Season in Review: Part 5 – Frisco Gold Rush and Owl Creek Chase Week

Sunday – AM – 2 hr, 15 minute skate – great snow, fast > went to church, short rest

early PM – 1 hr 45 min CL DP on Mineral Belt

Monday – AM – 90 CL

PM – 1 hr 45 min skate

Tue – AM – 40 run

PM – 1 hr DP – rough day – no grooming. DP was cold and hard – -5degrees

Wed – AM – 1 hr 45 min @ Frisco – easy, frequent stops = -13 degrees; short break – 2.5 hr skate/CL/ski testing –

Finally just took a personal day (first all year). I always worry that I’ll need them in case I get sick. I took Ajee out to Frisco. Great, immaculate grooming, but so cold no ones skis were going anywhere. Then, went up to Breck, heated up oatmeal, took Ajee for a little walk in the woods, and then went to Breck Nordic. Had a wonderful conversation with Josh about skis, equipment, racing …..everything. Here’s the excerpt from my journal about the day:

Me and Ajee took a date today. I haven’t been sick all year, and have 10 personal days to take. After leaving Alamosa, I had similar health fortune and had acquired 33 days of leave. At the time, I was gearing up for a big ski vacation. Of course, when I unexpectedly left, I lost all of those days, and I was not paid for them either. That had left me a little bitter about personal days, and so, even though I could have, was encouraged to, and probably should have planned a mountain bike trip in October to use some of them, I felt like I needt to make it some unforseen date in the distant future before I could freely use them. Well, I made it all the way to mid-February, and decided it was time. 

Ajee and I dropped Christie off early at work and continued on to Frisco, where we snuck on the trails. Just my luck – -13 degrees. Super slow, not very fun skiing. I didn’t care, though. This day was about a couple of things. One, recharging and just being away from where I was “supposed” to be. Two, scoping out the trails at Frisco for the upcoming Gold Rush Race on Saturday. And 3, hopefully getting some new classic skis at Breckenridge Nordic. 

After the morning workout, we drove up to Breck and stopped in a gas station, where I heated up my oatmeal and ate yogurt in the car. I didn’t have internet, which was a bummer, and Ajee was barking at me the whole time I was eating. She had gotten a taste of yogurt, and now she loved it and would pester until she got some. I kept my breakfast short. It wasn’t a super relaxing breakfast like I had hoped for, but that was ok. We drove up to the downhill resort and pulled off where the nordic center’s upper trails can be accessed. That is alos the trailhead for some hiking, snowshowing, and mountain bike trails, which I thought would be perfect for Ajee. After my 10 minute breakfast post 2 hour ski, going on a walk was just what I wanted to do. Ajee loved meandering around the single track. I envisioned her in the summer hiking with Christie and I and could knew she would have to love the activity. We walked out for about 10 or 15 minutes and then turned around. Ajee had skied with me briefly at Frisco. She has endless energy. Even at 10-12 weeks, she could probably ski for 4 or 5 miles. She has already gone at least 3 miles and still come home eager to wrestle, bite, and play. 

Upon arrival, I spent the first 15 minutes or so talking with a lady about my mom’s age. I told her what I was looking for and that I had talked to Josh on the phone as well. It came up that I had my Fischer gift card from winning the Alley Loop, and when I told her what skis, I used, she said, “Well, you deserve to buy yourself a new pair of skis then, huh?” She was very cheerful and happy. Short, with short hair but a perky attitude. She was fit. Another one of hose Colorado women that my mom would probably be envious of. Also, it might be accurate to say that she is what my mom would be like if my mom lived in Colorado. 

She led me down to the storeroom of all of the skis. She knew a lot about skis, and I was ready to fully trust her. Down in the basement, I talked with Jim, whom I always see in Breckenridge. He is so kind as he teaches newcomers lessons, but he is the type of guy that probably has books worth of ski stories to tell. He greeted me and congratulated me on my race. I had seen him at CB and talked to him there as well. This season he was on a schedule himself. Him and his grandaughter, who was maybe 12, were doing the Alley Loop, Frisco – the 10k classic, Leadville, and then West Yellowstone. I thought I’d probably see him at most if not all of those. We exchanged some excited pleasentries and then he was back up the stairs to help costumers. 

At that time, Josh emerged from around the corner. In the basement, on the other side of where they had all their inventory, was wax bench or two and a Fischer stress test machine. Josh was busy helping another Jane Sederquist/Colorado resident who probably had way too much money test out some Fischer Speedmax 3D’s. That was the client he should have been giving all of his time for, but for whatever reason, Josh was enthusiastic about dedicating the next 4 hours to chatting and helping me. We went back and looked at the skis me and the other lady had just checked out, and Josh taught me some things about flex and how different companies post different thing. Given that, I had a whole new set of numbers to look at and what to think about them. I looked at some nice used skis. There was a pair of Madshus skate skis. I told him I had bought a pair of those off Amazon at a major discount, but didn’t have bindings and had never used them. “Bring them in and I’ll put bindings on them,” he said, as if he was my brother just doing me a quick favor. I had my poles that I had won from Salamon with me as well, and he said he would cut them for me in the shop, which he did. 

