Ryerson, Moises Vargas and Wolf
Laying in the icy corduroy flat on my back, a sobering thought drifted into my head, “This is going to suck.”
I hadn’t put on a pair of cross country skis since December 1988. That was the winter when I memorably vowed (cried) to my parents that I would never do this ridiculous sport ever again. As soon as I clipped into the skis I flipped straight back on my rear end and subsequently envisioned my two older sisters making fun of me … again. What was I thinking, trying to compete in a biathlon?
At a pace of roughly 5 inches a minute, I slowly made my way to the shooting clinic located at the pack station above Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center. It was the day before the 3rd annual Mammoth Winter Biathlon and I had to polish up on my rifle skills. The last time I’d shot a gun was at YMCA summer camp. However, even back then it didn’t interest me much because once Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner came out I immediately lost interest in shooting a .22 and switched over to archery.
Though it was only about a mile ski to the shooting range, it may as well have been a trek into the endless Siberian tundra. Outfitted in blue jeans, a down jacket and no gloves, I originally thought I would be able to park my car right next to the range, fire off a couple rounds and then head home. I had no clue I would actually have to ski there. In fact, I was naively hoping I wouldn’t have to ski at all.
Forty grueling minutes later, I made it to the shooting range. By the time I arrived a memorable quote from Chunk in the film Goonies had already run through my head at least a dozen times, “I love the dark but I hate nature.” I just wanted to lay down and puke.
Back in high school (when I played sports), I never enjoyed things like running, swimming and cross-country skiing because I always figured that any activity that involves doing laps is punishment, not sport. I’m not really sure why I was trying to do a biathlon. I guess when you think about it, it’s about as ridiculous as someone becoming a teacher who hates kids, but everyone knows if you do a sport that only 2 percent of the world’s population does, then you have an awesome shot at making the Olympics.
So there I was, half keeled over, sweating like Horatio Sands and trying to listen to a lecture about how to shoot a little circle from 25 yards away. After a few rounds and some helpful tips from event organizer Dr. Mike Karch, I realized that I wasn’t that bad of a shot. In fact, by the end of the session I had only missed once, thank you YMCA.
The biathlon event I had chosen featured a 6K ski including three loops around a track and two stops at a shooting range. When (and in my case if) you get to the shooting range and you miss, you have to do a penalty lap for every botched shot. I didn’t want to ski an inch more than I had to. I knew that if I was going to have any chance at winning this thing – I mean finishing this thing, I needed to knock ‘em all down.
That evening I decided to celebrate, seeing as I’d only fallen three times on my round-trip ski to the clinic. Fast forward to 2 a.m. and you’ll find me finishing a PBR at the Dubliner and arguing with my girlfriend about why everyone should love the rap group Naughty by Nature.
When I woke up not too much later that morning to let the dog out, I stood outside in the snow and contemplated performing a Jedi-Puke. Common definition: a Jedi-Knight can control minds with a wave of his finger, so obviously a Jedi-Puke is when you control your gag reflex … with your finger.
Ultimately, I put away the finger and decided to suppress the flow.
On my drive up to Tamarack, I stayed positive by thinking about this documentary that I once saw about Andre Agassi. Apparently, one time he partied all night, woke up early, ate some Burger King and then won the U.S. Open. I was up all night and instead of B.K. I had a hearty bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats … with sliced banana. Advantage Wolf.
This time, making it to the course wasn’t that bad, I didn’t fall on my a** and the skis were fast … kinda. Actually, on my way up to the course I was pacing an overweight, elderly man with a beard who was on foot.
But the more I skied, the more I came up with new methods to move the skis. The day before, when I got the rentals, I asked the lady at the Tamarack rental shop for the fastest skis she had.
“Okay, when’s the last time you skied?” she asked.
“A few years back,” I said, “but it’s all the same, right?”
She raised her eyebrow and gave me a good look down and replied, “How about I give you some gliders?”
I think she thought I looked fast.
But today, I have to admit, I was moving a little faster. However, it just didn’t feel very fast. This was due mostly to the observation that when I arrived at the race, everyone else was wearing a sleek speed suit. I know it doesn’t matter, but I wasn’t feeling very speedy rocking a sweatshirt and sweatpants … whiiiiich turned out to be alright because my friend Benny Ryerson showed up sporting basketball shorts.
I suppose it’s important to point out I wasn’t doing this biathlon because I thought I could make the Olympics. Actually, Benny and I had a bottle of Jose Cuervo Silver on the line.
The event was packed. There were over 160 racers and a sizable crowd, which in fact made the 3rd annual Mammoth Winter Biathlon the largest in the nation. The “Elite” group went first, and finished the 10K in roughly a half hour, while I hoped to finish the 6K in under an hour.
