Monday, February 18, 2008
Book Across the Bay - Skiing Lake Superior
For the second weekend in a row we watched a small community come together to pull off a major cross c0untry ski race. This weekend it was Ashland and Bayfield, WI for the Book Across the Bay, an event that crossed the ice Lake Superior's Chequamagon Bay from Ashland to Bayfield. The race began at 6:15pm on Saturday and the route was lit by ice luminaries. More on those lovely devices later.
We parked in Washburn and caught the big yellow school bus to the start area in Washburn. Being 6'4" tall, I chewed on my knees for the short trip, bringing back fond memories of my transportation during my junior high days. Around 2,000 people skied or snowshoed the race so our pre-registration at around noon paid off handsomely by allowing us to avoid the ever growing line, a line that overwhelmed the registration staff and forced a 15 minute delay of the start. My long time buddy and fellow hunting camp member, Rawhide Phil, was the emcee of the event and managed to entertain the crowd with his clever banter, some good music, and by smoothly hitting on a Polish woman as he interviewed her in front of 2,000 people. I told him at the finish line that he did a good job (with the emcee thing, that is) and that I was proud to know him. Since it was 44 degrees F warmer than at the Vasaloppet the weekend before, the delay didn't bother too many people. It did impact the race a bit however. At 6pm you could still see OK. By 6:15 with cloud cover and no moon or stars for illumination you couldn't really see much when the race finally started. There were the usual crashes and congestion until things sorted themselves out and the skaters got on track to the left of the luminaries and the classical skiers found the tracks to the right of the luminaries.
A luminary, for the uninitiated, is made by filling a 5 gallon pail with water and setting it outside to freeze. When it freezes partially the ice on the surface is broken, the remaining water poured out, and a lit candle is inserted, making a lovely lantern. 600 of these devices were made by volunteers and lit to illuminate the race course as is snaked across the bay to Washburn. For this race I had decided to skate ski. Due to the cold weather at the Vasaloppet I had classical skied and it had been the correct choice. Since it was warmer, snow conditions were a bit better, and the course was as flat as a pancake,I decided to skate. All was going well as I cruised along with a nice tail wind, passing some people and getting passed by others. Going well that is, until I hit the luminary. The same tail wind that had me sailing along so nicely had also blown out some of the luminaries. As I went to my right to pass some kid that I had already exchanged a half dozen passes with, I hit the luminary dead on with my right ski. A five gallon ice block with a lit candle makes a lovely lantern. With the candle extinguished, it serves roughly the same purpose as those German 'dragons tooth' tank traps did during World War II. I crashed, fell hard, and felt my binding come off. Since these weren't really release bindings I figured all was not well. I had snapped the foot plate out from under the toe clip, rendering it impossible to get back on. Not being an individual to bottle up my emotions, I began cursing like a sailor. Fortunately I rememberd I had a Leatherman tool which allowed me to clip off part of the plate and get my ski back on. It seemed like it took forever but it was likely a 5 minute or less operation. I got back on track, passed a few people that had gone by me as I lay cursing on the ice, and skated through the finish line, nicely lit with dozens of the dangerous luminaries. I waited for my companions to trickle in, listened to Rawhide Phil's post race commentary, and then headed to the tent for fine chili and superb South Shore Nut Brown Ale. The evening was recapped with pizza and a bit more Nut Brown at famous Washburn watering hole, Patsy's Bar.
Even with my equipment malfunction it was an excellent event. People had a great time, entire families skied the course, including babies being pulled on pulks, and it was an invigorating, well organized, and festive atmosphere. I'm a bit chagrined to admit that I hit another luminary on the way in as I passed another skier but, as in baseball, I guess it takes three strikes before you are 'out'.