Six Wet Miles: A Goal Met.

This past weekend I spent a few quality hours with 2,000 fellow maniacs in Ashland, Wisconsin at the Book Across The Bay. Perchance that is a less than accurate statement: the race starts in Ashland and goes to Washburn, Wi – across Lake Superior.

Yes, you did read that correctly. I did the race about 15 years ago and it was without a doubt the most exciting, beautiful, challenging event I’d ever done as an amateur athlete. It was close to zero that night, and we took off at sunset. That has not changed. Nor has the fact that the course is lit by candles – about 1,000 of them – across the lake. It still finishes in Washburn, and it’s still a challenge.

Nothing says “night race” like all dark clothing.

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What has changed is the people. Not the organizers, but the participants. While I still shared a lot of good times with others in the race, there were about 6 people who don’t understand what rules like “No lights, except a dim light on your ankle” mean. Consequently, there were a handful of selfish oafs with blindingly bright glow-sticks on their legs. The worst part is that they were about at my pace – perhaps a little faster. So when I skipped the water stops, they fell behind. In about ten minutes they would once again pass me on the left and leave me night-blind for about ten more minutes. The best part of this race is that you are so far from any amount of city light that you can fully appreciate the night sky. That is ruined when special snowflakes feel that they must be able to find each other on the course.

Perhaps that’s part of the problem: I am by nature a solitary competitor. I am just fine with being one of 2,000 on the course. Knowing nobody, talking to nobody, just listening to my tunes or my heart pounding in my ears. The surging of others in the pack as they pass, or are passed, in the darkness is unique. No faces, just dark outlines. I like the night. I am comfortable in the night. I feel that I have been cheated by the glow-stick crowd.

Here’s a video of the night. I shot this with my Go-pro Hero Sessions on a chest mount:

Other than them, the race was fine with one little exception: the standing water along almost the entire ten kilometers of the course. Before you even hit the starting line, you questioned your sanity this year. The weather had hit 50+ degrees for two days, and while the ice underfoot was 20+ inches thick, the snow on top had all melted.

For those without a physics background, that means that not only do you have 2-5 inches of just-above-freezing water to slog through, but you also have bare ice below it. The ultimate combination of things to give you around 20,000 opportunities to fall and break something.

Unlike many, I opted to leave the snow shoes on: they have crampons built into the base. Consequently I didn’t worry about falling – as much. Even the crampons slipped more than a few times as I crossed the lake. The downside is that it was less fun than usual pulling the snow shoes through the standing water. If you need an analogy you can relate to, picture dragging your hand out the window as you drive along. That’s resistance to fluid (air) much like a snow shoe creates in standing water.

I don’t know if this qualifies as an extreme sport. But it sure felt like it when I dragged my exhausted thighs across the finish line. The video says I made it in 2:29 – but I had forgotten to factor in the wave starts. I was in wave 3, so my final time was 2:19. I beat my own goal by quite a bit.

The “highest elevation” moment is funny because that lake is dead flat – as are most frozen bodies of water. The ridge of snow was formed by pressure from the wind moving the ice toward shore. It’s only a couple of feet, but it struck me as very funny.

In the tent you will also see a sign on a pole showing the elevation over the course: it’s a flat line. That area is pretty hilly, and for the marathon (The Whistle Stop – another fine race I’ve done several times) it’s about an 500 foot course variation.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. But only if it’s snow on the course. Water? Never again. Total foot misery.

But, what a night.

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Six Wet Miles: A Goal Met. — 3 Comments

  1. That sounds like a great hike. Keep me posted about next year’s date. Maybe I can talk Gary into it. If there is no standing water, that is. Thanks for posting.

    • Always that weekend! It should be the 17th next year. I’m planning on making a stab at it again next year.

      We’ll discuss this over coffee at the Cow Kick this summer.