March is here and snow is still on the ground -- yes, there
are still races going on.
Grant, David and Josie Nelson all competed in the River View
Loppet on the After Hours trail system in Brule, Wisconsin.
Josie continued her strong season with a second place finish
in the womens 24K freestyle race. Grant and David finished
ninth and tenth, respectively, in the mens event.
John Munger crossed the border and participated in the Sibley
Ski Tour, a very popular race held at Sleeping Giant Provincial
Park north of Thunder Bay, Canada. John notched a very solid
fifth place finish in the big marathon race. (You can read
John's full race weekend recap below.)
It is just a hop, skip and a jump to Thunder Bay .
. . and then another hour to the race site. But it was all
worth it. After all, we have not seen that much snow in
Minneapolis for a few years now. The combination of plenty
of snow, good grooming, a nice course, and the Hoito - a
small Finnish restaurant in the basement of a shrine of
some sort in Thunder Bay's "Little Finland" -
made the trip well worth it.
Of course, it did not hurt that my Dad - now Grandpa
- lives in Duluth and "volunteered" to take our
daughter Ellie on Friday night while Diana and I went to
do the race. This was to be a major test for Grandpa because
Grandma is in California visiting relatives. While we had
some worries about Grandpa's capabilities (Does he know
how to change a diaper? Does he even know what a diaper
is? Can he figure out how to use today's ever-more-complicated
car-seats?) and Ellie's behavior (Would she go to sleep
without screaming for hours? Would she tell Grandpa about
being dragged around the streets of Hayward with boards
attached to her feet in pursuit of Dad's lost glory?), once
we were out of sound-range, it was as if - I mean, we missed
her the whole time . . .
Getting back to the "Tour," we awoke in Thunder
Bay on Saturday morning refreshed and ready to go - although,
I must say, I do not understand how Thunder Bay managed
to sneak into the Eastern Time Zone. I would not care except
that a relaxing 10 a.m. start turned out to be 9 a.m. according
to our Midwestern watches. Worse, with an hour drive from
Thunder Bay to Sleeping Giant Park we might as well have
saved our money on the hotel . . .
Fortunately, continental breakfast with a newspaper
provided an opportunity to begin the day slowly without
the pressures of the race. A bowl of some sugar cereal (there
is no guilt in eating Frosted Flakes when someone else chose
it) with unlabeled but undoubtedly whole milk (again no
guilt - but boy is whole milk good - you can't deny it!)
- this was turning out to be a good start to the day. To
top it off, the Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal had an article
about the favorites in the race: "Who's going to win
the Sibley Ski Tour?" Bernie Lacourcie, the perennial
favorite, was going to be skiing, some guy named Niskanen
or Haakinen or something, who came in second in the 50 kilometer
race at Canadian Nationals would be challenging, etc. .
And then there it was - the end to my relaxing breakfast!
A comment from the Ski Tour Race Director right in the middle
of the article - "I know of one American coming. John
Munger is coming all the way from the Twin Cities. I don't
think he's coming up to tour - he's coming up to win!"
My stomach went queasy. The once sweet and creamy cereal
seemed sour and thin. In the old days I wore a non-descript
gray uniform just to avoid any attention. Now - because
of the Wizard-of-Oz-like guy running all those levers and
cables behind the scenes at SkinnySki - I was not only getting
unwanted attention, but I felt downright pressured. After
the Race Director's comment it would be embarrassing if
I did not at least make a good showing. I gave Diana the
article to read - she just laughed and assured me that she
believed I could beat Bernie. I told her that although I
have skied in numerous races with Bernie over the years,
he does not even know who I am - just one of the seething
masses who has had the opportunity to watch his butt for
a few strides at the start of the race.
After concluding that I had left my old
gray uniform back in Minneapolis, I resigned myself
to the embarrassment that was sure to come. I could almost
hear the whispers:
"there's that John Munger - he
came here to win - what a joke . . ."
