Friday, March 13, 2015

Fat-Bike Ski-Mo Sufferfest Part One:

Fat-Bike from Bozeman to Cooke City

Day 4, mile 140.

Why did I call it a Sufferfest, and give it a name like Fat-Bike Ski-Mo?

Day one; leaving from home and yet still in town, the back-rack explodes off the bicycle, and skis and 50 pounds of camping gear jam into the tire and frame like a woodchipper gone wild.

Oh my! Is this really happening? I read somewhere that expeditions can make you neurotic. Is having a total breakdown in Lindley Park on the first mile of an expedition qualify? At least I have music.

There was a family walking by in the cold who offered help. I'd taken everything apart and was attempting to fix the problem, feeling like a fool, and thankful someone was taking pity on me.

I hadn't even left Bozeman. Did I have the resolve to keep going? A lot of effort was put into getting this expedition together, and it's hard not to get emotionally attached to the success of pulling it off.

Of course the problem was pilot error. I'd forgotten to tighten down all the nuts holding the rack in place, and I didn't use loctite like I'd told myself I would.

After 30 minutes I had the rack fixed, and was ready to go again. The skies were grey and ominous, and there was a strong wind blowing on the ridges. I had chills already, both from the cold and my nerves running amuck.

Keeping morale high can be more important than reading weather reports.

I chose to ride a six mile stretch of Interstate 90, and then the Frontage road, putting me in Livingston in as short of time as possible. Turning south into a strong head-wind and towards the Paradise Valley, I thought, "oh shit, here we go again."

This area of Montana is known for the high winds that can rake through the valley like a constant jet-stream. Paradise Valley is both a beautiful and harsh landscape, and the people who live here reflect it.

My plan for the day was to ride about 50 miles to Paradise Campground on the Yellowstone River, but the intense wind was slowing me down. I ended up camping at Loch Leven instead, 3 miles from Paradise.

Day 2 of the Sufferfest never started or ended like a day should. I didn't sleep at all over the night because I was holding a tent pole with one hand, and covering my ears with the other. The wind blew back and forth, bashing my tent around, smacking me on the head, and making it almost impossible to cook or do anything.

Day 2 of the Sufferfest I rode for 6 hours into that fierce wind, and covered 19 miles. Good thing Chico Hot Springs was at mile 13, and I had good soak, and drank a few beers. My nerves were fried, and my brain could barely hold a conversation.

The best part of the day was when a small 4-Runner unloaded about eight or nine people I didn't recognize and cheered and shouted at me like I was winning the tour de France. I didn't stop, or look happy, and I was riding about 3 mph, just able to keep the bike in a straight line.

I remember trying to smile and wave, but I almost crashed by attempting to take one hand off the handle bars, and I think I made a face at them like, yeah this sucks, thanks though.

Day 3 and the wind was still blowing. I had lunch in Yankee Jim Canyon, and I was getting closer to Gardiner, and Yellowstone Park, and the idea that this wind would somehow stop, or slow down, or go the other direction.

Day 3 offered a soak in the Boiling River, and I camped up the hill at the Mammoth Hot Spring Campground. The wind was still blowing. And camping conditions still miserable. Morale was still high.

Brutal conditions, and beautiful too.

Day 4 was the best of the worst. Why had I called this a sufferfest? Did I really wish this day upon myself? And what good was to come of it?

Day 4 started at 8am and in a light rain. I rode for two hours getting soaked, because I didn't have hard shell or rain gear with me. I didn't expect rain in Montana and Northern Wyoming in February.

I had only soft shell clothing and down layers for insulation. I dressed light so I could ride hard, but I was getting soaked to the bone and could barely feel my hands or feet. As I rode higher into the park,  the rain turned to snow, and I stopped at a rest area and I stood under an awning to dry out. I put my down layers on over my wet layers, and slammed in toe warmers in my running shoes.

I told myself this is what separates the men from the boys, and it was going get real hard for the next few hours. These conversations with myself help. I don't know how, because I feel like a crazy person talking to myself. But the conversations help when I get scared, and when things get real.

My neoprene overboots were soaked. My shoes where soaked. My gloves were soaked and the temperature was dropping. I had 35 miles to go, and rode on.

By the time I got to the Lamar Valley it stopped snowing, but became cold and the wind was blowing again. This time it was a tail-wind and I was on my way to Cooke City at last. Oh yeah! Just keep riding.

The Rangers in Yellowstone that day who were betting against me, lost big. Not only did I make the 53 miles to Cooke in one day, I made it before dark and the bartenders at the Minors Saloon bought me drinks and welcomed me into their little town. Thanks Josh, Danny, Brian and Chris for stoking the fire and keeping the morale high.

Looking back at Bozeman on day one. 

Elk crossing in the river.

Sufferfest selfies. 

A solid fuel stove burning on a rock, in a tent, in a wind storm. Careful.

Another Elk Crossing ahead. And you can almost see the wind in your face.

Breakfast stop on the river. Day 3.

Stoked on healthy things that resemble candy bars. Thanks Amazing Grass!

Stoked on big Bison in Yellowstone.

Light rain, morning of day 4.

Ready to take on day 4.


  1. Phenomenal photos and supreme storytelling. I think I lost my fingers n toes just reading your story. Amazing bro!!!! Can't wait to read the next chapter.

  2. Too bad about the weather. I'd rather do it in the late spring or early fall. A testament to your willpower, or the fact you're a little bit nuts.

    1. Thanks Uncle Rich, come ride the park in the spring before the roads open. That's a great time.

  3. Chris, I've tried to comment several times and never succeeded. I'll try again. As an adventurist you might feel a tad lonely, but you should buddy up with artists, writers, jazz musicians (that's what I am) and the like to hang with people who are in similar predicaments and mindsets. I for one am inspired by your adventures, and I feel like a lot of other people would be too, so it's a slow game of connecting with enough people via enough methods, and probably a tad bit of venturing into the mainstream without your nose plugged (Chouinard loves his corporate existence!) You're doing great stuff, just keep following your instincts, and keep us posted.