Thursday, May 19, 2011

Too Close For Comfort

My dad recently took a trip to visit me here in Minneapolis. As I played host, part of my job detail was that of driver and tour guide, shuffling around the city by car. On more than one occasion my dad stiffened his back, put his hands forward and said "look out!", right before I hit the brakes. The first time it happened I figured that he was just a little nervous, but I started to think about it more seriously after it happened again. Was his eyesight going? Does he not trust my driving? Was he developing some anxious schitzoaffective tic that only manifests itself in the car? While all of these are probable, I started to wonder if maybe, just maybe, it was me to blame. Was I actually driving too close? Am I a tailgater?

The diagnosis of a tailgater is a hard one to swallow, and I'm still in partial denial. Us tailgaters have the utmost confidence in our ability to "see the road". We can whip around cars at a moments notice, brake on a dime, and we possess a preternatural understanding of traffic patterns. I'm not a tailgater! I'm just a superior driver!

But if I am a tailgater, which I'm not completely admitting to, where did this come from? Neither of my parents are, so unless it's a recessive trait, then my DNA is not to blame. Maybe it was born out of experience: some deep psychological scar that I have repressed for years that surfaces in the form of my driving habits.

And then I remembered Arthur.

My high school summer job was at the local Chevrolet Dealership. The job that I applied for was "car transporter", and the job that I got was "lot boy". Where the prior is the dream job of a car-coveting high school male, the latter involves sweeping up the shop, taking out the trash, and cleaning the interior of leather cars that have been cooking in the midday sun. While the dealership was happy to have a minimum-wage lot boy, they knew enough to let me drive a car around once in a while to keep my spirits up. On my first transport trip I met Arthur.

Arthur had the droopy sun-beaten tough skin of a man who was once bulky with muscle. There was a large faded tattoo of an anchor on his left forearm that he made sure to display by always having his sleeves rolled all the way up. There was always a pack of smokes in his T-shirt breast pocket and he sported some sort of gold-plated orthodontic work. He never went anywhere without his NAVY ball cap that he displayed proudly, precariously placed on top of his head, two-sizes too small. His life story was an incomprehensible cluster of gambling, failed marriages, glorified "good days", and, of course, the Navy. I can still picture him now, rolling onto the lot with the company transportation van, left arm hanging out the open window proudly displaying the tattoo, gold tooth glinting in the sun.

Our paths crossed when I was sent on my first mission to drop a car off at the auction. The operation was simple enough: I would drive said car, alongside Arthur in his van down to the auction, and then we would ride back together. Not only was I allowed whip around in a car, but it also meant that for at least a couple of hours I WASN'T cleaning the bathroom. It was a win-win.

I can't remember what kind of car I drove, but I can only assume it was some POS that my boss had shined and buffed and would sell at an inflated price to some sap who gets excited at the look of his own reflection in the side panels. But as a kid without my own car, I could have been driving a rusted-out Yugo as long as the wind flew in the window and the gas pedal responded to my foot.

Before we left the lot, Arthur got out of his car and waddled up to me. "Stay close to me" he barked. And then he put his fingers up in the pinching position, showing me the distance he wanted between his rear bumper and the front of mine. "Sounds good" I said, and we set off. But stoplights and cars got in my way, and after five minutes there were two cars between us. I could see his van just fine, and when he pulled onto the freeway, I jumped right back in behind him. Order was restored. I wasn't worried.

And then be pulled over. Not in a driveway, side road, or even the breakdown lane of the freeway. He pulled over on the one-lane on-ramp. I pulled over behind him, hoping the poor guy wasn't having a heart attack. As cars honked and flew by us, Arthur got out of his car and began walking back along the road towards my car. I rolled down my window as he got closer. He held his fingers up again, showing me the distance that I clearly did not understand the first time and then he unflinchingly shouted above the roar of engines, wind, and horns flying only inches past him, "When I say this close, I mean THIS CLOSE".

Well, I followed him pretty damn closely after that. As a 16-year old kid, when a tattooed, gold-toothed war vet tells you to do something that loudly, you do it. For the rest of the trips that summer, if I was following Arthur, I was living on his bumper. There was no distance too close, no stop sign that could come between us.

