Sleep In The Dirt

Kellie Nelson’s Fat Pursuit

Essays From the Field

Dealer Service Representative Kellie Nelson downplays what a bada%$ she is on a bike. After completing the Grand Traverse last winter, she’s on to bigger and better aspirations this winter. She’ll race the Fat Pursuit January 5-7, 2018, and if she qualifies, will go onto the Iditarod Trail Invitational on February 25, 2019.

Stay tuned, as she’ll continue to blog about her fat bike adventures this winter.

Part 5: January 22, 2018

Fat Camp.

Is it weird that after six nights with my fat bike and bivy I finally woke up with everything warm and cozy and met with ease and familiarity and I immediately wished I were back outside firing up breakfast bivy-side under the cold morning sky wrapped head to toe in 850 fill down?!

Five days of winter Fat Biking camp held in the same area that had just staked its claim on two days and 200 wintery miles was the perfect suffix to completing the Fat Pursuit a few days prior.

Race recovery was swift this time around and aside from one fiery knee, my body–albeit still leaning heavily on the side of hungry–was ready to get back in the saddle and discover more about myself, my riding and my ability to connect all the dots. Enter, Fat Biking Camp 2018.

Fat bike camp is a lot like it sounds: Fat biking, bikepacking, and camping–all in the snow, all in the winter, and all in the wilderness on some of the 1,500 miles of available trail found in the greater Teton ecosystem. It had affectionately been dubbed Fat Camp before it even started.

The Fat Camp I just attended was the first of its kind in the lower 48. One can also be found in the great state of Alaska–this however is the first time it’s been held so close to home and as part of the Iditarod Trail Invitational qualifier. My attendance and participation came without question. I’ve been virtually following the Iditarod and the Iditabike–the holy grail of winter ultras–for more years than I can recall, and to have an opportunity that might propel me in that direction was not to be missed. My name was on the roster as soon as the 2018 dates were announced.

There were eleven of us. Eleven campers and four guides. In addition to all of the required gear that was brought to carry us through five days and four nights of winter camp, each of us had tucked away in our not-so-obvious kits our individual goals, skill sets, comfort levels and personalities. Although each of our experience mirrored one another, the reflections were never exact. We all went there with a love for cycling and an impressive amount of miles under our belts. That, however, is where our likeness found its endpoint. Eleven. That’s a lot. A lot to work with, and a lot to work around.

If riding your bike and sleeping in the snow were a business, I guess you could say we were among the very best in the business which was inherently obvious every step of the way, from the very first step, to the very last.

Jay and Tracey Petervery, Kathi Merchant, and Aaron Gardner’s collective credentials reach well beyond that of an experienced ultra-endurance winter rider, and they are, in my humble opinion, key players in the growth and development of winter bikepacking by changing the players and improving the game. Their knowledge about the sport is impressive and second to none. What’s even more admirable than where they’ve been or where they’re going, however, is their willingness to share everything they’ve acquired and fine-tuned throughout their decades of doing it. I believe, there’s a willful paucity in this world of competition and edginess and for someone to want as much, if not more, success for you than you ask of yourself and to approach your presence with an abandonment of judgement and see you as a perfect opportunity to evolve into something more, has over the years become increasingly rare. Our Fat Camp guides wanted for us. They wanted us to leave Island Park with more than we came with. And so we did. All of us. With their seamless ability to weave eleven individuals into one piece of fabric, and validate where each of us were at different stages in the game, they allowed each of us leave with so much more than we arrived with. That in and of itself has opened doors in each of our lives that will continue to propel us forward.

Five days of learning, with a little riding in the mix, a descent winter storm, just to keep things lively, and a group dynamic that people spend their entire lives searching for will definitely help pave my way from Knik Lake, to McGrath, Alaska in February 2019.

I have left Island Park with so much more than I had arrived with. I am so very thankful.

If you wish you had, but didn’t, if you think you might, but aren’t sure, do yourself a favor and get yourself on the roster as soon as dates are posted for 2019. I’ve got a feeling camp will sell out quickly the next time around.

