Carolyn and Anthony

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Ob Sea

On April 1st we crammed on a bus with about 50 other eager skiers to be dropped off at the far end of the Ob Sea (a large, narrow lake near Akademgorodok.) I never thought I’d find myself waking up at 6:00am so that I wouldn’t miss the bus that was going to drop me off in the middle of no-where Siberia, from whence my only hope of returning to safety was by my own skiing. As it’s been said before though, there’s a first time for everything, so Anthony and I scrambled out the door to walk 45 minutes to where this bus was filling up. We were lucky—I thought—and arrived in time to get a seat. Within 10 minutes after our arrival, the bus (which was significantly smaller than a standard yellow school bus) was teaming with spandex clad skiers, skis, poles, and BO.

Yes, it seemed that we were all wearing that long-underwear shirt that could go just one more workout before it ‘needed’ to be washed, and the merciless bus driver had the heat on full blast. This heat was blowing out from under our seat, and as the bus lurched its way into the Siberia wasteland, (fish-tailing on drifts of snow), I tried to stay desperately still because any movement meant my skin had to adjust again to the hot air and sweat in which it was surrounded. Some of this sweat seemed to be coming from the poor guy without a seat who’s only hope for stability was to lean over Anthony and me to grab at the side of the bus above our seat—the vehicle was so crowded that all those packed in the isle had run out of hand space on the subway-like bars above the isle.

We finally arrived though and, after everyone else had evacuated we were able to slide our way out of the seat and into breathable air. The weather was great though—sunny, warm, but cool enough to be refreshing and provide a tiny bit of a crust for skiing. We were assured over and over again that the ice was still over a meter thick, and I believed it because of the numerous little ice-fishing conventions set up on the lake.

The pilgrimage wound its way through some woods and abandoned buildings and vehicles until it reached the lake, about 2k from being dropped off. Anthony and I joined up with some of the skiers from the University, many of whom are grad students. We’ve been really lucky to find this group of wonderful young folks who are just as in love with the sport as we are. However—for them, just skiing the 35 kilometers back to town was not enough, we had to go island hopping to several chunks of frozen taiga in the middle of this huge lake. It was a blast though, and we were glad to be out on a sunny 4-hour ski.

Anthony and Peter. How's the weight-shift?

Carolyn, Sonya, and some shirt-less skiers. Anthony's taking the picture.


A few pictures of our friend, Sergei, whose birthday party we were able to attend, skiing in one of the local 10k races.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Winter walking pictures

Here are a few pictures of the daily walks we had while there was snow on the ground (the skiing ended around April 17th.) These pictures were taken on March 3rd.

We were walking home from the ski trails, but another skier was much smarter and faster than we were.

Anthony walking in the forest 500 meters from our apartment. He's carrying one of the wonderful prizes they routinely give away at ski races here (through the course of the winter our collective winnings included: a lot of chocolate; this giant trophy; champagne; cognac; special bungee cord for doing arm strength; Tupperware; a picture frame; a 3-Disc DVD player/Karaoke Machine (yes, really); and most recently a really nice pair of avanti ski poles.) We look forward to re-gifting some of these prizes because they probably wouldn't travel well back to the US.

5k Birthday, February

(We have had some troubles with internet here, but now we're able to post pictures and blogs, like this one written March 1st!)

Anthony and I participated in a 5k ski race yesterday, scheduled to be under the lights at 18:30. (It actually stays quite light here until about 18:15, then gets dark quite quickly.) When we walked into the parking lot at 18:00 there was only one car. One car? Surely Siberians couldn’t be canceling the race because of a mere -20.2°C and falling. (I believe this is under the legal limit for races I’ve done anywhere other than Russia.) This temp was without windchill of course, they don’t believe in that here. There was a huge brick building that seemed to be the chalet, so Anthony and I waltzed up to the 2nd floor and registered with the help of a young guy who spoke broken English. Eventually more people showed up, and the race got under way at about 18:42.

It was definitely the coldest race I’ve ever done, as mentioned earlier, and for the first few kilometers I only wanted my fingers to feel like separate digits, not one frozen mass; and for the last few kilometers I couldn’t tell if it was better to have my “buff” (little, thin, neck-warmer thing) pulled up to protect my frozen nose and warm the air I was breathing, or better to be pulled down so that my throat and neck would not be immediately numb with cold. It was so cold that my body couldn’t feel that it was tired or working hard. Also, skiing at night—on trails where there is at least several hundred dark meters between lights—was a surreal experience. It’s as if you’re more aware of the trail and snow, and less of your body, as you’re trying to float your way down the trail. It’s hard to describe; you’ll have to try it sometime.

Anyway, I was the female champion for the day…and also the only female participant. Anthony beat me, I’m sorry to say, but I would’ve been 3rd in the men’s field of about 20—most of whom were older than my Dad, though. Not that that means anything, Dad.

When I finished, I started talking to a nice couple who was there to cheer and congratulate their friend who was turning 70. They were proud to point out that their son is currently doing his post-doc at Princeton after studying at Stanford on an amazing scholarship because he won Russia’s highest honors in physics as a university student. They ushered us in to get warm after everyone had finished, and we were invited to stay for “awards.” We each won a nice big bar of chocolate and a bottle of alcohol of our choice—I chose champagne and Anthony chose cognac. (Champagne, Russian champagne, is really big here.)

We were then ushered into the birthday part for Sergei Nickolaivich. He is a jolly 70-yr-old who has legs skinnier than Anthony’s and a pot belly to rival most 3rd term pregnancies. Most of the racers joined in and we settled in for a grand little birthday party: there were 24 of us around a long table, with Sergei at the head, and 12 bottles of cognac. We were told that cognac is actually more common than Vodka, especially this cognac, which was made in Chechnya. I was told to drink “cognac for health” because I had been a bit chilled after the race and it would be the best way to warm me up. As we sat trying to keep our glasses from continually being refilled, our plates were continually refilled with hot, sausage-filled pierogies by the woman who seems in charge of this brick ski complex.

I was later informed that this brick chalet was built by the Institute of Nuclear Physics, one of the many institutes here in Akademgorodok. The INP paid for the entire project and pays for its upkeep, which includes 24-7 monitoring and food/tea after races. The first floor was intended for general public use, and the second floor—where Anthony and I had routinely been changing and leaving our things—was meant for the INP and other institutes. Everyone there was quite welcoming and hospitable though, so us using the 2nd floor was no big deal. The group was also intimidatingly well educated; most of them there worked at INP as particle physicists. The young MC giving out the awards just spent some time at Stanford’s horizontal accelerator. Apparently Stanford routinely exchanges people and ideas with INP here in Akademgorodok. Akademgorodok is also home to one of the largest wind-tunnels in the world and has contracts with many international engineering groups (I guess Boeing sends many projects here.)

Sergei Nickoliavich Marose, the man who was turning 70, is nuclear physicist and was really proud to have an international birthday party on this frosty birthday. His last name, Marose, means frost in Russian, which he found very amusing and appropriate on this very cold evening. And he was even more tickled that these crazy American kids were there to make his frosty birthday an international one.

After the party one man, who changed into full-body tan polyester after the race, kindly gave us the racing schedule for the rest of the winter. We’re very excited for the upcoming marathons, one almost every weekend, and a biathlon relay to be held later in March.

/* Removed 2007-02-28