Time was running out, so Quintin, Wilson, and Kristina took the train from Lillehammer to Trelleborg, Sweden, where the tracks entered a ship, which crossed the Baltic to Travemunde. Once onto the continent, the train headed south through Germany, Belgium, and into France. Quintin’s father had told him about his own adventures in France; the food, the rats, and the language. The French had a different word for everything. As day became night, the train rolled along through the French countryside. They would arrive in the alpine village of Ochagavia the next morning, where Johann Muehlegg would meet them at the train station.
Readers of the first installment of “Off Track” (September 2002 CCS), will remember that Muehlegg’s family had fled to Germany during the Inquisition. Century’s later, he had returned to wear the red & yellow of Espana and capture the World Cup. Johann was waiting at the terminal, signing autographs for the crowd around him. He was wearing a full-length brown canvas coat and a cowboy hat, with a big grin on his face. Wilson grabbed their bags, and they pushed their way into the crowd. As soon as the gathering on the platform realized they were standing next to a full grown mountain lion, the station emptied. Johann took the trio to a nearby cafe, where he told them about his new acting career. Sergio Leone, the famous director of numerous spaghetti westerns, had a nephew who was producing his own films. They were skiing spaghetti westerns, in which Muehlegg played the lead role, a cowboy on nordic skis. He would ski through the Rocky Mountains, chasing down bank robbers and horse thieves with his powerful double poling. The mountains, of course, were the Pyrenees, and the “bad guys” were Europa Cup skiers, who needed the extra cash to support their training.
Wilson wanted to know if they could watch the next day’s filming, but Quintin reminded everyone they were on a mission. They must find the snow armadillo, and gather its scat to be used in the secret wax recipe. Johann said he had seen one when he was training on the Zubiri glacier with the rest of the Spanish team. They would gather the necessary supplies and head up into the mountains in search of what the locals called blanco armadillo. Wilson was still wondering if they would see Clint Eastwood, but Kristina assured him that the actor was on the beach in California.
The next day Quintin, Wilson the mountain lion, Kristina Smigun and Johann went into the Pyrenees, looking for the elusive snow armadillo. They were striding up a long hill when Wilson smelled something unusual. Behind a nearby Spanish Oak was a small, white animal. It looked as though it was covered in armor. Wilson sprang towards the reclusive creature, and wisely it scurried under a rock. The sight of a six-foot long panther on the attack had the necessary affect. Lying in the snow were several little pellets, armadillo scat. Kristina put protective gloves on and gathered the poop into a piece of fiberlene. The lint free cloth would keep contaminants out. The group skied down the mountain and into town, where they shipped the prized commodity to Doctor Binderson at the Swix castle in Lillehammer.
Johann had to return to the set to continue filming. They thanked him for his help, and made plans to meet up with him in Colorado prior to the Winter Olympics. Kristina was leaving them as well. It was November, and she was heading to Finland for the opening World Cup races. Quintin and Wilson were sad to see their friend leave, but they wished her good luck and reminded her not to forget her snap. She boarded the express train to Helsinki, and was gone before they knew it.
The toddler and the lion rollerskied to the airport in Andorra la Vella, where they bought their tickets for the return flight to Colorado. Wilson had missed the hunting season, for which he was glad. Quintin missed his parents, but he was excited to show them that he had learned how to walk, drink from a glass, and order an entire meal in a French restaurant, using an outrageous accent. It had been a long trip, and the two were excited to be going home. They had many tales to tell, although Quintin dihad been a long trip, and the two were excited to be going home. They had many tales to tell, although Quintin didn’t think the kids at daycare would believe him. They walked onto Iberian Air and found their seats. Quintin fell fast asleep, and dreamed of home, where he could take a break from the long double pole sessions on rollerskis and be pulled behind his parents in his playpen on skis.