Part 4: January 10, 2018

There were three of us. One, two, three. Women that is–on the roster for the 2018 200-mile Fat Pursuit. Thirty something men, three women. I knew that going in, and carried it with me throughout the two-and-a-half days it took to complete the distance. We finished it, the three of us. Jill, Missy and myself are the first three women to ever complete the 200-mile Fat Pursuit. I didn’t know that going in. I didn’t know that a woman had never finished, until later. We did it. The three of us. I am so proud of them, of all of us.

This is the third Pursuit for me. Two fats and a gravel. Having been here twice before, I didn’t feel like I was colored the same shade of green upon arrival that I was last year. No longer being a newcomer to the scene, I knew what I was getting myself into–I moved with a different level of awareness this time. I knew things about winter ultra-riding that, for better or worse, were foreign to me last year. I understood this time, with a little more depth and a lot more experience. “Ignorance is bliss” was no longer going to carry me. I must admit, there is comfort in not knowing what you don’t know – an easiness to having a somewhat unconscious approach towards the long list of possible challenges that surround you for two hundred miles.

This time, I knew and I missed not being able to ride that wave of ignorance that works like a blanket and prevents your head from becoming a formidable player in the game. If and when your head finds its way in, a lot becomes invested in trying to block it, or force it back out. In not letting it become bigger than you. It knows though. It knows that you’ve become vulnerable. It knows that your body has grown tired over time and distance, that it hurts, and feels more bad than good. It knows that the possibility of an out is no longer impossible and searches for reasons, excuses to give in to it all. It pounces on weakness like a stalking cat. It’s so good at that. There were moments! Oh, there were moments when that internal battle between body and mind were almost tangible. When it was so near the surface I was all but wearing it. Those moments.

Logic tells me that last year’s 120 miles should have proven harder than this year’s 200. So many things about it were without question, so. much. harder. Perhaps it was that blanket of ignorance that protected me from the challenges last year, kept me immune to knowing, and thinking and becoming my own worst enemy.

This year, the conditions were as close to perfect as they could have been. The weather was at the very least manageable, and if anything, bordered on being too warm. The course, for the most part was firm and fast. The lack of winter has created an incredible hard-packed base for riding. Even when snow machines passed by, the amount of churning they did to what we were riding on was fairly minimal. When Mother Nature decided to add a little excitement by giving us a few fresh inches of powder to deal with, we stopped riding and pushed our bikes, for a few miles, maybe five. Not 55. Yet… This year was hard! Really hard.

The battle between fighting hunger and nausea was constant and present from start to finish. Time and distance never seemed to match up, which proved a test of patience that was often lost. Anything that felt within reach, weather it be a checkpoint, the top of a climb, even a spot to get off the bike, if for only a moment, became this thing we were chasing. A moving target. More often than not our approach became wildly desperate and the need to be there was so strong it felt like an obsession and my GPS unit became my best friend and worst enemy.

When we got there though, when we finally reached those moving targets, the checkpoints, all three of them, we were greeted with open arms, warm food and so much support, because as they do, Jay and Tracey have once again pulled together the best army to pull off another successful event.

Among the surprises during this year’s Fat Pursuit, the people; the volunteers, the other racers, and the organizers were not amid them. They were, once again, a constant source of support and friendship and a reason to keep going back to Island Park, ID.

Jay and Tracey, Thank you, again, for putting on an event that not only challenges the body and test it’s limits but opens the door to an even better understanding of who we all are and puts us on a course that continuously has us all riding among friends.

See images of the race at Kellie’s Facebook page.

Part 3: January 5, 2018

Game day.

What seemed so far away–a thing of the future, six months ago, has finally made its way here. Ready or not, the future is now.

Ready. At least I think I am. I’ve done all the work, I’ve put in the time and the distance and made the commitment to 200 wintry miles. I’ve done it. All of it. At some point between six months ago and now, I have created a place of readiness. I am confident of that. Two hundred, however, is a mighty big number, and this isn’t my first time at bat. I’ve stepped up to the plate before in this game.

I know enough to know that January’s weather in little place called Island Park, ID can become rogue in a moment – and without warning. If and when it does, it changes the players and realigns the game. Those of us playing are completely at its mercy and what quickly becomes clear is that this ride–one that was already going to take a while, is going to take even longer and will require us to awaken something in ourselves that’s going to keep our heads in the game and force us to maintain our forward motion. I know how to do that. I’ve learned how to do that.

