Thursday, March 27, 2014

Great Lakes Fat Bike Series: Fat Tire Loppet & the Frozen 40

The drive home from the Noquemanon World Championships was pretty stressful. A whole bunch of snow was being dumped down on the expressway; which was down to one lane and really scary to drive on! Danielle and Scott had left for home together, leaving Danielle’s little Fiesta to B and I. Driving on icy roads is scary enough.. but when you’re driving a friend’s car it’s even scarier! B was nice and calm and drove us home safely, taking a few pit-stops on the way home to explore the great UP.
Obligatory secret overpass stop.
Lookin' good, Lake Michigan!
If I thought the drive home from Marquette was rough, I really didn’t know what was ahead of us on the way to race #5 of the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series: the Penn Cycle Fat Tire Loppet. This race is the only time of the year that fat bikers can ride on the Loppet ski trail, a beautiful groomed trail through the city of lakes (AKA Minneapolis!) Driving out to Minneapolis for the race was ridiculous. It took us nearly 5 hours to get to Chicago. Most of the drive’s conversation went like this:

Danielle, “Should we just turn around?”
Me, “Maybe the worst is behind us?”

-- a half hour would pass in silence--

Me, “Should we turn around?”
Danielle, “Maybe the weather will get better?”
This is a major highway in Mi.

We must have called the Grand Rapids Bicycle Company five hundred times to see if my coworkers thought we should keep driving or turn around. Mason, manager at the Ada shop, said we were probably through the worst of it. Once we did make it past Chicago, the roads did clear up a little bit. We made it to our friend Brent’s house (after first unsuccessfully stopping at the creepiestself-serve car wash to try to clean our bikes) and were so exhausted we went to bed pretty soon thereafter. The plan was to let our bikes thaw out in the basement before cleaning them before the race in the morning—thank goodness for late starts!

There were some set-backs in the morning when we woke up and I was incredibly impressed by the way Danielle was able to keep her calm—she wasn’t going to give up easily, and she was going to find a way to race at the Loppet. I’ll say it again—thank goodness for late starts! We were able to find a solution just in time to cram some cold pizza down our throats and head to the race. Lucky for us, we were able to get our number plates strapped to our bikes and to line up at the start… with just a few minutes to spare! Briefly had time to shout hello to Martha Flynn and Chelsea Strate before we were off! The Loppet trail was AMAZING! Next year I definitely want to come to the festival for more than just the fat bike race. The trail was beautifully groomed, zig-zaggy so you couldn’t tell if someone was racing ahead of you or behind you, and filled with spectators nearly the entire way! There were people cheering everywhere, people tending bonfires, people walking their dogs, and people flying kites on the middle of more frozen lakes (Frozen lakes! My favorite!) The City of Lakes Loppet foundation really knows how to put on a race! I rode past ice pillars, more people cheering, and across more lakes. I really enjoyed this race, and being on my fat bike riding the Loppet trail made the crappy drive and stressful morning worth it. Maybe it didn’t make it 100% worth it to Danielle, but it was worth it to me!

April Morgan (1st place), Danielle Musto (2nd place), myself (5th place)

Shortly after the race, Danielle and I hopped back on our bikes to ride from the end of the race to the start. It wasn’t a long distance, but by this time the sun had set and it was getting COLD. 

Danielle's post-race ponytail
We had decided to drive as far as we could after the race so that we were closer to home in the morning, and by time we were getting to the car all I wanted was a beer and a hot shower. We drove until shortly after 9pm and stopped for gas. Thinking we wouldn’t stop again until finding a hotel (our goal was to find a room for under $50 on Hotwire) we wanted to buy some booze. If you haven’t been in Wisconsin after 10pm on a Sunday, you wouldn’t know that they stop selling beer at that time either. Surprisingly enough, the gas station we stopped at had a 6 pack of Angry Orchard cider. Yesss! An hour later and we were snug and warm inside of a not-so-bad $50 hotel room watching cheesy TV, drinking cider and making plans for our next trip to Minneapolis—for the Frozen 40, Great Lakes Fat Bike Series' race #6.

