Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Big plans for 2018

Oslo is having the best (or depending upon how you look at it, worst) winter since I've moved here. Yesterday it snowed nearly 50 cm, and there was chaos and delays in all transport, public and otherwise. It's a big start to what I hope will be a big year.

Snow running is usually slower than this...
I have some audacious goals for 2018 (amongst them to finish my PhD!). In terms of running, the biggest one is to train patiently, and not get injured. Progress doesn't happen overnight, it happens over consistent years. That said, I'm cautiously trying to up my game by including two hard workouts a week as opposed to one from years previous.

Here's what else I have planned:

Although skiing is great, the snow makes it hard to get in any decent running. Next week I'm headed to Tenerife for a training camp with OSI track team. I'm looking forward living the run, eat, repeat life for a week. We don't get a lot of sun in Norway this time of year, some I'm sure the vitamin D will be good too.

I hope I get to run in shorts some this year! Here on Bispen during my honeymoon.
In March, Audun and I will be travelling to Arizona to visit my parents, who are based in Tucson for the year. Expect some epic mountain bike rides, slot canyons and desert trail runs!

In late April I plan to run the 10K at Sentrumsløpet in Oslo. I hope I can finally throw off the jinx from the last year - I got sick before both of the 10K I raced (exhibit A, exhibit B)! I'm definitely faster than when I ran my PR of 42:58 a year and a half ago. Although I'm a little scared to say it out loud, I think I could be in shape to run a sub-40 min 10K in April if I play my cards right. I'm at least read to try really, really hard!

All-out speed is not my strength, but I'm willing to try! From Holmenkollstafetten last year.
Then I'll be running the world's largest relay race Holmenkollstafetten for OSI track team in early May. After a good result last year we've progressed to the women's elite division, so this could get interesting.

Switching gears completely, I'll be going back to Oslo Ecotrail for my first ultra of the year at the end of May. Although I would love revenge on the 45K (now 50K) course, I've decided this is the year of go big or go home. I'll be race the 80K distance on my home trails. My goal is to finish strong, because really this will just be a training race for the big things to come during the summer.

I spent the last 25K of Ecotrail 2016 dealing with a demon cramp. Hopefully I can do better this time!
This is the point where I admit I've been really bold, and signed up for Salomon Xreid. Xreid is a racing that moves location within Norway every year, and this year it's going to be set in the mountains Jotunheimen. At around 100k with 6000 meters of vertical gain, it's a beast of a course. Somehow, completing Jotunheimen Rundt last year has instilled me with a calm confidence that I can do it if I set my mind to it (and put in appropriate training, obviously). We'll see if my faith in myself is well placed!

Biking touring in Croatia and Italy in 2015.
In late June I'm planning to turn in my PhD thesis, and then take the summer off to celebrate. I'm planning to go for a long bike tour, with a large amount of trail running mixed in. I'll start from Oslo and point my wheels towards to Alps. Hopefully I'll come out of my Summer of Adventure fit and ready to go for the last big race...

Who wouldn't want to go back to this?
Unfortunately I wasn't drawn in the lottery for Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix last week. Luckily I have an alternative that is just as good, and that is going back to Ultra Tour Monte Rosa for the new 100 km ultra. Basically I will run most of what I completed as a 3-day stage race in one day. (And that does sound stupid when I say it out loud.) This will be my goal race of the season, and I hope to turn whatever lessons I learn during Xreid and a long summer of training into a solid race.

What are your plans for 2018?

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Friday, January 12, 2018

Tales from a (very very) long ski

Five brave adventurers boarded on the train to Gjøvik on Saturday morning with skis and backpacks full of snacks. We weren't the only skiers on board the train, which offers unparalleled access to the far reaches of the forest north of Oslo. Stop by stop, all the other skiers got off until only we - me, Audun, Vibeke, David and Henrik - remained. We had taken the train so far north it was hard to imagine one could ski all the way back to Oslo again.


The sun lit the tops of the trees as we set out from Raufoss. The early hours were full of optimism and joy. What a day, wasn't in magnificent? Skiing seemed so easy, we would practically fly home to Oslo, I was sure. My hands went numb to begin with but quickly warmed in time with the crunching snow under my swinging poles.


