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Somewhere Between Obscurity and Oblivion

October 4

All summer I had wanted to take a trip to southern Colorado to do some mountain biking. Recently, a lot of people have been raving about the riding in the Fruita to Durango area and I wanted to see for myself. But my work schedule almost never allowed me to get away for more than a day and when it did, it seemed that I had too much web design that needed to get done so I never did get away. But last week I got a call from my college teammate and roommate, Colter Leys. He and his fiancee, Annie McKee, started a bike tour in Bend, OR in July. They headed north from Bend up towards Vancouver, Canada, then west over to Banff in the Canadian Rockies and are now making their way south along the COntinental Divide Trail to Mexico. This is only the first leg of the journey which will eventually take them up the east coast next spring as well. But anyway, they called me from Steamboat Springs, CO last week where they were delayed for a few days due to snow and wanted to know if I felt like coming over and joining them for a day or two of riding. We had discussed this possibility briefly back in JUne in Bend, but I kind of figured that the logistics of the whole trip would prevent it from happening. Would I be able to get off from work? How would I get back to my truck after a couple days of riding south? Do I really want to drive that far for only a coupe days? But then things started to fall into place. Time off from work was easy, and I recruited Eric Maas to come with me. So I talked to Colter and we decided that Eric and I would meet them in Salida , CO on Tuesday for a day of riding (probably a loop ride) and then possibly join them for the first part of the ride when they resume their trip on Wednesday. Eric owns a 1977 Volkswagen Vanogen camper, so camping each night would not be a problem. So after work on Monday evening, we loaded up the van and headed out. We had calculated that it would be about a 9 hour drive to Salida. Kind of ridiculous since we had to come back on Thursday, but hey you should be adventurous and a little crazy when you are still young. Or even when you aren't so young for that matter. We finally left Park CIty at 7:30 pm. We knew we wouldn't make it the whole way tonight, so around 1:30 am, just after passing through Delta, CO, we stopped for the night. We pulled the van off the highway and drove for a mile or two until we hit a dirt road. Perfect camp. We climbed in back, pulled out the sleeping bags and fell asleep.

October 5

About 3:15 am, I woke up to the flashing blue and red lights of a police car that was parked right in front of us. Maas had told me that occasionally the police will come and ask him to move his van in the middle of the night if they are parked in a bad or illegal place, but I didn't think there was anything wrong with where we were. I was also in no mood to get up and look for a new spot. I pulled my sleeping bag over my head and hoped he would disappear. After just sitting there for about five minutes, he drove off without disturbing us. SInce we were trying to be inconspicuous, I'm sure he was running a check to find out if the van was stolen or anything. I fell back asleep.

At 7:30 my alarm went off and we crawled out of bed, put on our shoes, and crawled back up front to continue the journey. The one drawback about the van, other than the fact that it only goes 60 mph tops, is that it has a broken starter. This means that every time you want to start it, you have to get it rolling and pop the clutch. Somehow in our infinite wisdom at 1:30 am last night, We managed to park at a three way intersection where all the roads head gradually uphill. For about 15 minutes, we tried push starting the van uphill. Maas and I would get it rolling, then Maas would jump in and pop the clutch while I continued to push. This was not very effective for a few reasons: 1) we were going uphill 2) the van has trouble starting in the cold 3) Maas kept having to steer as we pushed, so he wasn't really pushing much. After three of four unsuccessful tries, we tried doing it in reverse down the hill. I was a bit skeptical of this, but Maas said he'd done it before so I kept my mouth shut. Again, the same result: I would push my brains out only to have the van come to a quick stop when the clutch was popped, at which point I would drop to my knees and gasp for breath. Now I know why I didn't make the bobsled team as a pusher. At least 10 cars drove by and looked at us a little funny as we were doing this. We were both getting very tired and very concerned that we might not be going anywhere. As a last ditch effort we pushed the van about 100 meters up the hill and turned it around so it was heading down hill. We then summoned all the energy we had left and gave one last push. When we had the van going pretty fast I remember thinking, "If this doesn't work, I am going to just crawl back inside and go back to sleep." At that moment, Maas popped the clutch and the old beast roared to life! With a couple hoots and hollers, I climbed back inside and we were off. It took about three hours to get to Salida from Delta. When we arrived, COlter and Annie were waiting for us and greeted us by saying, "I can't believe you guys rallied all the way over here!" I told them I couldn't believe we had actually made it.

