An interview with Ultra-Endurance Cyclist Jay Petervary by Christine Havens
“The temperature dropped down to -40°, that’s the lowest value my thermometer registers. I was sleep deprived, dehydrated, and going into hallucinations. I’m pretty sure I’d gone into a blackout mode…”
Ultra-Endurance Cycling or Extreme-Distance Cycling is a timed race covering distances of 100 miles or more. These races are progressively scaled up from 100 miles or “a Century” as it’s known in the cycling world, to 200, 300 or even 500 miles. In the United States, the pinnacle competition is the Race Across America or RAAM, which covers a daunting 3,000 miles from coast-to-coast. Races like the RAAM are not for the faint of heart—only a few hundred contestants will enter each year, and fewer still will cross the finish line. Even finishing a race like this is an accomplishment.
The RAAM race is open to solo contestants or teams. Out on the trail, cyclists have conditioned themselves to get by on very little sleep and will sometimes ride through the night.
Ultra-endurance cyclist, Jay Petervary is the first person we were honored to interview to kick off a unique series of Impact Stories, where we turn the lens outward, featuring people who inspire us. While Jay’s story isn’t about wine, we wanted to share it because his dedication and unwavering spirit keeps us motivated. It’s a story of perseverance, passion, and endurance. These are constant themes for us at Seed.
Jay concentrates on self-supported racing. This style of racing considered “underground” racing by many, and involves racing without assistance from a support crew or follow car. Underground racing is now a growing category, and Jay is perhaps best known for tackling the really tough courses, like the Iditarod and the Tour Divide without any outside help.
“I was out on the frozen Yukon River, on my 10th day of consecutive racing and on a 24-hour push, trying to make it to the nearest village when this really weird thing happened as I was moving through the night. The temperature dropped down to -40°, that’s the lowest value my thermometer registers. I was sleep deprived, dehydrated, and going into hallucinations. I’m pretty sure I’d gone into a blackout mode, so I don’t remember it clearly. Something inside me said, “You’d better wake up, there’s something serious happening.” When I finally put on my jacket, and I realized I was freezing. I could just make out the village lights in the distance.”
That’s what Jay had to say when we asked him about one of the most unusual things that had happened to him on a ride. “Biking on a clear night,” he explained, “there’s no perception of depth, the village lights could have been five miles away, or could’ve been 40 miles away, and the Yukon River can be up to a mile wide in places. I just kept going, till I reached the village. I have no recollection of how long it took.”
“I just kept going, till I reached the village. I have no recollection of how long it took.”
“Villages in Alaska are small,” Jay continued, “with populations of 50-100 people. There was an older man standing on the riverbank; he must’ve seen my headlight. “Nobody should be out in this weather,” he said. He welcomed me into his home and straightened me out, and that’s when I noticed the temperature on his thermometer read -50°. It was a unique, empowering moment.”
Seed: Please share your insights with us as to what drives you emotionally and physically?
JP: What makes me tick? Why do I put myself in these environments? I like to overcome challenges. I excel when conditions go bad, when it’s pouring rain or really muddy. And I don’t use the word suffering. That word just doesn’t equate; I think of myself as being challenged. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do it again. I try to take any negative situation and turn it into a positive. I have a really easy saying, “ride forward.” Whether it’s something you’re preparing for in life, or training for an event, you always ride forward.
Seed: How did you get into cycling?
JP: I grew up on the east coast, and I opened my own business in construction in my early 20s. Money from that business allowed me to take up hobbies and to travel. Cycling was the first thing I picked up. Then mountain biking, and I started doing some backpacking, climbing, and kayaking. That led to competitions in each sport. From there, it branched out into adventure racing and Eco-challenges.
On these multi-day experiences, I learned about teamwork, systems efficiencies, life, and people. Nowadays, for the past 10 years, I’ve concentrated on solo long-distance cycling, underground events, and routes that people take weeks and months to complete. The Tour Divide is the grand daddy of all of these competitions; it stretches 2,745 miles, from the Canadian Rockies to the Mexican plateau, and is the world’s longest off-pavement cycling route. It’s self-supported bike packing.
Seed: Talk to us about your records in the Iditarod and Tour Divide?
JP: I’ve won both competitions multiple times. I first competed in Tour Divide in 2007. I won and set a record that year, it took 16 days. I’ve since raced it 4 more times, once on a tandem and breaking the previous record every time. I’ve raced in the Iditarod eight times now.
The Iditarod Trail Invitational is a grueling two-to-three week, 1000-mile mountain bike race that runs the same snow-bound and sub-zero course followed by sled dog mushers. Jay’s current course record, on the South route, set in 2012 of 15 days, 16 hours and 04 seconds has yet to be broken. You can watch clips of him on the epic Tour Divide race here: https://vimeo.com/53659294
Seed: While on the Iditarod, you’re dealing with dealing blizzards and extreme cold. How do you prepare for that?
JP: It’s being more of a winter outdoorsman vs. being a cyclist. You have to be naturally curious, and you have to be a survivalist, and I’m the sort of person who needs figure out how to do it on my own. I need to know what works for me personally. I used to hunt down the extreme cold temperatures; I’d wake up at 4 AM to ride in super cold conditions. I learned how to protect my skin. How to keep my toes from freezing; little tricks like running vs. riding to keep circulation going. Yeah, I still get nervous and scared, but I also know that I’ve done it. I didn’t sign up to quit.
“I didn’t sign up to quit.”
Seed: What is the longest you’ve ridden without sleep?
JP: If the event’s going to take two days, I won’t sleep at all. If it’s going to take four days, I’ll sleep a few hours. I’ve done this so much I know what my body needs to perform at a certain level. I’ll sleep 3-4 hours because I know I can perform at 100%. Without sleep, I’m losing miles; it’s all a big equation. I love the logistics of this stuff, and I have a lot going on in my head when I’m pushing my body to extreme limits. Where will I be in two hours, where’s my next supply?
Seed: What’s the most mileage you’ve done in a day?
JP: I’ve done some road ultras as well. I have even followed the RAAM Route, or Race Across America, self-supported. During that race, I was riding upwards of 300 miles in a day. I crossed the country in 12 days by myself. I’ve done some 500 mile events in New York in under 30 hours.
During The Race Across Oregon which I also did self supported—they frown upon self-supported racing, they don’t have a category for it—it was 105° that week, and the organizer said, “I’m going to drop you some gallons of water.” I did 500 miles in 36 hours. I’m fortunate in that I can deal with extreme heat and extreme cold.
Seed: What’s next for you?
JP: These days, I’m cycling full time. I’m now a sponsored athlete; this is truly the first year I’ve been able to call myself that. It’s something I’ve accomplished through a lot of relationship building and in being genuine in who I am.
There are a few things left that intrigue me, like Race Around the World. I’ve looked at it a couple of times over the past five years and it’s become an event, but only a couple of people do it every year. I estimate I could do it in about 100 days, but I have to ask myself, is my life ready for that? I’m moving towards bigger goals and bigger rides. The other thing I want to do is to start traveling abroad more. I’ve been to New Zealand and Fiji, and a couple of years ago I raced in Italy.
Now, I’m helping to create some of these events, and I’m a part of the whole cycling and bike-packing culture. I’m going back to Italy this month to be part of a new event. I want to help the sport grow in other countries, teach and share with others what I have been doing for the past 10 years. I’m at that point that my life.
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Seed Wine is a single-vineyard, boutique Malbec from the prestigious Altamira district of Uco Valley, in Mendoza, Argentina. With each bottle of Seed Wine purchased, a child in Mendoza receives a new schoolbook, planting seeds for the future of the region.
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