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Fighting The 2am Temptation to Quit: Raven Dewitt's St. Croix 40 Winter Ultra

Raven Dewitt Cycling the St. Croix 40 Winter Ultra
Photo credit: Scott Rokis. Used with permission
The 2023 St. Croix 40 Winter Ultra took place overnight on January 14-15. The race has fatbikers start in their bivy sack at 10pm, boil water mid-ride, and wrap up the 40 mile event by 10am Sunday morning. Raven Dewitt recently completed it as her first winter ultra and shares her story here.

Registration for next year's 2024 race will open in August. For race details visit the St. Croix 40 website. Interested in trying your first winter ultra? Check out our series: 3-Part Intro to Winter Fatbike Ultras.

All Photos by Scott Rokis. Used with permission.

Story by Raven Dewitt:

As I’m riding through the frigid temperatures, the ice, and the snow I am often confronted with the thought “I never could have imagined that I’d be here.” In 2020 I moved from Alabama to Minnesota, on a whim, without ever having experienced a real winter. As a dedicated bike commuter in the south, I’ve had to deal with all kinds of weather extremes, and in my mind, weather is weather. So a little snow couldn’t hurt, right? To my surprise, the most difficult part about winter riding was getting the layers right–I kept overdressing and thus overheating on my short work commutes. In 2021 I joined a local racing team, Corpsewhale Racing, and learned that several of my teammates participated in these things called “Winter Ultras''. So I followed their dots, read their race reports, and my interest was undeniably piqued. It seemed so insane, so intense, but also so rewarding.

At the encouragement of teammates I signed up for my first winter fat bike ultra, The St. Croix 40. The St. Croix 40 is meant to be a bite-sized version of other winter ultras, which can be much too intimidating for a first-timer like myself. Forty miles in the cold and snow is much different than a short work commute, or forty miles in summertime. I realized that it was going to be a challenge, but it was one I was willing to tackle. So, I waited for the temps to drop, and the snow to fall, and got to practicing. Training for this race transformed my relationship with winter–before I merely tolerated it, but now I am in love with the season.

Race Day

I was nervous on the night of the race. The St. Croix 40 has you start out in your bivy sack and sleeping bag (at 10 pm!), and you must quickly pack up your things before getting on your bike and beginning the race. Once I was off on the trail it became very clear that the snow was EXTREMELY soft. Less than a mile in I was already working very hard, had to shed a layer, and was beginning to wonder if I was up to this task. Never have I felt so discouraged so early into an endeavor. The benefit of exerting myself was that I never got cold, save at the checkpoint when I stopped riding for about thirty minutes.

The difficulty of the soft trail conditions changed everything. The expectations I had were completely obliterated. I began to realize that because I was going so slow, and fighting like hell for every single mile covered, that it was going to be a very long and arduous journey, IF I was able to make it. Your mind can go into some pretty difficult places when it’s the wee hours of the morning, dark, you are totally alone on a section of the trail and you feel like your body is trying to give up. I kept asking myself why I was doing this. If I was strong enough to finish. Many variations of “am I crazy?” kept bouncing around in my head.

I do not usually listen to music when I’m riding, but I honestly think that music helped me get through the difficult parts. Shout out to Kate Bush and Carly Rae Jepsen for helping me power through some of the dark thoughts I was having before I got to the checkpoint.

Finally, I reach the checkpoint, the halfway mark around 2 a.m. I struggled to boil water (another aspect of this race is that you have to prove you can actually use your gear) despite having practiced many times. It was windy, my lighter got cold (pro tip, do not set your lighter in the snow!) and I was starting to feel deliriously exhausted. There was a fire at the checkpoint that I didn’t dare stand next to, lest the temptation to quit grow even larger in my mind. I pushed those thoughts aside, got back onto my bike and rode, once again, into the night.

From about mile twenty-six onward, I was actually beginning to feel delirious. Getting calories in at this point felt impossible. Thank goodness I had an insulated bottle of miso soup and hot chocolate since solid food had become totally unpalatable. My mind was fatigued from being laser focused on keeping my balance in the “mashed potato” snow, so at this point I actually started losing my balance quite a bit. Once I fell into a deep snowbank off the side of the trail. Somehow, though, I kept getting back up, and getting back onto my bike and going forward. This was when I started breaking down my remaining distance into smaller increments, “Just two more miles, and two more after that!” Somehow these mind games I was playing with myself helped my last ten miles be more bearable.

At 6:29 a.m., after one of the most difficult nights of my life, I crossed the finish line. It took so much longer than I’d originally imagined, and was way harder than I thought it would be. I wanted to quit, but I didn’t. I was truly in disbelief that I was able to power through something that was so mentally and physically strenuous–but I did it!

If you had asked me during this night if I would commit to another winter ultra I might very well have given you an emphatic “heck no!” but now that I have some distance from the race I really want to do another one. The winter ultra community is so special. Every single person who I passed or who passed me on trail never failed to say a kind word or something encouraging. That really meant the world to me when I was having some tough times out there. The volunteers were so kind and helpful despite it being the middle of the night. I cannot really put into words how accomplished I feel–finishing a task that feels impossible in the moment is incredibly empowering. I owe so much to my friends and teammates who lent me gear, gave me advice, worked on my bike, and believed in my ability to conquer this task. It was a learning experience in so many different ways, and I’ll definitely be back.

1 Comment

Congratulations on your SC40 finish! It was rough going this year, way to stick with it!




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