go to northern scandinavia.

After our brief stop in Tromsø, we continued on to Abisko. After staying in the main scientific research station for a night, we took a helicopter ride up to Latnjajaure, our tiny field site. It’s only about a 3-4 hours walk, but we needed to bring food for almost three weeks up there, so hiking it up wasn’t a very good option. Plus, I had never been in a helicopter before! so that was a treat.

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I don’t know what to say about the work (it was the same? hard? confusing?), but our time at Latnja was amazing. There is an extensive hiking/trekking trail system in northern Sweden, Norway, and Finland, so we were right on the path of one of the trails. We could hike off into the heath and up the mountains surrounding our station, or we could make huge loops on established trails. Both were lovely.

One day we even hiked to the nearby(ish) Låkta hut, where we ordered soup. Helen and I were getting pretty desperate after not having fresh vegetables, and luckily their soup of the day was cream of broccoli. I ordered a coffee, too. It was perfect. I was amazed to see that you could stay at the hut (without meals, of course) for just 40 SEK – incredibly cheap, way cheaper than any AMC hut in New England or a hut in Switzerland. In fact, there aren’t very many things at all that you can do in Sweden for SEK 40!

So: if the following slideshow doesn’t convince you to go plan a hiking trip to northern Sweden/Norway immediately, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

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Trøndelag.

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And so, one day, we left Svalbard.

It was sad, in a way, and it had its snafus. We went for one last hike; we drove the car back to the airport, stopping to fill it with fuel along the way but struggling for ten minutes to get the gas cap off. I laughed: what if we missed our flight because of the rental car gas cap?

And then we were off to Tromsø. It had been sunny, but chilly and blustery when we left 78˚N. We flew over the archipelago, seeing the many many glaciers we couldn’t see from town – Spitzbergen is covered 60% in snow (don’t quote me on that though).

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When we landed “down south”, it was t-shirt weather and the sun was hot. We had to pinch ourselves to remember that we were still far, far farther north than most people will go in their lifetime. Tromsø felt like the tropics.

Our friend Cecilie picked us up at the airport and brought us back to her house, where we also met up with our friend Nikoline. Then they drove us out of town to a favorite picnic spot along the fjord. In the back was Cecilie’s bassett hound, panting and shedding adorably.

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It’s hard to describe the sun in the north. I didn’t have a reason to because in Svalbard, it rarely shown. On those few days that it did, it was strong and bright and a joyous occasion.

When you’re merely in normal Scandinavia, the summer sun begins to dip at night. It might not get dark, but it’s not like noon, either. Sweden and Norway, especially in late summer, are encompassed in a glow of dusk – the sun resting at an angle on the horizon, bathing everything in its peculiar light. Amazingly, my camera did manage to pick this up.

We could have sat there for hours in the sun, all night, really. As it was we walked along the shore and the basset’s short legs took him to and fro. Sometimes he’d slip and almost fall, but he gamely scampered on, betraying no sense of the fact that he was not a dog built for anything but flat ground.

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Cecilie made us salmon burgers, the most delicious. And brownies, which we heaped with ice cream on top. She had found Helen her favorite new drink, a special ginger beer that we had never heard of before. The only thing better than the scenery in Tromsø was the hospitality. I really hope that I can offer Cecilie and Nikoline the same in return one day.

Helen and I had to catch a 6 a.m. bus to Sweden the next day, but Cecilie gamely woke up (despite not being a morning person!) and packed our lunchbox with not only lunch, but all the rest of the brownies. When we ate them in Narvik before switching to the train, I had rarely felt so spoiled in my life. Cecilie’s mother is American, so she knows how to make a real brownie.

And then we were off, traversing through the fjords and over the mountains. I had never thought much of northern Norway, but as the bus wound through the alpine landscape, I thought it might be my most favorite place ever. I wanted to jump off the bus right there and wander off into the heath, to climb over the bare rock hills.

It wasn’t just the Tromsø fjord that was so astonishingly beautiful; it was everything going East, too. I definitely have to go back some day.

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spring in Gotland.