We shared different stories – anything from racing – he was friends with Andy Richmond, the guy who had gotten second to me at the Alley Loop – to waxing to some stories I had from Norway. All the while, he was busy brushing and prepping skis for other customers, but he treated me as if he was giving me 90% of his attention. It felt great to finally have the opportunity to talk to someone about a specific, intense passion. I don’t get that anymore. I don’t have people to relate to. That is what I miss the most about not having my family around. Now, when we talk, our conversations have to center more around basic updates. If they go for 2 or 3 hours, we might finally start talking about hobbies or passions or dreams or interests in the way Josh and I were, but it happens rarely. When it does, I sometimes feel a disconnect, like I should just grow up and stop caring about those things. It was ok to have sports goals and dreams and to take training seriously – even prioritize it above other important things – in high school and college, but now it seemed frowned upon. I can still talk to Tom about that stuff. But that is about it, and it doesn’t happen enough. 

I realize – I’ve known it for awhile – that I really lack a friend. Someone who I can just call and talk to. There are many co-workers at work that I love to talk to, but they often only have or can give me 2-3 minutes of their time. One of my favorite converstaions at school happened during a work day in the afternoon. Ben and I sat in his office and talked for almost 90 minutes about mountain bike racing and the ins and outs of the Cloud City Ski Club. that was fun! He had time though, since it was a PD day and in the afternoons on those days, teachers are shot and don’t really want to work. 

Ben is a guy who doesn’t have a lot of time, and I’m sure pretty much everyone on staff would love to steal him and chat about anything for that length of time. He is fun to talk to in that way. So, I understand that I can’t use him as a ‘friend” outlet. Same with Josh – in this instance, it was so neat, I thought, that he chatted with me both on a consumer/seller level but also, and more so this way, as a genuine friend. I think he genuinely enjoyed my company. 

I need friends, but I don’t want to invest the time and emotional energy to get over my hesitancy to call them up or invest in covnersation. It’s my own fault. 

I ended up testing several skis. Two Fischer classic skis and a Fischer Speedmax skate ski. I was surprised at how I didn’t feel comfortable on the skate ski. I started to wonder if it was just me – maybe my ski had been used enough where it’s flex was gone and thus felt stable but slow. That worried me a little. The Carbonlite classic ski was nice, light, and fast, but it didn’t have as reliable of a kick as the RCS Fischer I ended up buying. It was a safe, good, cold classic ski. Ski + the bindings was about 315. I had overpaid for the quality, but the amount of information I had learned, and the time Josh had given me, was totally worth it. That is what I paid for, no doubt. I packed up and started back for home, just as some snow was falling. I sipped on my favorite City Market treat – some sparkling water, and talked to Christie and my mom for part of the ride home. Then, I just listened to the radio. It was a good, long, full day of missing work.

Thursday – AM – tried to run but had to stop because of cramps…maybe ran 15 minutes

PM – snowing all day…decided to just do nothing

Friday – 30 inches of snow – stuck at home – muscled out 1 hr 40 min DP on BV lakes road and 20 minutes of skate.

Saturday – Frisco Gold Rush – hard conditions –

From my training journal: AM – Frisco Gold Rush – 25k Skate; Journal notes: Super hard conditions. Hot, slow, powdery snow. They didn’t groom the outer loop for 25kers only, so it was a rough section. Didn’t wear a shirt and was happy about that. 0 min in > 5th – guy in front of me puked ? everyone was suffering. Lost site of top three but was in 4th all alone, figuring I just needed to survive. 1st lap was painful. Go passed before it ended, stayed in sight of 4th guy (Chris Marcione). Didn’t push hard enough on climbs in 2nd lap. Caught 2nd wind about 65 minutes into race and took off. Caught 3rd place guy with 1k to go – would have beaten him if there had been another climb, but it was flat and downhill to the finish. Lost by 9 seconds. Missed podium. 

1:26 – race time (4th overall) = 2 hour total skate

PM – 1 hour classic easy at Frisco Nordic Center

The events of Thursday night served to make this weekend a little more stressful, or exciting, depending on your viewpoint, than normal. After a long day of school and training, we got home around our normal time of 6:30. As I fell out of the car and tried to gather enough energy to get into the house and start making dinner, Christie was pulling out the bike pump to pump up the tire.

She ended up busting the nozzle on the tire, which let out all of the air. We were now staring at a car with three tires, an impending blizzard, and it was 7PM. The next hour was spent trying to ljack the car up. Christie, hardy as ever, tried placing it in one spot, but after lifting the crank as high as possible, was dismayed to find that the tire could still not be put on. She was crying, I was no help, and Ajee was needing attention so she didn’t go under the car and potentially get crushed, should the tiny and appearably unreliable jack fail altogether. Some how, Christie managed to get the spare tire on. Of course, with 20 inches of snow coming starting tonight and going into late Friday night, the success felt by team Shovel Lake after putting the spare on felt probably the same as someone sandbagging their house from the Redi River who raised their wall an extra foot with an impending flash flood warning. I don’t know. Bad analogy. Anyway, both of us were well relieved that we would be able to at least, hopefully, slide down Empire Valley Drive to the pavement and caravan our way into town for work. But what about the next day? Could we get to Frisco? I was racing, and Christie was volunteering in order to waive my fee. We would have to be there by about 8 AM. 

