Friday, December 28, 2018

Pre-Tuscobia 160!

Tomorrow marks the first winter ultra of the season – theTuscobia 160 - and also the first of the Order of the Hrimthurs. I’ll be working hard to make sure I finish all three of the races in the Order so that I can hopefully enter the realm of the frost giants! What is the Order of the Hrimthurs? It’s a winter triple crown series, for racers who have completed the Tuscobia 160, Arrowhead 135, and the Actif Epica. I’m a sucker for series. There’s a camaraderie that comes with seeing and racing with the same group of people at each race. With my focus on winter ultras, I will admit I’ve missed seeing my 45nrth teammates. I hope I get to race with them soon. In the meantime, it makes me happy with the group of friends that I’ve made through ultras and I am excited to spend more time with these folks this winter.


I’m also super stoked that Salsa is a sponsor of the Tuscobia 160! The first time I raced Tuscobia I was on my Beargrease, and while I was planning on racing Tuscobia on my Mukluk, there have been some changes to the Salsa Beargrease that make me want to test it out – rear rack compatible being one of them? Yes, please! Salsa knows their stuff with fat bikes and I trust so much in my bike. Knowing that Dan gave my bike a race day tune and knowing that I’ve got the Salsa folks cheering behind me will mentally make it a much better race for me. Trusting in your bike and your gear takes a lot of worrying out of it. My friend Leah Gruhn pointed out that the women's course record at the Tuscobia 160 is 21 hours and 52 minutes. My goal for every ultra is always to finish with a smile. This other goal seems achievable this year... maybe. If not by me, maybe another strong woman this year (psst LEAH!) Fingers crossed!

Joining the Order of the Hrimthurs means joining a group of winter ultra legends, many of them people I’ve met and seen the last few years through these races. They know their stuff. Taking up three ultras in a winter series is rough, but I think Tuscobia will be the hardest mentally, because it is so redundantly straight, and because it beat me up so bad the first go around. I also feel like I haven’t had a good solid long push on my Beargrease loaded up, and there’s always that moment before a race where I feel under-trained and wish I had gone on a few more long rides. There’s never enough rides! I am also hearing other racers talk about needing studs for the course, as it rained pretty steadily yesterday and with suddenly cold temperatures there’s most likely more ice on the course than snow. I am banking a lot on my experience this time around and I am looking forward to the adventure.

Tuscobia was the first winter ultra I ever did, and I finished the 150 mile race a little over 25 hours (it’s now a 160 mile race!) I made a lot of mistakes and I learned a lot from them. Making mistakes and learning, changing how you pack things, working on what to wear, and dialing in nutrition – it’s a work in process with every ultra and if you aren’t making mistakes you aren’t learning. At least that’s what I tell myself. 😉 I was in a dark place near the end of the Tuscobia 150, the miles ticked away slowly and my lack of upper body work meant I was too fatigued to be able to steer the bike with one hand, so any time I wanted to eat or drink I had to come to a complete stop. I was too tired to unclip my boots from my bike and fell over every time I wanted to grab a drink. I was a sorry mess. I think I finished the Tuscobia just by sheer luck. After crossing the finish line I had vertigo and couldn’t sleep and Dan and I began the drive back to Michigan… then we flipped the mini-van on some ice. It’s funny to me that I kept racing winter ultras after this experience, because the Tuscobia trail chewed me up and spit me out! It took months to recover my upper body (thank you Train out Pain!), we had to scrap the mini-van up in the UP and catch a ride home (thank you again Scotty P and Rick!), and I was mentally so fuzzy for weeks afterwards. I am really excited to go back and to fight those demons. I’m looking forward to 10 additional miles and to see how this race has grown. The year I went, I was one of three women. This year, there’s four of us. I want us all to finish! I’m really excited to gauge how I’ve grown as a cyclist and to see what I’ve learned these past couple of years. I’m also very excited to be carpooling to the race with my GRBC teammate, Johnny D and his buddy TJ!

The temperature forces me to be more strategic about my gear, keeping water from freezing, and what I’m wearing. Sometimes the moisture in the air and the cold temperature creates a hard-packed, super fat bike highway, and everything is firm and fast rolling. The sun will come out and warm up just a few degrees, and suddenly, you’re pushing through mashed potatoes. I love the variety of the trail and it makes me feel more alive when I’m navigating through different conditions. Sometimes you must be patient and soft pedal through the snow when it’s mushy, or you have to stop to put more air in your tires when it firms up. It isn’t all about hammering on the pedals and riding fast through a course – it’s learning your environment and adjusting your set up to ride better through it. I feel out of practice in terms of the temperatures but I am hoping everything comes back to me within the first few miles of the course.

The biggest decision I’ll be making this weekend is what tire option to run. With the Salsa Mukluk and the new Salsa Beargrease in my line up, I have a set up for any type of winter riding: fast and hard-packed, slow and sloggy, carrying minimal gear, carrying everything but the kitchen sink, icy conditions, somewhat icy conditions, no-snow-conditions. I’m really happy that the new Beargrease has the same rear spacing as the Mukluk, so I can have additional wheelsets set up for what I want to do to easily swap. Many times I’ve brought a spare wheelset with me to a race so I can choose the perfect tire night before the race. The weather changes so quickly that it’s hard to make the call from home. This time, I didn’t bring a spare wheelset. I am doing my best to wave off the uncertainty of choosing the wrong tire, but am also hoping that following my instincts works!

Photo shared on the Tuscobia page Thursday night.
I’m picking the 27.5x4 45nrth Vanhelgas for Tuscobia because the course is very straight and relatively flat. I am hoping that if there is mushy snow, I can cut through it with the aggressive knobs on the Vanhelga. The Vanhelga tires are also has triple-siped shoulder knobs for better traction on ice. It’s an all-rounder favorite tire of mine and I have a hunch it’ll do just fine. Ideally, a firm course would call for fast-rolling action and the larger diameter of the 27.5’s will roll easier for me over the duration of the trail. With no big technical sections or big downhills, I don’t feel like I need the better handling of the 26” fat. (Although, if the snow is mushy, all of the ruts will make it technical – that’s the risk you take!) Plus, the Beargrease is the newest fat bike to my stable. I haven’t had a chance to ride it in snow a whole lot but I love how fast it naturally rides. It fits me well. The new frame allows me to put a rear rack on it and it’s got fork mounts. It’s shiny and I’m excited to race it! My Mukluk is set up to carry larger loads and to be a workhorse – my multi-day rig. The plan is to ride Tuscobia straight through. At the risk of making a mistake and choosing the wrong set up, I am looking forward to experimenting and to trying something new. I’ll let you know how it goes. 😉

As for nutrition for Tuscobia, I think this is the first time I’ve ever had it dialed. We made Christmas Tamale’s at Dan’s sister’s house and I have a large stockload of tempeh and habanero cheese tamales. It’s taken all of my mental prowess not to eat them all before this weekend. I literally just paused from writing this to go snag a tamale. YAS!

Good luck to everyone racing!

Food pile, counting calories. Still lacking some items. And those TAMALES.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

What's coming up?

The past few months between when the snow melted and now has really flown by incredibly quickly. It seems like just the other day Dan and I were in Emporia with a bunch of our friends preparing to ride 200 miles of gravel. Now it's 60 degrees near the end of November and I'm finding myself wistfully gazing at photos of friends riding fat bikes in snow out West on social media. I'm going to go out to ride today and I'll enjoy the sunshine, but I'm antsy for snow!

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat? Where did the summer go?!

I set myself a timeline with Dirty Kanza - as soon as my toenails returned to normal: I'd write about it. They're still getting there, but they're close enough.

