While I travel with the National team to countries far and wide, we don’t necessarily get a chance to be a ‘tourist’ in those countries. Occasionally an afternoon in a city, browsing the downtown, hunting for yet a better coffee joint. Maybe a meal out on the town either for a change of pace or in celebration. But it’s the little things, the behind the scenes experiences that make travel the opportunity that it is. For instance if you were to go to New Zealand, one might take part in something extreme; bungee jumping, or cruise a breath-taking fjord.
Don’t get me wrong, there are those rare opportunities where I do get a chance to be a tourist. I have exactly been to two fjords in New Zealand, Milford and Doubtful Sound. I’ve had delicious lamb and mussels in New Zealand, cheered alongside die-hard All Black fans against their bitter rivals, Australia. This morning though I may have been a highlight. I was able to experience something completely new to me; driving on the left side of the road and driving on that side of the road from the other side of the car as well. To be clear it wasn’t just easy highway driving either. As a convoy of vehicles, the team started at the top of a mountain range at the Snow Farm (more about the Snow Farm in a bit) and began snaking our way down to the Cardrona valley floor. A 13km dirt road with countless hairpins and switch-back corners stood in our way. In our winter, New Zealand’s summer the road is used as a World Rally stage, so it’s no slouch. Turning left onto the paved road, passing through the small but quaint town of Cardrona and onwards to the Crown Range Pass. The road gently climbs up to the top of the pass. As you go over the top the tight corners and switch-back come back with a vengeance. The tarmac levels out as you cruise on somewhat of a plateau before the final descent. The final section (or first section) depending on what direction you take is a piece of work. With its very short straightaways and multiple 180◦ switch-back corners. It was an incredibly fun drive, if you get a chance to drive from Queenstown, over the Crown Range and onto Dunedin, it quite possibly be the best driving road ever. The final push to the Queenstown Airport was about 17km of highway. Three quick roundabouts going the opposite way (luckily we were making left turns which are as easy as making right turns here in Canada) and we arrived at the airport. It is such a simple thing, it’s just driving, but it was an awesome experience! It was made partly because I had a car that may have had some pep but mostly because of the experience.
Back to the beginning, I have just wrapped up an on-snow training camp at the Snow Farm in New Zealand. This was my third time down to the South Island for this August training camp. It was only a few years ago that the Snow Farm was the hushed up training ground of American and Canadian cross country teams, with the occasional Japanese or Korean. That’s not the case anymore. During my three week stay, the Russian Sprint team was there as well as Justyna Kowalczyk from Poland, Anastasiya Kuzmina of Slovakia, the American Men’s team, Canadian Men’s team along with the Japanese Able-bodied and Para teams and Korea’s Able-bodied and Para teams. Needless to say the Snow Farm Lodge was a packed place. I can’t blame the athletes for wanting to come; great conditions, though the snow arrived a little later this year, the quality was still great. The incredible food, catered by Flying Trestles, a Kiwi company that has catered large movie sets; like Lord of the Rings. And now with some of the biggest names in the sport training here the races are nearing World Cup caliber as well.
Arriving at the Snow Farm on August 9 we had a rather short turn over time before we would hit the starting line for the first of several races planned for our camp. This first race was a 15km classic Mass Start. As part of my training I went into the FIS race, to clarify that means I was racing some of the best Men in the World. Current World Champions, World Cup winners and top-10 overall finishers, just to name a few. I was pleased with the race; I had some very strong points throughout the race with the video showing that the technique work we had been doing previous was starting to become engrained even at the end of a race. The following day was to be the Sprint race which the team was not participating in but would return to training for the Tuesday 10km skate. Or rather that was the plan. Sunday night a winter storm covered New Zealand. A fair amount of snow did fall but it was the high sustained winds (ranging from 50km to 70km/h) that were really playing havoc. After the storm blow off, it was said to have been the worst winter storm to hit New Zealand in over 50 years. Auckland, New Zealand’s capital and located quite far north received snow for the first time in nearly 75 years. Monday everyone at the Lodge was forced to remain inside or attempt to make it down to Wanaka to train. This is not unusual, in both previous years I’ve been to the Snow Farm there was a day where we had to stay inside because of a storm. What made this year’s special was that on Tuesday the storm was still raging; in fact most believed the storm was worse on Tuesday than it had been on Monday. The call was made to cancel the second third race. It meant we had a second day stuck inside.
On Wednesday morning the storm had let up and the athletes wasted no time in getting out, with some of the early skiers making tracks closer to 7:30. That left only three days before the Merino Muster. The Muster would be our next race, a choice between 7, 21 or 42km. I had completed the 21km twice before and was looking forward to attempting it for a third, unfortunately it was not to be. Thursday afternoon I began having a stuffy nose and woke up Friday with a cold. Now my concern wasn’t to race the Muster but rather to get better quickly so I could get back to training for the final week. I couldn’t help but cheer on my teammates as they raced in the Muster. Colette (sit-skier) finishing the 21km in a time that would be impressive for a standing skier. She was followed by her entourage, Coach Robin. I really earned my meal that night as I fed both Brian and Erik at the halfway point of their 42km races. They didn’t make it easy for me, coming in 1-2. Maybe the secret to a successful feed is to have a guy with one arm. Finally in a bit of a role reversal I gave a feed to our wax tech who was also racing the 42km.
The final week seemed to fly by. As I got back to training and was able to put in some high quality hours. On that Friday I was told about a biathlon race that the local club was going to put on. It seems that any time New Zealand puts on a race there are some kind of International participation. For instance this Biathlon race including athletes from Slovakia, Canada, America and New Zealand. I was girled! To be fair it was to Anastasiya who does have two Olympic medals (gold & silver) and a World Championship medal (bronze). I took the Men’s race, skiing went well but my shooting was only ok, missing four targets total (1-1-2-0).
With that came the close to our 2011 New Zealand camp. The travel home was uneventful, everything was on time and we landed in Calgary only two hours after we left Queenstown, New Zealand. To explain, New Zealand is a day ahead but six hours behind Calgary. It sounds crazy but trust me it works out.