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Archive for December, 2009

Home and Gone Again

The Minnesota IBU Cup trials went well and I qualified to travel to Germany and compete in  the IBU Cups in Altenberg.  I am very excited for these races and to travel to Europe.  Germany is a biathlete’s Mecca.  Millions of Germans tune in to watch races live on TV and tens of  thousands travel to watch the World Cups.  In America, most people don’t know what the sport is.   Traveling to Germany is exciting for another reason too; these IBU races will serve as the US Olympic Team trials.  However, before boarding the plane on Dec 27, I got to go home for 3 and a half days to be with my family for Christmas.

Racing in one of the Mt. Itasca IBU qualifiers. (Photo: Maddi Mayo)

Every Christmas Eve, our family follows a candlelit trail through the woods to a creche scene where we sing Christmas carols. My younger brother, Sten (right), loves this tradition and sets up the candles before dark.

On Christmas Day, I showed my family and friends my homemade biathlon range in the woods behind the house.  It is a narrow 50 m long lane that weaves between trees and boulders.  Glaciers sculpted our backyard into a steep hillside and left a generous deposit of giant boulders, which makes it difficult to find suitable terrain for a range.  At one end sits a shooting platform leveled using woodchips.  At the other end sits a target that my dad and Uncle Lester, a machinist, designed.  I can even ski to the range, using old beat up “rock skis” on some logging trails that my dad grooms with his tractor.

Dunklee's Taxi Service. Pat, Moxie, Uncle Tim, and Grandpa get a tractor ride up to the range.

Grandpa Harvey Robitaille tries shooting my rifle at the range on the hill. Uncle Tim and Moxie cheer him on. Photo: Stan Dunklee

The day after Christmas I skiied at my home trails in Craftsbury and tried out the Outdoor Center’s newly established range and biathlon trails.  It’s wonderful to now have local facilities for training.

On the second day of Christmas... Driving home from practice in Craftsbury, I startled a flock of turkeys that flew into a tree.

For the most part traveling to Germany was uneventful. However, 40 minutes after we left the airport, the rental van started making funny noises and slowed to a crawl.   We pulled over to the side of the Autobahn and discovered the air intake tubes had become disconnected.  We taped them back together with electrical tape and duct tape, which worked great for about 200 meters.  After two more unsuccessful tape jobs, we limped with hazard lights blinking to the next town, resigning ourselves to a exhausting afternoon.  However, luck was with us and we happened upon a Ford service center (being good Americans, of course we were driving a Ford).  Despite the business being closed, we found an employee and convinced him to sell us the part we needed.  It only cost 2 Euro.   Things could have been a lot worse.

Zach Hall and Walt Shepard attempt to fix the van on the side of the Autobahn.

I am now in Siegsdorf, Germany, where I will stay for the next week.  We are training up the road in Ruhpolding, one of Germany’s most famous World Cup venues.  Next week we will travel to Altenberg on the Czech border for the IBU Cup races.

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We arrived in Minnesota about a week and a half ago, and endured several days with a  windchill about -20 degrees.  Year after year, the team travels to Mt. Itasca, in Coleraine, MN for December races, and almost every year the conditions are frigid.  My teammate Carolyn Bramante admitted to owning four different thicknesses of balaclavas (hooded neck warmer that leaves only the face exposed).  That’s a sign of a true Minnesotan, and it gives you an idea of how cold it can get here.

This is the grand Mount Itasca, home of biathlon and xc ski trails, ski jumps, and a downhill area. Yes, that's the whole mountain.

This past weekend, we competed in the first two of five races that determine who will travel to Altenberg, Germany and compete in the IBU cup races.  This year, the stakes are a little higher than usual because those IBU races in Germany will serve as Olympic trials.  I try not to think about that too much (although it is difficult not to) and treat each race like I would any other race.

Temperatures last weekend were barely above the legal race temperature, -4 degrees Farenheit, not including windchill, and the officials delayed the start for a couple hours to coincide with the warmest part of the day.  The races are off to a good start for me; I podiumed in both.  I did have to rely a lot on ski speed to make up for some less than desirable shooting results and I hope to shoot better in future races.  The race series resumes this weekend, with competitions on Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday, so we’ll see what happens.  I keep reminding myself to have fun and enjoy the challenge.

Tracy Colliander, Laura Spector and I on the mass start podium. We look a little cold.

When we aren’t busy skiing and shooting, we entertain ourselves by going bowling and by wandering aimlessly through Target, which is right next door.  However, the highlight for me has been the “Grand Splash” pool at the hotel, featuring a large hot tub and a two-story water slide.  The hot tub is a wonderful treat following a cold day outside, and the slide is a rush.  It’s dark inside, and the corners throw you way up on the wall.  I haven’t played in a hotel pool so much since I was about 10 at the BKL New England ski festival.  At that age, playing in the pool was one of the best parts of the yearly trip.

I’ve also entertained myself by taking pictures.  I spent Monday’s practice shuffling around the course on classic skis and stopped a lot to enjoy the winter wonderland, especially the aftermath of snow-making on some of the trees:

Walt Shepard cruises by a Tree Ent camouflaged under a coat of frost.

Coach Jimmy Upham contemplates whether this snow-sicle is edible. Maybe it is Mountain Dew flavored...

These snow formations remind me of Brontosauruses.

This could be the side-view of a runny nose.

Thanks for your support as I chase after my dreams.   It’s been great to read all your comments!  I didn’t realize so many different friends and family were reading this.

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