Sunday, February 21, 2010

Erik Judeen at Korkki

After yesterday's activities, we didn't get back to Duluth until around midnight. In the morning, we ate breakfast and piled in to the car to head up to the Korkki trails for the Erik Judeen Classic race. Korkki is an old-school, classic trail system, and the race is an old-school classic race. It's great. First of all, the trail is just fantastic. You, a four foot wide trail, the woods, the sun and the snow. Simple. Elegant. Like skiing should be. It's not terribly hilly, but definitely rolls, and has some rather fun climbs and descents. We didn't go over the big hill at the end, but in a race, you don't really want to go on trails which are likely to spew skiers in to the woods, which are dense and generally no more than six to twelve inches from you at any time.

It was also a beautiful day. We got there early, because Emily was volunteering for the race, and, well, why not. There were maybe half a dozen folks there, but the sun was out and warm, and we threw on some wax (waxing wasn't that hard) and I hit the trail. I skied the 4k loop and came back, and there was quite a bit of time before the start, and we hung out at the start. The race has a fantastic, small-town feel. No one is trying too hard—it's not like you can pass too easily, although tracking is in effect—and everyone is out to have fun. The best part is the legal release, which is modeled off the ski club release:
Folks of good character have been enjoying the trails at Korkki for over fifty years, and no one has ever sued anyone over anything. I understand that if I ski or hike or hang out at these trails, I might get hurt but probably won't, and won't sue; if I do, because I willfully agreed to participate in these activities. (And if I do sue, I will pay for my own attorney and Korkki Nordic's.) I agree to the above as a right to be part of the Korkki Nordic Ski Center.
Oh, yeah, these trails have history. They were first cut in 1953—making them some of the oldest continuously skied trails in the state. In the early 1980s they were mostly abandoned for the wide skating lanes—the Erik Judeen was moved to skating trails for a decade—but by the early 1990s, people realized that there was something to having narrow, classic-only trails, and they've been well-kept ever since.

It was a very low-key affair: the starter gave us a countdown and we went. We first looped around a field, which should have been easy but, uh, wasn't. There were two tracks in to the field, and everyone was happy to just double-pole around, even if they were in the slightly-longer outside one (mathematics would dictate that a circle with a radius one meter wider than another would have a length of 2π meters—or about six feet—longer than the inside circle. In a 10k race, that doesn't really matter.

Except, it did matter to a guy in a CXC suit (someone jokingly said, before the start, "hey, look at Garrott Kuzzy") that someone had bought him. If you're not on CXC, uh, don't wear their uniform. Oh, and he was in high school. Anyway, he stormed out of the start but found himself in the outside track that was six feet longer than the other track. And he was not going to ski a 10.002k race when he could ski a 10k race. So he jumped in to the other track and right in to a guy, who he tripped up. The tripped-up guy stumbled and pushed his ski in to the snow and—Kapow!—snapped his ski. Right in front of me. I gave CXC-dude a lot of room in front of me on a narrow course.

As I double-poled around the track, my sunglasses kept falling off my nose. I'd thrown off my hat before the race and my sunglasses, apparently, don't have much in the way of springiness left. I need to get a strap before the Birkie. But they fell off on this loop, and I kicked them to the side, and despite the sun, skied off without them. It's only a 10 (or a 10.002) k.

The rest of the race went off without many issues. I skied with a couple other folks until about 8k, which was good, because I'd never seen most of the trail. Thus, I was rather timid on most of the downhills, not wanting to push the envelope since I had no idea if the trail would turn and sling-shot me in to some thick pines. It turned out that at the only point where that was the case there was someone, on the hill before us, yelling "sharp left over the next hill." Which, indeed, was the case. I navigated the turn—barely—and shot down the next hill. The rest of the race, well, one guy passed me and I held off another. I think I was ninth, got an age-class medal, and had fun. And didn't break any skis.

CXC-dude gave us a few more moments at the end. First he bothered Adam Swank, asking him about his training schedule (Adam had won, three seconds off three-time Olympian John Bauer's course record.) First of all, why do high school kids think talking to a good skier is magically going to make them a good skier? When Thomas Alsgaard was in town a couple years ago some kid went up to him and said, instead of just asking for an autograph, "so what should my training plan be? I am training 425 hours a year and …" and you could just see his eyes roll. Anyway, Adam humored him "yeah, 300 to 400 hours a year. An hour a day." That's deep, Adam. A few minutes later, CXC-dude said, in response to a conversation about the Olympics, "Kris Freeman needs to stop having diabetes."

Anyway, that gave us some fodder for the drive back to Duluth, and after a stop at Ski Hut and then at Amazing Grace (hippies and bread pudding) I drove home, my eyes burning from the sun. I made some stops up top the hill, though, as it was a beautiful day. And, I have to get those sun glasses fixed.

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