2014: Book Across The Bay

Courtesy of all my blabberings in social media outlets, Bryant Weathers got the wind of me acquiring a new pair of skis and shot off this email on a balmy fine Friday in January. I tried ignoring it for a while but it seemed to have some serious haunting features and just wouldn’t go away. With nearly every skiing mile in my life ahead of me, it wasn’t easy to make the decision — to take my skiing talents to Ashland, Wisconsin, let alone on to the frozen Lake Superior for a 10k.

Reading about the history of this event,

Winter in northern Wisconsin is long, dark and cold. Come late February, those residents of the Chequamegon Bay region who haven’t gone off to find sun and sanity somewhere down south can get a little stir crazy. Around the holiday season in 1996, a group of people got together to talk about how to make the winter a little more bearable by giving ourselves and our neighbors something to look forward to in our own backyards. Members of that group also were active in the Tri-County Medical Society and the Friends of the Washburn Public Library, and were looking for a way to benefit those organizations.

The brainstorming session went something like this: Let’s have a ski event! We can ski across the frozen bay! Let’s do it at night, with a bunch of candles all along the way! Then we can have a big party afterward!

OK, we may have been a little stir crazy ourselves. We knew that Lake Superior’s Chequamegon Bay froze solid every winter, with ice strong enough to support car races, snowmobile tours, fishing shanties, and even the infamous “ice road” from Bayfield to Madeline Island. But getting people out there on skis to glide their way from Ashland to the faraway twinkling lights of Washburn on a cold winter night would be another story. So, we hit up skeptical area businesses for $10 pledges, started freezing ice luminaries in 5-gallon pickle buckets, printed up some brochures and posters, and packed a rough course by running back and forth with snowmobiles. We figured if we’d get 100 folks out, we’d call it a success.

By race day, we suspected something was up. We had collected more than 100 preregistered entries and we heard our neighbors and friends talking about this crazy ski race coming up. Late Saturday afternoon, we put the finishing touches on the course, lit candles in a couple hundred ice luminaries, set up a registration table, and by the time the gun went off in the evening twilight, more than 350 people were out on the bay, ready to go. Many had dusted off old skis and just wanted to see what it was like to be way out on the frozen bay at night. Parents pulled toddlers in sleds, friends and families skied together, groups congregated along the route to chat and sip hot chocolate, and we ran out of seating room and chili at the post-race party at the Washburn VFW hall afterwards.

It was obvious that we had started something with a life of its own. With little advertising besides word of mouth, Book Across the Bay has grown and grown — last year we had more than 3,300 participants! People were coming from all over the region and country for this crazy little race.

This year, we’re preparing for more than 4,000 skiers. We’ve got a great group of hundreds of volunteers who do everything from stuffing bags to making food to freezing luminaries to lighting candles to designing t-shirts to building bonfires to grooming the course. Even with all the growth, we’re happy to see that lots of Chequamegon Bay area residents — including families with kids in tow — still show up to take part in this great community event. Come on up north and join us February 15, 2014 for the 18th annual Book Across the Bay!

and learning about the primary beneficiaries of the proceedings, I signed up for this event after only one learn the basics outing [thanks to Kris Bunker and Kate Bunker and Greg Reed] that involved more falling than skiing. If I survived, it’d be the longest distance I would have ever survived; if I didn’t, it’d be a memorable way to disappear from the surface of the earth — a win win scenario either way.

Thanks be to my good friends — the aforementioned ones as well as the Youngs [Amber, Christine and Michael], the Vendlinskis [Andi and Jim] the Handlers [Christine, Rob, Shannon, Stephen], members of team /var/run [Nancy, Josh and Amy], the Carmeans [Jess and Tim], the Gracis [Kara and Sam], the Lehtos [Tammi and Chris] — for more than making up my lack of knowledge, by taking me out for skiing and/or sharing what they knew.

Owing to the much too cold temperatures to ski (January and February), an eight day adventure in California and my procrastination, the total number of skiing attempts before the event were limited to three.

Summary of training activities
## Activity Date and Time Details
Distance, Time, Pace
# of falls
01 Nara Trails: Royalwood Loop 11 Jan 2014 @ 01:25 pm 0.97 mi, 1:04:30, 0.90 mile/hour 18 or more
02 Michigan Tech Trails: Oak Loop 19 Jan 2014 @ 10:10 am 1.73 mi, 0:42:30, 2.40 mile/hour 8
03 Maasto Hiihto Trails 24 Jan 2014 @ 11:55 am 1.18 mi, 0:28:30, 2.50 mile/hour 4

As the event approached, tentative plans were made to a make a day trip of out it — thanks in great part to Stacy being a saint: stop at Black Cat Coffee House being a must do event and visit to the famed Apostle Island National Lakeshore to see the ice caves, if time permitted.

Personal goals for this event, in order of importance, were as follows:

  1. Finish the race (without severe bodily injuries — either to myself or to any other participant/volunteer/organizer).
  2. Not be the last one to finish (overall, amongst males and in my age group).
  3. Keep the number of falls 5 or less while skiing, and 2 or less when standing still.
  4. Remember things that were taught — bend the knees, lean a bit forward, balance the weight, and ski poles don’t help when falling down.
  5. Ski at 2.50 miles/hour or faster pace.
  6. Finish under 3:00:00 (~18:00 min/km or less).

