Mid-Winter Shenanigans at Frozen Fat 2016

Winter can be rough. While I love snow, riding bikes in the snow, and the occasional ski day, the cold and many hours of darkness tend to sap my motivation. For times like these, it’s helpful to have good company and something fun to look forward to. This is where Frozen Fat comes in. Frozen …

Winter can be rough. While I love snow, riding bikes in the snow, and the occasional ski day, the cold and many hours of darkness tend to sap my motivation. For times like these, it’s helpful to have good company and something fun to look forward to. This is where Frozen Fat comes in.

Frozen Fat is a small, intimate fat bike festival held in central Pennsylvania between two excellent mountain biking venues: Rothrock State Forest and the Allegrippis Trails. This year was the fifth of the festival, and the third one that I have participated in (check out my report from last year). It’s a weekend of riding, winter camping, hanging out around bonfires drinking good beer, and communing with fellow fat enthusiasts.

fire horizontal
Photo: Sarah Anne Wharton

The fun kicks off Friday night with a group ride to the local tavern, about three miles away from camp. We roll in, park our fatties out front next to all the big pickup trucks, and take over the bar while the redneck locals look at us in bewildered awe. We play pool and take turns at the jukebox, consume copious amounts of wings and sweet potato fries, and down pitcher after pitcher of Dales Pale Ale. Then, event organizer Evan Gross hands out the course map for Saturday’s ride, and much discussion ensues. “Oh, that part will be a blast!” and “We have to climb up that?” Most of the crew are veterans from previous events, and know at least part of the 25-30-mile route. It changes slightly year-to-year, but many sections remain the same.

frozen fat derek fire
Huntingdon, PA local Derek Grabill got ballsy Friday night and rode his Salsa Mukluk through the fire numerous times. Both man and bike came away from the evening unscathed. Photo: Sarah Anne Wharton

The ride back to camp is always a little more interesting than the ride to the bar. Someone usually ends up almost falling into a ditch, and this year, some first-timers from out of town ended up in the water when they made a wrong turn onto the aptly-named Creek Crossing Road. They came bombing down the hill and didn’t see the creek until it was too late. Oops. Luckily they were fine, and their bikes did not float away.

Back at camp, the party continues. We usually have a large pile of things to burn, and this year that pile was bigger than ever! Despite the long, hard ride ahead of us the next day, no one is eager to go to bed. There’s too much fun to be had, beer and whiskey to be drank, and bikes to be ridden through the fire.

On Saturday morning, most people usually look a little rough. Too little sleep, too much booze, and big plans to get up early and eat a good breakfast are usually foiled by the desire to remain asleep in a warm bag of down until the last possible moment.

This year, the course and format of Saturday’s ride changed from previous events. There used to be a long ride and a short ride (last year those distances were 70 miles and 30 miles, respectively), both being informal races that couldn’t really decide if they were a race or a fun group ride. Some people were in it to win it (even though you never really win anything), and others were in it to take their time and have fun. This year, the race element was eliminated, as was the longer ride, so everyone rode the same 28-mile course through Rothrock State Forest. Traditionally, we also used to finish at base camp, ending with a long stretch of gravel road, but this year, the finish location moved to Greenwood Furnace State Park, allowing for more singletrack. A couple aid stations along the way provide riders with sustenance, warmth, and smiling faces. Rather than grabbing a quick bite and blowing by, most people hang out a while, so these checkpoints become little mini parties in the middle of the woods.

ryan smile
All smiles. Photo: Sarah Anne Wharton

There were big plans for a hill climb competition on Saturday night, to leave from base camp and climb straight to the top of neighboring Stone Mountain. But after the ass-kicker of a ride, changing into dry clothes after being wet all day, and settling into “hangout mode” by the raging fire, no one was too terribly inclined to pedal uphill for a few miles. So we didn’t. That’s the great thing about Frozen Fat–whatever happens happens, and nobody gets too worked up about it.

log ride
Log rides abound. Photo: Sarah Anne Wharton

After another evening of shenanigans around the fire, the venue changes to the Allegrippis Trails for a Sunday Funday ride. Allegrippis is a total contrast to Rothrock (think flowy and smooth compared to rocks and long climbs). Sunday’s ride is centered around lots of stops and fun contests, such as who can descend or climb a section of trail the fastest, but only after having to run to untangle and grab your bike from a big pile. Or who can be the first person to conquer a sketchy log ride. Or who has the silliest costume. The purple dragon definitely took the cake as the best one this year, but there were other strong contenders as well, such as the pink ’80s-vintage ski suit, Darth Vader underwear (worn on top of bib-tights), and grown men wearing lacy dresses.

frozen dragon bridge
One of the contests on Sunday’s ride was running across a very slick bridge to get to your bike, and then riding as fast as you could to the top of the hill, while being tackled on the bridge by Evan the Dragon. Photo: Sarah Anne Wharton
arctic pimp
“Arctic pimp.” Photo: Sarah Anne Wharton

This year’s ride on Sunday was the biggest group ride I’d ever been on, with some of the most fun people I’ve ever ridden with. I felt a little bad for the poor guy who was out riding the trails and had to stop and wait for 40 fat bikes and their costume-clad riders to pass. I can only imagine his thoughts.

Back at the parking lot, we exchange goodbyes and plans to meet up in various places to ride in the coming year. It’s a wonderful crew of people that keep coming out time and time again for this little festival of fat, and I feel very lucky to be a part of it. To me, Frozen Fat embodies everything wonderful about riding bikes–pushing yourself on the difficult ride on Saturday, being silly and just hanging out in the woods on Sunday, and communing with those who share a common passion–all weekend long. The warm, fuzzy feeling it gives me makes the dark days of winter that much bit brighter.

All photos included in this article are by Sarah Anne Wharton of SAW Photography, who did a wonderful job of documenting the essence of what Frozen Fat is all about. Check out the rest of her Frozen Fat gallery here (the password is #frznft).