2022: Wolf Tracks Rendezvous and North End Classic

The Wolf Tracks Rendezvous (WTR) had gone virtual and the North End Classic (NEC) had indeed taken place in a real format in 2021. I had been a 3-time participant of the NEC by 2021 while 2020 was the first time I had even heard about WTR. Both are well-organized events that I have grown to love – because of the caring community of organizers and volunteers, compassionate fellow participants and well-groomed trails in picturesque settings. As my good fortune (or lining up of Nordic Stars) would have it, these two lovely events took place on back to back days in 2022. A bit of Google mapping helped me realize that I could do both events for about the same amount of driving time it’d have taken to do just NEC. And who doesn’t love a get two for the price of one deals?

It’s not an entirely new practice for me to participate in longish events on back to back days (Vasaloppet and North End Classic in 2019 and virtual Kortelopet and real Birkie in 2021). But in hindsight, I could have done several things better in those instances. I had few options to utilize the aforementioned lining up of Nordic Stars and the improvements in fitness as well as technique I have gained:

  1. treat both of them as B races and take a conservative approach 
  2. treat one of them as an A race, the other as a B and race recover accordingly
  3. treat both of them as A races and maximize the recovery in between races

For this weekend’s events, I chose the final option. It’d mean sitting instead of standing around, consuming enough healthy food on time, consistently drinking water and sleeping well – before the first event and more importantly, in between the two events.

Wolf Tracks Rendezvous

When I participated in 2020 thanks to a nudge from friends, little did I (or anyone else) know that it’d be one of the last in-person races for a while. This event and I have had a love at first ski kinda relationship. First, it was the trails/course at the Minocqua Winter Park and then shortly after crossing the finish line, it was the hearty and tasty post-race refreshment nourishment – Quinoa Bowl with a generous topping of fresh avocados – provided by the the kind organizers and volunteers. After having skied the virtual edition of this event in 2021, I signed up for this year’s real and in-person edition with hopes of continuing my relationship.

Waxing rituals and preparing a packing list for the weekend were completed on Thursday evening Friday afternoon (thanks be to Toko for releasing wax recommendations and MikeY for very valuable tips). Going to bed fairly early after a hearty home-cooked meal facilitated waking up around 2:45 am to watch the women’s skiathlon as part of the 2022 Beijing Olympics. The race ended around 3:30 am and I got another 2-ish hours of sleep before waking up for the day. In the process of loading up the car, I slipped and fell. There was no immediate pain and I was very fortunate that it wasn’t my head that made the contact instead of my lower back.

Minocqua is only 2.5-ish hours away from Houghton. More importantly, it is in Central Timezone. An extra hour on race day morning is a luxury and I left home around 7:30 am for an unhurried, uneventful drive. I got to see a pretty spectacular sunrise with snow covered trees in the foreground along the way. Parking at the Winter Park and packet pickup were a breeze, and I still had about an hour to go through the pre-race rituals. I got to chat with Stephen briefly before his race got underway. He was the only other Keweenawian (Keweenawite?) that was doing this race and he was doing the longer 42 km edition.

I used the trick that Jenna taught me a couple years ago – re-purposing a wearable bib from a different event (sans the timing chip/strip) and pinning the paper bib on top of it. The setup made for easy use while providing an additional layer of clothing … and let’s not kid ourselves – resulted in better looking race day pictures! Groomers had done a great job of preparing the trails for this event. Inspired by the old souls in my life and encouraged by recent explorations of the art of kick waxing, I used a fully waxable classic skis – my first time ever doing so in a race! 

Salomon RC7 196
Glide zone
Base cleaner Swix Glide Wax Cleaner
Toko Copper Brush
Base layer Toko Performance SP Black
Wax Toko Performance SP Blue
Toko X-Cold Powder
Structure -
Top finish -
Grip zone
Base cleaner Iron with single ply toilet paper and 5-in-1 tool
Toko HC3 Wax Remover
Binder 150 grit sandpaper to roughen the base
Toko Nordic Base Wax Green ironed in, corked and cooled
Wax 5x Toko X-Cold corked in between layers

I got to the start line about 5 minutes ahead of time and chatted with Deb. The event started on time and I was surprised to see myself in the lead pack for more than a few hundred meters. Part of the surprise disappeared when three gentlemen – belonging to what are respectfully known as the murderers’ row age groups in classic skiing – disappeared and rest of the surprise remained as I remained in the chase pack. The skis, thanks to MikeY’s tips, were moving fairly fast under the prevailing conditions – falling snow and cold winds.

