Saturday, February 10, 2007

Powder Keg -- march 18, 2006 (a memorable adventure account)

So I entered my first race of the season -- a backcountry ski race, not a bike race. Let me preface the following by disclosing that there were two main divisions in this race: recreational and race. I entered the recreational division, not the race division. The race division does about 5,000 vertical feet, while the recreational does 3,500 vertical feet. More importantly, the best randonee racers in the USA race in the race division. Last year, the race division was a World Cup venue, dominated by lycra-clad, super-human Europeans with names like Francois and Giberto. So, not wanting to throw down with the better-adjusted Bode's of rando racing, I entered the rec division. Ok, in short, I'm somewhat of a wuss.

PREP: My race prep began at least a week ago. I bought a sewing awl and sewed bungee cords on the tips of my climbing skins (so I could rip them off faster). Several times each night, I practiced stripping my skins and putting them on my skis, all without clipping out of my ski bindings. I rigged a special lightweight pack that was just large enough to hold the essentials (as required by the rules of the race): my hydration bladder, a shovel, and an avalanche probe. I chose the right jacket taking into consideration the weather forecast, and packed a better-than-expected and worse-than-extected weather contingency bag (learned this lesson from LOTOJA 2005). The night before, I assembled all of my gear together and left it in the foyer. Just as I did when I was in 6th grade on the first day of school, I laid out what I would wear for race day. I was ready.

FROM HOME TO ALTA: Start time was 7:00 am. I left my house promptly at 5:45 am with an ETA of 6:15. Although snow was forecast throughout the night and for race day, the weather looked fairly decent. I was in good spirits. I reached the mouth of Big Cottonwood canyon and started running through my mental checklist: boots, check, skis, check, poles . . . . I flipped a U turn at the 7-Eleven.

At 6:15, I left home for the second time to go to Alta. Boots, check, skis, check, skins, check, poles. Okay good to go. ETA: 6:45. A warmup wouldn't have helped anyway. Just get to the start on time.

At 6:38, I was midway up Little Cottonwood Canyon. It was snowing hard now. I got going a bit too fast, started to slide, and before I knew it I was facing down the mountain. Subie's nose came to rest, rather harshly, in the snowbank on the non-dropoff side of the road. Luckily, Subie wasn't stuck and I continued up the road to Alta, more slowly of course. ETA: 6:48.

I rounded the bend into Snowbird and was greeted by Sherrif's vehicles and barricades: avalanche control. Traffic was diverted through Snowbird on a narrow bypass road. ETA: 6:55.

Losing hope, I parked in the Alta parking lot, jumped out, donned my ski boots, grabbed my skis, put my skins on and went to grab my special pack. But, my special pack wasn't there. It was sitting in my foyer, filled with Cytomax, and ready to go. Honestly, I think this was the lowest moment of the day. I thought for a few seconds that my race -- a race I have been thinking about since 2003 when I was doing well but got DQ'd after I missed a checkpoint -- was over before it had even started.

There was one last hope though. No longer worried about conserving energy, I sprinted to the start and started asking if anyone had an extra shovel and probe. Fortunately, I also was informed that due to avalanche control work, the race start was delayed to 7:30 am. Fortunately, one of the race volunteers had an extra shovel and probe. Since I was desperate, I didn't care that the shovel was as heavy as a farm scoop shovel. For $2.50 I was able to purchase a 24 oz. bottle of Gatorade at the ski lodge. At precisely 7:24, I was ready to go.

FROM ALTA TO BRIGHTON: Skiers lined up without their skis, the gun went off, and then skiers ran to their skis, clipped in, and were off. I was slow getting into my bindings and had to run a few hundred yards. From there I led the race up Patsy Marley (a 10.5 k peak), down to Michigan City, and up Black Bess. It hurt, but I was happy. Going up Patsy Marley, I had a 300 yd gap on the 2nd place racer. This gap was closed, however, when I caught a tip and put a human-sized crater in the untracked face of Patsy Marley. Using some ancient Chinese recovery secrets, I opened another good gap going up Black Bess. Not having my special pack filled with Cytomax, I had to stop a couple of times to get drink out of my pack. Note to self: Enervitene without water burns one's mouth and hurts one's stomach.

I straightlined Twin Lakes pass and began the slog across the lake. Before beginning the slog, however, I put on my special secret weapon -- mini skins. Skins that only covered part of my ski, allowing traction, but also allowing glide. While I was putting on my secret weapon, however, second place guy overtook me. Bummer. I tried to turn up the heat and I went across the lake as fast as I could. There was a photographer in the middle of the lake, and I look forward to seeing myself with snot, spit and hurt on my face. With my special mini-skins I overtook second place guy three-quarters across the lake and again, using ancient Chinese secrets, opened up another gap. Cool.

I reached the top of Brighton well-ahead of second place guy and thought that the curse had been broken and that I was going to win the first race of the year. I straigtlined a mogul field, then I tucked down a winding path through the trees. I looked back, and was surprised to see second place guy on my tails. I tucked harder.

The path emptied out onto a powdery face with the finish at the bottom. I tucked it up and and leaned forward. Any crash at that speed would have resulted in a world class yardsale. 50 meters, 10 meters, 5 meters . . . . Doing my best Liggety lean, I went for the line. About 10 inches before my ski crossed the line, I see second place guy's ski come across. He pipped me at the line! Second place guy became first place guy, and well, I became that guy I know all too well -- second place guy. (For those unaware of my second place history, I finished second about 6 times last year in bike races.)

FROM BRIGHTON TO ALTA (first attempt): Since I parked at Alta and didn't want to ride UTA down Big Cottonwood and back up Little Cottonwood, I figured I'd just walk back to my car. Doing my best to look ski-patrolish, the lifties at Brighton let me ride the Millicent chair lift up to Twin Lakes. I skinned up and was about halfway across the lake when I thought that I'd better make sure I had my car keys. Of course, I didn't. Somewhere along the course, It had fallen out of my pocket. Back down to Brighton.

FROM BRIGHTON TO ALTA (second attempt): Lucky for me, cousin Chris was in town. I hiked across the Twin Lakes divide to Alta.

So, I had a good day today. And I had a bad day today. I'm thinking that with all that happened today, the '06 biking season can only bring good luck. '06 I have one thing to say: bring it.

No comments: