The horn blasts to start the race and we run to our skis. In true amateur style, I struggle to clip into my bindings and then pre-release three steps from the start. After I finally get it, the pack is way ahead and I sprint to catch up with Lou. When I find him, I follow his stride and regain some composure. The cool dawn darkness helps me tune out distractions and I focus on scrambling up the first hill (see part one for that epic).
As we reach the top of Patsy Marley ridge, the sun peaks over the Uintahs and casts a beautiful glow on the mountains below. The glorious sunrise energizes me and I’m happy to be feeling strong in this crazy event. Race volunteers give us friendly shouts of encouragement while we strip skins. Knowing that Lou will smoke me on the downhill, I start off ahead of him. The light is still dim and it’s tricky to see the flags marking the course down through the forest.
The snow is chopped up and hard — I concentrate on keeping my chattering skis in control. Relying on pure muscle and zero technique, I straightline snowplow, ducking through branches to the spot where it’s time to skin up for another ascent. Sure enough, Lou easily pulls up beside me.
The second climb is a cat track and the speedsters from the race division start to catch up and pass us. Two guys zip by. Lou gets behind Ethan Passant and keeps up with him for a few yards, then pulls off to the side laughing at his amazing pace. My blood sugar is low and I’m getting light headed. I imagine Lou wearing a Lycra race suit and then think of myself in one which makes me pick up my pace, always eager to whittle away cellulite. At the top of the road, we strip off our skins and jump into another forest. The course takes us down tight tree chokes and steep rollovers. My mantra is “hang on.”
The third and last pitch is a series of switch backs up Davenport that tackle steep icy transitions. One misstep will take you sliding. Lou’s endurance from a lifetime of mountain sports kicks in. That, and the fact that he passed a telemarker and doesn’t want to give up his lead. Fully warmed up, he blasts ahead. Feeling depleted, I lose hope of keeping up. My goal is to not faint. A racer calls out to get by but slips and goes skittering down into a tree well. My second goal is to be steady.
At the top of Davenport, Lou is trading chatter with race officials who joke about getting his autograph. He says he doesn’t have time but is willing to lecture the young men on the intimate benefits of waiting for one’s spouse (at least during a rando race). Lou demonstrates his chivalry by helping me whip off the tail end of a skin. Andrew frowns at his assistance but is quite gracious himself as he offers hot coffee. He dangles the steaming cup and I hesitate. Will I get DQ’ed by accepting sustenance from a non-competitor? I wave it away, resisting the urge to succumb to my favorite vice.
We plunge down a wind scoured frozen face as hostile and steep as any double black diamond I’ve ever skied. Be careful to avoid the slide for life!? echoes in my head and I again focus on not falling. I desperately try to hold an edge while following Lou’s turns. He slows down to pace me for a slow and safe descent, and even allows the dreaded telemarker to pass. Evidence of true love for sure! We make it through the frozen wind slab, cross a service road and enter an icy mogul field encased in treacherous frozen slush piles. After a bout of seemingly endless jarring, my legs feel like they’ve been strapped to the vibrator machine at an old health spa.
Lou tucks the final flat section and with the help of freshly waxed skis catches the telemarker again. He could skate on to victory but he slows down, lets the guy go, and waits so we can make a joint finish. He allows me to go though the trap first and they announce that I am the first women to cross the finish line. Can it be true? After the shock of victory, I remember an old truth: behind every success there is a supporter. I’m humbled by this example of Lou’s sacrifice and even more touched by his joy in my victory. As Flannery O’Connor said, a good man is hard to find. My Powderkeg trophy will remind me of my good catch. The victory of a lifetime for sure.