They had scoped out a ride for us, but in order to do it before dark, we needed to catch a shuttle from the town of Poncha Springs ( 4 miles away) to the top of Monarch Pass (which we had just driven over) at noon. So we hurried and put on our cycling clothes and rode to Poncha. We caught the shuttle and on the drive up we listened to the driver tell us all about how all the two year olds in the area ride snowmobiles, or something like that anyway. We were too busy using the time to catch up with Colter and Annie and hear about select moments from the first part of their trip. Such as when the drunk rednecks in Montana insisted that they have a beer and stay the night at their cabin. Which they did and were apparently treated like royalty. But anyway, back to our ride. At the top of Monarch Pass, we jumped on our bikes and headed along the ridge on the Continental Divide Trail. The first twelve miles of the trail were incredible. It was all ridable single-track. Smooth enough to cruise in most places, but with plenty of technical challenges to keep us honest. It was pretty demanding terrain, almost all up and down, and at 11,000 feet we were all sucking a lot of air. What little breath we had left was taken away by the spectacular scenery. Rocky 14,000 ft peaks cut a jagged edge between the clear blue sky above and Evergreens and bright yellow Aspens below. It is almost numbing in a sense to see such vast beauty because it makes everything else you see seem unremarkable and insignificant. After about an hour and a half of this fat-tire paradise, we finally made it to Marshall Pass, where we stopped for lunch. At this point we had a couple of options. We could head straight down the dirt road that came over the pass, or we could continue on the ridge for another five miles or so and then drop down a singletrack trail. The second route was definitely longer, but we still had three hours of daylight and we weren't quite ready to leave the views behind so we took off in that direction. The trail along the ridge was more of the same great riding, but with more forested sections to add in some variation.

The descent that followed was wild. It was 12 miles of uninterrupted downhill. We had heard that there was one long section of nice smooth trail, perfect for cruising, but we never found it. Instead it was bone-jarring, hand-numbing, rocky terrain. But we didn't let that slow us down. We flew down, balancing precariously on the border between control and recklessness. Every once in a while we had to stop to let our brakes cool and let blood rush back to our fingers. A few sections were nothing but rocks the size of baseballs, which made for a few good wipeouts and one quite funny endo by yours truly. The last 10 miles of trail riding took us on a rollercoaster ride that basically went like this: traverse a grassy hillside, drop down a fast decent, cross a stream, climb up a steep, barely ridable climb, then repeat. The highlight of this part of the ride was when Colter misjudged his approach to one of the streams and ended up catching his front wheel and taking a swim. I have to admit that I was in stitches laughing for about 30 seconds - and I didn't even see it happen, I just heard it going down behind me. It took us about an hour and a half to get to the end of the trail which came out on a paved highway about halfway up some other pass. The next five miles were downhill, and even though we were exhausted, we couldn't just coast down the hill into town. Instead, we got into a Chinese Downhill competition - racing all out, working off each others drafts, and bursting ahead for brief moments of time. We reached a max speed of 48 mph, which is pretty good for a mountain bike. At the bottom of the hill, we entered the town of Poncha Springs just as it was starting to get dark. From here we just cruised, for the first time all day, back into Salida where we showered, ate dinner, relaxed, and went to bed.

October 6

We had planned on doing another ride with Colter and Annie this morning before seeing them on their way and heading home. But we were all still pretty worn out from yesterday and Colter and Annie would get in plenty of riding that afternoon anyway. So instead we went to some local hot springs to relax. The hot springs were really nothing more than naturally heated swimming pools at about 100 degrees, but with a nice cold river nearby, the combination was just what we needed. We left the hot springs at about 1:00pm and drove back up and over Monarch Pass and after dropping Colter and Annie on the other side, we started the 9 hour trip back home. If only it had taken 9 hours. . .