Monday, May 2, 2011


You know, I hate to be the kill-joy devil's advocate, but I can't say that happiness was the first emotion that ran through me when I heard about Osama bin Laden's death. In fact I'm a little weirded out by the smiles of joy pasted across many of my fellow American's faces.

Now look. I know this guy did terrible, atrocious, unspeakable acts of violence. I understand this. And no, I don't live in New York, and I luckily didn't know anyone who died on 9/11. So please excuse what could be construed as emotional and patriotic detachment. I also wish the best and safest for the Americans who are serving abroad right now. I am a safe blogger because you are doing the dangerous work. That is the truth, and my beef is higher up than you. There are no bullets whizzing by the men who make the real decisions. There are no mortar blasts killing their friends and keeping them awake at night, shooting into the darkness. So please come home well. Thank you, truly.

And yes, I am American. And I did feel the vulnerable and soul-crushing collapse of security and confidence as the World Trade Center buildings collapsed almost ten years ago. I saw the faces of New Yorkers on CNN, covered in ash and fear, scrambling away from rubble and rolling clouds of death. I've seen the footage of workers jumping from their windows, out of the frying pan and into the fire, so that death would at least be on their terms. That day will forever be burned into my memory, and I STILL can't watch a documentary about the purported struggle on United flight 93 because the emotions are too real and raw.

Was Osama bin Laden responsible for this? Yes. And to that effect, he should be held accountable. But where does joy enter into the equation? Where does happiness? His death, if anything, should bring about a somber measure of closure to this grueling war of attrition we have been fighting on "terror". A collective sigh of relief.

If nothing else, I felt sad when I heard the news. In the complex game that is American foreign policy, the best we could do ended up being eye-for-an-eye Pashtun justice, with the same narrow-minded dogmatism of our enemies. We have responded to death with death, and I don't see any joy in that. I see retribution. I see the cold and calculated final balancing of a spreadsheet.

And what has this cost us? Where do we go from here has a country? Have the billions upon billions of dollars footed by taxpayers that have funded this international manhunt been worth it? There's no way of knowing. But it's hard not to wonder what would have been if that money was used elsewhere. It's hard not to think what our federal deficit would be right now if we hadn't taken the bait and plunged our resources into the middle east.

And now as a country we stand waist deep in the Afghanistan quagmire, one arm in Iraq, another in Pakistan, and our credit card is reaching its limit. Its hard not to say that this manhunt for the white whale has bested us. That's why I'm sad.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Literary Analysis: Bottoms Up

I would like to introduce you to what I hope will be a recurring trend of literature analysis posts. The popular "pop" music of a culture is known as the barometer of the times. It speaks from the undercurrent of the communal psyche, and echoes the slippery ephemeral zeitgeist. Those who have their finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist represent the diamond in the rough. Let me introduce you to one of our culture's literary genius's. Trey Songz (feat. Niki Minaj). I'll add my critique and analysis after the most poignant verses. Enjoy.

Oh oh it's Mr. Steal Yo Girl
Oh oh it's Mr. Steal Yo Girl oh oh
Let's go
-Mr. Songz starts off this piece with a recantation emphasizing the importance of his good looks. He subtly underscores this by letting you know that your girlfriend would also agree.

[Chorus: Trey Songz]
Bottoms up, bottoms up, ey, what's in ya cup
Got a couple bottles, but a couple ain't enough
Bottoms up, bottoms up, throw your hands up
Tell security we bout to tear this club up
Bottoms up, bottoms up, pocket full of green
Girl, you know I love the way you shake it in them jeans
Bottoms up, bottoms up, throw ya hands up
Bottoms up, bottoms up, bottoms up (up, up)
-Like the viking cultures before us, Mr. Songz echoes the chant of imbibing. He wants to know what is in your cup. He also advises that two bottles aren't sufficient, highlighting the importance of planning ahead in hard times like this. It also pleases him the way that the listener shakes her butt.

