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Sunday, August 6, 2000 -- Slatyfork, WV
WV Fat Tire Festival
Story and photos by Marty Lamp

[Details] [Coverage]
[Overall Results] [Results by Class]
Pictures: [Set 1] [Set 2] [Set 3] [Set 4] [Set 5] [Set 6]
[1998 Fat Tire Fest] [1999 Fat Tire Fest]

Fat Tire Festival
Jast another day in Slatyfork
Sunday was much like many other Sundays for me... after waking up in the back of a truck, I quickly down an onion bagel, a Snickers bar, and some oodles of noodles. I am heading out to take pictures of all the hardy souls with enough gumption to ride the unforgiving terrain that is Slatyfork.

Recent rains have turned the trails into a maze of rocks, roots, and oh yes, lots of mud. No worries, though, this is the Fat Tire Festival, and these are mountain bikers, they don't complain about what Mother Nature hands them, they just ride through it.

Fat Tire Festival
Getting ready for the start
There were plenty of whispers on Saturday night that this course was gonna test the mettle of everyone, even without Prop's Run to add the finishing touches to an already aching body. It seems Props is more useful as a logging road in someones mind. As I spin out to the start of the XXC, the morning fog slowly gives way to lot's of smiling faces, and I can't help but notice that everyone is so clean... this won't last long .

These guys, and one very tough woman, are about to head out on some 70K of the harshest mountain biking West Virginia can throw down. At about 9:45 am they embark on their day's journey. I am not envious of what lies ahead of them, and I smile with admiration as each rider passes by.

Fat Tire Festival
Paul Buschi still spinning
Now it's time for the 11am main event, no, wait a minute, that's 12 noon. What's an extra hour to prepare? Admittedly, years of experience with the displaced start for this race reminds me that this isn't a totally bad idea. Riding in my first Fat Tire race in 1992, I showed up for the 11am start at 10:45am at the touring center, only to be directed to the actual start on top of the mountain and arrive late. Don Parks and I still raced, 20 minutes behind the pack, and I rode the course (including Props) in a pair of Birkenstocks because I forgot my biking shoes, but that's another story...

The start of a race is always a real cool time. The collective energy of 150 racers minutes before the start is extremely contagious. If you're not racing, you are talking about when you did, or about the loved one you are here to watch. Everyone is out here for their own reason, but they all have the same goal... get to the finish as fast as their body will allow.

Fat Tire Festival
Laurie Johnston at the finish
The riders get their final instructions, and the gun sounds. The pack instantly transforms from being a stagnant mass of wheels, helmets, and nervous smiles into a blur of spinning legs accented by the soft clanking of shifting gears. Alright, it's on...

My best chance for getting pictures of everyone on a course like this dictates that I go to the finish and travel the trail backwards. After receiving lot's of friendly advice on the best place to get pictures, I head to the finish and hit the trail.

I decide to walk until I run into a racer, and along the way, my attention is diverted. I don't know why, but when I have a camera in my hand, I find myself chasing butterflies. Maybe it's their silence, or the fact that their life is so temporary. It could be that they never stay in the same place for long.

Fat Tire Festival
Riding the wind
I realize that they are such a slave to the wind, as each gust blows them in a new direction. I still never hear them. Then one lands on a flower. No, it's not just sitting there, it's riding that flower through the wind! It's wings shake and shimmy, and I can almost see a grimace as it tries to hang on, then it's gone...

I turn and there is Chris Scott(3:57:46) blazing by. I know this guy is super fast, and he's won the last three Wild 100's, so he know's this terrain very well, but I really didn't expect to see him so soon. I tell myself to quit being a goofball and chasing butterflies. I keep walking.

Fat Tire Festival
Eric Dobratz isn't afraid of a little mud
By now I figure I have walked some 3 or 4 miles back on the course, and it's been over two hours since the start. I look out across a field and I see a lone rider coming my way. He's looking in every direction except straight ahead. "Am I going the right way?" he asks when he comes by. Before I can say yes, he asks if I have any water, and I reluctantly say no. He pedals on. This is Gattis Tyler's(2:11:41) first race, and he's gonna win his class.

I keep walking and a few minutes later I pass Kevin Wetzel(4:14:00). He has that far away gaze of exhaustion, but he's right there, grabbing second for the XXC. A young but determined Danny Wilson(2:14:07) comes pedaling by. He's gonna win his class, too. I am continually coming up on the 20K racers, and am a little surprised not to see the speedsters yet. It must be a really rough course, I think to myself.

Fat Tire Festival
Scott Young on the right track
I am no stranger to the pained look on muddied faces at the end of a race, but something was a little wrong this time. It's hot, but it's been hotter, and everyone is asking me for water, and how much further to the finish.

I finally make it to some of the heinous singletrack, and after being goaded for water and/or food by every racer that passes by, I see Scott Young(3:07:33), with George Willetts(3:09:02), and Bob Vernon(3:07:15) chasing hard less than 50 yards back. This is where I get the news.

The lead pack took a wrong turn some two miles into the race. No markers, no course marshalls, nothing except a fork in the trail and a 50/50 guess. Young, Willetts, and Vernon have quite a bit of biking experience in Slatyfork, and the three stopped at the unmarked fork and weighed their options, and decided to go with their gut feelings, which kept them on the right course.

Vernon would go on to get the overall win, and when asked if he had anything to say afterwards, he said goodnaturedly, "When you come to Slatyfork, you had better check the trailmap!"

Fat Tire Festival
What's this? A push climb?
I see Idress Gooden(3:57:32) and Patty Hobbs(3:59:44) go by only minutes apart. These two ladies are nothing short of incredible. I get the same question about the finish, then a faint smile. Like everyone else, they push, ride, then push, but they finish. I am amazed that their small bodies can conceal the size of such a tenacious heart.

As the remainder of the racers come streaming by, I am constantly asked the same questions; "How far to the finish", and " Do you have any water?" I look at my watch and realize that it has been almost 5 hours since the start, and still a great number of people are out.

How many racers got lost? I don't know. Why were there no water stops? I don't know. Is it that hard to make sure a course is at least minimally marked? No, it isn't. Will finding whoever is responsible and beating them to a pulp make it better? Nope. Does it suck when something like this happens? Oh yes.

Will you get back on your bike and ride? Undoubtedly. Will you look back and laugh (if you haven't already)? Yep. It's a bike race, nothing more, nothing less. For some, it's how they make their living, but for most, it's how they spend it. So get on your bike and be the butterfly... just riding in the wind.