About an hour into the trip, when I was behind the wheel the van started to lose significant power. As we started up a ten mile gradual climb, it was just minor - we were going 30 mph up the hill instead of our usually speed 40 mph. But it kept getting worse. A couple miles later we were going 20 mph in second gear and the van was really struggling to do this much. I pulled over so we could investigate, but we couldn't tell anything. We decided that at the very least we needed to make it over the top of this hill so we could coast down into the next town. So Maas took the wheel and we crawled along. As we neared the top we were now in first gear and going about 8 mph. I literally had my door open, ready to jump out and help push us over the top if necessary. But we made it, barely. At the top we stopped again. This time our problems were worse - there was smoke billowing out of the engine and the oil was way over full and very thin. We coasted down the hill until we reached a campground and called a tow truck. The tow truck driver suggested that he take us to a Volkswagen mechanic in Delta and since we didn't have any better ideas, we agreed. When we arrived there we knew it was the right place. He had at least 6 Volkswagens like ours in the parking lot. The only problem was that he had just closed for the day and wouldn't be back until 9 am the next day. So we were stuck camping in a garage parking lot. So much for making it to work tomorrow. "Well, I guess we'll make camp here," I said to Maas. To keep ourselves entertained in Delta we went and grabbed some dinner then hit the local movie theater (thank god they had one) to waste a few hours watching "Double Jeopardy." Then we went "home" and went to bed early.

October 7

The next morning when the mechanic arrived at 9 he said that he would try to get to us today, but he couldn't promise anything. Not what we wanted to hear. I just did not want to deal with the whole situation so I went back to bed until 1pm. At 1 o'clock I was woken up by the mechanic opening up the engine compartment. He did have time to look it over after all! While Maas waited and watched him work, I went into town to grab lunch and look for rental cars - just in case. When I arrived back at the shop I learned that the problem was that the fuel injectors were shot and instead of spraying gas into the cylinders, they were just spewing gas everywhere. The mechanic had taken some injectors and a starter (!) from an old VW in the lot and was in the process of putting them into Maas's van. An hour or so later, the van roared back to life with the turn of a key and we were on our way for only $140 out of Maas's pocket. Not bad. The van was stellar for the rest of the trip and we arrived back in Park City at 10:00 pm, only a day late. It was a great trip and even with the breakdown, I would do it again in a second.

October 9

One thing I missed on Thursday, besides work, due to our breakdown in Colorado was the Agony Hill Time Trial. This is the most appropriately named race I know of. In the foothills behind the University of Utah there is a trail that climbs straight up a small mountain (Agony Hill I guess). Each fall we do a run up this trail to see how our general fitness compares with years past. My best time previous to this year was 15:21. Most of the best skiers in this country have done this race at one time or another and are usually in the 14 minute range. At the race on Thursday, Rob Whitney destroyed the field with a time of 13 something, while Scott Loomis was in the low 14's. All the results are supposed to be on the TUNA site, but I haven't found them. Anyway, since I missed the time trial on Thursday, I had to do it this morning by myself. My ultimate goal was to break 15 minutes, but without anyone to push me, this would be difficult. Regardless, I was still fairly confident that I could beat my PR. It was very painful, and definitely full of Agony, but when it was over my watch read 15:04. Not quite up to my ultimate goal, but still a very good time for me. This is just what I want to see now that the ski season is fast approaching.

October 10

This week was pretty low on volume, but almost everything I did was hard in one way or another. 5 hour ride on Tuesday, time trial yesterday, and a three hour rollerski today. Today's ski was up the same route that I described on September 12 which, by the way, is now my favorite rollerski by far. Normally this wouldn't have been that hard, but Torbjorn started skiing about half an hour in front of us and we really wanted to chase him down. Scott Loomis and I were skiing up the hill together and it took quite a while to get the coach in sight. With about four miles to go before the top we caught a glimpse of him and he must have looked back and saw us because his tempo picked up immediately. At this point he was about 4 minutes ahead of us by my approximation. Seeing that he was hammering, we picked up our pace as well. The next split I took about two miles later showed that we were only two minutes behind and closing fast. About a mile from the top we caught and passed him. In the process, we also passed a couple of cyclists on their way up, which gave us a very good feeling, but probably demoralized them. At this point we could relax, but the damage was already done. I was really tired.

