Spring skiing, forty-degree weather, mashed potato snow all had *nothing* to do with the first . The temperature for the race seemed frighteningly cold, a chilly 10 degrees, with an afternoon high of 23. The on-trail, deeply hiked-in ice was a recipe for nervous participants, specifically the event coordinator. However, the crafty vets, Jeff Potter and John Rutherford (Radnord) seemed, well excited. "It's gonna be crust, it's perfect," explained Radnord, as I pulled into the empty lot at Brighton Recreation Area.
Soon, the usual suspects showed their faces. Radnord and I pulled in together, Jeff Potter was next. At this point, I figured the winner had arrived, and with the conditions, I was not too confident with myself. Ben Caldwell, Dan Trepod, Dave the Chef, Nate and Jen Kearns/Conine, Bernie Smith, as well as several other cats I had skied with at earlier events. A newbie to the group was Alex Pless, a good friend and grill-master for the day. Further, Alex also provided the main course, home-made kielbasas, and first-through-third place awards. Thanks again Alex for your time, money, and effort for the event.
The day consisted of three rather important objectives. To begin, the first lap was to be a social ski. A chance for everybody to familiarize themselves with the course, and to ski the entire lap. The second, a race, let's see what you got. Lastly, and maybe what we are all best at, a party.
The terrain consisted of the Penosha and Kachin Hiking trails, equaling a total of five-plus miles per lap, while twisting, turning, and climbing over three hundred fifty feet of elevation. The trails provide a very Poto-like (Potowami) feel once in the woods, with most of the descents being rather straight-forward, with the exception of two and a half downhills which offer unique challenges, steep hills, trees, and tight turns.
The social aspect is defining to these events. Think of any race you have attended: discussing tactics, catching up with old friends, meeting new ones, this gear or that gear? All of these points are part of the process, the event does not start when the race begins, it starts the second you park your car and catch the eye of another participant. The social lap provided all of this and more. It's simple: we were sharing a common thread we all love -- skiing. Fourteen of us strided a casual pace through the woods, talking, laughing, skiing, crashing, pure enjoyment.
The center portion of the trail was difficult to ski due to the frozen ice that had been hiked-in the day before when temps were above freezing. Thankfully, the frigid air allowed us to ski the crust on either side, and one's path became an expression of where you wanted to ski, including the maze of trees alongside the trail. It was unreal. At times, one could look and see fourteen skiers each taking different lines in the woods, each successfully navigating their way, each with a smile. At our first stop to re-gather, a comment was made about the trail: "We're on the trail!? " Potter expressed with excitement. He, of course, was referring to the crust, the wonderful inch or so of hard-pack icy snow making up the layer on top of the 12-15-inch base. The crust, allowed us to ski on top of the snow-pack, without breaking through, like walking on water ? priceless, one may say.
The group pushed on, and I excitingly got the green light to lead the pace. I kept it mellow, knowing I needed to conserve for the second lap, the race lap. At times, however, men will be men, and one man is hard to slow down: Radnord. During the climbs he effortlessly portrayed the "scamper" technique and drilled up the bowled and gullied uphills while staying on the high snow. I laughed to myself as he passed Jen and I mid-climb ? with no wasted energy, no missteps, just efficient, solid climbing. We stopped to re-group about three more times and I could finally relax with the event-coordinator duties. The event runs itself now, I thought to myself -- just enjoy.
We found ourselves back at the lot in an hour and half. In reality, it was a reasonable pace for the amount of stops. At this point, it was fifteen minutes to lighten up, refuel, and get your game face on. The crew assembled and I again was urged to lead us out, I tried not to show it, but was happy as hell to take the honor.
I started with a nice pace, moving but not full-go. Normally, I find I am inadequate with setting the pace and prefer to sit in and become comfortable. It wasn't long before Potter took the front, I noticed he opted not to ski the crust, but rather the faster and riskier centerline. He gapped quicker than I hoped, and nobody chased, sitting third and in sight of 2nd, I figured we?d see him again. Caldwell made me work for the 3rd position, and I expected nothing less, nearly all of these cats beat me pretty good at the Potto Raid -- everybody here is solid.
I kept my eye on Radnord and slowly made up ground. This was crucial: I needed to catch him before the walk up Tehan Road. If I did not catch him then, I thought, I never would. Radnord chose to ski down the scary drop onto the road and caught a ski on a post, and head-over-heels he went. Not comfortable, I unclipped, got the green light from Radnord, and began my jog up the long dirt climb. The last time I saw Potter was at this moment, re-entering the trail at the top -- a hell of a gap, but achievable, I thought.
A steep, tree-filled crusted downhill face approached and Radnord made his pass at the early entrance into it. His skills are unmatched in terrain like this. He skied the whole damn thing, performing several jump tele-turns. I was left with no choice and shamefully admit to side-butt scooting half of this gnarliest downhill. I kept him in sight and that's what's important, I reminded myself. Dan Trepod was closer than I hoped and probably had made the fastest descent of the critical terrain. I sighed in relief that he made it safe and chuckled at his screech of enjoyment.
Radnord and I skied mistake-free throughout the next section and, I believe, felt the last of Dan's pressure as we again crossed the road and ascended the steepest climb. Dan tried the stairs and it was a mistake he could not make up for. He was forced to back-track down, and climb once more, this time with skis on.
Potter was in the zone, skiing alone, cruising, and had apparently perfected the Poto Shuffle technique on the uneven hiked-in terrain. To be honest, he was out of my mind at this point -- out of sight, out of mind. What more would you expect from the three-time winner of the 18-mile Potto Raid? It was his race to lose.
I made my move on the second-to-last climb, in hopes of passing and dropping Radnord before the last wild descent. I passed him, but could not drop him. I held 2nd position with about one mile to go, several steep climbs, and another hairy descent. Radnord returned fire, as we turned left onto the Kachin Trail. I was weakened but held my own until the descent. I saw him breach the top of the final climb, and once more on a steady straight-away, but the damage had been done. I peeked over my shoulder in desperate hopes that Dan had not regained sight of me, and happily settled in for third.
Potter finished the lap in a lighting-fast time of forty minutes, with Radnord three minutes later, then me, Dan, and Ben each a minute behind the next. We all congratulated each other on their efforts, and nothing but smiles and pure enjoyment ensued.
Lastly, the party. Potter received the mini keg of Bell?s Best Brown Beer. Radnord received three 16-ounce Tallboys of the tastiest beer in Milwaukee, PBR. While I was presented with a jar of Alex's home-made dill pickles, which are tasty as hell. Further, our event sponsor was James Knight from LouisGarneau, and every participant earned an award to walk away with. I can't thank James and Louis Garneau enough for their generosity: cheers to you for supporting a local event. Everybody brought food to pass, salmon, crackers, fruit, nuts, kielbasas, beer, meatballs -- it was delicious. The party faded around 4 pm. Props to Bernie, Potter, and myself for sticking it out. In the end, it was a hell of an event, and some thought the most fun ski of the year, due to this very flowy trail, the conditions and the spirit of Springtime.
I was just happy to be a part of it and thankful for those who showed up. I look forward to seeing you all again soon, and though it may not be for skiing, I assure you it will be for some event worth making.