Tag Archives: CdB Gold

Earning another Gold Bar at the 50th CSM

Hello my loyal and dear readers! I’m sure that by now, many of you have been wondering what has happened to the ‘real’ ActiveSteve. You know, that nut that seems to race every other weekend and posts all about his exploits on this site. Well, the reality is that I’ve pretty much had my head down and not doing too much training all weekend. As you may recall from my most recent race, I have been fighting a pretty bad foot problem, which is more or less just a bursitis and plantar fasciitis. Ultimately, the only thing that can make it better is totally resting and re-habbing the foot. This can take months, so I decided to not run at all this winter. I also made the decision to not sign up for ANY races. However, the Canadian Ski Marathon is not a race, right? So as you will guess, I made an exception! Read on for the story about this year’s epic attempt at this storied event.

Right off the bat, I should mention as well that the reason I decided to return to the CSM this year was principally because they were celebrating their 50th Anniversary! That’s right, this classic Canadian event was actually a Canadian Centennial project, with its first running in 1967. A lot has changed since then, but the difficulty of completing the entire event as a Gold Coureur des Bois has not. In spite of not running at all this winter, and the late start to the ski season, I DID put a LOT of distance under my skis. Apart from skiing, my only other outlet was spinning on my bike in the basement, which gets very old very fast I find. Once fully trained up, I also paid a visit to a sports medicine doctor (after Ultrasounds and MRIs confirmed the exact troubles with my foot), and was the recipient of an ultrasound-guided corticosteroid shot right into my heel to the main site of my bursitis, to relieve the inflammation and give me a fighting chance of getting back to training. Thank goodness, as I was going to need to dig deep for this year’s Gold Bar!

Day 1 – Buckingham to Montebello

Below you’ll see a map of the Day 1 route (which you can click on to see in fullscreen on my flickr page. This year, the route went from west to east, starting at Buckingham, QC, and ending at Lachute, QC. Our first day clocked in at about 78km of total distance to get to the Gold Camp. Although there are no ‘official’ stats on everyone, I can assure you that MANY people did not ski that entire distance. In fact, this is the only time I can remember where people who skied only 2 sections in one day, but skied the entire 2nd day were granted their awards and recognized as having ‘completed’ the CSM! From where I sat (having completed the ENTIRE distance) it was hard to feel that they ‘deserved’ that distinction, but as you’ll hear the reasons, I’ll let you make up your own respective minds about that!

CSM 2016 Day 1

Let us not forget just how challenging  a year this was for snow in our region. We didn’t get proper snow to ski on until well into the Christmas holidays, with many not really getting in any real skiing until into the new year. That gave participants only 5-6 weeks to prepare for a grueling 160+km 2-day ski event. I’m sure many people opted to either not ski or to shorten their goals to become ‘tourers’, but for me, there is no such thing as half-measures or cutting back. This was my SOLE winter event, and I intended to push through the entire ordeal.

2 weeks out from the event, and there was barely enough snow to ski, so there was a lot of trepidation by the event crew leading up to event, reminding us all that this was an ‘adventure’ event. However, prayers were answered, and midway through the final week before the event, we got a monster dump of snow. I think it was like 55cm. All systems were go, and there was a lot of relief.

To help prepare for the event, I’d done a lot of training using my actual event pack, doing experiments on exactly how light I could get it while still having all the gear I’d need. I managed to cut things down to the bare minimum, with about 16 lbs. of gear for the big event. I had to cut out some luxuries, but I DID pack tasty snacks and a pint bottle of Southern Comfort for Gold Camp (where I had to sleep outside on a hay bale). I figured even if I was exhausted and miserable, the booze would warm me up and help me get a little sleep!

Section 6 Picture

Yup there I am, fully decked out with my ski gear and slogging my way through what I believe was the 5 leg of day 1. Hard to tell from that picture, but I was SOAKED, as it had rained for much of the day. The night before we started off, the snow swooped in once again, and ironically, made a mess of things. The organizers tried their best by sending grooming machines our not too long before we set out, in attempt to trackset the course once again (all tracks were GONE thanks to more heavy snow). However, that would backfire, as you’ll learn.

So at 5:40am, in the pitch dark, with giant snowflakes falling down and covering everything, we took off. Temperatures were relatively mild, and the forecast called for what we like to call ‘challenging’ waxing conditions. The weather would warm up, and with it, bring LOTS of rain for the rest of the day. So, we were faced with heavy, wet snow, turning into slush as the snow turned to rain. On the plus side, it meant perhaps staying a bit warmer, but then again, if I got too wet, things would also deteriorate. My solution was to opt for hear to toe rain gear, and stick with that all day.

I set out at a good pace and was hanging out at the front of the entire Gold group, which I think was a good strategy. When I got to the 1st checkpoint, I was with people I had no business skiing with, including Pierre Lavoie. On the upshot, since there were no tourers or the CSM silver and bronze Coureur des Bois, progress was swift. I barely stopped to re-fuel, and decided to press on. With the rain now starting, I wanted to keep moving.