As I waited for the adult beginner round to start, a surprise gift for me arrived. Similar to The Lord Of The Rings when Frodo gets that magic cloak from those elf chicks, my friend Cindy showed up with a red, white and blue speed suit with flames rising up the legs. The suit resembled a cross between Captain America, Spiderman and Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir.
I was feeling pretty good, but I needed to find a place to put it on.
My only option was the public restroom, aka the port-a-potty. I don’t know how superheroes do it, but putting on a spandex suit in a confined space is nearly impossible, especially when you throw in the variable of pee spatter and a scary black abyss. I eventually finished changing and opened the door. A women immediately scolded me for taking to long, “God, what were you doing in there?!” she said.
Soon my group was up, and we were herded into a small corral as we waited our turn, separated by one minute staggered starts. “Mr. Wolf, you’re up in one minute,” a women yelled to my left. “30 seconds!” I actually felt a little nervous. Maybe it was because I didn’t want to get beat by Benny … or by any one of the septuagenarians also in our group. “10 seconds…..5, 4, 3, 2, 1 go!”
As I glided down the first straightaway, I decided that since I’m a decent downhill skier, I would make up time by going as fast as possible on the downhill sections. Huge mistake. When I got to the first hill, I squatted down in a tuck position and picked up speed exponentially. This worked for about 50 feet ‘til I started veering toward a group of trees. I couldn’t turn! It was as if my skis were stuck to the damn snow. I knew I had to take a dive, so I fell back on my a**. Surprisingly, I felt okay. The funny thing about cross-country skiing is that no matter how fast you go I’m pretty sure you can always run faster. I think it’s safe to say that eating it on cross country skis is about as bad as falling off your mom’s NordicTrack.
Coming around the corner where most of the crowds were, I pushed hard. I had to keep up the appearance of agony. “You can do it, keep it up,” someone yelled. I arrived at the shooting range and decided to go with the standing position first, figuring I would be whipped by the second time I would shoot and the prone (laying) position would naturally be easier.
I picked up the gun (they wouldn’t let the newbies carry the rifles during the skiing sections) and looked through the sight. “Damn it,” I was holding a different gun than what I had practiced with. Not only was the sight completely different, but it looked like a little Nerf gun. Not wanting to waste anytime trying to figure it out, I asked myself WWRD? Translation: What would Rambo Do? I took the gun and blindly shot like my life depended on it. “Hey I hit a couple of targets. This isn’t so bad,” I thought. I did my 3, 250 meter penalty laps and continued on.
Inching through the course I made it back to the hill where I previously took a slow-motion dive, but this time I skied by the small group of trees…in slow-motion. The crowd was coming up so I purposely let out a couple grunts as I went by … you know because it looks and sounds awesome.
I didn’t want to trust my shooting this time to the Rambo technique so when I got to the shooting range I took a minute to figure out the sight on the rifle. Peering through the little hole, I saw the target. Man I wanted that free tequila. When I relaxed my right eye and held my breath the sights began to line up and it actually made some sense. 1,2,3,4 and 5 I knocked ‘em all down and rode off like Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter.
Last lap, so naturally Europe‘s Final Countdown was jamming in my head. I was pretty dialed in, but when I got to a straightaway Dan McConnell from local television, Channel 72, skied up next to me and began interviewing me. McConnell: So how ya feelin’? Wolf: I’m a little hung over, but other than sweating beer I think I’m doing alright. McConnell: Anything you want to say to the viewers? Wolf: If you drink before a biathlon it’s actually a triathlon. Stay in school.
Coming around the final stretch, cowbells were rattling and people cheered, which I’m pretty sure they did for everyone, but it was still pretty sweet to hear when I crossed the line.
I waited around for Benny to finish since he started a few minutes after me. When he finally crossed the finish line he was so haggard he resembled a piece of chewed up bacon. “You doing alright?” I asked, “I’m completely destroyed,” he responded, “I only hit one target.”
I started doing super complicated mathematics in my head to determine if I had beaten Benny or not. Y=MX+B… I figured I’d won with all the extra laps he’d had to do. I started envisioning all the margaritas and victory shots I would soon be enjoying at Benny’s expense.
A few days later I received an early morning phone call from Benny. “Dude, I’m sorry but you looooooost. Yeah! I checked it online and you came in a solid ten minutes after me.”
I laid in bed shocked and still sore from my virtual victory a few days back. Dammit, I had already bought two different types of margarita mix.
But you know, it’s alright. Before I started the race a random lady rocking some spandex said to me, “It doesn’t matter how well you do, it’s all about having a good time!” Pfff. Sounded like self-handicapping loser talk. But in retrospect (after losing) maybe she’s right. I still had an awesome time. I guess all it takes is some tequila, guns and spandex to make a “punishment” like cross-country skiing more interesting. Besides, there’s always next year‘s biathlon.