"Turning your pedals just a stones throw away from Yellowstone National Park, you will be riding in tall lodge pole conifers, the historic Yellowstone fire burns and along the Henry's fork of the Snake River. The Fat Pursuit provides a fantastic excuse to not only achieve an outstanding accomplishment but venture into Yellowstone Park during the quietest time of the year, and make some turns in the Tetons."
Sounds quite romantic does it not? Allow me to interpret:
“Pushing your fully-loaded-couple-hundred-pound fat-bike from 7,000 to 9,000 feet over Mount Two Top, just a stones throw past West Yellowstone, in a driving blizzard, averaging a mile an hour...maybe. You will be offered the opportunity to dig deeper than perhaps at any other time in your life. With inclines so steep, one sets the goal to make 10 steps—yes, 10...Then clenching the brakes so as to not give up even an inch of ground that mind, body and soul just gave all to gain. While waiting for your heart rate to allow for the next ten step assault you will have time to ponder the choices that brought you to this moment.
Eventually, your lights piercing through the nearly whiteout conditions, you will see that the incline relents and you will do what you know you should not. You will allow yourself a moment of relief, thinking, believing that this is ‘Top One’. You will then pay the price and come to know the real meaning of ‘false summit’ and the bite it takes from your soul.”
Mount Two Top is perhaps the most wrongly named mountain in the lower 48. Petr, my partner in this quest, and I lost track but eventually settled on "Mount Twelve Top".
I'm sorry, did I miss this in the waxing poetic race description???
Perhaps had I read just a bit further...
"Nestled atop the never ending false summits one will bask in the company of gnarl branched trees, bent at the waist, cowering to a wind that knows two speeds... hard, and ‘let's get the hell off of this thing.’”
It had been exactly one year and 7 hours. Just 3 miles behind and some 1500 feet below—I, like the trees now playing witness to our assault on the mountain, relented. 145 miles into the 2018 Fat Pursuit, perhaps still in the top 5 of the race standings, I'd quit. I'd cowered to the conditions. The weight of the place eventually leading me to the decision that I would fight no more, push no more. The mind would convince all other faculties that this was not the time or place to push on and a body and spirit wracked from a lack of sleep and back-country experience, would agree.
The proper course of action would have been to follow the advice written in my small little handbook. Written for this exact scenario:
"NEVER MAKE A DECISION WHEN
TIRED, COLD, OR HUNGRY"
All in caps to make sure I heard loud and clear. I never took out the book. The coup of the mind had been a total success. Nothing would have been lost had I laid out my sleep system, made a hot drink, eaten a hot meal and dozed off. Truth is, somewhere I didn't want to admit to, I was afraid that in doing so I'd gain the resolve to push on. In my current state, this was not an idea that, like my tires sliding in the snowmobile upturned snow, would find purchase.
Everything I needed to move forward was on that bike. It was not the gear or the setup that failed me that day. Lesson learned. And at least when a lesson is learned, experience gained, then all is not lost. A victory, of sorts, can be pulled from the snowdrift of defeat.
But where were we???? Oh yeah ...
"The Fat Pursuit provides a fantastic excuse to not only achieve an outstanding accomplishment..."
Now this is the most accurate statement in the race description. Two years prior, only ONE...let that number sink in...ONE person finished. Understand that no one shows up to this starting line without some level of winter trail cred. Temperatures had dropped into and beyond the -20F range and with winds whipping through the afore mentioned tall lodge pole conifers; the race and the wild back-country of Idaho and Montana that the course calls home picked off competitor after competitor until only one remained to return to the start line turned finish line at Pond's Lodge.
With a resolve sharpened over the past 365 days, I'd come here to add my name to those that would see the finish.
Eventually over "Two Top", pushing, sliding, and occasionally actually riding from one reflector pole to the next— each guiding the way off the mountain with visibility now down to perhaps 50 feet. The snowstorm, seeming intent to stop all who dared come this far, seemed to grow even more angry as we made for the cover of trees not far below. Its winds seemed to taunt, "where ya going so fast, we're just starting to have fun!" This mountain took pride in claiming souls, causing fear, chaos and ‘Did Not Finish’s. Mine was not to be had.
I could not have imagined, and I am thankful for it, that an even steeper test still waited.
I recalled the race description once again...
"To venture into Yellowstone during the quietest time of the year."
Quietest time of the year my ass!