[Verse 1: Trey Songz]
You know what it is girl, we back up in this thang
Money stay in my pocket, girl, I'm like a walkin' bank
Tell me whatcha drank, tell me whatcha thank
If I go get these bottles, we go alcohol insane
Callin' all the girls, do you hear me?
All around the world, city to city
Cheers to the girls, throw a deuce to the guys
Now I got a chicken and a goose in the ride
Gettin' loose in the ride
Hatin' ass nigga you can move to the move to the move to the side
-Mirroring the financial crisis where banks have been reluctant to give out loans, so too is Mr. Songz. Be responsible, he says. Be prudent. He is still asking what you are drinking, and also wondering if you can hear him. Something about farm animals. The music is played at high decibels in dancing clubs, so he repeats many verses. Many times over. Just in case you didn't hear them the first time.

[Chorus: Trey Songz]
Bottoms up, bottoms up, ey, what's in ya cup
Got a couple bottles, but a couple ain't enough
Bottoms up, bottoms up, throw your hands up
Tell security we bout to tear this club up
Bottoms up, bottoms up, pocket full of green
Girl, you know I love the way you shake it in them jeans
Bottoms up, bottoms up, throw ya hands up
Bottoms up, bottoms up, bottoms up (up, up)
-Again, pockets are still full of green.

[Verse 2: Trey Songz]
My vision's blurred, my words slurred
Its jam packed, a million girls
And I ain't tryin to lead em
We drunk so let me be your alcohol hero
Callin' all the girls, do you hear me?
All around the world, city to city
Cheers to the girls, throw a deuce to the guys
Now I got a chicken and a goose in the ride
Gettin' loose in the ride
Hatin ass nigga you can move to the move to the move to the side
-His voice is slurred, which lets the patient listener know why he needs to repeat himself so much. By only changing the first part of verse 1, Mr. Songz illuminates the deep parody of "efficiency" in this copy-and-paste world. 

[Chorus: Trey Songz]
Bottoms up, bottoms up, ey, what's in ya cup...
-Freakin' again with the bottoms up.

[Nicki Minaj]
Yo, could I get that 'Tron*? 
*80's entertaining movie about the cyber-reality
Could I get that Remmy*?
*80's entertaining crime series "Remington Steel" starring Pierce Brosnan
Could I get that Coke*?
*80's form of nasal entertainment
Could I get that Henny?
Could I get that margarita on the rock rock rocks?
Could I get that salt all around that rim rim rim rim?
Trey, I was like "Yo Trey"
Do you think you could buy me a bottle of Rose'?
-This ironic comment shows the importance of paying attention. The more attentive listeners will remember that the money "Stay in [his] pocket, girl". Nicki, like the rest of us, will have a hard time getting a bottle of Rose'.
Okay, lets get it now
I'm with a bad bitch he's with his friends
I don't say "Hi", I say "Keys to the Benz"
Keys to the Benz? Keys to the Benz!
Muhfuckin right yeah, weed to the 10
If a bitch try to get cute Imma sock her
Throw a lotta money at her then yell fucka, fucka, fucka,
Then yell fucka.
Then Imma go get my Louisville Slugger
Excuse me, I'm sorry, I'm really such a lady
I rep Young Money
You know Slim, Baby?
And we be doin' donuts while we wavin' the .380
We give a lotta money to the babies out in Haiti
Yellin all around the world,
Do you hear me? Do you like my body?
Anna Nicki
Rest in peace to Anna Nicole Smith
Yes, my dear, you're so explosive
Say hi to Mary, Mary and Joseph
Now bottoms up and double my dosage

-The name Nicki "Minaj" indicates the French correlation to "minaj-a-trois", AKA the holy triumvirate, which is hinted at in her line about Mary and Joseph of biblical fame. Her deep religious convictions are also shown by her philanthropy to those in Haiti, as well as throwing a lot of money at a cute girl and yelling "fucka, fucka, fucka." Then yelling "fucka" one last time.