Buuuuut before the Frozen 40 we needed to get some training in at the King VASA...

Driving to the Frozen 40 wasn’t nearly as action-packed as the Loppet. The roads were clear, the weather was nice, and before we knew it we were in Minneapolis at Brent and Nicole’s house! We arrived on a Thursday night and were really happy that we had until Saturday for the race. Having Friday to “get ready for the race” meant we got to go to the Angry Catfish for coffee, to get lunch at Modern Times CafĂ©, to go for a shopping spree at Twin Six, and to finally pre-ride a lap at Elm Creek before the sun happened to go down. Riding on single track was very different from riding groomed fat bike trails all winter! The trail was hard packed, curvy, with just a few climbs tossed in—and absolutely gorgeous. The blue sky, snow-covered trees, and white snow kept a huge smile on my face. We finished the 10-mile lap near sundown and as we got in to the car I was shivering both from the cold and from the anticipation that I would be riding the same loop 4 times in the morning. Eeeep!

Great single track in Elm Creek, MN

We awoke in the morning and surprise! No mechanicals! We woke up with enough time to eat breakfast, do some stretching, and get a rock star parking spot near the warming tent and the race start/finish! This race was put on by some really awesome promoters who really went all out for the event: frozen 40 socks, a warming tent, live photos streaming from the race, tons of sweet swag, and breakfast burritos! Even though I was happy to be getting ready to race my bike, I couldn’t wait until after the race just so that I could hang out with everyone! After a call up to the front of the pack for those who have placed top 5 in any of the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series races, we were off! By race #6 of the series, I could spot out a bunch of familiar faces both racing with me and standing on the sides cheering. Once again, my favorite part of racing the whole series was all of the people I met and all of the fun I had cheering my friends on! Another favorite part of fat bike racing? The racing! It’s hilarious to me that an average mph on a fat bike is still under (for the most part) 15mph. The first half hour of the frozen 40 was tough because there were some riders wanting to pass me through the single track and I came upon some riders that I wanted to pass. This is one thing I wanted to work on this winter. Being new to racing, passing people still makes me nervous. The frozen 40 was definitely good practice! Lucky for me, fat bike racers are probably the nicest people to ride with in the world, and no one got too grumpy if they had to wait for me to find a good spot to pull over.  The trail was in really good shape for lap #1 and I was really excited when I rolled to the end and headed back out for lap#2—the first lap had gone quicker than I thought! This race was going to be over before I knew it!

Whoops. I shouldn’t have felt so confident. The second lap was a little more rugged than the first lap. I still felt like I was doing well, but I could tell there had been some carnage from other riders. Choppy conditions on the climbs were a sure sign some people were feeling it. I saw someone up ahead kneeling on the side of the trail to take photos of people riding and once I realized who it was I lost my balance and fell right in front of him! “Hey Mike!” I laughed as I dusted myself off and hopped back on my bike. Smooth move, Jill… but who really has time to feel embarrassed when you’re on a fat bike?

Photo cred: Mike Riemer

It was near the end of lap two when I started to feel like I had to go pee really bad. Rounding the final bend of the loop and seeing everyone cheering along the turn where you’re supposed to head out for another lap was rough. Should I ride to the porta-potty and go? Should I keep going and find a spot along the trail to go? I grinned at everyone as I rolled through, opting to grab another bottle from Tom Morgan (thanks for the hand-ups!) and to take my chances out on the trail. I kept thinking that I could easily roll off the trail and pee behind a tree, until I got passed by another woman fat biker! A blonde girl wearing a T6 Metal kit passed me near the start of the lap and I didn’t want her to stay ahead of me! Little did I know she was actually racing the duo category, which would explain why I hadn’t seen her at the start of the race. Sometimes, a mental rabbit can be just as effective as a physical rabbit. Despite the deteriorating trail conditions, I kept pushing myself through the rest of lap three and the start of lap #4. I kept trying to distract myself from my throbbing bladder by pretending like I only had 2 more miles left to go. It wasn't working very well and I didn’t believe myself, but I kept trying. The trail was getting so mushy that for a little while I felt like I was doing the Farmer’s Fat Bike Race all over again. Except this trail was narrower, and when you fell over you sunk into deep snow. There were a couple of times when I landed in the snow that I thought, “I could just pee my pants. Right here, right now. It would be okay.” (Don’t worry, I didn't. As much as I wanted to, the thought of a wet and freezing chamois was a better deterrent than pretending like the race was nearly over.) Just as I felt I couldn’t control it anymore… I saw the finish line! Huge grins as I finished and rolled over to Tom to give him a high five. Aside from a full bladder, a frozen water bottle, and fatigued hands from gripping so tightly on some of the more technical sections, I think I looked pretty good after finishing the frozen 40! If I lived near Elm Creek I would love to just ride laps every day. Huge thanks to Mountain Bike Radio, to the people who volunteered and helped, and to all of the sponsors of this race!