I tried to put that all out of mind. At this point, it seemed lately that we had been having sour luck in general when it comes to everything – my jobs, housing, broken cars, broken sump pumps – you name it. I could hardly even stress about the tire because compared to the calamities I knew could happen. I could have a disclotaed shoulder and be unable to ski ….I could live in a place with no snow … I could have our car break and get into an accident. I’m well aware of the wisdom in being thankful in all circumstances. It is true, that God works out the best for those who love Him. No matter what is going on, it is part of God’s decree! Who am I to say that a different outcome or turn of events would be ‘better’ for me? I can’t say that, and I know it. 

We did finally get to bed. The next morning was somewhat comical. We woke up at about 5:15, intending to leave by 5:45 or so. We looked outside to see that easily 10 inches of snow had already fallen. Visibility was poor, even out our window. We checked the district website. Nothing. Well, i guess they must be right. Leadville never cancels school. We did our normal routine, packing up breakfast and lunches, getting the coffee, gathering our clothes, and going down to the basement. I had really been hoping for a snow day, and it seemed like even in Minnesota, the storm outside would have been good for a late start or more … easily. 

We pulled out the garage, and I turned to back up. My tire got stuck. We were stuck. In the flat of the driveway. The snow was impossibly deep and light. There was no traction. Maybe we would have been fine with our regular tires, but there was no chance with the spare. After a few cuss words, a chance for me to push and Christie to drive, and vice versa, I trudged through the now almost knee deep snow back to the garage. “I’m going to call the school,” I said. Christie could tell that I wasn’t about to call them and tell them we would simply be absent and taking a personal day. “Ryan! Stop.” She tried in vain to slow me. “To give them a piece of my mind!” I said, finishing my thought. I may have used harsher language, who knows. I stormed up stairs and grabbed my ipad to look for the number to call. Of course, now they had posted on the website that school had been cancelled. We both were ticked about the fact that they had posted so late. It had been storming for several hours already. 6:15 is too late for a cancellation message. Teachers like us could have alreayd been on the road. Heck, we were on the road. 

We called Marty to plow right away – so along he came to dig our driveway out. This allowed us to move the car back into the driveway. Eventuall, I forced myself outdoors for 2 hours of skiing – a much too hard of workout the day before a race. But, I was mad about things, and I viewed this weekend as a prologue to the SNow Mountain Stampede weekend in mid-March. That race was back to back 50k’s. This weekend was a 25k and a 21k. It was ok to come in tired to the race weekend since I wanted to simulate the double racing and racing volume in general as much as possible. In all honesty, it’s still dumb, but I like to ski, and I wasn’t about to waste a free day off from school and not even train – my favorite part of most every day. 

What I almost forgot to mention was that I had spent part of Thursday evening doing a little bit of shoveling. That was quicklky erased. Even Marty’s morning plow was totally futile. He had to come back at the end of the day and plow again. 200$ in one day. I thought about how that money could buy and awesome pair of skis that I still don’t have. All to plow stupid snow. Even with that, we still had to be nervous about the next morning, since we were still driving a 3 legged car over the mountain pass and through I-70. 

Now, to the race. It ended up snowing about 30 inches. I heard more than that in Breckenridge. The drive in was taken cautiously, but we finally arrived. At the nordic center, a perfect bluebird day was shaping up. This was one of those dream days for downhill skiing. Snowed for 36 hours straight, and now, bluebird skies. For nordic, depending on the grooming effort, that isn’t bad either, but sometimes, if you get enough snow, it is just too much. 

Excited Summit county residents were getting their bibs. I brought all my skis to a rack by the center and then went to the lodge across the street to get my bib and decide on clothes. Christie took Ajee and went to learn about her volunteer work. 

I prepped slowly and without urgency, mentally. I checked in, made myself an Emergency drink, and started messing with my bags at a table. I bumped into my friends from Breck nordic then, too. It was the lady who had helped me. “My money’s on you today!” She said. “Oh boy! I don’t know…I’m not much of a skater.” Winning this race would be a pretty great accomplishment. I think, had I gone in the 10k classic, I would have easily won. But the premier event here was the skate race, and I wasn’t going to shy away from the competition. I chatted with the older guy — Jim! That is his name. 

I felt a little weird, hydration wise. I almost felt sapped already, and the race hadn’t even started. It was shaping up to be sunny. This was one of those days where the sun, the heat, and the slow powdery snow were going to all work together to drain people and make the racing a lot harder than the pictures made it look. A lot less enjoyable, too. I ended up being exactly right about that, and so it was good that I decided to take the Emergency and opt to going shirtless (just my bib on) at the start of the race. It seemed a little crazy at first, but I didn’t regret it, even 200 meters in. I think those who wore normal attire, however, were quite jealous of my choice!

