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Wendigo Fatike Ultra – Field report from our ambassador Chris Panasky

We might ask ourselves if our ambassador Christopher Panasky ever finds time to get some sleep. Aside from his full-time job and his familiy life, he also hosts the Bikepack Adventures Podcast, organizes the Canadian Shield Bikepacking Summit, set up the Canadian Shield Bikepacking Grand Depart, and takes part into races or bikepacking adventures.

Last winter, one of his challenges was to complete the Wendigo Fatbike Ultra Race, a race taking place in the Ottawa Valley. Not only did he complete it, but he placed 3rd.  Here is his field report and what he learnt from this experience!

"I love endurance racing, pushing myself to the limit and doing something like this in winter seemed like the ultimate challenge."

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Q – Can you give us a bit of context on what the Wendigo is, when it took place and what distance you did?

Christopher : The Wendigo Fatbike Ultra is a fatbike ultramarathon that takes place annually at the end of February in Cobden, Ontario. They have three distance options to choose from; 50 km, 100 km and 200 km. It really does provide an option for everyone. Primarily taking place on the rail trails of the Ottawa Valley, the Wendigo Fatbike Ultra is designed to push the limits of the adventurers that show up on the start line.


Q – What made you decide to sign up?

Christopher : I first heard about the Wendigo Ultra when I moved back to Canada in 2019. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a fatbike, so it was always something that I secretly dreamed of taking on. When I was given the opportunity to ride a Panorama Chic-chocs fatbike during the winter of 2023, I immediately knew I was going to register for this event. I love endurance racing, pushing myself to the limit and doing something like this in winter seemed like the ultimate challenge. I also happened to have been provided with a top-notch bike, both lightweight and fast rolling.

"One of the bigger challenges with riding a fatbike, is getting used to the wider pedalling stance. It can be hard on the knees, so you must ease into it slowly."

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Q – In terms of preparation, what were the main challenges? I’m thinking in particular of the mandatory gear list, which is quite long and puts some people off. Was this a stake for you too?

Christopher : Seeing that it was my first year riding a fatbike, it took a surprising amount of time to get used to the difference in handling when riding a fatbike, especially with regards to braking, as it is easy to lock up the front brake and slide. Initially I wanted to attempt the full 200km race, but due to the logistical issues of getting a -18 degree sleeping bag and winter cooking system, I decided that I would have to settle on the 100 km version of the race. After a bout of COVID and the flu, I decided to take it easier and to register for the 50km race, as I was still a little bit under the weather.

Q – Did you have a lot of fat bike experience before this, and did you spend many hours on your fat bike before the race?

Christopher : As previously mentioned, I was relatively new to the sport of fatbiking, but do feel that all the riding I managed through December and January helped prepare me adequately. It doesn’t take much technical skill to ride this route, but moreso a keen sense of determination. One of the bigger challenges with riding a fatbike, is getting used to the wider pedalling stance: the Q-factor. It can be hard on the knees, so you must ease into it slowly.

" For anyone that hasn’t tried fatbiking yet, I highly recommend it! It’s the closest feeling to those childhood memories you have of riding around on a BMX, putting a perpetual grin on your face."

Q – On the morning of February 24, here you are in Renfrew with the other participants. Tell us about the atmosphere and your state of mind at the start line.

Christopher : On race morning, I opted to drive in from home, as I only live 1 hour away. Arriving at the Whitewater Brewery was a pretty amazing way to start the morning. Everyone was going through the motions of preparing their gear, chatting to one another about the -25 degree Celsius temperature (-34 with windchill) and trying to decide how many layers to wear. I was super stoked to see friends from around Ontario and Quebec and to know that I would get to share this amazing challenge with them. Because of my ongoing cough and the cold I was recovering from, I decided early on that I wouldn’t race the event, but that I would make this more of a social ride.

Q – The big question we’ve all been waiting for: how did the race go? How long did it take you to cover the 50 km, and what were the highlights?

Christopher : Riding this course as a social ride was, of course, easier said than done. As we made our way to the start line, I could already feel my adrenaline starting to build up in anticipation of the GO signal. After a few encouraging words from the race organizer, Cameron Dube, the signal was given and I found myself jostling for positions with two other riders at the pointy end of the race. By around the 5km mark I realized two things; one, that we had created quite a big gap with the rest of the field, and two, that there was no way I could keep up this pace and stay in the front with the other two guys. I decided to take my foot off the proverbial gas pedal and to set a pace I could maintain. As the half-way point, the event organizers had arranged to use the Renfrew Arena as a staging area to distribute coffee and snacks and to give participants a chance to warm up. As there were a couple riders catching up to me, I decided not to stop, but to only register my arrival and get going again. I somehow managed to keep my position through the 25km return journey and squeaked out a 3rd place finish with a time of 3 hours, 46 minutes.


Q – What are the takeaways from your experience, and in particular from the organization of the race? I know that the organizers want to give the event a warm, family vibe. Is that something you’ve experienced?

Christopher : Riding a railtrail for 50km is surprisingly tough and shouldn’t be taken lightly. However, all the participants from the first to last finisher exuded a look of total satisfaction that can only be obtained from accomplishing something that proves to be more challenging than expected. Logistically, Cameron did a great job of providing rest stops for all the various distances someone may choose to race. He also had a ton of sponsors and nearly everyone that attended got something as a memento of the event. It was an incredible day and I am already looking forward to Wendigo 2024. You can expect to see me on the start line, whether it be for the 50km, 100km, or 200km event.

Q – Looking back, what would you have done differently?

Christopher : Managing to finish in 3rd place, doesn’t leave too much in terms of regrets, but there are always a few small things that you wish you had done differently. The big one in my case was thermal regulation. As it was so cold, I thought putting a down jacket under my hard shell would be a good idea. Needless to say, it wasn’t. Ultimately, it got soaked with sweat and started to cool my body. SinceI was only racing the 50km route, I managed to finish before it became a more serious problem. Smaller takeaways are things like keeping your tire PSI a bit harder earlier in the morning and then to release a bit of pressure at the mid-way point to accommodate the rail trail becoming a bit more slushy, storing snacks in my pogies and figuring out a way to drink much more often. You’d be surprised how much you can possibly sweat when it is -25 out.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading and be sure to check out the Bikepack Adventures Podcast!

To follow Chris’ adventures : 

Bikepack Adventures Podcast Instagram account

Photo credits : Christopher Panasky & Louise Philipovitch


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