Bill Fartindale, April Morgan, Danielle Musto

After the race, Danielle and I went back to Brent and Nicole’s house where we were greeted with lots of bottles of wine. Let’s just say the ride back to Michigan was filled with about five coffee stops and that there wasn’t enough water in the world to keep me hydrated. Remember how my hands were fatigued from spending such a long amount of time with a death-grip on my handlebars? My hands were still so messed up the next day that I couldn’t even grip the steering wheel. A million thanks to Danielle for driving the whole way home! 

Can you spot all the wine bottles?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Great Lakes Fat Bike Series: Farmer's Fat Bike Race & Noquemanon World Championship

There wasn’t much time to relax after getting home from Fat Chance! Race #3 of the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series was less than a week away and there was a lot to do before race day! The Farm Team and the Ada Bike Shop put on one of my favorite local races each year, and this was the second year that the Farmer’s Fat Bike Race was part of the series. Last year, I had been cheering everyone on while recovering from a torn ACL. 
Jenny Scott partied in my honor at the 2013 Farmer's Fat Bike Race
On Friday, I met up with some of the Farm Team and my coworker, Ted, at Cannonsburg Ski Area with our fat bikes and some snow shoes to help get the course ready for the race. They had arrived before me, so I shuffled along their path to help pack down the snow and once I found them, I put my snowshoes on and shuffled all the way back. We got it packed down pretty good and hopped on our bikes to pre-ride the entire course. My favorite part was the portion that we had just built. I couldn't stop laughing and smiling the whole way through! The rest of the trail consisted of cross country ski trail and was packed pretty well. Cannonsburg has a lot of climbing, and I knew spending 3 hours on this particular trail would totally be a beating. I’m ashamed to say, but although Cannonsburg is right in my backyard, and although they had trails for fat bikes available for the taking… I hadn’t spent any time trying to lock down a home-field advantage. This was definitely a big mistake and I’m hoping to do next year's Farmer's race differently.
Ted Bentley, fat bike extraordinaire
 It was really weird not spending the day before the race driving and getting ready with Danielle. I ate some oatmeal and half of a burrito for breakfast, packed a change of clothes, and was off! It had warmed up overnight and before the start of the race the Farm Team had elected to cut out the area of single track that we had helped to create the day before. There was another section of single track that was draining better, and I could tell that it would be a really nice spot for spectators to catch some good spills. Although I was nervous for this race, I couldn't help but smile as we lined up at the start. The Ada Bike Shop had closed for the day so all of us could come race or hang out, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing all of my coworkers, customers, and friends on their fat bikes! "I hope I don’t make a fool of myself!" I kept thinking over and over. The race started on a climb, and shortly after we all took off people were falling over and running uphill. I dismounted when I saw the trail blocked ahead of me and took off running! Someone shouted “nice cross skills!” and I couldn't tell if they were being serious or making fun of me for going out so hard the first 5 minutes of the race. I clamored up to the top of the climb and hopped back on my bike to go! The trail was full of ruts soon thereafter and the nice, wide course became a technical sufferfest. Deep ruts, soft snow, and mud puddles meant I was falling over. A lot! 
Making good use of the scooter-method. Photo: Rob Meendering. 
Cringing at the start of the single track segment. Photo: Rob Meendering.
The leg cramps were back but the rest of my body felt good so I just kept pushing it. One of my biggest weaknesses riding technical trail is that I ride my brakes too much; I get too hesitant and want to play it safe. I know this is a flaw of mine and really wanted to make the podium in my hometown, so I started getting gutsier and gutsier and perfected the scooter-method—AKA keep one foot unclipped and use it to prop yourself up when going through sketchy ruts. You can go a lot faster this way. It also isn't 100% guaranteed and you still fall. A lot. Just as I had lapped my friend Goremez (Who was doing her first ever mountain bike race! So proud of her!) I fell over and my heart sunk when I got back on my bike—my rear wheel had frozen up. I had fallen so many times my brake pads were stuck shut and despite trying to thaw them I couldn't get them to release. I wasted enough time dinking around with trying to fix it myself and took off running! I was so happy to see the Grand Rapids Bicycle Company tent at the bottom of the hill! Relief! (FYI, running downhill in mushy snow with a 30-some-pound bike who’s rear wheel refuses to spin is not easy.) Jason Schippert grabbed my bike and tossed it in the repair stand. Steve Kunnath handed me a Founders All Day IPA. I have the best pit crew! I had feared that I was headed towards DNF-ing, but Jason had saved my bike (and Steve had saved my morale) and I was able to head back out for more laps! I knew I had lost a chunk of time and pushed as hard as I could to catch up. I was able to haul past Arianne Whittacker and Stacy Smith despite lost time, but wasn’t able to catch Chelsea Strate, Chrissy Buerkle, or Danielle Musto. I was happy with taking 4th overall female, especially after having a mechanical! Falling so much during the Farmer’s Fat Bike Race left my legs and arms black and blue and my entire body sore. I have since this race started referring to fat-bike-related bruises as “Farmer’s bruises” and have had to replace my bike’s shifter. RIP shifter. Thanks for fixing it, Jason!
