn’t tell you where Webster is and I personally consider that a really good indicator of a true grassroots event. The race venue is the County Fairgrounds in Webster. The fairground is right on the Gandy Dancer Trail and has a restaurant and grocery store at the end of the street. That makes it nice and easy for the folks that camped there overnight.
Our test pilot, JP Syverud rode the FF40 in 2019 and wrote a piece about his experience, so I checked in with him to see which bike that I should ride and probably more importantly, which set of wheels and tires. JP gave me some words of guidance that left me somewhat more confused than usual. (excellent) I decided to ride my Corvus FLT with 27.5 Big Su Carbon Wheels and Bontrager Hodags. That’s sort of a moderately skinny wheel/tire combination that rolls fairly easily on mixed surfaces.
I see a bright future for this race, and will definitely do this race again. It is exactly what Fat Biking is all about. Great people, beer, food, and fun. Even though I couldn’t get anyone to Derby. But hey, there is always next year.JP Syverud
The night before the race, I drove up and met with Angry Andy and some friends. We all camped together near the Bunny Hutches in the fairgrounds. We stayed up way past my bedtime talking and laughing because this was really the first time that I’d been on a bike trip with other people for a really long time. There were a lot of people camped in all sorts of RV’s and tents. The next morning we were up with the sun, brewing coffee and getting ready to race!
The crowd began to grow and the PA started to boom out music and sporadic announcements. By the time we all got lined up there had to be almost 200 riders assembled. I’d say about half of the racers were on fat-bikes. The race started with a neutral rollout through the business district of Webster. Somewhere along that way as we were leaving town some genius with a couple of mortar tubes nailed to a scrap of wood, shot single repeat fireworks off, that felt like they went off right overhead (¡Danger Gnome!). That’s grassroots race’n at it’s finest. If you’re not ready to kick it into high gear, there’s nothing like the concussion of amateur fireworks overhead to get your adrenaline pumping.
I started with the goal of finishing the course and feeling good for the whole race. I hadn’t ridden forty-three miles in my preparation leading up to the race, so my plan was to pace myself, drink a bottle every hour and eat a bar every hour. The next time, I think that I’ll use some sort of powdered nutrition in my waterbottles. It’s just too hard to eat and breath, while riding. The course markings were very clear and they had course marshals at road crossings and critical turns. My mantra for the day was ‘all day long’ which is to say, “I’m pacing myself Drill Sergeant” There were long stretches of paved and dirt roads, and on one of those early sections, Andy grabbed the wheel of a faster line of riders and that was the last I saw of him. I rode with our new Duluth correspondent, Luke, and his pop for the first part of the race. I didn’t even know that he’d be down there. The course was a nice blend of trail, road, and sand. Some of the hardest pitches were sandy roads. Then there would be a section of asphalt into a headwind where it was beneficial to draft with others groups of riders. I stayed with a group of folks that were all wearing Wolftooth kits for as long as I could. I stopped at the last water stop, changed into short sleeves, and motored on feeling pretty good. The beauty spot on the course took us by a lakeside Northwoods Lodge and then up a pretty nice climb for a few miles of woodsy trail and the home stretch back to Webster on the Gandy Dancer Trail. Those last four miles, I could see some riders in front of me, but I couldn’t bridge the gap so I was stuck out in no man’s land for the last few miles. I crossed the finish line in 3:17. Andy did it in 3 hours flat. You can see all of the results from the race by clicking here – https://www.fatfishrace.com/2021-race-results.
With the racing part of the day over, the festival part of the afternoon kicked into high gear. The race provided brats and beer (or soda) to everyone and they held an awards ceremony. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon. I’d say it was almost hot! The kind of day where you want to sit in the shade. When the awards were over and the race crew was packing things up, we retired back to our campsite and sought out the shade of the Bunny Hutch. Our neighbors came over to share in the cool summer vibe. The best part about the race weekend then ensued with food, drink, and lots of laughter (does anybody remember laughter?) It was a glimpse of what we were used to before COVID. It was only a month ago and about two weeks before the CDC relaxed the mask requirements for vaccinated people. I hope we get back to being able to safely enjoy events like this again and again. I guess the only thing that would have made this any better, would have been a two hundred rider derby at the start of the race…but I blame myself for not calling it out at the time. If you’re looking for a great way to extend your fat-bike rides into the Spring cycling season, put the Fat Fish Forty on your race calendar for 2022. It’s what my friend Blatz calls a Stone Cold Groove. Or you could always just take a trip up to Webster and explore their sandy fat-bike paradise on your own dang schedule.