Gothic Mountain Tour

I’ve gained weight, I don’t know how much or really where but it’s palpable. At first I thought maybe it was because of the chips I was eating, or the absorption issues getting better (more on that later). But then I realized that my body finally feels like it’s safe. Let me explain, from an evolutionary standpoint when we’re hunted by a predator, we try to get small, like really small as if that will keep us safe. Our bodies and minds haven’t exactly caught up to the modern world so the fight or flight persists to manifest in maladaptive forms. Anyways, when I did a skimo race last year, my friend asked how she could get so skinny, I half joked, have a panic attack. But it was true, I remember some days getting to the end of the day and realizing I hadn’t eaten anything and then would eat chips to try and compensate. This later became an issue when someone mentioned how odd it was that I ate chips so late at night, I realized that they didn’t realize that sometimes it was the only thing I had eaten. Anyways, it was a foreign place to be, I had always seen food as fuel, something that could sustain me on the long endurance races. A necessity, when I was in grad school I weighed myself every day to make sure I wasn’t loosing weight. I thought about this recently as I lined up for the Gothic Mountain Traverse. A race I had signed up for last year but didn’t make it to the starting line, last year I felt too weak, too fragile, too small. Instead I spent that weekend not racing hanging out with Allison and Kati while pouring out the contents of my brain. But it was a much needed weekend with them.

Fast forward to this year and I signed up for the race knowing that it would coincide with teaching in DC. Because I had left Alaska five weeks earlier I opted to not bring my race boots so I could just use the same boots for the Canada trip and this race (they required different skis, remember no skimo skis on the Canada trip). But by not bringing two pairs of boots I had more room in my suitcase to bring back Trader Joe’s to Alaska.

Texted a friend I had forgotten how big a medium was at Dunkin’

I took the bus to Boulder to get a car and pick up my skis (thanks again Dave and Neil for bringing them back after Canada). I finished up some work and stopped at Costco for the Crested Butte crew before picking Alexei up at the airport and heading to CB. We got in a bit late but Sam and Claudia (the cat) greeted us.

On Saturday morning, Zach made us crepes and we talked about a plan for the day. I told Sam I was down for whatever tour, as while I was there for a race wasn’t exactly prioritizing the race like I used to do. We headed out, only stopping to buy batteries as I had left my avy beacon on since leaving Canada and it was very dead. We headed up Snodgrass which I had only been on in the summer. Part of the skin track was on the race course so I just kept saying it was like a course preview. 

We got up to the top and poked over the ledge in a few places to see the best line down, we backtracked a bit and then transitioned. I took my skins off and then decided to go pee, which was quite hilarious when I went to squat, started peeing, and started sliding on my skis. Fortunately I was able to somehow not end up with any pee on me and stop the slide before I got too far but lesson learned.  

We decided I would go first because I didn’t have a radio, I told Sam my line and then pushed off. Except then I quickly tumbled and lost a ski, I heard Sam say, “what the fuck Kate” and reminded him I hadn’t skied in like a month. Alexei grabbed my ski as I had slid down and I put it back on— woof! Round 2! I pushed off again and immediately realized how much I had missed this in the past month. I cut down into the trees and weaved to a good stopping point. Alexei followed soon and then we cut over to meet Sam. Wow, this is nice, I might move to CB! The bottom half was even better with open glades for the taking. We got down to the end of the road and debating doing another lap, we realized where we had gone down didn’t exactly set us up for another lap and with a bib pick up cut off time decided to skin out. 

I got my bib with no problem, running into friends from Alaska and friends from Boulder. We went to the store to grab things for dinner and last minute race provisions. No such luck on the sour patch kids though. We stopped at the gas station where we were informed “they have the best candy section in town, maybe the valley” and they did. I had actually only been able to get some flavors in different countries and thought they were specific to those countries. So we bought 4 bags to be safe of different varieties. 

We got back to the house, made dinner, Sam adjusted my bindings for my boots and I prepped my stuff for the next day. There was a lot of discussion about going to karaoke but I was unsure with karaoke not starting until 9pm.

It didn’t take much to convince me to join karaoke and figured I would go for an hour and then come back and go to bed. I changed and then changed again when it became clear everyone was wearing costumes and dawned a banana outfit— any house that has a costume closet is my jam. I drove so I wouldn’t be tempted to stay out too late. It was well worth it, with the CB crew really showing off their voices and dance moves. One of the friends had a skinsuit as her costume, she asked if I wanted to borrow it for the next day, “it’s a kid’s x-large, I found it at a thrift store.” Ohhh maybe, that could be fun”, but was concerned about the weather and if it would actually keep me warm. By the end of the evening I was convinced I would wear it if I could fit my layers underneath it. I stayed out a bit later than I had planned but got a skinsuit and a top 10 at karaoke. 

The morning of the race came early, the race started at 6 so I got up around 4:30, made coffee, ate breakfast, and toiled around a bit. I put on wool baselayers and then pulled the skinsuit over, oh wow, this is amazing.

