After my incredible luck this year with getting called up for carnival races, I had forgotten what it was like to travel with the Development Team.
When I arrived at Dartmouth, I had known that I would be racing with the Development Team, affectionately known as the D-Team. For me, it was one of the major selling points of Dartmouth: I could race even though I hadn’t been a standout high school skier. I guess on some level I hoped to make varsity some day, but I didn’t really expect to improve as much as I have over the last few years; I thought I’d stay there forever.
Exceeding expectations, I’ve traveled with varsity at least part of each season since then. But on the weekends when I don’t make the cut, I go back to the D-Team. In a way it’s like moving back in with your parents when your career doesn’t quite work out; you’re a little embarrassed, but you’re also thankful to have something familiar and comforting to go back to after you’ve been rejected. And the atmosphere is less serious and more fun than on the big-deal varsity bus.
As we drove back from Gilford on Sunday, Courtney Robinson had the shotgun seat in the bus, bantering with our Development Coordinator, Martin Benes. She was eating Ritz cheese bits and gave at least a few to Martin.
Gordon Vermeer was sitting in the first seat, working on a paper for his freshman seminar. Next to him was Sam Marshall, who still sported his green mohawk from the previous weekend. Sam is an Etna native who skied for Gunstock in high school, so he was showing us a shortcut back to Hanover.
“The best thing about this route,” Sam said, “was you don’t go more than 20 minutes without passing a Dunkin Donuts!”
The rest of us looked at each other, unsure if this actually recommended the shortcut or not. Katie Bono and Julie Carson were listening to their iPods, and Audrey Weber slept in the back. Besides passengers, we were loaded down with skis – several pairs per skier since we hadn’t been sure what conditions we would find – a waxing bench, two forms, and two giant wax boxes.
Katie and I had podiumed in the Under-23 division of the Eastern Cup and received prize baskets full of baked goods, which we shared with our teammates.
“I have to stop eating these cookies,” I said at one point. “I’m going to get really hyper from all the sugar and then crash.”
Gordon had a bagel and Courtney had peanut butter and jelly but no bread, so they made open-face PB&J’s and each got half. That’s teamwork.
Our bus has a DVD player, but we never use it. We seldom listen to the radio. On the way to races, we’re all pretty quiet. It’s the shotgun passenger’s responsibility to say something every once in a while so Martin doesn’t get bored, fall asleep, or get lost. It’s not that he would do any of these things, but he deserves some company. D-Team coaches get very meager pay and the hours aren’t the greatest. Oh, and they have to put up with all of us.
At one point, I shared my iPod earbuds with Courtney, saying, “This is for old time’s sake.” In honor of our last Eastern Cup of our Dartmouth careers, we listened to Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.”
The rest of the passengers were confused as to the significance of the song. In between singing the lyrics, we explained that our freshman year, our bus had no radio and no CD player, so we had two cassette tapes which we listened to over and over on every trip. One was Poison’s Greatest Hits, and the other was the Fugees.
I don’t know why, but the bus was always more crowded in those days. I guess we didn’t split among races as often. Especially if we were staying somewhere overnight, our bus would be crammed with bags and there wouldn’t be enough seats. The heater was in the back, and we had to put a piece of plywood over it so it wouldn’t melt our skis. As a result the bus was always cold. Paul Salipante would snuggle up into the bags and sleep on the way home from races.
We played about ten rounds of telephone pictionary on our way back from Rumford that year after we arrived at the race venue to find that it was closed. The drive back to Hanover took 6 hours in the snow. We topped the day off by stopping at a diner for lunch.
Waxing can be especially tricky on the D-Team. Our wax is mostly for, say, less than 10 degrees, or above 35. In other words, it’s all the stuff that never gets used. Our klister collection resides in plastic bags; usually the tubes are covered in the sticky stuff and the names are things we are totally unfamiliar with.
Katie and I discussed another memorable D-Team race, this time from last year. The event was a mass-start 10k classic outside of Montpelier. Tracks were glazed and it was snowing. Nobody could figure out the wax; we even talked about it with Middlebury, which means both of our teams were really freaking out, because we never share waxing info with them. It was a ridiculous race.
We were almost back in Hanover by now, driving along the Ruddsboro Road. Sam directed Martin onto King Road. Katie and I immediately sat up. “Sam! Why are we going this way?”
“It’s a shortcut,” he smiled.
“I have agreed with all of your shortcuts so far,” I said, “but this one is bad. It’s not any shorter. And that hill is really steep and it’s going to be slippery in the snow.” Katie and I frowned at each other.
As we crept down the hill, we saw skid marks from other vehicles. Martin put the bus in a low gear and we made it around the corners, slowly.
Life is always an adventure on the D-Team. Sometimes we get to races with barely enough time to slap some wax on our skis. Sometimes our bus breaks down. But most of the time, everything is fine. I don’t mind being back with my old team. Oh, and you never win baked goods at college races.