The next section was also quick, and I was starting to be REALLY surprised that I wasn’t getting passed by more skiers. Normally, by now, the speedy skiers from the silver and bronze group would have overtaken me, but they were nowhere to be seen. Another ‘litmus test’ was the fact that I still hadn’t seen Dave and Lise (my ski coaches), and in fact, they wouldn’t pass me until near the end of the 4th (of 5) sections. Very weird. As it turns out, behind us, things were getting bad. Due to the conditions, there had been some MAJOR bottlenecks in the trail, with only 1 or 2 sets of tracks availble for people to use. That lead to people waiting literally 45 minutes as they slowly shuffled along (kind of like a highway traffic jam, where when you pass it, there is seemingly no reason that you even were slowed down!).

About 5k into the section, I was about to careen down a crazy downhill, but I kept hearing what sounded like a car alarm, which I thought was very odd for the middle of the woods. Luckily, on the downhill, I wiped out before going around a blind corner. Why lucky? Well, as I turned the bend there was a MONSTROUS BROKEN-DOWN GROOMER!

Stage 3 was where everything went sideways for most people. Having made such good time, I once again only took a short break before setting out on the 3rd stage. I remembered this one as a pretty challenging one, with interesting twisting downhills and narrow sections. I’m always amazed at how they are able to groom it, and imagined them using small machines to do so. However, that is not the case, as I’d soon learn. About 5k into the section, I was about to careen down a crazy downhill, but I kept hearing what sounded like a car alarm, which I thought was very odd for the middle of the woods. Luckily, on the downhill, I wiped out before going around a blind corner. Why lucky? Well, as I turned the bend there was a MONSTROUS BROKEN-DOWN GROOMER! I was amazed at the size (and very precarious position) of this giant snow churning machine.

So remember how I said the groomers had gone out not far ahead of skiers? Well, I’d caught up to him now, and he was going nowhere (in fact one of the entire machine treads was being removed). I removed skis and carefully walked around this beast squealing in pain, and soon realized that beyond him were NO TRACKS! Yup, I was now forced to slog through very deep, fresh snow with no real tracks. Luckily, 1 snowmobile had been able to backtrack to the groomer, so there was a slightly packed single track, but I was also now facing tourers on the trail. These are the people that choose to only do only a few sections each day, getting bussed around. Typically, they are families, and not very fast. Passing these ‘tourists’ was quite tricky with the deep snow, but was a necessity if I had any hope of making the time cutoffs.

In my mind, I was the lucky one, because at least I was on my way, and past the disaster. Little did I know that what they’d actually done was close down the section shortly after I’d started it. This lead to more bottlenecks, and people waiting over an hour in the pouring rain to get bused forward. That is why ultimately, the event organizers made the tough decision to declare you a ‘finisher’ even if you’d missed sections 3-4-5 on day 1. After waiting for over an hour in pouring rain, many skiers were de-motivated, and freezing cold, and not wanting to go on. Some real tough skiers did however only take the bus to the next checkpoint and continue. In my mind, THEY would deserve the finish, but I have a hard time sympathizing with those that skipped 60% of day 1. However, mother nature would pretty much take care of that on day 2 as well! But we’ll get to that in a moment.

After pushing hard through 10km of terrible non-track, I finally made it back onto something that was groomed. Luckily, they had more than 1 groomer, and the rest of the day was at least tracked. I stopped long enough at the next checkpoint to eat a bunch of food and re-assess waxing. By now, we’d stopped using wax, and I’d moved onto what is known as ‘quick klister’. Let’s just say it is the stuff of legends as far as making EVERYTHING you own sticky, but at least it worked in the wet, slushy snow today. The next 2 stages, while long and tiring, were pretty uneventful, and I was VERY happy to make it to gold camp.

Once there, it hit me just how much carnage was strewn out behind me. There were not a lot of people in camp yet, and it would be a long time before all the firepits would have campers. However, thankfully, I hooked up with a group of friends from NY who are adventure racers, and we had a ball. Also, the rain had let up while we hung out, there was live music, AND free beer at camp! Definitely a mood booster. As usual, once it was dark, and I’d eaten 2.5 meals, and re-hydrated, it was time to turn in. Yes, it was only about 8:30pm, but it was another long night and day ahead. No sooner did I crawl into my Mylar bivy sack and sleeping back did I hear the pitter-patter of rain. It rained pretty much all night! How do I know? Well, because I was basically awake the whole time, and trying to keep the water out (unsuccessfully). I slept in wet clothes in a wet sleeping back on wet hay. Hooray! Let’s just skip to the next day, shall we?

Day 2 – Montebello to Lachute

Okay. Day 2. Couldn’t be worse than what we’d gone through the last day and night, right? Well, don’t be too quick to say that…. I’ll start with the good news about day 2. It was NOT raining! And all forecasts showed that trend would stay true all day. So what were they calling for? Unseasonably warm temps! Uh-oh. Waxing might be a challenge, since it was cold starting out, and would warm up, BUT was also quite wet in the snow. I started trying to stay with my quick klister, in hopes the magic formula from the last day would work. As the map below shows you, today we had 86km before us. Ouch.

CSM 2016 Day 2

After doing my best to have a decent breakfast (ok, let’s face it, I poured boiling water into a pouch with granola, choked that down, and ate a granola bar….), it was time to line up and head out. Once again, Gold Camp broke early, and we were on the trail by 5:40am, well ahead of the other skiers (silver and bronze) who not only would start later than us, but were also starting a couple km away. This would give us the luxury of getting ahead an avoid any clogging.

