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Author Archive

Spring on the Isle of Skye

28.Apr.2016 by Susan Dunklee

At the end of last April, I found myself down in Hanover competing on Dartmouth’s alumni team for the spring woodsmen’s meet. I ran into a fellow alumna, Jenny, who had also been my high school English teacher. Between bouts of wood splitting, sawing and fire building competitions, we caught up. Jenny and her family were soon moving to England for a sabbatical year. “Would you have any interest in doing a hiking trip in Scotland next year?” she asked me.

Why not?

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Jenny MacKenzie, my English teacher from St. Johnsbury Academy, and I. (Photo: Jenny)

And so we began planning a trip to the Isle of Skye in April 2016. Jenny found a good deal on a rental house near the middle of the island. I looked into rental cars and pondered the challenges of driving on the “wrong” side of narrow roads. We read up on hikes in the Cuillin Mountains and watched Danny Macaskill’s “The Ridge” mountain bike video. We expected we’d have at least a few raw April days where we’d be sipping tea in front of a cozy fire, or local whisky at the neighborhood pub. When one of my long time skier friends, ex GRP racer and also a Dartmouth alumna, Chelsea Little, heard about the trip, she was intrigued. We invited her along too.

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The Old Schoolhouse in Carbost, our home base for the week. The Red Cuillin Mountains are in the background. We explored many different corners of the island during day hikes (Photo: Jenny)

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Chelsea and myself. When the forecast promised a window of good weather early in our week, we decided we’d better seize the opportunity to explore the Black Cuillin mountains, which are very rugged. Although none of Skye’s mountains are very high, they include steep and technical terrain. (photo: Jenny)

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We made it to the top of the ridge but with strong winds and snow, and without proper safety equipment, we decided not to try bagging any Munros (summits).

On another sunny day we tackled the less jagged, but still very steep, Red Cuillins. Over the years Chelsea and I have done lots of hiking together in New Hampshire, Vermont and Colorado. While we deliberately seek out high levels of challenge, we’ve also made scary mistakes which have taught us the importance of risk management. When Jenny steered us towards Mount Glamaig’s steepest face and then launched herself into the air and purposely landed in a scree-ski/slide down the mountain, I was wary. However, upon trying it myself I discovered it felt much more controlled than it had looked and it was a terrifically fun way to descend.

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Jenny’s upbringing as an alpine ski racer allowed her to leave Chelsea and I in the dust. I think she should try the Glamaig Hill Race, an annual competition from the Sligachan Hotel to the top of the mountain and back: 4.5 miles with 2500 ft elevation change. The women’s record is 56:10 and the men’s is 44:27.

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No day in the mountains is complete without a post hike swim.

Much of Skye is a spongy peat bog, including some of the mountain summits we visited such as the flat-topped MacLeod’s tables.

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I’ve always preferred to hike in running shoes rather than boots but they do get wet easily. I had what I thought was a genius idea: wear plastic ziplock bags over my socks to keep my feet dry. I tried it one day and it was terrible. My feet were dripping wet from sweat in no time, plus at the end of the day I was dumping out sheep shit, which had somehow accumulated inside the plastic during the hike.

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We climbed over many fence stiles during our wanders and made friends with a lot of farm animals. These cattle were very curious. It was prime lambing season, so we tried to give the pregnant ewes as much space as we could.

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Wait, which way are we supposed to be going? (photo: Chelsea)

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The Quiraing, a geologic landslip that we explored. It looked like a perfect home for fairies and other mythological creatures. Historically it provided a convenient hiding place for cattle during Viking raids. (photo: Chelsea)

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Another famous landform and easy hike: The Old Man of Storr.

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I haven’t spent much time near an ocean, so our walk to MacLeod’s Maidens was a treat. These interesting rocks are named after the drowned wife and daughters of a MacLeod cheiftain.

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Skye’s “Coral Beaches.” My teammates tell me that I should try a real spring beach vacation one of these years. Does this count? This beach isn’t actually coral; the white color comes from dried out and sun-bleached algae.

While researching Skye on the internet, I had read about several Iron Age souterrains (underground storage tunnels made from rock and covered with sod). We decided to find one. A rough description from the web gave us an approximate location in a sheep pasture. We combed every hillock and hummock looking for the thing then gave up and decided to check out the nearby beaches. But the allure of our treasure hunt brought us back a couple hours later and we finally found it!

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Jenny, of course, had no qualms about wiggling into the muddy hole to explore the inside and we soon followed (photo: Jenny)

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It extended 10 m into the ground (Photo: Jenny).

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Braving a hailstorm and severe winds to check out an old broch (round fort).

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Every glen we saw had ruins of shielings (farmers’ huts) and brochs representing many different centuries. Stones were often scavenged from nearby ruins to be incorporated into new structures, so these sites might include many layers of history.

During the Highland Clearances in the nineteenth century, thousands of crofters were displaced to make room for sheep pastures, leaving villages and shielings abandoned. Many Scots emigrated to America at this time, including a concentrated settlement near Craftsbury.

A short walk from our rental house was the Talisker Whisky Distillery. It opened in 1830 and enabled some displaced families to find work and stay on Skye. We made it back from our daily ramblings early enough one afternoon to catch a tour.