A brief car-pooling meeting in Chassell and and a two hour drive on mostly snow free roads later, Bryant and myself (we, here on out) found ourselves in this elegant coffee shop. A tasty quick bite to eat and another 60 minute drive (could have been 30-35 had I kept my mouth shut), we were walking past a very long line of cars along WI-13 towards the trail head for the ice caves. About two miles over some lightly packed and some densely packed snow trails, we were along the shore of frozen Lake Superior. And another mile or so later along the said frozen shores were the spectacular, awe inspiring ice formations.

Given that there was nearly a 3 mile hike back to the car from the caves, given that I had cost us some valuable time by opening my mouth earlier at an inopportune time, given that we had to be in Washburn to a catch a shuttle by 3:30 pm and given that there was a certain semi man-maintained natural structure between Bayfield and Madeline Island that had caught our attention earlier, we didn’t spend a whole lot of time exploring the caves and/or the Lake Superior shoreline.

All along the skeptic in me was slightly worried and wondering as to how the frozen lake would support that many people (about 3,300 registered). Any such skepticism or worry disappeared as soon as we were able to drive across the very same frozen Lake Superior over an ice bridge to the aforementioned Madeline Island and back. The drive each way was a hair over 2 miles and took about 8 minutes. With the number of cars, bikers, skiers and snowmobilers that we saw during our drive, it seemed like any other regular icy road. If it could support 25-30 cars, each weighing anywhere between 1500-2000 lbs for as long as it had, I knew it would easily support 3000 some people for a little over 3 hours.

With a bit of ice road trucking experience under our belt, we headed to Washburn to find a parking area and catch the shuttle to Ashland around 3:30 pm. We were fortunate to have had dear friend Noah Marach‘s for advise and as such, didn’t spend more than a minute or two to be on a shuttle. Checking in with the organizers, picking up the bib and commemorative t-shirt, etc. took less than 15 minutes. Quite heavy and in your face kind of snowfall was starting make things and life a little more interesting for all parties involved. Search for Subway ended up in Burger King for the final pre-race meal. Persistent snow and winds, according to any of the weather apps on smartphones, made it feel like single positive digits for temperature, and the bon fire by the starting area wasn’t of much help to most people either. Just like the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon a fortnight or so ago, much of my body was chilled to the bone by the start time: an additional layer of clothing, a warmer pair of gloves and some clothing that did not expose my neck area would have been worth their weight in gold.

Once the event got started, it took a while for many walkers and snowshoers to realize they were on the wrong side of the track and that they were butchering the tracks for classic skiing. Their mistake was a blessing in disguise for me — it may just have given me few hands-on skate skiing lessons for free. Hats off to the organizers and volunteers to have the entire 10k course lit up by candles in ice buckets and to have a tent (and a party of some kind with bon fire) at just about every k-mark. Though I have no other skiing race-like event to measure my experience against, it will certainly be a measuring stick for all subsequent such events. The map, speed, elevation and heart rate spectrum are a courtesy of Garmin Forerunner 405CX and WP GPX Maps plugin for WordPress.

6.23 miles in 2:27:03 @ 2.50 mph, 24:00 minutes/mile
Splits: 26:23, 21:50, 21:37, 20:49, 28:02, 21:40, 6:39
28:02 for mile 5 (between 7k and 8k) included one fall, and stopping for a while to enjoy the dragon.

Comparing the results with the goals I had going into this event, I

  1. Finished the race and did so without any bodily injuries — to me or to anyone that was in my vicinity.
  2. Was not the last one to finish (1772/2268 overall, 891/1093 amongst males and 126/159 in my age group).
  3. Fell a total of 3 times while skiing (all of which could have been easily avoided: first one between 7k and 8k while attempting to wipe my nose, second time between 9k and 10k while watching the glorious moon, and third time about 100 yards from the finish line out of excitement) and not once while standing still.
  4. Used velcro straps for ski poles (thanks, Andi), remembered to bend my knees, glide a little, lean a bit forward, let go of the poles when falling and mostly balance the weight. Carefully reading the instructions for the said velcro straps would also have come in handy: using them on wrong hands has left my thumbs painfully sore for many hours after the event.
  5. Skied at 2.50 miles/hour (my GPS tracks indicate 2.70 miles/hour for a moving time of 2:18:32).
  6. Finished in 2:26:00.7 at 14:36 min/km (well under 3:00:00 at 18:00 min/km).

Thanks be to the organizers, first responders, medical staff, local police/law enforcement folks, shuttle bus drivers, plethora of volunteers, vendors, White River Sports Timing and more for making sure the event went as smoothly as it did. Thanks also be to whoever it was that found Bryant’s phone and promptly returned it to the appropriate folks.

Ride home was more sleepier than I had anticipated and felt really bad for having dozed off as much as I did. Pain killers from Wal*Mart, a meal from Maplewood Steakhouse certainly seemed to have fastened the recovery process but a 2 hour ride seemed to take forever (I was only sleeping much of it while Bryant drove – god knows how long it felt for him). Knowing how much we know now, plan for 2015 edition is to make a weekend trip with family and plenty more friends, take time to enjoy the course and festivities before, during and after the event.

Thanks be to

the rejections and opportunities life has brought my way, event folks (organizers, sponsors, volunteers, timers, law enforcement officials, photographers, fellow participants and spectators), and the family of good friends in and outside of my community for all the unexpected, undeserved and unrewarded acts of constant encouragement as well as offerings of constructive criticism to improve myself as an athlete and a person. I am eternally grateful to all those who let me train with them, who shared their invaluable tips with me, who helped keep my mind, body and soul in good health, who helped me stay the course during the training cycle, who continued to teach me the value of work-life balance, and who cheered me on from home or along the course.