[Chorus: Trey Songz]
Bottoms up, bottoms up, ey, what's in ya cup
Got a couple bottles, but a couple ain't enough
Bottoms up, bottoms up, throw your hands up
Tell security we bout to tear this club up
Bottoms up, bottoms up, pocket full of green
Girl, you know I love the way you shake it in them jeans
Bottoms up, bottoms up, throw ya hands up
Bottoms up, bottoms up, bottoms up (up, up)

Bottoms up, Bottoms up, Bottoms up, Bottoms up, Bottoms up
-The music must be really loud. Bottoms up people. Bottoms up. How can you not after listening to this song?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I just finished "Where Men Win Glory" by John Krakauer. It's a non-fiction journalistic novel about Pat Tillman; the man who left the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army post 9/11. In truth, I wasn't crazy about the idea of reading this book. I had just finished "Into the Wild" and a friend recommended Glory in passing. I'm not much of a war horse, and I certainly don't like reading about self-important football players with a gun fetish. There wasn't much in this guys history that piqued my interest. But I respected Krakauer's judgment in choosing a character to write about. There is an element to Krakauer's work that echoes my own sentiment of curiosity and wonder. Mostly, I identify with his dogged pursuit of truth and understanding.

So I picked up the novel, which chronicled the the intertwining story-lines of Afghanistan's recent history and the life story of Patrick Tillman.

As each chapter unfolded, it became evident as to why Krakauer chose Tillman as his subject. He was a jock, but he wasn't a meat head. He was confident, but he wasn't cocky. He was well-read, but he wasn't pretentious. And he was absolutely fearless. The more I read, the more I started to realize that not only was I sympathizing with Tillman, but I was actually wanting to become him. Through the lens of the novel, Tillman was unafraid to speak his mind, whenever, wherever he may be. Lined up with other new troops in front of the drill sergeant just prior to signing his commitment papers to the Army, he barked back for being given contradicting orders "Hey, you're confusing everybody. Besides, you're treating us like assholes, and we haven't even signup up to be treated like assholes yet." After a shouting match ensued, Tillman and the sergeant almost came to blows before being separated. In no lesser terms, he was the dude.

Tillman was incredibly stubborn, but never maliciously. His set of values were always changing, and always up for discussion, but if there was one thing he wouldn't put up for it was bullshit. If you were around Tillman, you could say what you meant, defend your opinions, and enjoy a deep conversation.

It's clear which side of the isle Krakauer sits, as he lambastes the Army along with the Bush administration with convincing facts and rhetoric alike. The language dips into acerbic at points, but it's hard not to share Krakauer's emotional pointedness. The story of Tillman is one of the most moving and emotionally taxing I have ever read. The fact that he was killed by friendly fire was terrible, but the insult that the army administered to his family afterward was tenfold worse. The tragic loss of his character, honesty, and strength was heightened by the ineptitude of lesser men that sat above him. Far lesser men. And the perseverance and strength that his remaining family displayed after his death is no less than heroic.

It's a good book, go read it. You'll understand more about what the war in Afghanistan means, more about America's involvement in the war on terror, and more importantly you'll understand more about what it means to live a good life, a life of purpose.

Of course, Hollywood already has the rights to his story:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Self-Destructive Saturday

The title really says it all. Actually, hold on. Let me grab a beer.

Thats better.

If it's going to be a self-destructive Saturday, there damn well better be a beer involved.

Ok, so the title is a little dramatic. I'm not really self destructive today. I just wasn't very productive. And in this fast paced, broadband-speed, micro-managing, iPod shuffle, instant get-ification, credit card fueled, frenetic world we live in, it feels like if you aren't making leaps and bounds towards the end goal of your dreams then you are falling behind. Today felt like one of those days. I actually really like my iPod shuffle. I didn't mean to lump you in with micro-managing. Sorry shuffle.

I blame my non-productive day on a couple of things:

1) A stupid migraine. About once, maybe twice a year I get a very minor (stupid) migraine. For those who get blinding vomit-inducing migraines that force them into a curtain-drawn room for the better part of a week, I apologize. That sounds terrible. If you have the Hulk Hogan of migraines, I have the Peewee Herman of cranial discomfort. It doesn't have the strength to bend a steel pipe into the shape of a rabbit, but it does have the shrill unsettling tenor of a man who speaks one octave too high and exposes himself to children.
Are you ready for photophobia?

I was taking an MCAT practice test this morning when I noticed the faint aura appear in my left field of vision.  Like an old neighbor you didn't want to see again, wrapping on your window while you are in the middle of your favorite movie. Crap. Of all the times to get a migraine, taking a practice test is one of the more inconvenient. Taking the real test, of course would be far worse, and I would rather not think about that situation for the sake of my blood pressure. I'm pretty sure my headache this morning was due to chronic over-caffeination, and I have the refrigerator pack of Red Bull to prove it.