Back in October the purple/green toenail on my big toe finally chipped off. I had gotten blisters under my toenails out in Kansas because my feet had swollen in the heat and I wasn't expecting it. I just kept pedaling despite the discomfort in my shoes. The funny thing is that I've experienced discomfort like that before (thanks, roller derby) and mentally prepared myself for the loss of a toenail. I didn't realize it'd affect 3 of my toenails and that it would take nearly half a year for my feet to go back to normal. Whoops!

There was a theme with not writing a post about my first Dirty Kanza. I couldn't sit down on a computer to save my life because we were out having fun. At the shop, I found myself on the computer answering emails, putting in orders, and ringing customers up. I'd get home and it'd be nice out and it'd be so hard to sit down and to open up the laptop. I stared at a screen all day - shouldn't I go play outside? That's important, isn't it? The worst *best* thing that Dan has rubbed off on me is to live in the present and to put the phone away. It felt like DK had just happened and I was still catching up on sleep. Put the cell phone away and get your hands in the dirt. Ride the bike. Take the dog out. Figure out that the new dog likes swimming. Go sleep out in the woods. Squeeze as much as you can in between working and sleep and heading back in to work again. We talk about bikes all day long and then go home and talk more bikes. Dirty Kanza was amazing and incredible and a really great experience. Why sit down when you can ride, swim, or play? The funny thing is that once summer is over, Fall is beautiful and everything gets reinvented and rides to the beach or to the woods are even more beautiful. Winter is incredible, too and I'm really looking forward to this winter. Whoops! Am I already making plans for Dirty Kanza next year? Did I already register for the Margi Gesick 100?

Although my first DK will be held safely and close to my heart, I really want to take a moment to recognize the strong women that I rode with out there for the most part of 200 miles. The #200women200miles campaign really resonated with me and I was really proud to be part of it. The race itself became less of a race and more of a movement, it was about solidarity and being a part of something and taking up space and being there with so many other women who had found themselves at the start line through different experiences and in different parts of their lives. Endurance events build bonds and I've met some incredible human beings at races that take longer than 8 hours. DK took me over 16 hours and I'll forever (albeit selfishly) keep those 16+ hours worth of memories in my head and I'll pull them out when I need a pick-me-up.

It really meant a lot to cross the finish line with my 45nrth teammate, Chelsea Strate. We spent all spring training in our hometowns and texting about DK. We compared how long it took for us to race our bikes 100 miles on gravel at races to try to gauge how fast we would do 200 miles. We chatted about nutrition and our lives and I picked up the same handlebar bag that she used in the Almanzo 100, because it could hold my snacks and because I trust the gear that receives the stamp of her approval. We asked questions like, "Will we race together? What if I'm slowing you down? What if you have a mechanical?" and "What are you going to wear?" We had no idea what to expect, both of us attempting DK for the first time, and the experience was definitely richer spending so much time with her, getting to know her better, and being encouraged to keep going when things got a little dark for me. It was great riding in short sleeves and shorts with her, we typically only see each other in the winter! Turns out I melt in the heat, a lot. She was patient and I couldn't have finished without her.

It also meant a lot to have found Andrea Cohen out in the great unknown and to have reeled in the second check point with her. Then we kept reeling in the miles until we crossed the finish line. It was Andrea's 1,000th Dirty Kanza mile and she received a special chalice for finishing 5 DKs. I'm inspired by her and want to complete a race 5 times. That's a lot of years of racing and miles under her belt, and the fact that she's a few years younger than me definitely puts a pep in my step and makes me want to push myself harder. For a lot of the miles beyond the first 100 I found myself feeling nauseous and over-heating, and Andrea kept it fun and stopped with us when I needed to hurl. The spanse of gravel between the second and third checkpoint was really hard for me and I sent Andrea and Chelsea on without me so I could slow it down and get my body back to functioning normal. Seeing Andrea and Chelsea at the third checkpoint brought tears to my eyes. I was so happy to see my friends again and so happy to finish with them. It was some good shit for my soul, believe me!

I read somewhere once that our brains distort memories each time we recall them. The more you think about a favorite memory, the less clear it becomes. I don't know if that's true or not but I can't bring myself to write about experiences this summer because I'm still holding on to them. They mean a lot to me and crossing the finish line with Andrea and Chelsea was really magical. To be at Dirty Kanza with 200 other women, reeling in the last mile with two women that I really admire, being with Chelsea for her first DK finish and being with Andrea for her 1,000th DK mile, meeting our friends at the finish line and watching strangers hug with smiles on their faces... It was really, really special. I'm definitely planning on more long-distance gravel events in hopes of earning some of those feelings again.

What's on the docket?
I'm really, really excited to have joined Salsa's team of riders! The first brand new bicycle I've ever gotten from a legit bike shop just so happened to be a Salsa Vaya - aka the little buffalo. I bought her from the shop a few months after I had begun working there. She's since moved homes and keeps a former roller derby teammate company, but she was brilliant and amazing and comfortable and fun. We rode around a few Great Lakes together and the little buffalo was steady and reliable. It makes me really happy when I see her around. I'm over the moon excited to be representing a brand that encourages adventure and exploration.

Little Buffalo near Niagara Falls. 
The El Mar at Merrell Trail. I NEED another single speed ASAP.

Baby's first fat bike - My 1st Mukluk at the Lowell 50

Faygo Soda - my Fargo on the way to a campground after work.

Miami Vice made it into our engagement photos. RIP Ninja, the best doggo ever.

The day I forgot a helmet at Merrell trail so I bought one across the street at Meijer. The Fish is fun!

NEW thanks to Salsa - the Bowling Ball! This baby and I are going to spend a lot of time together this winter!
Also NEW thanks to Salsa - the Snack Machine 2.0. Making me test more of my limits outside of the winter season. <3

2018 Adventures:
Winter: JP's Fat Pursuit 200 mile. Arrowhead 135 Unsupported. Iditarod Trail Invitational 350 mile.

The rest of the year: Landrun 100, Michigan's Coast to Coast 200+ mile, Barry Roubaix 100 mile Psycho-Killer, Dirty Kanza, Marji Gesick. Woof.

 Also hoping to bike-pack with Dan and Oso as much as I can. Racing rules, but sometimes the best adventures are taken more slowly. Definitely stoked for the next year!

more of this, please.

I definitely couldn't plan for all these miles without Dan, Grand Rapids Bicycle Company, 45NRTH, Velocity USA wheels, NiteRider Technical Lighting Solutions, Train Out Pain fixing me when I get my body out of whack, and without Salsa's support. I'm biting off a little more than I can chew but with all of the right gear I'm at least confident I'll be warm and on rad bikes. ;)

Friday, June 2, 2017


I have no idea what I’m getting myself in to – and this is the feeling that I’m after.

The draw Dirty Kanza had this year for me was mostly the #200women200miles campaign - a lot of female friends were signing up, and the general mentality of a lot of the ladies signing up was pretty great: friendly, excited, a little nervous but really, really supportive. I’ve heard a lot of great things about DK and now that we are in Emporia, it’s finally beginning to feel real: I get to be a part of something really cool.

I love the feeling of the unknown, the feeling of something big and epic, and not being able to comprehend what I’m chasing after until I’m there. With 200 miles of gravel in a state I’ve never been in before, I think this pretty much fits the bill.

Without wanting to ruin any discoveries along the route, I truthfully haven’t done a lot of research on the course for DK! I know it’ll be a harrowing course with rough terrain and sharp flint. I know there will be stretches of gravel in the sun and that I better pack sun screen. I know if it rains, it’ll get mucky. I know Dan gets to replenish my water and snacks at a few checkpoints and that this race – he gets to work on my bike if something goes haywire. I’m basically counting on my knowledge and experience of getting lost on long rides to get me through. My goal is to finish with a smile on my face – and to do it with 199 other smiling women.