I warmed up in my Fischer’s. These were the skis that I got when I bought a pair of silver skate boots from an older woman off of craigslist. The boots were in great condition, perfect fit, and have served me well as rollerski boot and back-up skate boot. She threw in the skis, too. I have no clue as to their exact flex or anything, but they seem to function for me. They are RCS skate skis, which isn’t a bad version. It’s the third tier or so of Fischer – basically their lowest level performance ski. Ironically, that is the level of my brand new classic skis! So, I’m just cheap. They serve as my practice ski, a training ski (their definitely heavier than my atomics), and my rock skis. They are also my practice double pole ski. And my spare ski for friends who visit. And my back up, #2 race ski. I like to pretend that they could actually be raced in, so sometimes I’ll put a wild wax combination on them as well….just to see if I get lucky. That was sort of what I did hear. I loaded them up with a graphite wax and a graphite/blue combination, thinking maybe with all the new snow, they might be magic. But, the heat made the Atomics the obvious choice. Poor Fischers … their only usage today was as a warm-up ski. 

It makes our operation more officialy though, when you have a ski you warm-up in. It’s all about aesthetics. I warmed up a little in the skis – actually the only testing I was doing was seeing what poles to use. I had my new Salomens and my typical USSPC poles. I figured the USSPC poles were a little stiffer, which I liked, but I was worried about them possibly collecting snow and slipping in these conditions. I was nervous about the Salomens not being stiff enough .. but I liked their baskets and straps much better. 

After my warm-up, I was still in my typical race gear, which is a longsleeve tight Rossignol shirt. I met Christie at my ski stash and told her I was feeling kind of light headed, and that I needed to go back into the lodge and make some final clothing decision. “I didn’t bring a single t-shirt on this trip!” I said in disbelief. We both chuckled at my ineptitude … it wasn’t the end of the world – ok to laugh at. But it would have been nice to have. 

I went back in the lodge, went to the bathroom, then changed into my jersey. I put my longsleeve over the top, just so I wouldn’t walk out looking like a crazy man.

The race started underneath a bright blue sky. It was a vintage Colorado bluebird day. The sun felt pretty hot. I was lined up in the front row with about 7 other skiers. They shot us away and I found a spot in the top 10. I could tell right away that the pack I was in was going much too slow. I could have V2 strongly ahead of the pace that was being set. I tried to keep my eyes on the leaders. I figured as long as they were going slow, it didn’t really matter. I was frustrated with myself nonetheless. In running, I was always ok starting out conservative. In that sport, the whole race is in your control. My family always encouraged me to try and go out with the leaders and just see what happens. I have a pretty good sense, however, of my abilities in terms of pure speed, which are sort of low, and endurance strength, which are very high. I usually felt at the end of an xc race that I couldn’t have completed the course any faster. In skiing, though, the exact opposite was true. It was actually quite critical to be with the leaders from the start – a lot like biking. Gauging their efforts and riding in their slipstreams comes into play. Like cycling, it isn’t all in your control like in running. We aren’t all on the same playing fields. Some have 13 pound bikes and some have Redline 2.0’s with the grind of the day. Others do not. Finally, unlike in running, I have a supreme confidence in my ability to absolutely redline myself say sprinting up a hill or pushing the pace up a gradual incline, because, since my strength is in my overall endurance base, it is nearly impossible to redline to a point which I can’t recover from. 

So, I was frustrated with my position because I felt like I could easily be with the leaders at this point. If they desert me on a steep decline, fine….but not now. I went into the classic tracks and double poled past a bunch of people. The fact that I was able to do that on an uphill was evidence enough that this pace was about 50% of what I felt I should be doing. 

Eventually, people got spaced out, and I found myself in about 5th or 6th place. There was a young kid – maybe 19 or 20, who was in front of me. Every hill we went up he seemed to be struggling. About 2k into the race, we took a turn to one of the ‘outer loops’ that only the 25kers did. It must have been groomed only once. It was terribly soft, like a pillow. Unfortunately, this ungroomed section comprised the steeper climbs of the section. It made for a double whammy, and the field felt it. You could tell that everyone was suffering. I followed the kid for a while, content to just sit there, as the pace was fine and I was starting to feel fatigued. I started to hurt pretty badly. I quickly reminded myself that if I was feeling aerobically challenged at this point, others must be, too. We came up a steep climb and entered a flat. I caught the kid on the climb, which was pretty standard, and on the flat, I passed him as he was barely moving. I heard him throw up – which is not standard – and felt as though my mental strategy from the previous seconds were confirmed. Others were hurting. 

I was in 5th place at that point, and I probably should have thrown myself into a gunslinger mode at that point, but I was still feeling weak and tired. I hoped that the ensuing downhill would give me some time to recover. I saw the third place skier come around a bend. I didn’t see the 4th place skier, but I did some calcuations as to how far they were apart based on the time I went past where I had seen third place. I didn’t have an exact clock on it, but it seemed to me that third place was probably about 2 minutes up on me, and 4th was a lot less … maybe 45 seconds. I saw 4th place soon enough, and it was as we were hitting some downhills, which was perfect, since I could let him scout them for me. 