Per usual, the aura (imagine the after effect of staring at the sun for a moment) was a small linear segment off to my left, but I knew it was on the move. If history could be learned from, the spot would grow in size and migrate across my field of vision. This means that I am now racing the aura. I needed to finish 20 minutes of reading comprehension before that sneaky little bastard is dead center in front of me and I can't see anything that I'm looking at.

The problem is, I'm already rushing myself on what I consider the hardest section of the MCAT. It doesn't help that I have a clock in the corner of the screen reminding me that I'm a slow-ass reader, but now I have a biological detonating wick crawling its way across whatever I look at. Great. I didn't end up doing well on that section. And the pot at the end of the rainbow, the reward for watching the phantasm inch its way rightward for the better part of an hour, is a hangover-like headache that lasts a few hours.

2) I said that there were multiple things to blame for my non-productive day of so-called self destruction, but I can't think of another legitimate excuse. I gave myself plenty of time to think of one while describing my headache with unnecessary detail. Oh wait! I've got one.

3) Random re-arranging day! That's right. Every blue moon (which happens about twice a year) something magical happens. I will be innocently cleaning around the house when I notice an object out of place. So I move it. But it doesn't look good there. So I put it somewhere else. And then I think, well damn, it would look really good sitting over there. But of course, there is something in its way. That means I need to move that other thing. And then find a better place for it. This means moving something ELSE out of it's precious little niche. After about an hour, I have all of the furniture on the front lawn, and I'm staring at an empty living room trying to visualize the best place for a crooked IKEA lamp. Hi. My name is Oliver and I have a re-arranging sickness.

So the house is spotless. Completely re-arranged, but spotless. My poor MCAT knowledge has not progressed with the light-speed evolution that I had planned for. I promise that tomorrow will be a new day. Self-CONSTRUCTIVE Sunday I'll call it! Oh what a day this will be.

Another hour before midnight means that I have time for one more beer though...

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Birkie (26-50K)

"In endurance sports, particularly cycling and running, 
hitting the wall or the bonk describes a condition
caused by the depletion of glycogenstores 
in the liver and muscles, which manifests itself
 by precipitous fatigue and loss of energy."

Throughout the first half of the Birkie (see post below), my eyes were open. I was experiencing the race. I was enjoying the people watching. But as I crossed the halfway mark, my field of vision began to simplify. I didn't glance over at skiers beside me, or look as ambitiously for gaps in the crowd. Because of that, it was hard to tell exactly what happened when, but the series of events roughly fell into this order:

My legs were getting incrementally more sore with each uphill. At first I only felt a deep burn on a steep pitch, but now even slight incines would send signals to my brain that politely said "Excuse me, I'm not sure if you noticed, but we're getting a little tired down here". I needed a new game plan. The first goal would be to get as much glycogen into my body as possible. This meant that every feed stop would warrant a banana, and a power drink. My legs were out of carbohydrate stores, and the lactic acid from the anaerobic energy production was beginning to pulse through my veins. Literally. The only energy that I could give my muscles from here on forward would be directly via the gut.
   It was at about this time that I also took a mental inventory of my body. My legs were aching, but I knew they still had some extra reserve in them. My arms, on the other hand, felt great. My lungs and heart also felt just fine. So a new plan was hatched. The classic tracks that ran along the side of the track were slick and fast. If I double poled along the gradual downhills and tucked the steeper declines, I can save a TON of work from my legs, and nearly keep the same pace.
    I set the plan in action. I haven't bonked yet, and I'm determined to salvage what's left of this race.

I'm passed for the first time by another skier. He's another wave 5-er like myself. I hear him coming up from behind me and turn my head to see who's making the charge. "Good job man!" he says "I've been following you the whole time". I think he meant it to be a compliment, but I can't help but feel like I just paved the way for this guy's race.
"I'm just about done" I say, feeling like I need to give him an excuse. I let him by me. The competitive side of me growls.
"I know what you mean" he says.

But I can tell he doesn't.

