Groundhog Day

Journal entry courtesy Clara Hughes.



Anyone who has seen the movie "Groundhog Day" starring Bill Murray knows the annoying concept of repeating a day over and over again. We received a heavy dose of this earlier in the week while attempting to travel to Europe. It was the first of the speed skating team's multiple oversea journeys in this, the 2003/2004 season. I should have known something was destined to go awry after breezing through the check-in. All members of the team had arrived with ample time and we were ready for the rather epic journey to Norway: a 9 _ hour direct flight to Frankfurt followed by a short-haul to Oslo, and finally the hour train ride to Hamar. We are competing at the sight of the 1994 Olympics and what has become the traditional first stop of the World Cup circuit.

The Canadian Luge Team sat in the boarding area, also on their first trip of the season. We chatted about respective travel schedules like it was the most common thing to romp around the globe donning the red and white of the Canadian flag. Like business people on their globe-trotting regimes, it is easy to forget the privilege of this opportunity. Seeing them sit as a team reminded me how lucky we are, even if we did not look as sharp as they did in their National Team jackets.

Though we may not have looked it in our respective street clothes, the bond we hold is stronger than most. None of us said it at the time, but we all felt the void that Cindy Klassen's absense had created. For those who do not know, Cindy had a horrific accident in training the week prior, that left her in the hospital with surgery and a cast on her right arm. Not only will she not be able to race in these World Cups, she will be out of training for some time in order for her arm to heal. She cut twelve tendons, an artery, nerve and a good part of the muscle. That it was not worse is a miracle. It was impressive to see Cindy's reaction to the whole ordeal. Where most would have crumbled she laughed, joked and held her head high. I have the strong feeling that not only will Cindy be back soon, she will return stronger than ever. We miss her and count the days to her return.

Last season we had a bit of a tradition that translated into a fist pump and a 'whoop' which we saluted anything and anyone with. Since Cindy's accident we have a new version of this, in Cindy's honor. She has a splint cast on her arm which has her hand in a sort of hook, and she has to hold it over her heart for two weeks. Our new cheer is an imitation of this with a loud 'whoop', all in honor of Cindy. We do this knowing it would make her smile.

In the waiting room area teammate Tara Risling provided me with a sleeping pill. It was one of the things that I had neglected to get before this trip and I was lucky that Tara shared the wealth. We discussed what would be the best time to take it, and agreed as soon as the plane was pulling out of the gate would be best. My sole goal on an overseas flight is to sleep, and I am willing to go to great costs to knock myself out for hours in the air. The little blue pill was golden on such a long flight.

As we reached the runway it was as if my head rested on a base of rubber. I was bobbing from side to side, unable to control the dead weight of my head as I slipped into oblivion. It was a sleeping pill stupor, however, and though I felt like I was out cold, I remained aware of the noises around me. I soon realized that we were not yet in the air. I pried my eyes open to the sound of the captain saying we would have to return to the gate as he was 'not happy' with the right engine of the place. It sounded reasonable enough, and I think we were all grateful he had decided on this while still on the ground.

We parked at the gate for at least an hour before being instructed to disembark. Further tests were needed and all that I needed was sleep. Tara and I glanced at each other with an 'I can't believe we took the sleeping pill!' look and proceeded to nod-off in the waiting area. Shortly after it was announced that another plane was needed and it had to come from Vancouver. By this time it was 10pm, four hours after our scheduled departure. Air Canada provided us each with a measly ten-dollar meal voucher which we proceeded to use in an airport restaurant.

While still dozing heavily we waited for our food. We and about a hundred other passengers, that is. I don't think that the kitchen staff were prepared for such a flood of patrons at that late hour. We waited patiently, though I suspect the sleeping pill had a greater influence than patience alone. At least for Tara and me it did.

At ten o'clock it was announced that our flight had been officially cancelled. It was re-scheduled for the following day at 1:30 in the afternoon. We took turns using my cell phone to call our respective rides, most of us doubling and tripling up with other's loved ones unlucky enough to have to drive on the snow-covered roads, for the second time that day.

