Sometime the Pre-Race is Almost as Good as the Race

by Snow Fahl

For anyone with a sense of humor, Bob Dion’s pre-race directions are a highlight of any snowshoe race.  He didn’t fail us at the Hoot Toot and Whistle on Saturday.  As the name implies, it is run on an old rail trail, adjacent to the West Branch of the Deerfield River, a lovely run through the trees with the river in sight next to you.   Tranquil it may be, but if you listen to Bob, there are numerous ways you can muck it up.

As we all stood at the starting line (after a benign ride in a school bus—nothing like the bus trips in years past) Bob observed that the course runs along the river, with a lot of crossings of feeder brooks for us to negotiate.  He points down the hill to the substantial looking river and intones, “See that? That’s your first water crossing…….”

OK, on to the more serious updates about the course ahead:

“There are a lot of brook crossings, as I said.  Usually you can figure it out, but sometimes we put pink flags or ribbons to tell you that there is only one way across a part.  If you don’t see them, get across any way you can. Hop, jump, run over someone’s back. Whatever it takes.”

After the above “water crossing directions” Tim Van Orden pointed out that one such crossing involved a single piece of wood across the brook.  He implored us all to be civil and patient in our attempts to cross.  This was a veiled request not to barrel up the trail, bottlenecking at the crossing, and to avoid human carnage.   Once the race started, we quickly crossed 3 ‘water hazards’, each time hearing racers saying, “this must be the brook he was talking about”, before we actually arrived at the true ‘water hazard.’  Now you could hear people’s fun comments….”Oh, so THIS is the crossing he was talking about. I thought it was the last one…’’ etc.

Back to Bob:

“The route is marked with flags, yellow pie plates, and sometimes, pink ribbons.  If you start to see a lot of pink ribbon, well that means things are really bad.”

“This is an old rail trail, but it’s not like the rail trails you are familiar with. It has trees growing in the middle of it. Pay attention.”

Completely deadpan delivery.  “At one point you will go off of the rail trail immediately climb about 8 feet. Then you will drop down a very steep 8 feet.  Then you will go up 8 feet again.  All in about ……. 8 feet”

On running back after the finish, via the paved road: “If you choose to run back from the finish line to the school, take off your snowshoes. I know that seems obvious, but every year I see people running back in their snowshoes. Usually ones that they’ve rented from me…….”

On opportunities for a snowshoe ultramarathon and possible international incident: “This trail, the Catamount Trail goes all the way to Canada. It’s well marked, but if you miss the flags at the turn around, you better be prepared with some documentation when you reach the Border.  And find an alternate route back home.”

Those are just a few of RD Bob’s very helpful pre-race instructions.