I did that for the next 2k. This was the next part of the course that in retrospect, I didn’t push hard enough. On the downhills having Chris in front of me was fine. His skis were going fast, he knew the course better, and I was ok recovering behind him. But on the random short steeps or climbs in between, I was losing seconds. I could have gone harder. I really regretted sitting behind him on the 2nd lap. On the first lap, I’ll admit, I was dieing… I didn’t even know if I’d have enough to finish. But on the 2nd lap, I actually felt better. I followed Chris through the never ending flat section of about 4k that ended the lap. I swooped past a hollering Christie at the water station and took my turn to start the next lap. Christie admitted later that she thought that I didn’t look great. I didn’t. I felt like I had just finished a 5k at a track meet in Jamestown, North Dakota and someone had told me that I needed to run the 4×400….now..immediately…and then I was being shuttled over to the golf course to run the xc loop or something. Valey City…that is what I’m imagining. Hot, windy. I’m tired from the miles of running at Park Rapids. I digress. 

I started the second lap with the leaders out of sight. I had consigned myself to 4th or 5th place. This was another mistake I made. I should have knonw right there that anything could happen. I guess a part of me was saying that…the overwhelming reason I wasn’t able to commit to ratcheting up the pace was because of the heat. I needed to survive first and foremost. 

So, I stayed within about 5 seconds of Chris through the first part of the course. I tried to enjoy the nice grooming on this early section, dreading the impending powder section. Take each section bit by bit, I told myself. My experiences in the Canon City gravel race where I basically hit the wind, heat, and dust all at once on the back half of a 70 mile ride (the first half included 3000 feet of climbing, so the assumption was that it was “all downhill from here…..” which it wasn’t) came back to me. This was nothing compared to that. I knew the course, I could visualize it, and I could pick it apart. That was the turning point for me. 

I turned into the powder section and started skiing consistently. Before I knew it, I was to the steep uphill and the puke straight. Chris was close, and I was hitting a second wind. On another steep uphill, I saw the camera guy up at the top. I was right on Chris’s heels, so I had to go his pace up the hill ….no Klaebo hop V1 for the photo. I tried to show for the camera that, unlike presumably every other person who was going by for this shot, I was not being defeated by this course. In fact, I was thriving. I’m sure his lense captured that. 

From that point, I was glued to Chris. Now, all the uphills where I didn’t pass him were met with anxiety. I needed to make a move if I wanted to make an effort for third. Third! It hadn’t seemed even possible at all. And, we still were only seeing him at points where he was winding around the mountain ahead of us, which meant his lead was at least somewhat large. I started to realize that I didn’t want to see him. That meant we were closing in. But I needed to go for broke on the uphills and recover on these downhills. It probably wasn’t worth it. I stayed behind Chris and threw the negatiev mental thoughts into another garbage. Press on. Wait for an opportunity. 

We hit the flats. Chris was fast on those. Another case of Ryan’s strength of hill climbing not really meaning anything in skiing. He was going to pull away now on the ‘easy’ stuff. I threw that thought away … actually, it might have only existed in retrospect … and I pushed up right behind him. We hit a spot of wind, and suddenly I felt bad for drafting off of him.

I decided the Minnesota nice thing for me to do would be to make a pass here, into the wind. I could go hard and allow him to draft off me. I made a hard double pole push and then a hard V2 skate. I felt great, and I surged. I put 5 feet, and then 10 feet on, quickly. I realized this wasn’t probably going to be a “let’s work together” move at this point. This was a dagger pass, and now that I had commited, I needed to finish it. I would be fine. There was maybe 4k left. I could go all out now. It was, in fact, time to go for broke. 

Third was spotted, and I was gaining on him. I took a look back at Chris. He seemed far enough behind where I didn’t really need to concern myself with him, though in reality, he was close enough to strike if he had it in him. I put all the focus on catching 3rd, which, in turn, took care of the problem of worrying about 5th. Every uphill, of which there were very few, was a chance for me to make major gains on the podium. Of course, helping me out was the fact that he didn’t know I was gaining. He was dying, like everyone had been, and since he had been skiing alone for the last 75 minutes, surely felt like he could just coast, and by simply surviving, would end up on the podium. It was a perfect recipe for my comeback. All I needed was a big hill. I got one, but it wasn’t big enough. With about 1k to go, I got right up on his skis…1 second behind him. Then, we turned and pressed downhill. It was a straight donwhill. He glided way past me. His skis were the best, maybe on the day, for everyone  ( I heard that from another racer, his teammate, as well). I stayed about 5 seconds behind him, but it was flat and/or dowmhill the rest of the way, and there was nothing I could do about it. 

I ended up finishing 9 seconds behind him. “You made me work for it,” he said, hunched over next to me in the finishers corrall. I was beat, too. I had worked hard in the race. The first lap was just…hard, and the second, when I hit my second wind, became hard because I really thrusted myself into action. I felt very similar to how I felt after my ½ marathon. It is a sweet combination of exhaustion. It sort of has the lung burning you’d feel from a 10k mixed with the joint and muscle ache that comes from the extra distance in a 13.1 miler.

Christie and Ajee were a good comfort for me at the finish line, as they always were. Christie knew my disappointment in terms of the podium. It was the opposite of what had happened the previous week. I told her I was dehydrated, and she came with water and nuun. “Want a pickle?” she asked. I was too thirst, even a pickle didn’t sound great. I stood there and consumed a bunch of liquids. “I am getting cold,” I said to her. “Do you know where my shirt is?” She retreived it for me. 