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This list of adjectives in the visitor’s center caught my eye. They are many of the same qualities that make a good biathlete.

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After a week with mostly pleasant weather, we drove away from Skye in the middle of a spring snow storm. The week was over all too soon. (Photo: Chelsea)

A Week with the International Biathlon Team

28.Jul.2015 by Susan Dunklee

Tonstad isn’t a very big town. Tucked against rocky cliffs in southern Norway, it has a grocery store, a bakery, a peaceful lake, narrow twisty roads, sheep ranging through bucolic pastureland, and a 30 point biathlon range. It also has some very talented visitors.

The French biathlon and xc ski teams have become a familiar presence at the Sirdal sports school every July leading up to the Blink Rollerski Festival. This year another group of international visitors has joined them, a group I am grateful to be part of. We have been calling ourselves the International Biathlon Team.

Organized by the Canadians and Norwegian shooting coach Joar Himle, our small group has athletes from four different countries, including 3 world championship medalists. We are united by our desire to become the best biathletes we can be. We are here to learn as much as we can from the staff as well as from each other. Along the way we’ve been able to do some training with the French team and Norwegian women’s team. Tomorrow everyone will travel to Sandnes together to compete at the Blink Festival.

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Our International Biathlon Team, L to R: Matthias Ahrens (Canadian coach from Germany), Brendan Green (Canada), Nathan Smith (Canada), Katja Yurlova (Russia), Kaisa Mäkäräinen (Finland), myself, Rosanna Crawford (Canada), Joar Himle (shooting coach, Norway). Not pictured, Megan Tandy (Canada). Several pictures courtesy of Matthias Ahrens.

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An afternoon ski with Katja and Rosanna

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Running back to town from the shooting range

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Team relay drills together with the Norwegian ladies

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Agility and coordination drills

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Rollerskiing with Megan and the Norwegians

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Katja enjoying the scenery

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Rosanna hiking toward the famous Kjeragbolten rock

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The Kjeragbolten, suspended between cliffs 1000 m directly above the Lysebotn Fjord. This picture is actually from last year. After climbing out on this rock once and getting shaky legs, I resolved I’d never to do it again.

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Exploring the roads above Lysebotn with Katja and Kaisa. We saw patches of snow.

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An outing with the French to our host Frode’s farm

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The French men enjoying a volleyball match in their spare time

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Dinner!

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View from the sports school where we are staying

Summer for a Skier

10.Jul.2015 by Susan Dunklee

Spring is the time for recovery, summer is the time to put in the work, fall is for fine tuning and winter is racing. People are often surprised when we tell them that we do the bulk of our training hours in the summer months. We build a solid foundation of aerobic fitness and strength with long hours of rollerskiing, running, biking, hiking, and lifting. We work hard and we keep it fun.

For over five years, I have spent my summers split between training in Lake Placid, New York with the National Biathlon Team and in Craftsbury, Vermont with the Green Racing Project, my home ski club and a place I love dearly. Since they are only three and a half hours apart I can go back and forth often during the year.

Training with the National Team
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Exploring the New York Adirondack mountains early summer with the team and Andrea

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Normally we travel to Bend, Oregon in May to get in some skiing but we stayed east this year due to lack of snow. Instead we did a road biking camp near Middlebury

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Lunch break, post bike ride

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One major benefit of Lake Placid is training at a shooting range attached to a rollerski loop

Training with the Craftsbury Green Racing Project

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Alright, maybe we should rollerski longer if we have this much energy post workout

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Helping out with an introductory kids’ biathlon camp

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On the road in Greensboro

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Does anybody else out there still love animal crackers?

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We normally shoot only biathlon rifles, but for 4th of July celebrations Craftsbury biathletes have a tradition of cross training by shooting a wider variety of rifles, shot guns and pistols.

Adventures Elsewhere

June was a busy month for weddings. Two former Craftsbury teammates got married in Wisconsin and two former biathlon teammates got married in Idaho. (Congrats to the happy couples!) Hannah and I spent a week in Idaho doing a high volume block of training between the weddings. Many thanks to Mikey Sinnott and his family, the Sun Valley ski team, and the folks at Elephant’s Perch for welcoming us!

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Skiing with the Sun Valley team

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Everyone told us Sun Valley’s wildflowers were the best they’d seen in years. I might have been so distracted that I flipped over the handlebars. Twice. (credits for these last pics: Hannah)

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Time in the mountains is good for the soul

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Han and I on the summit of Hyndman Peak

Experiencing Khanty-Mansiysk

6.Apr.2015 by Susan Dunklee

I know, I know, the race season ended two weeks ago. But I have these really cool pictures from Khanty-Mansiysk that I want to share. Khanty is a fascinating city in western Siberia and it was the site of our last races. Hannah and I made it a point to get out and see as many sights as possible. Every day we found something new.

Wandering around the City

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(photo credit for this one: wikipedia, because my camera battery died)

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Locally crafted boots for sale at a vendor

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Birch park in the middle of town

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Our hotel

A visit to Archeopark

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Biathlon

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Elaborate Opening Ceremonies

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(Photo: NordicFocus/USBA)

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Reindeer waiting to bring winners to flower ceremony

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Eager Russian fans lingering by the athlete exit