Autumn Battles Winter at Camp Saratoga Snowshoe Race

Once more, Mother Nature has proven herself to be the true race director at our Camp Saratoga Snowshoe Race.  But that is not to say that we did not surrender without a good fight.  In retrospect, I guess we should have known better.

Overly confident after our pre-Halloween snowstorm, Jim Carlson’s hiking team eagerly explored Pieter Litchfield’s new trail and sturdy bridge designed to eliminate the parallel out and back section that had previously caused grief to careless advance scouts.  New trails joined with old, increased single track mixed with passing lane ski trails.  Even better, the course was lightly marked months prior to allow for home team advantage.

But as the oft quoted “best laid plans” scenario would suggest, race week left us slipping over icy trails in a desperate attempt to salvage our event.  A typical section in the Northern area of the Preserve featured: autumnal pine-cushioned forest, crusty snow, spotty patches of mixed precipitation and edge-to-edge menacingly hostile glare ice.  During one of my earliest forays, I encountered a runner and his eleven month-old puppy who were turning back as the dog was too scared to continue.  When have you last heard of a rambunctious puppy being afraid enough to listen to reason?  And why did Jeff and I fail to heed his example?

In perfect “the show must go on” style, we were determined to piece together a relatively safe route.  Paradoxically, as befitting this entire winter, normal assumptions cartwheeled into absurdity.  Northern forces were in possession of the friendliest terrain, while Southerners were stymied by thick sheets of arctic ice, totally unimpressed by snowshoe ice cleats or Kahtoola Microspikes.  So much for easy-going South Florida mentality!

With the North clearly in command, we set our sights on an abbreviated tour of duty. Unfortunately, the only way we could come close to the minimum 5K standard was by creating a double loop course utilizing the traffic management system designed to provoke fear and anger into the heart of frequent drivers everywhere: the dreaded Roundabout.

I have spent much of my driving career studiously avoiding getting sucked into the Malta, NY Roundabout experience and here I was actually constructing one!  With much trepidation, I sought to temper blind over-confidence with the addition of two hand waving, targeted marshalls.

Jeff further studied the problem and requisitioned a team of arrowed saw horses to further divide traffic lanes.  Farther down the trail another trio of marshalls checklisted entering and exiting runners to make sure that everyone accessed and egressed the turns at the proper time.  Road traffic designers take note!  There were no head on collisions and everyone accomplished the requisite number of circles.

Our main safety weapon, as well as the reason Jeff decided to bypass his normal gym sessions, was the 200 pounds of sand he hefted and then painstakingly poured on the iciest downhills.  Those of us following in his wake, armed only with orange flags and blue ribbon, chuckled at the skid marks made by his pair of faithful yaks.  Jeff was not amused. Finally, all was ready.  Then race morning we received the final insult:  a light dusting of snow.  While this set the mood for some, what it really accomplished was to disguise the icy patches.

Rather than showcase a Grimm fairy tale setting, we were determined to maintain a lighthearted mood.  The Winter Lodge’s stove was toastily blazing.  Occasional wooden snowmen posting  Let it Snow! signs decorated the route and our photographer, Brian Teague, set up a laptop display of previous years to remind us what snow looked like.  Vying for the best porta potty prize, ours featured the classic photo of dogs lined up waiting their turn at the designated tree.

This winter of the endless autumn was certainly not what we had expected.  Still, both volunteers and runners persevered through disappointment to ultimately experience a fun day in the woods.  Much better than sitting at home or running on the roads and feeling sorry for ourselves.  Plus, with attendance understandably down from previous years, there were all those pot luck leftovers to consume afterwards.  It seemed to me that folks lingered longer than usual, perhaps because they were too stuffed to go anywhere, but more likely because it was so good to conquer a problematic winter with a congenial bunch of friends.

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Laura Clark

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