Sunday, August 7, 2016

Summer Adventure: Mountain Biking the Desert

Have you ever wondered what the Iron Horse trail looks like once you get past Easton?  I sure have, so I was happy to get a report from Elizabeth about her and Jim's mountain biking adventure on the other side of the pass.  All the details are below; thanks for sharing, Elizabeth!

Mountain bikes on the John Wayne Trail: Renslow to Beverly

On Sunday, July 24, Jim and I explored the John Wayne Trail from east of Kittitas to near the Columbia River. This section of the John Wayne Trail runs through the Yakima Training Center. People are permitted to use the trail, but they must stay on it and not wander into the military reservation. For those concerned about the proximity of the Training Center, the artillery impact area is well south of the John Wayne Trail, so there’s no need to worry.

This railroad grade was built in the early 1900s. Thousands of cubic yards of rock and sand were moved to dig out the cuts and tunnel and to fill in the ravines for a level surface. The remains of electric power stanchions used to power the trains are still evident along the route.

We started the ride at 8:00 a.m. from a trailhead about 10 miles east of Ellensburg, near the intersection of Boylston Road and Stevens Road. There’s a parking lot equipped with a vault toilet but no source of water. West of this point is the Renslow trestle—currently closed—that passes over Interstate 90. There are ways around the trestle, but the Stevens Road trailhead is a practical starting point for this leg of the John Wayne Trail.

From the parking lot, we rode up a gravel road past a “no vehicles permitted” sign to reach the trail. From this point to the entrance of the Boylston tunnel, a distance of approximately four miles, the trail was soft, which would make excellent going for horses, but more difficult for our mountain bikes. It was also a gentle uphill—easy if the trail were firm, but challenging in the deep sand. As we neared the west portal of the tunnel, we saw that the approach was marred by many rocks and boulders fallen from the surrounding basalt formation. These caused me some anxiety as I looked up at the rocks still beetling above, wondering when the next one would fall. I was glad to enter the tunnel, which seemed safer than the trail just outside.

The tunnel was cool but not cold, and water trickled down on us from only one place. It’s 2000 feet long, so a good light is necessary, especially near the middle of the tunnel, where we encountered rocks again. Not wanting to be there when another rock fell, we scooted through the rocky area as quickly as possible and found the trail clear again near the tunnel’s east portal. After exiting the tunnel, however, basalt rocks again littered the trail. Next we encountered a wet area—the only water we saw on or near the trail that day—that fostered growth of a stand of willows. We dismounted and pushed our bikes through the thicket, and walked through wet sand and mud.

From the tunnel, the trail meanders through hilly, dry country. It alternately crosses ravines on elevated fills and cuts through hills containing bones of basalt. Otherwise, the trail is smooth and bare, trending gradually downhill, with vistas that go for miles. The trail is firmer than west of the tunnel, but there are places where soft, coarse sand made the going difficult again. Riders should watch for these places—the sand is grayer than the surrounding landscape, so it’s easy to spot. We had the trail entirely to ourselves: not another soul was riding it that day. West of the Boylston tunnel we saw tracks of horses and two sets of bicycle tire tracks. East of the tunnel, the hoof prints disappeared but the tire tracks continued all the way to where we left the trail.

The basalt cuts were both a gift and a menace. They offered a chance for a close look at columnar basalt, and among the solid, dense basalt formations were deposits of browner, crumbly rock that hosted nodules of what we think is chert in hues of white, caramel, green, and yellow. Bits of the chert rock—some the size of my thumb, some the size of my head—lay on the trail, and we could see nodules still embedded in the deposits. 

But everywhere through these areas, rocks and boulders littered the trail, and near the Cheviot waypoint I had a run-in with one of them. I failed to adequately dodge one and went down hard on the sharp rocks, cutting my right knee and shin in multiple places and raising a big contusion.

Though my enjoyment of the ride was compromised, we continued on because we couldn’t leave the trail; we were about halfway along the route, and we had arranged for Jim’s dad to pick us up at the end. We walked the bikes through the basalt cuts to avoid any further falls. I enjoyed the long views and the stark barrenness of the place. We saw little wildlife: a few birds that flew past too quickly for us to identify and a single mammal, a squirrel of some kind, inside the east end of the Boylston tunnel and making haste for its burrow. Perhaps the heat and the sun had driven the wildlife to shelter.

Just past the Doris waypoint, we had a view of the Wanapum Dam. Even the sight of water offered relief after hours of scorched landscape. 

Past the Huntzinger Road, the trail continues a short distance to the river in even poorer shape than the 25 miles we had just ridden.The Beverly trestle across the river is closed. So at that point, Jim called his dad to come collect us, and we pedaled on the Huntzinger Road toward Vantage. We met him just as Vantage came into view, and pulled off to load the bikes onto the car.