I’ve fallen in love already with Dirty Kanza. The event organizers have done something really cool and racing isn’t the top reason why I’m in Kansas: it’s so important for bike event organizers and brands to support women in cycling. Yeah, it’s great to see more fast women compete and it’d be great if I had a perfect race, but truthfully, I’m just happy to be here the year that the Dirty Kanza has a record showing number of women. I’m stoked to see so many more women on bikes challenging themselves and falling in love with pushing their limits and wandering into the unknown. It feels really good to stretch your comfort zone. Completing something difficult makes me feel accomplished and the group mentality heading into DK makes me feel excited. Like I mentioned before, I am so stoked to be included in this year’s #200women200miles event! I love that spaces were held for women. I love all of the excitement about this year’s race.

My legs and lungs feel pretty decent – I’ve been able to get some good rides in this year – whereas last year I went until November before riding a complete century. Time got in the way. I had enough time this year thanks to a stellar staff at the Fulton shop, but the mental aspect has been rougher than I remember the last few months: there are some pretty old-fashioned dudes who come in to the shop who put up a fight when they’re being helped by a female staff-member and it makes me frustrated and sometimes a little anti-social around bike events. I want to spend my time around the people I love and with people I know who don't have a problem with women in the cycling industry. Sometimes you still run into those old-fashioned dudes at bike races.

We’ve got some new women at the shop and I absolutely love their positive attitudes and work ethic, their drive to learn hands-on and to be taught mechanics, and their ability to go with the flow. They’re smart. They’re awesome. They don’t deserve some of the egos that they’re met with to their face or over the phone. I know, I know, this is their first year in a bike shop and they still have a lot to learn: but they’re fucking rocking it and we’re in an industry where we need to retain women. Getting beat up day after day in the retail industry gets harrowing, just as the DK course will probably be. 

Packing for Dirty Kanza, I found myself procrastinating. We had just gotten especially beat up by guys second-guessing us just at the sound of our voice answering the phone – men who refused to even tell us the reason why they were calling (primarily, it’s to see if we’ll work on their bike or if their bike repair is finished). I had one man hang up on me 3 times, who finally got through to a male mechanic, who wanted to ask if we could refurbish his 1958 vintage bike – only to get told the same thing I told him 3 times: “Bring the bike in and we can assess what shape it’s in and if we can get those parts.” The guy didn’t know what brand the bike was or what style of bike it was, but he knew that he didn’t want to talk to a woman – and this isn’t an assumption, he flat out told me. Dan sent me out on a ride that night after work. He told me to forget about these jerks. I can’t forget about their stubbornness because I want to break that thought process. 

This is why it’s important for races that sell out to hold spots for women. This is why it’s important for me to keep a positive outlook on the bike industry. This is why it’s important for me to hold my head high in front of my female coworkers and to bite my tongue when I want to yell at a dude for being a complete jerk and for assuming I don’t know anything about bikes. We need more women in the bike world and leaving spaces for them to sign up is a great step to take to work towards that goal. How fast we’re able to race and to finish isn’t the most important angle at the big race this weekend: it’s being there, it’s taking up space, it’s encouraging other women to hop on their bikes and to ride, it’s empowering by putting yourself in to a situation where something might break and limping through to fix it, and it’s setting an example for other women out there who want to step in to the bike world. It’s creating a safe place for women to feel confident without being doubted just because we’re girls and it’s hopefully getting more guys comfortable with the fact that a woman may someday ride with them or work on their bike.

It’s tough and it’s going to be gritty – but we’re all in this together – and it will definitely get us out of our comfort zones. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

2017 Arrowhead 135

Fast dudes! Photo by 45nrth//David Gabrys

My favorite thing about the Arrowhead 135 Winter Ultra is that everyone is drawn to the race for a different reason. Some show up for the adventure, some show up to challenge themselves, and some show up for the camaraderie. Some show up for all three. Attempting a winter ultra makes each competitor dig down to contemplate why or how they’ve found themselves at the starting line. Even after finishing as second place female in last year’s race, I found myself digging and wondering if I had it in me to finish swiftly to the finish line at the Fortune Bay Casino. I had been training all year for the Arrowhead, but with a more concrete work schedule than in the past, I found myself squeezing work-outs into smaller windows of time with a higher intensity training plan. I was a little nervous because I didn’t have as many hours on the bike as I did the year before. A busy summer, a busier fall, a DNF at Fat Pursuit, and boom – here I was all bundled up and blinking like a UFO at the starting line with winter ultra legends like Jay and Tracey Petervary and Todd McFadden! All of us at the start a little nervous, more than a little excited, and definitely crazy and wired differently than the average endurance athlete. Each year I find myself knowing more and more racers at the start of these winter ultras, and I was eager to take the line with 45nrth teammates Kurt Barclay and Evan Simula. I wanted to race this year because I needed the adventure, the challenge, and I most definitely needed the camaraderie!

Goofing off before the start of the Arrowhead

A week before the Arrowhead, I went through a slump back at home when we had to put my dog down. I had that silly dog for over 10 years and the two of us had been through a lot together. After going on one last hike with my furry buddy and saying goodbye, I felt weak and shelled and sad. I told my husband, Dan, that I didn’t want to go to Arrowhead. He rubbed my back with sympathy and reminded me that I didn’t really mean it. Like any adventure, you have to keep moving forward. Don’t worry about what’s behind you. Just go. We packed our things and snagged a rental car with AWD and headed out for International Falls, Minnesota. Ninja’s name tag jingled on my keychain and I knew I’d find a place for it on my bike before heading out on the Arrowhead trail. He was a clumsy dog, but his heart belonged out in the snowy woods. I knew that the Arrowhead 135 would beat me up and that it would hurt, and I knew that the race would go one of two ways for me: I would feel slow and sluggish and cry the entire time – or – I would ride my little heart out and do well.

Dan and I rolled in to International Falls later Saturday night. We got a room at the Falls Motel, unloaded everything and got my bike put back together before we fell asleep, exhausted from making the 14-hour drive in one stretch. Gear check was on Sunday and the race start was 7am Monday morning. Getting out there a little earlier was pretty great; it gave me time to stack all of my clothing options out and to re-pack a bin with all of the mandatory gear so that gear check would go as smoothly as possible. This year I would have enough time to pre-ride the first few miles of the course, and I think this is one of the things that helped to give me an edge right from the get-go! In chatting with Kurt and Evan at gear check, I heard the first few miles were firm and hard-packed but that there was a lot of ice at the road crossings. As soon as we got back to the hotel room, Dan and I worked quickly to swap the tires on my fat bike – I had planned on rolling with the 45nrth Vanhelga tires, but due to conditions I wanted to opt for the 45nrth Studded Dillingers! Wiping out on ice at a road crossing was definitely not something that I wanted to experience on my Arrowhead adventure!

For the pre-ride, I met up with Kurt and Evan and the three of us rolled out to Kerry Park, where the start of the Arrowhead 135 takes off. We took off at a pretty good clip and before I realized, we had already ridden for about a half hour and it was time to turn back around. The course was firm, crunchy, and incredibly icy at the road crossings. Studded Dillingers were going to do great for the first 30-or-so miles! I knew that the course was going to deteriorate past the second checkpoint at Melgeorge’s, but if I could start the race quickly then all I had to do was keep going and to keep my transitions at check points short.

Dinner with friends before the start of the race. Happy 1st birthday, Calvin!
My plan for checkpoints was the same this year that it was last year – completely bypass Gateway, the gas station that’s approximately 35 miles in. Melgeorge’s is somewhere around 70 miles from the start and that would be where I’d refill on water, use the bathroom, grab a grilled cheese, and to change in to dry layers to head out in to the night. This midway point would be where I’d want to spend the most amount of time, but I still wouldn’t allow myself to get sucked in. Ski Pulk, the Surly checkpoint, would be where I’d top off my water and chug a cup of coffee before the final 25 mile stretch to Fortune Bay Casino. If all went according to plan, I would spend less than an hour total during my race while at the checkpoints.