By the end of the first kilometer, I had settled into a good rhythm – enjoying the trails as well as snow-covered trees around them. The gently rolling ascents and descents were just as pretty as I remembered, and the continually falling snow, albeit with cold winds in exposed areas, only added to the experience. First of the tactical moves was not leading the chase pack for a while and it came to an end around the 6.50 km mark when I skied ahed to lead the chase pack. Ken, another gentleman from the respected murderers’ row age group, immediately passed me (and validated my moves after the race). He too was beyond my sight within the next kilometer as he seemed to ski with an effortless grace!

24.88 km (15.46 mi), 2:09:10, 5:11 min/km (8:21 min/mile), 11.57 kmph (7.19 mph)
Garmin Forerunner 945 and WP GPX Maps plugin for WordPress

Weather conditions
hh:mm, temperature (what was and what it felt like), wind and humidity and sky
Start 10:34, 5/-7 F, 13 mph S, 30% humidity, Light snow
Middle 11:39, 7/-5 F, 11 mph S, 31% humidity, Snow
End 12:44, 8/-5 F, 10 mph SSE, 31% humidity, Light snow
Air quality 37, PM2.5

Lap by lap analysis
Goal: 24 km in 1:55:00 (4:47 min/km or 7:42 min/mi)
Distance
km
Lap Time
m:ss
Lap Elevation
meters
Total Time
h:mm:ss
Total Elevation
meters
Avg Pace
min/km
Projected
Finish Time

h:mm:ss
Differential
Goal Time

h:mm:ss
1.00 5:07 20 6 0:05:07 20 6 5:07 2:02:00 0:07:00
2.00 4:50 27 24 0:09:57 47 30 4:58 1:59:00 0:04:00
3.00 5:14 31 28 0:15:11 78 58 5:03 2:01:00 0:06:00
4.00 5:05 20 21 0:20:16 98 79 5:04 2:01:00 0:06:00
5.00 4:46 15 27 0:25:02 113 106 5:00 2:00:00 0:05:00
6.00 4:53 23 23 0:29:55 136 129 4:59 1:59:00 0:04:00
7.00 5:16 14 15 0:35:11 150 144 5:01 2:00:00 0:05:00
8.00 4:52 12 15 0:40:03 162 159 5:00 2:00:00 0:05:00
9.00 5:11 19 14 0:45:14 181 173 5:01 2:00:00 0:05:00
10.00 5:23 7 9 0:50:37 188 182 5:03 2:01:00 0:06:00
11.00 5:33 15 10 0:56:10 203 192 5:06 2:02:00 0:07:00
12.00 4:59 5 13 1:01:09 208 205 5:05 2:02:00 0:07:00
13.00 5:34 10 5 1:06:43 218 210 5:07 2:02:00 0:07:00
14.00 5:15 0 8 1:11:58 218 218 5:08 2:03:00 0:08:00
15.00 5:30 16 10 1:17:28 234 228 5:09 2:03:00 0:08:00
16.00 5:10 24 20 1:22:38 258 248 5:09 2:03:00 0:08:00
17.00 5:15 19 14 1:27:53 277 262 5:10 2:04:00 0:09:00
18.00 5:19 18 17 1:33:12 295 279 5:10 2:04:00 0:09:00
19.00 5:09 16 15 1:38:21 311 294 5:10 2:04:00 0:09:00
20.00 5:52 17 11 1:44:13 328 305 5:12 2:04:00 0:09:00
21.00 4:58 13 25 1:49:11 341 330 5:11 2:04:00 0:09:00
22.00 5:26 4 4 1:54:37 345 334 5:12 2:04:00 0:09:00
23.00 4:53 10 16 1:59:30 355 350 5:11 2:04:00 0:09:00
24.00 5:43 20 8 2:05:13 375 358 5:13 2:05:00 0:10:00
24.87 4:25 7 16 2:09:38 382 374 5:12 2:04:00 0:09:00
The final cumulative time, 2:09:38, may not match the official time owing to rounding errors. Starting my watch a few seconds before the start and stopping it a few seconds after crossing the finish line can be an additional reason for this discrepancy. The overall distance, 24.87 km, may not match the designated event distance owing to idiosyncrasies associated with GPS data collection OR the aforementioned early start/late stop reasons, and in some rare cases, incorrectly measured courses. As a result, the cumulative pace and the projected finish time might not match the official values as well.

