Saturday, January 31, 2015

Relay and 15k

On Thursday coaches and I made the decision for me not to race the relay. Thursday afternoon I was feeling very sick, we suspect I have the flu. It is always very difficult for me to not start a race, but this one was especially hard because it is a relay, where you have three other guys counting on you. I am very disappointed that I did not get to race, but I am hopeful that I will be feeling strong tomorrow morning morning for the 30k. It will be a gametime decision tomorrow morning.

The relay was a rough day for both the men and the women. The women came in last, and the men were pulled from the race during the third leg because we were so far behind. I really regret that I was only able to watch from the sidelines, and I wish that I could have been able to suffer with my brothers.

Reese Hanneman is an Alaskan skier who is not on the US Ski Team, but was invited by the USST to race the world cup in November and December. After coming in 79th in a field of 81, Reese said, “At home, even when I’m suffering, I can be winning the race. That’s really motivating. Over here, you’re really suffering and you might be skiing the same speed, but you’re four minutes out. You’re just getting blown by.” He was inarguably the fastest skier in the United States last year not on the USST. I am fully confident that both our relay teams yesterday would have won had it been a USCSA Rocky Mountain race. Yet skiing the exact same time here gets you pulled from the race. All four of our guys on the relay team are real athletes who train year round for cross-country skiing. All of them are good skiers. Sometimes that’s just not enough.

This morning was the girls' 15k. Some of them were happy with how the race went, others weren't. Conditions were really slow due to soft, fresh snow, and the course is hard. The girls are now done racing, and the men have just the 30k tomorrow.

I woke up this morning feeling much, much better. I skied today, so I am feeling optimistic about racing tomorrow. It's going to be hard, but I'm really excited.

Sorry about no pictures, the Internet is just too slow.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Blog 2

            The first town we passed was strikingly different from places I have been in the US. We drove by street after street of 15 story apartments; the tallest buildings in sight, and many large, broken buildings. They looked as if construction had been stopped mid way or else a feeble attempt at repairs had left the remains of scaffolds and tarps hanging like the untidy wrappings of half healed wound. It brought me back to the poor neighborhoods of Argentina where growth, brought by a flourishing economy came to a screeching halt when the economy crashed horribly, leaving similar skeletons of buildings. We passed a stream lined with small run down houses and shacks, some with laundry drying on lines, some with piles of trash in the front yard and spread into the forest behind. I wonder if they just have bigger problems to worry about then properly disposing of trash, but it made me think about how hard it would be to get people in developing countries to invest any extra time or energy in living sustainably. I fell asleep as we sped by agricultural fields and a small herd of deer.
            When I awoke we were climbing up a pass. We traveled though patches of forest of tall evergreens intermittent by hillsides that had recently been clear-cut. A few lonely trees still stood like sentinels above their fallen fellows. Even the few remaining were stripped of branches except for scraggly clusters at the tops. I found out later that the fallen trees had been cleared after a massive windstorm decimated the forest in November of 2004. According to the little tourist guide booklet that I got from the information desk titled “The Educational Trail Strbske Pleso”, wind gusts of more then 125 miles per hour uprooted and snapped 2.5 million cubic meters of forest. The forest has taken another blow in the form of a beetle infestation similar to the one that we are experiencing in the US. Although this region of Slovakia does not seem particularly at risk when it comes to heat storms, this type of extreme weather may be a prolog for what the people here can expect to happen more frequently. It would be interesting to see if Slovakia has connected these events to global warming in any way.

