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Canadian Ski Marathon 2010

February 18, 2010

Winter in the northeast this year started out quite nicely.  Nordic centers had a reasonable base by Christmas and additional snow kept things pretty good out on the trails.  Tracks at Morse Farm were often rather wobbly, but that just forced me to click into the new skate skis and put the time in to figure them out.  Then, in late January, 50 degree temperatures and a fat inch of rain obliterated the low elevation snowpack.  Since then its been dry.  No rain.  No snow.  All our snow was landing in ungrateful places like Washington D.C.  The situation in Quebeç’s Laurentians where the CSM runs were much the same, so it wasn’t particularly surprising that a couple of days before the event, an email blitz notified everyone that the traditional Buckingham-Lachute point-to-point route was being abandoned in favor of a large loop in the Kenauk Preserve north of Montebello.  An important part of the Coureur de Bois psyche is the willingness to accept all challenges with grace and poise.  I was unconcerned: you just go on.

Friday afternoon we drove through all 73 merges in Montreal and arrived in Montebello just in time for dinner at Le Bistro.  St. Ambroise Rousse and linguini made for the perfect meal.  We moseyed down the road a smidge to get settled at the Domaine Montebello, a house slightly oddly renovated into a 4 room hotel.  We liked it last year because it had a comfortable sitting area in the hallway, a good place to pack and hang out while the kid sleeps in the room.  I packed my gear without much fuss, and tried to give supportive advice to a couple of first-time CdB Bronze folks.

I am unfortunately used to pre-CSM jitters that make me sleep poorly.  This time it was unusually bad.  Linnaea is a heck of a violent sleeper; without waking in the slightest she’ll thrash around, crashing into anything within reach.  A few times she scootched under our bed and banged on the underside.  I suppose I got a couple hours of sleep before getting up at 4:15.

I groggily ate two bagels with cream cheese, half of a Manghi’s cheese twist, and a quart of orange juice.  No coffee for this beast, I hate the stuff.  I slung the my pack over my shoulder and strolled down the road to the Chateau Montebello where the start was.  At the last minute the start had been moved a couple of kilometers north, so I boarded a school bus and waited around for an absurdly short ride.

It seemed that the shuttle buses were having a hard time turning around and getting out of the way at their destination, so I ended up walking a bit anyway.  Despite having left plenty of time to get to the start, after waiting to get my bib barcode scanned, I missed the traditional bilingual welcome and stepped into my skis at the back of the pack just as the countdown hit one.  We were off!

The normal hustle and jockeying in Section 1 (7.1K) was rather restrained since the snow was rather spotty.  [Not thin, which would imply full coverage, we’re talking half grass, half snow]  Towards the end of the section, a big line of skiers were waiting at what was probably a rough descent.  I immediately popped off my skis and hiked down the side, to spare my skis the insult of the rocks, and to keep moving.  I passed perhaps a dozen folks just by walking.  I breezed through the first checkpoint and kept going on Section 2 (5.3K), which ran on the terrain of the normal Section 5.  My luckiest moment came when I approached a group of confused CdB, and saw a line of perhaps 75 skiers coming from another direction.  The event’s lead skier had evidently taken a wrong turn and done 3-4 bonus kilometers.  That put me near the front of the pack and on unusually nice, fresh tracks.  Skiing the gutter of the road going by the Kenauk lodge gave my skis the obligatory CSM stone grinding.  A couple more squirrely sections of “Mauvais État” led to the third checkpoint where I loaded up my empty water bottle and grabbed some cookies and bananas.

I wasn’t pleased that the first 12.4K had taken an hour and a half, but conditions and speed both radically improved.  Section 3 (23K) was on the summer use roads of the Kenauk Preserve, which required very little snow cover to be nicely tracked.  I passed six folks on the early rolling hills and soon found myself quite alone on the course.  Used to being constantly surrounded by others, I found it a tad unnerving.  I kick-double-poled on and on, with a brief pause to check out some fresh moose tracks.  Towards the end of the section I finally encountered a few other skiers.