Two hundred is just a number. It will grow smaller with every turn of the pedal and never be greater than that. Just a number. It can only become what we let it. I won’t let a number become bigger than me. I can’t. It is, after all, just a number.

Cold, hungry, exhausted, hurting–all of those things fall into the same categories as warm, content, rested, and comfortable–they’re just different. They become what we let them…

I’ve got my work cut out for me. Two hundred wintry miles is serious business. There’s snow in the forecast here. There’s also an incredible energy here in Island Park. The camaraderie is thick. There’s a field of friends here, and this event continuously manages to  attract some pretty special people. I consider myself lucky to be among them.

Somehow, I am ready.

Part 2: December 28, 2017

Ride. Sleep. Ride. Repeat.

It’s become the dominating theme at this stage in the game. For the most part, the miles have been accounted for. What once was the focus of all of the training has appropriately become secondary and taken it’s place behind different elements of preparedness. Albeit a significant player in a 200-mile race, not the only contender in the game.

Two hundred miles is going to take a while, regardless of the conditions. Perfect conditions will take a long time, less-than-perfect conditions will take a really, really long time. Either scenario will require at least two nights of riding behind the beam of a headlight and, for better or worse, one night of sleeping on the ground with old man winter. Neither scenario come naturally to me. I could blame my age and suggest that if I were doing this a decade earlier the thirty-something version of myself could find ease in claiming some much needed sleep on the frozen winter ground, or that riding ’round the clock in the darkest hours of the night holds within it a sense of adventure–it does–but I won’t. The fact of the matter is, both the darkness and yielding to a vague interpretation of sleep, require a certain level of fluency which can only be achieved through repetition. Ride, sleep, ride, repeat.

Knowing your gear is as important in winter riding as is developing the strength of mind and body that can carry you through to the finish line.

Everything has its place on the bike and nothing comes along for the ride unless it is absolutely necessary. Knowing exactly what’s in each frame pack, the order in which gear can be pulled from the seat pack, and what is accessible on the front of the bike is imperative in reducing the amount of time spent no longer moving. Making the shift from moving to not moving leaves you acutely aware of how cold it is. Low temperatures are no longer hidden behind your working body, and getting yourself from the place of unpacking your bike and into your sleeping bag before full-on shivering takes over is a race worth winning.

I wouldn’t say the market is saturated with cold-whether camping gear–far from it in fact. There are however some good options available, and doing your homework to figure out what will work the best for you is worth its weight in gold.

Knowing that a respite from riding is approaching, that a break from the saddle and bike, and that darkness and the cold are within reach holds much more appeal when the gear you’re about to climb into has proven itself to be lofty, technical and warm.

Big Agnes is the leading brand in ultra light camping gear and they’re no exception to the rule when it comes to developing products suitable for sub-zero temperatures.

After a few unsuccessful attempts at dialing in the perfect set up, the Crosho -20° Sleeping bag and the Three Wire Bivy have both surpassed my expectations and taken their place on the front of my bike along with the Third Degree foam sleeping pad. Water-repellent down is a game changer and will always win the battle should it need to go head-to-head with moisture developed from either condensation or wintery elements. I’m not only confident in my gear and its ability to keep me warm and comfortable but thrilled by the ability to stow it away in such a small package on the front of my bike. Big Agnes and I are ready for Idaho, and the great beyond.


Part 1: December 19, 2017

I’m actually pretty good at a few different things. Riding my bike, however, doesn’t necessarily sit high atop that list. Oh, don’t get me wrong–I can ride a bike. And do. A lot. But you won’t often find me leading the pack, or holding place atop too many podiums. Regardless, biking is my soul food. It fuels me. It’s become my touchstone and keeps me grounded in this crazy little thing we call life.

I live in the mountains. Riding season can be short here, if you let it. Moving from fall to late fall often means road trips to nearby deserts in an attempt to hang on to endless miles and hours in the saddle. Late fall into winter means it’s time to make the shift from smaller tires to, well, fatter ones. Plummeting temperatures and snow-covered everything suggests to most that it’s time to ski, it suggests to me, that it’s finally time, to fully commit to the fat bike. It is after all, still riding season.