            Another interesting aspect of the communities here are the density of housing. We noticed while riding the train that there were very few houses and lots of cute little 4 or 5 story apartments in the tiny villages that we passed through. In the larger towns there many low high rise apartments like I had seen in the first town that we went through and again, very few house. Tyna (our attaché) confirmed this. She said that people really only lived in houses if they were wealthy or their family has owned the house for many generations. In many ways this is a much more energy efficient way to live. Not only are more people housed with less building materials, heating costs, and smaller building footprint, dense housing allows for communities to be more closely knit which cuts down on the need for transportation. There are more people living within a close proximity to schools, grocery stores exc. Although it is easy to say that it is more efficient to live in a city like structure, the idea of living so close to so many people sounds terrible to me.
Traveling is one of the most unique and educational experiences. Here however I feel like I am on one of those little cart-rides at the zoo. You have a tour guide that explains as you pass you each animal. “And here we have a Slovakian train station. You can see the ticket booths to the right and the convenience store to the left. Please proceed down the steps to wait for the next train…” There are benefits to this type of travel. It is comfortable and less stressful. In our case, we get to share the experiences with the rest of the team and feed off each persons enthusiasm. It is safe. It is also, in my opinion far less rich in terms of cultural education because we are still surround by people that share our culture. We aren’t forced to try to communicate with the person selling tickets at the station to figure out what time the train leaves and how long the ride is. There is no moment of panic and confusion when you get off the train and think, “huh where do I go now”. You don’t have to single handedly navigate the city and some how get your huge bag to a place where you can leave it safely and preferably also sleep. This is hard and sometimes not enjoyable but it brings you closer to the people on the street, the woman working at the desk in the hostel, the language.
            This is a different kind of travel. Not only is it short and organized, we have the huge purpose of racing. In this sense the trip is more about the culture of skiing then the culture of Slovakia. As we stood at the opening ceremonies I realized that I have probably never been surrounded by so many people of different nationalities. We wondered about how Russia and Ukraine were getting along but it seems like this event has the ability to bring people together. In this way I think it is representative of all sporting events.

            The reading we have been doing on global warming  and the interviews we are conducting for the class also shifts the focus of the trip. We may not be getting a direct cultural experience but the way that we are looking at the environment and the effect that this event has on the area is much more in depth. It’s interesting to see how my mind suddenly connects observations to elements of the reading and what we are leaning. For example I find myself wondering if the intense winds storm that this region experienced in 2004 or the recent pine bark beetle infestation was attributed in part to global warming. I find myself analyzing their style of housing in terms of environmental impact and comparing it to ours.

The Team Dynamic: Why We Are Stronger Together

Nordic ski racing often feels like a very singular and selfish thing. You go out and race your race and it’s all on you. In a perfect world, those who are the most prepared for the race and put in the most effort are the ones who do the best. This includes everything from: that days warm up, to how well you rested leading up to the race, to how well you have trained for the last year, five years and so on. The problem is that we all have good days and bad days. Even an individual who has worked their tail off for years can have a bad race, and that sucks. It’s even harder when you see others enjoying the fruits of their labor and you feel like you’re struggling to even make it around the course. It all comes down to the fact that cross-country ski racing is hard and you won’t find anyone who will tell you differently.

Now this may seem all doom and gloom, but we have to remember that some of the most satisfying victories come out of hardship and struggle. If everything was easy about skiing, I would get bored and ultimately unhappy and eventually just quit. So the question becomes, how do we endure the hardships of ski racing to get through to our own victories? In my opinion, the answer to that question is: through a team. Let me tell you, we here at University of Wyoming are certainly lucky to have one badass freaking team. It is hard to put into words the ability this team has to get me through a really tough race or even just a bad day. I think this is best through an example that I experienced just this week.
On the day of the classic 10km here at WUG I hitched a ride on the struggle bus. After weeks of building successes and good racing, I felt like I flat lined. After the race was over, I was devastated but did my best to put on a good face and talked with the rest of the team. A few people had had good days and I could feel their good spirits life my own. Now this doesn’t mean I was suddenly was happier with my race or that I won’t use this day for motivation in the future, but as a whole I was in a better mood. Without my teammates positive day to outweigh my negative one I would have brooded for a much longer time. By dinner that night I was almost crying from laughing so hard. It seems corny to say some greater team force connects us all but I think we are.