However, clogging of skiers would NOT be our problem. What WOULD be an issue was a little thing called snow conditions. It was becoming evident that the klister was causing a fair bit of snow to build up under the skis. In theory, this was GREAT for climbing up the steep climbs, but on the top, where you’d like to swish away, you were stuck. Imagine walking through wet clay with your boots. Ever have that? You know, when it sticks to your boots and makes you feel like you have cement shoes? Yup! That’s how it felt. I felt I was dragging concrete blocks under my skies.

On top of the first two major climbs, lots of skiers were already scraping off their klister or other waxes and trying something else. I opted to just use a stick to scrape off the snow and press on, confident that the advantage on the uphills was worth the struggle. However, by the 4th or 5th big climb, I caved in and joined a line of about 20 skiers on the side of the trail all plying their craft and knowledge of wax to try their luck. For my part, I foolishly scraped ALL my klister off and applied hard wax (but warm-rated). I took off happy to be gliding effortlessly. However, as soon as the trail left level, I realized I’d made a horrible mistake. The skis behaved as though there was no wax at all. I just slipped uselessly, forced to attempt a hybrid classic / skate technique to make any progress. And it was SLOW progress.

I did remember to do one other thing that helped me keep going. I looked around. I took in the scenery. I appreciated the opportunity I was seizing. I was LIVING! A bad day in the woods on skis beats a great day in a cubicle yearning to be outdoors.

I continued fussing and trying different things, to no avail. It was either concrete skis or no grip at all! This literally continued for HOURS, and through the first 3 sections of the day. Lucky for me I have grit and determination. I realized the futility of the exercise and just focused on moving. Others, much stronger than me, used to good waxing technique, wasted FAR too much time trying to solve the problem, only to FAIL and get cut off. I was amazed at some of the stories I heard of the time people spent trying to get grip. My best bet was a far-shortened ‘wax pocket’ under my ski with klister on. I’d still pick up snow, but in a shorter length of ski, that I could periodically scrape.

I gritted my teeth, and pressed on hard, as the temperatures continued to climb. I did remember to do one other thing that helped me keep going. I looked around. I took in the scenery. I appreciated the opportunity I was seizing. I was LIVING! A bad day in the woods on skis beats a great day in a cubicle yearning to be outdoors. My high school had a great motto in latin: Palma non sine Pulvere, translated loosely to No Success without Struggle (or Victory not without Struggle). I’ve always remembered it, and it is one of my base mantras.

As I finished Stage 4, and was preparing for the penultimate stage, I ran into Lise Meloche. Not only is Lise one my unofficial ‘coaches’, but is also an Olympian and the first Canadian to win a world cup gold medal in biathlon. She is also eternally cheerful and an amazing supporter of all around her. Usually, she’d be demolishing the course with Dave, but he’d had a run of bad luck, and ultimately abandoned in the previous stage. As such, Lise saw me, and basically said “you ready”, and that was it, we left together to ski the last section together.

Finish Line Pic1

Something very magical happened in that last section. Yes, I was exhausted. Yes, I was mildly frustrated with the ordeal of the last 2 days. I had kept going on almost no sleep in 2 days. I wanted to be done, but usually, that leads to a very marked slow in my pace. However, with Lise skiing with me, and providing welcome company at just the right time, something great happened. I felt lighter, faster, and happier. We joked and skied, me expecting her to peel away at any time, but she stayed with me. Turns out I was going quick enough to keep her happy. Looking at my average pace on the first 4 stages, I was skiing at 8.2, 7.3, 7.0, and 8.9 km/h. This stage? 11.1 km/h!

Yeah, nuts! Of course, it was the easiest stage of the day, but still, it was great to wrap up the last stage so quickly. As you can see by the above picture, I finished in full sunlight at the gold course in Lachute. The shadow beside me? Yup, that’s Lise. She dropped back just a couple meters just to let me have my moment at the finish. It was a remarkable finish to an incredibly tough weekend. I crossed the line, removed my skis, and headed inside to collect my hard-earned Gold Bar. In there, I learned about the ‘modified’ finishing rules, and the fact that even with those changes, there was still a LOT of people who didn’t complete their journeys this year. Yes, I was proud of my accomplishment, but also recognized that I could just as easily have given up and been part of the group of non-finishers. As always, it just serves to show you that if you want something, work for it, and don’t give up. You’ll get to that finish line.

As usual, I have vowed to never again put myself through that again…. until next year! After all, I’m only 2 gold bars away from getting a coveted Permenant Bib! Hope you enjoyed my all-too-long post that I wrote while recovering from a 3.5 hour run. Yup, I’m on the mend, and have big plans for 2016! As always, check back here to hear all about them! Till then, Get out there! Have fun!

Gold Bricking it at CSM

Every year, while I’m in the middle of it, I swear I will never do it again. I’m of course speaking about the venerable Canadian Ski Marathon, now in its 49th year. The event is pretty much unique in its nature. At the core, it is 160km of cross-country skiing, split over two days. Each day is split into 5 sections, with varying degrees of challenge, from easy to hard, depending on whether there are big climbs, tricky descents, or wide open fields. Participants have the option to tackle the whole event as a coureur de bois, or just be a tourer and take on the number of sections you’d like. This year was my fourth time in a row tackling the event as a CdB participant, and 2nd time that I’d take it on as a ‘gold’ participant. What does that mean? Well, not only do I ski the whole thing, but I carry a backpack with my overnight gear and food, and sleep outside on a hay bale with my fellow CdB gold friends.

