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Blowing and Drifting - Christopher Tassava
Life in and around Northfield, Minnesota.
Updated: 1 hour 13 min ago
As much as I like being away riding bikes, it’s awfully nice to come home again. Not that the homecomings are always joyous, but rather the opposite: the girls (and Shannon) have a very no-nonsense attitude. “Oh, you’re home! Good. Help me with my homework.”
Tonight, for instance, I got home around 7 from a work event and within a minute of hanging up my jacket, I was working with Vivi on a tiny model of a bison. When we finished that, Julia taught me how to make a cool origami cube. I loved just hanging out with them, and by their bedtime, we had made some neat stuff for my desk:
Composing my blog post before last year’s Arrowhead 135, I had to sit far away from my motel-room window, which was entirely iced over in that year’s epic cold.
This year, we are prepping for the race in a too-hot room at the Falls Motel in International Falls, where tomorrow’s temperatures are forecasted to range from 15 to 35 degrees F, or about 50-60 degrees warmer than last year.
Needless to say, I’m extremely excited for the race. I know the course, the weather and conditions will be good, the Buffalo proved itself in Idaho to be a great bike, and I should have a decent bump in fitness from the Fat Pursuit.
Or, you know, maybe not: maybe my legs are still fried! Either way, though, I’m happy and lucky to be here in I Falls ready to kick things off again. I enjoyed catching up with some old friends and meeting some new ones at the pre-race events this afternoon, and I’m very grateful for all the support and interest from friends far and wide – especially as always Shannon, who’s solo-parenting while I’m adventuring.
I’m hoping for a 24-hour finish, which is conceivable and maybe even realistic. My tactics, such as they are, include stopping as briefly as possible at the checkpoints and trying to follow the wheels of some racers whom I know are just a little bit faster than I am.
You can follow the race on the Trackleaders service used at the Fat Pursuit. The race tracking page is at http://trackleaders.com/arrowhead15. Since not all racers are using tracking devices, Trackleaders won’t provide a comprehensive view of racers’ times and placings. For that, check the official race results page, which will include everyone’s times at each checkpoint and the finish.
Me, the amazing Julia, made this snowman yesterday with help from my friend Meg!#awesome
Friday night, I finished the pro cyclist Rebecca Rusch’s great memoir of her athletic career, Rusch to Glory. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in pro cycling or endurance sport.
I’ve followed the career of the “Queen of Pain” since she won her first Leadville 100 mountain-bike race in 2009 – the year that Lance Armstrong won the men’s race. Rusch had a long and successful athletic career before her first (of four consecutive) Leadville wins, and she spends a good deal of her book (co-written with Selene Yeager) on her exploits as a paddler, a rock climber, an adventure racer, and finally a long-distance mountain biker. All of her race stories are gripping, whether she’s describing an insanely arduous adventure race in Tibet, her first 24-hour MTB national and world championships, her Leadville wins, or even the tragic death of a teammate during an adventure race in South America.
In the book, Rebecca comes across as a supremely driven and superbly talented athlete but also as a capable businesswoman (sponsorships sound like a blessing and a curse!) and a pretty nice person. I’d like to think that I can testify to that last quality. “Reba” did JayP’s Backyard Fat Pursuit in 2014 and, like me, DNF’ed. She came back to the race in 2015 and, like me, finished – in her case, fourth overall. Before the race, she graciously chatted with me and signed my copy of her book (as well as a copy for a friend).
True to her inscription in my book, she actually tracked me down after the race and congratulated me on my finish. I was a little bit awestruck, but as the book shows, that’s the kind of person she is – as well as the person who can turn herself inside out on the bike.
Julia has always been into clothes, but she’s lately combined her fashion sense with her love of drawing to create pages and pages of cool outfits like these.
This is one of my favorite photos from my Fat Pursuit road trip: two bull bison grazing (and dozing) in the snow just off US-26 in Grand Teton National Park. The shot has everything I love about the west: the mountains (fog-shrouded that day), the jackleg fence (part of the race’s logo!), the snow, the wildlife. That I stood on the shoulder of the road to take this picture, close enough to hear the bison snuffling, is just a cherry on top.