I think a quote from Sierra puts it pretty well, “we are the teamliest team.” Even though we have ups and downs we always seem to make it through. Today our men’s team got pulled out of the relay and it was no doubt a very tough day. However, once we recollect ourselves I have confidence we will come out of this strong and ready to rip it up.

Sindre and a beautiful view of the mountains and stadium on our ski yesterday. It was one of my favorite skis this year.

Slovakia Blog #2

“Every major international sporting event has its own mascot, which is an integral part of any such event. In Slovakia, we too, will have a mascot. It will be a symbol of the Tatras. This year is will be the chamois. A beautiful, peaceful, and fearless mountain animal that symbolizes our Slovak mountains, as it does the Slovak mentality. His eyes are mischievous, his horns are pointy, and his body muscular. His name is Uggi. It will be he who accompanies your every step in the Tatras and who will be your guardian angel.” (From Universiade Guidebook of the Tatras)

We visited an awesome trinkets store in Štrbské Pleso a few days ago where I found my very own chamois (above). The owner spoke English and spent over an hour showing us each of the items in her store, asking us about our backgrounds, and telling us about the region. All of the items in her store were handmade locally. She was incredibly smart and answered our questions of whether sustainability was important to her by saying that each of us is only here once, so it is important to think of future generations and what they need. As we left, she said that it is not about winning the race. One wins by being here and loving everything that is happening around you.

Catherine’s mom was kind enough to drive some of us to a nearby city, Levoca, which includes ruins of a walled city. On the way, we explored a church (right) that was built in 1473. From the church courtyard, we could look in the distance and barely make out the Tatras (our home this week).

Here is Kofola, a cola that was produced during the country’s communist era. It tastes slightly more gingery and fresher than Coca-Cola.

Levoca’s walled city overgrew its boundaries. The image below (left) is the ancient wall (13th and 14th centuries but renewed in the 16th and 17th centuries) and newer homes with a highway. We visited two museums. One houses the works of Master Pavol who is the artist of the highest gothic altar in the world (St. James Church in Levoca), which we also visited. No pictures were allowed in the church, but here is the outside (right):

In the town hall, we watched a short video about Levoca including its history with the Black Plague. Here is the Levoca White Lady (right). “In a period of class uprisings when Levoca was besieged by the royal army, Julia fell in love with the captain of the royal army and so she betrayed the town and let by stealth the royal soldiers in, then was executed.” Levoca Museum Brochure

There were many religious paintings and carvings (very much like the Italian museums we visited last year). Britta thought this torture bench was awesome and we had to stop her from climbing into it for a picture…

It was a wonderful way to spend the day and we thank Catherine’s mom so much for providing the opportunity to see some more of Slovakia.There was a lot of graffiti on the old buildings including this guy...
Closer to home, a few days ago, we visited tents set up along the road. They were serving free cheese samples, chocolate mousse, sour milk, etc. The volunteers then offered us some peppermint tea and we traded pins for WUG coins. Next, we tried some TatraTea (below), a local hard alcohol with a tea base. The original is 52% alcohol and very strong. There are other more pleasing flavors like coconut and citrus.

The locals have been incredibly kind. Today I met with a Slovakian man who owns a school in Poprad and also lives in New York City. He assisted Ben and I with our snow sampling project and trying to determine the best methods for getting our samples back to the states. He is unbelievably kind and helpful, serving me peppermint tea while we phoned everyone he knew for assistance. Then there is Tina, our attaché, who is at our sides every time we need her. She has accompanied us to Poprad and diligently answered our questions about Slovakian culture and much more. There are so many spectators here as well. Hundreds of school children cheering us around the course as well as a drummer who beats as you make it up the hill climb on the last climb of the course. The hotel staff is wonderful and everyone seems to be excited that the World University Games is here in Štrbské Pleso, Slovakia.Tonight a traditional band played music and sang in the hotel lobby. Various intoxicated coaches joined in with the dancing.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Taste of Coaching

Yesterday, a calm windless day with a biting briskness in the air from the cold temperatures. At 6:30a.m. the alarm sounds, body full of weariness. With the window cracked, the crisp cool air has permeated the room throughout the night, creating what I believe to be the perfect sleeping conditions; cold enough to set in a nice chill on your nose, while maintaining a perfectly radiant heat under the blankets. Feeling the effects of a perfect night sleep, my body is not ready to get out of the warm cocoon I have made out of the bed sheets. One last breath to soak up the growing sense of relaxation.

