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Drift 100

Thelen Coach Athlete Dennis headed up to the Wind River Range in Wyoming for the inaugural Drift 100 Fat Bike race. It might have been one of the last race held before new guidance from the CDC came down! Here is his report from that race. Sounds like it was a great event and one that fatbikers should consider in the future! Remember - support your race directors and take a chance on the smaller events.  All photos from Dennis

Pre-race and ready to go! Gear list coming soon...

The Drift100 course was beautiful, challenging, and fun; everything a 100-mile fatbike race should be. Below is my perception of the course, at least as well as I can remember it. You can forget a lot of geography over the course of 25.5 hours of pedaling!

Course markings and tracks

The first 47 miles of the Drift100 are almost entirely spent climbing. From the start, the course climbs up the valley for 19 miles at a gentle gradient punctuated by a few short, steep grunts. There are a handful of rolling hills between miles 16 and 27, but the general trend is upwards - always upwards. At one point the trees opened to a large meadow with a staggering view of the Winds to the southeast. But there was no time to stop and enjoy the view as the racers were still somewhat closely grouped at this point. I passed two riders between the meadow and the first aid station as the trail wound in and out of the forest and along the edges of big, wide-open meadows. As I approached the first aid station, I counted four sets of tire tracks and one pair of ski tracks, indicating a 6th place position as I neared the end of the first ¼ of the race.

The Strawberry Aid Station appears after a descent and short, steep climb out of a treeless draw. The volunteers were serving up baked potatoes, coffee, and water. The weather was warm,my layers were dry, and I was feeling good, so I made this a quick stop and continued to the next section of the course, which ascends to the Continental Divide. After a few miles of steady climbing, the course takes a sharp left turn once it reaches the Divide at mile 31.7 and points steeply downhill through a wide-open meadow. Unfortunately, the joy having a few miles of downhill was ahead was short-lived. The track was soft, drifted, off-camber, and difficult to ride despite the beneficial gradient, so there was no opportunity for recovery from the past 30+ miles of climbing. There were many sections of this segment that were rideable with care. The trick was to read the snow texture and not follow the stakes, as the snowmachine traffic made a more direct line than that offered by the course markings. Even so, there were multiple spots where I had to hop off the bike and push for a hundred yards at a stretch. Despite the tedium of pushing downhill, this section of course was quite interesting and unique as it trended down the middle of a steep, treeless valley and through a glacial moraine.

One of the punchy climbs

At mile 35 the course changed character and climbs steeply back to the Continental Divide, which it crosses 3 times before the next aid station - eventually reaching a high point at 9840’. This section was soft and physically demanding, with lots of uphill hike-a-bike for us mortals. I even saw a few places where Jefe, the lead biker and a very strong and experienced rider, got off his bike. So, I didn’t feel that bad hopping off and pushing! Even the downhill parts of this segment were not an easy place for recovery, as the trail conditions demanded considerable attention to successfully navigate the steep, loose, and narrow descents.  A tight track and soft conditions made it easy to drop the front wheel into the deep snow, rapidly halting all forward momentum and increasing the risk of a crash. A safe descent here was mandatory, as help was hours away.  A cool head, a light touch on the handlebars, good bike handling, and controlled braking were all required throughout the multiple short descents on this section. Although this was the toughest part of the course, it was also the most fun.

High point of the course!

A short, fast, and cold descent as the sun descended below the horizon brought me to the Sheridan Aid Station at ~Mile 50 just as it was getting dark. This aid station was a small building with a woodstove, soup, and two friendly volunteers. I spent about 40 minutes here refueling, rehydrating, drying layers, and preparing my body and mind for the next section of the course, the 18-ish miles of terrain trending mainly downhill between Sheridan and the Warm Springs Aid.
At the pre-race meeting, the race director said that the hardest part of the course was between miles 30 and 50, and that we will be OK if we can just make it to Sheridan and regroup. She was right. The next section of the course started with a fast and cold descent punctuated by a couple of rolling hills, but trail conditions were excellent, and the subtle rises were all rideable. Near the end of this section, the trail turned upwards three times for longer hills that often necessitated me hopping of the bike and pushing the steeper sections. These would have been rideable on fresh legs but weren’t worth the energy and caloric expenditure after racing 60 miles of snowy trails with over 5000’ of climbing duringthe prior 13.5 hours, especially knowing that there was one more big climb ahead. A short descent followed by a flat straightaway led to the next opportunity to regroup.

