The second weekend of March, Jason and I packed up bike gear and headed north for a weekend of fat bikes and friends. Wade had sold us on how much fun the Fat Bike Birkie was when we all went to the Cascades for the weekend of July 4th last year, so it was a no brainer to register for the races, book a cabin, and rent a sweet truck. Originally we had planned to spend a little more time in Wisconsin/Minnesota, but then we booked our honeymoon almost immediately after the Birkie and decided to cut the weekend a little shorter than we had planned. We flew in mid-day on Friday and flew out bright and early Sunday morning. That left us approximately 40 hours to cram as much fun as possible into our weekend!
We flew in to Minneapolis and immediately went to the car rental counter to pick up our truck. The only truck I’ve ever driven in my life was my dad’s truck that he uses for work, and his is much smaller (and lower to the ground) than the brand new F-150 that we rented. It was a blast driving it, especially since I could see over almost everyone else and the engine didn’t hesitate at all when I stepped on the gas. The truck might have more pickup than my A4! Anyways, we booked it to Hayward, WI, which was almost 3 hours away, because we needed to pick up our bikes before the local shop closed. We made it there with 25 minutes to spare, picked up the bikes, stopped by Walmart for food and headed to our little cabin in the woods.
Luckily for us, BJ and Allie had arrived earlier than us and had stopped by packet pickup to get race numbers and t-shirts for all six of us. We relaxed for a while before whipping up spaghetti and meatballs for our pre-race dinner. Wade and Kate rolled in a little after we had finished dinner and we all rolled into bed since we had to be up with the sun to make it to the race in time.
When we woke up in the morning, there was a new email from the Birkie organizers saying that some people who had taken advantage of the ability to pre-ride the course the day before said studded tires were needed. Although the email made me a little nervous, I knew they had changed the course because the actual Birkie route was too icy to be considered safe. I assumed that it couldn’t be that icy if they were still holding the race. Ha! We followed Google maps to the trailhead/start area, which ended up being a poor decision because apparently we parked on private property. Luckily the property owners just put little notes on people’s cars informing them to not park there in the future. We had enough time to check our tire pressure and rode up to the start line right as they said “GO”.
Before the start we decided we were each going to ride our own race so we quickly spread out. At the first climb, I wasn’t geared correctly and had to hop off to walk my bike while Jason passed me. At the next uphill I saw a bunch of people walking but was geared correctly and though I could make it up. I heard Jason yell at me to get off my bike because it was icy, but I was making good progress up the hill so I stayed on. That was a mistake because my tire slipped and I fell pretty hard. The ice was so slick that I could barely stand up, even though I had Salomon Snowcross shoes on that have carbide studs in the outsole. We continued on the course, with Jason just barely out of sight until I took another hard fall on the ice, this one a flat section. I got up and started biking, but when I looked down I realized my race number was facing me. I hopped off the bike and realized I had turned the handlebars completely around on my previous fall without realizing and had been riding the bike with them backwards. I fixed the situation and continued on, albeit more cautiously.
The trail was mostly frozen dirt and would have been a lot more fun if I wasn’t terrified that there would be ice around every turn. At the top of one of the big hills, I saw Jason waiting for me on the side. I told him that I fell hard again and wasn’t sure if I was going to do the remaining four laps. He said to keep going and I could make the decision when I got back to the start/finish area. He stuck with me for the rest of the way and we took it slow and cautiously. When we passed the road we had driven in on, I assumed that we were close to the start/finish area and told Jason to push on without me because he wanted to do one more lap. I was wrong and we still had another 2K (out of the 11K lap) to go. I caught up to him again right as we passed the parking area and the course went out again before finally arriving at the start/finish. On the last icy section I fell hard again and told Jason that I wasn’t going to continue. My butt was sore and I really didn’t want to fall anymore. I took the car keys and his jacket from him while he continued on with the race.
I biked straight back to the truck and pumped up the heat while I changed from my bike clothes to my non-sweaty spare clothes. I walked back to the start/finish to stand by the fires and wait for Jason to finish his second lap. Almost immediately I spotted BJ, Allie, and Kate. They had also made the decision to stop after one lap due to multiple falls. I waited at the start/finish for Jason while they went back to the cars to change. After Jason finished up we met them back at the cars and went to the food area for some beer and fajitas while we waited for Wade to finish the full course.
Although I’m disappointed that I didn’t finish the course and that I stopped after just one lap, I am happy that I walked away in one piece with only a bruised butt and bruised ego. If we weren’t leaving for our honeymoon two weeks later I would probably have continued, but I didn’t want the next fall to prevent me from enjoying myself in Patagonia. Plus, I was not having any fun on the race course because I was so scared of the icy sections. After talking to others who have raced multiple Fat Bike Birkies, I’m convinced that I want to come back and race the actual course, preferably when the course is it’s usual packed snow surface. I think everyone who came with us feels the same way, so next year we’ll be back (as long as there’s snow on the course and not ice). The house we rented is big enough to fit more people, so if you want to join let me know!