His seven 24-hour solo mountain bike races in 24 months went "quite well." So Colorado-based endurance junkie Tim Lutz decided to step up his game to cold-weather "bikepacking," or spending days at a time out in the freezing wilderness riding his fat bike and camping. The exploits are all part of training for several upcoming extreme mountain biking events, such as the Iditarod Trail Invitational in Alaska. "I've constantly demanded more of myself year after year and therefore seek greater challenges to test my so-called limitations," he says. "What I've observed is that as long as you take care of your mind, your body will follow."
On a typical winter weekend, Lutz, 35, will "go out and make mistakes" to prepare for the Iditarod, leaving Friday right after work and heading into the mountains. The next day, riding from 8:30 a.m. until an hour before dusk to set up camp for another night, he hits forest service roads or trails packed or graded by snowmobilers or snow machines. Lutz seeks out Colorado's most frigid pockets. "Alaska is much colder, so I need to take advantage of the coldest climates we have when we have them.”
We caught up with him to see just how he manages that.
What makes you want to train for such extreme races?
Ramping up the challenges only makes sense to me. I think setting my sights on the Colorado Trail Race this summer, the Arrowhead 135 in early 2015, and then the Iditarod Bike in 2016 are naturally falling into place. After those races, I have a good idea of what's next. It has nothing to do with riding bicycles, but everything to do with continuing to chase down dreams, which is what life is all about.
What do winter excursions have to teach us that summer trips just can't?
That human error will create a higher degree of repercussion. Fun is the name of the game but what's most important is safety. Moisture management is what I am most hyper-vigilant about. During winter this will cause a ripple effect and turn a great weekend into a challenge. Also, it has taught me just how lively and active other trail user groups are despite the cold temperatures. One of the most enjoyable parts of a recent bikepacking trip was witnessing snowmobilers in the Winter Park area. I must have waved to 60 of them and almost every one greeted me, including some applause when approaching the top of climbs. Many people fear the unknown (i.e., snowmobilers experiencing fat bikers on mountain passes), but I believe if you support and respect their lifestyle, they will embrace your obvious gravitation to being outdoors.
What are some of the most extreme conditions you've been out in this year?
On the first weekend in December, where I camped higher up on Corona Pass Road outside of Rollinsville, Colorado, I was expecting a 15-degree night, but it turned out to be -5 degrees. The following day was a 5-degree ride with a solid wind and a whiteout, which were perfect conditions for training myself mentally. The way I look at it, anyone can ride a bike when it's 75 degrees and sunny, but the worst conditions are the best conditions for training to break through barriers, find comfort in discomfort, and gain experience and confidence.
What "tips" do you have for people who might want to try such an adventure?
If the person has yet to throw a leg over a fat bike, I would highly suggest visiting a local bike shop for a demo ride. Once I realized just how enjoyable and safe they are, I let my imagination go. What were perceived as poor weather conditions are now a wealth of fat biking opportunities. Play it safe the first time around, but like anything, as you gain experience, you gain confidence. I'm very often riding alone in these environments, so planning ahead is the key to success. Make sure you can adapt to changes and have the necessary equipment.