Potto Raid 2014: Report on a Colorful Day
January 20, 2014
We had the biggest turn-out yet for the 9th annual 2014 Potto Raid! 16 mtbikers attempted the Full 18-mile Trail, with 4 doing the Inner Loop. We've had more than 20 show up before but fewer going for the Whole Enchilada.
20F at the start. Conditions caused some nerves since we had a lumpy rock ice base, but we had wonderfully and recently picked up a few inches on top which greatly reduced harshness. Yet the fresh had been tromped in before we skied so glide was good. Deep snow at the sides made for easy speed-scrubbing.
We had several new young hot mt-bikers show up who have the Potto dialed in during summer. They had massive enduro depth and had said they were feeling pretty good. The old hands replied that they were feeling all right, too. As we headed to the Raid start line the youngsters, being much newer to skiiing than to biking, were each asking oldsters for ski tips, which we freely shared:
#1 -- slow up at tops of downhills; watch others go down; scrub speed during top section with half-snow-plow on side-bank, then let 'em run
#2 -- don't try to herringbone a gullied uphill, learn the Side Skamper instead and go up one side at a time; watch how we do it, but if you can't see us, imitate the tracks you see; Skamper is a forward-angled sidestep where you use one side of a gully-climb for enjoyable and efficient climbing -- it isn't really a sidestep
#3 -- eat pizza; gels and drinks and bars won't cut it; you need fat and protein; bring plenty of gatorade, too
The tip I forgot to mention and which wouldn't help at that late moment anyway:
#4 -- be prepared -- make sure you've done a few 2+-hr outings during the autumn; trail-hiking/running with poles and a pack; and a few 2-hr ski scrambles that include a fair amount of climbing
So... we had a GORGEOUS day on the trail!
We had several regroups in the first hour or so, which is a wonderfully unique aspect of the Potto. -- Our contribution to the world of ski-sport. Regroups take the best of ski-touring and mix it with racing. It doesn't change results, but it IS more fun and sociable.
The Potto trail in winter on a sunny day is GLORIOUS. You're winding up, along and down hardwood ridges overlooking woodsy little lakes and creeks. You get views you don't see in the summer!
(I've taken flack for comparing trails to ski courses, but a trail can be such a visual delight. Groomed courses are the "roads" of skiing. They have their own cool magic-carpet "look," but there are so many more trails out there, and they go so many places, that, well, for winter scenery don't overlook the trails! Few courses have the "epic" feel of "across the country." So if you've been mostly skiing on grooming add trails to your mix to double your fun.)
Both waxers and nowaxers were working well. ...But those of us on waxers were flying. I love the low-friction quietness. RadNord was sporting his nowax Spiders and admiring their glide as well.
The technical downhills were cushy, offering multiple options, yet requiring, as always, some footwork on the fly.
The five leaders regrouped at the halfway bench near the yurt shortcut and I led it out from there.
The sun was shining. At the far north end we encountered a couple rabbit hunters who were maybe having as much luck as we were because they shot twice down in a swamp as we skied near.
I tried skiing within myself, but I heard Gary behind me all the while. I marveled at the effective rearguard pace-setting he was setting on his vintage 1980 Fischer Europa Glasses.
Gary and I took a break at the final long wood walkway along a large lake. The others joined us as we were leaving.
...And then the race was over. Gary took the lead and changed the game. I had been skiing like "swoosh swoosh swoosh." Gary went to the front and started skiing like "chi chi chi chi chi" -- doubling the tempo while still getting nice glide. He was unstoppable...and gone. It was the winning card. It was a cool sight to see: relentless quality; an optimized solution.
I had two issues: I was basing my tempo on my poling. But the trailside snow had become deep so power poling was terrible. Gary shifted over to legging it. Light but firm on the poles. Uptempo on the legs. Bingo! I tried copying him but couldn't.
