We woke up to 8 degrees warmer than forecasted, so the morning involved some frantic panic-re-waxing, and a quick fluoro test before heading out to the stadium. Not for the first time, I was very happy to be staying right at the venue. With only 35 women racing, I was in the third row back, on the left. We started, and because I was stuck on the left, I got totally cut off when about a third of the pack turned left into me, and I was trying to keep going straight. Grr! Not happy with being pushed around, but I got shoved onto that trail, and did some elbowing of my own to get back to the main trail. Not a great start!
Things got a little smoother after that, I was the tail end of a little train heading up the middle curvy trail, took the fourth right and spiked my control, still in a small pack. Out to the big trails, and I made another slight mistake, missing the junction to 2, because I'd misread the trail as being on the other side of the reentrant. I had to turn around and backtrack, losing another 20s or so. But now I was closing on some other skiers, and that felt nice. Then I took a not-so-great route to #3, going way out of the way north and down, rather than cutting it a little straighter, and going around on a big trail to suck up the climb there, but I definitely lost time on that route, as the group I'd been with before was now 100m ahead of me as I reached the control.
Ok, get less flustered now, because you'd hemorrhaging time with your current technique. Crossing big trails using the little trail connectors, and I'm finally feeling in control. There's a Finnish skier not so far ahead of me, and I can see a Swiss girl or two in the distance. I spike my 4th control, and zoom down a semi-sketchy downhill to the first stream crossing and #5, still feeling in control. A speedy-looking Russian chick comes at me, and I let her by without too much fuss, since she's probably in the hunt for the medals. I try to latch on behind her, but she is definitely stronger than me, double poling away much faster. Damn. That did help speed me up, and I catch up to a Kazkh, who is moving slower than I want her to, but then I hesitate at a junction and miss my chance to pass her. Oops. We punch 6 at the same time as the Finn I'd been chasing, and I have to pause, because the leg to 7 looks like a real doozy.
It's a long leg, with a whole spaghetti-network of trails, none of them contouring quite as much as I'd like, but I notice a big ditch about 2/3 of the way there, and given the firm crust under the fresh powder, I figure, hey, time for some short-cutting! Zoom zoom zoom, sometimes on a trail, mostly just through the nice open woods, not having too much trouble skating, and there's been a few people there already, boosting my confidence. I hit a couple smaller reentrants along the way and hesitate, but when I get to the ditch, it's quite obvious. Now to just relocate where on the ditch I am. There's a trail right near me, so I cross the ditch on that mini-bridge, and there are only a couple options for cross the ditch on a trail, so I narrow it down pretty quickly when I hit a junction pretty quickly, realizing I'm at the diamond of trails. Then it's short work to contour on the nicely-contouring trail, and loop quickly in to nab 7. I felt pretty good to have not totally blown that control and skied off the map!
I'm now in a small group with Carmen Strub (SUI) and a Kazakh, and we cut pretty straight down the fall line to 8, keeping the small river in line of sight until we hit the field. Carmen leads in to 8 as I plan ahead, since she keeps taking the routes I want, it's easy to plan ahead. I have some awesome cuts planned to 9, but then I manage to really confuse myself in there; it's a bland hillside, and I must have miscounted trail crossings. Shit. I'm standing there feeling lost, when I see Carmen and the Kazakh downhill of me, I look further, and see some orange of a control. Ooh! I'm saved, and cut through the woods to the control, not far behind Carmen and Kazakh.