After a connection in Lisbon, the plane headed for the Rocky Mountains and Denver International Airport. Quintin’s parents were waiting for the two explorers when they got off the plane. Quintin’s father asked how Doctor Binderson liked the secret wax, and they proceeded to tell him about Johann Muehlegg, Spain, and the snow armadillo. On the drive home the boy and his lion friend filled Mom and Dad in on all the details of their four-month journey. As they drove over Berthoud Pass and down into the Fraser Valley, the adventurers could see that winter had arrived in Grand County, Colorado. Tracks were set everywhere, from the schools, the shops, the restaurants, and into every neighborhood. Quintin was glad to be back where he could put on Blue extra and leave it on until March.
Back at home the days flew by. Quintin spent his time playing, eating and sleeping. Of course, he skied as often as possible, and when he wasn’t at daycare, his father pulled him up Blue Ridge in a converted Burley Buggy. Quintin knew he could ski to the top of the trail, at nearly 11,000 feet, but it was good strength work for his dad. Wilson spent his days hunting rabbits and squirrels. He was glad to be back in his own cave at night. Before they knew it, it was January, and the Olympics were right around the corner. The Estonian and Spanish cross-country ski teams were scheduled to arrive any day for some high altitude training before going down to Soldier Hollow. They were going to test the oxygen patch that Quintin’s father had invented. Similar to a nicotine patch, the small piece of cloth, when attached to the chest, would emit super concentrated oxygen, allowing the athlete to complete quality interval and speed sessions while at altitude. They would take off the patch for distance work and when they weren’t training, thus getting the benefits of altitude. It was an inexpensive hyperbaric chamber, and had been approved by the IOC.
One morning Quintin climbed out of his crib and went to the window, where he saw several rental vans pull into the driveway. His friend Kristina Smigun was in one of them, and Andrus Veerpalu, the 30K classic world champion, was in the back seat. The other van was full of Spanish racers, including Johann. He was no longer wearing a cowboy hat, obviously not wanting to look like he was from Texas. They spent the next week skiing many of the 350 kilometers of groomed trails in the community. Kristina’s snap was back for good, as evidenced by her early season World Cup results. Johann especially enjoyed the long climb up to the top of Corona Pass. He thought it would make for a great late season hill climb race, like they have in cycling. He told Quintin he would encourage other Europeans to come to Grand County if the International Spring Series was held there. Of course, most ski racers, Europeans and Americans, were afraid of altitude. Kristina thought that many top skiers had become soft and weak. When she was a girl in Estonia, they would do speed training holding their breath, in order to simulate oxygen deprivation. It was a tactic learned from the great Czech runner, Emil Zatopek.
The days rolled by, and it was time to leave Colorado for the Heber Valley in Utah. The Estonians and Spaniards were able to spend their final days before the Olympics in Grand County, where they skied and rested in preparation for the big event. The Norwegians, Swedes, and Russians were in Idaho, socializing with Hollywood starlets. It would surely come back to haunt them in the days ahead.
Kristina and Johann had both raced at Soldier Hollow a year earlier, when the World Cup came to town. Combined with their special training in Colorado, the secret wax would give them an edge over the competition. The wax had arrived via special delivery. Ali the Reindeer, their friend from Finland, had brought it from halfway across the world. She had gone to Lillehammer, picked up the “Artemesia Carbontata”, with armadillo excrement, from Dr. Binderson, then run to St. Petersburg, where Galena Kulakova was waiting for her with two dozen cans of the pink and green kick wax known as Retro 88.
Ali then headed east, running across Russia (it’s quicker on four legs). Her great grandmother had told her about a legendary ice bridge across the Bering Strait, where she could cross over to Alaska. Then she ran south to Utah, arriving in time to help pack the trails by foot prior to final course preparation for the games.
Quintin Blanco, his parents, and Wilson the Mountain Lion, arrived in Midway, Utah in time for the opening event, the mass start 30-km skate race. Johann had won this race the previous winter, and was the favorite to repeat. Kristina would race later that day in a 15-km mass start skate, an event she had podiumed in earlier in the winter in Europe.
Editor’s note: International sports betting laws prohibit the dissemination of race results prior to the event taking place. As a result, the IOC Internet Police have confiscated the rest of this story. It cannot be released to the public until February 25th, after the 2002 Winter Olympics have ended.