Sunday, February 21, 2010

After Hours and the Book

I headed up to Duluth for the weekend for the Book Across the Bay. I met Jakob and Emily in Duluth for the ride across Wisconsin and we decided to stop at the After Hours Trail for a ski beforehand. Conditions were excellent—there's a lot of snow in the woods—but, maybe because it was pretty slow, the trails just seem so flat. (Best moment: when a group of skiers asked us how to get to the start (we had no clue) and we found a map maybe ten yards up the trail—in the direction they'd come from! We skied longer than, perhaps, we should have, and headed up to Bayfield to catch the bus to Ashland for the race.

We parked, grabbed our gear and got to the line for the bus, which was, conservatively, 300 people long. Doing some quick math, we decided that it might be faster to ski across to the start, and, if nothing else, more fun than standing in line for half an hour. So we did—we changed clothes and hit the lake. Conditions were very good on the lake, with some variability in smoothness as would be expected, and we made decent time towards Ashland. Callie was grabbing our bibs and it looked like our timing would work out, but there was a minor communication error when Callie couldn't go and find Roscoe—and Jakob and Emily—on the start line (she didn't, it seems, run out in front of the line where she would have had a good view). So she dropped their bags and grabbed their chips; oh well. I guess we should have left more time; we seemed to underestimate an event with several thousand participants.

I, on the other hand, had to pack up the truck bag and then get my skis on. I had just put them on and began frantically double poling through 2000 people when the gun went off. Whoops! I double poled a lot to just get to the start, throwing down a couple turns to find open areas, as my skis and legs are both significantly faster than old folks on fish scales. Once I hit the start I realized that skating was not going to happen for a while, and found that the classic track nearest the luminaries had almost no traffic—and began to double pole furiously.

I passed a lot of people. A whole lot. After about two kilometers of double poling I was able to skate, but it was still crowded—it took me another two k until I was able to just go around people without having to double pole between people. However, having warmed up quite a bit and having some perverse motivation from passing everyone, I was going pretty fast. It probably also helped that I knew it was a 10k and that I knew that there were no uphills—it's on a lake, after all.

I must have lost a lot of time at the start because I was picking skiers off all the way to the finish. It was, however, a perfect training session: all week I'd wanted to do a 20+ minute level three race pace ski, but with hills it's hard to keep your heart rate in check (uphills spike it, downhills have recovery) and I couldn't find the discipline to do so. Today was perfect. I was tasting some race in my mouth by 8k and still passing people, looking for Roscoe each time. I started sprinting with about a k to go—I really did feel good and would have liked to have started on the line, but such is life—and caught and dropped a fellow before the finish. I finished harder than anyone around me and looked up to see Roscoe, two places and 15 seconds in front of me. Of course, he'd been on the front line.

So I didn't place well but I skied well and that's what counts, right? I felt really good—I think I like long warm-ups, so too bad the Birkie is at 8:25 in the morning—hopefully that will carry in to tomorrow. We ate lots of chili after the race, and had some beer, and then drove Emily's brother back to Ashland. We also found out that, had we taken the bus, we would have likely missed the start anyway. We should have just driven to Ashland to the start and then skied, or bummed a ride, back. A quick pit stop (oil and gas for my car, food for us) and we were back to Duluth to ski the Korkki tomorrow morning.

As for the Book—it's a great, unique event. How often do you get to ski across the largest lake in the world? One thing we all agreed is that it might be better in the other direction—ending in Ashland, which would have more to do than just hang out in the huge tent there. It could still benefit the Washburn library, just finish at the other end.
The other thing that everyone agreed on was that there was way too much hay on the floor of the tent. Apparently I have an allergy to hay. Everyone was wheezing and sneezing. And the next morning we all had black stuff (mold, Roscoe says) in our boogers. Ick! If sliding is an issue, sand, or wood chips, would suffice. Hay is bad. I can't imagine what anyone with real allergies did, but I'd assume it involved going straight home. More reason to have it in Ashland: you could pitch the tent on a (plowed) parking lot.

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