Stacy Smith, Chelsea Strate, Danielle Musto, Chrissy Buerkle, myself
There was an open weekend between the Farmer’s Fat Bike Race and Race #4 of the series, the Noquemanon World Championship Fat Bike Race up in Marquette. The Noque was the last in the trifecta of fat bike races in Michigan and I was super pumped to head up to Marquette: both to ride what I had heard was an incredible trail and to see a lot of friends that live up there! (On the weekend “off” I decided to race in Holland, Mi at another Winter Rush fat bike race. I was happy to get 2nd out of the women, being lapped only once by Danielle and able to lap the rest of the women once myself!) Danielle, my boyfriend B and I headed on up to the UP and arrived Thursday night at the cutest little house in downtown Marquette that I have ever seen. Scott had found the house and would be joining us, along with a few of the other Farm Team guys, later that night/early Friday morning. When Danielle and I showed up to pre-ride the Noque on Friday, I was smiling from ear to ear! What a great course! Wide, smooth, fast, AWESOME! Everything a fat bike trail should be! There's a spot at the beginning of the Noque that winds downhill…before the course crosses it's first lake! I had never ridden my bicycle across a lake before and my mind pretty much exploded right there on the spot. The race organizers had lined the trail across the lake with tiny pine trees and branches and it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever ridden. Sure, winter is cold, but you get to do awesome things—like riding your bike across a frozen lake!! Gah! Just remembering the awe of riding over Deer Lake that day gives me chills. If you haven’t ridden your fat bike at the Noquemanon… do it next year. Don’t miss it! Directly after dying a million awesome deaths riding across my first frozen lake ever, we came to the first big hill on the course. I was humbled quite quickly when I realized the hill looked like it went straight upwards like a wall. We decided our pre-ride was over and turned back around.
Noque start. Photo: Scott Chambers
The next morning we loaded our bikes and gear in to two vehicles and headed towards race start. The Noque is a point-to-point race, and I was nervous I might have another mechanical, so I over-planned and brought everything from a multi-tool, to a spare tube, to tons of spare snacks, an extra face cover and spare gloves. I crammed it all in my hydrapak and decided it was too cold to warm up. About a half hour before race start I saw Jenny Scott and Matt Acker show up. The weather had been so bad that the Mackinaw Bridge had been shut down and they had been stranded in Mackinaw City for the night! They had driven for over four hours and were getting ready for an early morning race start. Yikes! Big high fives to them for battling all of that before the race, and an even bigger high five to Jenny for bringing a bear costume to wear during the race! Race start was below zero degrees and a lot of us were afraid of even colder wind chills. The race was 50km and I knew there would be a lot of challenging climbs (just like the wall after Deer Lake!) I felt pretty good going in to this race and was looking forward to finishing at the wooden dome at NMU. From the start, I took off as fast as I could and cruised along the familiar path that I had ridden through the day before. Coming to the first lake crossing, I was again totally ecstatic and prepared to take the right lines through the soft snow. 
Crossing Deer Lake
I was able to keep my wheels spinning and to stay afloat… until reaching that first big hill. I hopped off my bike and started running up it. I felt like I ran walked up that hill for forever. Finally I had reached to top and I was able to ride again. The trail was gorgeous and all of the trees were coated in sparkly white snow. My face felt cold and I kept stretching my jaw and wrinkling my forehead to make sure that my face was alright in the subzero temps. My water bottle was turning to slush and I was thankful to come across aid stations offering hydration. I didn't realize my pace was slowing until Arianne Whittacker whizzed past me. Nooooo! For a while I pushed super hard trying to pass her again, . I started losing other riders to race up to, which made me lose my momentum and I started chugging along. Nearing the last 10km and riding over another frozen lake, I saw a bright pink jacket up the way-- Arianne! My jaw dropped and hope was restored. I could still catch her! Pulling from some super-secret energy source that I didn’t know I had, I was able to close the distance and to get up to her rear wheel. I saw the sign for 7km and made a rookie mistake: I attacked and tried to put as much distance between us as possible. Arianne let me pass her, and then stuck with me until the “finish 500 meters” sign… and that’s when she attacked! Forced in to an all-out sprint, I was already spent from pulling her the last few kilometers, and I lost her. Another Great Lakes Fat Bike Series overall women’s 4th place for me. Third place for the totally bad ass Arianne Whittacker. 
Speaking of a bad ass...
The Farmer's Fat Bike Race and the Noquemanon were both incredibly challenging races because of the extreme weather. Anyone who finished either race is a rock star in my book. The Noque was so cold that race volunteers were actually pulling racers due to frostbite. Seriously so amazed at how awesome fat bikers are and the tenacity that they exude. These two fat bike races were doozies! 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Great Lakes Fat Bike Series: Winter Solstice Chase & Fat Chance!