Wisconsin Mark and I stopped for the night after leaving Idaho in the lovely little Wyoming town of Buffalo, where we stayed in the “Cowboy Corral” rooms at the historic Occidental Hotel,
while watching “Among the Wild,” a great new documentary on the Arrowhead 135 race (and a film that focuses in part on Wisconsin Mark!). Too bad I couldn’t fall asleep till midnight. Morning came early!
The drive out of Idaho was stunning: the west side of the Tetons from Idaho; the twisting, turning route over Teton Pass; a delicious breakfast in Wilson, Wyoming; the beauty (and seductive tourist-trappiness) of Jackson, W-Y; the east side of the Tetons; the heights of Togwotee Pass in the Absaroka Mountains (9,658 feet! the highest terrestrial point I’ve ever visited); the dry plains in northwest Wyoming; and most spectacularly, the impossible Wind River Canyon. Miles long, and every turn revealed a more stunning view than the last. Here I am, spoiling one of those views.
Finished! Two minutes after crossing the finish line in 26:25, thirty seconds after drinking a can of celebratory beer in about fifteen seconds. Exhausted elation.
Here’s the Buffalo at the literal turning point of the Fat Pursuit: the northward turn onto South Plateau Trail, a 26-mile run from deep in the Targhee National Forest to the little resort town of West Yellowstone, Montana.
I walked a huge part of this stretch in 2014. Better conditions, a better bike, and better fitness let me ride all of it in 2015. I took this picture when I stopped around 2:00 pm to savor the moment of reaching this point in the race and to eat, drink, and adjust my kit. After this, I rode the Buffalo to West.
Taking advantage of some downtime and of the gorgeous weather the day before the race (30 degrees F, sunny, blue skies, no wind), Minnesota Mark and Wisconsin Mark and I went out for a short ride, inspecting the first and last few miles of the racecourse. This view looking west toward Sawtelle Mountain was pretty great.
The long drive west ended when Wisconsin Mark pulled into the parking lot at Ponds Lodge in Island Park, Idaho. On the second day of our drive, we’d blazed through the rest of Montana, stopped in West Yellowstone for a beer and a bit of exploring (trying to find the race’s third checkpoint), made our first pass over the Continental Divide (at Targhee Pass outside of “West”), and helped get a dumb kid get his Subaru off the snowmobile trail where he’d gotten it stuck. I was very happy to get to Ponds and see again the pine arch that serves as the race’s finish line.
The Gallatin River gorge in western Montana, south of Bozeman in the Gallatin National Forest, was my favorite discovery of the 2014 Fat Pursuit trip. The scenery was just as beautiful this year. Here are two shots taken from the Greek Creek Campground just off US 191. The water was as cold as any I’ve ever felt.
Looking south along the river:
I finished Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage today, after years of meaning to read the book and months of work at actually reading it. The book is now a classic piece of American history, the best popular look at the Lewis & Clark expedition from St. Louis to the Pacific Coast in 1803-1806.
Though I could quibble with various aspects of Ambrose’s treatment of the history of the expedition*, overall I found the book to be a superb piece of history. Ambrose’s writing is clear and occasionally beautiful, he does a great job of mining the explorers’ journals and other primary sources, and above all he effectively conveys the terror and wonder of the expedition into lands that were unknown to Americans.
A few aspects of the expedition really stood out to me:
+ The colossal scale and reach of the Missouri River, which dwarfs the Mississippi in every way. (Why do we even care about the Mississippi again?)
+ The variety and number of the Natives along the expedition’s route. "Tribes" is such a misnomer. If the Native peoples were not nation states, they were at least nations.
+ The incredible, already diminishing complexity of natural life on the plains and in the mountains.
+ The difficulty of getting anywhere when the fastest mode of transportation was a horse or a sailing boat.
+ The naïveté of Americans’ views about their influence on the European colonial powers and Native nations. The reach of American foreign policy has exceeded its grasp at least since Jefferson.
+ The majesty and obduracy of the western mountains.
I pushed to finish the book now because some of my drive later this week will follow the explorers’ route west and see some of the mountains they saw. It’ll be cool to see things they saw, more than 200 years ago.