Back across the river, and my next control has a nice attackpoint off the corner of the straight trail I'm on, and I can see Carmen and Kazakh ahead of me, so can cut some corners and close the gap. Phew. Then into the stadium for the spectator control and and I get the next map. Again, it appears that Carmen and Kazakh have the same forking as me, and we ski as a pack up to #1. I take a better shortcut and lead in to the control, then lead on to 2, up the big trail. We can see a bunch of people heading up the trail away from the narrow trail to take to 2, cool, we're close to a pack, but we're maybe a minute or two back from them, which is hard to make up. There's a sweet gully to cross on the way to 2, and then we shortcut uphill and spike the control. Carmen continues uphill, but Kazakh and I retrace our steps out to the big trail. Carmen must have cut somewhere, because she appears ahead of us on the big trail, and I'm working hard trying to close the gap back down. We all ski up to the corner of the big trail, then make a bunch of shortcuts and meet up with a trail to cross the reentrant, and spike the reentrant again. We seem to have dropped the Kazakh girl on the climb, and Carmen and I are alone making the cuts and navigating in to 4.
Back across the river, and this time we have a lower control on the hillside. Thank god you can shortcut as much as you can, the crust is wonderfully firm under the fluffy cold new snow, and I pull a little ahead of Carmen. We both hightail it for the gully, contouring across the slope, and upon hitting the gully, Carmen decides to cross it without the bridges, while I ski uphill to go across on the sketchy bridge. I get to the control first, and then just go straight down the fall line, a little faster than I'm totally comfortable with, and hit the powerlines field to catch myself and get to #8, same as we were last loop. But, making the turn, I catch my ski on a shrubby tree thing, and get spun around, wrenching my strained groin again, and while extricating myself, Carmen catches up. This is good, because we do navigate faster when we're together, but I had sort of been hoping to drop her. She leads to 9; this time I'm very careful approaching 9, determined not to make another mistake there, and when Carmen pauses at 10, I take the lead again, going a bit around, but on big trails, so it's fast. One more control in the maze, with Carmen leading again, and then in to the map exchange again.
I pick up the last map, and I'm relieved to see that it's a very short loop, just 5 controls, and nothing on the hillside of green spaghetti confuzzlement. Carmen takes one of the earlier big uphill trails, and I figure I may as well take that route too, but just before the turn, we run into some ice under the snow (it had been raining massively two days ago, and now things are icy in places), and because I'm not paying attention, I land flat on my back. D'oh! Carmen checks to make sure I'm ok, but keeps skiing, and I'm chasing again. I go through my #1 from the first lap, but then I come out to the big trail and get massively confused. Which trail junction is this? Why is nothing making sense? I ski up a trail a little ways, don't see the junctions I expect, and go back to the last junction, standing there trying to puzzle it out. I make a guess, and figure I'll give myself one hunch before bailing, and head into the maze, thankfully finding the control where I expect it, but now I have lost Carmen for good, and a few minutes to boot. Darn!
Up the hill to 2, and I try to take the most direct route I can. I see a blue suit climbing a different trail, and I hope that my choice is the better one. As I approach the control, I see a Swede coming in, sweet! I'm briefly ahead of a Swede! I zig and zag and do some shortcutting to get to 3, and she's right behind me, she sneaks by and punches first. I'm a bit confused right now, because I don't see a finish circle on my map, and I'm wondering if maybe I counted wrong and there's another lap to do before the finish, so I don't worry too much about the Swede picking up a little gap on me as we zig and zag and shortcut to 4. Because she's ahead of me, I can see where to take the better shortcuts, but I can tell that this speed is exceeding my navigation speed. I slow down a smudge just to reaffirm my place on the way to 5, before realizing that I can see it through the woods, and now the Swede has a gap on me. We come into the stadium, and there's no way I'm catching her, and when she makes the U-turn into the finish, I realize that I am indeed finishing, and that I just lost another place by not sticking to her like glue and then outsprinting her. D'oh!
Carmen finished about two minutes up, which is a bummer, because I felt like I could outski her at times, but she clearly out-navigated me, and that's what counts in the end. Oh, well. It's still a good finish, and leaves plenty of room for improvement.
This is one of the sketchy little bridges over the river. I think there are some bigger boards under the pine branches... maybe.
Look ma, I'm almost tall!
Finishing up the relay.
Upstream view of a sketchy river crossing.