My second issue was that I had played my hand and had run out of cards ... with an hour and 10 climbs to go. I tried to step it up after that moderate mid-section, but I reached into my pockets ... and came up empty.
I hadn't done any longer outings to give me cash in my bank. Gary had prepared.
We'd been laughing in the first hour about those who bonk. We called it an education. I said it's a class I only want to take once. RadNord mentioned that occasional reminders can be beneficial. Even then I got the willies.
So after that last break I got to "enjoy" cramps, and prickles in my thighs when I flexed them, and seeing blue spots on the trees.
I stopped and ate and drank. ...RadNord came dieseling on by. Steady as she goes.
My left heel blistered up. My right foot developed a marvelous species of hotfoot with a pinched nerve that felt like it was on fire. So I tried skiing pigeon-toed.
Gary kept it together for 1st in 3:45. RadNord 2nd in 3:50. Me 3rd in 3:55. ...And Dan "the Man" in 4th at 4:00. Ben not too long after that. Then another half dozen. Then our first Full Potto woman ever, Jen Conine! ...And she was suffering a lung hack, to boot!
Congrats to all finishers!
Now, young Dan had his own troubles. Probably due to pre-start jitters he locked his keys in his truck. We told him to not worry -- we'd work on it after the race. I didn't know that he had also locked his food'n'drink! He borrowed a pizza slice and some snacks and a small waterbottle. He'd prepared for this day and was rarin' to go. If I'd known I coulda given him another slice of pizza and another waterbottle! So he spent the last hour scooping snow from the banks of uphills. He was wasted. If he hadn't botched those keys he woulda been a sure contender for 2nd. No one coulda outpaced the robo-cadence of Gary!
(At a couple intersections I was so delirious I didn't know which way to turn. Actually, I often get doubtful about directions near the end. Then while having apres' beers one of the new guys said he also got mixed-up near the end, but encountered some German tourists. Yes, the Potto is that kind of locale! They said that a guy in "played" had skied by earlier so he went the same way. Later they stopped by our party and pointed at me. "Played, played! That's the fabric, no?")
I had been pondering what it meant to defend a title. I'd won the previous 4 Potto's. I wondered if I could just let it go this year. Then I thought that wouldn't be considerate. I should put in what I had. In the past I'd sometimes just gone with whoever wanted to go off the front, but one could go astray that way, too, by just playing defense. So I hadn't ever just waited until the end before playing my last cards. My reflections told me that I should do my best and see what happened. And so we have a new champ!
It's "fun" just seeing what ya got, but another thing my lack of prep brought me was not really knowing what I needed for beverages. My 2 big bottles mighta kept me good for a typical 3-hr event. But we went more like 4 hrs yesterday. Electrolytes are important! I'd added salt to my AJ, but previously I've used Gatorade. I probably didn't add enough salt. One can't fool science! In the hours after the race I collapsed. Sure, the rest of my body had been pummeled, too, but "the chemistry must be respected!"
It was cold and windy at the finish. Everyone donned parkas and snowboots and partied around Rad's Neil Young-blaring mobile. Prizes were liberally distributed for a wide variety of categories. Microbrews savored. ...And there were a lotta windburned faces. We did it!
...And, once again, no Nordic skiers! We had mt-bikers, downhill skiers, and snowboarders. No Michigan Cup nordic event yesterday, either. You'd think some of them have skied the Potto before. I guess they just don't like it -- but they haven't said as much. Some of them must have robust skis. Actually, rock skis mighta survived yesterday and they all have those. Probably I'm so bad at promotion that I've alienated all the ski racers from our ski event with my challenges and comparisons. My attempts to sell Trail Skiing may be blacklisted at this point! Well, the trails will always be there! Give 'em a try for a change o' pace! (And let us know what ya think!)
Proper stickers. ("To the head!")
Proper race vehicle. (Not mine!)
Never mind an arctic party.
On pace. ...For Christmas all winter!
3 leaders skiing steady tempo, scampering the climbs and gradually gliding off the front.