Saturday, April 21, 2007

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.


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