I shoved the rest of my layers into my bag anticipating having to put them on at the start line as previous years it had been -20. I had almost left the house when I realized I needed my skis. I grabbed them and got in the car, leaving the house a little later than I had planned but fortunately everything is close. I looked at the temperature in the car, 20 degrees. That can’t be right. I got to the school, put some last minute things in my bag, my helmet and headlight on and headed to the start. In talking to people the night before it seemed like the start tactic would be to go without skins and skate. I’m not a fan of skate skiing but figured they knew best. I slotted into the start and made conversation with the girl next to me, it was also her first time. She said she thought I was very serious because of my skinsuit, I told her I borrowed it from a lady at the bar last night so not that serious.

We started and I started, pushing off to skate, okay this isn’t too bad, definitely faster than on skins, I can do this, I was kicking and gliding when something got tangled and I starfished face first onto the track, oh my gosh please don’t hit me. I scampered up, well at least I got that out of the way and was relatively unscathed, and because it was dark no one could see my bruised ego. I followed the headlights in front of me feeling the divide between the skaters and the skinners opening up. I got to the spot to transition and put on my skins and stepped back onto the course. The next section zigged and zagged over the Nordic trails, but we remained mostly in a congo line going up the single track. I wondered if those in front had to break trail and thanked myself for not being that fast.

I got to the first descent, transitioned and set off, convinced that I’d be able to make up time on the descents. I think of it similarly to mountain biking where I feel confident taking the B line to make up time (I’m sure my friends who have seen me ski are like, “plz Kate don’t ever take the B line, your mountain bike skills are non-transferrable). I was going down the groomer and feeling pretty fresh, I saw a little jump and took it which fed into the next transition area. I unlocked my heels to put my skins back on but one of my heels was already released, oh maybe I didn’t actually step in properly. Then I looked, oh that’s not right and the heel attachment was gone but the tower was still there. I looked behind me as if it would be there. I thought about bailing, I mean I was only 3 miles into the race but realized I didn’t really need a heel piece.

I decided I would keep going, there would be one more descent before Snodgrass and if it was sketchy I could bail and walk back to Zach and Mary’s. I sent a text to the boys with a photo and kept going. I thought of how it could have happened but it didn’t really matter and just hoped I could warranty it.

We climbed on the resort trails until reaching the first cut off point where it was another transition point. The guy behind me told me that was a tough time cut-off but we were in good shape. I had no idea and asked if he had done it before, a few times he said. I ripped my skins and locked my one boot in and took off. The descent felt pretty normal so I decided I would be fine without a heel piece (granted this was on groomers). I transitioned again and then headed up the Snodgrass track that we had taken the day before. The Alaska friends passed by me on this section, one having raced it the year before said they were just here to mostly tour and have fun. I felt similar even though I was in a pretty fancy skinsuit. I followed them for a bit until I fell off and settled into my pace. I made sure to occasionally grab a handful of sour patch kids. I got to the top of the next transition, the guy behind me was like “Oh wow, you’re missing your heel piece” And I was like “oh yeah, but now my ski is lighter!” The guy doing the checks asked if I wanted a ski strap and I said I had one but also like absolutely not was I going to strap my boot to my ski. I figured this would be the real test, as it was a little more powder and no groomers. I reminded myself that my right ski was stronger so to rely on that if I needed to. I started the descent and went skiers right looking for the flagging to tell me I was going the right way. I stopped as I couldn’t see the flagging anymore, I figured either way would end up on the road but waited till I could see another skier through the trees to my left and headed in that direction.

I got down to the road and debated putting my skins back on, some were skating so I decided to skate for a bit until it wasn’t worth it. The skate didn’t last long and soon I was putting on my skins, chatting with others on the way. I was familiar with the Gothic Road from the summers I spent riding in CB up to the 401 trail but the ski route went up the 403 trail. After skinning the road for a bit we turned off to start the climb– a guy near me told me that it was just 2,000 feet up and then you’re mostly done with climbing. With that encouragement I settled in and adjusted my pace. And up I went, a bit slow at times, some movements felt more laborious than others. I thought of my roommate Hailey’s instagram post from early that week, she talked about giving 100% of what you had in that moment and not just a blanket 100% (she definitely articulated it much better than I just did). I kept going up, and eating, and drinking. My mind kept wandering over the past year, the ridges and grooves that brought me back to myself– the absurdity of having gotten so lost in the first place. I got near the top and stopped to put on my shell and my warmer mittens. The wind had picked up and was blowing snow. I got to the top, called Top of the World, and took in the view, or what would have been the view if it wasn’t socked in, oh well next year. I ripped my skins and headed down. Someone told me that it was a straight line down to the next point and the last descent was the most technical. This was mostly true and while I didn’t exactly straight line, I did get down pretty quick. I stopped to transition again, I had my puffy gloves on and in the midst of it all it got caught in my jacket zipper and ripped, exposing all the feathers. They floated around and kept coming out, I don’t know how they fit so many feathers into such a small patch because a few miles later I still had feathers circulating around me.