After seven wasted hours in the airport I did not want to think of the ordeal beginning again the following day. I felt like Bill Murray on Groundhog Day number twenty in the movie, frazzled, yet exhausted. All was forgotten when my head finally hit the pillow and what a dreamy sleep it was.

The following morning I did a shortened version of the sub-aerobic training that the coaches had suggested. I suppose I should mention that we had raced the previous morning, lifted weights, packed, and scrambled to finish the inevitable last minute errands when traveling, all before the infamous flight. This was not my idea of a relaxed travel day. Instead of jogging or enduring an indoor spin on the bike, I hopped on my cruiser, fenders and all, and rode to the nearest Starbuck's for my morning brew. It was the relaxed morning I needed, and as I sat in the warmth of the coffee shop, I forgot of the looming travel day laying ahead.

Soon enough we were back in line, shuffling onto the plane. It was a relief to reach cruising altitude without a hitch. I contemplated taking another sleeping pill but the Johnny Depp movie, followed by one of my personal childhood favorites "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", in combination with the early afternoon departure kept me awake. I slept a measly 2x15 minutes on the flight and arrived in Frankfurt, starving from the incredulous lack of food on such a long flight, exhausted.

Most of us were booked on the earlier flight to Oslo. We set out on a wild-goose chase in the massive airport for those of those who were scheduled for reasons we could not comprehend, were on a later flight. From one counter to another, each Lufthansa worker sent us to another region of the airport that seemed to grow with each step we took.

We finally reached the correct counter and began to wait in what we hoped to be the last line of the day. As some of the team waited in line, Tara and I sat beside the outlet on the wall. I had borrowed a Litebook from the Medicine Hat Company which produces what we hoped to be a cure for the common case of jet-lag (for more info check out www.Litebook.com, as it will take too long for me to go into great detail about just what it is and how it works!). It has worked wonders for me and I had hoped to have the same effects as last years test run that I did. Tara and I plugged it into the airport wall and soon became the most interesting spectacle in the airport. Picture two messy-haired, exhausted girls slumped against the wall, faces illuminated in a shade of florescent. Yes, it was quite a sight. We did not care as any chance of decreasing the adverse effects of travel was worth its weight in gold.

At noon we were in Oslo, while half of our baggage remained in Frankfurt. It was fast becoming the worst trip any of us had experienced. We were given an emergency travel package, care of Star Alliance, which contained the essential toiletries (deodorant and all) as well as a very large white t-shirt. By this time we were giddy with sleep-exhaustion. I soon found myself with the t-shirt pulled on over my jacket, scarf and mittens. I looked like an enormous North American tourist as the shirt came down to my knees and elbows. This sent our giggles into hysteria. Tara, Kristina Groves and I cried as we shook uncontrollably in silence, consumed by the mad laughs. We were doubled over, sitting on the bench, each passerby looking in wonder at the three crazy tourists.

We were told our baggage would be delivered that evening and soon boarded the hour train ride to Hamar. The soft hum of the train sent us into slumber. I was fast asleep before organizing my bags, and when I woke again we were just passing by the Viking Ship on the outskirts of town. My computer bag laid smack in the middle of the isle, beside one of my teammate's large duffle bags. We were a sorry lot and knew it.

The trip that had began with excitement, and turned for obvious reasons into a grind, found it's speed once again when we entered the Viking Ship for our first day on the ice. It is always exciting to begin a new season. Everything we achieved last year is the past and we are here to establish ourselves once again. The epic journey that brought us here parallels the potential uncertainty of what we do. So much of it is unknown and one must be prepared to deal with obstacles as they come, while not wasting energy. Humor is an important ingredient in a functional team and we proved once again that when it can't seem to get any worse, we can still laugh.

If anything, I learned to never pop a sleeping pill until you are absolutely certain the plane is going to take off…