I stepped in the local bike shop to get a cheap spare part for my mountain bike. It was about the closing time and all the clerks were busy. I wandered around for a while waiting for service and suddenly it cought my eye – and immediately I knew I needed to get it!
A while back I read a book called The Ghost Trails which is a true story of a girl participating the Iditaroid Trail Invitational in Alaska with a fatbike. It was a fascinating description of what it takes to bike through a 350 mile frozen trail in the outskirts of Alaska. The trip involved lots of riding in darkness, sleeping in snow and freezing up the water bladder in the middle of nowhere.
Somehow the concept got me intriqued – in Finland we have lots of snow around in wintertime and regardless of spiked tires a regular mountain bike is pretty useless in most winter conditions. This fatbiking thing sounded like the proper weapon of choice for winter riding!
As soon as I saw the lonely black Mondraker Panzer hanging in the furthest corner of the bike shop I had already made my decision. I carefully lifted the bike off the rack, adjusted the saddle and took it off for a small loop around the shop. For some reason just looking at the bike made me smile!
When the clerks finally got to me the closing time had already passed. I quickly sorted out the spare part I was initially after and at the cashier desk carefully asked if they still had time to sell me the fatbike located at the other end of the shop. “Unfortunately there´s no more time for a test drive, please come back tomorrow. We´ve already closed!”
Luckily I wasn´t after a test drive and within minutes I was a happy newborn fatbiker!
Shooting straight for Alaska with my brand new bike didn´t really sound like a realistic option partly because I had no experience in arctic winter racing, and more importantly, because qualification points were needed to be even considered as a possible candidate for the Iditaroid Trail. Luckily, it appeared we have one qualification race available here in Finland – Rovaniemi 150 which takes place in Finnish Lapland late February!
As the name suggests, the basic concept involves riding a fatbike (or walking or skiing if you like) for 150 kilometers around Rovaniemi wildreness during the exact time of the year when temperatures mostly hover around -15 or below dropping all the way down to -40ish if you´re really unlucky. As the sun barely gets up during Lapland winter, most of the race happens in darkness. The participants are required to carry an extensive mandatory kit including a sleeping bag suitable for sleeping in snow in extreme cold and a small kettle for melting water.
To get the scale on what to expect I scanned through the results from the previous years. It appeared the 2012 winner had finished the race in a bit less than 32 hours while in 2015 the same route was done in slightly under 11 hours. Apparently, the weather conditions had quite an impact on how the race would fold out.
After exchanging a couple emails with the organizers explaining my endurance racing background and experience on Finnish winter conditions I found myself accepted for the February 2016 race! Now I was well on my way to become a proper fatbiker!
Most of the following night was spent lying wide awake contemplating what I had gotten myself into this time.