Saratoga Snowshoe…sort of

Written by Laura Clark and originally published in our Spring 2016 edition of Trail Times.

This has been a difficult winter, with WMAC Dion Snowshoe Series race directors struggling to locate adequate snow. Hilltop Orchard was delayed twice, Woodford opted for the relay course instead of the treacherous mountain climb and Curly’s relocated to Woodford State Park.

Now it was my turn to lose sleep — not once, but twice. On consecutive weekends. I could only take comfort in the fact that this was not a vendetta against my particular corner of the world but against the entire Northeast region. Kind of levels the playing field.

With the lurching, drunken attitude displayed by Mother Nature, there were major changes to be made every time I explored the Winterfest and Camp Saratoga New York courses. After record rainfall and Jen Ferriss’ photo of a raging Geyser Creek, I briefly considered billing Winterfest as a run/swim biathlon. The following day’s deep freeze caused me to jettison Ferndell Hill as you would have needed an ice pick to make it to the top. Come race day, however, it was totally clear. One day I was advising spikes; the next just a sturdy pair of trail shoes.

The following week at Camp I outlined an ice free-route, only to revise when we (finally!) got a few inches of snow. There was a silver lining to all this, however. Still plagued by some lingering ice patches, I finally had the motivation to do something I have wanted to do for many years — reroute the course to take a turn around the Cornell Hill Fire Tower. Erected in 1924 in Luther Forest, it had fallen into disrepair and was recently refurbished and reassembled at Camp, the premise being now you could ascend a Fire Tower without having to actually climb a mountain. In our case, however, our view was contingent upon having completed over four miles of snowshoeing to get there. The founder of our snowshoe series, Edward Alibozek, always liked it when our courses included a history lesson, so score one for Eddie!

While the erratic winter has been blamed on Global Warming, I would prefer the term Climate Change. Each day our local Saratogian newspaper spotlights notable happenings from 100 years ago. On February 14, 1916 the local reporter wrote, “After unseasonably mild weather for most of December and January, frigid temperatures arrived in Saratoga County…” Lows of minus 40 were reported. And I’m pretty certain they hadn’t invented wind chill yet! So nothing that has happened this winter, hasn’t happened before. I would call that reassuring…lending hope for the 2017 series.

Still, combined subzero temperatures and insane wind chill at Camp on the day before Valentine’s Day caused multiple worries. I fretted that the Chronoprinters would fail, that the drinks would freeze before the woodstove kicked in, that the volunteers would succumb to frostbite. As Jen and I completed what would be the first of many Camp tours, I found myself wishing that my husband Jeff were still with us to lend his advice. Jen pointed at her hand-me-down snowshoes, still marked with the initials JC, and said,” But he is right here with us.”

Thankfully, none of this happened, although Jim Griffith reported for course marshal duties wearing sneakers and no gloves. It’s not like he didn’t know better. He had all the gear, having spent a tour at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Ultimate volunteers, Alice and DonZeiger, who have served as road crossing guards for all thirteen snowshoe races as well as for our Summer Trail Series, set the standard, braving that wind-swept road waiting for the last runner to cross. They are in their eighties. That fact alone made me feel somewhat guilty, but they were able to take turns warming up in their friendly, heated car.

Finally, sweeps Jen Ferriss and Pamela DelSignore emerged from the woods led by Chloe, our WMAC Newfoundland mascot. At ten years old, and a veteran of two leg surgeries, she handily negotiated the tricky 4.5 mile route, turning back multiple times, concerned that the sweeps weren’t keeping up. Some of us were hoping for a rescue keg, but camp is an alcohol-free zone.

Unfortunately, one loyal sidekick will no longer be among us. Fierce Annie was minding her own business in a downtown parking lot when a truck rammed into her backside. So I arrived at both races incognito, escorted by New Car, minus stickers and merit badges. Concerned friends, inquired not as to New Car’s pedigree, but instead wanted to make more direct contact, asking, “What’s his name?” I was touched. Initially, there were many suggestions. I rejected Annie II as sequels can be unreliable. L’Annie was considered as well as Trixie, a variant on Matrix and a heroine of my oldest daughter’s favorite Trixie Belden series.

But the color black suggests a certain dignity and impenetrable nature, so I ultimately went with my daughter Jacky’s suggestion. She had been doing research on Jeff’s family history and had discovered a 12th century Sir Thomas from Kent, England. Coincidently, Jeff’s middle name is Thomas. I thought it was time for another man in my life. Sir Thomas and I are still getting acquainted, but he seems to be adapting to his new role. Like Hudson, the dignified, stiff upper lipped butler in Upstairs, Downstairs, Sir Thomas keeps me reined in, on track and on time.

So when you next see me at a race, come on over and make the acquaintance of Sir Thomas. His manners are impeccable.

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