I’ve decided to go Langlaufing again this year, despite an unfortunate incident several years ago in which I personally caused a chain-reaction smashup.
I’ll explain in a minute, but first I should define “Langlaufing,” in case you think it’s something like whelping or Rolfing or ralphing.
When I say Langlaufing, I mean participating in Langlauf, the annual 10-kilometer Mount Spokane cross-country ski race. Langlauf is a Norwegian word meaning “Bloomsday, but colder.”
Of course not. In the original Swedish, “lang” means “long” and “lauf” refers to “underwear.”
I may be wrong about that, but in any case, I consider Langlauf to be a must-do event for every true Spokanite, along with Bloomsday, the State B Basketball Tournament and a Spokane Chiefs hockey game. Langlauf is colorful, fun, exciting, healthy, invigorating, exhausting and sweaty. (See? It really is like attending a Chiefs game.) I made a vow several years ago to do Langlauf every year.
However, I missed last year, partly because of laziness, and partly because I was still traumatized by the “incident” referred to above.
The race was only about three minutes old, and I was in my usual position about mid-pack. Langlauf generally has about 300 racers or so, making it about one-200th the size of Bloomsday. Yet 300 racers is still a lot of skiers to let loose all at once on a two-track mountain trail. So I was essentially in the middle of a long line of skiers, all bombing down the same set of tracks.
We were just swooshing through the end of a long downhill section when I looked up from my skis to see - the rapidly approaching rear end of a very large man in woolen knickers. For some reason he had come almost to a dead stop, while I was still running free, aimed right at his backside.
Normally in these circumstances, I would just step out of the tracks and go around him. However, there were other skiers blocking me to the side. Nor could I stop, because with my skis in the tracks, I couldn’t even snowplow.
Suddenly, his rear end was practically filling my field of vision. I did the only thing I could think of, which was to yell, “Step on the gas!” The next thing I knew, I was bouncing off of something surprisingly soft and cushiony. I had rear-ended the guy.
It was as if a Yugo had rear-ended a semi-truck. It didn’t faze him at all; he just kept plodding along. I, on the other hand, was sprawled across the width of the trail.
Within a few seconds, I was covered by about 20 other skiers. We looked like a big mound of Woolrich and Spandex, with skis pointing out at odd angles.
We all got untangled and kept going, but it shook my confidence, not to mention my dignity. I couldn’t help but think it was all my fault. The traffic laws are clear on this point; the trailing vehicle is responsible in a rear-end accident. My only excuse is I never saw the guy’s brake lights.
That was the only true accident I have had at Langlauf, although I have had a few other frustrating moments.
For instance, there was the time I was engaged in a heated duel with a fellow skier. I would pass him on every uphill stretch, and he would zoom past me on every downhill, requiring me to grimly repeat the task of overtaking him again. On one hill, I finally ran out of steam, and the last I saw of him was a tiny form retreating in the distance. The kid was only about 8 years old.
Then there was the time when some guy put his baby in one of those pull-sled contraptions and actually hauled the little tyke around for the whole race. The guy and his sled were right next to me most of the time, and it made me uncommonly nervous. Here I was, flailing around with sharp ski poles, while a baby was gurgling away practically underfoot. What really made me mad, of course, was that no matter how hard I skied, I couldn’t pull away from a guy hauling a sled.
Still, I love Langlauf, and I am always amazed at how much fun it can be to perspire through 6.2 miles of woods with 300 of my closest friends. It’s one of the things that makes me proud to live in the Inland Northwest.
Where else can an average skier like myself participate in a nationally known ski race and wipe out a good percentage of them?
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