I stopped at the first aid-station (~8 km mark) to consume a couple servings of an energy drink – delivered in a contact-free format by the volunteers – before moving on. I did my best to keep the other two chase pack skiers in sight until the next aid-station (18.5 km mark). I stopped again to consume a couple more servings of the same energy drink and left that aid-station before the other two did. Believing that I had counted the number of skiers in the lead pack at the start of the race correctly, I felt like I was in contention for the 3rd place amongst males as long as I didn’t get passed by the gentleman in the original chase pack (not surprisingly, also belonging to a murderers’ row age group).

For the second time in as many in-person appearances in this event, Wolf Tracks Rendezvous turned into a race after the second aid-station. The distance between the second aid-station and the finish line offered a lovely test: racing hard mostly solo while not deviating from goals or Steph‘s suggestion from the previous day. I had seen the grace and grit with which the other two in the chase pack were skiing prior to the second aid-station. So, I skied those final kilometers with some nervousness – of getting caught and in turn, missing out on the gender-specific overall podium.

With about 1.50-ish kilometers to go, Stephen came along and skied with me. If the bibs for 24 km and 42 km editions weren’t color-coded (THANK YOU organizers!), I might not have continued to push hard when one or two longer distance skiers passed me. I crossed the finish line with Stephen – feeling proud of the effort and confident that I had made the overall male podium. We consumed a couple more servings of a warm energy beverage before going into the chalet to thaw.

While changing into warmer clothes, I checked the official results online and found that my finish time was 2:09:10. Turned out that I had incorrectly counted the size of the original lead pack, and in turn, had indeed missed out on making the gender-specfic overall podium by several minutes. But that  time was good for 4/23 overall, 4/14 amongst males and 1/3 in my age group. This finish time was also 14 minutes slower than what I had in 2020 but conditions in 2022 were significantly different – not just qualitatively but quantitatively as well. My 2020 time – 1:55:12 which was good for 13th overall – would have won the race in 2022! I had post-race refreshments (veggie chili, pasta salad and water) with Stephen – they were yummy and filling! Shortly thereafter, he headed back to Houghton and after chatting with few other fellow participants, I headed towards Hayward.

North End Classic

The 100-ish mile drive to Hayward from Minocqua Winter Park – while most of it was through blowing snow – was easy and uneventful. Checking into the accommodation was also routine and the recovery process continued with a stint in Space Pants. With a hearty burrito from Main Street Tacos more food and fluids (trust me, still only water and gatorade) in my belly, I called it a night around 8:45 pm.

A long, full and restful night of sleep led to a relaxing morning on Sunday. After picking up a cup of real and good coffee from the friendly folks at Velo Cafe, I picked up my race packet from the Cable Community Center. I spent some time inside the cozy cabin at the North End Ski Club trailhead to get ready and used Jenna’s trick yet again to pin the paper bib over a wearable cloth bib. Getting to chat with some of the organizers, volunteers, Allison and Coach Nancy Bauer was a bonus and made the pre-race time go by quickly.

Salomon S/Race Skin 196
Glide zone
Base cleaner Swix Glide Wax Cleaner
Toko Copper Brush
Base layer Toko Performance SP Black
Toko Performance SP Blue
Wax Toko High Performance SP Blue
Toko High Performance LP Blue polished with a dedicated brush
Structure Toko Blue
Top finish -
Grip zone
Base cleaner Swix Skin Cleaner
Toko High Performance LP Blue

When the time came, I made the kilometer-ish trek to the start line with few fellow skiers and I fell once on my way. I set myself up in the corral, near the front, and chatted with Allison and the event photographer (to get his permission to use photos later in the journal) before dropping the bag off. I didn’t realize until after the race that the guy lined up next to me in the starting corral was John Bauer – a 3x Olympian amongst a laundry list of various accomplishments!

Groomers had done a really good job of preparing the trails for this event. The snow that wasn’t in the forecast when Toko released their wax recommendation made the conditions a bit slower. This was a good lesson, in hindsight, to hold off on applying Liquid Paraffin wax until the night before. Starting near the very front ensured the initial scampering lasted only a few hundred meters. The ups and downs of a serpentine course provided enough challenge to recall and use the appropriate techniques.

