Friday, March 7, 2008

the travel, trip and destination

On the 3rd of March we started out in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and set of from YangYang International airport on the coast of the Yellow Sea. Here is a shot from the bus.

It took two charter planes to transport the whole World Cup, all the skis, wax, luggage, rifles, race timing information, etc. This small shot shows that not all of it actually fit in belly of the plane. The last 10 seats or so are packed with luggage.

Such storage necessities were not the only thing that made this not your average trans-continental flight. Considering our unique situation transferring the entire Biathlon World Cup crew half-way across the world, you are bound to hit some obstacles. Our flight from Korea to Khanty-Mansyisk, Russia – World Cup 8 – was four hours late. We were originally delayed because, once loaded, our plane was too heavy and could not carry enough fuel to get us through the 7 ½ hour flight. Our plane was then “de-fueled” to lessen the weight and flight change arrangements were made (which included asking permission to land in places like China and Mongolia) to stop mid-flight to re-fuel. Four hours into the flight we landed in…well I can’t remember how to pronounce, much less spell, the Russian city, and upon arrival, it was not a place I would want to stay anyways. It looked liked we landed in a deserted, run-down airport in a barren frozen city. Just cold and bleak.
Later that night we made it safely to Khanty-Mansyisk - a burgeoning Russian city empowered by its natural resources of gold, oil and natural gas, and this week World Cup Biathlon. The temperature has hovered around 0 C, 32 F, in a place I was warned is typically quite cold this time of year. We are east of the Ural Mountains in the western Siberian plains; similar latitude to Anchorage, Alaska, actually, whereas in Korea we were similar to Denver, Colorado.

Driving through the winter city at night to our hotel and venue was not what I expected. Everything was lit up, the parks, the churches, stores and streets. It made my first (well second that day) impression of Russia a bit brighter. This all looked great but this was probably the most tired I have felt after a travel day. Once to my room I came upon another defining theme of Russia – a lot of smokers. I keep the window open on a daily basis to air out my terribly smoky room.

Here’s a narrow shot of the typical hotel room. Out the window and beyond the pines is the race course. So, nice location this time. But this is usually what it looks like once I un-pack. I am constantly airing things out to stave off any lingering training smells, and here, smoke. I would get right to washing everything this week, but was quite deterred by obvious message sent by the obscene amount of bottled water available in conjunction with the tinted-brown tap water.

The 45 or so kilos that I have all have its place once I unpack. And it has been this way with each stop along the way. I am in my 14th hotel/apartment room since the first training camp in October. This is by no means a complaint. As I the photos and stories show life is pretty good no matter where I am. It will be nice to get home, but until then I have a few more weeks of racing, some great people to see and places to go.

The oddities and the parts that are a bit uncomfortable about Russia are overridden by the venue, trails and great snow conditions. It feels great to ski on natural snow and I really like the course here. It is a good mix of hills, downhills and rolling terrain. The shooting range is windy, but not like last week in Korea. Last night’s Sprint race was a lot of fun. I shot well in prone, which put me in the top 30, but I missed three in standing and dropped back to 57th. I was happy with my skiing and was able to push the whole way through the race. Unlike Korea, where my ski speed died after the first lap. I have made it to the Pursuit race (top 60) and will race on Saturday night. This will be my final World Cup race of the season and will be my last big push on the international stage.

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