The funny thing about the race is that the beginning took off a lot faster than I could have wrapped my head around! Fireworks rocketed into the sky, I shouted good luck to as many friends as I could, and we heard the well-known words, “Release the Hounds!” I took off hammering. I got in a line with some guys, but quickly dropped off from them. I scolded myself for taking off too hard. The last thing I wanted to do in this moment, so early in the race, was to get too sweaty or to burn all of my matches. I pedaled easier as my breathing steadied and then picked up the pace just a bit. A train of fat bikers came zooming past on my left and without giving it much thought I hopped on the back of it. As a self-proclaimed drafting rookie, this was an incredibly lucky and smart choice for me! I immediately got nervous because I’d be spending a few hours (hopefully) with these folks, and I didn’t want them to think that I was free-loading. So I rung my bell, cheered for the riders that were pulling, concentrated insanely hard on providing good pulls myself, and I introduced myself to the riders that I was with. Morale was really good in our train! A few folks looked pretty frosty but everyone was riding strong. We came up on some other riders who had fallen off of the first train, and as soon as I recognized the jerseys I started dinging my bell and shouting to them – it was Kurt and Evan! I didn’t expect to see them at all during the race and it made me really happy to see them and to snag them up in our group. We excitedly chatted as we rode and we happened to hit Gateway a lot quicker than I had anticipated! Evan and Kurt slowed to check their tire pressure and the rest of us kept rolling.

Riding with my 45nrth teammates Evan & Kurt!
Photo by 45nrth//David Gabrys

The terrain between Gateway and Melgeorge changes from primarily flat to increasingly hilly. Some of the guys from our train were able to tackle the hills quicker than I was and I dropped off the back of the train. I found myself riding with a guy named Pete from one of the Dakotas. A lot of the course came faster than expected, and before we knew it we were coming up to Elephant Lake for the lake crossing before the rapidly approaching second checkpoint.  

A majority of plans for my stop at Melgeorge’s got thrown out the window when I realized it was still so early in the afternoon! Yes, I needed water and I needed a grilled cheese, but I didn’t feel cold and I didn’t feel too sweaty. I had planned on wearing a long sleeve base layer under my 45nrth team jacket from the start, but in the bathroom at Kerry Park I had taken it off and replaced it with a short sleeve wool jersey. I had also planned on wearing my Naughtvind Pants over the knickers, but race morning I had opted to head out in just the knickers. Both of these decisions meant I didn’t overheat and I didn’t over sweat. Combined with my 45nrth Wolfgar boots, wool glove liners inside of my Cobrafist Poagies, and my Greazy cap… I don’t think I’ve ever actually nailed my clothing quite as well as I had in that moment! The wonderful volunteers at Melgeorge’s filled my insulated hydration pack while handing me a warm grilled cheese sandwich. I wolfed down one half of the sandwich while I geared back up and took the second half with me. Kurt and Evan had arrived at the checkpoint as I was preparing to head back out, and I joked about seeing them again on the hills – the course gets hilliest between Melgeorge’s and Ski Pulk, the last check point of the race. I rolled out of there in really good spirits, with a full stomach, and a little astounded that I would be riding the next part of the course in some daylight.

Grilled cheese! Photo by 45nrth//David Gabrys

The hills got wild! I remember walking nearly all of the hills last year at the Arrowhead. The snow had been mushy and my feet had hurt and I pushed my bike as soon as I saw footprints from other riders. Last year had nothing on this year. This year was so much easier! There were still hills that I walked, but thanks to more favorable conditions, many were rideable. Before I knew it, Kurt and Evan came cruising up behind me. I latched on to riding with them as best as I could! Evan is a billy goat and I’m pretty sure he can ride his bike up any hill in the entire world. Seeing him effortlessly climb made me work harder at climbing behind him. I’ve got to thank Evan because I was climbing stuff that I would have thrown the towel in on my own! Seeing foot prints on a hill will oftentimes deter me from riding it, but seeing Evan easily braap up gave me a little more confidence to stick with it and to try it. Riding with others is great that way because it makes you scrappier and gutsier.

Racer crossing Elephant Lake
photo by 45nrth//David Gabrys

We made it to Ski Pulk by 8pm. Dan was waiting at the check point, lighting off fireworks and heckling the Surly guys at the stop. I stuck with the plan and topped off my water while chugging some hot coffee before heading off to climb Wakemup. Ski Pulk was hard to leave this year, especially hard to leave because everyone looked like they were having such a good time! When I was offered a beer I wanted it so badly! I knew I needed to keep moving, especially because at this point I came to the realization that it could be possible to close in on the existing course record. I joked with Kurt and Evan that they'd catch me again, and rolled off in to the dark to finish the last 25 miles of the race.

Ski Pulk. Photo by 45nrth//David Gabrys

Once again, the climb didn’t seem quite as big as I remembered it being. It's funny how a whole year can make you believe a climb is 100 x's longer than it really is! It wasn’t until I got up and over Wakemup that the real difficulty of a deteriorating trail started to frustrate me. I was having a hard time keeping a straight line and keeping momentum on my bike. The trail was mushy and after getting spoiled by such a fast pace in the beginning, I found myself muttering under my breath and telling my bike to frig off. I was starting to get negative, which is definitely not a good place to be when you’re in an endurance race. I forced myself to stop and to collect myself. I stood silently for a few moments, enjoyed the dark woods, ate a snack, and then I started making my way again. "This is fun." I told myself. "I only have a little bit of this course left, I better enjoy it!" Just as I started smiling again, I heard some snowmobilers up ahead and made my way over to the right of the trail. About 4 of them came zooming by dangerously close! I hadn’t worried about snow mobiles before, but after these 4 came through and destroyed any sort of a trail that I was half-able to hold on to, I definitely did not want to see any more of them. Woof! I couldn’t ride through the mush and was haphazardly zip-zagging, inching my way along. There was no way I was going to come close to the course record at all the way I was carrying on! I was doing my best to fend off more frustration when I heard some voices behind me. When I looked back, I saw lights and this is when I became worried that another woman might have caught up to me. I started pedaling feverishly, but it was pointless and the other people quickly caught up to me.

This is where I become the luckiest person in the entire world: those voices behind me belonged to my 45nrth teammates Evan and Kurt!! I think this is the part of the Arrowhead where I found exactly what I needed: camaraderie and my friends! I was starting to get down on myself and I was starting to slow down, and my friends found me and cheered me up! Evan and Kurt powered on through and let me tag on behind them, riding in their tire tracks. At one point, Kurt even pointed out that my math was wrong and that if I wanted to beat the existing course record that we needed to be at the casino at 1am, not by midnight like I had initially thought. I was beginning to get nauseous due to straining myself and I wanted to slow down. Evan wouldn’t let me and the three of us kept pushing forward. The last 8 miles went on for forever! The trail was so soft that riding required both hands on the bars, which meant we had to stop every time we wanted something to drink. Kurt shared a nearly frozen red bull and we kept moving, making jokes and rooting each other on. The most special thing for me about the Arrowhead was being able to reel in the last few miles of the trail with my pals. I never would have been able to imagine crossing the finish line with those two in a thousand years, and having this adventure is something that I’ll remember my whole life. David Gabrys snagged a photo of me crossing the finish line 12th overall and as first female, with a new course record, in 16 hours and 40 minutes. By the looks of it, Dan is just as happy as I was! Being able to share my finish with my 45nrth teammates and my husband was great. I could gush all day long about it!