I would like to recommend this ride to others because of the harsh beauty of the hills and ravines, but I hesitate to do so because of the condition of the trail. If the rocks could be cleared and the soft areas made firmer, I would recommend it, but not in 90-degree heat. Save it for spring or fall. Washington State Parks Department has devoted a web page to plans for the John Wayne Trail here: It may be valuable for us to add our voices in support of the trail completion and offer some volunteer hours for maintenance. There’s also a citizen group trying to raise awareness and money to help protect the trail. Here’s their website: 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

WRAC Meeting

Let's review: the Winter Recreation Advisory Committee is the group of people -- representatives from all the snow-park districts in the State along with a motorized recreation representative and a couple of State Parks employees -- who decide how the revenues from last winter's snow-park permits will be spent the next winter.  The committee is largely invisible to the average skier or snowshoer, but it's hugely important if you're into nonmotorized winter recreation, which, who isn't.  They meet twice a year, and this weekend was the meeting where they considered funding requests for next year.

Kongsbergers had submitted two requests on behalf of the Cabin Creek snow-park: one to continue the base level of grooming at Cabin Creek, five days a week, and one to add an additional $15,000 to the grooming budget to cover the increased labor costs that are likely to come with wacky and unexpected weather conditions next year and still allow all the trails at Cabin Creek to be groomed every day (five days).  This last winter, for example, with its amazing snowfalls knocking 250 (250!!) trees down across the trails just at Cabin Creek, the Cabin Creek groomer went $20,000 into the red (not covered by the WRAC) trying to deal with mother nature's whims and still provide a top-quality grooming experience for the huge numbers of skiers that gridlocked all the I-90 snow-parks.  We felt that it was important that Nick be able to provide the full package of services and get paid for it all -- after all, a good skiing experience next year means more people will come skiing, which means more snow-park permit revenues for the following year -- so we were hoping the committee would find enough money in the snow-park permit pot to cover our request.

Alas, it was not to be.  The committee received 27 funding requests this year, on top of the annual sustaining costs of grooming, snow removal, enforcement, equipment replacement, and sanitation.  There were a lot of good requests, a number of which would benefit all I-90 users -- increased parking capacity at Hyak and Crystal Springs, increased grooming at various locations, warming huts at different trails across the State -- but the supplemental Cabin Creek request did not make the cut.

The good news was that there was enough money in the budget to increase all the standing budget items by 10%, so there will be an additional amount added to the regular Cabin Creek grooming budget.  We are very grateful for that!  Everyone on the committee was very aware of the incredible conditions at the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass snow-parks: heavy heavy snowfalls and gridlocked parking lots.  One committee member suggested that Cabin Creek needed a double-decker parking lot!  But there is only so much that can be done, given that the Snoqualmie Pass area draws a skier population from the largest metropolitan area in the State, and one whose population is booming, and the physical limitations of the parking areas.  As Nick said, the next decade will be interesting.

A few notes on our supplemental request: Rune had already submitted the official application for funding, and at the meeting, I had only three minutes to try to make our case.  Anyone who knows me knows I like to talk, and in three minutes, I'm only just warming up, but I tried to hit on the important points.  One of the committee members asked why volunteers from the skiing community had not helped Nick deal with all the down trees.  The fact is, a number of Kongsbergers had tried to help, but as it turned out, we didn't do it right and actually made things worse for Nick, so that he damaged his equipment.  So we backed off from "helping" unless he specifically put out a call for assistance -- in fact, no volunteers are allowed to do any work on the trails during the grooming season unless he asks us to -- and we reimbursed him for his damaged equipment.

Then another committee member asked, since the trails are on forest service land, why the forest service didn't help clear the trees.  The two rangers who manage this district were at the meeting, and they described how extremely understaffed and thinly spread they are; there was literally no manpower available to deal with the trees.  The good news was that they expressed willingness to work more closely with local volunteers and organizations in the future, so that will be good for everyone.  Incidentally, they also pointed out that no one should be using chain saws on forest service land without being certified by the forest service, which involves eight hours of classroom instruction and two days of in-the-field training.  I told them I was sure a couple of chainsaw-loving volunteers would be willing to be certified!

But maybe the most interesting part of the day was the presentation just before the lunch break.  We had seen four items on the wish list for four of the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass snow-parks, including Cabin Creek, each for $56,000, to install fancy permanent CXT outhouses, like the ones you see along the Iron Horse trail, and to increase trash removal.  The request was from the Kittitas County Parks and Recreation Department; I was so intrigued and curious about this request that we asked John, the applicant, to have lunch with us so we could talk more.  Over sandwiches at a cute little shop in downtown Wenatchee, we grilled him.

