The course winds through Herriman State Park. I burn a few matches propelling myself up steep singletrack. My lungs burn as a mash the pedals. Hard surges are something I promised myself I wouldn't do, but I'm feeling good, and I am at the back of the race, so I can't dawdle too much.
The long climb begins, and I'm hunched beside my bike, barely putting one foot in front of the other up impossibly steep slopes. I start coughing and spit up a gob of thick gunk. This is the point I know has no return. I can't recover from this. Perhaps it was inevitable, but there's always hope that I'll beat it. "This is just like the Tour Divide," I think. "Only different."
The night flickers and fades, muted by reduced awareness that I think of as "oxygen deprivation." I try to remind myself to eat, trail mix and cinnamon bears that I have to hold in my mouth for at least five minutes before they're malleable enough the chew. Beat sticks with me even though I'm moving slowly, perhaps too slowly to stay warm, but my head is fuzzy and it's the best I can do. We think the temperature will warm as we climb, but it doesn't feel that way. Finally I check the thermometer, and it's minus 30. Then minus 34. Minus 37. Beat has told me that when it's minus 40, there's always a devil lurking in the shadows. I'm warm but I can sense the devil, stalking through the trees, waiting for that single mistake to strike.
There are many quiet hours when I'm certain light will appear on the horizon. It never does. I don't think about the race or the miles ahead, only the need to keep moving, keep breathing. The night is long and expansive, the forest is drenched in frost, the snow is glistening with starlight, and it really is beautiful. It is so beautiful. How could I ever describe it? I cannot. I am oxygen- and sleep-deprived, addled, and know on an intellectual level that this intense beauty exists only in my imagination. But I am happy to be here. Through it all, this is what I came for.
The descent is long and I feel like I have to work hard to move forward, even here. Beat waits for me at the bottom. We've both made peace with the fact we're going to stop at mile 80, again. The night was harsh, and most of the field of 25 or so either quit at this point or turned around earlier because of cold concerns or equipment failures. A handful pressed on into temperatures that swung 60 degrees into the low 20s, followed by a stowstorm. Of those, only one man finished. The Fat Pursuit is indeed a hard race, even without Arctic temperatures. Although I may have gone into it with a defeatist attitude, I really did want to finish, to prove to myself I can still be strong, I can still breathe fire, I can still seek intense beauty. But what is it they say about the definition of insanity?
I've said this before, but I really should do some soul-searching about my plans for this year. Regardless of what I decide, I'm not going to sign up for the Fat Pursuit in 2018. Hold me to that. If I want things to change, I need to change.