The ski back to Oslo is in excess of 130 km, and we planned to complete it over two days. We wanted to spend the night at a cushy hotel in Lygna, but unfortunately the Norwegian national biathlon championships were being held that weekend, so there were no rooms available. We settled on a tiny DNT cabin 15 km south of Lygna, which would offer somewhat more rustic accommodations.


Our ski took us through the middle of no-where. We only saw a handful of other skiers all day, which would never happen closer to populous Oslo. After following broad tracks for the first hour or so out of Raufoss, the trails grew narrower and narrower until they were just a single track plowed by a snow scooter. The scooter tracks were prone to driving bumpier, more challenging routes than a groomer would, and this felt like real adventure skiing somehow.


It was a chilly day and the rays of slanted sun were too weak to provide any real warmth. I struggled to eat enough. Every time I wanted to eat I had to stop, take off my backpack, and usually take off my gloves. All of the blood would withdraw from my hands as I started skiing again, and it would take 20-odd minutes to warm them up completely. I definitely need to find a way to make have easier access to snacks on a long ski!

I was glad when we hit a long uphill that stoked my internal furnace. We weren't moving fast, though, far from the 10 km/h we had thrown around while talking on the train ride. I began to feel the mental restlessness that comes during a long outing. I couldn't help glancing at my watch, registering how far we still had to go, and wondering if we would really get there. I had to settle in the to the rhythm of acceptance, to find the zen of knowing that as long as we continued to move forward we would get there. At some point.


The trail hit a long flat stretch, crossing several open areas that must be bogs in the summer. The sky was orange on one side and purple on the other, a mark of impending dusk. I found my stride and I skied along, faster and faster. I felt like I was flying, and all of a sudden I turned around and my companions were no where to be seen. They had stopped for a snack and I hadn't even noticed!

The sun set at 3:30 pm, and we took out our headlamps not long afterwards. We were closing in on the dreaded red section on the map, the section that had not been previously tracked. The ski trail was an open strip through the forest. We rotated leads, making slow first tracks through the deep powder. The world was narrowed down to what was illuminated by the beam of my headlamp.



Deep tracks revealed that a moose had meandered back and forth along the ski trail. I hoped I didn't run into him around a corner! Feather marks in the snow showed where a bird had taken off. Other than the animal tracks, the world was pristine and white.

I was breaking trail when I saw a signpost in the distance. As it drew closer, I realized a ski trail ran past it and gave a whoop of joy. The going was about to get a lot faster!

The final kilometers to Lygnasæter passed quickly, and soon we were crossing the first road all day and entering a warm restaurant. Lygnasæter served enormous portions of dinner, and we spent an hour contentedly filling our bellies and stretching. But the day wasn't over yet.


Buoyed by supper, we headed back out into the cold for the final 15K to Sagvollen. The night sky was spangled with stars, and the snow glittered in our headlamp beams and squeaked under the pressure of our poles. I was very tired, but my body seemed to have adapted to constant motion and continued to ski without input from my brain. 

We reached the unserviced DNT cabin of Kjørestua around 9 pm, after skiing just shy of 69 km, by far my longest day on skis ever. The cabin was freezing, and we quickly set about stoking the fire before heading to bed. Tomorrow would be just as long.


We meant to start early the next morning. I got up first, and began to melt snow for breakfast and drinking water. Unfortunately, I melted way too much snow and we waited for almost a hour for the water to boil. I felt angry with myself for delaying our departure, although it was still just before sunrise when we locked up the cabin and headed out on the ski trails.


As we began to ski, my hands froze solid. This was by now a familiar feeling, and I knew my internal furnace would warm them up if I continued to move. We were treated to a beautiful sunrise.


Our first goal for the day was Grua, a train station where we would be joined by another friend. Many of the kilometers to Grua were on challenging, rolling scooter track and I felt mounting fatigue compounded from the day before. I thought about how far we had to go, and how much longer we would be skiing for. I thought about how easy it would be to get on the train, to go home and lie on the couch. By the time we got to the train station I was mentally finished. I knew I could ski the last 50 km to Oslo, but I simply didn't want to. I was content to go home and spend the afternoon watching Tour de Ski.

I spent some time being disappointed and angry at myself - Don't I always write about overcoming challenges? How could I possibly write that I quit? But when I woke up on Monday morning full of energy, I realized it was the right decision. Despite bailing at Grua, the weekend's adventure had been my longest ski ever, and had challenged me mentally and physically. And maybe someday I'll go back to do the whole thing!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Monday, January 8, 2018

A very white Christmas

In temperamental Norway, white Christmas is never a given. As we packed for Christmas celebrations in Audun's hometown of Tingvoll, I tucked running shoes alongside ski gear, not knowing what this holiday season would bring.