The Warm Springs Aid Station was a large dome tent with a propane heater and a nice couple who volunteered to refuel us with some camp-cooked macaroni and cheese. I scarfed down a big bowl and a cup of hot chocolate, refilled my hydration pack, and set off after 40 minutes of rest to tackle the next section of the course: the long ascent to Union Pass followed by the exposed, windy, and cold descent back to the Strawberry Aid Station. The trail to Union Pass, another Continental Divide crossing, was an ascent of 1400’ over about 4 miles. Fortunately, the climb was in the trees and mainly sheltered from the wind and blowing snow. The gradient wasn’t too steep, but steep enough that I was off my bike for a significant portion of the climb. But the trail was in pretty good shape and was pretty easy relative to other hike-a-bikes I have done in this type of race (Two Top, I’m thinking of you…). I put my head down, cleared my mind, switched off the display on my GPS so I wouldn’t stare at the screen for the entire ascent, and started pushing. A couple of hours of pushing later, and I was at the top and ready to descend back to Strawberry Aid Station.

The descent was not as steep as the ascent, and therefore required quite a bit of pedaling in order to maintain the momentum necessary to bash through the softer sections of the trail.This section was a bit more difficult and longer than I had envisioned while studying the course profile prior to the race. It was windy and cold, and protection from the wind was scarce, as the patches of trees were few and far between. I was happy to reach the relative safety of the forest just past the Union Pass shelter after several miles of getting battered by the wind. At this point, the sleep monster started to get ahold of me, and I was struggling to maintain a straight line and keep pedaling. I would have to stop every half mile or so to stretch, shake out the cobwebs, and try to regain focus. This section of the course, while short, seemed to go on forever. Finally, 20 hours and 40 minutes after the start of the race, I regained the Strawberry Aid Station.

I had a longer rest here than at my stopover earlier in the day. I ate another baked potato, loaded up this time with butter, cheese, and salsa, while drying my outer layers over the woodstove.I knew I had one more climb to go, and then the descent and long flat back to the finish.Feeling refreshed, I set out again after 35 minutes.Just 18 miles remaining, and the sun would be coming up soon!

One of the slight downhills

After a few miles and a couple of rolling hills, I realized I was able to see more than two trail markers ahead of me. My body immediately responded to the new day, and my energy levels increased dramatically. Short, steeper sections of the trail that would have had me off my bike an hour prior were now no obstacle. Finally, after 22 hours and 86 miles, I reached the top of the final significant climb and the beginning of a long, fast descent. I had to stop and fix a flat tire at mile 89, killing my downward momentum and taking a bit of wind out of my sails. It looked like I had burped the tire on the descent and ridden on the flat for a minute or two. Unfortunately, there were several cracks in the sidewall that appeared to be too large to be fixed by sealant alone. I attempted to pump up the tire and spin it with the cracks facing downwards to see if it would hold air without a tube. Miraculously, it seemed as if the tire was sealed, so I gave it about 50 more pumps and rode on without installing a tube.

This worked for about 20 minutes, when I felt the tell-tale wobble of a flat rear tire. This time, I took the wheel off and installed a tube, taking care that the freehub didn’t fall off (I9 hubs are nice, but the loose endcaps and tiny pawls and springs are not practical whatsoever for winter ultras). I noticed that the inside of the tire was quite sharp at the edge of the cracks, so I put a tire boot on the largest of the cracks, and duct tape on the smaller cracks in order to try to avoid a flat from my one and only spare tube protruding through the sidewall. After 10 minutes or so I was pedaling again.

A few minutes later and I was at the end of the fun descent, and about to tackle the long, flat traverse along the valley wall to the finish. The section of trail, although trending downhill on paper, felt as if it was ever-so-slightly ascending and seemed interminable. Several short climbs burned my already-exhausted legs. About 7 miles from the finish, the course rejoined the trail we rode outbound the previous day for a short distance. A hard right, a short but steep climb followed by a long traverse, and then a quick descent and I was in sight of Kendall Valley Lodge. I had let some air of my rear tire during the last 1.5 miles as the conditions deteriorated. The tube succumbed to the forces exerted by the lower pressures and soft snow, and I ended up getting a pinch flat in the last ¼ mile which I didn’t bother to fix. I rolled across the finish line on a flat tire after 25.5 hours and in 6th place overall.

And of course, the 100 mile belt buckle!