It turns out that Parks and Rec had surveyed the property owners near the snow-parks on the I-90 corridor -- for Cabin Creek, that would be, for example, the people who live down the U-Fish road -- and discovered that they really really do not like the snow-parks.  Do. not. like.  They don't like the crowded access roads and they do not like all the trash left behind.  As someone who participates every year in the annual snow-park clean-up, I know what they're talking about, and John said to imagine what it would be like for you if, every weekend, a ton of cars parked in front of your house and clogged your road so you couldn't get in your driveway and threw their beer bottles and dirty diapers on your lawn.  That's how these people feel, and some of them would like the State to declare the snow-parks an "attractive nuisance."  That's not "attractive" as in "pretty," but something that attracts a bad element.  That could mean closing snow-parks, limiting access, or other things, none of which are what we as skiers want to see.  I told John about our annual snow-park clean-up and he respectfully suggested more than one per year might be helpful.  I have often thought we should do it again in the fall, to clean up the summer's worth of yuck before the snow comes, and in the renewed spirit of cooperation with the forest service, perhaps we can make this happen.  It would go at least a little way toward showing the property owners we want to be friends.  John also thought we might move those concrete blocks in the parking lot to block access to everything but the through-road, to discourage whoever it is that hangs out there and throws their party leftovers on the ground.  Did I already say yuck?

As we walked back toward the meeting after lunch, John told me something else that really caught my attention.  I had heard that Plum Creek had sold their large swath of land in northern Kittitas County -- this would include the area along Amabilis road at Cabin Creek -- to the Nature Conservancy, and I had assumed that was good news; the land would be safe from development and maybe we could make friends with them and get some trails put in there.  But John said the NC had plans to sell off the land to developers and use the proceeds to fund other conservation projects in the State.  Because the NC is a private organization and any developer would be private, the transaction would not require any kind of public notice or comment period or an EIS.  And as John pointed out, if a developer buys the land between Amabilis road and the forest service road that is one of Cabin Creek's main ski trails and builds cabins, those cabin owners will expect the roads to be plowed, and that would be the end of the ski trail.

So ... lots to think about, and I drove home with thoughts swirling in my brain.  As Nick said, the next decade is going to be interesting.

P.S. Disclaimer: Everything I've written here came right out of my memory, so any mistakes or misrepresentations are, while unintentional, my own fault.

Monday, July 18, 2016

xcskigirl's stories

My own stories are over here.  See you there!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Cabin Mountain Biking Day

Raise your hand if you think one of the cool things about belonging to a club, like Kongsbergers, for example, is the chance to meet and hang out with and train with people who have the same interests as you.  Jim Carlen recently wrote an essay describing things he would tell younger skiers about how to get the most of their skiing life, and here is one paragraph that resonates:

Jim Slyfield believes in this, so he organized a mountain biking day at the cabin for club members and friends.  Here is his report, on what sounds like a fun day, especially the elk burgers part!

Weather as nice as can be.  Fun road/trails, did some exploring, and got a good four hour Level 1 and 2 aerobic workout. 
We rode to the U-Fish resort (Or what ever it’s called this week.) then on the pre- US-10 road bed to Lake Easton State Park.Had a lunch break.  
Saddled up and checked out the Lake Easton dam and rode to down town Easton.Spoke to several bikers on the JWT.  
Back to the cabin via Crystal Springs and the Yakima River Trail.  Had a nice early dinner -- elk burgers, etc....  

Hope everyone is having a fun summer and getting in just the right amount of training!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Sno-Park Clean-Up ... and Chicken!

Any day that Kare and Aase make lunch for me is a good day, whether it's after a ski race or after the annual sno-park clean-up, so even though this morning was gray and drippy, there was no way I was going to miss out on their legendary chicken, grilled outside over a big bed of carefully tended, perfectly glowing coals!  And anyway, in typical Snoqualmie Pass fashion, the heavy rain in Bellevue and North Bend lightened up as I crested the summit and turned into a friendly little mist at Cabin Creek, and even that drifted off very quickly.

The rain might have kept a few people at home, because our turn-out was smaller than usual, but that's okay; those of us who were there pulled on mud boots and grimy work gloves and tackled the sometimes incredible mounds of ... stuff ... that people throw out their car windows as they drive by.  We found tons of beer bottles and cans, fast food wrappers, used condoms (because nothing says romance like a quicky on the off-ramp), full diapers (seriously, people?), blown-out tires, pieces of car engine that looked fairly critical to smooth operation, a desk (a desk???), socks, mittens, toys, t-shirts, boots, and all kinds of miscellaneous bits of garbage.  All of it was picked up and packed into construction-grade plastic bags and piled by the side of the road for the Forest Service to pick up.

High-Viz Victor

Jim, blending into the swamp

Rune, El Presidente

Anna Louise catches a whale

Some chick, looking for a party.