"Those SkinnySki people think they
are such hot stuff . . . talking themselves up in the papers
and all . . ."
It was more than my try-to-be-low-key Midwestern roots could
But enough whining - isn't this supposed to be a race
The start of the Sibley Race is not its best feature.
Everyone gathers - some 700 people - on one of the normal
trails, about 12 feet wide and complete with trees and bushes
on either side. While I did the Tour once before, it was
a low-snow year and I thought in "normal" years
the race would start in some other more appropriate location.
So being the dummy that I am, I took a nice little warm-up
before the race and sauntered over to the start area with
about 10 minutes to go. When I saw that approximately 699
people were already gathered and ready for the gun to go
off, my heart sank. Fortunately, the people in Thunder Bay
seem a bit nicer in the minutes before the race than the
"usuals" you might find at the start of a Twin
Cities race. I managed to get up to the second row, and,
after they moved all of us ten feet forward, found myself
in the first row. Even now I believe that the guy who had
been in front of me saw my SkinnySki uniform and decided
he did not want to be in front of someone who was "not
here to tour." He probably thought I was going to bowl
him over the second the gun went off.
Well, eventually the gun did go off and the start turned
out to be uneventful. I saw Bruce Bauer - and let him go
by me right off the bat. It was easy to identify the other
true contenders - Bernie had bib number 1, Jay Carlson went
to the front and the guy I identified in my mind as the
"Canadian Nationals Number 2 Guy" looked strong.
The four of them kept playing games in the front (I assume
none of them wanted to lead) and a large pack formed behind
Some 15 kilometers into the race the trail becomes narrow
and it was at that point that the pace quickened a bit.
For some reason I did not feel particularly strong and I
had trouble responding to the change in pace. I ended up
skiing with a young Canadian guy named Bill. I was a little
jealous of Bill because he apparently had a fan club and
his Dad was giving him feeds. At one point I tried to grab
the leftovers of Bill's bottle but he threw it a little
too far into the bushes . . . I was a little hungry and
again concerned about the food situation. My new master-plan
for eating was to stick a gel-pack in my sleeve and pull
it out when I was hungry in the middle of the race. As it
turned out, some object went flying right as I took my second
pole after the gun went off. After a moment of confusion
I realized the missile was my gel pack - with 700 skiers
coming like a herd of elephants behind me there was no going
back for it . . . In any case, I skied with Bill for a while
before we were caught from behind by another group. Not
At the next feed station I took an extra dose of energy
drink and seemed to feel instantly better. I quickly gapped
the Bill-group but found myself in no-man's land - by my
figuring I was about a minute behind Dennis Kotcon and Mike
Dietzman (the ever-present RiverBrook contingent). Feeling
good, I decided to put a hard charge in and try to catch
them. Fortunately, we happened to be on a relatively flat
section at the time and I caught them just before we hit
the hills again. It is amazing how hard it is to cover the
last 15 feet when trying to bridge a gap like that.
Dennis and Mike and I traded the lead for the next 12
kilometers or so. Unfortunately, Mike apparently lost his
gel pack as well because he had a rough time of it at the
end. Always tough, Dennis was setting a good pace until
- snap! - he broke his pole. I skied the next 6 kilometers
by myself - kind of a bummer. Dennis managed to hold off
Bill and another guy by using a borrowed 145 centimeter
bamboo special - pretty impressive.
Next stop - the Hoito - where they serve breakfast until
7 p.m. I haven't checked the list recently, but if Finnish
pancakes are not one of the Seven Wonders of the World somebody
has to make a new list. I have seen Niagra Falls - while
impressive I would take the pancakes any day.
When we arrived back in Duluth, Grandpa reported that
Ellie had been a perfect angel - she went right to sleep
at night and took a nap without protesting. So Ellie is
grounded again. This time for being grossly dishonest about
her true temperament. It is amazing how early kids learn
to be manipulative. It is sad to learn that you are the
one being manipulated.