We decided to break up the severn hour drive north with a stop for cross-country skiing at Sjusjøen (of Birkebeiner fame) above Lillehammer. Although there was some light rain during our ski, wonderful, fast ski tracks and slanted December light made up for it.


The winter storm Birk was battering the west coast of Norway, but luckily the only mountain pass we had to drive across, Dovre, was far enough inland to be spared. The result of the storm was snow, snow and more snow in Tingvoll, and on Christmas Eve we joyously headed out to the local ski trails.


Unfortunately the groomer had decided to take the day off. A heavy layer of sticky new snow combined with skinny cross-country skis did not make for fast skiing. Still, I was ecstatic to be moving through a magical, snowy world, no matter how slowly.


They groomed on Christmas day, and the skiing was much faster.

After a quiet Christmas celebration, we headed to Oppdal with Audun's parents. It had snowed a ton in Oppdal as well and we decided to break out the telemark skis and buy lift tickets. Somehow we managed to overlook the strong winds in the weather forecast!


Above tree line, the visibility was low to none, and windblown icy snow crystals felt like daggers on to any unprotected skin. It was a day for staying below treeline, and we found a sweet powder stash out of the strong winds.


After lunch, the wind had picked up even more, and they closed all of the lifts. So much for lift serve! We drove into Bårdsgården, the DNT hut where we were planning to spend the next couple days, and in my restlessness I put in a short run. Lesson: downhill skiing legs make terrible running legs.


The wind had abated the next day, and there was sun on the forecast. It was a frigid -18°C as Audun, my mother-in-law Marianne and I got ready to skin up towards Okla. Skinning uphill is hard work, and we warmed up quickly. Still, we were happy when we ascended into the rays of the late December sun, which warmed the soul if not the body.


Unsurprisingly, the summit ridge was windswept and nearly devoid of snow. We turned before the summit (which is rather flat and uninspiring anyway). The conditions on the way down were variable, with hidden pockets of pow dabbed among larger section of tough windblown crust. Needless to say, there were a lot of hilarious falls!


The snow in the trees had been protected from the wind. It was so much fun Audun and I decided to climb up the other side of the valley for a second lap. We were out of the sun this time, as it was now setting, but the skiing was magnificent.


The cold, clear day turned into a cold, starry night, and we bundled up to go out stargazing. We walked down the road until we could no longer see the lights of the nearby farm. We were alone with the bright moon floodlighting the landscape, and endless twinkling stars appearing as our vision adjusted to the night.


The next day we decided to check out the nearby cross-country ski tracks. I had developed a sore throat, a fact I choose to ignore so I could go outside and play! The tracks took us up towards beautiful Innerdalen, and provided panoramic mountain views that differ greatly from the heavily forested ski trails around Oslo.


We were out relatively early, and had the freshly groomed tracks to ourselves until we turned near the end of Tovatn lake. We stopped for a brief snack before a long downhill to the valley, and I started to notice the penetrating cold. My hands grew numb as we sped downhill, and I stopped to put on mittens in a futile attempt to warm them up.


The final kilometers along Ångårdsvatnet lake were absolutely frigid, and the snow creak under our skis as we rushed to get back to the warmth of the hut. It's fun being out in the cold, but it's also fun to warm up afterwards!


With more sun on the forecast, we decided to see if we could bag a new peak before heading to Skarvatnet for our traditional New Year's celebration with friends. It was another cold, clear day on Roksdalskammen, with the spectacular slanting sun casting blue shadows in the valley below.


The snow above tree line was just as windblown as the previous days, but we decided to go to the summit anyway. This was a new one for me and I like collecting peaks.


We managed to find some decent snow on the way down, although the best was in the trees as before. Unfortunately the tree skiing involved a lot of bush whacking, of the 'use your helmet to deflect branches' variety.


We skied into our friend Andreas' cabin at Skarvatnet for the final days of 2017, and revelled in more beautiful cross-country. I don't think I've ever seen so much sun between Christmas and New Year's in Norway!


A crowd of 20 gathered at Andreas'  cabin on New Year's eve. We celebrated with due pomp and circumstance, eating Norwegian 'pinnekjøtt' (steamed salted sheep's ribs), setting off fireworks at midnight, and of course, swimming in the frigid lake on New Year's day.