It was an early morning because I had been asked to help test wax for the women’s 5k and the men’s 10k classic races. It is the toughest race to wax out of all our races during our time at the games. With 12 athletes, this means at least one pair of skis per person, and some have multiple pairs, not to mention trying to find the perfect combination of binder and topper, plus 1st and 2nd base layers of glide wax, including a high fluorinated topper with endless varieties of structure. Needless to say, getting the skis to perform perfectly is a daunting task. Interestingly enough, all of this seems completely effortless with the infinite knowledge of Christi and Rachel supplementing the hard work of Willie and Anna while myself and Ben are cruising around as the on-snow testers. With such precision and flow, the process of testing wax and preparing skis becomes a highly enjoyable experience.

After getting breakfast and gearing up for the much anticipated long day ahead by acquiring the usual warm weather clothing needed for standing cheering on skiers on the trails, I worked my way out the front door of the hotel, down the stairs and to the wax room, all the while enjoying the views of the area. Venue shops selling anything from gyro’s and pizza to WUG paraphernalia and tourist trinkets all setting the centerpiece for both the cross-country and alpine ski areas. Two lingering towers of the ski jumps loom over these venues and buildings, yet compare nothing to the massive peaks and ridges of the mountains that surround the area. Thoroughly enjoying the intricate details of each, I found myself in the wax room where I was greeted by all of the coaches with warm smiles and an unprecedented cheerfulness. Only moments later, Rachel, Ben, Christi and myself are laced up in boots with skis and poles in hand ready to hit the trails for testing. Like a well oiled machine, the four of us work our way around the best testing spots of the nearest trails, perfectly striding each hill, trading skis at the top of each, promptly determining our favorite combinations of kick wax to use for the race which is now coming closer and closer. With a short burst of pristine striding up the last hill, we work our way back to the wax room where Anna and Willie eagerly await the results of the “fab four’s” meticulous testing. With one short conversation the wax room explodes into full preparation mode. Klister binder on as a base, the next step is applying hard wax as a topper, all of this happening around me seemed to blur into a rhythmic flow of application and corking. The wax is perfect, kicking strong without any interference with the glide. Everything is set and ready to go. Moments later we heard something over the radio. It’s Christi, now out on the course doing further tests on different types of snow to ensure quality throughout the entire course in case of varying snow conditions. “The topper is not sticking” we hear over the radio. Everything seems to stop. A moment of panic hits us all. Not sure what to do, Rachel asks to clarify the details of her statement that has caused us concern. 

According to Christi the wax is not working on the largest climb of the entire course, a monster of a hill reaching 50 meters in the sky in the short distance I would guess to be less than 100 meters. Basically going from one end of a football field to the other, the only difference is in that distance you would be going to the top of a 15-story building all covered in snow. Needless to say this is a critical point on the course for being able to grip properly, without it, it could mean the difference between being in the top 20 to the back of the results list.

To ensure the wax we are using for the race is working, I frantically threw myself out the door with test skis and onto the course with radio and other waxes. A kilometer away from the wax room I arrived at the base of the hill where I found Christi. As if I were racing, I hit the hill with the best tempo and technique possible. Each and every kick seemed to get stronger and stronger without any loss of grip. Thankfully, the wax is working.

