Less than a week before heading to Algonquin Provincial Park to stay in a yurt with 2 friends so that we could spend the weekend fat biking and snowshoeing, I stumbled upon the Muskoka Winter Bike Festival 11k fat bike race, and decided to register! Who cares that I had never ridden a fat bike in the winter, or that my only experience fat biking was last summer at Algonquin? I would have Friday to try out fat biking in the snow before Saturday’s race!
My friend Rebecca and I took the bikes that we had borrowed from Algonquin Outfitters out for a test spin on Friday night at Algonquin, and spin we did! We had some serious issues getting any traction, and spent 90 frustrating minutes not going very far. We later learned from our friend Kristin that we had too much air in our fat bike tires! We let a whole bunch of air out, and Saturday morning did another test spin – success! We would be able to ride the bikes after all.
We headed for Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, found the race site and registration table, picked up our race bibs and hand warmers, and after attaching the race bibs to our bikes, we were ready to go. Since there was no building nearby and lots of time before the 2 PM start, we headed back for the main building to relax until just before the race was to begin. I did catch the 1 PM race start for the experienced racers, because I had forgotten my water bottle in my vehicle at the race location and had gone back for it. It was then that I heard that the “newbie” race would be quite a bit shorter than 11k. The race organizers made the executive decision to ensure that us newbies had a fun race experience. In fact, part of the 11k course that we weren’t going to ride had a hill so steep that only 1 of the experienced riders made it up (and won a prize for doing so).
Our race course was to be 3 laps of a heart-shaped course. Just before the race began, we had a very short pre-race meeting while everyone was lined up at the start line. There appeared to be about 20-30 people in the race – men, women, and a couple of kids.
And then, the race began! Kristin, Rebecca and I had lined up near the back of the pack, so there was some congestion at the start.
As I discovered on the first lap, there were hills on this course! I managed to ride up them without stopping, though I did wonder whether I would spin out on the steepest bits (I didn’t). There was one sloped spot (higher on the left, lower on the right) that I approached from the right on the first lap, but that resulted in me sliding into deep snow and having to put my foot down. On the second lap, I intended to ride it further to the left (higher up) but there was another rider beside me so I couldn’t, and again I had to restart. It took my 3rd and final lap to perfect that spot, to ride far left (high) and be able to pass through the section without sliding down or crashing as others did!
I was chasing another woman on the first lap, and passed her toward the end of the second lap. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to hold her off for the third lap. I figured I was probably slowing down, but she may have been as well. With less than 100m to go on the last lap, I passed another woman. I wasn’t sure if any others had been ahead of me. It’s hard to tell when you’re riding multiple laps. I was surprised to see that the big inflatable arch was gone – I thought that it was the finish line.
So I stopped (rather than ride into the spectators), confused, and wondered if maybe I had to go back onto the course to finish somewhere else. I asked someone, who clarified that no, I was done, and that they had written my bib number down (they were checking us off as we finished each lap – it was a race with manual timing, not timing chips). According to my watch it took around 28 minutes.
The race was hard work but super fun!
After the race, we were treated to some delicious chili – with shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, and bacon as toppings! There was also hot chocolate with chocolate bits and whip cream to add on top. Yum! And for others, there was beer.
During the awards ceremony I won a $50 gift certificate for Algonquin Outfitters, but I don’t know if it was a random draw prize, or because I did well in the race. I was congratulated on a great race for a new racer when I got my prize. There are no results posted on the race website, so who knows? I did follow up with the race organizers, and apparently I was 9th out of 31 newbie racers, but I’m not sure how I placed compared to the women in the race.
In any case, it was a fun race and I hope to be back next year!
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