Happy 2018! Here's to another year of adventure!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017 in photos

One of my favorite blogs often does a 'year in photos', and I thought I would follow suit by picking one photo from every month of 2017. Although perusing photos from the year was enjoyable, it was a surprisingly difficult task. Obviously it was hard to pick the 'best' photo - should it be the highest quality photo, or the most meaningful? - but I was also surprised to see how my year had accordioned. Some months seemed to have disappeared, leaving behind relatively few pictures to choose from, whereas others have so many photos I could easily have included 5.

Anyway, without further ado, here's my 2017 in one photo a month!

January

Location: Furano, Hokkaido, Japan
Photographer: Me


January was Japanuary this year, and this was any easy pick. Audun broke his wrist punching a tree on our first day skiing, and after two rest days, resumed battle with the trees with one arm. If it slowed him down at all, I didn't notice.

February

Location: Skeikampen, Norway
Photographer: Me


After traveling to Japan for skiing and then spending another two weeks in Asia for work, the remainder of February was a slow month. One memorable weekend was spent cross-country skiing at Skeipkampen (and relaxing watching world cup cross-country skiing) with our friends Vibeke and David. We got in one long ski tour in beautiful weather, which built my confidence to eventually sign up for the Birkebeiner. The picture is of Vibeke enjoying perfect ski tracks, sun and a gorgeous view.

March

Location: Lillehammer, Norway
Photographer: Sportograf for Birkebeiner



The Birkebeiner is kind of the holy grail of cross-country ski races, and it's been on my bucket list for a while. This year, noticing that the forecast for the weekend was stunning, I decided to sign up only two days before the event. This picture shows me in the final lap to the finish, overjoyed and tired after a beautiful day skiing over the mountain. Full race report here.

April

Location: Slogen, Sunnmøre, Norway
Photographer: Audun


Hands down the most memorable ski day in 2017 was on Slogen. After skiing down the main face of the mountain, I saw Ken Roger splitting his split board to climb up an untouched knoll. Spurred on by the beauty of the day, I convinced Ingeborg to join me in climbing a little extra to get in a few turns. Fortuitously, Audun was in position to photograph us as we tore down the face. It was just as fun as it looks!

May

Location: Norddal, Sunnmøre, Norway
Photographer: Audun


In May, Audun and I travelled to Norddal on the west coast for a rollercoaster of events. Firstly, Audun's grandmother passed away on May 17, and we went to attend the funeral. She was a wonderful, strong woman with an incredibly positive outlook on life, and I am glad to have known her. Secondly, we were attended Audun's cousin's confirmation, a coming-of-age celebration that merits a full family reunion in Norwegian culture. In between the whirlwind of happy and sad events, Audun and I got out for a run above the family farm. I look just as contemplative as I felt in this photo, running to digest all of the goings on and experiences. This was a quiet moment in all the rush.

June

Location: Yangmingshan National Park, Taipei, Taiwan
Photographer: Me


In June I travelled to China, Taiwan and Japan for work again, and spent the weekend in Taipei. I'm pretty comfortable getting around on my own in Taipei now, and so I planned a rather ambitious run in Yangmingshan National Park on the outskirts of the city. It was murderously hot, and the mountains were steep and bedecked with endless stone stairs. Here's a selfie I took on the way up Mt Datun, trying to capture just how steep it was.

July

Location: Sogndal, Norway
Photographer: A bystander (on my phone)



Completing Jotunheimen Rundt means more and more to me as time goes on. I struggled throughout the night, and seriously contemplated quitting. I simply didn't know if I would ever feel better. But there was a turning point, and I emerged from the depths of terrible night to a new and beautiful dawn. Completing such a long race showed me that I am stronger than my fatigue, and opens seemingly endless possibilities I hope to embrace in 2018. This photo shows our team, capturing the fatigue and the elation of spending 19 1/2 hours together on bicycles. We trained together, encouraged each other through the race, and somehow made it through to the finish.

August

Location: Herdalssetra, Sunnmøre, Norway
Photographer: Annavitte Rand



I would be remiss if I didn't mention my wedding! Audun and I tied the knot near his ancestral home in Norddal, on a grey, drizzling, cold August day. Despite challenging weather, we held an outdoor ceremony in a tent at Herdalssetra. I wouldn't have made it through the day without the beautiful wool sweater that my sister (and maid of honor) Zoe knitted to go with my wedding dress. The first picture is at Herdal lake near Audun's family cabin, while the second shows a ski pole salute from our friends and family as we exit the tent as newly weds.