I don't even contemplate sticking with him. He moves up the pack, which is finally starting to thin out at this point. I tuck as much as possible on even the slightest of downhills, and use my arms as much as I can, but I'm faced with two inescapable facts: 1) every uphill needs legs, and 2) There are a lot of uphills left.

I've admitted to myself now that I have completely bonked. There are only 20 kilometers left in the race. I am 3/5 of the way there, but the winding and climbing snowy trail in front of me seems like a hellish, unending mobius strip. I've bonked countless times before this, and I know what to expect, so I slow down. The name of the game is just to finish. My friend Kevin gave me some pre-race advice. "Thats the great thing about the birke" he said, "you just go out there and ski, and if you get tired you just slow down and enjoy the race."

I slowed down, but I didn't know about "enjoying the race". It was at this point that I started to harbor ill-will towards this competition, and little prince Haakon, for starting this blasted tradition. When your body goes, your mind soon follows.

The strangest thing has happened to me. I've gotten cold. And not just my fingers and toes, or my exposed facial skin, but I'm cold at my core. This has never happened to me in a race before. Usually, if dressed properly, you arrive at the starting line slightly chilled, and once the gun goes off you warm up. By the time you cross the finish line, you can take your shirt off in -20F temps without blinking, cascading steam off your torso into the frigid northern air, and feeling like an all-around bad-ass.

But I felt chilled, and not much like a bad-ass. More like ass-bad. The reason, I figured out, was because I could no longer ski fast enough to keep my heart rate up. My legs simply didn't have the power to keep me moving. This meant I needed to start double poling faster, just to keep my internal temperature at a reasonable level. Its not that it hurt to use my legs, its just that they weren't working.

More skiers passed me, some from wave 5, but others from wave 4. I saw the familiar faces of those that I had passed so casually earlier in the race. I would be embarrassed if I weren't so tired, but I feel like they are smirking deep down.

Damn you, Prince Haakon, damn you.

I see a sign on the trailside. 13K left. I can make that.

Not so soon thereafter, I passed another sign that read "38K", and silently cursed to myself. I must have misread the previous sign, and it now feels like someone just tacked on an additional 3K to the race. All I wanted was that 40K sign. I wanted it so bad. For me, the race was now all about baby steps. Kilometer to kilometer. Hill to hill. If you are in the depths of a bonk and try to visualize the entire race, you will collapse to the snow in a heap of despair.

I knew that there was an infamous hill coming up here shortly, but I wasn't sure where exactly. The night before I had written down all of the landmarks that I deemed "worth remembering", and committed them to memory. Well, there wasn't much left of my memory at this point, and I couldn't recall if it was 41K or 45K. Irregardless of where it found itself on the course, it's called "bitch hill", and as I rounded a tight right corner I could see it in front of me. It's not the biggest hill of the course, and it's not the steepest, but for someone like me, someone who was scraping the bottom of the barrel, someone who had the haggard gleen of defeat in their eyes, a hill of this caliber meant death.

It was a race of many firsts, and for the first time in a competition I stopped and put my head on my outstretched arms. I couldn't move my legs. The lactic acid permeated through my cardiovascular system, and I could feel it in my lungs. I could taste it in my breath. It reeked of deprivation. Skiers continued to pass me, but I noticed other skiers who have also stopped on the side of the hill, looking no less dejected than I. After ten seconds or so, I got back into it, and ambled up the remainder of the hill. Keep moving. Keep moving.

By any standards, I was on the home stretch, and during my last feed stop, I drank a water, a power drink and ate two banana halves. They were frozen, but I carelessly stuffed them into my open mouth, ignoring the ice-cold sensation on my teeth. Best bananas I've ever had.

I stopped again on a hill. My vision began to narrow, and I could see only my skis in front of me. The next 8K  were a blur, and I don't remember much about them.