This past winter I got to ride some of the best fat bike trails in the country.
Wow, what a series! Sitting here and writing this recap is really hard because I don’t want the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series to be over.  Realizing that it is over now makes me really sad. I’m going to miss those subzero temperatures and those 10+ hours in the car traveling to a race. Those nights driving in so much snow that knuckles turned white on the steering wheel. Counting how many bottles of water I’ve drank to make sure I’m hydrated enough before a race in case my water froze. Pre-riding new terrain, and setting my clothes out the night before a race only to wear something completely different the next morning. Seeing friends from other cities and states at different races and making new friends the whole series. Geesh, I’m getting so reminiscent it’s embarrassing. This is what the post-race blues must be. The funny thing is that I’ll be racing my fat bike at the BarryRoubaix next weekend and I’ll be seeing a lot of friends there! 
Martha Flynn, myself, Danielle Musto, Chelsea Strate, April Morgan
So the season started off in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin.  Race #1 of the GLFBS was a wild card for me. It was my first race on my new Salsa Mukluk 2 and I was really nervous because I had already committed to racing most of the series with Danielle Musto. What if I didn’t like it? What if I was terrible at it? I had done mediocre at the Iceman this past November and had absolutely no race experience other than that. Really, I hadn’t done much fat biking in general before this race. I didn’t know what to really expect and when we showed up at Big Rock Creek Retreat to pre-ride the start of the race I was blown away. The race promoters were working hard at race prep and were super friendly. They wanted to know where we were from and what other fat bike races we had done; the Winter Solstice Chase was their first fat bike race and they were really happy to be a part of the Great Lakes series. They had groomed a 21k trail specifically for fat bikes; they had a place for a bonfire, a warming tent, and some incredibly adorable stumps for the podium. Danielle and I spun our legs for about a half hour before she had to persuade me to turn around—I was having such a fun time that I didn’t want to stop! After pre-riding we found The Vegetarian Indian restaurant in St. Croix falls and had the most delicious tamarind soup of my life. Race morning we saw some friends at the start and before I was ready we were off! The race course was already a little more churned up than it was for our pre-ride, and as the course rolled on the conditions began to get choppier and choppier. For a while I was racing neck and neck with Martha Flynn, pulling away on the climbs and not going fast enough on the descents. The climbs were pretty difficult and I could feel my legs cramping up. The race was two laps (42k) and I could already tell that I had gone out too hard at the start. The cramps got so bad that I couldn’t ride uphill any longer, and pushing my bike made another area of my legs cramp up and walking became even more unbearable than riding. At one point, April Morgan, who was racing the 21k, trudged past me pushing her bike uphill and groaned, “these hills are killer!” It was a little comforting to know that she was having as hard of a time as I was. I finished my first lap and headed out for my second nearly delirious and laughing to myself because I couldn’t believe what I had jumped in to. Fat bike racing? Of all things! The course continued to get sloppier and I started seeing less and less fat bikers. For a long time, I was riding out there by myself and started losing momentum because I had no more rabbits to ride after. Because of the conditions, a lot of people had dropped out of the race. I couldn’t even keep my bike upright on the flats and the slush was too deep and full of ruts