Finishing 12th overall and 1st female
Photo by 45nrth//David Gabrys
I spent the night puking due to straining myself so hard in the final stretch of the Arrowhead 135. Dan was incredibly sweet and got us a swanky room at the casino with a Jacuzzi, but it made me nauseas to sit in it. He got me some juice and he patiently waited for me to quit yakking. Volunteers were making grilled cheese sandwiches in the hospitality room and other racers were finishing, but I couldn’t bring myself to get dressed to leave our room to hang with everyone. I wanted to congratulate each finisher, especially some other friends that were out there, and to thank all of the volunteers! Despite feeling so ill after the Arrowhead 135, it was one of the happier moments of my life. I’ll make it to the party next time. ;) 

Myself, Evan Simula, Kurt Barclay
Photo 45nrth//David Gabrys
I’m also looking forward to trying my hand at racing the Arrowhead 135 unsupported, too! Ahhhh! This winter has been a great one for inspiring me to push harder and to set higher goals. There are so many good things I've got to do. Kurt has since gone on to win the 130 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational on his fat bike and I couldn't be more proud of him!!!

Till next time, Arrowhead

P.s. Superstitious as it may be, Ninja's dog tags are now a staple in my bikepacking set-up. It's worth it to have the silly little things that brighten morale along the way.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Pursuing the Fat Pursuit

Start of the 200 mile Fat Pursuit

Fat Pursuit didn’t exactly go the way that I had planned. I don’t think it necessarily went the way that anyone had planned. I think a lot of people signed up for the 200 mile Fat Pursuit expecting to endure on through to the finish.

Only one person, Aaron Gardner, was able to cross the finish line. His family had come out to surprise him at the finish, and one of his young kiddos ran excitedly with him for the last few yards. It was incredibly emotional! I get teary eyed recounting the event. I am unbelievably glad that I was able to witness that moment.

Truthfully, I’m also really glad that the Fat Pursuit wasn’t at all what I expected. I knew going in to it that it was going to be difficult. I knew it was going to be cold and I knew it would push my limits. I think that’s almost the best thing about the whole epic adventure. It tossed me out of the known and hurled me at so much unknown that I came out feeling stronger and more accomplished than I knew was possible (so much more than I thought I could feel after a DNF, too!)

Bright eyed and bushy tailed after the rider's meeting

The funny thing is that as I sat shivering in my sleeping bag in -40 degree weather in the midst of a seemingly relentless climb; I was happy. Just over 12 hours after the start of the race, I had successfully done so many things! I was able to make it out to Idaho, I was riding bikes with my friend Leah Gruhn, and I had warm boots and gloves and I felt like I was winning against the cold. I was able to meet and to hang out with cyclists that I’ve admired from afar for many years, and I was inspiring friends back home. Despite a few set-backs, I was happy with myself for making smart choices and for getting out of my comfort zone. Survival mode made me feel alive and very thankful for the opportunity to get out there and to give it a shot.

After Sunday's toast - myself, Leah Gruhn, Tracey Petervary, Rippin' & Chillin'

Before I had signed up for Fat Pursuit, I had a conversation with Christopher Tassava about the race. I was weighing my options because I wanted to do my best to prepare for a future goal of mine: the Iditarod Trail Invitational. Fat Pursuit was intimidating not only because of the course’s difficulty and the unpredictable weather, but because of the financial investment it would take to get out there. I worried that pushing myself with it and the Arrowhead 135 in the same month would be too much. I worried I wouldn’t be able to afford the travel and logistics for both races… but Christopher got me really excited for the race by dangling the promise of a fun party cabin at the Pond’s Lodge with some really great winter ultra goofballs! How could I stay away? ;)

Every person on this list is a rock star

The people staying in cabin #25 at the Pond’s Lodge were all amazing. I wanted to add up all of the miles everyone had collectively traveled during the winter at events like Fat Pursuit, but with all of the excitement of gear check, a pre-ride, getting ready, the racer’s meeting, and eating good food, I got incredibly distracted. I’ll shoot for collecting data next year! Anyways, hanging out with such a friendly and knowledgeable group of people and talking bikes and winter gear was well worth the travel in itself. I picked up a lot of good tips and tricks that make me really excited for the Arrowhead 135 – and Fat Pursuit next year!

pre-riding before the start

The race for the 200 milers started at 5pm on Friday night. (7pm Michigan time!) I tried to take a nap after the racer’s meeting, but I failed pretty miserably at dozing off. I opted for a hot pot of coffee and had planned to fill my thermos and to take it with me, sipping warm coffee in the middle of the night sounded like such a delicious treat! It wasn’t until the first 5 miles of the race that I remembered my thermos was sitting back at the cabin next to the coffee pot. Doh! Regardless, I felt pretty good. I had a lot of food on me, I had plenty of fuel, and in a pocket next to my heart I held a few packages of instant coffee. I’d be fine!

The first several miles of the race were on a snowmobile trail. I was feeling eager and excited and I had an eye on the lead group of folks riding not too far ahead of me. I looked down at my Garmin and saw that the cold had zapped what would normally have been a 7 hour battery life….down to less than half of that. Whoops. Christopher Tassava had saved me earlier in the day by giving me a spare tips sheet he had made with approximate mileage between turns. My plan became to charge my Garmin once the battery died in my coat pocket and to save a borrowed Garmin as a last-resort option once snow covered the tire tracks of those ahead of me. Between two Garmins, a compass, the map, and my tips sheet, I felt confident I’d be okay. I saw flickering red lights ahead of me turn off to the right and I was excited to ride groomed single track through the woods! Despite being dark, it was still very beautiful! I’m really happy that I began Fat Pursuit with my 950 Lumina NiteRider light mounted to my helmet, because I was able to glance out in to the woods in search of critters! With negative temps, it didn’t seem like many creatures were outside… but there was evidence in the form of foot prints!

Pre-riding with Leah after the racer's meeting

The climbs didn’t seem like anything too steep and yet I was beginning to huff and puff up them. Beat, a new friend who inspired me pre-race with stories of completing the Iditarod on foot, rode up behind me and began talking about how crazy we were for being outside in such negative temperatures. Truthfully, at the start I was cold so I began by wearing my insulated puffy jacket, but at this point I was overheating! I pulled aside and let Beat continue on ahead of me, he said he was going to go find Jill Homer and that he’d ride with her. After a while, I rolled out of the single track and came upon a glowing beacon in the dark. There was a heated bathroom and it looked like a few cyclists were taking refuge inside of it. It looked like a good spot to refill on water: my camelbak’s hose was going through spurts of freezing despite being inside of my jacket and I wanted to refill the insulated bottle I had been drinking out of. As I hopped off of my bike and rolled to prop it up against the fence… I noticed a weird, knobby/dragging noise coming from the back of my bike. “Brraaaaaaaaabbbble!” I looked at my rear wheel and saw that it was completely flat! What perfect timing finding a well-lit bathroom to change my flat in! I was pretty bummed that I would have to use my spare tube so early in the night, but I was really glad that I had found a place to fix it that was so convenient!

There were three men inside of the bathroom. Two were debating how far they wanted to ride, and the third was waiting for Rebecca to come and meet him. My ears immediately perked up at the mention of Rebecca. The only Rebecca I knew of that was in the race was Rebecca Rusch! Part of me wanted to hang out in the bathroom to meet her, but I knew I needed to keep moving forward. The flat had set me back a little further than I wanted and I knew it was in my best interest to keep going. I said my goodbyes to the folks in the bathroom and stepped out in to the dark. Immediately I couldn’t remember if the bathroom had been on my right or on my left when I approached it. I looked at my tips sheet and considered turning the Garmin on, but I swear Greg’s bike had been on my right approaching the bathroom so I took off in that direction.

