If you’re the kind of masochist who enjoys a little bit of sleep deprivation mixed with freezing temps and knee-deep postholing while shoving your bike up a mountainside thick with snow, boy, do I have the race for you.
Actually, event organizer Jay Petervary wouldn’t even call the Fat Pursuit a “race.” He thinks the event—which offers intrepid cyclists the opportunity to challenge themselves across (and most definitely up) 60k, 200k, or even 200 miles of stunning landscape skirting the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park—is something a bit more esoteric. “I use the word ‘pursuit’ as much as I can because everyone’s pursuing their own adventure out there,” says Petervary. “ Everyone has their own struggles. Everyone has their own highs and lows.”
“People judge me because I’m not a size two…but I can sit on the bike all day and I have a heart that just wants to keep going.”
While this year’s sufferfest was the first to include skiers and snowshoers (at the 60k distance), it’s fat bikes at the heart of the Fat Pursuit. The event launched seven years ago after Petervary, an adventure cyclist who’s notched records on iconic routes like the Tour Divide and won the Iditarod Trail Invitational several times over, grew tired of being the lone “weirdo” shredding on a fat bike. He decided to act as ambassador for the burgeoning sport, rallying community and working with land managers to allow fat bike access on groomed winter trails. The Fat Pursuit was just another way to get more people stoked to ride on snow.
Jamye Chrisman, a Teton Valley photographer, was one of those people. She’s been a cyclist for a dozen years, and a bikepacker for about seven. Then five years ago, Chrisman discovered author and cyclist Jill Homer’s narratives about her experiences riding the Iditarod Trail. Homer seemed “relatable”—not a pro, but an everyday person who simply decided to pursue a passion. Around the same time, Chrisman noticed a strange phenomenon closer to home. “It would be, like, -10 out, and there was a dude riding his bike,” she says. “It was fascinating to me.”
It was, of course, Petervary. Chrisman credits the enthusiast and his wife Tracey, a competitive endurance cyclist, for sparking her fat bike passion. Those initial rides were short and purpose-driven—pedal into town to grab coffee, not much else. But over time, Chrisman began extending her distances and dreaming bigger, even tackling a few races as a way to hang with friends in the cycling community. She never planned to win anything. Definitely not the Fat Pursuit.
While his event draws big names in the cycling world like Rebecca Rusch and Alex Howe, Petervary has a soft side for the underdogs. And that’s exactly how Chrisman described herself after signing up for this year’s Fat Pursuit, which launched on January 11. “I feel like people judge me because I’m not a size two, I’m not the fastest, and I’m not winning races,” says Chrisman. “But I can sit on the bike all day and I have a heart that just wants to keep going.”
As it turns out, that steady heart kept Chrisman chugging along on her Salsa Beargrease for exactly forty-one hours and one minute before crossing the finish line at midnight to become the female winner of this year’s Fat Pursuit 200k. Last year, Rusch claimed the title; this year, she called it early while attempting the 200-mile distance. Chrisman, the self-described “passionate underdog,” is a bit flabbergasted.
“You look at the people that are racing and who finishes, and I’m like, ‘These ladies are badass, but that’s not me.’ It’s been really interesting aligning the way I see myself with the way I see these ladies, and trying to realize—oh wait, I’m one of those ladies,” says Chrisman. “I’ve been there at the finish watching these people that I admire—and that was me. How did this happen? It kind of shattered some of my limiting beliefs about myself. Kind of like, if I could do this, what can we all do if we just put our mind and heart into it?”
Here’s how she did it.
She leveled up her skills
Last January, Chrisman participated in one of Petervary’s annual fat bike camps, where she deepened her knowledge, improved her techniques, dialed in her gear, and learned to sleep on snow, something she need to do on course since she wouldn’t be fast enough to ride through without getting dangerously tired. The experience gave her the confidence to commit to the Fat Pursuit.
“The first night I thought I was going to die. Funny enough, we were literally sleeping five feet from a garage, but I was so anxious, I couldn’t relax,” says Chrisman. “By night four, I remember waking up at sunrise, drinking coffee on top of a mountain, and being like, ‘I love winter camping, and I want more.’”
She made peace with grueling workouts
Once she committed to her Fat Pursuit goal, Chrisman began working with a trainer to establish a monthly routine that would prepare her body for the rigors of spending almost two days on the go. As race day drew nearer, she logged bigger rides, sometimes up to fourteen hours, which proved the perfect mental training ground, as well.
“I’ve gone to the gym to lose weight, and it’s horrible. But this time, going to the gym [was different]— I’m doing this because I’m getting stronger. This is going to help me achieve my goal,” says Chrisman. “I really enjoyed working out because of that mindset; I wasn’t trying to lose something—I was actually gaining something.”
She adjusted her expectations
When she noticed the forecast deteriorate in the days leading up to the event, Chrisman was deflated—was her bid over before it began? But when it started dumping the night before, Chrisman decided to give into the snowy chaos. “I went into the event thinking we weren’t going to get very far,” she says. “In a weird way, it lessened my stress level because—Why stress about this? It’s out of my control. Might as well just enjoy riding my bike with my friends.”
She harnessed the power of positive thinking
As it turns out, those first eight miles flew by, and then it got real. There was a foot of snow stacked atop the biggest climb and Chrisman knew she was in for hours of pushing her bike. “I was expecting the absolute worst and got really scared—battling the mental game is really hard,” she says. “I wanted to quit, but how do I quit at mile ten? How do I explain that to myself or to other people?”
She had initially planned to roll solo, but her friend Zac Southwind decided to join, as did her husband, Gary. Her mom would be waiting at the finish line. Countless friends were following along online. Suddenly, the words of her buddy Kellie Nelson, who offered a last-minute pep talk, rang clear. “She’s like, ‘Take away the timeframe. Just be present,’” says Chrisman, who started focusing on the beauty of the landscape, a veritable snow globe. She also focused on her body’s capabilities.
“I get caught up in like, ‘Oh, I could lose 20 pounds’ or ‘I don’t look like that girl’ or whatever. But when you’re in the moment, that shit doesn’t matter. You’re using your body to its full potential,” says Chrisman. “Being out there, dirty and sweaty—that’s when I feel the most beautiful.”
She kept her eye on a deeper prize
As the hours ticked, Chrisman channeled her personal mantra, “strong and powerful,” eventually adding a new word along the way: “determined.” With twenty miles to go, she began visualizing herself as capable of finishing. She also recalled another point from Nelson’s pre-game—that despite the fact that not many women have crossed it before, Chrisman belonged at the finish line. She didn’t need to win; she just needed to trust in herself to get there.
While Chrisman is still processing her own emotions, she’s already received messages from other women calling her an inspiration; she’s now someone else’s Jill Homer.
“What’s been really amazing is just the ripple effect of following your own heart,” she says. “It makes me teary-eyed because that’s how I’m inspired, by strong women who do rad things that are authentic and honest. To think that maybe I’m helping or inspiring others makes my heart so happy. I just want to shout to everybody—you can do anything.”