October 12

This is the time of year I like to call milestone month. This is when you clean out the closet and do all the workouts you have been planning all summer and do your all the time trials you use to measure your progress by. Its also the month that in many ways defines you season. If you put in the hours over the summer, you can make one final dryland push before getting on snow. If you didn't get in the hours you hoped over the summer, you had better start catching up. Either way, it's time to due those incredibly hard workouts. That's why we did Agony Hill, and thats why we did today's workout. Many of you will probably remember the hellacious track workout I did this summer that involved ridiculous repetitions of a 1000m followed by a 400m on the track. Some of you even tried the workout yourselves - you poor misguided sheep. Well today we took that workout, mixed it up a bit and turned the volume up to 11. This is the workout we had been aiming for all summer. Instead of doing it on a track, we did it on a rolling trail so that we could get some vertical gain as well. We did a three minute interval at level IV followed by a one minute interval at level IV-V. Then we did this nine more times! It was the hardest workout I have done all year, barring races, and I was exhausted by the end. It was all I could do to walk back to the car and collapse. But as with anything of this difficulty, the euphoria of completing the workout more than made up for the physical exhaustion.

October 18

A few weeks ago they had the grand opening of the new 2002 Olympic Trails at Soldier's Hollow in nearby Midway, Utah. They began trail construction in the spring and over the course of the summer they finished the trails and even installed snowmaking on most of the trail system. Because of the construction, the trails have not been in good shape for training. But at the opening ceremonies, the trails looked to finally be in shape for running and I had wanted to go check them out ever since. Today I was down in the Midway area looking at houses for rent. I have been contemplating a move to that area because of the proximity to the trails and the lower rent. After checking out a couple of houses, Eric Maas and I decided to go over to the trails for a run. We ran for about an hour and a half and explored essentially all of the trails. Anyone who is familiar with the nordic skiing options in Utah knows that almost all the trails are long, gradual climbs that loop around into long gradual descents. Not much variation in terrain. Fortunately, the Soldier's Hollow trails are the exception to this rule. It took the SLOC quite a while to find a location to hold the nordic events, but in the end they picked a good site and the trail designers have done a great job of working with the terrain. Now sure there are plenty of gradual, and not so gradual, climbs, but there are also many short ups and downs, and twists and turns to make it fun to ski. All of the trails are built into a hill-side above the stadium area and I think that due to the lack of trees, spectators will be able to see large portions of the race. Rumor has it that NBC wants the SLOC to plant more trees to make it look more scenic, but I don't know if that is true or not. In all I think that the courses will be tough, but skiable, and that it will be a worthy venue for world-class competition. Now I just have to put in more time on the trails to make them my friend.

October 19

I mentioned earlier that this is milestone month. So today we had another progress report in the form of a 3000m race on the track. This workout has been my nemesis ever since Ruff incorporated it into our college training program during my sophomore summer. I have never been a fast runner and this distance is possibly my worst. Not short enough to be a sprint, but not long enough for endurance to be much of a factor. Plus, having never run track in my life, I have terrible running form. My best in the 3000 is 9:37 which I ran last summer back east. My goal today was to equal that time, since I haven't been doing much track work and we are now running at altitude, which Torbjorn says adds 15 seconds. I started out pretty well and stayed on Scott Loomis's heels for a couple laps. But Scott kept getting faster and faster, while I started to drop off. By the end, Scott was flying, turning in a 9:01, while I came through in 9:42. Not bad, but slower than I had hoped for. But if you subtract those fifteen seconds and consider that I trained 4 hours yesterday and that I have felt sluggish for the past week or so, it's not too bad. Of course, I should have to add 30 seconds to my time for coming up with lame excuses like that. The fact is I ran 9:42, end of story.

October 23

Last year, I went to Moab in late October to meet up with a good friend of mine who was living in Arizona at the time. Despite the fact that it seemed like everything that could possibly go wrong did, it was a great time. The day after I got back to Park City, I took off for Fairbanks to ski. Looking back, I think that going to Moab was the perfect way to finish off the dryland season before hitting the snow. One last weekend of fun in the sun (and rain) before settling in for a winter of snow and cold. So all fall I had been planning to do the same thing this year. I recruited basically all the other skiers in town to go with me (Scott Loomis, Andrew Johnson, Eric Maas, Addison Whitworth, and Jessica Ferry). So yesterday we packed up the cars and headed south for the weekend. Last night we camped outside town at a little known campground. This morning when we got up we went into town for breakfast at a local diner and started to plan our weekend. Scott and I had to do a rollerski pace workout this morning, which neither of us was too psyched about. Who goes rollerskiing in Moab? Well, apparently we do, so we packed up on car and headed out to Castle Valley for one of the most scenic rollerski workouts you'll ever see. Meanwhile Addision, Jessica, and Andrew took off into Arches National Park on a mission to see every single arch in the park. Eric Maas decided to come with us for some reason, but due to a rollerski mix-up he wasn't able to ski and went for a run while we did 2x15 minutes at race pace. After the workout, we were driving back into town along the Colorado river when we noticed a nice swimming hole. We pulled over, stripped down to our shorts and jumped in. Of course the water was freezing and we were only able to stay in for a matter of seconds, but it was very refreshing and we laid out on the rocks for a while to warm up. When the sun went behind a large rock butte, we packed up and headed back to camp for lunch and an afternoon nap/sun-tanning session.

