You know it was a good day when it ends with 11 of your friends plus all the waitstaff at the Mexican restaurant singing Feliz Cumpleanos while you wear a sombrero and drink tequila because your husband told the waiter that it was your birthday when it’s really not.
That ending is even better when it is preceded by riding 40 miles through the freezing cold with said friends and others as part of a celebration of Global Fat Bike Day (GFBD).
Yes, it is a thing, started in 2012 by the folks at fat-bike.com before fat bikes were popular. Now, it has grown into a worldwide phenomenon. It’s an excuse to get outside on a dreary December day and ride. It’s a chance to introduce new people to fat bikes. And of course, it’s a perfect occasion to drink beer and whiskey and eat good food with friends.
This year marked the inaugural GFBD event in Ebensburg, PA, presented by City Cycle Supply, Inc, Pour on Center, and Salsa Cycles. We first found out about it by coincidence, when we stopped at Pour randomly a couple months ago, discovered that it’s a great bar, and learned that our bartender rides a fat bike and was helping to put on the event. Then we learned that our friend Jarrod at City Cycle was also involved, so we signed up and spread the word.
The event consisted of a ride on the Ghost Town Trail, a rail trail that runs 36 miles from Ebensburg to Blacklick, in Indiana County. The ride was out-and-back, and also a race for those who wanted it to be. There were two distance options—14ish miles or 38ish.
I was surprised by the number of people milling about when we arrived at Pour to register the morning of the event. Turnout was good, and there were quite a few unexpected familiar faces and friends.
GFBD Lesson #1: Ebensburg is really cold.
It was at least 10 degrees colder when we arrived than when we left my house, and the windchill easily dropped temperatures into the low 20s. There was a thin coating of snow in spots, which helped set the mood for a fat bike event. Riding slightly downhill on a rail trail wasn’t the ideal scenario on such a chilly day, but we made the best of it. I was wearing more clothes than I normally do when it’s much colder, and my feet were cold despite my 0-degree-rated winter boots. I pushed hard in the beginning to get the blood flowing, and slowly began to feel the warmth creeping from my core down to my fingers and toes.
Nanty Glo, the turnout point for the short ride, came quickly. A lot of the group was going to head back to the bar from here, but I planned to keep going. I was able to convince 5 others to continue on to Dilltown with me. While we loitered in a parking lot, sneaking shots of whiskey, Jarrod announced that the first 3 riders/racers had already reached Dilltown and were on their way back. We were officially the caboose group.
I didn’t want to leave the warm-hearted gathering in Nanty Glo, but we had a rail trail to ride. So we mounted our wide tires and pedaled west, giggling as the whiskey went to our heads. It wasn’t long before we were passed by the guys who were actually racing the long course. We were standing in the middle of the trail, admiring a waterfall, as I relieved myself of some extra liquid behind a tree.
Once several riders had passed us in the opposite direction, heading back towards Ebensburg, our group of 6 was all alone, still making our way towards Dilltown, admiring the sights along the way.
GFBD Lesson #2: Pickles and rye whiskey go well together.
When we finally made it to Dilltown, we were greeted by Jarrod, Evan, two other checkpoint volunteers, and an eclectic mix of food spread out on a picnic table. Salami, chips, sour patch kids, and dill pickles, because we were in Dilltown, after all (Evan’s idea). There was also the bottle of rye whiskey that appeared from Evan’s jacket occasionally, and we discovered that drinking pickle juice and rye together is actually delicious.
Marci plastered her freezing feet with hand warmers that Jarrod had found in the car, and we stood around until we got too cold again and had to move.
Our group spread out on the way back, some of us chilly and motivated to keep moving at a quicker pace, while others beginning to struggle with the longer distance, being out for so long, being hungry and cold, and the slight uphill grade on the way back to Ebensburg.
Marci, who is fairly new to biking, struggled towards the end, but she pushed through and finished the 40-mile ride. Evan and Jarrod organized a cheering squad for her as she pedaled up the last hill to the bar. People who didn’t even know her came out to give her high-fives and encouragement.
We drank a couple beers at Pour, where the short-ride crew was already countless beers deep, and congregated under heat lamps until we decided that El Campesino (the Mexican restaurant) was in order.
So off we went, to have a great ending to a great day. I feel as though the winter riding season has officially begun. Now we just need some snow.