It turns out Christi was on a completely different binder than what was applied to the race skis, the skis that the athletes will be on in roughly ten minutes. With a sigh of relief I tell Christi the skis are working as we marched our way up the hill. At the top of the hill where the best radio reception would be is where I chose to relay the good news back to headquarters. With spotty crackling in the radio I was able to get the message through, receiving further instruction to test one of the waxes I had manages to stash in the waistband of my spandex before I bolted out door of the wax room. As I watched Christi head out to the furthest point on the course I managed to lay an evenly coated layer of Swix VR45 on my kick zone. The only problem is the course has now been closed all around me, essentially trapping me without any way of getting back down to HQ. With this in mind, about half a kilometer away I managed to find one short hill further down the course that was not closed perfect for testing the new combination of kicker. After skiing up the hill vigorously multiple times, I ran my way back to the top of the massive climb. With only minutes to spare I was able to send a radio message confirming our best option. Back at the wax room Rachel has already had Ben testing the same combinations I was, only further reinforcing the data.

Finally, a moment to breathe. Now that the chaos had finally subsided, I was able to take a moment to enjoy the spectacular morning it had turned out to be. After days of thick fog, the sun was finally visible and the ominous precipitation now gave way to reveal the valley below, fully exposing the high and low Tatra mountain ranges. Vast forests covering miles and miles of the mountains, the sight was breathtaking. The more I stared the more I noticed the scars that were ever so present with the sun beaming on them, scars natural and manmade alike. Swathes of trees either killed by avalanches or beetles, or clear-cut for industrial use or to make way for recreational alpine areas, it was ever so evident the trials and tribulation these mountains have been through. With recent books, articles, and compelling statistics from our sustainability class in mind, my thoughts began to pace through the delicate balance of the natural world with our industrial world. As many of you may know, we have been reading a book that discusses the effects of carbon emissions on the atmosphere. Because of our reading, I started seeing things that I would not have otherwise seen, and have been thinking about things I would not have otherwise thought of. This was one time that this held particularly true. Contemplating what our effects might be on the natural world through having our competitions, wondering how much more snow there might be without some of the effects carbon emissions have had on the atmosphere, wondering what might be different about the view I was gazing upon if some of these same effects weren’t occurring. 

Snapping out of my coma-like thoughts, the first of the girls were coming up the hill. Catherine, Yara, Britta, Sierra, and Elise, each one passing with their own unique gracefulness. Getting to cheer for them on top of the hill will forever endure in my memory. Unfortunately the women’s race was only one lap of the 5k loop, thus I was only able to watch them once on the course, but after our fine representative women of the US had passed, Christi was on the far end of the course sending splits to me wherein I relayed those splits to HQ all via our “walkie-talkies”. Hearing the splits I was almost able to imagine exactly how each of them were skiing at any given point on the course. One the last girl had passed, the course officials were able to let myself and a handful of coaches from other countries past the cameras and down onto the stadium/waxing areas. Back at the wax room smiles had not left any of its occupants, news of strong finishes was still lingering.

With time to spare, I grabbed extra warm clothes and my camera before heading out to the course to stand in what was becoming yet another overcast foggy day. Unfortunately because I was not anticipating not being able to come back to the wax room before the women’s start, I was unable to get my camera to take pictures of the ladies during their race. I was, however, going to be prepared this time. Back up to the top of the hill I went. With 15 minutes until the start of the men’s two-lap, 10-kilometer race, I decided that would be a good time to snap a few pictures (seen below). Before long I was starting to see the first of the men work their way up the hill. Nathan taking the first strides up the hill for the Americans made it clear that we were here to compete, with Sindre, Pat, Sam and Will following in suite, in the same robust and confident fashion. Of the 5-6 coaches on the hill, I was the only person cheering for each and every skier, in true American style. To the Italians who later thanked me for my cheering, I encouraged each of them with a quick “bene, bene, bene!” (translated “good, good, good!”). After two laps of skiing, the men were finally back across the finish line and it was time for me to head back.