Around 5 pm we finally got back up and decided to go for a short mountain bike ride. Now, in my entire life I had only had one flat bike tire before today. But when I was getting ready to ride, I noticed that my tire was flat. I didn't have a spare on me that would fit, so Scott loaned me his and he and I and Eric embarked on the workout. I hadn't gone more that a quarter mile when Loomis's tube went flat also. When I changed the tube before the ride I had pulled out the puncturing thorn, so I chalked this flat up to a defective spare tube. I rode back to camp and borrowed Addison's front wheel. We only wanted to ride for an hour or so, but the trail we were on - the Flat Pass Trail- was so cool, with slickrock, river crossings, spectacular views, that we decided to do the whole loop tomorrow morning. We rode back to camp, told the others about our great trail, then headed into town for dinner and a little nightlife.

October 24

Last night while we were in town I bought two new tubes, one to replace the flat I had and another as a spare. But when I went to change my front tire this morning, I noticed that my back one was flat also. Three flats in one weekend! This never happens to me. So while I changed my tubes the others packed up camp and we headed out on the ride. Everyone except Andrew that is who opted to play golf instead.

Right from the start of the ride, my rear derailuer was giving me problems. I stopped a few times to fix it and the others waited. Finally, I told them to go ahead because I thought I was going to have to turn around. But after 20 minutes of fiddling, the deraileur was at least functional again and I decided to keep going. Just up the trail I passed Addison and Jessica who had turned around and were on their way back. They said that Scott and Eric had continued on and were doing the whole loop. My bike was doing ok at this point and I was moving pretty fast so I began to think that I could catch Scott and Eric. I picked up the pace a little more, but with their 20 minute headstart they were well ahead of me and I never saw them. With about a mile to go before the trail came out on a road, my rear tire started to feel softer and less maneuverable. I stopped to check it out and sure enough - I had my fourth flat of the weekend! Not only did I have to walk out to the end of the trail, but then I had a 7 mile walk on pavement back to the campsite. Fortunately, after a mile or two of slow walking and fast cursing, I came across a couple of riders who were packing up their truck and I asked for a ride home. They obliged and I returned to the camp just as they were getting ready to go look for me. We packed up the cars and headed north. We've gotten summer out of our systems and we are ready for our first tastes of winter.

October 27

Well, today is the one year anniversary of this journal. Just like last year at this time, I am on a plane headed to Fairbanks, Alaska. It used to be that by the time I got on snow, I was sure that I couldn't do another day of dryland training. The snow would arrive just as I was starting to go insane from breathing too many car exhaust fumes while rollerskiing. But ever since I started making this early season trek to Alaska two years ago, the end of the dryland season is much less painful. For one thing, when you can set a firm date as the end of dryland, it makes it easier to endure. For another, this fall has been perfect for training. Since September 1, I counted one day of rain. Every other day was cool and sunny, perfect weather for training. You really can't complain about anything when you can go running or biking in 60 degree weather every single day. The only time I ever took my sunglasses off was to sleep. Usually we get a few days of rain and snow to make it miserable, but this year we had none. While this has me a little worried about the prospects of snow this winter, for the past couple months it has been great. But now, after enduring a perfect weekend in Moab of 80 degrees and sunny each day and training in shorts and no shirt, I am on my way to Fairbanks, land of no sun and lots of cold. Last year we skied for two weeks on 2-3 inches of snow. Early reports this year are that the skiing is great, but we'll see about that.

