I dropped our son, Jason, off at the start of the 200-mile Fat Pursuit bike race with a smile, thumbs up, a fair amount of parental worry, and deep sense of gratitude to be part of his journey. As his on-site support team, I flew with him from Little Rock (AR) to Bozeman (MT) on the 9th, then drove a couple of hours through parts of Yellowstone National Park, arriving just before dark in Island Park, Idaho.
He spent the next few hours assembling his bike (shipped via UPS), fat tires and all. The fat tires, which resemble oversized, bumpy donut holes, provide the essential traction and control necessary for biking on snow. And the Fat Pursuit race (named after the tires) is nothing but snow – mostly ungroomed, unmarked, unpredictable miles of it.
In below freezing conditions, Jason and his bike will become bosom buddies. Everything he needs for survival ( phone, GPS, water, food, sleeping bag, extra coat, batteries, first aid kit, head lamp, repair kit, cook stove, spare tube, pump, and more) is either strapped, velcroed, zipped or fastened somewhere on his bike or carried on his back.
Shortly past noon on the 10th, Jay Petervary, the race organizer, yells "Let's do this!" and leads the 200-milers to the start of the trail. I catch a final glimpse of Jason's red backpack as he disappears into the trees.
Middle ,January 10-12
I return to The Timbers Resort Village, where Jason and I rented a room, and open the link to his spot tracker on my computer. This device is magical. It transmits its invisible signal from Jason, deep in the Idaho woods, to a satellite orbiting thousands of miles above his head, to me. Well, not exclusively to me; but it feels personal and compelling. "Check on your son," it whispers, and I obey.
Jason's dot on the map is moving at the pace he predicted, so I put on a kettle of water, brew a cup of tea and relax.
This time in the middle – for me – is a time of waiting, of practicing patience. I center myself in nature, outside the windows and on walks around the area. I take pictures. I stop and listen to the silence.
I begin to notice that the snowflakes are larger, coming down faster. I check the forecast.... Winter Storm Warning for the Island Park area. Heavy snow, 1 to 3 feet, more at higher elevations.
The spot tracker slows to a walking pace (1.0-2.0 mph) as the hours pass. Jason must be pushing his bike through ever deepening snow. At 11:30 p.m. I receive a prerecorded text, "Camping. All is good!" He's off path, cocooned in his sleeping bag for a short rest and, hopefully, sleep.
Happy Birthday, Jason! I text at 5:30 a.m. on the 11th. His dot has already been moving since 4:00. Two other racers' dots show up close by, and the trio stays together for the next 12+ hours. I discover later that they are taking turns breaking trail for each other, pushing their bikes through the deep snow.
Around 2:00 I receive a call from Kate, Jason's wife. With cell phone coverage as he reaches the highest point on the route, Jason says that he's decided to suspend the race, when possible, and take an alternate route back to the lodge where it began.
Ending January 11
The dot makes its way down the summit at a "hike-a-bike" pace, headed toward a junction I can see on the satellite view of the area. A right turn continues the prescribed course, a left leads in the direction of the lodge. I'm guessing Jason will take the left, if he knows about it. My phone rings at 7:45.
"I'm taking a power line road (the left turn) back to the lodge," he explains. "It's only about 3 miles, but I don't know what the snow depth is like. Just follow my dot and please come get me when you see I'm close."
For the next 2 1/2 hours, Jason closes in on the lodge. Faster, 4.0 mph. He's riding!
I arrive at the lodge with time to spare, unaware that a finish line has been set up across the road where he and other riders will leave the trail. I order a cup of tea, but barely have time to take a sip before a man approaches me and says, "Hey, there's a 200-miler out there who says his mom is supposed to pick him up. Is that you?"
I dash out the door to find Jason taking off his helmet and leaning his bike against the building. I hug him and hear ice crunch.
In a text to family the next day, Jason writes, "All good despite the snow! Got back to the lodge on my own steam (about 85 miles total, 30 of that walking through 8-12 inches!) I went through the finish line and got a reception as if I had completed the whole thing. A great ride."
(As of this writing, all racers – except one – have left the course early. We continue to watch his dot and wish him well.)
********* Journeys – miles from home, in your own backyard, or your vivid imagination – start with the word on the birthday card Drew and I gave Jason.
May we all keep dreaming, and following our dreams.
*sketch by Margie Beedle, Juneau, Alaska in Labyrinth Journeys, 50 States, 51 Stories