Knowing the course profile well from prior outings helped enjoy the outing while rationing the resources and being strategic per Steph‘s suggestion. A tip which Coach Nancy had shared with me earlier in the day helped generate a bit more glide on what was certifiably a slower course – at least for most of us. I overheard a conversation later that John Bauer might have set a new course record for the 25 km edition! The result of all that was 1:01:36 for a finish time when I crossed the finish line – good for 11/40 overall, 9/25 in gender and 1/2 in AG.

12.50 km (7.77 mi), 1:01:36, 4:55 min/km (7:56 min/mile), 12.16 kmph (7.56 mph)
Garmin Forerunner 945 and WP GPX Maps plugin for WordPress

Weather conditions
hh:mm, temperature (what was and what it felt like), wind and humidity and sky
Start 09:59, 16/5 F, 8 mph WNW, 82% humidity, Light snow
Middle 10:30, 15/5 F, 8 mph WNW, 80% humidity, Overcast clouds
End 11:01, 16/5 F, 8 mph WNW, 79% humidity, Overcast clouds
Air quality 57, PM2.5

Lap by lap analysis
Goal: 12.50 km in 0:55:00 (4:24 min/km or 7:05 min/mi)
Distance
km
Lap Time
m:ss
Lap Elevation
meters
Total Time
h:mm:ss
Total Elevation
meters
Avg Pace
min/km
Projected
Finish Time

h:mm:ss
Differential
Goal Time

h:mm:ss
1.00 5:28 36 9 0:05:28 36 9 5:28 1:08:00 0:13:00
2.00 5:09 26 13 0:10:37 62 22 5:18 1:06:00 0:11:00
3.00 5:20 27 21 0:15:57 89 43 5:19 1:06:00 0:11:00
4.00 4:39 23 20 0:20:36 112 63 5:09 1:04:00 0:09:00
5.00 4:37 20 26 0:25:13 132 89 5:02 1:02:00 0:07:00
6.00 4:57 20 23 0:30:10 152 112 5:01 1:02:00 0:07:00
7.00 4:22 12 29 0:34:32 164 141 4:55 1:01:00 0:06:00
8.00 5:40 19 12 0:40:12 183 153 5:01 1:02:00 0:07:00
9.00 5:28 12 7 0:45:40 195 160 5:04 1:03:00 0:08:00
10.00 4:48 5 12 0:50:28 200 172 5:02 1:02:00 0:07:00
11.00 5:16 15 22 0:55:44 215 194 5:03 1:03:00 0:08:00
12.00 4:58 12 19 1:00:42 227 213 5:03 1:03:00 0:08:00
12.29 1:06 1 12 1:01:48 228 225 5:01 1:02:00 0:07:00
The final cumulative time, 1:01:48, may not match the official time owing to rounding errors. Starting my watch a few seconds before the start and stopping it a few seconds after crossing the finish line can be an additional reason for this discrepancy. The overall distance, 12.29 km, may not match the designated event distance owing to idiosyncrasies associated with GPS data collection OR the aforementioned early start/late stop reasons, and in some rare cases, incorrectly measured courses. As a result, the cumulative pace and the projected finish time might not match the official values as well.

The post-race festivities included stopping by the Velo Cafe for nourishment and Rivers Eatery to pick up the age group award. Rest of Sunday was spent fueling and hydrating (water and gatorade) getting ahead on some of the work work so that Tuesday didn’t feel like I was lagging behind. As the evening progressed, I didn’t feel the fatigue building up nearly as much as I had anticipated. I called it a night again around 10 pm.

The day after

The return journey started after spending some quality time at American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation in Cable and Hayward, and was punctuated with a few pit stops to stretch the legs – reaching home safely by 6 pm. I was a bit tired and sore, and had some lower back pain from that slipped/missed step on Saturday morning. As noted previously in the 2022 SISU Ski Fest journal entry, it felt good and very grateful to be out with friends and to be a part of real races under current circumstances. The at-home COVID-19 antigen test was negative, and I am looking forward to few more races as the winter progresses.

Carpe Skiem!


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 kindness and constant encouragement as well as offerings of constructive criticism to improve myself as a human and an athlete. I am eternally grateful to all those who let me train with them, who shared their invaluable experiences 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.

3 Replies to “2022: Wolf Tracks Rendezvous and North End Classic”

  1. Gowtham – So glad your could join us again this year. Hopefully you can spend some time here without racing and checkout all of the North End Ski Trails. I’d be happy to show you around my favorite, the North Classic (not race) Trail – 12 km of narrow winding single track classic trail with lots of fun descents.
    See you on the trails.

    Ron

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