I recently had a chance to attend Jay Petervary’s Fat Camp, a three-day workshop that prepares winter ultra enthusiasts to be self-sufficient in backcountry winter races and adventures. I’m originally from Alaska but have lived in Arizona for the last 30 years. And I’ve competed in several bikepacking events but really haven’t ventured out in the snow since I left Alaska at the age of 18. It’s been on my bucket list to compete in the Iditarod Trail Invitational for years, but it’s a daunting notion when you consider all the planning and gear prep that goes into an event of that magnitude, not to mention the physical challenges and the remoteness of the route. You must be invited or qualify in order to participate in the ITI. I was hoping to use the experience gained from Fat Camp to earn a spot.
Camp takes place in Island Park, Idaho, in January. After registering for Fat Camp, we were given a list of recommended and required gear. We were encouraged to bring everything we had as it was a perfect opportunity to try out new equipment and help refine our kits. There were eight participants in camp and three instructors: Jay Petervary, Kevin Emery, and Tracey Petervary. Each of the instructors has a different perspective on various things, which made it super insightful. The participants ranged from professional endurance cyclists wanting to refine their skills to individuals just looking to gain knowledge and challenge themselves. With a small number of people, we were able to have one-on-one learning experiences and practice Covid-19 safety protocols.
Camp was hosted at the “Man Cave,” which was essentially a huge garage that allowed us to spread our gear out when needed and gave us ample room to move about. We used the Man Cave for classroom-type instruction and discussion as well as for some of our meals that were so graciously prepared by Tracey. Topics covered included clothing and layering for cold weather riding, using different types of stoves and their pros and cons, nutrition, sleep systems, lighting, and other strategies.
After introductions and an amazing lunch, we got dressed for a ride. It was neat to see the differences in clothing strategies and it was apparent to me that figuring this aspect of winter cycling was going to take some work. I sweat a lot and I guess I never really thought about it until I was actually trying not to sweat. Our time was split between discussions in the Man Cave and riding. On rides, we worked on skills like boiling water, making food, maintenance on bikes, the stuff Jay calls “doing your work,” as well as bivvying in cold weather and snow.
Another reason Jay puts on the camp and the Fat Pursuit is to challenge people to use their gear. In his experience, too many people own all the gear but never learn how to properly use it. After spending a night out we completely unloaded our bikes and had a show and tell. It was a chance for instructors to evaluate our readiness and make suggestions on functionality of storage and eliminate gear redundancies.
We set out again, with the goal of riding a little further away and camping out on the trail for the night. This was a good test to see how effective all of our class time had been. As we started out, the snow found us all adjusting air pressures as it had been snowing off and on all afternoon. After about an hour we found our spots to camp and once again went through the process of setting up our sleep systems and boiling water. Doing our work. I went to work like an old pro and it felt as if I’d done this hundreds of times. It snowed on and off all night and it was pretty neat to wake up perfectly warm with four inches of fresh snow on top of me.
I left camp having made some great new friends and having an extreme sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. If you’ve ever had thoughts or aspirations of competing in winter fat biking I would strongly urge you to attend Jay P’s Fat Camp. Be warned though, his “always ride forward” mentality is infectious.
P.S. I qualified for ITI. Alaska here I come. See you in February!
Words from Jay Petervary
Being a teacher means being a student. I get so much out of teaching, mentoring and sharing. This year’s Fat Pursuit Workshop was no different. All the participants that stuck around to do the Fat Pursuit Challenge afterwards also all completed the 200K route. History shows that kind of success from prior years so I know we are doing something right. Thanks to the graciousness of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest adding additional days to our permit and Outfitters Guide License, we have put together another winter bike workshop for March 25-27th. Learn more here.
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