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Guy On A Bike: Fat Biking In A Blizzard

Christopher Tassava of Northfield is a determined cyclist and a passionate advocate for the sport. Not only does the dedicated father commute to his job at Carleton College, but he eagerly takes on new cycling challenges reserved for only the most elite endurance cyclists.

Tassava recently rode in the Fat Pursuit, a 200-mile fat bike race in the wilds of Eastern Idaho, traversing West Yellowstone and the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. While most of us were curled up in bed, on a recent chilly winter weekend, Tassava was pedaling through pitch black forests and whiteout conditions, with air temperatures reaching as low as -39F.

(credit: Christopher Tassava)

To say that the Fat Pursuit is an extreme race is belittling to the event. The race is one of the most mentally and physically demanding for cyclists. You are on your own in the wilderness in frigid temperatures, facing blizzard-like conditions in a barren landscape.

The slightest miscalculation or mechanical issue could prove extremely dangerous. It's such a serious endeavor that racers are required to wear a tracking device and be prepared to pay a $500 fee should they have to be evacuated from the course.

There are three checkpoints along the course route (at 78, 120 and 172 miles) and riders must meet cutoff times in order to continue the race. At the first checkpoint riders are also required to demonstrate that they have the equipment and wherewithal to boil water in the treacherous conditions.

(credit: Christopher Tassava)

While the ride was certainly challenging, Tassava tells me it was filled with high points for him, including successfully "climbing Mount Two Top outside West Yellowstone and then safely descending it in a whiteout."

(credit: Christopher Tassava)

For the race he rode Buffalo, his trusted 2011 Titanium Salsa Mukluk with numerous modifications.

"I named it the Buffalo because it loves the snow and never stops," he explained in a recent email.

(credit: Christopher Tassava)

After completing 120 miles on the course Tassava slept for nearly two hours at the second checkpoint, after having only slept a total of 20 minutes prior. At 6 a.m. Sunday morning, the cutoff time for the second checkpoint, he headed out in an effort to complete the grueling race.

But, alas, a dumping of fresh powder made riding even more difficult and Christopher realized he wouldn't make it to the final checkpoint before the cutoff time. After 172-miles and 55 hours on the course Tassava's pursuit was over. Only one rider completed the 200-mile course, taking home bragging rights and one of those big checks for 500 smackers.

Needless to say, a race like this takes serious dedication and training. Tassava has ridden countless endurance races of 100+ miles and only fairly recently gotten the itch for fat bike ultra races. He has already completed the Arrowhead 135 a few times and will be back in northern Minnesota later this month for more time in the saddle with Buffalo and bitter cold temperatures.

At least five Minnesotans entered the Fat Pursuit 200-mile race this year. Tassava made it the farthest. He'll be back in Idaho next year for the 2018 Fat Pursuit. And, with his resolve I have no doubt he will finish. "I'm going to register as soon as I can. I want or need to finish the 200 mile race."

On his blog, Tassava compiled some interesting stats from his experience, including the following:


  • 18,000 calories: estimated energy burned during the race
  • 8 hours: longest time I went without seeing another person
  • 25 hours: time needed to climb, cross, and descend Two Top mountain, largely in a blizzard
  • 22: minimum number of items of clothing I was wearing then
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