Only a few of the bags we filled

Ozzie, King of the Forest
And then it was lunch time, our reward for the morning of hard work!  Kare and Aase had prepared 40 pounds of chicken, and that is a LOT of chicken -- plenty of leftovers for people to take home for later.

Kare, turning 40 pounds of chicken and ten pounds of grill with a flick of the wrist

Paul, with no regular-people bottle opener, opening a beer the Viking way

Aase adding the finishing touches to the perfect chicken
There were salads and pasta and brownies and cakes and beer, lots of laughter and story-telling and catching up, and a chance to meet our new Forest Service Winter Rec Manager, who has some pretty impressive credentials.  Finally, when we couldn't eat one more bite, we cleaned up and made plans for workouts together this summer and headed for home.

I drove back over the pass, back into the rainstorm, with a bag full of muddy clothes, muscles full of tired, belly full of chicken, and heart full of happy for the chance to spend the day with some of my favorite people.  A mighty fine day, indeed.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Jim's Birkie Story

You've seen reports from Per and Rune about their Birkie adventures.  Now it's time to hear Slyfield's story, of the Birkie, his other winter adventures, and his plans for the upcoming season.  Thanks for sharing this fun story, Jim!

American Birkie, 2016: 
Red and Silver Klister?  Yea, so, what’s the big deal?

Or  ---   “Don’t throw me in that Briar Patch!” 

Here’s the KISS version.  See below for the rest of the story. 
1.       Good time with good people!
2.      Weather and waxing conditions can be anything.  2016 was ‘just like home’, rather than 2014's wind chilled -22F.  
3.      My level of conditioning was ok, but I still need to lose 30#.
4.      To better prepare, ski intervals up lots of moderately steep hills.  Then do it again.
5.      Go ski for five hours, non-stop, at race pace.
6.      During the race, eat and drink a lot! 
7.      Bring fins and snorkel for crossing the lake.
8.      Travel: The light-rail is a good way to get from Sea-Tac.  Even with day-pack, ski bag, and duffel bag.  Watch out for distracted drivers when you’re in the cross walk:  Yes lady, your cell phone conversation is more important than my life...
9.      The Birkie is a huge production.  There’s a lot more going on than just ‘my’ ski race.
10.    Big thank you’s to Per, Sandy, Joe, Cheri, and the rest of the crew.

History -- I’ve known about the American Birkebiner since it started.  One of my college friends did it when she was 14.  At the finish, she was told she was too young and not allowed to do the entire distance. To which Molly replied, “Well I finished, and I beat you!” 

I finally got around to doing it for the first time in 2014.   And it was epic!  At the start the temperature, with wind chill, was -22F.  Because it was my first Birkie, I got to start in the Ninth Wave.  Behind the pack.  As in way behind the pack…   The good news was once we got the crowd half way sorted out, I passed people the entire race.  The bad news was the uphill traffic jams.  Early in the race, I wiggled in between the lines.  Later, it was ‘get in line and trudge.’   The classic tracks were pretty beat up by the time I got on them.  After the OO trail head, the skaters joined us.  I felt badly for them as they were ankle deep in loose snow.  They got a real work out.  Only one skater passed me on a down hill.   Nearly ran over a ski-skier going around the big open field just before Highway 77 – Oops, sorry...  Fought my way into the wind across the lake and finally finished in 5:22::59.  Ahead of 78% of all the other 9th waver’s and qualified for the 4th wave if I showed up within 3 years. 

The best part of the day was sitting in the sun (and out of the wind) eating an ice cream cone, at 12F air temperature.  Someone walked by and said, “you’ve got a lot of guts to do that…”    OK, I’ll be back, and my goal was to eat an ice cream cone before 3pm. 

2016 --  My second Birkie was just like home:  38F and drippy.   Everyone else was freaking out about the wax.  (Except Per and Rune.)  I used my old 2002 vintage Fischer RCS’s as guinia pigs.  I ironed in a thin layer of Chola Klister binder, let that harden, then some Red and Silver Klister.   Went for a test ski and it was good.  Went back and did the same wax job on my ‘race skis’.  Madsush Nanosonic’s that Nat Brown gave me and I had used in the 2014 Birkie. (Nobody passed me on a down hill!)  Went back to the trail to test them and noticed that the rubber snubber was missing from the bindings.  OOPS.  Skied around on them for a while, but decided to race on the Fischer’s anyway.   Next time I travel, I’ll make sure the binding parts are all there.

But first, the race—I started in the 4th wave.  But almost got left behind. I went to the wrong side of the start area to put my clothes bag on the truck.  “These are the Korte trucks, the full Birkie trucks are on that side. “   Oh. --   Beat feet for the other side, got there just in time to put my bag on right truck, and dodge through all the 5th wavers who were all lined up in their marshaling area.  “FOURTH WAVE, COMING THROUGH!” 