Every year, finishing the event it not guaranteed. There are so many things that can go wrong, and so much unpredictability with the weather and snow conditions. Oh, and did I mention that there are time cutoffs during the day as well? For example, if you don’t get onto the 5th section before 3:15pm, you are pulled off the event and bused back to the middle point. Lucky for me, I’ve been able to successfully complete all 3 of my previous attempts. So, would luck hold out, or would this year break me?

To begin, let’s set the stage by taking a look at the training I had under my belt. Last year, we had a nice early dump of snow, and were skiing full time in early December. We also stayed home over the holidays, and put in lots of mileage to prepare for CSM. This year? Well, for starters, we moved in late November, which meant leading up to the holidays we were focused on moving in and unpacking. Plus, there was no snow? The holidays? Well, we were overseas for two weeks in Belgium visiting family, so obviously no skiing there. We got back on January 7th, and skis didn’t really hit snow until January 10th. If you do the math, you’ll note that gave us less than a month to whip into CSM shape! Lucky for me, I have a decent endurance base and a really stubborn persistence on these things, so my plan was to simply tough it out regardless. I figured it might hurt, but I should be able to squeak by.

Leading up to the weekend, mother nature gave us a few more decent snowfalls, so it was obvious we’d have decent snow conditions. Now it was just a question of temperatures. This year was yet again a very cold winter to date (and continues to be), so I was nervous about the overnight. There is nothing worse than getting up at 4am from a frozen sleeping bag, exhausted, hungry, and facing an 80km ski slog! I did everything I could to shave weight this year, and make sure I didn’t carry more than I needed to. I think in the end, I got my pack down to about 22-23 lbs (including a bottle of Bailey’s I was bring to someone there as a favour, but that’s another story…). I decided to forego a full bivy bag, instead opting for the simple discomfort of a silver foil version, in which I stuffed my down sleeping bag and a thermal liner. I’d tested it at home at around -16, and while I didn’t overnight in it, I was hopeful it would work okay for 1 night at CSM!

Bedding Down at Gold Dorm

So with only a couple hundred (if that) kilometers of skiing in my legs, I was driven to the Gold Dorm in Lachute on Friday night. Deanna was tackling bronze this year, so had to drive back to Papineauville from Lachute for her sleeping accommodations. Despite our best efforts, I wasn’t finally settled onto the hallway floor in my sleeping bag until probably 10:30pm. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but the fact is, we would be getting up around 4:00am to start getting ready for the event. At that time, we had to pack our bags, prep our skis, eat some food, and make our way to the start line in the dark. The alarm on my watch didn’t even have a chance to go off though. As usual, this event causes the nerves to go into overdrive, which means waking up every hour or so. The fact that you are surrounded by lots of other like-minded skiers makes it a generally noisy place. I was up and at ’em before I knew it.

During breakfast, I bumped into a few familiar faces that were also tackling the gold this year, but not as many as last year. I wasn’t sure who exactly I’d be sharing a campfire with later that night (provided I made it). I mad emy way to the start leisurely, and had time to spare, getting my clothes and pack well adjusted. We got underway right on time, a long snaking line of headlamps disappearing off into the groomed tracks and into the woods. We seemed to bottleneck almost immediately this year, as from the start, we were herded almost directly onto 2 of pars tracks, then a little further down the path, onto a single set of tracks. Luckily, we get to leave 20 minutes before the bigger crowds, and I just settled into an easy pace, knowing that the clogging was out of my control and that it would sort itself out over the next few kilometers.

Day 1 of this year’s CSM was the tougher day, featuring all of the major climbs and tricky descents. There were two different sections listed as ‘hard’, and there was also one leg which was over 20km in length. Again, not a big deal if it was isolated, but when you combine these things all together on the same day, and factor in wearing a heavy laden backpack, you can start to understand why this is one tough event. For the most part, the weather on this day was pretty much par for the course. It was cold, but not unbearably so. I was wearing lots of layers, and well covered up. In fact, I was wearing more than I would in a race, due to the slower pace, and the occasional stopping.

There is really only one ‘secret’ to completing this event successfully, and it isn’t all that secret. Consistency. You need to keep moving. Steady as she goes. All day. There’s no sense racing up ahead to pass people, but there is no room to just stop and enjoy a picnic either. While the aid stations are a great reprieve, and you may be tempted to just stop and relax for a bit, those who do so too often will be disappointed. The one advantage of a cold day is the fact that you really aren’t tempted to stop and wait at the aid stations too long. If you do, you’ll simply start getting cold, which is what happens to me at every single stop. My hands, although they felt warm while skiing in, inevitably turn to blocks of solid ice any time I stop for more than 5 minutes. It then takes me probably 15 minutes or more of hard skiing coming out of the checkpoints to warm them back up!

