Drifting off to sleep

Luciano Betocchi
Luciano Bertocchi - Malborghetto (UD) 17.12.1933

It's one of those nights.

Sometimes, I just can't fall asleep, I lie in bed wide awake helpless, waiting. I try to unclutter my head, turn off the thoughts of the day, abandon for a moment the physical world.
I flick through my passions and memories that take me inevitably to the mountains, on slim skis.

There are 105 days to go to my 44th Marcialonga, the “Long Race”. I could never have foreseen that way back in 1970, as a young Professor of nuclear physics working away in Oslo, that happening upon a newspaper article about the first Nordic skiing long race of Italy, in the valleys of Fiemme and Fassa, would lead to me still being here after 46 years, and with that same youthful passion. The Marcialonga was and is, a travelling companion for me, Marcialonga, that over time has become the most powerful sleeping pill: mentally the track helps me slip into a deep sleep, forget about counting sheep...

Moena. I am at the starting line, in a yellow ski suit and light on my feet just like in my youth.
You breath adrenaline before the start of the race. Everyone is impatient, emotional and fidgeting nervously. I don´t even feel the cold. I am just waiting.

Suddenly, in the cold air, the crack of a starting-pistol shot.
The gates open and finally I can let go on the track.

I have just come out of the starting gates and I can see the first slope, behind the electric plant, which brings me quickly to the, Prati di Sorte, which is relatively flat ground about 1 km long. Here is the centre of Moena, the oldest part of town. The houses glow in the first light of day, chimneys smoking, life waking up after a cold, silent night.

I ski past the police station and I have nearly arrived at Soraga! BE CAREFUL! Here is one of those curves that claims most victims, but I am not worried, I know it well, I have dealt with it for too many years to let it trick me now.

I can see the Avisio, the river, my travelling companion precious in its low respectful flow. It travels with me for the few kilometres before the beginning of Pontere di San Giovanni, which is the first really physically difficult part of the course. I gather my strength, a strong push, an upwards thrust in my stride, I concentrate on my rising heartbeat. We have just started: I can't use up all my energy straight away. I get to the top and there is a slight downward slope that brings me to Pozza di Fassa, and then a light rise and fall to Pera and then to Mazzin. Every year, I feel the same here, a penetrating sensation of perfection. I find myself in front of the Sella mountain range with its legendary steep mountains in all their natural glory.

I slide, push and daydream while heading to Campestrin, then Campitello and finally Canazei. We change direction and head back towards where we came from. The Marmolada is now behind me as I ski back down and cross over the Avisio once again between large snow-covered fields and through dense woods of spruce and larch. This is the part of the course that I prefer because it makes me feel part of the breathtaking Dolomites.

Then there are all of the upward climbs that leave you breathless, they are crippling, and the never ending downward slopes. Leaving poetry aside, I need to get back into the spirit of the competition as I ski downwards to Moena. I can see the starting line to my right where this morning, at sunrise, I stood so full of expectation. So far so good. We have done a circuit but the road is still long. Cavalese is waiting... but first I must pass the other villages of the "Fiemme" valley. The Lagorai mountains, a wild and magnificent terrain with the hardest climb, the last before arriving at the sought after line, bringing with it the satisfaction that I got there again.

I continue in the direction of Predazzo, the track sloping slightly downwards. My spirit rises knowing that I have arrived back to where I left from. My body is doing well.
I dig my sticks into the snow and push with my arms which is how you do it now, how the youth do it.

Finally, I let myself drift off to sleep... dreaming of the next start!

Concept, interview and text: Susanna Sieff
Photo: Alice Russolo
Video: Graziano Bosin - Dolomiti TV


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