I pulled into Checkpoint #4 having completed the 23K in 1:55.  I was eager to keep pushing, so ate a pile of broken cookies and bananas, drank a mugfull of scalding hot Cambell’s vegetable soup, refilled my liter soda bottle of homebrewed electrolyte drink, put a quick 7 layers of VR45 on, and headed out onto Section 4 (22.1K).

After a couple of thin sections, we made a lengthy crossing of Lake Papineau.  Skating most of the way wasn’t faster, but did refreshingly use different muscles.  The section was a bit hillier than the third one, but none of the climbs were long or particularly steep.  At the top of each rise I cranked out a frenzy of double poling to gain speed, got into a tuck, and enjoyed the ride on a fast track with good runout.  Halfway through the section I stopped to take in a bunch of electrolyte drink and a big brownie.  The last few kilometers were a fun downhill run to Whitefish Lake, and completed the 22.1 K in 1:57.

This was the last checkpoint of the day, and the last opportunity to stock up on food and drink before tomorrow morning.  Overnight I’d need to be content with what I carried in my pack.  I entered the last section at 12:05, way ahead of the 3:15 cutoff.  Usually I made that cutoff with 30-45 minutes to spare.  I figured that I’d be faster this year, but the course was about 5K shorter each day, and a technically much easier.  Maybe the cutoff time was easier for everyone?  I had no idea where I was in the pack of CdB Gold skiers, but it was notable that I had only seen a couple of Bronze and Silver skiers.  In past years I had been noticeably been overtaken by some of them just a few hours into the day.  Although there was zero practical reason to rush, I was eager to see how early I could get to Gold Camp, so pushed the pace through Section 5 (18.9K).  I was mostly with a tight train of 5 other very consistent Gold skiers.

Gold Camp at 1:57pm

I pulled into Gold Camp at 1:57pm, approximately 20th of perhaps 275 CdB Gold skiers, vastly ahead of my usual ~200th place arrival at 4:30 or so.  It was a dramatic personal victory, and I felt pretty good.

What do you do at Gold Camp all afternoon?

Find a “good” spot to drop your pack
Change into dry clothes (or not, if you have my drying power)
Put on down jacket and booties
Drink
Have blowtorch guy light your campfire
Grab two bales of hay (one for sitting on, one for sleeping on)
Eat snacks
Dry boots, socks, and gloves by the fire
Set up a “good” sleeping spot
Bemoan condition of ski bases
Remove fir needles and rewax skis
Eat snacks
Screw around with fire and roast sausages
Eat dinner
Drink
Set up a “better” sleeping spot
Read newspaper and stuff into boots
Screw around with fire
Talk with folks about the day, and past and future adventures
Sleep as best you can

Gold Camp at 4:15

At 5:30 the fur hatted CSM announcer brought everyone together for a ceremony to honor and thank Claude Bélanger, 22 year host of Gold Camp.  He has terminal cancer and will not likely survive to see Gold Camp next year.  All Gold skiers had signed a large coroplast sign.  In the future “Gold Camp” will be known as “Claude Bélanger Gold Camp”.  He was clearly touched by the large show of appreciation.

After roasting my third chicken sausage, polishing off my second mug of cheesy potato flakes, and ducking most of the smoke, I got comfy in my winter bag, nestled next to a tree a few feet down the side of the hill, and below the smoke of 40 campfires.  Zero precipitation and temperatures in the high teens-low twenties made for an extremely relaxing Gold Camp experience.  It was easy to get dry and stay warm.  I popped two Ambien tablets, and dissolved into sleep at 8:15pm.  At 1am everyone in camp was awakened by the “beep…beep…beep” of the grooming machine backing up and setting fresh track for the morning.  I fell back asleep until 4:15 when folks started to get up and talk.  It was the best night of sleep I’d had in a few days, and at any CSM.