All in all, day 1 went as I expected. It was tough, but I stayed ahead of my targets slightly, and emerged from all the tricky sections relatively unscathed. The biggest accomplishment was the fact that unlike last year, I finished the day on the same skis as I started with. What a relief! My falls were kept to a bare minimum. In fact, I think I only fell once while trying to avoid a skier that went down in front of me on a hill. Thankfully, there was lots of fluffy snow to break the fall. As a side note, anyone that tells you they didn’t fall at ALL at CSM is most likely lying 🙂

Upon arriving at Gold Camp, I was greeted by my buddy James, who had a terrific day out there and had already been in for almost 2 hours!! Amazing. I don’t know how he does it. Personally, I’d rather take a little longer on the trails, as once you are at Gold Camp, there really isn’t much to do but eat, get cold, and go to sleep. Last year, when I got in, the campfire we chose was already encircled with a big group of my friends, but for now at least, it was only James, Dan and myself. So, I had managed to get there quicker than a fair number of people. Principal reason being that the cold weather made the snow very slow, and a lot of skiers, myself included, simply hadn’t put in the volume of training they would have liked.

I enjoyed a few boil in a bag meals and some questionable make-in-a-bag s’mores before finally deciding that it was time to bunk down (as best as possible in -15 weather. The ritual of wriggling into your sleeping bag at Gold Camp is a thing of magic. First, you want to get all your clothes in there ahead of you, to keep warm and dry, then you have to make yourself in as carefully as possible and TRY to get comfortable. As an added twist, we checked the forecast, and sure enough, it was set to start snowing overnight, so we had to make sure all our gear was well covered and protected from the wet. Worst thing in the morning would be the need to step into snow-filled and frozen ski boots, a sure recipe for frostbite.

Once again, we roused ourselves at the ungodly hour of 4am to prepare to reverse the previous nights’ spectacle of sleeping bag insertion. Only now, we had to deal with wet and frozen bivy bags and gear, fumbling around in the dark, cold, and snowy camp. Luckily, the camp scouts had kept our fires burning all night, so at least we had the fire to help warm us up while we wolfed down our boil in a bag breakfasts. You really don’t have to push anyone to get out in the morning, because once you’re awake, pretty much the only thing you want to do is get underway. The quicker you start, the sooner you’ll be done the day. It’s amazing how much the actual event seems to be miserable and undesirable, yet you push on and persevere, propelled mainly by the knowledge that “we’re all in this together” with your fellow skiers.

Day 2, in spite of it being shorter than Day 1 this year in distance, and with less ‘hard’ sections, does not feel like it. When you compound two days of poor sleeping, the hard effort from the first day, and the desire to just get things done, there are moments out there that you truly question why you are doing it. Some people actually break down and give up by the first aid station of the day, their spirits broken, and desire for a warm beverage and relaxing in a chair too strong. Then there are people like me, who choose to ignore the voices, and press on. We’re eager to test ourselves. Eager to see how far we can push ourselves in SPITE of ourselves. There is no amazing prize awaiting us, just the quiet satisfaction of having pushed ourselves to persevere and succeed.

Weather wise, in case you haven’t guessed yet, was quite a bit more challenging for us on day 2. The snow was falling, in fact driving in our faces. The winds were being whipped up in every open field, and the temperatures cold. Normally, when it is this cold, there is no snow. However, mother nature decided to make it interesting for us. Each time we’d ski into an aid station, I’d get flooded with relief at the fact that I could eat and drink. However, within minutes, I immediately regret even momentarily stopping, as I’d get really cold. To make matters worse, some aid stations were completely out of warm drinks and most food, forcing me to drink ice water (literally with ice floating in it) and gnawing on frozen bagel pieces. Yup, it was that tough!

As always, the final 10km of the day or so seem to be simultaneously the longest and shortest stretch of the day. You know that your almost done, so you are having small internal celebrations at that fact, but I seems to keep going forever and ever. This year was no different I was exhausted from the effort, and just wanted to slide under that banner, onto a warm bus, then back to my dry clothes. Upon finally crossing the line, I raised my arms up halfheartedly, and made my way to the awards tent. Given that this was my second year at gold camp, I was entitled to what is called a ‘gold bar’. Normally, it’s just a little pin. However, for this year, the organizers had re-conceived all levels of the event recognition. This meant there were not specific medals for gold, silver and bronze CdB finishers, as well as a very hefty gold brick for anyone who had completed more than one year at the gold level. I will admit, it was pretty awesome getting that chunk of hardware!

Gold Bar After Event

I was so knackered, that I have basically no photographs of me at the event at all. I usually make a point of snapping a few, but this year, I was simply too focused on getting it done in one piece! Nonetheless, the feeling of accomplishment is the same. Once back at the school gym, I sought out and found Deanna. Sadly, she had missed the day 1 cutoff at CP4 by only about 7 minutes, so her dream of getting bronze had been dashed. On the plus side, it meant the car was there and waiting. So, without too much fanfare, I collected my things, chatted with a few people for a little bit, then we headed home, making sure to stop at McDonald’s for some junk food before eating supper #2, a big St. Hubert tourtiere. Once again, at the finish, I swore I wouldn’t do this event again. I’ve said or thought it at the finish of all 4 of my CSM finishes. However, inevitably, within 24 hours or so, I’m already imagining tackling the event just ‘one more time’. This year was no different. Even more importantly, next year will mark the 50th anniversary of CSM, so you KNOW I’ll want to be a part of the experience, or, as the tagline actually says “Become Part of the Legend”. Till then, keep reading the blog for more exciting race stories!

CSM Level Up: GOLD!

