Fat biking: Embrace the suck

 

By IKE FREDREGILL

Wheezing, I braced my leg against the narrow trunk of a pine sapling, pushing my fat bike out of a snowbank and back onto Pole Mountain’s multi-use trail.
“Don’t worry,” said Amanda Harper, one of my guides for the day. “I fall down a lot, too.”
Breathless, I nodded and looked past her to the cars in the Tie City Trailhead parking lot, approximately seven miles east of Laramie. We only traveled about 100 feet, and I had already fallen twice. The challenge was real.
Ahead of us, Dewey Gallegos, co-owner of the local bicycle shop Pedal House, waited patiently with his two dogs.
“It’s the tweason — the in-between season,” Gallegos explained as we caught up. “The snow has a frozen layer and the trail was groomed all winter, so anytime you step off the trail, you sink right into the ungroomed snow.”

‘What could go wrong?’

When my usual adventuring partner, Laramie Area Visitor Center Assistant Director Mike Gray suggested I try fat biking, but then couldn’t make the trip, I should’ve suspected this would not be an easy undertaking.
“It’s like riding a bike, right?” Gray joked. “What could go wrong?”
As it turns out, exploding lung syndrome is a phrase I just made up to describe one possible thing that could go wrong during your first fat biking excursion.
Harper and Gallegos met me at Pole Mountain around 8 a.m. March 29. A thick fog embraced the peak, but the warm spring sun promised to burn away the mist quickly.
I wasn’t sure what to wear while fat biking, a sport that utilizes a mountain bike frame and tires as wide as four inches, so I grabbed my fly fishing outfit — water resistant cargo pants, a moisture-wicking undershirt and a nylon over-shirt.
From previous experience, I knew Pole Mountain had a tendency to get quite warm even as the Laramie Valley remained frigid, so I only brought a light jacket.
For footwear, I was at a loss. I didn’t anticipate being buried up to my hips in snow, so I grabbed cotton socks and sneakers, reasoning these would be suitable since I used them for riding around town.
I was wrong.
About thirty minutes into the trek, I had an iceberg rolling around in my shoe and my feet were soaked.
Hey Mike, frostbite — that’s another thing that could go wrong.
Mercifully, Gallegos and Harper were sympathetic to my plight and allowed me to stop several times to catch my breath.

Soldier on

Fat biking is a misleading word.
Despite my awareness this was an extreme sport, the “fat” portion of the title lulled me into thinking months of packing on winter weight and warming up by the Netflix wouldn’t affect my ability to participate.
Again, I was wrong.
I’m not sure how far Gallegos and Harper intended to take me, but at half a mile, I was done.
I’ve done a lot of difficult things in my life, but the closest thing I can compare this experience to is jogging the last quarter mile of the miles-long, 90-pound ruck march we completed at the end of my U.S. Army Basic Training.
My lungs burned with the fire of a thousand angry drill sergeants, and the muscles in my thighs spasmed like the earth beneath an artillery barrage.
Fat biking is not for the feint of heart.
“It’s a lot of picking yourself up after making fat bike angels,” Gallegos empathized. “But it’s a lot of fun, too.”

Smooth sailing

The first half mile was one of the most difficult treks I’ve made, but the return trip was worth it.
We sailed back down the trail, and I managed to keep the two-wheeled contraption upright the entire time.
“Whereas normally, you might come up here and ride 15 miles on a mountain bike,” Gallegos said. “On a fat bike, in the same amount of time and effort, you’re going to ride 5-7 miles. The downhill is what makes it all worthwhile.”
Fat biking is smoother at the start of the season, when the snow is even and fresh, he said. But the “tweason” is considered peak fat-biking time, because the ski/snowboard season is coming to a close, but the mountain bike season has yet to open.
“Right now is an excellent time to get out and ride,” Gallegos said. “Because everyone is starting to get cabin fever waiting for spring to finally hit, and it allows you a chance to get outside and enjoy the mountains.”
If you’re new to the sport, I suggest getting a feel for fat biking closer to town before attempting Pole Mountain. If the spirit of adventure compels you, however, stop by Pedal House or All Terrain Sports and check out their stock of fat bikes for rent and purchase. You might not need a guide, but taking a partner should be a priority.
All trails end in Laramie, but they begin by challenging yourself to experience something new.

Pedal House co-owner Dewey Gallegos pauses on the Pole Mountain multi-use trail, allowing Ike Fredregill and Amanda Harper to catch up. Photo by Ike Fredregill