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Saturday, June 4, 2016

Ice Station LaCrosse: Crossing The Mississippi

I have run in 115 degree weather, and I have run in -23 degree weather.  This is the story about the -23 degree episode in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.  I bring you this tale after being reminded of it by of our great Throws Coach Patrick Ebel, who spent quite a bit more time there than I did.

The year was 1985 and I was getting in my clinical experience in podiatric medicine prior to graduation that year.  I had signed up for a month at a top-notch facility, the Gundersen Clinic.  Think of it like the Mayo Clinic without all the fat, hassles and calories.  I had learned how good a program it was for aspiring Residents of Podiatry.  But I hadn't figured about the time of year I would be there, and I ended up with January.  In Wisconsin!  Oh well, I'm sure I could handle that...

Unlike nowadays, booking tickets to get there was an over-the-phone affair, unless you went to a travel agent.  I got a great deal on a 2-flight combo from Philadelphia to LaCrosse on a major airline and thought nothing more of it.

December 31, 1984 came and I grabbed my things and took off on my 1 month-long adventure of learning.  The first flight took me to Minneapolis in big plane luxury.  Well, what I thought of as luxury anyway.  I had an hour to spare and went to sit at the gate for the connecting flight to LaCrosse.  I was plenty early and no one else was there, so I casually took a nap.

I was awakened by a gentleman in a pilot uniform who asked if I was headed to LaCrosse.  I answered in the affirmative and he helped me grab my stuff and we headed for the door.  It opened to the tarmac where we trudged across the macadam to a very little commercial plane.  We stuffed my bags into the open hatch and hopped onto the plane.  There was still no one else around.  I thought I was being treated special and figured others would be along any minute.  It was a nineteen-seater.  I was further startled when the gentleman closed the door, fired the beast up and we began taxiing toward the runway!

Turns out he was the pilot and I was the only passenger for the flight.  I then figured that there had to be a stewardess hiding somewhere I couldn't see, but none ever came.

Once the surprise almost left me, I napped a little bit more.  Why waste any time to rest prior to a month as an unpaid intern?  I was again awakened by a gentleman in a pilot's uniform.  MY PILOT was sitting next to me starting a conversation with me!  And I was in the back of the plane.  I sneaked a glance up front and must have looked panicked as the pilot exclaimed "Don't worry, it's on autopilot." as if I had ever been on a plane without a pilot and should relax like everyone else on the planet would!

We talked briefly and he resumed the controls, telling me "This will be bumpy, but it always is because of the terrain of Southwestern Wisconsin".  True to his word, the flight became quite like a little roller coaster you rode as a kid at a church carnival.   Still, it was really scary to someone like me, who hadn't flown much at all prior to that.

Once we landed, I was thinking about kissing the ground, but was dissuaded from it because it was REALLY COLD!  The thermometer prominently displayed at the airport read -23 degrees.  I suppose the locals have some sort of pride about it.  And I was the only person I ran into wearing a hat.  This was before the when every damn hipster in the world wears a knit-cap 24/7.  I figured my bizarre start to the month was over, but I was wrong!

I hailed a cab for the short trip to the rather large complex of the Gundersen Clinic and my temporary apartment among the medical students.  I was looking forward to a little down time prior to checking in with my mentors.

But the cab stopped dead on the two-lane road with a line of stopped cars ahead of it stretching into the distance.  Up ahead were several cop cars with lights flashing.  More cops sped by us in the opposite lane, all converging at the same spot ahead.  It was just an open field covered by the snow, like everywhere else I looked? It was over an hour until the flashing lights ceased, and the cars started to leave.  And then....   Nothing.  We just completed our journey with nothing at all to see, and that was that?

It was only the next morning when I read the paper that I learned what had held us up.  It happened to be "just a burning body without a head or hands left burning beside the road"Welcome to Wisconsin!

And since I always try to link the blog to running, golf, or physics, I will tell you that I don't think it ever got above 0 degrees during the whole month.  And I took a run across the Mississippi River, and I never saw any moving water. Ever.

The highlight of my runs there were the beer crystals hanging in the frozen air from the Heileman Brewery along the river (brewing that great Old Style lager as seen in the Blues Brothers movies).  You could actually taste the beer instead of merely smelling it!  At -23 degrees, every run was a beer tasting.

 
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