A week has gone by. The soreness has passed. The tally of toenails I’m likely to lose is up to three. I’m ready to tell my tale, and I almost think I’m ready to contemplate doing it all over again next year! Yes, I’m speaking about the Canadian Ski Marathon. The yearly pilgrimage between Lachute and Buckingham. 160km over two days of pure classic cross-country skiing bliss. This year I was tackling my Coureur des Bois Gold pin. This entails doing the entire thing with a pack carrying all your food and camping gear, and sleeping out under the stars on a hay bale with other CdB Gold skiers. Read on for the whole story.

Several of you will remember that in the past 2 years, I covered the event for Get Out There by putting together videos of the event (Check out my 2012 videos for Day 1 and Day 2, and 2013 videos for Day 1 and Day 2). This year, I wanted to focus on skiing, to ensure success, and hadn’t planned on covering it. However, at the last minute, I was asked to be part of a media team covering the event ‘semi-live’ from the trail. Of course I said yes. The downside was that it consumed more time than I hope fussing with cold electronics, but the upside is that I have a few pictures and videos to share. Check out my little slideshow below!

The night before the event started in earnest, I got to finally check into the ‘Gold Dorm’ in Buckingham, Que. This is the place nearest the start of the event, and is reserved for only the CdB Gold Participants. It’s not actually anything special, just a school gymnasium, but the company is exclusive and was a good chance to meet up with some people I knew and get the skinny on CdB gold strategies. We had to get up at around 4am the next morning, so I was in bed around 9pm, excited and nervous for the weekend. I’d been successful on my previous 2 attempts, but every year is a challenge, and the route reverses direction. This year was the ‘hard’ route. Easier (shorter, flatter) 1st day, followed by the harder (longer, hillier) 2nd day. All I could do was sleep well and be positive.

Day 1 Map and Profile

Day 1 Map

The next morning, I was up and ready with everyone else, and heading to the cafeteria to grab breakfast. I met up with the event director, and chatted with him a little bit before fueling up. We would see each other a little later in the day, under much different circumstances. I packed up all my gear, and got dressed to head out for the bus. That was when I hit my first snag. I was at the back of the crowd waiting for buses. As a result, they were all full, and a group of us got stranded and had to wait for a bus to make a return trip from the start line. Unfortunately, that meant we would actually miss the official start of the CdB Gold group, set for 5:40am!

Rather than worrying too much about, we rolled with it. After all, we only set out about 5 minutes after them, but it meant that we were not in the ‘pack’, and the CdB silver hotshots would be bearing down on us quickly. At that time of the morning, it is still pitch black, and we ski by headlamps only, travelling carefully on the hills we encounter.

The first day was split into 5 sections, and out opening leg was relatively easy and only 12km long. Pulling into the first checkpoint, the ski and terrain around us was just starting to lighten up. I had something to eat and drink, but didn’t bother re-waxing my skis yet, as they were in pretty good shape still due to amazing snow conditions. The second section was another ‘easy’ one and 13.6km in length. I got through that one with no problems, and could see this was going to be a beautiful weekend. The sun was finally rising, and the skies were blue overhead. It was great seeing all the skiers, and I was making good progress and the pace was great. I pulled into the second CP in very high spirits and made a little video, taking time to eat, drink, socialize a bit, and re-wax my skis. I left with a big grin, not realizing I would be back there in a bit…

The third leg was where things took an interesting turn for me. This section was an ‘intermediate’ level, and was 16.2km long. For me, however, it turned into a 24km ordeal. The first 2k were fine. Then, I passed a little hand-painted sign stating “narrow trail 2km”. Not a big deal, it just meant we’d be going single file. Up and up and up we went, making slow progress, but in nice conditions. At the top of this hill (in 1.8k or so), we inevitably had to descend. I should also mention that by this point, we’d actually passed 2 or 3 other skiers returning on foot with broken equipment. I made  a mental note to be very careful to not end up with them.

Anyway, back to the descent. It didn’t look super-hard. There were tracks heading straight down, and thought that would be the way to go. I let the skiers ahead of me get a little gap before I started off. Well, my skis were gliding great, and by staying in the tracks, I was bearing down fast on them. I had to try to snowplow of step out of the tracks to slow down. That didn’t work so well. In very slow-motion in my mind, I realize my left ski (and body) were heading for the trees on the trailside (as it was quite narrow). I managed to avoid the trees with my body, but heard a “crrrrrack!” and suddenly found myself airborne. I knew what had happened, but was still processing it.

As I flew through the air, a thought crossed my mind. “Hmmm, cross-country ski bindings don’t automatically release, do they? My left ski doesn’t seem to be attached to my foot.” I hit the ground, no worse for wear thankfully, and fearfully stomped back up the hill to the little group of 2-3 trees where my left ski had gotten wedged. It wasn’t in two pieces, and I was hopeful. Until I fished it out. The binding (and entire top layer of the ski) had been torn off the base, as you can see in this picture.

Busted SkiUpon retrieving my broken ski, I started to evaluate my options. My first thought was to head to the bottom of the hill and fix it somehow to keep going. Once at the bottom, realizing that the binding was actually completely broken too, I realized there was just no way I’d be able to ski out on this. In a snap decision, I realized i’d have to hike out of my predicament. Yeah, 4 km, with a big pack, carrying broken skis, on snow that I kept punching through and sinking into while trying to avoid literally hundreds of skiers coming the opposite way. Luckily, one of them was my lovely wife, so I did manage to get a nice kiss and some words of encouragement. I wasn’t giving up, but distinctly realized this might be it for my dreams of a gold finish for this year.