Tired, cold, and hungry, I now had a new appreciation for coaching, but had thoroughly enjoyed my time helping and seeing my favorite sport from an entirely different angle than I had before. But as much as I enjoyed it, it was time for a warm shower, warm food, and preparation for my time to be wearing the race bib.

Tomorrow will be the men’s and women’s relay races. I have the proud honor of skiing behind Nathan, and in front of Pat and Ben in this year’s relay. I am hopeful for us to have good experiences and to ski as strong as I know we can. Tomorrow will bring yet another grand adventure that I anticipate many unforgettable memories will come from. Until then, goodnight from Slovakia ;)

What is Enoughness?

As I explore the little town and the ski trails for the first time I am reminded of the word enough, or “enoughness”. This has been a common word that one of my favorite National Geographic journalists, Cristina Mittermeier blogs about. She travels all over the world in order to photograph and learn about the living practices of different cultural groups. From the most peculiar Amazonian tribes to the hardest working Inuit villages she has noticed one common theme, enoughness! She argues that if everyone were to find contentment in a simple lifestyle, that is, minimal electricity, spending time outside, biking to work, growing a garden or buying locally, then the issues of climate change could be minimized.
            As I explored the winding trails of Strbsky Pleso on my skies, I was struck with both fear and immense exhilaration and beauty! This feeling was enough. I approached a massive hill and was struck by how intimidating, large, and winding it was. With each glide of my ski I anticipate the top. My anticipation was met with the same feeling of enoughness as I crested the top to be overlooking a deep valley, containing a town hidden by a foggy blanket.  All of this was enough. Later in the week, the fog would pass to reveal magnificently jagged snowcapped mountains. I began the long decent. As I began to speed faster and faster down the trail a few little tears slipped from my eyes. Other than the wind factor, they could have welled from a concoction of feelings. There was joy of being in this incredible foreign place, fear of the next downhill corner that I was quickly approaching, and a feeling of safeness knowing that I was with the team that I loved so much. Could there have been any one name for the emotion that brought those tear? I think maybe just enoughness.  
            After further reflection I began to wonder about that emotion. Did I really have to travel thousands of miles to get to Slovakia to experience it?  There is no doubt about it Slovakia has been amazing! Maybe being in a different culture and learning that other people lead enriched and meaningful lives outside of my Wyoming grind was worth the journey. Or maybe its sitting in my virology class and discovering the fascinating ways in which the HIV virus is able to hijack the host cells machinery. Could this emotion just stem from putting my mind and my body in a place of wonderment? Whether I am across the ocean or just sitting in class, I think that enoughness can be channeled if I am willing to go out on a limb and challenge myself to appreciate the small and the large moments that I am presented with. In order to experience enoughness while studying abroad, I believe that that is exactly what I must do. While the luxurious sauna spas and fancy table clothed dinners are fun, the extravagance of staying at a fancy destination is not what creates my travel experience.  Rather, its enjoying the feelings of extreme exhaustion, vulnerability, frustration, and joy! For me, these emotions are what paint my images of Slovakia, and what add to the richness of my travel experience.

First Race

Yesterday was the 10k classic. This was my first race at WUG. After talking with coaches, I had decided to do the two distance races and the relay. Unfortunately, those are also the last three races, meaning I had to wait a week and a half to start racing. I haven’t decided if this is good or bad, we’ll see.

Tuesday morning I was doing a standard day-before-the-race ski, which for me is an hour and a half of so of mostly easy skiing with a bunch of short, very high intensity pick-ups. I was struggling to get my heart rate into level 4. This is generally a bad sign. I was a little frustrated. After I finished and the day wore on I started to feel some cold symptoms. My roommate Sam had some elderberry and zinc tablets, so I took one of those. I had no intention of flying thousands of miles to Slovakia to not race. But there is a point where you just can’t race. I didn’t feel that bad so I decided to decide in the morning.

