This past Saturday (Jan. 30th), a bunch of us did the Noquemanon ski marathon. The Noque is a 50K point to point course in the UP, from Ishpeming to Marquette. The course is beautiful, with great logistics. It’s only a 15-minute drive to the start, and there is a school adjacent to the start line to sit in and stretch out (indoor plumbing too!) while waiting for your wave to start. No shivering in a tent outside and waiting in lines for porta-potties like at the Birkie. The finish is right outside of the NMU sports dome (the largest wood-framed dome in the world), which provides a great place to relax after the race.
Marquette had been hit earlier by the same warm weather and rain that we had experienced, so the snow cover in the UP had thinned out and iced up in spots. The groomers did a great job getting the course ready, including hauling snow to areas that were bare. Temps at the start were about zero degrees, an improvement from last year when it was 5 below. The cold temps created spots where the snow was “sticky”, but overall the glide was pretty good.
Ron “Jet Stream” Bero led our group with a fast time of 3:02. I came in looking like the line from a classic Jethro Tull song (“Snot is running down his nose…”). Joel Lammers finished looking very stout with ice coating his 1-month old beard. Joel lost a bit of his stoutness though, as he became unnerved by the aforementioned snot. Rounding out our group was Tony Cantrall, who had previously done the half-marathon (which covers the second half of the marathon course). Tony had thought that the half-marathon was hilly, so he was in for a big surprise to find out that the real hills were in the first half of the course.
In addition to the LPTRs, there were a number of familiar faces from our area. Tom Labisch (co-owner of Instep) smoked us all with a sub 2:50 time, even though he had to ski the last 12 K with a broken pole. Other finishers included Mary Gorski, Cathy Diamond, and Eileen Sherburne. Mary is an ultra-runner with a Badwater 135 finish on her resume, while Cathy and Eileen are experienced adventure racers. So while the winter months may take away some of our usual running trails, there is a way to get out on them when they are snow covered and groomed for skiing.
As the weekend wound down, a realization came to me. There have been 12 Noquemanons, and I’ve skied them all. Every year my family came up with me, and a routine, family traditions, became the norm. There was the stay at a hotel with a pool, spa, and sauna. Friday night was always pizza and pasta. They would drop me off at the start, and pick me up in the afternoon at the dome. While I was skiing, they went shopping (clothes shopping of course). Saturday night we’d go to Hudson’s, and later in the evening return and share a dessert: the Mile-high Oreo Mud Pie, a 1-pound pile of ice cream, crushed oreos, whipped cream, and hot chocolate fudge.
But that’s come to an end now. Kelley recently married, and will be moving to Alaska shortly. Chloe is finishing up high school and has already begun receiving acceptance letters from out-of-state colleges.
A tear runs down my cheek. Is it sadness, a sense of loss for things no longer, or happiness, from the many memories created? Probably a little of both. Eventually a smile creeps in. Next year, Sally and I won’t have to share the Mile-high Oreo Mud Pie!