It's 6:00 am and Doug, Mark, Julie and I are packing our gear into Yvon's van for a day trip to the Garland Grip 12 Km Classic race. It's snowing in Brighton - southeastern Michigan has just received 4 inches of snow, the roads are a mess, and visibility from the blowing snow makes driving hazardous. But we're determined to get to Garland at least an hour before the race's 11:00am start time.
The left lane of the highway is not bad, but there are many cars in the way between us and our race. We pass on the right when the air clears temporarily and the lane is relatively free of snow. We're periodically in contact over cell phones with Steve and Mike in a car a few miles behind. They've just passed Ken and Karen.
Fortunately, the further north we get, the better the visibility and road conditions become. We even stop for food and a bathroom break!
After registration, we change into our race togs, quickly wax for kick, and get out on the course. The race course consists of multiple laps around a three kilometer loop - four laps for the men, two for women and juniors. I'd brought a couple pairs of skis to test, but decided it was more important to do a good warm-up than to test glide wax. Hope this is a wise decision...
The tracks are very soft - all the new and blowing snow has pretty much filled them in. As I warm on a the course, I can feel the uneven snow compress under my ski. It's not possible to have a long and powerful kick - the ski simply slips out from underneath you. Short, rapid strides are called for.
Because the loop is only 3 Km, many skiers are warming up by skiing the entire loop. Unexpectedly, this results in the trail getting packed better than if the groomer had gone over it one more time. During my second warmup lap, the tracks have greatly improved.I hear a snowmobile and pray they're not trying to regroom before the race (they're not).
We're lined up at the start now. Nick Biac first thanks all the skiers for regrooming the trail before Galand's Larry tries shouting out race instructions. Unfortunately, Larry's voice doesn't carry very well, so Nick becomes his personal megaphone and repeats Larry's instructions in a booming voice. Nick then reaffirms that this is a classic race - no skating allowed, no glide when herringboning.
The start area is wide. Just before we took off, I make a snap decision to stride from the start rather than doublepole - the snow was slow enough that I thought striding would be faster until we got up to speed. I turned out to be correct: in the first 20 yards, I was one of the lead skiers. Of course, that didn't last long. In the next 20 yards, the doublepolers started passing me and by the bottom of the first hill, I'd lost many places. I wasn't worried because I wanted to take the first lap relatively easy.
I skied pretty close to teammate Mike Heidinger for most of the first lap, but by the second, he gradually pulled away. I jousted with a couple other skiers, but didn't really change my position. By the third lap, I could hear someone behind me. They gained ground or lost ground, but they were always there. I didn't look back - I focused on trying not to make too many mistakes that would cause me to lose ground.
For some reason, I lost ground at the end of the lap and the beginning of the next lap. I don't know why, but that flat area just shut me down.
The fourth lap, I tried to pick things up a little. I was more aggressive on my doublepole and up hills. I thought I'd gained a little on my shadow, but with 200 yards to going, Yvon Dufour shoots by me like I'm standing still and easily beats me to the finish.
This is just desserts: I've been harassing him for the past several weeks with comments like, "After I finish, I'll put on my warm-ups then make sure I get a picture of you finishing..."
Team NordicSkiRacer had a great showing! Fourteen team members raced the Grip and got valuable Michigan Cup points:
Julie Houle won the women's 6 Km race, and Steve Kuhl placed 5th in his first race of the season. Mike Heidinger finished in the top 10 with a solid 9th. This was also the first race of the season for Doug Heady, Spencer Ruffner, and Ron Sexton.
Many of the team will be doing the Garland Glide Freestyle race on Sunday.