I am in Fairbanks, AK. It is Friday March 22, 2013 and I came up to Fairbanks to compete in the Sonot Kkaazoot (Athabaskan: Sonot (“springtime”) Kkaazoot (“to slide your feet across the snow”). It is a ski marathon which is starting tomorrow! The race starts in town on the Chena River and goes for 10k. Following you climb hills on Birch Hill for 30k and then come back down to the river for 10 more kilometers. Sounds like a good time! I have heard that it is a really tough race and is harder than the Tour of Anchorage which is another ski race that I did 2 weekends ago. Check out the blog title: tour of Anchorage.
My friend Joe Magellan has joined me for the weekend and we are staying with friends of his in town. I took the day off to come up here which is a 6 hour drive or a 45min flight from Anchorage.
Tomorrow following the race, I am going to hang out with another friend that lives up here. So, it will be a great weekend of hanging out with friends and ski racing! Nice!
Today, upon our arrival we stopped at Beaver Sports which is Fairbanks’s outdoor gear store. Joe needed to get some boot covers because he is volunteering for the White Mountains 100 race starting on Sunday.
Afterwords, we grabbed some food at the local breakfast eatery called, Sam’s sourdough Cafe. I got a omelette with pancakes, hash browns and coffee. This of course is my 2nd breakfast of the day! Prior to leaving this morning, I made myself French toast, hash browns and coffee which was exquisite! (Much better than The sourdough cafe) just saying.
Afterwords, we stopped at the grocery store for some more food for breakfast tomorrow prior to the race. Now, I’m relaxing/blogging at Joes friends house prior to dinner. I’m getting psyched for tomorrow! Let the fun continue!
Race day: the alarm goes off. It reads 6:45am… Time to get up! I offered to make French toast in the morning and need to get going on that. I slept on the floor in the living room on a mat with my sleeping bag. I unzipped the bag and start moving. I’m a bit stiff but I’m psyched for some French toast! Mmm! I get int the kitchen, looking around for the light switch. Kathy wakes up, comes downstairs and offers to help. I ask if she is willing to prepare the fresh fruit which will accompany our French toast which is bananas, strawberries and blueberries. She also starts a pot of coffee! Nice! The French toast takes a while on the griddle but cooks nicely. Joe gets up and cooks himself a steak. He likes steak before a race. Whatever floats your boat. For breakfast we also had aguava necter as a syrup, really delicious!
After chowing down, it was about 7:45am. We needed to get on the road to the start of the race which was about 30min from the house. The bib pick-up was from 8-9am with the 50k race starting at 10am. We load up and start driving. Now it was 8:30 and I was anxious that we were going to be late to get our bibs. Fortunately, we made it there by 9am and had an hour to twiddle our thumbs before the start. Hurry up and wait. I get out of the car and IT IS COLD! Youzers! Looking at the weather earlier in the morning the temp read -1f at birch hill which is on 30k of the race course. Sweet!
This race is a lot of 1st. 1st race in Fairbanks. 1st race below 0F…. I’m sooo excited regarding the temps… Sarcasm.. A big concern regarding the temps is what to wear!?! I do not want to be too hot nor too cold. I figure out what I am going to wear and go to the starting line. I get one short down and back to warm up the legs. I hear, “5min till the start!” over a loud speaker. “Good! Because I am getting cold!” Everyone in the 50k lines up and we wait for the start. A loud buzzer goes off and the race starts! Away we go!
The first 10k is on the Chena river, so long, flat and windy. There are tracks on the river which are faster to double pole in. Opposed to skating. I reenforced to myself to start slow because there are a lot of hills that are coming up! I am in a small group consisting of myself, Matias Sarri and a few others. Matias and I work together on the river and at the start of the hills at Birch Hill. When you first reach Birch Hill, I look up and see the trail go straight up. mmmm…Sweet… and that was just the beginning of the hills.
Birch Hill is a recreational area in Fairbanks with a downhill ski area, tubing area and a plethora of cross country ski trails. The hills continue..up…down…up, up, up, down, down, down, up, up, up, repeat, repeat. Gah! Enough already! It was comforting to see the total kilometers on the side of the trail to remind how much further that I have to go. I would pass some skiers and then others would pass me.
It was cold on the downhill because of the wind. It was in the single digits with wind which feels brutal! I was getting nervous that I may be getting frost nip on my ears and/or nose. Up to that point I had not seen Joe which is odd because we are very close in terms of ski fitness. There were several points on Birch Hill that had rehydration stations where people hand out cups of water or gatorade which was nice especially since my water bottle had frozen… Bummer. On longer races, it is imperative to continue to drink even if the water is really cold.
Alright! I think that the hills of death may be coming to an end soon! There was a nice continuous downhill back down to the river. Alright, 10k left. When I initially got back on the river and therefore the flats I thought that I might be able to pick up the pace but I felt horrible. I was definitely dehydrated and had only one gear which was continue to move forward. I would try to go faster and then get back into my steady pace. Skiing on the river is very demoralizing because you can see far down the river and see how much further you have to go. 8k, 5k, 3k the signs read. People were starting to pass me steadily which was an indication that I was slowing down considerably. Then I hear, “Nice job Nathan!” It was Joe! He caught up and was looking great! I tried to catch up with him but did not have the energy. He steadily was drifting away… Get’em Joe!
Finally, I can see the finish. There is a big bridge that indicates that I am close. Words cannot describe how thankful I am to see the bridge. Maybe 100ft to go! Then BAM! This skier comes up besides me a wants to engage in a sprint finish. I oblige, and he beats me by 00:00:02… Thanks. I cross the finish line and barely have the energy to stand up. I congratulate Joe on his awesome performance and try to gather the energy to take my skis off and get some water. It is still really cold outside and I tell myself to get some layers on! bbbrrr!
I eventually, make it to the car and sit in the passenger seat. I am trying to focus on simple tasks like taking my boots off and changing my clothes. These rather simple tasks seem very complex but I manage to get my self together. Joe gets in the car and I ask him if he wants to eat!?!? I am really hungary!
We go the Cookie Jar (breakfast restaurant) and get some food. I randomly ran into Ben Hahn which is a colleague that works at school. That is really random. Getting some food in me was great. A little later I met up with my good friends Derek and Alyssa who are local Fairbanksians (Is that spelled right?). I say goodbye to Joe and thank him for the awesome racing and ski sessions throughout the winter. He is volunteering for the White Mountains 100 and then is going to drive to California to pursue the next chapter in his life. Best of luck Joe!
Derek and Alyssa suggest that we get some more food. “What do you think Nathan?” Response: “Duh! I would love to eat some more food!” They suggest that we go to the Pump House. It is a local restaurant/pub. We got some celebratory beer and I got an Elk Burger with sweet potato fries. Following, we went to Hot licks, a local ice cream joint and got some ice cream. Duh. “I am really full now.”
I spent the night at Derek and Alyssa’s rustic cabin and enjoyed their company and hanging out. We rented a movie that I fell asleep to. I am a little tired. Thanks guys for your hospitality!
On Sunday we grabbed some breakfast and they dropped me off at the airport. I was on standby and literally got the last seat on the plane. Whew! Thanks friends for sharing an exciting weekend! Till next time!