Got to the 4th wave area just in time to put on my skis and off we went!  Worked my way through the slower skiers, as we went up the hill to the drum line.  They had been banging away at it for a while and were not that energetic anymore.  Into the trees and wound our way up the hills.  I passed a number of the Wave 70 skiers.  **You’ll still be skiing into your 70’s, right?  Then all the Korte skiers took their turn back to the air field.  We kept winding our way up the hills.  There was a long gap between us and the preceding waves.  Caught up with a young lady and her dad.  She had just turned 18 and was allowed to do the long course.  Dad should have been in the first or elite wave, but wanted to ski with his daughter.  He was chatty, I was trying to ski a consistent pace, and not get distracted, too much.   After a bit, he dropped back to stay with her.  For quite a while, I had the woods to myself.

Every now and then the skate and Classic tracks came near each other.  You could hear lots of cheering (jeering?) at some of the skate down hills.  Sounds like the hoy palloi enjoy heckling the poor skill of the skaters dealing with the down hills, rather than encouraging the accomplishment of the noble Classic skiers…

At the check points, I made a point find the GU and eat at least one.  Got several drinks of Heed and water, too.  Banana chunks – ok.  But, ‘Nilla wafers?  Ahhh--Must be a Birkie cultural thing.   Almost headed out on the Skate course.    Get back on the CLASSIC course and get up the hill!

Worked on skiing efficiently.  Balance, weight transfer, and glide.  Things Einar told us a long time ago.  Skiing conditions were ok, maybe a bit sluggish due to the mid-to-high 30F temperatures. It rained for a few minutes—OK, half an hour—from time to time. 

Finally got to the OO feed station and the skaters joined us shortly thereafter.  I was dismayed how fast they were overhauling us.  The trail from OO tends down hill, but it’s still got plenty of climbing.  I did ok compared to others on most down hills, but sat down in the middle of one of them.  I realized I was getting low on gas, so I ate one of the GU’s I’d pinned to the inside of my bib.  Also drank more of the Excellerade in my water-bottle butt pack.  (Not in danger of freezing solid today!)  I felt better by the time I got to Mosquito Brook, Took a double feed there anyway.  Had a swig of chocolate milk.  Afterwards, I worried that it would coagulate and I’d get sick, but had no issues.   There are a series of climbs, a bit of a flat area, and then Bitch Hill.  Not that big of a deal, as I had good grip and just chugged straight up.  Most everyone else, Classic Skiers included, had to herringbone.  The Nuns were mostly just hanging out.  Maybe they were waiting for the 9th wavers to show up so they could start their “Sinners Repent!” routines. 

On to the Gravel Pit and Fish Hatchery.  We’re getting there, but not there yet.  Undulating terrain.  Maintain mental focus, stretch out each glide, and ski efficiently.  Don’t let yourself get into a mental rut. 

The ‘new’ hill was a long gradual climb.  Kind of like going up Amabilis from The Road to the First Switchback, only a little longer.  Easy down hill with swooping turns.  Scamper across highway 77, and up and over that last hill.  OK, we’re getting to the end, keep your head in the game, maintain your pace and finish this thing…

All I’ve got to do is get across this lake.  Quartering into the wind.  Slushy ice with some white stuff here and there.  I tried to double pole, but didn’t get anywhere. Kick DP was not much better.  Diagonal was ok when I really thought about firmly setting my wax.  It was still slippery in the wet slop.  Kept looking for patches of less than saturated snow in the water covered ice.   The head wind did not help, either…   (Rune’s description of crossing the lake was very articulate.)   Finally got to the end of the lake, scampered up onto the road, and up and over the new bridge on Main Street.  The last straight away is a gradual up hill up to the finish line.  I kept up a good diagonal stride and finally to the end. 

Glad to be done!  Figured I was under 5 hours.   Half an hour faster than last time.  I was not nearly as tired as after 2014—when I was nearly anaerobic for 5 minutes after the finish.  This time, still plenty tired, but felt like I paced myself better.  Got my second Birkie pin! Whoo-hoo!  (Translation: “That’s nice.”)  Had a chocolate milk.  Some nice girls gave me my complementary ski ties and Classic Birkie hat. Grabbed a few mini-Clif bars.  Ate that with another chocolate milk.  Then over to the baggage claim.  More good news--there were still a butt load of 4th wave bags there. So I figured I did ok. 

Eating and drinking throughout the race was very important.

