The Patrol Race
March 13, 2021
Usually when I think...
of skiing as a means of travel in the mountains, I think of it being very fast and efficient. This is mostly because you can cover an immense amount of mileage really quickly on the downhill! However, how efficient is it when you don't have that much elevation change, a lot of miles, and some severe bonking on my part? Here is my tale of the type 2 fun, yet still incredibly amazing race that is the Patrol Race.
The first of the teams lining up at the start
The Patrol race is, in my opinion, one of the most legendary races in Washington. It was the first race of it's kind in North America (being a point-to-point ski race done with partners), and it started in the 1930's! Check out Kyle Miller's write up here to read more info on that if you're curious. Entry to the race is a lottery system, and while I applied last year and wasn't accepted, I entered this year with my friends Tessa and Andi, and we got in! Team Powder to the People was a-go! We were all so excited, and somewhat nervous, at least on my part, as I had never participated in a ski race before. While most skimo (ski-mountaineering) races are focused on the uphill and getting vertical gain, this race is more about distance. It travels from Summit West, down the PCT for about 20 miles and only about 4,000ft gain before ending at Meany Lodge, which is the Mountaineer's Club ski lodge.
Our start time was at about 6:50am, as we all had staggered starts for COVID purposes. This turned out nice, however, as there wasn't too much of a cluster at the start. We took off, with Andi in the lead, Tessa in the middle, and me in the back. The race started out with techy and slightly icy tree skinning once we got off the groomed resort runs. All three of us felt quite comfortable skinning through this terrain, however this start was probably the most awkward to navigate, with the icy slopes causing some teams to loose control easily.
After almost getting taken out by some out-of-control ski dudes (they were really apologetic, but a close call nonetheless), we made it to the first checkpoint. This race had 9 checkpoints, and 2 semi "aid stations", though with it being a COVID race, it was mostly cheering support and a snowmobile bail-out option! We scanned our first checkpoint and took off for the next. Up until this point, we had been going pretty fast (for my standards at least!). Andi had been a Nordic ski racer in high school, and with her pushing the pace, we were cooking! I was excited to push my body and see how long I could last. We cruised along the first 10 miles or so, feeling great, and then... I could feel it happening - my body was bonking. "Bonks" happen in distance races every once in a while, and it occurs simply when racers run out of available energy for their bodies to use. I was eating a decent amount, but it clearly wasn't enough. Bonking often results in lethargy, in extreme cases hallucinations, but in my case that day, it included a panic attack. Yikes! I could feel my brain panicking, my throat closing up on me, and I knew that I just had to stop for a moment. "I... *cough* ...I need to take a break" I choked out.
At about the middle of the race, going across Mirror Lake
Our GPX of the route. I love seeing our routes on a map like this!
We were a couple of miles past Mirror lake, which we skinned across, and we were heading back uphill. It wasn't a major uphill, but my body wasn't letting me move! "Dangit" I thought, "We had been moving so well!" Andi and Tessa were awesome partners to have during this major low. They stopped and let me take some deep breaths, and grab a big snack and water. After a minute or two of deep, intentional breathing, I could feel my throat opening up again, and my brain clearing up a bit. I hadn't had to deal with a panic attack in the backcountry for a couple years now, and I had forgot how I usually deal with it. (My methods of dealing with panic is enough to fill another post, so maybe I'll write that up in the future.) After a little bit of time, and a bit of technique practicing, I was ready to go.
Our pace slowed a bit, but we were able to trek on to each aid station in a relatively timely manner. The last half of the course was largely sidehilling (traversing) with the uphill on the right side. This made my right leg BURN and it got a bit exhausting after a couple of miles of my left ski slipping out constantly and my right leg catching my whole body weight. Luckily, we made it through all of the sidehilling, and crested the knoll that we had scouted earlier in the year. All three of us were in high spirits, as we knew that there were only two checkpoints left, and the terrain was all familiar now. We skinned down to a cheery Checkpoint 2 where people were happily clapping and chatting with each other. We were so close! My feet felt absolutely rubbed raw, but all I could think about was the promised beer at the end, and the snowmobile tow out.
We crossed under the powerlines, and made a little descent before the final road skin. We finally crested the road, ripped our skins for the first time (there was a lot of downhill skinning in this course!) and made the final, glorious turns down to the finish. The volunteers congratulated us, gave us a cold beer and said, "there's a firepit and soup and bread over there!" pointing down the road. We very excitedly skied on down and had a cup of warm soup while waiting for the snowmobile tow. After some chatting in high spirits, we went down to the pick up location, and got towed out . Thanks Jim! Back at the car, we sat talking with Dan's team (Start warm, Stay warm), and Tessa was mentioning that there were parts of the race where she thought, "Ya know, I'd be okay if I didn't do any skinning for another month after this, and I f*&ing love skinning." I'll have to admit, that thought crossed my mind to. The race had so much walking, and not much skiing. It was beautiful and tough, and oh so worth it. Writing this now, a day or two after the race, with my blisters healed and legs back to normal, I am prepping to skin up to another ski in a day and I'm excited for it. This race was a true "type 2" experience for me, and in the end, that means I am oh so happy I did it, and excited to give it another go in the future. Pushing past my major bonk is something I'm proud of, and I feel thankful that I have developed methods of dealing with it.
Thanks to the Mountaineers for such an epic ski race! And thanks to my teammates as well. Y'all rock! I am excited for more in the future.
Andi's pic of Tessa and I skinning under the powerlines, about 15 mins away from the finish!
Total mileage of the day - 19.7 miles
Total elevation gain - 3,900 ft
Total time - 8:32:16 is our official time (see here).
Max slope angle of the day - 35 for not very much of the course.
GPS via Strava - https://www.strava.com/activities/4942640426
Song that was stuck in my head all day - Generally not a ton! Towards the end - "Sweatpants" by Childish Gambino. It's a good race song, ha!