I woke up yesterday morning still feeling sick, but well enough to race. The first thing I did after waking up was go to breakfast. I have had a carefully planned out raceday morning breakfast since high school, so adjusting to the Slovakian food at the hotel has been a little tough. I had a week and a half to get used to it, so I sucked it up. I had mixed fruit, toast, and oatmeal which actually isn’t too far off from my standard one.

Once I got out on my skis I felt ok. Still sick, but not too terrible. The course was closed for all but about 20 minutes before the race, so we skied the 200m warm-up loop for an hour or so. When the course opened I skied about half of the course. I skipped the outside loop because my race skis weren’t ready and I wanted a chance to get on them before the race. When I got my race skis I had about five minutes to course closure, and 23 until my start. I decided to go for a little less kick because I was concerned that they felt slow, so I brought them back to coaches. They were ready about 10 minutes before my start, so I grabbed them and sprinted down to the pen.

I have never been in a race of this level, so the pen was an interesting experience. We get both ankles chipped, and two volunteers put the chips on for you. When I began to shed my layers, I had a camera following my every move. It’s really cool how big Universiade is in this part of the world. I realized that Universiade is very similar to how the Olympics were before they allowed professionals to compete. Well, except that at this Universiade there were some professional ski racers. 

Kyle and myself in the pen

Throughout my entire warm-up, I was thinking about Michael Jordan’s flu game in the 1997 NBA Finals. Jordan woke up with food poisoning and was extremely sick the night before, but managed to play excellent basketball and led the Bulls to victory. Because I was not feeling too well, I thought it was a good comparison.

Channeling Jordan

Once I started racing I forgot that I was sick. That’s a good thing. I felt like I was skiing pretty strong at the start. I flew up the biggest climb (at least it felt that way.) When I went by Christi she gave me a split that I was 5 seconds off from Kyle and 10 off from Nathan. I got passed by the two skiers who started 1 and 2 bibs behind me ant the very end of the first lap. I stuck with bib 18 for a while. I really stuck to him. I was riding the back of his skis and followed him when he changed lanes. Eventually he dropped me, but I managed to keep bib 17 in sight for the whole race. When I went by Christi on the second lap I think she said I was in 35th; I was kind of in the zone so I didn’t really hear it very well. My wax started to slip on the second lap, so maybe bumping the kick back a little bit was a bad idea. It’s hard to say. I also just felt like I was hurting a lot more on the second lap, after the first one had felt so fast. After I finished I didn’t feel like I’d ever quite been firing on all cylinders during the race. It was an ok race, but I know I can do better when I’m feeling 100%. I also need to take into account the strength of the field and the fact that I’m one of the youngest competitors in the race. Nathan came in at 79th, 8 seconds ahead of me in 80th, and Kyle in 81st, 5 seconds behind me. Despite my suffering on the second lap, I actually improved my position during it. 

During the race

One thing I’ve noticed since I’ve been in Eastern Europe is that there are a lot of smokers. While there are plenty of smokers in the United States too, it definitely feels like there are more here. The real problem is that they like to smoke right next to the ski trails. If people want to smoke they have every right to, but I feel that it is very inconsiderate to the athletes to smoke so close to the trails. The book we are all reading, Fevered, is all about human health and its impacts on human health. Like smoking, pollution has a similar damaging effect on athletes. Fevered has a long chapter that details the harmful effects of poor air quality. I am very thankful that I live in a place with clean air. 

