On College Racing

unh-carnival1

Hanging out at the UNH carnival with (l-r) Kristina Trygstad-Saari, Elsa Sargent, and Susan Dunklee, 2007.

Thursday. 1 pm. Bus leaves for Carnival.

This is how it is every week. We come from all over campus, six women: some running from a class which finished 10 minutes ago, some ambling from the ski room where we have been packing up all morning.

We are flustered, we are relieved, we are excited. We are probably forgetting something.

We are on the bus.

***

This week I had been named the alternate for the Bates Carnival. Being the alternate is usually a formality, and sometimes there isn’t even one named. But then, all of a sudden on Thursday morning, Rosie Brennan, who had just returned from the World Cup, was sick.

Before I had time to think “I have some big skiboots to fill,” I was frantically packing my ski clothes, pajamas, toothbrush, race-day snacks, and homework into my duffel.

I brought my giant bag on the Advance Transit bus from my apartment to Robinson Hall, where threw my skis and poles into my skibag and made a quick guess at what wax I would need for the weekend. Various fluorinated glidewaxes, kickwaxes, brushes, and scrapers, along with a cork and a putty knife, were haphazardly crammed into my bag.

I had class from 10 to 12:50, and I must have looked funny powerwalking from Baker Library to Collis, where I grabbed lunch to go.

My teammates had loaded my bags since they knew I would be in a rush.

I was on the bus. The weekend could only get better from here.

***

College racing is familiar to me now. Sometimes I’m one of the six women on the bus and sometimes I’m not, but I know what to expect and our routine is comfortable.

We leave Thursday, then ski at the race venue or somewhere on the way. We check into our hotel, divide space with our roommates, and start working on our skis. We have dinner together, followed by a brief team meeting to go over details for the next day. Before bed we put our chosen pair of race skis on the bus so our coaches, Cami and Ruff, can add the last topcoat of race wax early the next morning.

Friday, we wake up early and eat breakfast. There’s usually not a lot of talking at the table, and breakfast routines can vary widely. The women’s team has good eaters, though; ironically, the men’s team seems to have more unusual relationships with food.

Our captain, Hannah Dreissigacker, drives our bus to the race site if Cami is already gone. We play the radio, but don’t sing along. When we arrive we check in with Ruff and Cami, pick up our bibs, and stake out a spot in the lodge. We listen to our iPonds and then put on our skiboots, grab our warm-up skis, and hit the trails.

After skiing the course and doing some hard pieces to get thoroughly warm, we pick up our race skis from Ruff and Cami and head to the stadium. There, we run back and forth with our poles in an organized chaos of nervous racers. A minute before our start we strap on our skis and try to stay loose.

Then it’s go time.

Friday afternoons are spent sleeping, doing homework, and working on skis. Then the whole routine starts again in preparation for Saturday’s race.

***

Regardless of how my race goes – and of course life is better all around when it goes well – one of my favorite things about Carnivals is the atmosphere.

Every weekend, ten schools bring six women, and we see each other over and over again. Our interactions could be summed up by 2008 captain Elsa Sargent, who said, “Always be nice to Middlebury, you know they hate that.” Rivalries are friendly.

I get to see former high school teammates every weekend: Alice Nelson from Williams, Natalie Ruppertsberger and now Beth Taylor from Bates, and Jennie Brentrup from Colby. Our reunions, whether they are in the lodge before racing, in line at the start, or watching the men’s race, are always gleeful. We exchange congratulations or sympathy, depending on how the day has gone, and gossip.

Regardless of who I’m competing against, we joke on the start line, we wish each other good luck, and we chat even though we’ve only met at races. We know each other’s names. When we get in each other’s way on the course, we often ask nicely before barking for the other girl to move, and we usually apologize if we step on each other’s skis.

During races, there is never a shortage of familiar on the side of the trail. My teammate Ida Sargent’s mother Lindy has come up with such encouragement as “Rage!” and “You’re rocking around the clock!” or, my personal favorite, “You look great and you’re smiling!” when I am not, in fact, smiling. Deb and Dan Nelson are great at cheering, and Knut Joslin, a former teammate who is now coaching at Saint Lawrence, always says something.

Of course, sometimes the cordial attitude disappears momentarily. Natalie stepped on my pole this weekend and I fell, shouting a bad four-letter word as five skiers surged past me. But as soon as we finished, we were hugging and apologizing a million times for tripping each other up.

After the race, Dartmouth parents provide a lavish food table. At Bates this weekend, it was courtesy of the Koons’, the O’Briens, the Sargents, and the Schulz’s.  There was hot stew, macaroni and cheese, hot chocolate and warm cider, burgers, and a huge variety of baked goods. When the men race first, they pilfer a lot of the good stuff before we’re done. Luckily, on this weekend the women raced first.

On Saturday afternoon we drive back to Hanover, exhausted from two days or racing and the consumption of too much good food.

***

It was good to be on the bus. Now that I’m on, I hope I can stay a while.

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2 thoughts on “On College Racing

  1. I know Elsa. She would say “Always be nice to Middlebury, you know they hate that.” Funny!

    Your blog gives a nice insight into the x-country skier experience. Thanks for posting.

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