The trip to Alaska was pretty painless except for a four hour layover in Seattle. Scott and I decided to make the most of this time by catching a bus into the city. Scott had done this before, so I just followed his lead. It wasn't until we had been riding the bus for 20 minutes that I was able to decipher from the bus route map that we were headed AWAY from the city into the suburbs. Upon further inspection, I decided that we did not have enough time to switch buses, get into the city, look around and get back to the airport before our next flight. So we went to the mall instead. By the way, if anyone can explain the Seattle bus fares to me, I would appreciate it. I think I ended up paying $3.50 for what the bus driver said should have been a $1.25 fare. That was just the icing on the whole misadventure. I was just happy to get back on the plane, because I knew where it was going and how much it cost me. We arrived in Fairbanks at midnight and went straight to our host's house and right to bed.

October 28

As I was falling asleep last night I joked to Erik that I was going to sleep until noon. At least I thought I was joking. As morning grew near, I woke a few times, but not seeing any light coming into the room through the window, I figured it was still early (contrary to popular belief, it is not completely dark up here this time of year). It wasn't until I check my watch and saw that it was 10:30 that I realized that the room had no windows! It would have stayed dark in there all day if I had let it. I was a little disturbed that I was able to sleep until what was effectively 12:30 my time without even noticing. But then I began to relish the fact that I could do just that. Yes, I am truly on a training camp now. Nothing to do but sleep, eat, and train.

Trailhead Temperature: 10º F

By mid-afternoon, we hit the ski trails. There aren't many people in town for the camp this year. Usually the US and Canadian Ski Teams are here, as well as up to 20 other elite skiers and teams. But I think everyone let last year's bad snow scare them off. Fools! The skiing here is indeed beautiful and there is hardly anyone to enjoy it. A few members of the biathlon team, Andrew Johnson, Scott Loomis, Erik Stange, and myself are the only elite skiers in town to enjoy what can only be described as great mid-winter conditions. When was the last time you used your best race skis on the first day of the year? Thats what I did today. I skied for about two hours on cold, packed powder. I couldn't help but think of the other skiers who went other places, like Silver Star, BC, for early season skiing but have yet to find it. If there was ever a chance to get a headstart on the competition, this is it!

October 29

A.M. Trailhead Temperature: 9º F

Before coming to Alaska, I was feeling a little run-down. Every workout was exhausting and usually left me with a throbbing headache. I kept telling myself, "Just push through a couple more days. Then you will be down at sea-level and will be able to recover." This was my hope, but I also knew that I would be training a lot and that getting on-snow for the first time is also a strain on the body. So today I was pretty psyched to feel good while skiing. I wasn't tired or sore from the first ski workout and I actually felt like I had some snap on the uphills. I skated for 2:15 before calling it quits. I felt like I could have gone farther, but there is no need to push it just yet. Besides, I still have another workout this afternoon.

P.M. Trailhead Temperature: 7º F

In terms of technique, the most crucial time on skis is the first couple days of the season. Invariably, you will pick up a few bad habits rollerskiing in the off-season due to slight variations in motions. It is important to identify these flaws before you get on snow so that you can focus on them on snow and get out of the habit early into the ski season. Otherwise they may become ingrained in your technique and much harder to fix. In my case, my main problems caused by rollerskiing were weight shift in classic skiing (getting my weight directly over the kicking ski) and pushing off with my toes in skating (which causes my tips to drag). Knowing this, I set out on this afternoon's classical ski to work on weight shift. As any coach will tell you, one of the best ways to work on technique is to ski without poles. I highly recommend that any skier spend up to 40% of the few days on snow skiing without poles. Poles are almost like a crutch in that they can hide major flaws in technique. This is especially true of weight shift. If you are not directly over the kicking leg without poles, you will not be able to compress the ski and kick off. Instead you will slip and stumble. I skied for about 30 minutes without poles and did my share of stumbling, but when I got the poles back I felt much more in synch than I did yesterday. My kicks were much more solid and dynamic. After the no-poles stuff, I skied easy for an hour before calling it a day.