- Crack Bread & Coffee

My eyes snapped open and I jumped out of bed ready to begin a new day. Filled with energy I glanced at my watch… glanced at it again… and rubbed my eyes in disbelief as my watch read 3:27 AM. “Hmmmm” I thought to myself. “Apparently my restful nights sleep was not quit as long as I anticipated”. For the next 2 hours I lay in bed contemplating my day to come. Primarily interested in the prospects of breakfast and skiing I daydreamed about each until I was certain the possibility of further sleep was at a minimum. Rolling out of bed I quickly utilized the water saving toilet and ambled into the hotel lobby where I was met by Willie Via. Also unable to sleep past the 3, we commiserated the woes of jet lag together until 6:30 AM. Breakfast time. Walking into the restaurant my senses were accosted by a plethora of food lining the buffet. Mountains of warm bread, honey, eggs and sausage stretched as far as the eye could see. Momentarily overwhelmed I balked at the shear quantity of choices, eventually settling on the game plan of sampling a small amount of everything. Though generally delicious, Pat Rogers and myself stumbled upon the holy grail of breakfast foods. Affectionately dubbed “Crack Bread”, this warm, crusty, homemade bread proved to be irresistible, leading to our consumption of it in truly excessive quantities. Crack bread with sweet cream butter and dark honey quickly became a cult favorite between Pat Rogers and myself, while its limited supply (only 1 loaf) motivated us to jump out of bed each morning and race to breakfast before other teams could deplete it. Another highpoint of the morning was an unlimited supply of espresso thanks to the do-it-yourself espresso machine. A conveniently located supply of chocolate powder enabled the creation of my favorite drink, the double espresso with chocolate. This breakfast of champions fueled me through my daily pursuits of both skiing and scientific research.

     Breakfast successfully completed and caffeine coursing through my veins I stepped out our hotel door and looked across the road upon the race venue not more than 100 meters away…

- On Rolling One's R's

It seemed late… Or perhaps early. It was difficult to say with any certainty as I stepped of the bus onto the snow slickened streets of Strebske Pleso. Though only 19:00 hours local time (7:00 pm) the lack of sleep coupled with an 8 hour time change from Mountain Standard left me in an interesting state of energetic exhaustion. I gazed around me and noted the sights… positioned at the bottom of a ski hill a small village of huts selling local fast food clustered around an outdoor yurt-style bar. People garbed in the latest styles of both alpine and Après’ ski attire strode between the charming outdoor bar and the opposing chalet style building— my residence for the next two weeks—the Hotel FIS.

 The Hotel FIS

Outdoor Yurt Bar

Fast Food Cabins

Music sounding suspiciously similar to the American top 40 playlist drifted through the crisp night air as I lugged my heavy ski bag through the elegant sliding glass doors and into the hotel lobby. As I entered the comfortably lit - traditional ski lodge inspired – interior my attention immediately turned to the unfamiliar sound of voices speaking in a foreign tongue. Slovak, the official language of Slovakia, is distinct to the small country and not easily confused with other European languages. Its unique blend of eastern European sharpness coupled with tongue-tyingly quick rolling syllables make it sound both beautiful and unintelligible at once. “Ahoj” (said like Ahoy, but not really…) the woman at the front desk greeted me smiling. This is the Slovak equivalent of hello, and the first of many words I would stumble over repeatedly as I unsuccessfully try to grasp the subtle musical quality of this nuanced and beautiful language.

After a short snafu regarding rooms and a lack thereof, I was handed a room key-card and pointed towards a dimly lit hallway where I would presumably find my place of lodging. My roommates Kyle Bro-chanski, Patrick Ratty P Rogers and myself hefted our ski bags bulging with two weeks worth of clothing, gear, and various other incidentals and prepared to trudge tiredly to our room. To our pleasant surprise our room happened to be as close to the lobby as physically possible, saving our travel weary legs further punishment. Swiping our key and opening the door we proceeded to struggle mightily to figure out how to turn on the light switch. After a considerable amount of failing, it finally dawned on us that the room key itself was responsible for engaging power for the entire room. “Let there be light”! Exclaimed Kyle as he heroically plunged his room key into the wall mounted power switch. As our room was bathed in soft yellow light I pondered the clever conservational implications of this system. This was but the first of several methods Slovakia employs to conserve energy and mitigate its impact on the environment. Poignant, as our travels happen to be centered around a certain class entitled “Environmental Assessment of an International Athletic Event”. “Sweet”! I thought to myself. “I assess this as awesome”!