It is snowing lightly as I load my mountain bike onto the car rack. I feel like I should be taking my bike into a nice warm store for maintenance, not driving up to Snowbasin in a snow storm to ride the thing.
But that's what I'm doing. Not only am I going to ride, I'm going to snowshoe, run, and ski uphill and downhill.
I am in decent shape, since I'm trying to get ready to run a spring marathon, but I've never rode my bike in the snow, and I most certainly have never skied up hill and then telemarked down. I am a mediocre, frightened skier, so I imagine trying telemark for the first time during a race should be terrifying.
That's okay. I can do terrifying because it's short. This race--the Xterra media race--was put together by Team Unlimited. Instead of their normal sit down, have a sandwhich, talk to the athletes press conference, they decided to let us try the events that we write about the pros doing. I've been promised that the race distance is just a fraction of the real 10K bike, 5K snowshoe, 5K run, 8k ski mountaineering race distance. Like a quarter to a half a mile. I can do that. I talk positively to myself. I CAN do that.
I also figure that I can maybe even do okay in this race. How many journalists/media people are actually do something besides sit around and write/look good on tv? It turns out, quite a few.
After getting outfitted for telemark skis ("Just keep your weight over the bindings and don't try to lean forward"), I'm set. I huff up the mountain with my bike, snowshoes, skis, poles and helmet to the start. There are about 10 of us at the start of the race. I meet Melissa and Jenny from the Sports Guide who also assure me that they have never done anything like this. I feel much better. If I'm endo-ing in the snow, maybe I won't be the only one.
We all nervously line up on the snow at the top of a rather steep snow-covered and groomed hill. I remember the tips from the guy at the bike store--"it's like riding through sand," he said. "Just don't brake." As he said this I flashed back to the time I rode through sand. I remember flying over my handlebars, not being able to breathe, and a lot of blood. I am not comforted.
"5,4,3,2,1 Go!" Down the hill we "ride." Most of us slide, fall and tumble down the hill. It is like riding through sand: wobbly and unsure. Instinctively I reach for the brake, but I remember just in time and although I can't keep a straight line down the mountain, surprisingly I avoid flying over the handlebars. The hill flattens out and loops around the sledding hill. Halfway around the loop I can't get any traction. I keep cranking, but nothing is happening. I'm not sure how many people are ahead of me. Probably a lot.
Brian Smith and Rebecca Dussault, the pros who eventually win the big race on Sunday, cheer for me. Smith yells, "Have you let any air out of your tires?" "No!" I yell back. "I'll get your front and Rebecca will get the back," he says as they kneel down to let the air out of my tires. There is an immediate difference. I am actually moving again in the somewhat soft snow. Smith sticks with me for awhile on his skis. He actually pushes me back up the original hill we went down, into the transition area.
Back out on the same loop in our snowshoes, I feel much more confident and even pass a guy. "This is more your element, huh?" he asks. I grunt at him, unable to form a sentence or coherent thought.
Alex, of TriHive.com is way ahead and I high five him as I go out the loop and he heads back up. I think I might be the first female and this motivates me some. I can see the Deseret News gal behind me on the loop. She might catch me, so I truck it up the hill to slip out of the snowshoes and back out for a run.
I should be able to run faster but my heart rate has accelerated to levels I never dreamed. Instead of pushing the run, I stick with a shuffle. Up the hill of the run almost to the transition I pass the KUTV2 guy, who is walking.
As I tug my ski boots on, I hear him say something about his heart rate being 180 and having to slow down.
"Pshhh to heartrates. See you later sucker," I think. (Sometimes I am a little competitive.)
It takes me awhile to get used to the gliding up the mountain with skis. Just before I head out I remember that the rental guy said there's an elevating bar to help keep your heel up. I push it up and head up and up and up and then up some more. I am pretty sure that I lost the turnoff somewhere because this is never-ending madness. Just when I think I've hit the top, the mountain throws another steep pitch at me. I hear someone yell behind me, "You've got to be kidding!" I am pretty sure they lied about the distance on this one.
The heartrate guy is gaining, but he pauses every once in awhile and I keep trucking. Finally the top. While Nicolas Lebrun (a world-champion ski mountaineering and triathlete) helps me take my skins off, I see another girl. Dang! Where'd she come from? She takes off down the mountain.
"You guys are going to make this a race," someone remarks to me.
Ummm yeah. If I had ever telemarked or skied gates before, maybe. I am nowhere near in shape to chase after her. Somewhere in the transition shuffle Fields Mosely (the KUTV2 guy) passes me. I let go of being competitive and concentrate on not breaking my leg.
I am ashamed to admit that I resorted to the good old snow plow. I did get every gate though. And I didn't break my leg.
After the race there is hot chocolate and excellent food. I sit with Jenny and Melissa and hash about how it really was crazier than we thought it would be. I also decide to learn how to telemark and that I will drink hot chocolate after every workout now. The Xterra people give us "medals" (Xterra dog tags) and clap loudly as they read our times. They make us feel like superstars. It took me about 56 minutes to do everything. Before the race I honestly thought I would have to go out and do a workout after it because it was going to be so short. Ha.
I honestly can't believe how hard that was. And how awesome. At least now I can wear the Xterra t-shirts they give us every year and only feel like a fraction of a fraud.