It wasn’t too long before I saw a light ahead of me. At first I thought it was someone heading back towards the comfort of the bathroom… and then I recognized the rider: it was Leah! She was walking with her bike and I stupidly asked her if I was going the wrong direction. I was. Leah’s rear tire had also gone flat and I was so excited to tell her that there was a warm spot to fix it just up the way!

Leah had made sure her valve stem was tightened suuuper tightly so that none of her air leaked out of her tubeless set up. It’s a great precaution to take to make sure your tire doesn’t slowly loose air, but it sucked with cold hands, wet sealant, and during the Fat Pursuit! Between Greg, myself, and Leah scrambling to find the correct tool in the bathroom, none of us had a pair of pliers to loosen her valve stem! How would we remove it to put the tube in? Leah was about ready to call it quits, but I was able to grab some paper towel from the bathroom and use it to get a good grip on the rubber bushing on the inside of her rim. Roaring applause from the inside of the bathroom, we were back in business!! We tossed a tube in, Greg helped fill it, and we began to pack our things quickly. Lucky for us, Rebecca Rusch made it to the bathroom before we were ready to take off! It was so great meeting her! She was cheery and had frost collected on her face like big, white, costume eyelashes. We joked around with the two of them for a minute before slipping back out in to the night.

Teamwork makes the dream work!

Lucky for me, Leah had a Garmin eTrex. I made a mental note to save up to buy myself one of these battery operated Garmins as soon as I was able to. (Worrying about the life of a USB rechargeable Garmin out in negative temperatures is one stress I am happy to leave behind before my next Fat Pursuit!) Leah and I made plans to finish the race together. Our best chance was to keep each other awake, to keep each other accountable, and to help one another to make good choices. With sub-arctic weather falling well below zero, it’s easy to forget to drink or to forget to eat. It’s easy to zone out and to keep pedaling without noticing if a body part is going numb from exposure to the cold. Neither of us wanted frost bite and both of us wanted to cross that finish line more than anything, and our best chance was to help each other out. I was really happy to have company and riding with Leah made the cold so much more tolerable! Plus, Leah began riding in the correct direction after we left the bathroom, and that was really, really important. ;)

We began making jokes and started making some great time. We saw a light headed towards us, Missy Schwarz, one of the other women in the 200 mile, was turning around and heading back to the start. Her lashes were covered in frost just as Rebecca’s were and she asked if we needed anything before parting ways. Leah and I were both down one spare tube, but Leah had one left and we were optimistic that we would be fine. (In retrospect, if any other racer ever asks me if I need anything during a winter ultra ever again, I will always ask if they have another spare tube!) Immediately after Missy’s light disappeared behind us, I had the exciting and sinking feeling that we were heading out on our own. Being trapped beneath the night sky, a rolling sea of snow illuminated by the moon, and seeing that my thermometer had stopped working because it was a colder temperature than it was rated to… I was excited because we were still making our way and despite two flats between us we were still pedaling forward and we were still in this adventure! It felt a little eerie, knowing that at this time the riders would be stretched out with vast distances between them and knowing that we had so many miles left to just the first aid station/water boil.
My first moose sighting!
En route to the grocery store to buy all of the food after getting back to the cabin.

There were a lot of moments during Fat Pursuit where I began laughing at how absurd a hill or something about the course was. It happened a lot at a lot of hills! I was having a blast and although it was incredibly cold, we were out on an adventure and I loved it! Well before the first aid station/water boil, there was an out and back where we needed to grab a mysterious piece of candy. Leah and I spent a lot of time speculating what type of candy we thought it might be. Truthfully, I was expecting something like a Payday bar - which I LOVE on long bike rides - that would test our abilities to not eat it while out on the course. We needed to bring the candy – although I’m sure the wrapper would have sufficed – to the end of the race (or to the water boil, I can’t remember which…) There was a long descent, which made us cheer as we rode down it. Foot prints on the opposite side of the road meant we’d be walking back up, so we enjoyed it while we could! Once we got to the bottom of the road, it looked like there was a packed down foot path leading to an overlook. We laughed some more, made fun of the glowsticks which had long stopped glowing, like a party we showed up to 5 hours too late, and bounced down the path to find out which elusive candy Jay Petervary loved the most. The view was spectacular, even in the dark. Jay’s candy was surprising, but it made us laugh for the rest of the weekend…

A bag of these candies hung dutifully at the end of the dead glow stick pathway.

We theorized that there probably weren’t many riders behind us and that Rebecca, Missy, and Greg had headed back too early to retrieve their candy, so we each took two pieces!

We walked/rode back up to the top and kept rolling. The course took us through some rollers, through some parks and across bridges, and then to Warm River. Once we started climbing in Warm River, we just kept climbing. There was a combination of walking and riding as we kept climbing, as we tried to stay warm and to keep the blood moving in both our feet and in our hands. At this point, we were excitedly talking about bivying up for the night, preferably once we got to the top of the climb. I started breathing very heavily and it seemed like no matter how long I walked or how easy I pedaled I wasn’t able to catch my breath. I hypothesized that I was feeling sluggish because of the elevation and the extreme cold. I got off my bike to walk and as I pushed it up the neverending hill, I heard the all too familiar noise that I heard back by the heaven-sent warm bathroom, “Braaaaabbbbbbble brabble brabble.” Ugh. That might explain the heavy breathing!

My front tire was flat. Oof. There was no heated space safe from the bitter cold this time around. I immediately kicked myself in the butt for not taking the opportunity to put a tube in the front when both mine and Leah’s rear tires went flat. I also kicked myself in the butt for not asking Missy for a spare tube. I was out of spares and Leah only had one left – what if she was going to need it!? A little over 12 hours after the start of the race, I couldn’t catch my breath, I was miles away from a road and even more away from the start of the race, and I was out of spare tubes.

I’m pretty sure Leah Gruhn saved my life out there. ;)

She selflessly offered me her second spare tube. I was hesitant because I knew that her front tire was also set up tubeless. The frigid cold air caused the sealant to freeze and for the seal to weaken, causing the tires to leak air. I’m pretty sure Leah played the role that I play often when I’m on a trip and things are heading south: tell lies to someone to help them calm down and to keep them moving forward. I’m not sure how much Leah actually believed that she really wasn’t going to lose the seal on her front tire, but she made me believe it! It’s very possible that her logic was spot on - theorizing that my HED rims lost the seal because they were metal and they got colder than hers, which were carbon - but it’s also very possible that she was trying to keep me from doing something stupid, like trying to walk back down the hill in the dark with a flat tire after being up all night. She wasn’t going to let me split up from her at that point and for that I feel really grateful!

I would have given anything to have saved some chinese food from Jackson Hole to eat out on the trail.

We fixed my flat tire with her second (and last) spare tube in stages: I pushed my bike up the hill and she got the spare tube and pumped it up with some air. I prepped my bike so that we could pop the tube in as quickly as possible as soon as Leah got up to me. Leah rode up to me with the spare tube around her neck. I really am quite proud of us! We had great technique and once we got the tube in and started pumping it up I felt so victorious!! That is, until the tire wouldn’t seat on the rim. We pumped the tube up so high that it felt rock solid and started bouncing it on the ground and kicking it with our boots. We were starting to get cold so I put the wheel on the bike and we commenced walking uphill to stay warm. Every once in a while I’d give the wheel a bounce and kick it a bunch of times, trying to get the rubber from the tire to slide over to get a good seal. It wasn’t budging, it was too cold. Despite anything I’ve ever told any customer about not riding their bike if the tire wouldn’t seat… I hopped on my bike and starting riding it. “Friggin’ A,” I muttered to myself, frustrated that I didn’t foresee it being too cold for a tubeless set up.