Stowed my skis on one of the racks and went into the gym to change clothes.  Found a few feet of floor space to change everything from the belly button up.  Should have put in a pair of dry sox and shoes, but the wind pants Elizabeth gave me worked well once I got out side.  More good news—my Fischer’s were still where I left them.  The food tent lines were out to the parking lot. So I wandered over to the church that was giving out popcorn and hot chocolate. 
Went across the street—through the final 50m of the race to find the Web Skis “Hospitality Suite”.  Really just a vacant store front where we could hang out.   Kevin and crew had a bunch of pizza, beer, stew, and other goodies.  Went out and cheered on the others as they came through. 

I never did get around to an ice cream cone.  (Maybe next time.)

Social, travel, and other topics.

Home hosting -- I am most grateful to Joe and Cheri for opening their home to us.  Thank you!  Staying with them, with Per & Sandy, Brian (Green Bay), Tore (NOR), and Sven (Volvo), along with Joe and Cheri’s friends Bud, Marianne, and their son —made for a much more enjoyable week than staying in a low-budget motel in Spooner like last time.    If any of you, or friends, need a place to stay in the Seattle area, please consider “Jim and Elizabeth’s B&B”. 

The Birkie Trail system is the “Gold Standard” as far as I am concerned regarding XC ski trails.  It is available in the summer for trail runs and mountain biking races.  Or just go do your thing, as long as you don’t make a mess.  There were ‘fat-bikes’ on it after the race, but they stayed off it during the warm weather.  There is a very extensive Mountain Bike trail system that crosses the main Birkie Trail in several places.  Lots of sign posts with no dogs, no snowshoes, and no motorized vehicles.   The community has put a lot into this resource and I can only hope that the people living in the area make use of it.  There are also several recreational and/or retirement home developments in the area.  How far would you drive to ski/bike/run/hike/what ever on the trail on other than one day a year? 

Travel --  I shopped around a bunch trying to find a better deal on air fare and rental cars.  Alaskan had reasonable prices and ok schedule.  Never mind the red-eye getting into MLS at 0500 on Tuesday morning.  The hatchback I’d requested was not available so Avis gave me a mini-van for the week.  I only drove it to Mosquito Brook and back to MLS.  It sat from Tuesday to Monday.    Got back to SEA-TAC on Monday, about 5:30pm.  Shuttle Express quoted me $45.  OUCH.  So I took the Light Rail “Screech” to Westlake center.   Convenient and only $3.00.   Realized that I’d just missed a bus connection that would have dropped me off 250 meters from our home in Kirkland.  So I hung out for about an hour to catch the last bus to the Kirkland area.  ($2.00)  Finally got to the Totem Lake Park and Ride, about 2 miles south of our home.  The bus lady said she was continuing north, but I found out too late that it was on the wrong side of 405.  Nearly got run over in the cross walk by a driver more intent on her cell phone conversation.  Elizabeth picked me up at Safeway, we were home about 8:30pm.
Weather, snow conditions, and waxing choices – We had some snow early in the week. Went out on Tuesday late afternoon on VF50 and 55.  Kinda slippery at first, but started to ice up later as the temperatures cooled as the sun went down.  Wednesday was similar. We didn’t ski as much as I liked, due to the Birke Trail being closed to save the snow we had and for the grooming crews to do their thing.  Several wind storms covered the existing snow with dead leaves and pine needles.  You can guess what that really likes Klister…   Friday, there were a lot of people in a panic state, but like I said, “Red and Silver Klister?  What’s the big deal?”  I did a short test ski on the Mosquito Brook development trails and it was fine.   Plenty of grip on uphills.  It stayed on for the entire race– with a collection of needles and leaf fragments.  I think the detritus was the cause of most of my sluggishness.  Skis had a moderately aggressive grind from several years ago.  We went over the base with my Toko riller.  With the wet conditions, my skis were not as fast as I liked, but I did not have many other classic skiers go past me on down hills.  The skaters had a better day for glide. 

On Sunday, the day after the race, it was cold and nice.  If we’d had the race Sunday, we’d all have been a lot faster.  And I’m sure the crash crews would have had plenty of customers.  Skied south, up and over Bitch Hill.  Talked to a mom and two Jr High aged kids.  She had done the full Birkie, the kids did the Korte.  They were checking out the ‘hard’ parts of the course.  But from the kids’ smiles, I think they wanted to do it in reverse so they could tuck the face—straight down!  I skied south a few more K’s.  Then headed back to Joe and Cheri’s.  Picked up a pocket full of GU wrappers.   I chickened out and did a series of snowplow turns returning north on the face. 

