This past week we have been staying in a little nordic village outside of Kuusamo, Finland. All I have ever heard of Kuusamo is bad things, considering normally it is right on the brisk of illegally cold racing. This year played out a little different than normal. Not only was it warm, but similar to the rest of Europe, there was no snow. Luckily all of these World Cup venues have snow making set up, so the guns were blowing from the day we arrived early on in the week. The first day there was snow only covering about 2km of trail. Each day, more and more trail was built. By race day, they had a full 5km of skiable trails.
Holly digging for her stuff. This is our ski van that gets filled with skis for the travel. Smart system!
The festive Ruka! So awesome
The unique thing that I am going to always classify Ruka skiing under now is hills. If you are not climbing straight up a hill, you are skiing down a curvy steep hill... sometimes even resembling an alpine resort.

The wall... somehow it looks flat.
The big hill into the stadium on the sprint course
One of the other unique things about Ruka is the small village. All the teams are staying within 1km of each other, mostly in small cabins distributed among a steep hill, with the top of the hill being the place where all the athletes eat meals. With everyone in one place, you get the opportunity to meet people during meals and just walking around the village. I have come to realize it really is this sort of competitive traveling family that moves from venue to venue each weekend. It's incredibly fun!

Headed into the waxroom
Races kicked off on friday with a classic sprint on a course I can only explain as hilly. You start in a stadium on the top of a hill, shoot down to the bottom, make a turn and race back up to the top. One of those courses, similar to most, that even the briefest mistake looses you 10 places. I finished the race in 47th, four seconds out of qualifying in the top 30 for the heats. After watching some of the girls ski the course, it became apparent to me where I was loosing most of my time in transitions between the climbs and the descents. After finishing my 3 minute race for the day, I then got to watch my teammate Kikkan show exactly how it is done. Qualifying 12th, she managed to make it through quarter, semi's and then advance on into the finals, where she placed 4th. It is so cool to watch her strengths play out in person among the field. Skiing with her year around, I see her ski every day, but its fun to see what it looks like in a race.
Thanks to Steve for the flyingpoint photo!
Saturdays skate race brought even more fun. A 5k course made of once again, walls and alpine hills... it seemed there was going to be no opportunity for recovery in this race, instead you just had to go from the gun. My first world cup weekend I had Martha Kristoffersen, one of the top norwegian skiers starting behind me, and I had this same thing this weekend. The first weekend, I held on to her as long as I could, but that only lasted for about 1km before she dropped me on the hill. Saturday, I decided I was just going to play, see how long I could hold off Martha, and see how long I could hold on to her once she caught me. Sure enough, Martha managed to catch me at about 3km, in the middle of a massive hill, but from that point until the end, I held on for dear life and skid my heart out to the line, loosing about 3 seconds to her at the final stretch. The coolest thing about this was that one week later, I got another opportunity to ski the speed that a top ten skier was skiing. I finished the day in 37th, my best world cup finish, and only 6 seconds out of scoring points. A fun day, and a good success.

Full waxroom full of Fischer :)
My final day of the tour wasn't nearly as positive as the rest. I have been struggling with finding klister skis yet this year, so sundays hilly course did not play in favor for a pair of skis with no kick. For 10km I tried to power myself up the huge hills with my arms, but it only lasted for so long.. eventually that wasn't enough.

Walking into the stadium
Being on the world cup is extremely rewarding, but I have realized it can be really hard at times as well. You can have the best day of your life, and the following day just barely be off, but place in the bottom 10% of the field. Where a bad day in the US wouldn't crush your heart, a bad day on the world cup can feel like you failed 100%. After only being on this circuit for 2 weeks now, I feel like I got my first experience last weekend on the roller coaster ride this business can take you on. The expectations are high, especially when you have teammates that are up on the top. Sometimes your short site allows you to forget that it took them about 5 years of what I am doing to get to what they are doing. What I have learned though, is you have to take control of your expectations, your goals and your head... because if you allow the pressure and the crowd to control your emotions.... this business will chew you up and spit you out! It's a process though, and you can only learn to do that by living it.

pure focus!!
Focus during racing :) Flyingpoint photo
So after a weekend full of greats and horribles, I am now excited for what's next! And that is a weekend full of skate sprinting in downtown Dusseldorf. The first day is an individual sprint, and the following day will be a team sprint. Lots of enjoyment to come.

Thanks so all for the cheers and support and love. It means so much to have so many people pushing us forward.

APU crew. Casey and Holly
The massive walk up the hill can only be worse when you are lugging bags up it. This is the walk that we made 3 times a day up to food. It appears much flatter than it is :)
For the next 4 days we will be living in Davos, Switzerland in the most adorable little hotel of all time training in the 50 degree weather... and sunshine. A little altitude block of training, before taking off for the city on friday.