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Blue skies on Black Mountain

Tue, Mar  3, 2009 - By Ernie Brumbaugh

We awoke to temperatures in the single digits, squeaky powder snow and lot’s of it, clear skies and a bright sun steadily shortening the shadows.  It would be what the locals call a perfect, “black and blue” day.  Blue skies and bright sunshine at the Black Mountain Classic cross country ski race.  We had quite a crew at breakfast, John Gravlin and his daughter Delaney, Ken Dawson, Don Camp and Rachelle, Carole Mueller-Brumbaugh and myself all staying with Tracy Hardin.  Her brother John and his son John were next door with Papa John as well.  Lot’s of Johns in that family.  

With temperatures that cold there wasn’t any question as to kick wax working, it was more one of, would the track be solid enough to make skiing enjoyable.  With the two days of blizzards, the question was a real one.  Not to worry though, Jim Meyer, sacrificed his race and groomed round the clock to insure a skiable and more enjoyable track.  The tourists went off at 9:30, a record 26 of them, that included ol’ #9 from the original White Pine Stampede in 1977, John D. Paul.  He was skiing with his son, John R. Paul and they finished 1-2.

At 10 AM, Race Director Denny Paull concluded his pre-race instructions just in time to say go and we were off on a frantic double pole across East Twin Lake.  The multiple tracks quickly narrowed to two as we left the lake and began the first of many climbs.  I settled into a group that included, Steve Smigiel, Cris Jones, Bill Haefner, and Mike Keenan.  Some of us had better climbing skis, some better on the downhills and some better flat double poling waxes.  Anyway it was back and forth, passing and being passed, cutting to the inside track and back again in brisk temperatures that no one even noticed.  The snow was good, the tracks pretty firm and the sun was shining through blue skis on Black Mountain.  

We made the turn at the second parking lot and headed back north towards a series of hills leading up to the biggest climb of the day.  Steve Smigiel was already about 50 yards in front when we hit the hill and continued to stretch out his lead all the way up.  Cris Jones made a move here also.  Bill Haefner and Mike Keenan were just ahead and Doug Cornell was catching up fast.  Surprisingly, we all climbed the hill in good fashion and headed off to a series of roller coasters leading to the first aid station.  The cow bells were ringing and the cheers, from the Paull kids and Delaney Gravlin, high up  in a tree, could be heard from far away.  

Doug and Mike stopped longer than I did and I got a lead on both of them coming out of the aid station.  Ann Wagar came by just past the aid station.  Shortly after the aid station we skied by a section with lots of paraphernalia in the trees.  This is John’s rock and in the summer you can read the inscription to one of the Founder’s of the Black Mountain Classic, John Hardin.  Seems like the skis always go a little faster when you acknowledge his presence.  The second quarter of the course is a delight to ski, mostly downhill with two sharp lefts at the start that when icy require “four wheel drift” to get around.  Today they were snow covered with plenty of purchase to slide the skis in.  After the second hairpin, I caught Ann and continued catching a few people, but mostly double poling alone.  Just before the halfway point, Mike Keenan caught back up and I led him into the aid station.  After the race he said he couldn’t get his Goo open, had to ask for help at the aid station and then fell on one of the hills after that.  Here I thought it was just my skiing ability.

Anyway I got out of the aid station ahead of Mike and immediately saw two other skiers up ahead, Andy Rockwood and Cris Jones.  I caught Andy quickly and nearly had Cris at the top of #6 hill, the second toughest one on the course, but Mike Keenan worked the hill to perfection and skied away from all of us.  Long gradual hills compose the third quarter of this race and the steep ones are roller coaster hills where you glide halfway up the next hill.  Ann caught me on the second long hill and proceeded to gradually pull away.  Somewhere in here, where he does every year, Wayne Christopherson came by like a freight train and skied powerfully all the way in.  Except for those two hairpin lefts, you really don’t have to be concerned about any of the downhills, they are straight or slightly curved and allow you to sit in the tracks and cruise.  And the uphills are gradual enough to really ski them.  Just plain fun.  

Got to the third aid station in fine shape, took a couple of drinks and took off.  The last section is incredibley fun, if you have anything left.  Lots of downhills with short uphills that you can run herringbone if you have anything left or any wax lef or botht.  Wax was not the problem this year nor was the gas tank, Andy Rockwood came by and skied of into the distance, then I looked back and saw a GRNST suit about 75 meters back.  I put the hammer back down in the hilly section and dropped him.  Then tried to hang on in the flat double pole section where I had been loosing ground all day long.  I came up on Bill Haefner in this section and worked a long time to catch him.  He said he had hit the wall.  Andy Rockwood was not far off either.  We skied the final six or seven hills close enough to gauge each other’s strength and hit the lake with Andy out front, me in second and Bill behind.  I decided to try to take Andy on the lake and when he changed lanes to the inside I went with him, proceeded to plant a pole between my legs and when down quickly.  There I lay with crossed skies as Bill surged past and Dan Nolan, in the GRNST suit, came onto the lake.  I got up and held off Dan be let two skiers beat me to the line.

At the finish I was 2:33:33, with Dan 9 seconds back, Bill, 15 seconds ahead and Andy another 2 seconds ahead of Bill.  But all those skiers that I had thought were kilometers ahead really weren’t, Ann Wagar was 2:32:34, Cris Jones, 2:32:06, a fading Doug Heady, 2:31:53, Mike Keenan, 2:31:14, a surging Wayne Christopherson, 2:30:21 and Old Dog Smigiel with one of his best races of the year way up there at 2:25:24.  I looked around and the icicles were spectacular this year.  Huge, inch thick once hanging off most people ear muffs and mine left ear felt pretty solid.  Today it feels pretty good but it may peel in a few days.

I put on my warm-ups and skied out to cheer Carole in.  She made it on 3:03 and we went up to the Chalet for the best post race lunch on the Michigan Cup circuit.  This is a great restaurant anytime of the year and we really enjoy it in the summer sitting over the lake and thinking about the next Black Mountain Classic, hopefully on another “perfect Black and Blue Day”.