to ride downhill. I take pride in my tenacity and at the end of the series I’ve realized that this is what makes a good fat bike racer. At one point a man on a snowmobile acting as a sweeper asked if I thought I was going to finish the race, and I was like, “duh!” For me there wasn’t any other option. I had started out on my fat bike and despite the intense and painful cramps in my legs, and the impossible slush, I wasn’t going to stop until crossing the finish line. I was the last person out on the trail and was the last person to finish the race. It didn’t stop me from grinning ear to ear as I rode across the finish line; I felt like a champion just for doing the whole thing. Hearing people cheering for me was incredible and although my legs were sore and I could hardly walk once I got off my bike, I could not wait for the next fat bike race! The challenge of difficult riding conditions is something that I love! Call me crazy, but the sloppier and the more miserable the course is the happier I am to cross the finish line. The Winter Solstice Chase was the perfect race for my Salsa Mukluk’s first race and such a good intro to the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series! Although I finished dead last, I was still the third woman to roll across the finish line. Sharing the podium with Danielle Musto and Martha Flynn was the icing on the cake for race #1 in the series.
Fatty Flynn, Fatty Musto, Fatty Martindale
The ride home, Danielle and I gabbed excitedly the whole time about the race and how hard but fun it was. Would you believe that every drive this season has been filled with us talking about racing, riding, how much fun the series is, and about how incredible Tom and everyone at the GrandRapids Bicycle Company is? Honestly, 99.9% of the time spent in the car has been radio-free. Who does that? Driving music is typically something that I absolutely need in order to stay awake and to keep my attention on the road, but there was just so much energy and excitement on the drive that we never needed it. A few times when we would turn the radio on, we would hear a song and instantly start brainstorming about how it could be turned in to a commercial for bikes, or for the humane society. Ohhhhh fat bike riding dorks to the highest degree.
This is what our bikes looked like for race #1 of the series...before Danielle got her really amazing 1upUSA rack.
(the 1upUSA rack was FAR superior to this system...)
We had two weeks before the next race of the series. I was obsessing over fat bike racing and didn’t want to wait that long for another race! Lucky for me, there has been an explosion of fat bike races in Michigan and there were some awesome races near home. The Winter Rush races in Grand Rapids were pretty short, lasting about 45 minutes to an hour, and you just have to do as many laps as you can in that amount of time. These races were usually slushy conditions, and I went out as hard as I could for these. These were really great for training, and they helped me to get comfortable with passing other riders and with being passed. Pando Winter Sports Park had also started doing Fat Tuesdays this winter, opening up their cross country ski trails for fat bikers. Brent at Fun Promotions LLC held races each Tuesday that were low-key and also very good for training. These races were on trails groomed with fat bikes in mind that flowed really well. Also lucky for me, is that the Grand Rapids Bicycle Company was one of the sponsors for Fat Tuesday, so I got to drive the van full of fat bike demos out to Pando nearly every week!
My Mukluk and our shop demos at Fat Tuesday
I tried to do as many Winter Rush and Fat Tuesday races as I could on weekends home during the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series so that I could gain more experience. In between the Winter Solstice Chase and race #2 of the series, Fat Chance!, I was able to hit up both a Winter Rush race and Fat Tuesday.

