Four NWVE skiers completed the 2021 Craftsbury Virtual Marathon Challenge. The scope of the ski was daunting, and I cannot imagine the effort that went into hosting this event back in the day when it would draw close to 1,000 racers! It is hard to imagine the things that used to happen. Today was a ski of reminiscing with some good company.
Things started a little iffy with news that parts of the Great Circle were involved with active logging operations. So, the old, old course was going to be questionable. After a ski on Saturday with Jessica, I noticed that she would benefit from using her race skis, and so would I. Previously, I had resolved not to break them out this season to save on them for next year, but I was happy I prepped them. The newer skis are faster and easier to control.
Luke Shullenberger, Brendan Barden, Jessica Bolduc, and I met at Highland Lodge at 11:00 a.m. to commence on the Craftsbury Virtual Marathon 50km Challenge. Luke arrived early and tested his wax, some Rode Super Weiss. I had prepped the Bolduc's skis with Ski*Go Violet, and I do not know what Brendan was using. Only Luke tested. I was going to test for 100m, but everyone else thought I was starting, so off we went.
Cloudy, mid-twenties, the lightest snow falling, packed powder on the ground, fresh grooming, it was classic skiing perfection! Self-supporting on a long adventure can get hairy, but the worry was a distant concern in these conditions. Luke exclaimed, "it does not get any better than this!"
We set out on the Highland Connector Trail. Usually, some loops were groomed into the initial fields for the Marathon, but only the direct route was available for this ski. At an early junction, the option to go really old school was offered with the caveat that we may hit some rough trail where the logging operations were taking place. Later we would learn that this trepidation was unnecessary, but since we were sporting our good skis, we decided to stick to the main route.
We skied with glee, imagining the tip-to-tail trains of skiers that used to take this route at pace. I remembered the year everyone used klister binder except Perry and me. We had great results that year as skiers wax either iced, or their wax sheered off early. Perry and I were planning to re-wax but never had to. A lot of people dropped out or were scraping their klister off on the trees!
We scaled the initial climbs with ease and then glided down, enjoying the soft packed powder. We encountered masked skiers who knew us by name, but we had no clue who they were. We also passed the Mansfield Sweethearts, Jim, and JoAnn out on a Valentine's Day ski. They also notified us that the Great Circle was in excellent condition. (Too late). The last year of the Point-to-Point course was a lean snow year with an ice base. Jessica recalled on the only real technical section of the course, after passing the sugar house, where she was so upset she took off her skis and walked. I believe Trina (Stowe Nordic) did as well or at least thought it was a good idea when she saw it. Today was a much better day. We emerged from the woods and into sweeping turns in a field where we could see the Village and Common of Craftsbury as well as the hills on the other side of the Black River we were aiming for next. Some dogs greeted Luke as we passed an old farmhouse as we neared the Village. The owner commented on a beautiful day for a long ski. Luke was a fan of their location at the end of the road. The owner was looking forward to the upcoming snow so they could ski down the road to the village.
Brendan was having a lot of fun carving some nice turns on the swooping trail.
Once we got to the Craftsbury Town Garage, we knew that we would have to earn our descents from thereon. Skiing from the high point to here is about a 1000 foot drop over five miles. In one high-speed section, we were greeted by the always energized Tom Strasser (Harwood) heading up the hill. He shouted all our names as we cruised by. Have you ever noticed Strasser only recognizes you when you are on the move? If you are standing around, he has difficulty placing you. I guess we are just as distinct as he is when he is on the go.
Everyone we saw on the Greensboro Trails was smiling (at least with their eyes) and happy. We made our way to the Center and got onto the core trails. We skied the remainder of Duck Pond to Elinor’s and set out to Ruthie's via Lower Bailey Hazen. Since it was the Virtual Marathon, we took Ruthie's bypass so we would not have to herringbone up the off-camber hill to Kirby’s. We attacked Ruthie’s with a positive kick and made ground on a skier in the tracks ahead. Brendan was leading and encouraged to bridge the gap. After a dramatic pull, we overtook our objective. It was Judy Geer of Craftsbury. Jessica announced we were doing the Virtual Marathon, and she replied she was as well, just slower. Not by much, as she completed her 50km course in about the same time as we did ours! We knew we would need to make up a few kilometers due to missing some of the unique marathon trails that extended around fields and due to the old course being less than 50km.
