Elements prove too much for Steamboat adventurers
January 19, 2017
Steamboat Springs — Graham Muir doesn't like to call himself an endurance racer. He’d prefer to be called an adventurer.
"I think when you get to these distances, it's not really a race, at least for most of us. It's more of an adventure," Muir said. "It's more about trying to get to the finish, and every racer has their own personal things going on and their own reasons they are trying to get to the finish line. I believe that's why he (outdoor adventurer Jay Petervary) calls it a pursuit, and not a race.”
Muir, who owns Manic Training in Steamboat Springs, and his friend, Kellie Nelson, took part in Jay P's Backyard Fat Pursuit during the weekend. Muir has been training and planning for months with Nelson, the latter of whom wasn't even planning on racing until just a few weeks ago.
"I wasn't signed up to do it until four days before the sign-up deadline," Nelson said. "I wasn't even planning on doing the pursuit, but I had been riding with him (Muir), so physically, I had been training, but mentally, I was not at all in that game."
When another close friend who was also planning on doing the ride asked Nelson why she wasn't racing — and after a midnight to 6 a.m. training ride — Nelson realized she really had no excuse not to.
"I asked myself, 'I'm not doing this race, so why am I crawling out of bed at midnight to go on a bike ride in November?" she said. "I never really had an answer for it."
Recommended Stories For You
A few days later, she signed up for the race and made a decision she says she will never regret.
Jay Petervar is one of the biggest names in fat tire and mountain bike endurance racing. He's won the Iditarod Trail Invitational 350, setting record times. He has also won the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational and set a record for the fastest southern route.
In addition, the athlete, who lives in Victor, Idaho, has been a force in the Tour Divide that runs from British Columbia to New Mexico and has won the Arrowhead 135, one of the tougher fat biking events in the county.
A few years ago, Petervary began hosting races near his home town, and the events quickly became a draw for top endurance athletes and a few, like Muir, who was looking for an good adventure.
This year's race may have been more than he bargained for, however.
Last year, he competed in the 200-kilometer race (a little more than 120 miles) and was hooked. This year, he returned to the starting line to take part in a 200-mile test.
"The overnight temperatures were predicted to be around minus 15 Fahrenheit," he said. "It was cold, but it was something I knew i could deal with … I was mentally prepared for minus 15, but the temps didn't stop dropping."
Before he knew it, the temperate had dropped to minus 35.
"The coldest temperature reported by any rider was minus 40, " Muir said. “Throw the windchill in, and this was no joke."
Muir battled through dangerous temperatures the first night of the race, having to stop at one point to stick the nozzle from his hydration system under his layers to thaw it. He knew he was going to need the calories for the mixture in his pack to finish the race.
He said his pace was slow and deliberate, because he knew the decisions he made in the early hours could impact his survival and his chances of making it to the finish line.
The following morning, his friend also had to deal with extremely cold temperatures and forecasts calling for snow as she left the starting line of the 200-kilometer race. The shorter race followed a loop of its own, but eventually merged with the longer 200-mile course. At that point, Muir saw Nelson riding along the course, and the two joined forces, hoping to complete the final section of the course together.
But Mother Nature had other ideas. As the two made their way to the West Yellowstone check-point, only 26 miles away, the snow began to fall. It kept falling as the sun began to set. Muir said the cold had taken its toll, and while 26 miles doesn't seem like a lot, the challenge is completing the ride — or in this case, the push — in fresh snow .
"Fatigue starts to set in … my energy levels were at an all-time low, so we decided that a couple of hours of sleep would be good,” Muir said.
The two packed out the snow and set up with a bivvy, and after a short rest, pushed on and arrived at West Yellowstone at 4:30 a.m. To the wonder of volunteers, the two elected to push on to the next check-point. They had 12 hours to reach the next check point and were confident they could do it.
But the storm was relentless.
"The speed was the issue,” Muir said. You can’t go uphill in fresh snow fast. So our 12-hour window was disappearing real quick until it disappeared altogether. We had our hearts set on finishing, but (realized) that, at this speed, we could be out for another 12 hours."
When organizers reached Muir and Nelson, they were off course. The organizers turned them around, and they eventually reached the next checkpoint but were more than six hours past the cutoff. They were given a ride back to Island Park and had missed their goal of finishing by less than 25 miles.
But at the end of the day, there was no disappointment and no feelings of failure. The two had endured a treacherous course, frightening temperatures and heavy snow. They may not have finished the race, but they felt as if they had won simply by surviving. There was only one finisher in the 200-mile race, and it took him 47 hours to finish the course. The winning time in 2016 was 27 hours.
"The snow storm that came though Steamboat came through during the race," Nelson said. "There was only one finisher in the 200-mile race — there was no question that the weather impacted this race."
It was the first time Nelson had taken part in the Jay P's Backyard Fat Pursuit, and despite all the challenges she faced, she said she wouldn't change a thing.
"As long as that race took us, there was not one moment when I wished that I were somewhere else, " Nelson said. "I can't explain it. I don't know why, and I feel that it should not have been as enjoyable as we made it. It was hard, for sure, but it was never not fun. I can't image not having done it."