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Over the last few weeks I have been lucky to receive some great visitors to Visby. First my mother came and now two other friends (one at a time!). It’s always amazing how sometimes you don’t do things or see the sights in the place you live until other people come to visit. Suddenly you feel you have to show them around, and you realize you don’t know how! So I’ve learned quite a bit about Visby and Gotland in these days.

It has also been nice because as tourist season approaches, more and more things are opening up, whether it is cafes and restaurants or the ruins of old cathedrals. This weekend I was able to finally go inside some of the ruins and man, they were incredible. So thanks to my visitors for finally getting me outside doing things (and eating some FANTASTIC food, as I rarely go out to eat by myself here in Sweden, $$$$).

When my mother was here we rented a car and ventured to the far north of the island, to Fårö, which is actually an island of its own. We took a small ferry across the channel (just a five minutes ride or something – in the U.S. they’d just build a bridge, but the ferry was great and I prefer it!) to the home of Ingmar Bergman. Confession, I have never seen a Bergman film. But I will have to now. Fårö is amazing. I don’t have much time to write, but here are a few pictures. Click to enlarge.

incredible Visby.

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When I moved to Visby, I was like, woohoo, this is pretty cool, it’s sunny and I live in a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But I didn’t really figure out just how cool it was until this weekend, when instead of having to go to work (BORING, amiright?) I was able to explore a little bit.

I mean, there were hints. For instance, this is the street I live on:

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And the running isn’t bad here either. This is just a 15-minute jog from my house:

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But on Saturday, I packed my bag to head to the university for the internet (I don’t have it in my flat, meaning I spend a lot more time reading and listening to podcasts, which I’m quite happy about), and was determined to take the long route, camera in hand.

This is the other side of that city wall on my street:

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It was quite a lovely way to start a walk.

I usually always take the same route to and from the university. It takes about seven minutes, and there is one alternate route about the same length. So I’ve seen one side of the medieval part of the city. What I didn’t realize that rather than being, say, one half of the walled snclosure, it was actually just a fraction of it. The old city is much much larger than I had previously realized. The walls are very extensive. I explored them.

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And then, eventually, I went inside.

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Amidst the cobbled streets and the small, cute old houses, there is a ton of history here. I mean, no duh: it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. But I didn’t realize quite how much that meant. My corner of the city has mostly houses in it. This other side? There were the houses, but also a lot of much older things. There’s one cathedral which is maintained, beautiful, and still in use.

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There are many, many others which are unmaintained, beautiful, and not in use. Okay, unmaintained is not a fair characterization. They have been fixed up quite a bit. But they don’t have roofs. They are falling down, or rather they were falling down and have now been frozen in one point of the falling-down process, fixed at a certain amount of fallen-down-ness. Some have grass growing on what little roof remains. And they are open to go inside – but only from May through the summer, so I couldn’t wander in and look up at the sky through the roof of a church. In one, I took a photo through the gate barring my entrance.

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In short, I have accidentally landed in an amazing place. When my supervisor told me he worked in Visby, a satellite campus, rather than Uppsala proper… I was sad. I love Uppsala and my friends are there, and I was really sad to leave them. I had a good life there, whereas here I am almost completely solitary.

But I’m not at all sad anymore. This weekend I also took a long 2-hour run north of the city and ended up in some amazing nature areas, as well as just running along the rocky beach. This is a great, wonderful, amazing place. At least for now, I’m enjoying my solitude. Plus, I have visits from a couple of friends to look forward to, and my own trip to Portugal next week, and at least one if not more trips back to Uppsala to visit. I don’t think I’m going to be too lonely.

Final thought: paging Kate Mosse. I love southern France, but I think you could write a great book set here!

oslo.

I had a great time in Oslo the last few days! One of the best things was staying with my friend Knut, who is great company and also made sure that my stay was easy and fun.

Yesterday he headed out of the city to go see his mom, so my stay culminated in an end-of-season party at the venue last night which was really super fun. I am not feeling so hot this morning, but I’m in the Oslo airport and it has been pretty hilarious to see all the biathletes catching their flights out and looking at least as bad as I do. So instead of writing something, I’ll start by just posting a slideshow. The mass start race yesterday was really exciting and picturesque! Click to enlarge.