When I finally got to the last checkpoint, 40 minutes had easily gone by. I went straight to a ski tech on site. He took a quick look and confirmed I was screwed. Then, someone said ‘go see the Swix guys, they can fix anything’. Nope. Another confirmation of my horrible position. It could possibly be duct taped, but that would mean having the tape in the grip zone, making things really bad. Then, my guardian angel appeared. A man with a piece of cardboard hung around his neck with a hand-written event number and the words, “The Prez” on the sign.

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

Tennessee Williams. A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)

This was none other than Boomer Throop, the actual presidenc of CSM. After a few moments consideration, he offered, no, insisted, I take his skis. One glance confirmed from me that unfortunately, he used NNN bindings, whereas mine were SNS. Completely incompatible. “Well, what size are you?” he asked. I replied 8.5. “Perfect, mine are 11”. Well, in my world, that isn’t a perfect fit, but could work. Before I could even think about protesting, he was taking off the skis, boots, AND his socks, standing barefoot telling me to “take the f*cking skis, and don’t say another word. Get out there”. Another volunteer ran off and found me another pair of socks, bringing my total to 4 pairs of socks. I layered them on, slid my own orthotics into the ski boots, and stuck my foot in. They were nice and warm, and I was able to get them tight around my feet, albeit with quite a bit of room in front of my toes.

So that is how I spent 134 km of the 160 km event. Skis that were too long, with an unknown kick zone, boots nearly 3 sizes too big, and 4-5 pairs of socks. This would make for quite a finish if I could pull it off. Needless to say, when I started back out, things were a bit awkward, but I WAS SKIING! That’s all that mattered. I hadn’t given up, and I now had the MEANS to finish, I just needed the right SPIRIT. My parting words to the president were that the only way I could think of repaying him for his kindness was to actually compete the event and get my gold, which was precisely what I inteded to do. Unfortunately, by the time I set out again, I was well over an hour back. All the golds, silvers, bronzes, and even tourers were gone by, and meeting the time cutoffs later down the trail were weighing heavy on my mind. As such, I put my head down and just focused on skiing as efficienatly and quickly as i could. I made steady progress, eventually catching and passing lots of fellow skiers on the way, but lots of these tourers, meaning they weren’t trying to meet a time cutoff. As such, they were quite happy to encourage me on and move aside if needed. For their part, the skis were pretty decent. I had a heck of a time controlling them in some situations due to the longer length, but I was getting decent kick and glide. For that, I can probably also thank the very forgiving snow conditions!

Coming out the other end of the 3rd leg, I was happy to make if to the next checkpoint feeling good. I was now up against the longest leg of the day at over 20km, and the looming cutoff. Without even looking at the time, I set about grabbing a quick bite and drink, and re-waxing the skis, taking a complete guess at where exactly to apply the grip wax. Knowing that Boomer was a bit bigger than me (who isn’t?), I assumed I could go pretty far forward, even with my pack on. I guessed correctly, as starting back out again, things still felt decent. I kept pushing hard the entire leg, uncertain of exaxctly how much time I had, as i was afraid to look. It was indeed a long and demoralizing leg when you are on borrowed gear, but I did eventually find myself at CP4. Time to spare to cutoff? Nearly 50 minutes!!! My hard pushing paid off, but now I worried I’d put too much into the effort. I vowed to take the next and final leg easier, as it no longer mattered how long it took. The only thing to do on arrival at gold camp was to eat, drink, set up camp, wax skis, and sleep. I knew I’d have friends there, and likely a reserved spot.

In spite of taking it ‘easier’, I was still feeling competely drained by the time I hit the gold camp turnoff near Montebello. On the plus side, I’d never seen Deanna again, which meant that she had easily completed Day 1 herself, and was likely gliding into the finish for the day. This lifted my spirits a touch, and I set off on the final 2km slog, with a few other skiers. Happily, I can report I was by no means the last camper in either! Sah-weet! Another nice thing on arrival was seeing my buddy James basically waiting for me. He grabbed my skis, and showed me to our camp, where the fire was already roaring. I dropped my pack, and headed off to claim the 2 hay bales that were assigned to me. One to sit on at the fire, the other to spread out as an insulative mattress. Luckily, even though the sun had technically set, there was still some light, and I got mostly settled in before it was dark.

Day 2 Summary

Day 2 Map

After getting myself organized, I joined everyone else around the fire, trying to dry my ski clothes, eating and drinking as much as I could, while swapping war stories with my fellow skiers. Turns out I wasn’t the only one with a bad day. One of our friends had had an accident, and dislocated his shoulder, needing a medical evac. So things could have gone much worse for me. However, I was completely and utterly exhausted, and quite concerned about the next day, which was the harder of the two days of skiing! It didn’t help when I was assured I would absolutely hate getting up the next morning in the cold trying to make food, break camp, and head out by 5:30am. Yikes. I decided to live for the moment, and tried to just have a good time around the fire, which was quite easy with the fine company I was sharing the time with. We were amongst the latest people to still be up, finally turning in around 9pm, after filing a quick video, and dropping Deanna a line to see how she was.

