Immediately after the sprint in Moscow we had to race back to the hotel, shower, pack, eat dinner and then we climbed on a bus with the Norwegian team to drove to Rybinsk, Russia. We didn’t leave until after 8pm and I had heard rumors that it was going to be an eight hour drive but I hoped this wasn’t true. The traffic was horrendous and it took a couple hours just to get out of Moscow. For about an hour we were leap frogging with an ambulance who was stuck a couple lanes over. Hopefully whoever was in it wasn’t too seriously injured. When we finally got out of the city limits, the quality of the roads deteriorated quickly and those of us in the back of the bus were getting launched out of our seats. The bathroom on the bus was out of commission and so we would periodically stop and the entire bus would get out and take a pee break together on the side of the road. I was able to sleep a bit but woke up at one point and looked out the window to see the bus driver and two other guys peering over a map that was laid out on the hood of a random car. We promptly made a U-turn once we were started moving again and the Russian travel adventures continued. We finally mad it to our cabin at 4am and a bed has never felt any sweeter.
The next morning we woke up and bundled heavily for the walk to breakfast. Brrrr….. it was even colder here than in Moscow. Breakfast was an experience in itself. The buffet included two kinds of rice pudding, hot dogs, baked cottage cheese, pickled fish and vegetables, gum drops, cheese cubes, strawberry and kiwi yogurt that tasted more like pudding, dried fruit infused with neon dye, white bread, raisin sauce, and some other interesting items. It was quite the spread!
Rybinsk itself was on a river and it was really pretty but too cold to spend much time outside. The temperatures were getting as low as -27 or -28C at night and barely warming up during the day. It warmed up just enough on the race days to peak above the legal limit of -20C but with the windchill it was definitely below that. Saturday was a 10/15km mass start and Sunday was a 15km skiathlon. I was only racing the skiathlon on Sunday which turned out to be the warmer day of the weekend. It was all relative though and I still had to wear a lot of wool layers under my suit to stay warm.
Skiathlons (7.5km classic then exchange your skis and poles for skate equipment and race 7.5km skate) are not very common in the US so I was excited to get the chance to do one. It was a very competitive field and I was seeded 51 out of 53 which meant I had a lot of room for improvement but not much room to move down. Like every other mass start race on the World Cup, the top women went for it from the gun and the pace was fast. Crazy fast! Being at the back made for a lot of yo-yoing and I found myself sprinting and then stopping as the pack compressed on transitions and then spread out again. It was quite a ride and I was trying to hang on. The course was a 2.5km lap which we would be d0ing six times. When I came through the lap the first time the coaches were holding a feed of warm Gatorade. Normally after having been taught well at Dartmouth, I wouldn’t take a feed in a 15km but the coaches had suggested it for this race in the cold. Plus it looked so good in front of me so I gulped the sweet drink down. Big mistake I found out very quickly as my stomach cramped and I forced myself to continue skiing and not lose too much contact. This was looking to be a long race! But then towards the end of the classic leg my stomach started feeling better and my body was also warming up to the race. I started catching ladies that had started a bit too fast. Normally I would be the on dying, especially skating at the end of a long race but this was really fun! I continued to feel better and better and by my last lap I felt great so it was a nice way to finish the race. I crossed the line in 37th which had beat my bib number and tied my best World Cup distance race so I was psyched! Being able to put on my down coat and sip some warm sweet tea was also a really nice feeling.
The next morning we were bused to Yaroslavl where we flew on a charter flight back to Munich. Yaroslavl is the airport where the plane crashed last summer on take off and an entire Russian hockey team was killed. I found out right before our flight that we would be the first non-military flight to take off at that airport since that tragedy so we were all a little nervous as we taxied on the very snowy runway. It didn’t help when the captain used the intercom to inform everyone to return to their assigned seats even though the plane was quite empty as the plane had been balanced specifically for a safe takeoff. We held hands has the plane picked up speed and then raised into the air. It was a successful takeoff though, and we were soon cruising high above snowy Russia en route to more familiar lands.