October 30

A.M. Trailhead Temperature: 6º F

One of the perks of being a relatively high-profile elite ski racer (emphasis on relatively) is that I have sponsors for all of my ski equipment. I don't currently receive money from any of these sponsors, but I do get my gear for free. Though it would be nice if money was involved, one of the (few) upshots of not receiving money is that I am free to choose exactly what equipment I want to use based solely on how the products perform. I honestly believe that my Atomic skis, Salomon boots, Exel poles, Solda wax, Yoko gloves (etc., etc.) are the best products on the market and are the equipment I would choose to buy with my own money. This belief is the main reason why I am having trouble coming to terms with my new classic boots. When I first tried the new Salomon Racing Classic 9 last spring, they hurt my feet a bit. At the time I attributed this to the fact that they were demo boots and hadn't conformed to my foot the way my own boots had. And they did provide more support and control of the ski so I was not very concerned. After all, Salomon would not replace a top-of-the-line racing boot with an inferior product. So when I was packing for Fairbanks earlier this week, I packed only my fresh out-of-the-box Racing Classic 9s without thinking twice. The first time out on Thursday, my feet got a little sore, but not as bad as I had remembered from the spring, plus with the extra force I was putting on my feet to "set the wax" for the first time in months, I expected to be a bit sore. So no big deal. But last night, one of my big toes started to get irritated while classic skiing and a blister developed. This morning's classic ski aggravated the blister and made it very sore. The fact that this blister was under a thick callous and was about the size of a penny made it extremely painful. I managed to ski for 2:20, but by the end, the only reason I wasn't in severe pain is because my feet were numb from the cold. When I took my boots off, not only was the blister bigger, but the area around it was black and purple and very sore to touch (Where was the point that I reached "too much information"?). I could harldy walk. My main goal at this point was to keep the swelling down enough so that I could ski again in the afternoon. Do the boots really fit me incorrectly or do I just need to break them in? It's too soon to tell. I hope that it is the latter, and since every single other pair of Salomon boots I have had has fit me very well, I suspect this is the case. In the meantime, I need to figure out a short-term solution to the problem.

P.M. Trailhead Temperature: 5º F

Despite my best efforts, the swelling did not go down over lunch. But I was determined not to let this keep me from training. A broken arm, pneumonia, torn ACL - these are excuses for not training. A blister?! Come on, suck it up and get back out there. I laced up my boots, wincing with every move, and headed out the door. I was skating this afternoon so I hoping that the relatively stationary situation of the toe would be OK. But it didn't happen. I skied about half a kilometer before I was certain that it was getting worse. I reluctantly gave up and headed back inside where I put a bag of snow on the toe for about a half hour to cool it off. I was not happy at this point. I had paid hundreds of dollars to come here and ski and I was being sidelined by a blister. I stewed over that point for a while, but then managed to let it go. I will overcome this. Its only a blister.

October 31

A.M. Trailhead Temperature: 4º F

Happy Halloween! Due to my career as a ski racer, I have come to associate Thanksgiving with West Yellowstone, MT, having spent five of the last six Thanksgiving holidays there. Now, I am beginning to develop the same relationship between Fairbanks and Halloween. The Fairbanks Halloween experience is quite different from the one I grew up with. When I was younger, in addition to trick-or treating, I used to help carve dozens of pumpkins which we would place all over the lawn at night for about a week at the end of October. Sometimes I would even rig up a defense system against would-be pumpkin smashers, usually involving a water balloon launcher and rotten apples. In Fairbanks, Halloween night for me is pretty much like any other, except that every once in a while annoying kids come knocking on the door looking for all the candy I just ate. OK, that last part isn't true, but I have noticed that the kids have to be more careful choosing Halloween costumes around here - it isn't exactly wise to dress up as a Ballerina in -10 degree weather. An astronaut is much more appropriate. I don't really remember where I was going with all this, but suffice it to say that my Halloween was pretty much like any other day at a training camp, with the exception of the Simpsons Halloween special.

I did manage to train today. The blister on my foot was barely noticeable this morning, much to my relief. I had planned to do an OD workout, and since I preferred to not rip my toe to shreds, I skated. Now most of you remember how I raved last spring about how great the new Atomic Beta ski is. It is fast, stable, torsionally rigid, makes good party drinks, etc., etc. Well today it wasn't so fast. Now it probably had something to do with the fact that I was skiing on travel wax best suited for 32 degrees, but that did little to easy my frustration. After essentially walking for about 5 K's on the squeaky cold snow, I went back inside and corked a little of Solda's new Speed Cold wax into the base. I was amazed at the difference it made. I wouldn't win any races with this speed, but it clearly made my soft wax much faster. I was actually able to glide down the hills. I skied for almost three hours before my feet lost all feeling and I went inside to begin the painful unthawing process. Then it was off to the ranch to watch football all afternoon, and then wait for the 5 trick-or-treaters who came to our door.

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© 2003 Cory Smith. All Rights Reserved.