Iím about to head out the door to see the National Marathon Skating championships on Lake Morey. It looks like a sunny day but the weather is still bitingly cold. Let me make sure I have everything: glovesÖ checkÖ hatÖ checkÖ lip balmÖ checkÖ tissues check coffee check camera check. Okay, off I go.
The drive on I-91 north isnít too long. Fairlee is about a half hourís drive away. I should be able to see the 10- and 25-kilometer races today and make it home well before dark. Letís see, itís 9:30 a.m. now. The first race is at 10:00. I pull off the interstate and start on Lake Morey West Road. The race is going to be across from the Hulbert Outdoor Center and I remember coming to the camp when I was young. You read in books about children staying at camps where they learn how to swim in a lake, stay in cabins, make macaroni pictures on paper plates in the Arts & Crafts building and get eaten alive by the bugs. This is one of those places. When I was little, my class came here to play trust games like falling back into other peopleís arms and such. I realize now what a crock all that is.
Iím beginning to think I should have taken Lake Morey East Road. This is obviously the wrong side of the lake to be on. As I crawl along the road at 10 m.p.h. and look down through the bare trees, I only see snowmobile trails and the occasional fishing shanty. Whereís the skating track? Where are all the people?
I finally spot a road that leads down to the lake where many cars have parked (not physically on the lake, thank god). This must be it. The big tent out on the ice is the second giveaway. I finish the last of my coffee and head out. Brrr, itís pretty cold. I can take it, though. Itís sunny out and Iíll just keep moving to stay warm.
Look at that. Thereís a port-a-potty out here on the lake with a track of bare ice leading up to it, so that the marathon skaters donít even need to take off their skates to go pee. Thatís so cool.
Under the tent are several adults and children getting ready to skate. A voice booms over the speakers, saying that the 1-k race will be starting in just a few minutes. I didnít know there was going to be a 1-k race. I take out my notebook to jot down my observances and impressions. The second I take my glove off, though, the fingers on my right hand start to turn into fleshy icicles. I turn to look at all the people, who are milling around as thought it were a summer day. I donít see anyone frozen mid-stride or shaking uncontrollably (like me). Jesus, what are these people made out of?
Never mind. I note that some people are doing some warm up laps around the track. Iíd say that the track is probably twelve feet wide and not a perfect oval, but rather a lazy heart shape.
ďThose of you racing in the 1-k need to come up here now,Ē the speakers shout. All of the skaters lining up are children except for four or five grownups. ďMake sure your chips are fastened securely around your ankles. Now, this is only ONE time around the track. If you happen to need first aid, see Paul at the first-aid Jeep over by the first turn.Ē
I expect to see people prepare themselves like at the Olympics, where the speed skaters put the tip of one of their skates into the ice and then crouch down. Here, the kids are just standing as though theyíre waiting in line at the movies. A puny little gun is fired and the skaters take off.
Right away, I noticed two things. One: itís not cool for you to be an adult racing the 1-k. This is obviously a race for children and, being twice their size, youíre obviously going to kick their asses. While some of the smaller kids are still trying to get enough momentum to cross the starting line, two big guys are already rounding the first bend.
Two: the sound that Nordic skates make on this lake ice is a kind of bumpitty bumpitty bumpskkushh skkushh skkushh. It must be really difficult to skate on. Iíve only skated on lake ice once and I hated it specifically because it was so uneven. And there are massive cracks all over the ice here and there that have been colored fluorescent orange, presumably so that the skaters will see them as they approach.
Whatís taking these skaters so long? Címon, itís only one time around. Get the lead out. I look down into my notebook to see what Iíve written: Oh fucking shit I canít stay out here much longer. Thatís interesting. I donít remember writing that. It seems Iíve also written: Wind blowing up behind me, ass is frozen. And then faintly: Pen ink already freezing!!
I hop from foot to foot as the racers come in. Of course, the two grown-ups finish nearly simultaneously but donít elicit very many claps. Then comes a little boy (who is really the winner of the race in my book) and a little girl. Iím clapping harder than anyone else, just to stay warm. A little later, I see two children finish alongside their respective parents. I believe one parent was there merely for moral support. The other was a father who videotaped his daughter along the whole track. Obsessive or what? Heíll probably make the girl watch it over and over again at home, pointing out where she made mistakes. I tell you, this is why you canít have your mother or father as your manager.
The announcer says itíll be another fifteen minutes until the 10-k race, so I run back to my car. I jump in start the engine. Blessed warmth. UuuugghhhhÖ I canít feel my ass! No, wait-- itís tingling! Oh my god! My ass is tingling!! What does frostbite feel like?! OhhhÖ ohhhhÖ how embarrassing would it be to get frostbite on my ass? Iím such a dummy to have worn jeans out here! What was I thinking?! Denim doesnít retain any warmth! UuugghhhÖ
After a while I head back out. I decide to stay just for the 10-k race and thatís it. I canít stand out here in the cold and watch crazy people skate. I walk back up to the track and snap a few pictures while worrying that my camera might freeze up. The announcer says that theyíre having some technical difficulties with the chips and would all of the racers please come to the starting line. I guess the chips record when a racer crosses the line at start and finish.
I turn myself around in slow circles, like a rotisserie chicken, futilely trying to cook myself with the sun. I want to cry but Iím afraid that ice cubes would come shooting out of my eyes. The gun pops and the racers take off. This is a more serious race, no children apparently allowed. I snap a few more pictures and run back to my car.
Do I feel bad that I didnít stay until the end of the 10-k race? No. I donít know who any of these skaters are and Iíll be damned if I condemn myself to a frostbitten ass while crazy people skate around that track ten times. Plus, itís only 10:45 a.m. I still have the whole day ahead of me to stay warm at home. This is probably what watching a NASCAR race is like, only less exciting because when skaters run into each other, they donít explode.
Iíll go again next year and make sure to dress warmer. And I probably wonít wear flip-flops again.
* * *
Total Miles Driven: 47.20
Hours Spent at Race: 0.75
Hours Until Fully Warm Again at Home: 3.00