"It's been said that fatbiking is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience"
It is -10 degrees at 7:45am and I am walking through the town of Crested Butte. This quiet street smells of woodfire, and up the street a truck engine heaves and refuses to start. To be excited about a bike ride in such conditions is not sane, but what is sanity other than a human endeavor that's incompatible with the universe surrounding us. At least, that's what Camus thought. But I don't care about what Camus thought--it is the morning of the Fatbike World Championships, and I am ready to get crazy. It is ten below zero and it is time for ice cream.
This is the third iteration of the Fatbike World Championships. Riders may choose to participate in a 3-lap ride of about eighteen miles or a 5-lap race of about thirty-two. Tires must be 3.8 inches wide at a minimum and at 8psi at a maximum. It takes place in the middle of winter at 8,900 feet in the Colorado Rockies.
Sometimes a fatbike ride is a fatbike ride, and sometimes it is a search for meaning in a cold and desolate universe. Camus said it first. That is more or less a direct quote.
Human beings do a lot of things that are absurd. We do these things, it seems, to alter consciousness. Amusement park rides, bike rides, creating a work of art--these things briefly remove us from the mundane and from the torments of being trapped in a human mind.
Some absurd activities are too dangerous or grueling for my taste, but FBW is just the right combination of bicycles, foolishness, satire, camaraderie, and beer. Tying a number to your handlebars almost always means you're in for something "serious." At FBW, you can race seriously, if that's your thing, or you can line up next to the abominable snowman, a banana, and Scooby Doo, and be as serious as a flask of whisky will permit.
I've participated in a fair number of endurance cycling events, and I've never seen so many high-fives, so many costumes, and so many people enjoying themselves. Several times during serious events I've seen someone get really upset because they aren't doing as well as they'd hoped--so upset that they've thrown their bikes. You can barely even lift a fatbike--let alone throw one--so what choice do you have but to enjoy yourself?
The fields through which the course winds are so pretty it hurts. It's still and silent out there, except for the crawling crunchy sounds of big fat tires grinding along a groomed trail (off of which a few people wandered, judging by the sunken, semicircular depressions of front tires in deep snow with human-sized faceplant craters beyond).
Grand settings like this one always remind me of Sagan's Pale Blue Dot, which for me expresses the idea of the absurd best.
"We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.
"The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the pixel on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.
"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It's been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."
That may not seem to be about fatbikes, but it is. Our best human conceits are those that admit their folly right upfront. Then we can just calm down and have a really good time, and we can smile until the cold makes our teeth ache like they are about to crack apart.
Most people recognize my costume as some kind of bird of prey. This year, someone mistook me for an eagle. No big deal. Owls don't care about that kind of thing. (Never mistake an eagle for anything else, however; eagles are really uptight). But some people, like Rebecca, can take things just a little too far:
Fatbike Worlds is really fun, and it's almost all fun. Admittedly, it's not completely all fun; it's difficult to eat and drink sufficient quantities when it's so cold, so the day is ripe for bonking and dehydration. The hot shower I took afterward was quite painful, and I myself was cold enough that I couldn't tell if the water was hot or cold. My skin was all colors of pink, white, red, gray, purple, and blue. None of that is what I'm thinking about now, though. I'm thinking about high-fives, jumps, sketchy cornering, that 70 year-old woman who rode IN A WONDER WOMAN COSTUME, and about seeing so many people grinning uncontrollably.
If absurdists like Camus are right, then we are looking for meaning in a meaningless universe and any meaning we find is of our own making.
It's fine to make our own meaning, as long as that meaning has tires that are at a minimum 3.8" wide and are run at a psi of 8 or less. Camus said that. I swear.