We decided to add Dante’s loop. It offers extra road crossings and elevation. At first Creek Road crossing, someone had etched CSM 2021 into the snow with their pole. A fitting tribute and a reminder that we were not the only ones completing the challenge that day. After cresting Dante's, we were in Brendan's favorite part of the course. The long downhill. At the Second Creek Road crossing, Jess announced we were halfway to 50km. Brendan stated there was “no need to re-wax here” and proceeded to tuck in the tracks almost all the way to the swamp over a mile away.
We turned off Ruthie’s to head up to Hosmer Point via Max’s Pond Loop. I do not remember what year marathon took this trail, but I remember passing my high school coach, The Boss Mike Cain, on the climbs to the Lost Nation Road crossing. It was sad to think of his tragic death over New Year’s, but the memory of him cheering me on as he skied as a bandit and giving me a ridiculous split on the winner and a guesstimate on my position put a smile on my face. Crossing Lost Nation, we paused to refuel and let Luke add some wax. Luke did not roughen his bases enough, and the ends of his pocket were getting closer. We were soon underway again, heading to Hosmer Point, where we stopped to take a selfie with much of the course we had skied in the background. Then onto Lakeside to Town Line and back to Ruthie's.
We made it back to the Center and ran into Peter Davis (MNC) and family enjoying a ski. He was interested in what we were doing, and his five-year-old granddaughter asked if we had ever skied 8km. We said we were at 35km. Her eyes grew big, and she said maybe she'd try that when she was "800 years old!" It's funny to think how old we must look to someone proud to be five. I still see my college friends, but I guess we have all aged. We talked a lot about the college days during the ski. Luke seemed intrigued with the runners turned skiers he was with. Jessica was a skier turned runner, then back to a skier. Brendan was a little bit out of his league with the Scandinavians during our time at UVM but could have skied elsewhere.
We pressed on as planned around Murphy's and Duck Pond back to the Common Trail, where we needed to re-assess. We had just a run into Rick Costanza (MNC). He chatted a bit with Luke while we figured out we needed to add eight more kilometers before the 3km to the Common. It was decided to ski back to the Center, then to Kirby's up Ruthie's and back on Sam's. Even then, we were cutting it close. Coming down Sam's, Brendan started his kick. He said, "not everyone has the fast-twitch to save it for the stadium."
As we closed on our goal in our growing stupor, we went up S-Turns back to the Center and then Inner Duck Pond. Brendan paid for his early spurt as we punished ourselves up the S-Turns after 46km.
Luke and I waited at the final leg of our journey. Jessica and Brendan had fallen behind. We were entertained by a toddler taking some of his first strides on a slight incline and at first running back down but quickly learning to let gravity do the work. He went from literal baby steps to skiing in a matter of minutes, his determination rewarding him with increasing confidence and enthusiasm on his ten, then twenty-meter runs. Brendan had run into some friends, stopping to chat for a moment. Just as we were about to give up waiting and start the final stretch, they came around the corner.
Once regrouped, we set out for the common. We could see a windmill near our finish line. It was going to be a climb. When the race finished on the Common, it was essential to save some for the last climb. Muscle cramps and blown-out quads would cost you many places if you were limping up the final hill. We had relatively good energy, having skied at a touring pace. Luke was lean on wax but could “Klaebo Klomp" the steep sections. Only two more road crossings! We managed our way through Dustin Field, crossed the last road, and finished on the Village Loop Trail behind Craftsbury Academy. We took off our skis and walked around the Common where the old race had a looping stadium finish. We were all pleased with how the ski went and could not imagine the volunteer effort it must have taken to pull off the race with all its road crossings and participants.
As we made our way back to our finish base, we passed by John Brodhead's (Craftsbury) house and gave a salute to the former race director. We also walked by George Hall's (Craftsbury) home and some other Nordic enthusiasts. We finished with a little recovery nourishment, basically emptying what was left in our water-bottles and pockets and, as has been the case with all events this season, departed quickly. There were some jokes about the traditional post-race chili feed. There were not a lot of fans of that aspect in this group, but we did miss the trading tales after a significant accomplishment. All were very satisfied with the ski. A special thanks to Brendan and Luke’s Valentines for supporting them in this endeavor on February 14th!