September

Location: Innerdalen, Norway
Photographer: Me


In September I went on a spontaneous climbing trip that I had no business being on. I took this picture of Hilde early on in our climb of the northwest ridge of Innerdalstårnet. I think I succeeded in capturing both the exposure and the beauty of being up on the wall.

October

Location: Oslo, Norway
Photographer: Audun


This picture is from the last race in an uphill series I ran throughout the summer. I'm in red (both t-shirt and face), gasping for breath with no energy to smile for the camera, still less than halfway through the 30 minute competition.

November

November was kind of a dead month. I mostly recovered from several nasty colds, and cooked and baked a lot. I didn't find any pictures I really loved from November, so I put in an extra wedding picture (see August) instead.

December

Location: Blefjell, Norway
Photographer: Audun


Audun and I spent an early December weekend in skiing in Blefjell. We battled strong winds for most of the weekend. This photo captures swirls of snow animated by the wind at my feet, a beautiful illustration of the element we fought.

Here's to a memorable 2018!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Blefjell

Early season skiing is always a bit of a gamble. You can peruse weather forecast and snow maps for as long as you like, but at some point you have to go out there and check it out for yourself.

So it was that Audun and I headed to Blefjell, 2 hours outside of Oslo, for the first weekend of December. We were cautiously optimistic, but decided not to have too ambitious a goal for the day in case the conditions were adverse.


It was a grey morning, with animated cloud cover and the sun glowing like an ember on the horizon. We followed the vague imprint of a summer trail through the forest, then turned uphill towards the mountains. Exposed clumps of blueberry and heather peaked out of the marginal snow cover.

We had gambled, and the snow was not the best, but at least it was a beautiful day in a beautiful place.

Just barely enough snow!
Gradually, the wind picked up and it began to snow in big, sticky clumps. I bundled into my hood and ski goggles, starting to feel like a polar explorer in this tiny wilderness not really all that far from civilization.

The weather worsens.
The second half of our ski to Sigridsbu was downright nasty. We could barely hear each other over the wind, and the blowing snow stung my face. I was glad we didn't have to ski too far to get to the safety of the cabin.

Audun heads into the vortex.
We arrived at the hut around lunchtime, and stoked the fire and snacked for a while. I grew restless, and discovering that the wind had calmed a bit, suggested a foray to a nearby peak.

With sunset drawing close, the light seemed to get more dramatic. Still, it was nothing like what we saw when the moon came out a later in the evening...


Unbeknownst to us, a supermoon rose and lit up the landscape, almost brighter than the weak December sun. After peaking out the cabin window, I insisted we walk around to check it out. The landscape was illuminated in black and white, and if it weren't for the persistent wind I would have requested on a longer foray. As it was there was something magical about being out under that moon.

The moon over Blefjell. The picture doesn't quite capture it - some things you have to experience for yourself!

The next day dawned sunny but windy. Despite the wind, we decided to climb Store Ble, the largest peak in the area, and make a larger half circle back to the car.

Making tracks into the wind.
The wind was persistent and strong, and we were bundled into our hoods nearly all day. We only afforded a short stop on top of Store Ble, the windiest point in the area, before continuing on.

It looks like a beautiful sunny day, but the photo doesn't do the wind justice.

We followed some old ski tracks through the other desolate mountains. The wind had inverted them in places. The landscape around us was marred with sastrugi, like a frozen ocean desperately trying to lick some distance shore.

Inverted ski tracks below Store Ble

After a short lunch break, my hands froze, and I had to put on my big mittens. It seemed strange to be bundled up on such a beautiful day, but the wind sucked all the warmth out of us.

Wind swirls around my feet.
We descended from the mountain to a tree-covered plain that we hoped would afford easy skiing back to the car. We were wrong. We spent the afternoon bush-whacking through tightly-grown birch and spruce forest, while sinking in to sugary snow that lay under a nice frozen crust. I grew so frustrated that I declared this the worst ski adventure ever. I have since changed my mind.


Audun leads the way through the Forest of Fun. Not.

Strava here, here and here.

- The Wild Bazilchuk