I’m not sure if you can tell, but Martin Fourcade turned the final roller into a jump and got some air on his way into the stadium! It was I think my favorite of the ways he has ever celebrated a win – more joyful, less egotistical bravado.

I like to call the last photo in the set “goodbye biathlon season.”

birken.

Well, this is not as exciting of a post as I was anticipating. I spent Friday evening waxing up my skis here in Lillehammer. Nothing fancy, just some HF7 and binder ironed in to the kick zone. After extensive consultation with Erik, who I am staying with, we decided that for the Birkebeiner it was impossible to tell whether it would be klister conditions or hardwax, so I packed a bag of goodies and figured I would wax once I got to the start and could scope out the situation.

I woke up at 4 a.m. to eat some yogurt, and Erik was up half an hour later and drove me to catch the 5 a.m. bus from Håkans Hall in Lillehammer to Rena with the Lillehammer Skiklub. I slept most of the way there and we arrived shortly before 7 a.m. I was set to start around 9 a.m.

As we got in the car in the morning, Erik had said something like, “just so you know, NRK was reporting that a meteorologist said there were such high winds that organizers should think carefully about whether they were going to send people over the mountains.”

You see, the Birkebeiner is not like the Vasaloppet – it is an extreme experience! The course climbs to almost 3,000 feet and spends a lot of time in the mountains. Bad weather there is not atypical. Participants have to carry a 3.5kg backpack to symbolize the weight of the baby in the old story the race is based on, but also because they must carry food, drink, an extra shirt, pants, jacket, and wax with them. Things in the mountains can get crazy.

Anyway, when we arrived in Rena we learned that the race had been delayed an hour so organizers could continue to assess the weather at the top of the course. I was somewhat dismayed because I hadn’t planned for this and an extra hour meant an extra hour of when I should be eating, only I didn’t really have any “extra” food, just what I had brought to tide me over to the normal start time.

After the hour of deliberating, though, the race was canceled completely. I was sad but at this point honestly I had sort of begun expecting it, so I didn’t feel quite as dismayed or furious as the Norwegian skiers around me seemed to be. We waited for everyone else to come back to the bus and headed back to Lillehammer. Erik picked me up back at Håkans Hall around 10 a.m. As I walked back in the door of the house, I told his daughter Greta, “it only took me an hour to ski back here! I won!”

All day she asked me whether I was really, really sad. I kept saying no. I mean, yeah, I was sad. I was really looking forward to the Birken. But this wasn’t the defining point of my season and honestly, while I feel a lot better than I did before the Vasaloppet, I’m still not very fit. Instead of racing, I have been hanging out with the Stange family and Erik and Emily have made sure that I have the opportunity to ski every day. It’s a different trip than I was envisioning when I hopped on the train, but it has been perfectly lovely in a different way.

Many Norwegians don’t feel the same way. I wrote a short article for FasterSkier summing up the controversy around the race cancellation, which you can read here. Wind gusts reached almost 50 mph and the wind chill was at -14, but there were windows of more okay weather and some people skied over the mountain anyway. They said it was fine, and that is what is pissing people off – the idea that maybe everything would have turned out okay.

As for me, I went for a pretty blustery ski today and was distinctly glad that I wasn’t racing, especially not in conditions that were significantly worse. Eh, well. You win some, you lose some, Norway.

I joked to U.S. biathlon coach Per Nilsson this weekend that I seem to be some sort of curse on races in terms of weather and snow conditions, and he wrote, “We see if it’s bad in Oslo, then you are not welcome to World Cup Biathlon anymore…”

springtime of my sverige.

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In less than a week I’ll be competing in another big ski marathon. I know, I know. After the Vasaloppet, you really want to do this again, Chelsea? Well yes, I do. It’s the Birkebeiner. I’ve been excited abut the Birken for…. years. This year is no exception. I’m ready – to do whatever is possible for my body on that day, to participate, to have a great time. I know that it can’t possibly take 7 hours, since it’s only just over 50 k. So that right there means I will have significantly more fun.