Other stuff—  We all have criteria for ‘how did it go?’  Here’s the time and place results from  

Finish Line Results.
Finish Time:

Overall Place:
637 out of 1981 in 55k Birkebeiner Classic.   (32%)

Gender Overall Place:
553 out of 1547 in 55k Birkebeiner Classic Men (36%)

Age Group Place:
65 out of 244 in Men 55 to 59 (27%)

Overall Pace:
5:20 per K

I’m pretty happy with the numbers, but am always asking myself what should I do to ski faster?  The biggest thing I could do is lose 30# by not eating so much.  Well, that has not happened, yet. I also need to work out in a systematic and appropriate manner.  I can do better here, too.  But I have started a weight lifting program that shows promise to improve the strength aspects of my strength to weight ratio.  (Thanks Gene!)  I also like swimming, riding my bike, and running.  Need to get on my roller skis more this summer.  Do some hikes, kayaking, and yard work.   Maybe I’ll finally get around to doing some Randonneur events?  Who wants to come along?

Other 2016 races --  This winter I also did the Boulder Mountain Tour, our Ozbaldy and several of the WBA’s  Biathlons at Stevens Pass. 

The Boulder Mountain Tour is a 35Km Skate race in Sun Valley, ID.  A real class act of a race.  But kinda pricy for what you get.  I finished in just over 2 hours.  This put me at just behind 50% of all finishers.  At least they held it this year.  It looks like the race organizers learned some lessons after last year’s race cancellation, their failure of communications with the racers, and the organizer’s perceived preference of taking our money over showing us a good time.  This year, they comped us for last year’s cancellation and they had an option to enter your phone number and they would text you if there were race cancellations, delays, or other important info.  Good swag, too: A very high quality hat and nice gym bag.   

KSC Ozbaldy 50Km Skate.  I felt pretty good, kept a reasonable pace, and only slowed down a couple minutes per lap.  I made it a point to eat a GU on the way out and another on the way back on the road.  Took two drinks both ways, coming and going, too.  I wore my water bottle with Excellerade and drank most of it.  Had 4 GU’s pinned to the inside of my bib, but did not use them.  Best part of the day was changing into dry sox and our post-race chilli feed. 

Made it to several of the WBA’s events at Stevens Pass.  Felt pretty good skiing, and shot ok most of the time.  In one race I hit all 5 prone targets in both prone bouts.  YEA!  Missed a bunch in another. OHHH…  Standing was good and bad, too.  At the local level, it’s still a skier’s race, so get back on the course and get going!

The last race of the season was an Individual format.  We only skied 12.5Km, vice the IBU/Olympic standard 20Km.  But we still shot the regulation 20 shots, with one minute per miss added to your time.  You can ski a long way in :20 minutes!  Prone sucked (missed 8/10)   But I came back and only missed one on each of the two Standing bouts for :10 added to my time.  I can do better.  I still out-shot most everyone.   I still need to ski faster…

Race organization and staffing:  I still prefer our Kongsberger “Club” races put on by volunteers.  Our goal is to provide a good quality ski-race experience for the racers.  Rather than the commercial ‘business’ approach of the Birkie and BMT.  But then again, if you’re going to have a cast of thousands, you’ll need to pay people to put in the time and expertise needed to organize and conduct a large race of 10,000 participants.  (Think STP on skis…) 

We’ve got a bunch of KSC summer events— Parking lot clean up on 21 May, Mountain Bike tour on 4-5 June, hikes, and plenty to do around the cabin, too.  Contact Frank if you want to help eradicate noxious and invasive weeds.  

Next winter, I am looking at our KSC races, the Canadian Birke, and maybe a trip to West Yellowstone?  

Anyone else want to come along?  Let’s do it!

PS:  It is almost May Day.  Maybe I should break down and come to grips with dealing with the saddest day of the year:  Putting summer wax on my skis….

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Almost Heaven -- Tony at the Engadin

Super Tony tackled the Engadin again this year, and sends back this gorgeous report.  Stories like this make me want to learn to skate, just so I can experience Switzerland like this!  Thanks, Tony, for having a wonderful time and telling us all about it!  PS, bonus observations at the end, on how to manage these huge ski marathons.

The ESM was the typical amazing experience this year.  The weather leading up to the race was marvelous for the entire week prior, with overnight lows in the upper teens and daytime highs in the upper 30s.  There was the typical bright sunshine, great food and the hundreds of skiers, every day, going in every direction.  This is a huge event in Switzerland, and every year I’m reminded of just how special the Engadin Valley is.  