Danielle and I took the GRBC van on Saturday and drove up to Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville, Mi. I LOVE LOVE LOVE driving to races in the shop van! Arriving at the destination in a giant van painted with our shop logo on it makes me feel so official! We got to Crystal after dark and went straight to the Thistle Pub & Grille for some dinner. We ran in to the Jasons from Einstein Cycles, and again, I was blown away at how nice and awesome the race organizers were! We chatted about the race briefly before Danielle and I sat down for the most delicious Pad Thai I have ever had and for the tiniest beet salad in the entire world. My eyes are always bigger than my stomach, and it was actually the perfect amount of food that didn’t make me feel disgustingly full. (A quick shout out to the Thistle for having both vegan and gluten-free food! Being vegan and traveling with someone who eats gluten-free can be difficult, and I always get so excited finding a restaurant that offers both options without feeling like there’s something missing from the plate. Well done, Crystal Mountain!)

Race morning came quickly and I was excited for a 2-hour race. I felt less stressed because it was a shorter race and I knew there would be less of a chance of me burning out because of that. It was also nice that the sun was out and that the race started at noon. We had plenty of time to eat breakfast, drink coffee, chug a bunch of water, and to pre-ride the start of the course. The groomed trail was in perfect condition and the course wasn’t very hilly. It was going to be a hammer fest for me and after hike-a-biking so much between the Winter Rush, Fat Tuesday, and Winter Solstice Chase races, I was really looking forward to staying on my bike and to pushing it hard. After go-time, I quickly discovered that the trail was really in perfect conditions to start falling apart. Just like St. Croix falls, the course started to get mushy on the second lap. By time I came around for my third lap, the impossible-to-ride segment had nearly tripled in size! A female rider passed me through the mush and flawlessly rode through the soft portions. Gah! How was she doing that? I was starting to get really frustrated because I couldn’t catch up to her and I kept falling down. Another lap around, and I had finally grown patient enough to roll slower through the soft parts and to shift down so that my legs were spinning quickly. I was gaining through the single-track segment and was maintaining my distance through the choppy, messy parts. On my last lap, on a flat segment that was still pretty solid, I found a little bit of power that was still in my legs and I was able to muscle up to my rabbit and to push past her. “Good job,” she said to me as I passed. I kept pushing it until crossing the finish, and I couldn’t believe that I had come in second place! In the course of two weeks I had magically become a better fat bike rider than I had thought possible! When Chelsea Strate crossed the finish line just under a minute behind I couldn’t control myself and I ran up to her to give her a hug. Although this was my first time racing with her, I already felt like we were pretty good pals. 
Danielle, myself, Chelsea
My favorite part about racing the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series has been getting to know not just other fat bikers, but more specifically other women fat bikers. In a race where there might be over 100 men, a “big” women’s field is somewhere around 10 or 15. That’s crazy! What the women lack in numbers, they definitely don’t lack in heart or strength. There were 7 women who raced at Fat Chance! and every single one of them is an incredible rider and human being. I am beyond thrilled to have met so many of the ladies that I have this winter and cannot wait to see where everyone is at next year for the series. We were all on fat bikes this winter, but everyone has different plans for the summer. Whether it be on cross bikes, single speed mountain bikes, or at 24 hour races... these girls are going to be awesome at whatever they attempt! I just can't say enough how glad I was to have met everyone.