Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Quinzee Winter Camping

When I grew up in a normal winter we'd get 100+ inches of snow in a season. As kids we knew exactly what to do with it: Go skiing, sledding, have snow ball fights...,and of course, build snow forts!

With snow falling continually over the last 3 days amounting to over a foot of snow, I decided that a snow fort would be in line. To add to the fun I'd sleep in it over night. So I built what is called a "Quinzee". It's not an igloo, because they are made of blocks of ice or snow. A "Quinzee" is built just like the forts of my youth. You shovel a huge mound of snow, let the snow set up, then you dig in and hollow the inside out. So I created a 3 person "Quinzee" in the woods nearby.

The next night, at 9 o'clock my 2 buddies and I met at the quinzee, sleeping bags in hand, and well dressed. We set up: put a tarp and sleeping pads down, slid inside, and zipped ourselves in our sleeping bags. We had carved a hole in the ceiling for ventilation (you can suffocate if there isn't proper air flow). The snow insulated very well, and I was very warm in my sleeping bag all night. The one infraction to my sleep was that they're wasn't much room to move with three of us in there...but I eventually fell asleep.

I awoke a 5:50 am to a cell phone alarm, and looked around. The inside of the Quinzee had melted about a quarter inch which looked to have fell as condensation, making the outside of my sleeping bag wet. One friend was wet and cold in his bag. Now getting dressed in the cold dampness with probably my least favorite part of this adventure...but it was a necessary evil. I emerged from the Quinzee to find a beautiful blanket of 3 inches of powder outside. I packed up and walked the mile back to the car with a bit of a smile as a tired expression of contentment.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


Who knew that trying to go to work could be such an adventure...

The American Birkebeiner

If you are a xc skier there is one quinticential race you must do at least once in a lifetime, and in my case, once every year. It's really more than a race, it's a celebration of the whole sport. So I drove on Thursday to part take in the Friday and Saturday festivities. Having friends that are elite semi-professional skiers, on top of working for a retail establishment that distributes ski equipment, I got a bit of an insiders view of the whole event and a lot of freebies.

My particular adventure began around 6 pm Friday night. My friends and I were eating dinner courtesy of a ski pole company representative, when another of our store's (the one I work for) wholesalers of skis and equipment showed up with a black ski bag and discretely motioned to us to come take a look at what he had. Now this business fellow is not your typical salesman...I would consider him like a ski gangster; pulling skis secretly out of his trunk, adorned in bling, and sharp tongued with a Chicago type accent. In fact he is so unusual I will describe him no further in fear of my life.

So we approached, as he unzipped his bag pulling a pair of skis and boots out of his bag. On the skis was an unusual binding. It was meant to adapt a clap skate design for speed skates, to a xc ski binding. It used a boot that clipped in more like a bicycle shoe...and it centered your weight much more in front of the skis balance point compared to taditional bindings. So with interest, we debated about the design. It became more clear that this wholesaler was looking for some what to ski the race on this new Italian invention. My friends declined due to commitments to other ski companies or expected to be competitive in the race and could not take any risks on new equipment. And then there was me...nothing to lose.

In the past days the snow conditions had deteriorated. The conditions were so bad that the race was shorten to half of it's normal 51km distance, and non-elite skiers were not timed. I awoke the next day and walked out the the start line with my flashy boots and crazy bindings, eliciting puzzled looks and questions. When the race had begun I found myself trudging through 3 inches of sugar snow the color of sand, having dirt mixed in it. But as the race went on conditions got better, the snow became cleaner, and the crowds of thousands of skiers thinned. Unfortunately the night before I didn't have time to wax the new skis, which put me at the disadvantage of having slow skis. The bindings ended up being marginal...not really better or worse, but very heavy...another disadvantage. Lastly, I lost a contact in my right eye leaving me to do the race half blind. However, despite these difficulties I still was able to ski well and surmoutning the difficult hills of the Birkie trail. So after all was said and done the Duluth News Tribune was there at the finish for an interview (click here to read the article in Duluth New's Tribune)I was satisified.... a good race, a relaxing weekend, and a great adventure.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Book Across the Bay

So I made the journey out to Washburn, WI on Chequamegon Bay of Lake Superior to ski a race. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was sure it was going to be fun. This was a 10k race on Lake Superior, at night, by the light of luminaries! Adding to the fun was the fact that the rest of the family was going to do it as well. So before long I was at the start line, peering off into the darkness and the line of flame lights pointing the way. Then it was time, the horn sounded and the shadows of racers exploded.

I managed to get in the font pack of the field, knowing that I probably wouldn't be able stick there. But surprisingly I stayed up in the font of the race fairly well. It was quite surreal. You felt as if you were going at light speed, which darkness always seems to do, with the little lights wizzing by. The racers in front were shadows you could barely see, and I could see no one behind...it was like skiing alone, but with the paranoia that someone could sneak up on you. You couldn't really even see the ground, but you knew where the course was following the line of luminaries. But the race went fast, and I managed to even catch a racer, which was a confidence booster. I ended up finishing 25th in 27:20 min.