Shortly after fixing my flat, we decided to bivy for the remainder of the night. If we were going to tackle the incoming snow near West Yellowstone on this adventure, we would need as much energy as possible and that meant saving some now. Stomping down a spot to rest and unloading some gear in -40 degrees sounded more ideal than trying to re-pack snowy gear caught in a snowstorm! (most fun game of “would you rather” ever!?) We also theorized that it would be warmer when we woke up, and the thought of temperatures getting to 0 – or even above?! – was awesome! We crawled into our bags wearing all of our gear and I tried to focus on steadying my breathing. Leah can sleep anywhere - which I later found out at cabin #25 when she told me she took several trailside naps after we parted ways - but I was having problems falling asleep. I got all twisted like an uncomfortable cork screw in my sleeping bag and no matter how I tried to catch my breath I still felt like I couldn't. Occasionally, Leah would ask if I was alright and I would tell her that I was, but in my mind I was worried. I’m sure the stress of not being able to catch my breath just caused the inability to breathe even more! I forced myself to drink and to eat snacks and hoped that it would help like Leah said it would. Eventually, the sun came up, and Leah asked if I was ready to keep moving. Although I wanted to lay in that bag until my breath returned to normal, I wanted to get moving, too. I couldn’t wait to get to the aid station with the grilled cheese sandwiches!

We began packing our things, and as I reached to put my 45nrth Wolfgars back on, I noticed there was a ton of frost inside of them. They felt really, really stiff. I went to put my foot in them - planning on throwing them on and then darting around frantically until my feet warmed up - but they wouldn’t budge! A lot of swear words, attempting to hold them over an open flame on my Esbit stove, and a lot of shoving my foot in the boot that I had since brought in to my sleeping bag to help warm up, finally got my foot in one of the boots. I recreated that recipe for the second Wolfgar boot and we were ready to pack up and to get to that water boil!!

I lifted my bike to attach my sleeping bag to the handlebars, and I heard that sickening noise again. “Brabbbb.” Damnit! Not again! The cold had prevented my tire from seating, and all I could imagine was that the cold had also caused something to puncture my tube. As we fought the tire with a hand pump, we saw a snowmobile come our way.

It was a race volunteer on a snowmobile checking on people still out on the course. Chatting with him about the weather, I sadly decided to head back to the start. If Leah had any chance of finishing the Fat Pursuit she’d have to continue on without me. I tore the tips sheet from Christopher Tassava off of the cockpit of my bike and handed it to Leah. I wanted so badly to have more stuff to send her off with for good luck – even more to have another spare tube to send her with! We hugged good bye and we took off on our separate ways.

I am now a champ at melting snow

We were able to fill my front tire with air before splitting up, so I was able to ride for a bit downhill before having to stop and to put more air in my tire. The funny thing is that the night before it seemed like we were endlessly climbing. On the way back down, the terrain seemed to have shifted and there were a few spots where I had to climb again! All of my water had frozen while I was focusing on getting my boots back on, so I stopped to melt snow a few times to get something to drink. It was absolutely beautiful out. Everything we had ridden through the night before was stunning. When I got to Warm River, I stopped to take photos of the scenery. Although I would have a DNF in my first attempt at Fat Pursuit, I was still really glad that I had given it my all. Like I said, I learned a lot, and it’s only going to prepare me better for next year!

Our friend Ann drove to Warm River to pick me up. She did a lot of driving over the weekend, helping folks in cabin #25 where she could. It was really nice of her, and I am so thankful I didn’t have to ride all the way back to the start on my wonky wheel! Thanks, Ann!

Enjoying the views in Warm River

Leah made it to the water boil before she rode back to the campground. Unfortunately, the weather was getting pretty sketchy and with all of the hang ups we had early on she was running behind schedule. She spent the most amount of time out on the course out of any of the women racing the 200 mile, and she’s pretty much reached super hero status in my mind.

Dogs and beer making DNF-ing better! ;)

Christopher Tassava made it the furthest of any of the riders in cabin #25! He had an amazing attitude and won the well-deserved perseverance award from Fitzgerald’s bicycles. I’m not sure if that award existed before this year’s crazy weather, but I really hope that it continues onwards from here because it was a very meaningful gesture. Christopher is basically the poster child for a winter ultra; he’s got a great attitude, he’s willing to help, he perseveres through conspicuous weather, and then he drinks a beer with his breakfast! ;)

Waiting for Christopher to finish persevering...

Everyone who attempted to finish Fat Pursuit inspired me greatly; it was a huge honor to have my name on the roster next to theirs. I’m really looking forward to Arrowhead 135 after this event, and even more so to Fat Pursuit 2018.

My first snow mobile ride!! 

AND I'm looking forward to more snow mobile rides!!!
Thanks for taking me on a joy ride, Mike Riemer!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2016 in Review / heading to Fat Pursuit!!!

Hope everyone had as great of a holiday as these two had!

I am having all of the feelings right meow.

The 45nrth crew is the best!
In 2016, I spent over 5,000 miles exploring the most fun gravel, single-track, fire roads, groomed fat bike trails, secret trail, forest service roads, and city streets. Before making you read through my favorite moments of 2016, check out what's going on this weekend:

I'll be traveling solo (which is terrifying, actually) to Idaho for Fat Pursuit!!!! I'm really geeked because I get to share a cabin with some amazing cyclists that I've met through fat bikes! Riding in a beautiful place I've never ridden with some good buds I've made from doing winter ultras... YESSSS!!!!!!!!

Check out the vimeo about the Fat Pursuit here.

This year is the year of big ass rides. The goal is to prep for even bigger rides in 2018! (#ITIorBust)

To whip my butt into shape, I'll be racing 200 miles in the Fat Pursuit! I'm so stoked and nervous for this race!! Stoked because I've never explored in that area before, because I've never been so close to Yellowstone or the Tetons, because I've never raced at elevation, because I've never traveled so far away from home alone before, and so many thousands of other reasons! Nervous for all of the same. It's really exciting to be in over your head and to trek into the unknown. I have no idea what to expect and I know it's going to be hard... but I also know it's going to be awesome!!!

I have a spot tracker! Follow Lumpy to check out how I'm doing! All racers are required to use GPS tracking at Fat Pursuit, so it should make for an exciting internet dot-watching race!!!

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh this doesn't seem real. I leave Thursday morning! This adventure is going to be amazing!

April Morgan, myself, Chelsea Strate.
in Marquette <3

Reflecting back on all of 2016 and all of the kindness, support, and encouragement that I experienced, I'm in awe. So much awe. I'm humbled, I'm overwhelmed, and I feel like the most loved girl in the whole world! Starting out 2016 with the Arrowhead 135 was definitely a high point of the year my life. The whole year took me on a pretty wild ride!

It's been a real long time since I've written a blog post. I'm going to try to do justice to the last 10 months. The Birkie is the last race of the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series  and I can't believe I haven't updated this thing since before then. Woof.

After getting hilariously lost out on a frozen lake after the Birkie in March with my 45nrth teammates, Matt Acker and Brian Geshel, this is how the year has gone:

Official Katy Batdorff engagement photo

Official Bill Fartindale engagement photo

1) March 21st. Dan proposed to me on the first day of Spring! Dan has been my biggest fan since we met working at Grand Rapids Bicycle Company. He is my best friend, he makes me laugh, he makes me want to get shit done, he makes me feel fierce and strong, and he makes me want to learn as much as I can learn. Spending the rest of my life with him is not enough and there is not enough time in the world to adventure everywhere I want to adventure with him. Sappy sentiments over. I'm sorry to have put you through that.

GRBC has demos - try 'em out!

