By the third race of the season, the pattern is set and comfortably familiar.
Thursday evening, after dinner, Calvin and I pack our gear for the weekend. We shove into two duffel bags everything he needs to compete and everything I need to stay warm while helping him. Next we gather the snacks and drinks that will fuel the trip, with Cal placing extra emphasis on sugar.
Gear ready, we spend a half hour or so in the shop, going over his sled. I’ve already done whatever significant work might have been required which, thankfully, isn’t much when it’s an Arctic Cat Sno Pro 500 in the Junior 10-13 class. This night-before shop time with the sled is more about teaching him regular maintenance and how to use everyday tools like wrenches and screw drivers.
Then it’s bedtime.
Friday morning starts groggy but the pace quickly ramps up.
I load the truck and take care of the remaining details while Cal suffers through another horrible day in Middle School. I try to cram a normal day’s work into six hours, but I come up a little short. Hopefully my bosses don’t notice.
Cal is rescued from school and we hit the local Chipotle on the way out of town. On the outskirts of the Twin Cities, we settle in for the long haul to northwestern Minnesota, where most of the USXC cross-country races are held.
The conversation bounces between sleds, racing, school, movies, computer games and whatever else is on Cal’s mind. A handful of hours later, we’ve checked into a hotel room and hit the pillows. Tomorrow is race day.
The alarm clock announces 6am with a cruel buzz. We choke down the hotel’s continental breakfast, with Cal loading up on as much sugar as possible. A 12-year-old’s version of coffee, I suppose.
The sun is still hiding when we arrive in the pits, with only a few trailer lights piercing the darkness. We find a snow bank; unload the sled from the truck’s bed and then park with a clear view of the start/finish.
The sun barely peeks above the horizon when Cal goes for a pre-lap of the course. I wait nervously for him to return, hoping he sticks to the plan of going easy and getting a feel for the course rather than trying to conquer it.
When he arrives back at the truck, he talks about a few of the fun spots, noting with extra enthusiasm any jumps that are especially fun. We add fuel to the sled’s tank and then go sit inside the truck to stay warm.
Cal is a bundle of nerves waiting for his race to start and doesn’t say much. I say the standard bit about going out there to have fun and of riding within his limits, but I’m not sure if he really hears me. One thing that I don’t say, but that I know for certain: the emotions of excitement, fear and butterflies he feels are a reward for the choice he’s made to be here, not a burden.
Soon it’s race time. The green flag drops and he disappears onto the course. It’s my turn for nervousness and (slight) fear.
I feel some relief seeing him complete his first lap. One more to go. Ride smart, Cal!
After crossing the finish to take the checkered flag, he goes straight to our truck. I have to run to catch a photo of him taking off his helmet and face tape.
Then comes his rapid-fire description of the cool things that happened during his race, spoken so quickly he can barely catch his breath.
I’ll admit that sometimes I don’t catch every word, as my mind occasionally pauses to note that yes, he’s safe and healthy. Relief.
The rest of the day flows with much less intensity. Sometimes he joins me out on the course, shooting photos of the other races. Other times he hangs with the friends he’s met and competes against. I’m grateful for both.
After the final event of the weekend we load the truck for the drive home, placing the snacks and cooler where I can easily reach them. As we settle in, he once again tells me of his race. This time I listen intently to every word.
He’ll follow that with conversation about his three favorite cross-country racers: Zach Herfindahl, Brian Dick and Wes Selby. He takes great pride if one of these guys wins, and is a bit dejected when they don’t.
Like clockwork, the conversation lasts about 30 minutes, then trails off. He tilts his seat, gets comfortable and falls fast asleep. And for the next couple hours I drive home, utterly and completely in peace and gratitude.
Thanks for reading.
Willmar race, first lap.
Detroit Lakes, final lap.
Only once did Cal forget to pack something: his jacket. It happened in Walker, at the last race of the season. So he borrowed mine.
Cal participates in a cross-country race ritual that goes back several generations.
Two crashes last season, the first of which occurred in Willmar. I was able to capture the result on camera. Sorry Cal.
Arctic Cat’s Roger Skime shouts a few words of encouragement to Cal prior to his race in Detroit Lakes.
We pretty much live out of the truck for two days each race weekend.
Pine Lake, the first race of the season. Proud papa.
Sleepy kid…I wonder why?