We all lined up to make a prompt departure at 6am sharp.  The first few minutes out of camp are truly magical for me: a long line of headlamps snake over the fields as if one.  I guessed that I was somewhere in the middle of the pack, and while taking opportunities to pass folks, took care on the rough spots we had encountered on the way to camp yesterday.  Today’s route was just a reverse of yesterday’s, so it was easy to recognize the gnarly bits, even in the dark.

Although Section 7 (18.9K) and Section 8 (22.1K) were long, I really didn’t feel like tromping down the hill to the feed tables at Whitefish Lake, so cruised right through the checkpoint with just a quick slush drink and rewaxing.  That made it a 41K haul to my first stop, but I knew that the terrain was okay so went for it.  The only problem of the weekend came on the first section of the day when the carbide tip of my left ski pole snapped off.  It wasn’t a big deal where there was firm snow for the basket to grab, but the northbound crossing of Lake Papineau was pretty annoying.  There was only a trace of snow over ice; classic and skate were rather awkward.  I no-poles skated a bit, but couldn’t keep it up very long.

I cranked out the 41K in 4 hours flat, arriving at 10am sharp.  I had plenty of energy to continue, but needed to kill some time otherwise I’d be waiting a long time at the Papineauville School for Lexi and Linnaea to show up at 3pm.  So I donned my big down jacket and chowed down on soup, bagels, bananas, and cookies.  I leisurely waxed my skis with yet another 7 layers of VR45 and after 35 minutes headed out onto the 23K section.

Yet again the skiing was very nice.  I double poled a lot, although my arms were getting a bit fatigued.  At the last checkpoint I again put the jacket on and hung around eating.  At 1pm I got impatient and headed out, planning to walk a bunch to avoid further gravel grinding of my skis.

I did walk one short section of “Mauvais État” where CSM volunteers insisted, for good reason, that folks walk to avoid substantial rocks.  I also walked most of the road leading to the Kenauk Lodge.  Most of the trail was pretty reasonable.  Of course, by the end of the CSM, your evaluation of the grooming gets a bit more generous.  By the end, any snow is good snow.  The last insult of the day was a quintessential sucker finish: CdB Gold skiers had to turn right for one last 7K loop around the Sedbergh School, while everyone else could take a quick left and finish less than one K away.  Hey, whatever, once you’ve skied 150K, does it really matter how much more there is?  The sun came out and the tracks were nice.  A couple of rolling hills were followed by a decent climb.

Finally, one of my favorite CSM moments: the last couple K on a mellow downhill.  You just soak in the afternoon sun and cruise the turns.  I arrived at the Finish at 2:36.

Lexi and Linnaea were waiting for me at the Papineauville School with valentines and a six-pack of Ephemere, a fine Unibroue apple beer.  Damn good.  We drove to Lachine to stay with Robert and Veronica for the night.  A heap of lasagna and salad, and a few more beers washed away the chocolate-cookie-soup diet.  It was my fourth Coureur de Bois Gold finish.  Next time, probably in 2012, I’ll earn my permanent bib and be marked as a true stud.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 23, 2010 10:13 PM

    You should think about signing up for next years White Mountains 100 race – http://whitemountains100.org/ . Climbs, descents, frozen glaciers of overflow ice, bears (well sleeping ones) – loads of fun! About the same length too..

  2. February 24, 2010 3:08 PM

    nice dave.
    fun reading the blog.
    pushing good TD thoughts your way, and i’ll have to buy you multiple beers when you return so i can pick your brain… still kicking about how to set it up so i can ride it before i turn 40.

    winter – yeah, its here today, for sure.

  3. Bruce permalink
    February 15, 2012 11:36 PM

    Stumbled on your post and enjoyed it very much. I complete a CSM bronze for the first time in 2011 and your account reminded me how much I enjoyed it and how I really should do it again. Skied with my 9 year-old son this year. He may be hooked already.

  4. Paul permalink
    January 14, 2014 3:46 PM

    I am doing the CSM for the first time this year (half marathon) and am looking to buy new skis. I see that you ski on the Fischer RCRs. Would you recommend the classics/wax or crown/waxless? Are there any other recommendations you might have for this event regarding equipment?

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