But I digress – I’m going to be competing in a ski marathon. It feels surreal: these days in Uppsala have been warm and sunny. Spring came weeks ago and is not going anywhere. Winter is a distant memory.

And so in the midst of a long run I found myself standing in this magical clearing asking: where did the snow go? What did you do with it, Sweden? Which god have we offended and what can I sacrifice to appease him, or her? I’ll do it.

Don’t get me wrong, spring is lovely. It has been painful to work sitting at my desk all day, looking out the window at the sun that washes over everything and wishing that it could wash over me. I’ve been sneaking in a run here, a bounding session there, as I try to stay somewhat fit for the Birken.

Today I finally had time for a big run, and hit up my favorite place in Uppsala, Hågadalen. Just to get there, I had to make my way on a bike/pedestrian path full of happy people who were thrilled to be out in the spring weather. It was 50 degrees F and everyone was still bundled up, as if they were excited for spring but just weren’t quite sure whether they could trust it or not.

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And then, finally, I was in Håga, navigating my way through the puddles and over the rocks. I adore trail running, adore adore it. There’s something spiritual about being out there in the quiet, absorbing the peace all around you, but also focused so acutely on the little details of the treacherous ground. And yet you can’t be focused too hard. The best thing about trail running is that you achieve a sort of trance state, where you are noticing the bumps and potential trip-ups almost through your peripheral vision and your stride automagically adjusts to take them in. You’re looking, but you’re not looking. It goes deep.

For me the singletrack of Håga is almost like a cathedral, a place which distills and amplifies all those little things about trail running. The quiet is so quiet – you are surrounded my mosses and lichens which soak up the sound in their softness. And the trail is so nimble and twisty. It’s muddy and rocky and rooty and sometimes the best way is to just head off through the heather. I never come back without a scratch as a souvenir.

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And so I was happy, so happy, to be out running in Hågadalen for the first time this year. I had this sense that I belonged. It was magical, especially as I headed toward Rödmossen, where that top photo was taken. Even within Håga, which I already love, Rödmossen is one of my very most favorite places. It seems almost mystical with all that moss and lichen, a spongy sort of forest that can absorb anything. Maybe it would just soak you right up into it. I follow trail signs but always have this nagging sense that the forest has a will of its own, that it’s its own being with wishes and plans. What if there’s something out there switching the signs around? The boggy, fenny, rocky forest would make the perfect labyrinth. I can imagine twisting and turning your way through, stuck forever not knowing which direction you were going. I always think that this area would be a fantastical place for a fairy tale, and indeed these landscapes must have inspired Norse mythology.

These slightly foreboding feelings are seldom at the front of my mind, though. The forest is a happy place. And today it was a happy day, the sun seeping through the trees and me and the forest just enjoying springtime together. And yet – I didn’t belong there. It’s early March! It’s not time for this. No, it is time for skiing. I have had a few snowless late winters in my life – Eugene, Oregon; Montpellier, France – but this is something on a whole new level. It has been spring for weeks and going to Norway will be like a culture shock: white? snow? Spring is lovely, but this was not what I was expecting from Sweden.

It’s the hand I’ve been dealt, though, so I might as well go about enjoying it. Starting in Hågadalen.

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vasaloppet.

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at the finish. photo: Simon Evans via facebook.

I did the Vasaloppet yesterday.

I didn’t really want to do to the Vasaloppet. If you’re a connoisseur of this blog you’ll know how exhausted I was after the Olympics, and how I didn’t get to ski at all while I was there or even run much at all. I came home faced with the fact that I was signed up for the 90 k Vasaloppet, which was taking place in five days. My friends who are athletes recovered from the Olympics by doing things like sleeping 17 hours in a 24 hour window. I needed to do that too, but I couldn’t because I had neglected my school duties for three weeks, and I needed to be churning out statistics and paper sections. I felt horrible and dreaded, dreaded, dreaded the Vasaloppet.

So I asked my friends: should I do it? I laid out the pros and cons.