I got to the final transition for the last descent. Another volunteer was directing where the line was. I looked down and while tracked out it didn’t seem like any powder at this point. I stood there for a moment and a guy came up behind me. “You’re the girl without the heel piece right?” I looked at him and said that was me, he told me to be careful on this descent. Sometimes I get annoyed when that happens but he had genuine concern in his voice as if he realized how easy it might be for me fumble this one. I let him take the first line so I could follow. I started going down and it was definitely a bit of survival skiing. I followed the tracks but the snow had gotten a bit more harder packed, I leaned onto my right leg to cut the turns. My legs were a little tired at this point and the hill down was pretty long, I stopped to release my legs and straighten them out. I noticed the guy in front of me would occasionally glance back, as if to make sure I was still okay in my descent. With a few more stops (it was a long descent) I made it to the bottom and the final check-in. They said there was an angry moose so a bit of a course reroute. But still about 6 miles from the finish but overall a net loss. In talking to people it also seemed like the best approach was to skate ski until you couldn’t and then put skins on. In all my winter skiing this year, I had done about 30 minutes of skate skiing total.

I started skating and I have terrible form but still managed to move faster than those around me with skins. Kick, glide, kick, glide, trying to channel all my physical therapy tools to keep my hips forward, upper body up, and channel my two roommates who actually grew up skate skiing. I got to the bottom of a big uphill, net loss my ass. The guy next to me took his skis off to boot pack. I opted for the same approach, realizing that transitioning twice would take longer and because I mostly penguin walk up hills figure it would be the same amount of time but just different muscles. I got to the top, put my skis back on and started back with the skating. I had no idea how much further I had to go, I opted to not race with my watch but did have the mileage on my phone but it wasn’t exactly easily accessible. I made sure to keep eating and drinking.

I was skating along when a snowmachine pulled up with Zach and Sam on it. I stopped and we chatted for a bit, offering them my sour patch kids, they told me I was close to the finish. I told them about the day and they told me where they were headed to ski. Sam said his machine had broken down about 100 yards from the finish so when I saw it I would know I was close. I thanked them and headed back on my way. It was around here that I thought about switching skis, my right leg had been attached to the heel piece for all of skating but my left leg was stronger so thought by switching maybe I would get a little further each time. I stopped and switched skis with my right heel being free now. I went to push off and it was like my brain stopped working, I could not go forward with any grace. I started laughing, how is this happening. I switched my skis back and wondered if anyone just saw the calamity. I started skating again and saw the course deviate a bit, I took my glove off to grab some sour patch kids and when I went to put it back on I couldn’t find it. I looked behind me and some lady said she would grab it, I stopped and waited offering her candy in exchange for my glove which she took some candy. I got up a short pitch and a woman on a fatbike rode by saying the finish was just around the corner and all downhill from there. I was skeptical but then I saw Sam’s snowmachine.

I got through the finish and that was that. I saw the friends from Alaska and chatted with them about the course waiting for the shuttle. I got on the shuttle and recognized the guy who had warned me about descending, I asked if that was him and he was like yeah I was worried you were going to blow a knee, I thanked him for his vigilance. Especially because blowing a knee had never actually crossed my mind.

I got back to the car and was feeling so fresh I thought I might go meet Alexei at the resort for a lap or two but decided to go home and shower first so I didn’t get cold. After the shower the exhaustion hit me and instead I laid on the couch catching up with Mary and waiting for everyone else to arrive and talk about their near-misses of the day. We all opted for an early bed that night.

On Monday, Alexei and I headed out to tour before heading back to the front range. We opted for a more mellow tour both being unfamiliar with the terrain but we found great little laps and the sun even making a few appearances exposing the valley, which would have been cool to see during the race, oh well, next year!

I spent the rest of the week in Boulder with Dave, Allison, and Ruby, catching up with other friends over dinner, going to Banff Film Festival, and getting an early morning lap in (where I forgot my skins but kind of made do).

I’m back in Alaska but for a work conference in Fairbanks and next week back in DC for a bit more work but then will be back in Alaska for a good chunk. Arriving back in Alaska no longer brings a sense of uncertainty with it and instead this immense gratitude for all that has grown around me. The past few weeks with traveling and reconnecting with friends has made me examine my value system, the standards I have for myself and how I show up in relationships and the expectations that I have for others. It made me think of the race because during it one guy made a comment to me “skimo skis aren’t great for skiing, huh?” and I was like why are you telling that to me, of course I know they aren’t great for skiing but like I’m not here to ski well, obvi. But realizing he was probably going through some shit and was projecting whatever onto me. Instead I try to think of all those around me during the race who were cordial, gracious, and vigilant towards me. This is somewhat related to my personal life as I had a very abrupt rupture happen recently and trying not to dwelling too much on that point of inflection, instead remind myself of all the others that continue to surround and inspire me with their actions and words. Don’t worry the story is bonkers and it’ll be in the book but I no longer feel like I have to become small because of others (cue eating all the Trader Joe snacks I brought back).

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