   We woke up to this view every day…… 
 The day before the race I had arranged a ride to the start with some other skiers from the US, which included Jon Shafer (a supporter of US skiing and contributor to FasterSkier), Taylor Fletcher (US Nordic Combined) and the President/CEO of the USSA, Tiger Shaw.  Tiger’s story was particularly interesting – he is a former Alpine skier for the US ski team, with very limited XC history.  In fact, his first XC ski race ever was the American Birkie, three weeks prior.  He then flew to Switzerland from Utah on the NIGHT BEFORE the Engadin Skimarathon, woke up the next day and completed his second XC ski race ever.  Tiger hung around for the Alpine World Cup, which was starting two days after conclusion of the ESM.  All week, we watched the folks in St Moritz prepping the Corviglia ski area for this alpine event.  In fact, one day we were able to alpine ski just outside of the fence that lined the downhill course.  Suffice it to say – I have a renewed respect for those alpine guys!  Holy cow, is that steep and FAST….
       From the Corvatsch Alpine area – the ESM runs along the valley, from left to right….
 Anyway, back to the ESM.  Everyone was crammed in our van at the start, but the atmosphere was upbeat. The weather, unfortunately, was cloudy and warmer than predicted even the night before.  But worse, there was a direct headwind from the north.  The groans began once everyone stepped out of the van and felt that wind, but at least it wasn’t snowing really hard and the view was spectacular.  I was a little late to arrive at the start area with my skis, so I was near the back again, with over 1000 skiers bunched up in front of me.  But I’d been here before. 
This race began as they all do – when the gun goes off, everyone begins double-poling in the tiny space allotted them by the massively over-crowded start pen.  The key is to stay out of trouble, and avoid anyone who starts skating entirely too early.  This year I was able to do that, finally, and I found that the first 10kms over the frozen lakes were exclusively focused on the skiers around me, and working around whatever they were doing.  I did a much better job of avoiding trouble but it was very difficult to make headway through the crowd.  When we hit the first hills in St Moritz, the lines were fairly long and everyone was walking or going very slowly, so that actually served as a recovery period.  The pace was slow through the spectacular wooded region between St Moritz and Pontresina (the half-way point) and as usual I hit Pontresina feeling pretty well.  But when we left Pontresina, we really felt that wind.  And it was blowing so hard that it was loud (my ears were actually ringing at the finish!).  I moved to the front of every train I was involved in and learned many lessons about how “long” it takes to catch a group that is seemingly not far ahead of you.  I was pretty exhausted at many points during the race but fortunately I was able to recover enough each time.  The entire course had been softened up, too, and as we progressed it became softer and softer.  However I still felt okay going into the last 5km of the race, where the hills begin again, and finished about where I normally do, place-wise.  All in all, a good hard race that provided new challenges and yet another new learning experience. 
 I made some observations during the race this year. Some skiers are REALLY GOOD at passing groups and crowds of skiers.  I watched many do this successfully; often it just means staying along the outside and skiing in a slightly “restricted” manner so you’re not skating so wide or using up so much of the trail.  Some were just really good at picking spots and jumping to better positions quickly, within the group.  I think you have to practice this and there’s probably no better way to practice than in the mass races themselves. Some people move and don’t care if they take someone out in the process, but most of the guys (and gals) I watched made these moves perfectly and fluidly without compromising anyone. It’s a talent worth developing if you plan to do lots of massively populated races. So, the crowds shouldn’t bother you, if you are comfortable with the fact that you will spend some of your race time executing maneuvers to improve your position.  At the ESM, you only need to do this for the first 21km.  From there, it’s pretty much wide open…and although still crowded, there is plenty of room to move if you need to.  It’s a fact associated with these huge marathon races – you need to develop this ability. 
Many believe that a flat race is really easy.  That depends.  The ESM isn’t ENTIRELY flat, though it is for about 75% of the race.  But when you’re skiing on long flat sections, you’re hammering pretty hard and there are no rest periods.  And this is pronounced with a headwind – you’re working harder, for a longer period of time.  It’s necessary to prepare for this – most people who have done the race for the first time state that it was harder than they expected.  The varying snow conditions along the course, the massive number of skiers, and the weather can make a huge difference in the ESM.  Every year is different! And that makes it exciting, every time. 
Next year, you should strongly consider doing the ESM.  If for no other reason, here’s why: the Master’s World Cup will be held the week before the ESM, in Klosters.  Klosters is less than an hour away from St Moritz, and the MWC staff knows this and is planning the MWC events around the ESM.  By doing this, those attending MWC will also participate in the ESM on the Sunday after MWC concludes.  It’s a great way to do a lot of racing in a short period of time, and enjoy some of the best that Switzerland has to offer.  JD Downing (AXCS, see ‘’) is organizing the US contingent and the ESM will be included in his plans.  You really need to check that out. 
 Finally, visit the ESM website,, and scroll down to the “Engadin Skimarathon 2016 Summary” video – its just a few minutes long and mostly in German, but you don’t need to understand German fully to get the idea!  Also, as your interest permits, take a look at the “Live Stream Replay” just below the summary video – it is long, several hours, but you can scroll through and watch those guys skiing at the front – it is amazing how efficient, comfortable, and fast these guys are. When was the last time you were able to see the top dogs ski in your own race?  An excellent video all around.

 My cousin and I a few days before the ESM, enjoying lunch at a restaurant located on the race course
See you all next year….?