2) April 2nd. I raced the Lowell 50 spring edition on a Cannondale Slate demo from the shop. The same weekend that I found out my Grandma's partner had died. A rainy and cold race was definitely fitting for the overall vibe of the weekend. That race beat me up and the whole weekend beat me up. Maybe it was the recent engagement between Dan and I that tore me up about it. Maybe it was the fact that my Grandma had been married twice before she met the love of her life and it broke my heart that she had lost him. Either way, I was pretty bummed about it. I needed something unfamiliar and some mud to help me process the whole thang. Bikes are good like that. I hope that my Grandma has something in her life that helps her to put things into perspective and to put her mind at ease. She's an amazing lady.

Pizza crit for my birthday

3) April 16th. We skipped the Barry Roubaix to go bike-packing for Dan's birthday. I was super sad to have missed the BRX, because it is always a ton of fun, and am super looking forward to racing it this year!!!!! We had a rad time bike-packing through parts of the Manistee National Forest, though, and getting lost and having an adventure was most definitely the right choice!

Happy birthday, Dan!

4) May-ish. I got a promotion at Grand Rapids Bicycle Company! I no longer do social media, events, the website, or the email newsletter. Scratch that, I still do the newsletter. (email me to join if you're not already on the list!) I still help with events. However, NOW, I get to manage the Fulton location! So the events that I help with are incredibly biased in that they're held at my favorite shop! (Jen took over Facebook and Instagram, and she's the best at it!!!)

A little loopy from Active Commute Day

It was a lot of work in the beginning. I've never managed before (other than the student-run radio station at Grand Valley State University a THOUSAND years ago! - okay, not that long ago.) and it has definitely been a work in progress. I am so thankful for Tom Smith and Chris D's patience in giving me the keys to the shop and to the amazing, talented, bad-ass staff that I get to work with. Not everyone can say that they work with their husband and awesome friends and I am most definitely the luckiest bike shop employee in the whole freaking world!

#nerds at the Boyne Highlands

4) May 21st. Zoo-de-Mack with the family. Fun, social ride! My dad always rallies to get a group of family together for this ride and I absolutely love going! We get into shenanigans and it's always a hoot. My sister fielded wedding questions and created a buffer. Wedding questions are stressful. I'm glad she was there to defer any/all questions and to keep Dan and I focusing on goofing off. After finishing our ride, Dan and I drove to the Jordan River Valley Trail for some car-camping, fishing, and exploring. I found a teepee in the woods. Then I saw Dan in the river without a shirt on. It ruled!

Another place we need to go back to,

5) June 18th. Dan's nephew got married near Indianapolis. It was a beautiful wedding! We rode Brown County. Dan's family is amazing and riding Brown County was challenging and such a blast to ride! Technical stuff, especially technical climbs, is still one of the things that I struggle with. I definitely got some climbing Brown County bucks on this trip!

6) August 20th. I raced the X100 in Traverse City for the first time ever and I will most definitely be back!!! I got to stay with the Doerr family at their cabin near Timber Ridge Resort and am so, so, so, so, (a thousand so's) glad that I've become friends through racing with Megan Doerr!!! Megan is funny, smart, and super freaking fast (and getting faster!!!) and being able to rally with her was amazing! I love racing so much because of all of the strong and amazing women I get to meet in the sport, and Megan is most definitely one of my absolute favorites! She is also one who will undoubtedly kick my ass over and over again, whether we're riding for funsies or racing. Becoming better friends with her this year has definitely been one of the highlights.

Women's podium at the X100

I just got sappy again, I apologize.

Julie Whalen, myself, Sophie Kinkle

Petra and I raced in the Double Diva category! Hilarious!
7) August 28th. Skirts in the Dirt at Cannonsburg Ski Hill. Heads up: sap-city, USA! Super sappy. We're talking suuuuuper-duper sappy: In our third year of organizing Skirts in the Dirt, a women's only mountain bike race, we saw so many women improving on their mountain biking skills! We saw incredible support from Grand Rapids Bicycle Company, Cannonsburg Ski Hill, the mountain biking community, other sponsors, and from all of the folks that came to the race! Leading up to race day is always incredibly stressful. I feel like myself, Julie Whalen, Danielle Musto, and Sarah Jaromin are always running around like mad spending more than 24 hours a day (how is that possible?!) getting last-minute stuff figured out. Come race day we are always sleep-deprived, exhausted, and incredibly, incredibly in-love with the whole event. I am so proud of seeing all of the first-time racers cross the finish line with smiles on their faces and am really looking forward to Skirts in the Dirt 2017!!!!! (Sunday, August 20th, 2017 FYI - save the date!)

Skirts in the Dirt pre-ride and clinic

8) September 30th. We went on the Fargo Sub-48 at the end of September and got to spend more time bike-packing through Manistee National Forest! It's absolutely beautiful up there and being able to peruse around with some cycling friends was exactly what Dan and I need to relax from all of the stress of wedding planning! Melissa Werkman got the well-deserving nick-name "Tank". Dave and Petra Taggart, Dan and myself, Tank, and our friend Andy aka "Dozer" got incredibly lost. (After having gotten lost in the woods the night before with Dan and Dozer trying to light off fireworks in the rain.) We ate gas station pizza, we cheered each other on, we laughed hysterically at being so off of the map that we were in the Salsa logo, and we rolled into camp near nightfall, dinging our bells, while receiving a standing ovation from all of the other riders, who had just finished eating tacos. Hilarious! I am so excited to do this ride year after year!

Dozer and Dan. I wish Dan were shirtless...

9) October 8th. Dan and I got married. More sappiness. Most fun day of my life. Most of our favorite humans in the entire world were there. It meant a lot, especially from those who traveled from out of state to Grand Rapids to give us hugs. Knowing that people were gathered just to be sappy with us was pretty surreal. I'll never experience anything like that ever again. I want to blow up all of the photos from the wedding and display them everywhere in the house forever. Nobody told me getting married would make me this sappy!

Thank you so much to Katy Batdorff photography for capturing the best moments.

Side note: Dan made that bad ass arch!

So many awesome people in one place!

My favorite tree at Cannonsburg.

Our honeymoon turned into a mountain biking/exploring/hiking/adventure-a-thon and it was a complete surprise! I had thought we were going to spend a week and a half camping up north (which would have still been AWESOME). Instead, Dan whipped this trip up:

Poison Spider's shuttle to Burros Pass

So much stoke!


Arches National Park

Kokopelli trail

I want to go back!

10) Despite having a pretty relaxed year (in terms of bike racing) everything else was pretty busy. Sadly, I didn't have as many miles on my bike as I wanted and I was feeling a little anxious because of it. Riding up to Traverse City with Danielle Musto and Julie Whalen was exactly what the doctor  ordered! Although our electronics died and we had gotten a little lot lost, it was one of the best bike rides I have been on! We left Danielle's house at around 3am and hauled straight up to the Iceman expo in one day! Over 150 miles in one straight shoot! Definitely the longest ride I had been on ever! The fun didn't stop there: we got to help Tank at the IMBA booth at the expo and I won the women's fat bike category at the Iceman! My dad raced on his fat bike for the second year in a row. Like the Zoo-de-Mack, the Iceman is now becoming a family tradition!

So proud of my dad for finishing his 2nd Iceman! Beist!

midway from GR to TC!

So many other incredible things happened in 2016. Personally, it was a pretty good year. There are a lot of other things going on out there that aren't so heart-warming. Being surrounded by such incredible humans makes life pretty dang great. I'll try to keep things less sappy in 2017, I swear! ;)

Courtney Joesel and I enjoying Art Prize via bike!

Huge thanks to the following:

Dan. My parents. My friends and family. All of my coworkers. The folks that serve on the board of directors for the WMMBA. These rad companies: 45NRTH. Grand Rapids Bicycle Company. GR Dog Adventures. Tank and Petra at Moxie Wild. Velocity USA. NiteRider. I'm humbled to ride with some of the most fun people in the entire world and it's awesome to be friends with all of you!

Tank makes an emergency shelter