Have I bitched and moaned enough about how bad ski season has been going for me? No? You want to hear more? Great!
Back Country Snow Race!
Well, I finally got over the respiratory infection/cold thing from hell. It only took 3 goddam weeks. Basically, it'd work like this- I'd feel like crap on Monday and slowly recover through the week until I felt good enough to ski on the weekend. Then I'd ski my brains out and be back to square one on Monday again.
While I finally managed to ditch any symptoms of actual illness, it was a generally shitty week leading up to the race. To the point that I got home on Friday with exactly 1.5 hours to get all my crap together for two days of racing and a night of camping. I almost threw in the towel, but the whole idea behind the race just sounded too cool and I really wanted to be there to support the folks putting it on if nothing else. So I did what I could and managed to get everything together and a reasonable 5-6 hours of sleep before I had to drive up to Copper Harbor for the start.
Registration went quick and I got a slick new hat. 15 people signed up, two of which competed as a team. It was cool to see Jon and Steve from Telefest there too.
The event started at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge at 9am. It was still cold enough that the snow was fairly crusty and very, very fast. Shortly after the start and whoa, hey... I'm up in front! Didn't hold on to that for long though when we came to an icy and kind of treacherous downhill on Dancing Bear. All we could do was laugh. We'd all ski 5 feet, fall down, then repeat the process. The smart thing to do would have been to ditch our skis and run down- but our spirit had yet to be broken and we were all still firmly dedicated ski purists.
Somewhere within this first mile, I broke a pole. Thankfully one of the skiers just behind me loaned me some duct tape and I set to work splinting it with a stick. Somehow in this process, I managed to cut the tip of my finger a bit, but I didn't really notice until the next skier came down the trail, got this pale look on their face, and asked "Are you OK?!"
"Yeah, I'm fine...", I responded and then looked down.
I assured them that despite appearances, I would survive. I promptly performed some emergency backcountry medicine and put my gloves back on- out of sight, out of mind.
With both me and my ski pole slightly damaged but once again functional, I pressed on. French Annie proved to be a lot easier on skis than on a bike. Somewhere in there I learned that the best technique was a sort of cyclocross style ski dismount and remount to clear the sketchier stuff. I also gave up on my ski pole and just resorted to using whatever sticks I could find as a replacement. Turns out, the woods is full of sticks and they actually work fairly well as ski poles.
After this we hit the East Vein Rd. and Kamikaze trail return. These proved to be incredibly scenic and very fast on skis. Unfortunately, my knee was starting to bother me. Without tracks to follow, my big, wide skis would wander about on the packed snowmobile trail we were on it was really starting to bug me.
We were off it soon enough, but I don't know if it was really a blessing when we went straight up a wall by Manganese Falls. After this we were back on the bike trails. Leading up to this, I was having a bit of a discussion with myself about how hard to push. Sure, I got dusted pretty early on- but who knows what was ahead. Other people might have problems to.
Anyway, I'm glad I decided not to push hard on the final section. Der We Went and Stairway To Heaven can be scary enough just on foot. You could easily make a colossal, grand-daddy, call the coast guard chopper to fly out the remains screw up trying to ski those trails at speed. Just like a lot of stuff in Copper Harbor, at a mellow pace it was pretty cool and a good finish for the day. Made it back to base camp, ahead of a few people even.
Initially, I was a little non-plussed at the $60 entry fee for the race. Sure, they promised a lot of food in the deal- but I've had enough bad experiences with race provided food that I wasn't expecting much. Sometimes they run out, sometimes it's slow to arrive, sometimes it just plain sucks. But when lunch was served after we finished, I was beginning to think the $60 might have been worth it. Plenty of really good food was laid out for us.
Everybody actually had a really good day and finished well in advance of the organizer's expectations. This gave me plenty of time to get set up for my second duty of the day- working a couple of checkpoints for the Keweenaw Winter Rally.
Honestly, I had planned to spend the night up in Copper Harbor, sleeping out in my bivvy sack. But, well.... you see.... uhh... my rally responsibilities didn't end until around 10pm all the way back down in Houghton and then a friend called and asked me to look at something on her car real quick. And then, well- there just wasn't a real solid argument for driving all the way back to Copper Harbor just to sleep 6 hours in a snowbank. I opted for a warm bed and and doing the drive the next morning.
I went into this with pretty low expectations. My knee was still bothering me a bit and I was fairly certain I couldn't overtake any of the leaders enough to win any awards. So, I figured I just enjoy the day- which was turning out to be just as awesome as the day before. Sunny and blue skies with temps climbing up into the mid forties.
The organizers came through and topped lunch the previous day with an awesome breakfast. Nobody left hungry, that's for certain.
We started out across the lake and dangnabit! I was out in front again. I didn't have to worry for long though- the climb up Paul's Plunge proved difficult enough and it wasn't long before I was behind everybody. Another reason to take it easy was I that I had recently purchased some new climbing skins for my skis and was anxious to try them out. I figured the steep uphills on the Red Trail would be the perfect opportunity. I was a little too anxious though and put them on way, way too early. And since putting them on and taking them off takes so much time- I figured I'd just leave them on. Sure enough though- they worked great and probably saved my butt on a few quick downhills that got thrown in there. I was pretty firmly in the back now without much trail left after we went by the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge again, so I just sat back and enjoyed the ski.
While doing this though, I came to the sudden realization that my knees had only started bothering me once I started using some Voile knee pads I had bought to replace the black diamonds I had used for years and then lost at telefest. I had figured the knee problem was just yet another side effect of my abysmal ski season so far- but it really made me wonder.
Anyway, the rest of the race went great and I finished with all my poles intact and no blood this time. As is often the case, I was hit by a mighty powerful post-race thirst and decided to ski back to basecamp and fetch my beer supply. I decided to remove my knee pads and see if that helped my knees at all.
Sure enough- even though we had to ski down snowmobile trails that should have hurt like hell, I was mostly pain free. Cured! I've got a little bit of recovery and rehab ahead of me to undo the damage, but it's a huge relief to get to the bottom of that problem. Sorry Voile, I love your bindings, but the kneepads just don't work for me. Bummer too, they're soft and cushy.
After awards, if I had any doubts about the cost of this race, they were certainly erased by the feast we were treated to at the Mariner North after the race. Wow. Seriously, this whole event was like $60 worth of awesome food with a free hat and a little skiing thrown in.
I'm really glad I stuck it out and made this race. I can't say enough good things about it. The organizers have big plans to improve the event and get more people involved and I really look forward to it. It's just the kind of thing I love- fun skiing with a lot of cool folks in a race context just to keep us all moving and on time. The great thing is that even though it's a pretty unique challenge on skis, with the snowshoe option- this race can be enjoyed by damn near anybody of any ability. I'll be badgering my friends relentlessly to join me next year.
The Monday after, I was happy to note yers trooly made the front page of the paper. Steve is looking determined in the front. I'm just behind him, probably looking for sticks in case I break another ski pole.
Full article here.