Companionship in extremis

(Warning: contains confession of possible craziness.)

In a short essay on the Adventure Journal website, Erin Windauer describes the occasional but not rare sense of athletes, adventurers, and others that they are in the presence of someone or something which is benevolent or reassuring but which isn’t actually *there*.

Ernest Shackleton’s epic tale of survival after the sinking of his ship the Endurance in Antarctic waters is well known, but less known is what he and two of his companions experienced after they made their way by open boat, above, to South Georgia Island and trekked across to a whaling station to find salvation. Each of the three felt the presence of someone with them: “During that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia,” wrote Shackleton in his memoir, “it seemed to me often that we were four, not three.”

Though I don’t quite see the link between this sensation and the lab experiments summarized in Windauer’s piece, I can’t stop thinking about the phenomenon, which is one I’ve experienced in some of my winter races.

I didn’t even know that my feeling of being… joined? guided? accompanied? was a thing; I just chalked it up to being hungry, cold, and exhausted. And yes, all those stressors might have contributed to my sense that *something* was with me while I rode and walked off Two Top on January 8, thirty-six hours into the Fat Pursuit.  

But still: to have that experience in common with Shackleton is strangely satisfying.

Fat Pursuit Bike, Gear, and Kit

A lot of people – cyclists and not – have asked me about the clothing, bike, and gear I used in the Fat Pursuit.

On the start line

Given how much I’ve learned from talking with fellow racers about their systems, I thought I’d share mine.

With a couple exceptions, I’ve used the items here in several other long races, and the new items had been tested on long rides this fall and winter.

I’m not trying to name-drop with the brand info; I just want to be clear about what works for me.

And yes a lot of this stuff is expensive. I don’t think I bought a single item here at retail, though – I watch for sales, use shop/club discounts, buy on clearance, etc. Even the Buffalo, my beloved adventure partner, was bought used (albeit from a bike guy who took very good care of it).

CLOTHING
Worn Continuously (* Craft brand items)

  • wind briefs*
  • wicking undershirt*
  • cycling shorts
  • compression socks (Alchemist)
  • heavyweight wool socks (Da Feet Woolie Bullie)
  • upper thermal base layer*
  • lower thermal base layer*
  • heavyweight cycling pants (Endura MT500 – new to me this year and fantastic)
  • synthetic soft shell jacket (a discontinued model from Eddie Bauer)
  • wind vest (Pactimo, Salsa branded)
  • wool neck gaiter
  • heavyweight gloves (Outdoor Research PL 400)
  • thick wool cap (45NRTH Stove Pipe)
  • cycling boots (45NRTH Wölvhammer, 2014 model)
  • clear-lens glasses (cheapies I bought at a gas station!)

Worn as Needed (when it was so goddamn cold)

Spare Clothing (stashed in a dry bag in my seat pack and never used)

  • wind briefs*
  • wicking undershirt*
  • compression socks
  • heavyweight wool socks
  • upper thermal base layer*

FATBIKE AND GEAR


Bike: the Buffalo, a 2011 Salsa Mukluk ti, size large, and far from stock.

  • 1 x 11 drivetrain with a 28T chainring (the main change since my last winter ultra)
  • Carver O’Beast carbon fork
  • Easton carbon handlebars (metal bars are too cold!)
  • 45NRTH Dillinger 5 tires (no, not tubeless)
  • Surly Rolling Darryl rims
  • Crank Bros. Mallet 2 pedals
  • Brooks C17 saddle (given to me free by a Tour Divide racer who hated it!)

Bags and Gear

EQUIPMENT (* required items)

headlight setup (back)
headlight setup (back)


Grandma Cat, RIP

Grief drove me to spend a couple hours tonight combing our digital photos for the best shots of Sabine, our wonderful grandma cat. I was surprised by how few there were, but the photos we do have are nicely representative of her beauty and calm. “Beaner” was quite a cat, even leaving aside the fact that she lived 21 wonderful years (nearly half my life!).

Sabine was a stray, adopted by Shannon and me with her “brother” Snowshoe (also a stray but not her actual littermate) from a shelter in Chicago. When Shannon and I – newly married – adopted the two cats, we were making a real home for ourselves. In the contract with signed with the shelter, we promised to always keep them both indoors and to never declaw them. We were silly kids, but we kept both of those promises! “Schoobie” died of cancer when he was only five, which felt until tonight like an impossibly painful event. “Beaner” lived another 16 years! I asked her, at the vet’s tonight, to make sure she told Schoobie that we missed him and that we did a good job with her.

The defining aspect of Beanie’s life was being the object of the girls’ inexhaustible love. She sought out their love, and paid them back richly. Genevieve, especially, enjoyed a special bond with Sabine, whom she called by a million names, including “Benobi.” How many hours did Sabine spend with Julia and Genevieve on the sofa, snuggling into a blanket or draped over their laps?

She was a surpassingly gentle cat. I can’t remember her ever being truly angry, except when I trimmed her claws. And even then, she relaxed when Vivi would help me by cooing to her and stroking her back. She loved peace and quiet and sunbeams. Like most cats, but more so.

In the last couple years, as life with not-little kids calmed down, Sabine made a point each morning to come over to where I was eating breakfast and paw at my leg, reminding me that she wanted some of the milk from my cereal. I’m sorry that I wasn’t always patient with her begging, but I always gave her my leftover milk, which she happily slurped up. She often then waited at the door to the garage to go and inspect the situation there – but not if it was too cold. She liked to lick the spokes on the girls’ bicycles, bizarrely. Back inside, especially in these last few years of her life, she would find a sunny spot in the living room and make herself comfortable as I was leaving for work.

Even more than those weekday mornings, Sabine and I enjoyed each other’s company every evening, after the rest of the household went to bed. She and I had a little routine. When I came downstairs after saying goodnight to the girls around 8:30, she’d expect me to top off her food bowl. Then she’d sit with me or maybe sleep behind the TV in her “nest.” If I had a snack, she’d come over to check it out, dipping her paw in my water glass, licking salty chips if I looked away, and enjoying the last shreds of cheese from my nachos. Around 10, she’d come back for her bedtime snack, which I’d give her in the utility room, where she’d sleep overnight. If I fell asleep on the sofa or simply forgot, she’d politely come over from wherever she was and tap me on the knee or chin with a reminder. God how I’ll miss all of our evenings together, but god how I’ll treasure the memory of them.