Monday, March 23, 2009

The Oosik Preamble: Getting There

Alaska range sunset

After completing two tough marathons on the previous two weekends, I wasn’t even planning on the skiing Oosik Classic in Talkeetna on Saturday March 21. But the sub zero weather wasn’t leaving the Interior, and I had been thinking it would be fun to go for an unofficial Alaskan marathon triple crown with the Tour or Anchorage, Sonot, and Oosik in succession. Also, my wife Tamara kept bugging me because several people had been asking her if I would be going. So finally on Tuesday I started sending out some inquiries to friends.

Local racer and age group ace Dave Edic, was interested, Bad Bob was going to his cabin a few miles off of the Parks highway and wouldn’t race. But he said we were welcome to stay at his place if we were willing to ski in. The adventure was on.

It was zero and the wind was blowing as we left Fairbanks after work on Friday. As we approached Denali National Park and Cantwell, it only got colder and windier, like -5 and 30-35 mph gusts. The sun was setting behind the Alaska Range by the time we got our gear ready and the car parked.

Dave sets out on the trail

The bluff and Alaska Range

We had navigated some 5K of snow machine trail that included a 200’ climb straight up a steep bluff, so steep that we had to take off our skis and flounder in the snow.

Dave at the top of the bluff

The cabin was a welcome sight, as it was getting dark and below zero with a howling wind. I ate a late dinner of Ramen, and Dave scarfed what must have been his 5th bagel sandwhich. At 10, when we should have been heading for the loft, Bob returned from an errand to bring some building supplies and Dave brought out the Guinness, so we swapped stories and lies with Bob and his wife, Sharon, and their son Danny. We were up until midnight.

Alaska Range

Sleep was fitful and by morning there was no way I wanted to crawl out of those covers because the temp in the cabin and dropped into the 30s. But we got rolling and after warming up with some hot tea and Tang, set out for the highway and Dave’s car at a little after 8.

Bob took off before I got my poles on, and I took off after him only to take one step before falling flat on my face. Got going again and caught up just in time to see him sit back on his skis and slide straight down that 200’ chute on his butt. No way, Dave and I took our skis off and walk-slid down.

Then on the last pitch with a hair pin, Bob used the old school trick of snow plowing while using his poles, braced between his legs as a brake. The guy is nuts.

Again Dave and I walked.

We bid Bob goodbye as he attended to his pile of plywood that he was tryihng to haul up to the cabin with a snowmachine, and got we to the highway at about 8:45. Then we had another mile to walk, along the highway. It was after 9 by the time we arrived at the car, and so had hour warm-up for a 50K.

Dave hadn’t trained much since Masters World Cup in France last month (where he took a couple of 14th places for the 50-54 age group, a bit off from top 10s from last year, but impressive). He was claiming poor fitness and said he was overtired, and would probably just tour the course.

I just hoped he’d get us there without falling asleep at the wheel, but I also didn’t believe that he was so run down. He was playing verbal Rope-a-Dope.

Finally we arrived at the parking lot in Talkeetna at 11, and I waxed my skis, sorted through my junk, and tried to figure what to take on the trail. Normally I just have a drink bottle and Gu’s stapled to the seam of my ski pants, but since this was a “wilderness race” without much support and potentially windy conditions out on the trail and Susitna River, I stuffed a fanny pack with a windbreaker, an extra set of gloves, a cliff bar, and some waxes, cork, and scraper. So I was loaded up, but ended up using none of that stuff except for two Gu's!

Getting it all together over the last half hour was the typical scramble; I always need an additional 20-30 minutes.

But with 5 minutes to go before the start, I realized I hadn’t gone pee. I didn’t think I’d make it to the loo and back in time to get a decent start position, so I thought I’d just take a few steps off the airport runway/start area and go out by some trees. I took a step off the runway thinking the soft snow might be a foot or two deep and promptly sunk up to my waist in snow. That wasn’t going to work. Finally, no pride here, I found a place out in the open, some 30 yards past the start line and got lined up with just a minute to spare.

After that audacious preamble, I was not sure what would be in store in the hours ahead. Nevertheless, there was solace in the thought that I'd wanted to do this race ever since moving here to Alaska and now I'd get the chance!


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