I took Ajee from her so she could drive the Jeep to a place to get it fixed and then walk back. It ended up being a longer walk than she expected, which left Ajee and I plenty of time to mingle with kids and adults. The award show was incredibly long, so no one was going anywhere. I stood and talked with a gentlemen from Steamboat Springs for about 40 minutes. He told me about the guy in front of me and how his skis were the fastest on the day. He also mentioned that he was racing the Birkie, but out of wave 8. “You are going to have a miserable time,” I warned him. “Just be ready for that. Don’t get your hopes up. Now, you could …and I regret not doing this…you could let the people get ahead of you.” He cut me off – “I’ve heard people do that.” “But…but” I anticipated he knew but wanted to add to my warning, “But, I did that…and I regret not waiting long enough. Don’t wait for 3 or 4 minutes. Wait for like 30 minutes. I mean…the other thing is that the snow quality is terrible …just a bunch of slush.” We were having a good time about it, so even my over the top negativity was well received. He had skied the whole course in around 2 hours earlier in the winter on what must have been a perfect day. “Yeah…don’t expect that on the day of the Birkie…” I said again. “But, you should come to the Leadville Loppet next weekend!” I invited him. We talked about that race and some other races – gravel grinders up in Steamboat, etc. After a long while, we finally parted ways. 

I walked into a bunch of 7th grade girls eager to pet Ajee. I made my way to the banana table and ate about 5 full bananas, which, since they are spliced up into thirds, meant I looked like a banana horder as I plopped one after the other into my mouth. I gave a few to Ajee, who loved them. A dog after her owner, for sure. 

Chris and his wife, also waiting for the seemingly never ending award and raffle show to end, came up and introduced themselves to me. This was the first time we had met. Chris had commented on the only article I ever wrote for Fasterskier, and I realized we were friends on Facebook. We had a lot to talk about, even beyond the standard ‘what do you do?’ and “where are you from?” He is a real ski afficiendo. He knows his skis, his races, his courses. Everything. It was fun to finally come across someone who approached the sport so similarly to me. He had gotten into it late, liked it, and became obssessed with it…and now, he was pretty decent at it. Any aspect of the sport that is only developed when you are born and raised on skis, which the two of us weren’t, was the thing lacking in our repretoire. How refreshing!

Christie arrived in time for the end of our conversation. We watched the awards – I was super frustrated as I watched the podium form and the 200$ prizes given away. I was only nine seconds from that! I was given a little tin cup for being an age award winner. Oh well. 

We packed up and decided to walk together back to the car dealership. It was fun to just meander back to town and talk about whatever. I enjoy walks with my wife and a dog. I should probably do it more often. 

After a quick break looking at thrift shops, we went back to the nordic center. It felt like we had been there the whole day. I wanted to get on some classic skis and do a little more prep on my skis for the next day. At about 4:15, I ventured back out onto the course. My kick worked ok, and I mixed some striding in with double poling. I went super easy, listening to a James White podcast as I passed by some locals. The sun was starting to come down a little when I got back. We packed up and made our way towards Glenwood Springs. The adventurous weekend was only beginning!

We imagined we were on a team bus. One race day complete, now it was time to travel, get some food, find our lodging, and settle in for the night…and start to dream about the next day. I had that feeling you imagine when you are 10 and you dream about what life will be like when you are ‘out on your own.’ The independence, the adventure. Checking into a hotel in a foreign place. It is all so adventourous….at least for modern day times. I suppose back in the medieval days, they would have laughed at us. Being out on your own would have meant traveling through woods, over hills, mountains, fighting off enemies…cooking gruel over a fire and sleeping in wet cloth under a rainstorm. I don’t know. 

I was starving when we got to Eagle, and i bought a bunch of fruit at the grocery store. I wanted to just ‘get there’ before eating,  but I couldn’t take it. I ate a couple of pears and a couple of apples. I had been doing fruit all day, and it felt good on my stomach. When we checked in, I made a huge bowl of oatmeal and ate it with yogurt, apple sauce, and cereal. My wife had gotten food for us, and like she always does, had gotten just the perfect things for me!

It was time to go to sleep, but I wasn’t tired. I watched some TV on mute ..a delicacy for me, and read the paper – another delicacy. Christie was asleep as I wasted another 40 minutes. Then, I finally went to bed. 

Totals – Ski – 17, R – 1 – Total – 18 hours

Sunday – AM – Owl Creek Chase – 21k classic – 30s, falling, fresh, very wet snow; layered T-Line VPS 0 with VR40 on top of Vauhti base wax. Glide = HF8

Race – 1 hr 24 min 3 sec – 1st Citizen, 31st overall/100. Wasn’t held baack, had fun; 31st out of 70 NCAA skiers. Had to work a little to go around female/male NCAA and USCSA skiers.