Knowing my friends, of course they all said do it. I pretty much knew that, subconsciously, when I asked them. Like me, they live for adventure. We are the kind of people who do not want to regret thing that were left not done, never tried. So I took their advice. I went.

Susan’s wax tech, Mattias, was there waxing for an elite team and offered to let me join them, and to do my skis. It was a totally amazing experience which I wrote about for FasterSkier, here. I am so, so, so grateful to Mattias and Robin. First, it was a blast to stay with the group, who were all great and fun people. Second, there’s no way I could have organized myself for this point-to-point extravaganza, and they just took care of everything for me, thank you thank you thank you. One of Robin’s cousins was even driving to Stockholm after the race and offered to wait for me to finish and then drop me in Uppsala on his way, instead of me having to wait a few hours and take a crowded train. Seriously, these people were so nice, and they made my life so much easier. Third, Mattias prepared amazing skis for me, as he usually does for people who are actually worthy of them, like Susan. Seriously, they were magical, and if it weren’t for them I almost certainly wouldn’t have finished. As a “retired” athlete there are a very declining number of times left in my life when anyone, let alone a World Cup tech, will wax my skis for me.

All of that is an experience that I would have missed if I hadn’t done the Vasaloppet this year. And that would have been a shame. I felt so welcome, like I basically never have the entire time I have been in Sweden. They were wonderful, wonderful people.

But for the race itself, meh. It was not fun. It was fun for a little while – the start and trying to weave my way through traffic was so exhilarating! – and then moderately fun for a long while. Imagine a ski marathon that you have done, a 50 k. Then imagine that you had already skied 3 hours before the start. They were three fairly enjoyable hours, for me, but any time you think “Yes! only 50 k left to go!” something is seriously fucked up. I felt like I was doing great, and I still had an entire marathon left to ski.

And then with 30 k left to go in the 90 k race, I hit the wall, hard. Once you use up your glycogen stores it’s very difficult, basically impossible, to come back. I still had a long, long way to go. It was one of the most discouraging and painful things I have done. But I knew I had to finish because people like Mattias and Robin had gotten me to the start and been so nice to take care of me. I couldn’t disappoint them by dropping out even though I couldn’t imagine how I was going to move my body across all that distance to the finish line. It took hours and those hours felt like a lifetime.

I skied 90 k without ever, once, seeing a familiar face. Other teams had stations for food and hot drinks and wax help, and even just cheering and moral support. My little Uppsala team did not, and Robin’s team was, of course, following him to the finish hours ahead of me. That’s the price of doing a race in a foreign country. When the going gets bad, it is really, really lonely. All of which creates a feedback and makes you feel even worse.

And then there were the conditions. For more than the last half of the race, it was snow that had been bought in, and it quickly broke down into slush. There were no tracks in some places, and there was deep slush in other that tripped up racer after racer. It was a mess. One Uppsala teammate said that it was the worst conditions he had seen at the race. A lot of people dropped out, apparently. Mattias texted me to say great job for finishing, and added, “the conditions was tuff”. All of which is to say, it was not at all enjoyable skiing and for sure contributed to my demise, although of course everyone else had it just as bad and so I can’t whine too much.

There’s parts of the race that I don’t even remember.

As I wrote in the FasterSkier piece, I was aiming for between 6 and 6 1/2 hours, but it took me over 7 to finish. Hundreds if not thousands of people passed me in those 30 k. This was not what I had envisioned. And yeah – we all have bad races. Bonking happens. It’s not like I was entitled to a perfect race. But this was so far outside of the realm of un-perfect that I just wasn’t prepared for it to be so bad.

Yesterday after I finished, I was in so much pain. Things that are normal for someone who has done even a normal-length ski marathon, 42 or 50 k. My back was a knotted mess, my hip flexors were shot, my calves were tight in weird places from trying to keep my skis going straight in the slush, in those long sections of trail where the tracks were completely gone. But there were other things, things that I didn’t know could hurt from skiing. At some point the tendonitis in my elbows, which bothered me back in 2011 but only when rollerskiing on pavement, flared up again. I developed a huge blood blister across my right palm and a bruise across the back of my left hand where the pole strap crosses. When I took off my boots there were strange marks which were painful to the touch on the top of my feet from where the laces gathered. My wrists, hands, and feet hurt.