I’d love to report that I had an amazing sleep, but I really didn’t. I tossed and turned, trying to keep my ski clothes warm and dry with me in the sleeping bag, and also recharging both my GPS watch and cellphone. I wasn’t overly cold, as temperatures hovered around -12c, which all things considered, was pretty good for gold camp it turns out.I perhaps got 1.5 hours of fitful rest before hearing my alarm go off at 4am, and trying to figure out just how i would get ready for the day. In the end, I decided to just get out of my bivy, and stand outside in the head area while I got dressed. That actually worked out quite well, and I was soon bundled up again, and bustling around getting breakfast ready and packing up my campsite. I’d also decided to throw on a 5th pair of socks for this day, as the pain on the tops of my toes was getting bad, and wanted to try padding them a bit more. I had waxed the skis the night before heading to bed, and was ready to take off. All the campers were making their way to the exit area to be scanned out and start their 82 km day of skiing. I felt pretty stiff and sore, but optimistic.

One of the funny things about CSM is that although you are skiing with hundreds of others, you are, for all intents and purposes, on your own. Everyone has their own pace, and most people just opt to ski at the pace they want to, which means you may find yourself with people for a little while, but then one person will speed up or slow down, or stop for a break, and you’ll be on your own. As such, all my camp mates basically left at different times, and I only bumped into them again along the route at checkpoints. I don’t mind too much though, as I like the solitude at times anyway. Pacing was going to be the word of the day anyway. The ratings on the legs for the 2nd day were intermediate, intermediate, hard, intermediate, and finally, easy. In other words, the first 4 legs would be hard fought. Lots of long climbs, steep descents, and road sections. My plan was to just ski at a pretty steady pace all day and see where that left me for the cutoff at the end of the 4th leg, which for today was 3:30pm. It certainly didn’t seem an impossible task, given that we still had great conditions.

I could explain in detail all the legs, but there is no need. I skied well. The snow was great. The climbs were at times longs and brutal, but I’m actually a bit of a masochist, and felt a purity in all the climbs on the day. The didn’t bother me at all. I’m good at just powering up hills and getting through them. I’ve developed a pretty good mental toughness over years of racing, and I guess it pays off now and again. I was making reasonable time all day, and pausing at each checkpoint, letting the wax techs take care of my borrowed skis while I ate and drank. I wanted to make sure I didn’t end up bonking later in the day. At various points early in the day I got to ski with Dave, Lise, Nathan, and Annie, all four of which are amazing skiers, and were doing the whole course with the CdB group, but skiing at a pretty good pace. The legend of my story had also propagated through the event, as a number of times, when I’d be chatting with people about my day, they’d inevitably ask ‘oh, are you that guy that had the broken ski and had to borrow skis and too-big boots?’. It was pretty funny. Some of these people even remembered seeing me the day before as I was hiking out, and were impressed to see me still in it, let alone being able to bounce back and get my Gold CdB in the process. Truth be told, that’s probably the main reason I pushed so hard. I hate failing at anything, and this one was basically 3 years in the making!

You might be now wondering how close I was with the time cutoff the second day. Well, amazingly, I still had about 1 hour and 20 minutes to spare at the cutoff. In other words, it was no problem at all. In fact, this year, even with the problems, was the most comfortable times I finished with. Granted, the gold skiers did get a 2 km head start, and a 30 minute lead as compared to the bronze CdB people, but I was still mighty elated when I saw the time we had left. Rest assured, that does NOT mean this was an easy day by any stretch of the imagination. Heading out on the final leg, it was a great feeling. There was only about 12 km to go, and I’d wrap things up at a decent time. I decided to push hard anyway, in hopes of being there with lots of time to shower and be ready to greet Deanna. I will say though, the final 3 km felt like they took forever. After speaking to several other skiers, we are convinced they lied about the distance of the last leg. We are pretty sure it was about 3 km longer than advertised. That may not seem like a big deal, but when you’ve mentally prepared yourself to be done in 2 km, then see a sign saying 5 km to go, it makes a difference!

Regardless, I finally found myself on the final steep downhill run before the finish line, with the smell of sausages (and victory) in the air. They called my name as I crossed and I realized I’d done it. I was now a Coureur des Bois Gold finisher at CSM. That felt great, and exhausting. An organizer found me shortly afterwards to reunite me with my busted ski, and collect my borrowed gear. What a tale eh? I had a sausage at the finish, then made my way to the shuttle bus to head to the gym where the luggage and awards were being dealt with. Unfortunately, that is when I also learned that Deanna had sadly missed a cutoff on day 2, and was on her way to pick up the car. I felt crushed for her, but also extremely proud of what she managed to accomplish this year, and the improvements she has made. Tackling the full CSM is a monumental challenge, and there are loads of stories of people not making it. But she killed the first day, and was having a great 2nd day too. She has already vowed to return to get her “G-D Bronze!”. And I believe her.

That pretty much does it for this story. As I type this, I’m still nursing some pulled muscles in my groin, resulting from dealing with the skis that were too long and having to herringbone up the hills. I’m also nursing my toes back to health, and see about 3 toenails that are dead and will eventually fall off. But I have GOLD! That won’t fall off! Will I return? Quite possibly. After all, if I do just 4 more gold CdBs, I get a PERMANENT BIB! They always have something to keep us coming back! Hope you enjoyed my tale. I’m off for one weekend, then back in action for the Mad Trapper Snowshoe Race Season Finale. Till then, take care of you and yours, and see you out in the snow!