I woke up early in our cheap hotel in Glenwood Springs. I went outside to check on Ajee, who slept in the car. I let her out and let her climb around in the snow drifts as she searched for a place to pee. I had gotten up at about 1:00 AM to do the same thing with her as well. So, I really didn’t sleep much. When I got up then, she and I were wondering around the hotel grounds, which only served to wake me up even more, and there was wet snow falling. The sky had that thick, hazy feature to it that happens when there is a lot of moisture and snow in the sky. The lights in the streets and other buildings were fuzzy and large, like the water droplets in the air acted like thick, furry magnifying glasses. 

A car pulled into the parking lot and two women, about 35 or 40 years old, hopped out. They were drunk and noisy. They spoke loudly as they searched for things in their SUV. Ajee didn’t seem bothered by them, and I just stood in the center of the parking lot, trying to sleep standing up like a horse while also making sure if Ajee did notice them, I would be positioned between them. 

At 6:00, I woke up, let Ajee out, put her back in the car, and then went to the breakfast area. I thought back to the mornings before my NCAA cross country races and how horribly stressful it always is. With running, you do have to be a little more careful with things before the race, I think at least. Food especially can be tricky, and I always hated being in a hotel breakfast area, knowing that I couldn’t eat much at all if I wanted to race. I love hotel breakfast areas…cereal, muffins, otameal, pancakes, eggs, waffles … about once a year I just say the hell with everything and I just try to eat every single one of my favorite breakfast foods in one sitting. It isn’t just about the actual foods either .. though they are good. There is something about being in a hotel breakfast area. I think it is the anonyminty. No one there knows who you are and you don’t know them. You’ll never be back. It’s a perfect environment to have some sort of a gorging eating affair. 

Yes, I thought, I used to get so nervous before running races. I still do. The nerves there are much more related to the literal amount of pain I know must be addressed (if I’m going to push it 100%…which…you have to), and the fact that in running, unlike in skiing, the time really does reflect back on you. It’s a little kinder in cross country, but not at all in track. In both, if you have a poor showing, it’s empirical – there isn’t room for debate. 

Those kinds of nerves were hard to deal with when I was young, but I think, 95 times out of 100, I made them work to my favor. I never was psyched out so to speak. But, and I say this  

In all seriousness and respect: sometimes, race day felt like this really long drawn out crucifixition. Greatly reduced in scale, but the idea that from the moment you were up, through the breakfast, waiting around until you could start warming up, warming up, then actually racing – even for an 8 and a half minute race, the total mental engagement was closer to 5 or 6 hours. 

I remembered all of that and sort of mocked it with my treatment of race morning here. I went into the hotel breakfast area, picked up a couple of newspapers, poured myself some coffee, and sat down to wake up. I read through some stories and sipped on coffee. When I was done with that glass, I had another. Christie was still asleep in the hotel room. I thought about how I, along with some of the wax techs, was probably one of the only people awake at this point in the morning. It was still dark outside. I pushed off the feeling of hunger and my desire to partake in the breakfast buffet. That was easier now than it used to be. The feeling of disaster in my digestive track and guilt for overindulgence was far greater than the energy required to supress the temptation to eat or the feeling of hunger if I didn’t. My body was so used to its routine anyway. Since today was a race day, I would eat a little bit before the actual start anyway. 

Christie loaded up some things into the car while I applied my magical wax in the hotel room. How’s this for NCAA level wax job. No testing. No waxing on site. Nope. We’re going to just take the wax recommendation from Toko from the night before, which called for layering purple and blue back and forth several layers, and apply it in the hotel room – no wax table – and let er rip. So, that’s what I did. I put on some swix VR 40 and layered it with my special T-Line – I can’t remember which TLine it was. Falling, wet snow, about 28 – 32 degrees. This was supposedly the nightmare kickwax conditions noone every wants. And here I was, waxing in the hotel room 30 miles off-site. Classic. I was getting excited thinking about the race. 

I was nervous mostly about the fact that it was an NCAA race. I wasn’t totally sure at that point if i would need to start with the big guns, or if I could start with the citizens start and still, thanks to chip timing, compete with the big guns. We loaded up the car and sped off into the falling, wet snow towards Aspen. When we pulled into the parking lot for the golf course, there were all of the big teams trucks. It lifted my spirits. I said something to Christie about how we were like our own team – Shovel Lake University…except it would be Shovel Lake State University, since, whenever I was a kid and we would play make believe college sports games, Dan would always say “city from wherever STATE.” 

U Denver was here, Anchorage, Montana State, Wyoming, Air Force, Western. It was a great atmosphere. Plus there was the Aspen Cross Country clubs and all of their juniors and kids. I walked in to the clubhouse and picked up my shirt and my registration items, then found someone to ask my chip timing question. They assured me I could start with the citizens and still have my time count. That was a relief. I went into the bathroom once, walked around the clubhouse and looked at expensive, overpriced nordic gear, and listened to the conversations of all the athletes. The Norwegian skiers from UC Boulder and Denver looked so large. Tall, white faces, blonde hair. Their stature was intimidating. 