When I woke up this morning, it was worse. Both my shoulders were sore but the right one – which I dislocated in 2010 – was noticeably worse. I propped myself up on my elbow to reach for my water bottle and a searing bolt of pain told me that I had better not do that. I gingerly rotated my arm around and found that the pain was taking away a quarter of my range of motion. I have been popping ibuprofen but I have no idea what’s going on – I didn’t crash or do anything traumatic to the shoulder. It’s just not right. As I wrote to a friend in an e-mail today, it hurts even to sleep.

I guess this is my punishment for disrespecting the Vasaloppet, for thinking you can cheat by not training, and somehow get away with it. The Vasaloppet is not something to be trifled with.

In one sense, I really wish that I had not picked this year as my Vasaloppet year. I don’t think I’ll come back to this race again, so this is my only memory of it. I had no illusions about even turning in a good time, but I did dream of celebrating as I crossed the finish line in Mora. I wanted to pull an Erik Bjornsen and do a rodeo pole-wave even though I finished in the middle of the field. I wanted to feel that rush. But in this race I felt so bad that I think I basically just coasted across the line. I felt shell-shocked. I wasn’t even absorbing the surroundings. It’s one of the only races I’ll ever do where there is a grandstand watching the finish line on main street – and I didn’t appreciate it.

If I had come some other year, some year when maybe I had to pay for a plane ticket to get here, there would have been no cheating in my prep. I’m sure the race still would have been very hard – a 90 k race is never not hard – but I probably would have had a more positive experience. I would have enjoyed it more.

Sometimes you have to question your attitude. I think that I’m invincible, that I can do anything – well, okay, I won’t do well in the Vasaloppet, but of course I’ll finish, it will just be slow but still fun! No, in fact, it’s not that simple. Some things you do for adventure are not good adventures. You don’t have to take every single opportunity as it comes – you can plan out how to have the best and most meaningful opportunities. Sometimes I sign myself up for too much just to get the experience, but then the experiences aren’t as great.

But, life is life, and this was my Vasaloppet, prep or no. Despite all the misery, I have some good memories too. Being part of a start of 15,800 skiers all going at once is quite a unique feeling that you can only get at this one place in the world. That’s something to be happy about, as is the feeling that I can be adopted by a community of nice Swedish people who don’t know me or even know anything about me. It’s a comfort.

Although part of me wishes I hadn’t gone, it’s not all of me. Good or bad, these are the memories I get to keep.

quick trip to visby.

I have been meaning to write something about my last day in Ruhpolding, as it was lovely… not sure if I’ll ever get around to it. Life is busy! I moved to Uppsala successfully and am living in a beautiful flat with my friends Marta and Johanna. It’s so great to be back in Sweden. On Thursday I competed in the district championship relay team with my little club here, Uppsala Vasaloppsklub. Our team was: Christina, who could be in the 35+ age division but we didn’t have any other women interested in racing, so she competed in the 17+ division with us – she’s good; Karin, who is also good but is also quite pregnant!; and me, anchoring. They classic skied, I skated. It was the first time that UVK ever had a women’s relay team so we were really really excited just to be there competing. We finished third! The race was at night which is always fun as you feel like you’re really zooming along when it’s dark out, just flitting between the lights on the trail.

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Photo by Jon Orvendal who was sick and couldn’t race, so he came to watch and was SO frustrated not to be skiing. I really had so much fun being back with my skiing friends!

Anyway, besides that, I made a quick trip to Gotland, a large Swedish island in the Baltic. My supervisor lives and works there on a separate campus of Uppsala University, so I was there for two days. It was quite productive as we finished one manuscript which is getting ready for submission, and started working with the dataset for the next two papers. Also I got to see some of the city, which is a really cool old place. The city walls are from the 1200s and it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. As my supervisor lives there, you’ll hear much more about my future trips to Visby as well. It’s just a 45 minutes flight from Stockholm or you can take a ferry. Based on my first visit, a highly recommended destination!

Click photos to enlarge.