What I do remember, is that wave-4 skiers continued to pass me with regular ease. For the first time I let myself picture finishing the race. I think I can make two kilometers. I looked over at a skier next to me. He was a big guy, maybe 6-2, and he reminded me of an eastern Massachusetts master skier. He had to be in his late 40's or early 50's and everything he was wearing was expensive, from his skis to his glasses, all the way down to his high-tech water-bottle holder and the Volvo I'm sure he has parked in the driveway. I could see pain in his face, and I knew that he was hurting as much as I was. Under any other circumstances I would have tucked in behind this guy, and blasted around him with 1K remaining, leaving him in my snowy dust wondering what happened. But for the time being, I had to send out hate-beams and hope I could out-glide him on downhills, because he was beating me to the top of every hill.

My mental state was starting to deteriorate noticeably at this point. Not only did I feel physically tired, but I'm also beginning to experience a sleepy grogginess. When I tucked down a hill, I let my eyes shut and wonder what it would be like to go to sleep.

More people started to appear on the sides of the trail and I turned a corner to the greatest sight of my life: the lake.

The lake represents the final segment of the race. The trail mercifully exits the northern Wisconsin forest and carves a perfectly flat line onto Hayward Lake. There was a linear swath of black dots in front of me, leading the way home like the yellow brick road, ending one kilometer away in downtown Hayward.

The best way I can explain bonking is by using the rechargable battery analogy. The first 10K might have drained all of my energy, but with some downhills and some drink to recover, I can recharge up to 90%. But each time I use the battery, it charges up a little less the next time. At this point I could use my legs for about 5-8 seconds before I needed to get back into the classic tracks and double pole. So that became my new pattern. Double pole until my arms were tired, then skate for 8 seconds. Then 7 seconds. Then 5. Each time I kicked or poled I released a breathy grunt. I can't slow down. 1K left. I've got tears in my eyes. Give me a break, I said to myself, but my body was slowly shutting down on me.

I told Nels before the race that "there's always something left in the tank", referring to the way that the sight of a finish line can cause you to find that last little morsel of energy that your body had been oh-so-wisely saving from you. As I made the 10 foot elevation climb off of the lake, and onto the snow-groomed streets of downtown Hayward, WI, I wanted to find that last morsel.

The sides of the trail/street were fashioned with gates, with hundreds of spectators and racers cheering on. I could actually see the finish line, and I started to skate again. And my legs felt great. I passed about five people, and was only about 200 meters from the finish line when the morsel ran out.

My quads started cramping, and I couldn't control the timing of my leg kicks. Each time I tried to push I felt a sharp pain that would stand me up straight. I'm not sure what you would call my technique as I crossed the line, but "hobbling on skis" is probably apropos.

Cheering on the sidelines were Kaj and Nels. "It looks like Ollie might have bonked", said Kaj as he watched me "ski" to the finish. "Oh yeah" said Nels.

Crossing the finish line was a mix of relief and anger. Anger at myself for joining this race, anger at myself for not training more, but thankfulness that I could take off these skis and get into some warm clothes. Race support came up to me and asked me if I needed help. I almost fell into one of them due to an unplanned leg cramp, so I think he took that as a y-e-s, and called for someone to help him hold me up. A third volunteer took my skis off. "Are you OK?" they asked. I looked at their eyes and I saw genuine concern. "Yeah I'm fine", I said, and picked up my skis, limping out of the finish gates. Nels and Kaj met up with me, and graciously helped me with such mundane tasks as getting my arms into sleeves and not falling over.

Now that I'm stopped, I began to uncontrollably shake. My teeth were chattering like they did at swim practice when I was 8 years old. Nels pointed me to the tent where they are passing out warm soup. He mentioned something about where to meet up, but I wasn't paying attention. All I could focus on was the warm bowl of chicken noodle soup.

As I stood there, in the middle of a massively packed tent, I noticed all the other skiers around me. Some of them shivering, some of them talking and joking about the race. Others telling stories about high-speed crashes on the course.

Right next door was the medical tent. And in there were people in far worse shape than I. My shivers dissipated after a second bowl of soup, but there were skiers with frostbite, hypothermia, and more serious conditions that needed medical attention.

I can't imagine what it would take to conquer the Birkebeiner with any less training that I had. Or any less fitness. Or slower skis. But there were hundreds of people who did that. Thousands. It was a humbling experience to think about, and I kind of felt like a wimp. Because, man, that was really hard.

Who am I kidding. That SUCKED. But maybe it sucked enough to get me back out on my skis again and train for next year.