Betsy Williford – JayP’s Gravel Pursuit 60 Mile Recap
Last weekend I traveled with my family to Island Park, Idaho for my first bigger endurance and gravel race. As some of you may know, fat biking is my passion. Everything I’ve been working towards has been with the purpose of pursuing after my own stars, my dreams, my adventures. Earlier in the year I set a goal to build up my endurance riding because my sights were set on being able to complete winter ultra fat bike events, the Fat Pursuit 60k being the event that lit my fire. The Gravel Pursuit 60 mile was to be my test in how that journey is unfolding. Additionally, I was using the Gravel Pursuit to scope out the course for the Fat Pursuit which is slated for December 15th. The two races share much of the same routes.
The Gravel Pursuit is set within the heart of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. It is beautiful country amassed with grand lodgepole conifer forests and countless remote forest roads set so deep into the wilderness you feel like you are out in the middle of nowhere. The perfect adventure by bike.
Race day came early with an 8 am start for us 60 milers. The 120 mile racers left an hour before us in the cold dark of the morning. When I rolled out of the family cabin at 715 am to ride towards Pond’s Lodge, the venue for the event, it was a brisk 25 degrees. For this pursuit I loaded up my hardtail midfat Cannondale Beast of the East. On it I had two handlebar feed bags holding two large water bottles, a small frame bag which held my pump, spare tube and my tool kit and a large top tube bag stuffed full of snacks and gels. I also rigged up a can of bear spray on my top tube near my seat post. The forest ranger gave us a nice talk about bear safety at the racers meeting the night before. I wasn’t concerned I would have a run in, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have bear spray with me anyway.
The morning warm up ride was proving to be bone shivering cold. I dressed how I thought I would best be able to manage myself the entire race without having to stop and un-layer. I knew too that once my engine got going I would warm up nicely. So, I shrugged off the sting of the cold. The sunrise was a welcomed serene moment that helped keep any race jitters at bay.
Once arrived at the start line I made a few adjustments in my tire pressure since the cold air seemed to have deflated my setup. Then I decided to gather at the lineup. With it being my first longer race at 60+ miles (I had only ridden up to about 42 miles leading up to the event!) I figured I would modestly place myself towards the back of the pack. My strategy was to sit back and watch how everything unfolds and settle into my own pace that I would be able to sustain for the duration. I wasn’t about to get myself sucked into the sprint with the elite gravel racers up front!
A poem, Digging Heart by Ben Weaver, was read before the official lead out by JayP on the ATV. This was another special moment that I really enjoyed how JayP set up his event. As the last line of the poem was read and with some enthusiastic whoops from all the racers, volunteers and families sending the racers off we were on our way!
I contained my excitement pretty well and settled into my own rhythm quickly. As I noticed the front pack move away very quickly within the first 20 minutes of the race I realized I made the right decision about where to start. I was no match for their speed. I was going to live out this race how JayP named his event. It’s a “pursuit”. Everyone is on their own journey and mine was to complete my longest distance ride to date. As I rode and we got further out on the course I was anticipating the first big climb. It was supposed to be about 10 miles long. Thankfully it came gradually and I never really felt stressed about getting it completed. One lesson I learned within the first hour of the race is that I had done well in choosing how to dress. I passed countless riders who finally warmed up and had to stop to un-layer. Smart riding is key. I felt like I passed that test!
One of the highlights of this event was that Salsa brought out their chaise lounge and set it somewhere on the course. The point of it was to “chase the chaise” a super fun way to capture the spirit of the event. Once we hit the location of the chaise, we would stop and get a portrait taken before continuing on our way. My choice pose was a really fun one! JayP was dressed as a bear so I had him jump in and together we got the cover shot! Super fun!
My ride continued on. At this point in the race I was about 30 miles in. I was mostly riding alone as the fast front of the pack were long gone and the rear of the pack was significantly behind me. Every once in awhile I would catch a glimpse of someone out in front of me. I would catch up to them on the downhill and lose them again on the flats. The bigger tires were definitely beneficial for bombing down every decent. It ultimately was how I was able to finally pass a guy I had been leap frogging for what seemed like forever. First aid station came and went. I had plenty of water and snacks and felt strong so I chose to skip it.
Around mile 40 is when my brain started to wonder how will I do from this point on since I will now be going further than ever before with each passing mile. I also knew I had one more decent climb to contend with before the rest of the course would be downhill and running out flat in the last handful of miles. The climb finally came and it was a doozy. Lactic acid had been accumulating in my legs and it was getting harder for me to turn the pedals. I noticed a guy in front of me stand to pedal occasionally. Not wanting to burn more energy I decided not to do the same but just kept turning my pedals ever so slowly. Finally I couldn’t take it. I stood up and went to a harder gear and pushed down hard. Much to my surprise it actually made my legs feel better. For the rest of the final climb I often went to that strategy pushing a little harder and clearing my legs so I could last for the final 10-15 miles. I slowly gained more ground with each pedal stroke.
I finally approached the second and last aid station around mile 55. I had noticed my snacks were out and I was down to my third and last water bottle. There was only about 7-8 miles left to go (official course mileage was just shy of 63 miles). Do I stop? Do I risk having the guy I worked hard to finally pass catch me again? I rolled up and asked the volunteers if there was anything salty available. I figured that is what I needed most to push me to the end. “Pickles or chips?!?” came a response. PICKLES!!! My eyes lit up. I grabbed a pickle spear and it disappeared into my belly in a nanosecond. Before I rolled away I snatched a second one and savored that salty treat. Heck, I almost grabbed the jar to drink all the pickle juice!
That was enough to spur me on. I set off to the finish line pushing harder and faster because I knew I was going to make it. I was going to FINISH! I felt strong enough! Start smart, finish fast. Do your work. Those were my mantras. It’s also what I’ve learned from my all my training and from my friend JayP and his wife Tracey. I crossed the finish line 63 miles at 5 hours 30 minutes and 37.4 seconds. I thought it was going to take me longer so I was absolutely thrilled to finish with that time. I placed 11th out of 22 women and 48th overall (out of 88).
For my first endurance event I felt very successful on a lot of levels. I came away having learned some valuable lessons that I can carry forward on my continuing journey. I really enjoyed JayP’s event as he is an incredible person that puts his heart and soul into creating this amazing Pursuit for riders of all backgrounds/levels.
Can’t wait to toe the line at Fat Pursuit 60k in two more months!