What was supposed to be a 6 hour drive from Minneapolis to Houghton turned into a 9 hour slog through blizzards, a congested Subway, and labyrinthine exit ramps. Kinsey, Abe, and I took turns rotating between the three bench seats in the back of our mini-van to keep our butt cheeks from getting asymmetrically sore, while the people sitting in front enjoyed the view of the interminable pine trees along the road and the perpetual overcast skies. Near the end of our drive the girls in front passed back an iphone so we could look at a picture they had just taken from outside the window of a remarkably colorful sunset. We tried to imagine that scene from our dark residences.
We finally pulled up to the hotel, all 27 of us, and the lone receptionist handed us each key cards to our rooms. “Go past the vending machines and through the glass doors,” she instructed each of us. In fact the entirety of the hallways were through glass doors or windows, giving the corridors the draft-less frigidity of an uninsulated arctic entry with the ancient yellow incandescent lighting of a torch-lit medieval castle. Formerly attractive teammates now looked a pasty yellow as they looked out behind creaky doors with sunken eyes. We tried to make the best of it. By the next morning the most industrious teammates had made use of the hallway as a walk-through refrigerator: a bag of moose meat hunter sticks lay wrapped outside our neighbors door.
In the morning we walked down a couple blocks through the heart of downtown to the restaurant that was catering our meals. Jim, a not-small man with the kindness of a midwesterner and rushed grating accent of a born and bred Brooklynite Yank, greeted us with pans full of french toast and sausage. He hounded us as we ate to make sure we had enough ketchup and mixed Powerade, though he stopped periodically to watch the NFL highlights on the big screen TV above our tables.
Our first race, the 15km was scheduled for Sunday. I tested three or four pairs of skis and decided that my warmer skis felt the fastest. I handed them to our Alaska Pacific University coach Erik Flora who promptly told us: “We looked at the forecast. We’ll be going on cold skis tomorrow.”
On race morning it was zero degrees and blowing a light snowfall sideways at a steady 20mph. During the race four or five racers got pulled by race officials because they showed signs of frostbite. The snow squeaked underneath our skis and many of us V1ed the final 100 meter straightaway into the headwind. Nobody was too upset when, around noon, race officials announced that the sprint race, scheduled for the following day would be delayed until Tuesday. Although most of the sprint course is in the woods out of the wind, I presume the decision was made mostly on behalf of the volunteers and race officials who would have had to stand in through 25 odd sprint heats in the howling wind.