I went out and strapped on my skis for a warm up lap. This was my chance to test the skis. If something didn’t work, I could still strip the wax and put something else on. The course started on the golf course, and it had a couple of really perfect hills. The type you could double pole and feel strong or stride and feel fast. It was perfect striding incline, really. My wax worked amazing and my skis felt fast. I felt like a million bucks. I went by every person warming up, and I wasn’t even trying. Even when I found a skier clearly doing a more uptempo stage of their warmup, I easily maintained or past them. I started to wonder if I should just take off with the NCAA guys. If I wasn’t skiing blind and I actually knew the course, I maybe would. But, in this situation, I was way too scared. I warmed up about 15 minutes, then decided to go and find Christie and get into my “Final” warm-up/race gear. 

From that point, it was just a matter of waiting. I watched the NCAA men take off with a flourish. Then, 5 or 10 minutes later, the women went off. Then, it was about 10 minutes before the citizens lined up and shot off. I was in about 4th at the start, but  I quickly double poled past all but one person on the first uphill. We hit another quick downhill, and already I was happy I hadn’t been with NCAA skiers on the first downhills. In hindsight, that probably would have been the only issue. I was mostly pleased, however, that no one was in my way for the early uphills. IO could really go all out on them without having to go a slow uphill ski pace. When I finished, I looked back and thought that this was a classic race where fast skis took literally minutes off of a racers times. The downhills were so long and gradual that having a fast ski made an incredible difference. The final 5k, on the high school race course, also had some really ripping hills – they were fun and not scary at all, but the type that would benefit someone on top skis more than the average course. 

I was going back and forth with another male skier about my age or slightly younger for about 4k. Around that time, we started to hit the female skiers. They made us work a bit to get around them, which was unfortunate. Overall, everything was still incredibly fun for me, though. The wax was great, the snow was great, and the trail was incredible. I took the lead and never looked back. 

The race had a few funny moments. Probably the best happened about 13k into the race. The course climbed ruthlessly, and at this point in the race, even some strong collegiate skiers were walking up the steepest climbs. It was pretty crazy. On one downhill, I went past a Wyoming kid who was an Asian male. I zipped past him and moved over into his tracks in front of him. I thought I gave him plenty of room, but he must have gotten startled, because he went down hard. I felt awful, but couldn’t stop, since I was going really fast. I didn’t know what to do, so I shouted back to ask if he was ok. At the same time, one of his teammates said something along the lines of, “Typical,” in reference to the kid who fell, not me. Apparently, he was someone who struggled to stay upright in tricky situations. 

Way after the race, I happened to find him in the parking lot, and I went up and apologized again. He smiled and laughed and gave me a hug and said everything was alright, though his english was a little rough. I was relieved we had made up and it wasn’t a big deal nor did it ruin his day. All i could think of when he fell was John Agosti up at the Fort Kent outdoor center. In the fall, we went there to rollerski, and we went on the loop backwards…I didn’t know any better. While, there is one really wicked downhill with a sharp turn, and we came into that super fast. Leinani handled it fine, I barely stayed upright, and John just totally wiped. It was wet and slippery, but he was kind of like a puppy stuck in the rain after it happened. I felt bad for him and he sort of pouted about it. Maybe that’s why i was scared about this dude’s reaction. Let’s just say he took it better than JOhn did. 

The course was fantastic. Fast, a lot of climbing, great descents. It went from Aspen to Buttermilk, but it felt like it went from Steamboat to Durango. You felt like you had traverssed the mountains like the famous Birkenbeiners in Norway. It was an epic journey. It felt like much more than a 21k, though I don’t think it really was. It was a much harder 21k than a typical race of that distance, though. 

There was some good spectation along the course, too. I remember at one part being cheered on by a group of high school kids that were on a ski for the AVSC. That made me feel great. I passed some more female NCAA skiers and even some more male NCAA skiers. I really felt like I must have been killing the race. I remember passing by a former LCHS skier whom I tried to recruit but was now skiing at Western named Caroline Benney, I believe. If I was ahead of her, I must be doing great. This race meant a lot to me because it represented sort of how much I had improved since the fall of 2018, when I arrived on an NCAA ski team’s campus and was received with much trepidation and doubt by the skiers. I wanted to show them, and still want to show them, that I’m a good skier. I love testing myself against that competition, too. I think there is no reason that I can’t be as good as the top NCAA skiers. I know that I”m not there yet, but I think a lot of it simply comes down to my downhill ability and my ski quality/speed. I think from a fitness standpoint, both strength and endurance, I’m right there or above most of the top NCAA skiers. 

PM – 80 skate back home in powder (Mineral Belt Groomer broken)

Mon – AM – 30 skate + 55 min run

PM – 1.5 skate CMC – powdery

Tuesday – AM – 1.5 hr skate CMC – still powdery

PM – 48 min run

Wed – AM – 80 skate – Mineral Belt – barely skiable

PM – 1 hr 40 min CL and skate – bad conditions

Thur – AM – 90 min skate – falling snow, powdery, CMC

PM – 55 min run

Friday – AM = 2 hr @ Tennessee Pass – hard skiin/sunny – half classic, half skate

PM – 90 skate

Saturday – Leadville Loppet – 3hr 15 total (2h 47 race time)

Weekly totals – Ski – 18.5, Lifting – x, Run – 2.5; Totals – 21

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s