I’m a mid-western girl who’s spent the past nine years living in the Rockies. I know cold. I know it well. I also know I’d rather be warm. Warm is my thing, not cold. Fat biking isn’t warm. Usually it’s really cold. The riding is harder–a lot harder–and everything about it, relatively speaking, feels pretty heavy. It’s full of its own challenges; Picking out what seems like the perfect layering system and putting it on piece by piece, by piece, because you’ve checked the temperature reading for the ninth time and it still reads 3 degrees, is challenging. Taking that final step from the warmth of your home into the cold outside because both your bike and your commitment are waiting for you, is challenging. Constantly trying to shift focus from your frozen feet, legs, face or hands to, ANYTHING, absolutely anything besides how cold they are, holds some challenges. Climbing a snow-covered hill on a fully loaded fatty, is well, you get the gist….

Having said that, fat biking, in the dead of winter through all the snow and all the cold is also, for lack of a better word, majestic! There are moments on a fat bike ride that are in and of themselves. There are moments that are so singular, nothing on this earth can render the same opportunity for takeaways they do. Nothing.

There’s a peacefulness to winter riding that can’t be found elsewhere. I’ve looked, and I haven’t found it. That depth of peace is particularly palpable just before the sun rises or in the hours after it sets. Something about winter adds to all the colors, adds to the darkness. Everything tends to be brighter, crisper, edgier, softer. Better. Everything. Is that enough to outweigh the challenges it tows? It seems to be. Perhaps it’s all those challenges that make the gentler moments, in fact, gentle. Perhaps you can’t have one without the other.

Whatever the case may be, it’s the incomparable combination of both which not only keeps me peddling throughout the months of December, January, and February, but entices me to claim a spot on the roster of a few winter fat bike endurance events.

It’s worth noting that it’s impossible for me to talk about fat biking–or any kind of biking for that matter–without introducing you to my best friend. Almost everyone else calls him Bush. I call him Graham. Thousands of miles, hundreds, and hundreds of hours–most of them covered, with him. I guess you could say I can blame most of this winter stuff on him. He’s the reason I even have a fat bike. It’s all his fault.

Graham’s been by my side for a lot of years. We’ve gotten ourselves in and out of a lot of situations, we’ve toed a lot of starting lines together, and crossed a lot of finish lines. He’s held a starring role in so many of my best ever’s and he’s a big part of my why. Life on two wheels wouldn’t be the same without him.

Two hundred miles. That’s what sits in front of me. Right in front of me, in fact. I am exactly four weeks out from the starting line of a 200-mile fat bike race beginning and ending in Island Park, Idaho with a little bit of Montana in between. It’s called the Fat Pursuit, and it’ll require a pretty decent amount of training between now and then. There are still miles to be ridden, gear to get dialed, and a comfortable head space to claim. Sometime between now and then I have to do a really good job of convincing myself that I’m bigger than 200 winter miles.

I have to remind myself that despite what it may hold, it won’t be the hardest thing I’ve done in this crazy little thing called life. That in comparison it’ll simply be a walk in the park–or rather–a ride on a bike. In order to confidently face 200 difficult winter miles, I have to remind myself that on the other side of all the hours and miles I’ve logged going into this winter, I’ve created a place of readiness. And, that out there, somewhere between the starting line and the finish line there lies an even bigger definition of myself. That I’ve chosen to unlock and open the door to continue chasing my why and all the answers to those questions are out there waiting to be collected and carried with me as I move forward in this crazy little thing called life.

Comments (2)

2 responses to “Kellie Nelson’s Fat Pursuit

  1. What a beautiful moving piece. Though I am not a winter rider I love winter and have found the peace and solitude you have described plenty of times in my skies. Kellie you are amazing. I can’t wait to follow your race from home. 200 miles on a far bike in the winter what an incredible challenge. You are one of the toughest people I have ever met. Please keep writing as I love your style and of course keep biking since it seems have unlocked something very special for you. Cheers Kelly

  2. Any tips on layering would be great. I struggle with that during my winter commute, finding that magic combination that allows you to pedal hard for an hour in single digit territory without overheating and getting soaked or slowing down as the body struggles to maintain warmth.

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