After finishing, I enjoyed the atmosphere so much, I figured I'd ski the loop again and try and catch the rest of the family. I finally caught up to my mother, then sister, then other sister...it was being to share the sport. I got ahead and waited for them to finish. It was fun to watch people ski, I determined it's a biomechanical poetry...watching everyone glide in. So all in all it was an awesome night...another adventure which sentiments gained.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Skating Lake Superior

I never know what each day has in store for me, but the discovery of thick smooth ice on Lake Superior brought an idea to mind. At work, we had already talked of mounting bindings on our nordic skates, and the discovery of ice solidified the decision. Nordic skates are long ice blades that you can mount cross country ski bindings on. You can thereby use these skates to mimic cross country skiing. So today my buddy called me up to let me know he had mounted the demo skates, and was going to go for a spin...and flew down in my car to do the same. When I strapped on the skates it was a blast. With ski poles and the skates you could get moving blazing fast! However, skating over 6 inches of ice and clearly seeing the bottom of Lake Superior was kind of scary and fascinating all at once. So I took off...The thing about skating on Lake Superior ice is that the big lake has created all sorts of cracks, ripples, and rifts for one to dodge (not to mention the rocks people throw onto the ice near shore). So on my maiden voyage I made it about 2 miles before I reached a giant rift. The rift had managed to let some water up... so there was about a foot of water on top of the ice near the edges of it. It looked impassible, so I cruised back to the shop. (story continued below...but check out the video in the meantime!)

The Rift

The Maiden Voyage

So with the excitement of it all I had to go for one last spin before the sun went down. As I got down and put on the skates, another fellow on nordic skates cruised. With him as my guide we made our way toward the impassible rift. He was an older gentleman, and had explained his extensive adventures on the ice thus far and extrapolated his need for elbow, knee and hip pads as a result of his experience with the ice. So we made our way along a different route, approaching the rift near the ice houses parked along side it. So we asked the fishermen if they found a way across...and they directed us towards one small crossing. My new found companion went first crossing the seemingly harmless gap. As I crossed my left foot broke through!!! Moving fairly quickly, my foot and ankle took more of an in and out swim for only a brief moment. My boot being waterproof, we continued on our way. My companion decided had decided he'd turn back, and I bid him a good day while I continued onward.

The Second Voyage

I made it across more rifts, finding great ice. However, near the Lester River seeing another sketchy rift, observing my frozen boot, and hearing the crackling boom of the ice naturally shifting...my wits got the best of me. I turned back and cruised homeward. As the sun set the horizon aglow, I stepped off the lake with a huge smile on my face......and a little more bounce in my step.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Mora Vasaloppet

So another weekend came to pass and this one was fairly eventful.

My weekend first began with tragedy. At 8am on Saturday morning the company vehicle drove up to my residence, driven by my buddy and co-worker. As he got out of the car to help me load up my stuff in the van, he noticed a rabbit; half frozen with its rear legs inoperable, yet still alive. So we loaded up the van, and pondered what to do about the situation, as the frost laden rabbit looked on. It's an age old question still debated for human kind...do we let it live and eventually freeze to death (or one of the local bums will get him for lunch), or euthanize it AKA... put the rabbit out of it's misery. We chose the former, and now I have to unhappily carry the death of the rabbit on my conscience.

With that aside, we drove on down to the Mora Vasaloppet...our goal: to promote the business, break even, wax skis, and get some skiing in ourselves So we got there set up and waxed away. It was a pretty busy day of hot irons, wax flying, and acting as if you were expert on the wax of the day. Throughout this trip I had no expectation nor intention of skiing the Vasaloppet, yet by the end of the day we had received free entries into the 42 km race. By this time I had eaten almost nothing the entire day and was famished, and when finished with the skis we went down and scarfed a $20 meal.

I awoke the next morning, stretched, went for a jog and discovered it really wasn't as cold as predicted. We drove up and walked down to the race start, greeted by traditionally dressed Swedish ladies as I stepped onto the frozen lake in which the race would take place. Moments later, there I was at the start line watching the timer count down....and was off.

The start of a race is always pretty intense... people are stepping on each other's poles, pole tips are flying dangerously close (I'm sure there's was an accidental stab along the way), guys are wiping out (you're trying to not do the same). Personally in my head I'm thinking "when is this going to calm down"... in a 42 km race things should settle out and they did. Since were on a lake, there was no real down hills to rest on nor up hills to get you...just a steady growing exhaustion.

The first 15 km lap went fast, the snow was good and hard packed, and I still felt pretty strong. The second lap was ok, the snow was getting chewed up pretty good, but I was maintaining a decent pace. But the last lap was rough...after 1200 people have ski over a loop twice, your dealing with sugary powder along with the fact you're already tired. So in a lot fewer words, it was tough, and the normal question came to mind about this time...."what are you doing...this is painful...exhausting...and I can't wait for food!!!!" This is usually countered by the sense of accomplishment after the race and wasn't any different this time. So I toughed out the last few km's and finished, and was content. And based on my inherent lack of training, I was happy with 70th place and 2 hours and 12 mins of racing...