Our February vacation has become a ski pilgrimage the last 6 years as we pack up and head out “West” to Wisconsin to see family and ski the American Birkebeiner 50K. The journey to and preparation for the race usually harbor more challenges than actually skiing 50K and this year was no exception. The 5 of us traveled light as usual, maxing out
3 bags at 49.99 lbs and a ski bag with 7 sets of skis/poles plus snow pants/boots… also just under 50 lbs, plus the obligatory hefty carry on per person, plus a random extra bag with chow. After making to Cheeseland, wedging into a 5 passenger SUV (Kyler was well protected with an I-beam of ski/poles overhead), driving the 90 minutes to my parents in Middleton, we were relieved to get the first leg of the trip done.
The protests at the Capital in Madison, just 15 minutes away, maxed out at 70,000 the same day and dominated the news. Democracy is great and all, but what about the weather?! The skiing locally was almost nil, with rain in the forecast maybe, maybe not mixing with snow. Aaargh!
We enjoyed our time with my parents with plenty of eating, visiting with friends, indoor mini golfing, brunching with more family, visiting the UW physics museum, more eating, plus a crust run, crust ski and finally a ski on actual powder after the final change to snow. The week was already half gone and it was time to head North to the Muskie capitol of the world, Hayward Wisconsin.
After 5+ hours of “quality time” sandwiched in the back seat our kids were on the verge of mutiny, but luckily the vacation billboards for Hayward were in sight. Unfortunately, the word from Sue’s parents at the rental house wasn’t good. They didn’t make it to the house and were stuck mid-way on the luge run/driveway. (This information was not passed along to the peanut gallery) Luckily, they were rescued by a sand laden driveway dude, so they were able to settle in and we arrived with less drama. The rambling ranch on Teal lake would ultimately be home to 13 of us and 2 medium sized dogs, but we got to take it easy in the first night with only our family and Sue’s parents.
The calm was broken early next morning when Sue and I got out for a pre-Barnebirkie (kids races) ski. The snow was excellent, we spotted deer on the drive to the trail and were buzzed by a low flying bald eagle on the drive back. It was hard to limit the skiing, but today was a tight schedule and 50K or racing was on the horizon. We transitioned quickly into Hayward to join the mayhem that is the Barnebirkie, 1,000 plus kids on skis, plus parents, plus grand parents all heading to the same field for one mass start. 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3 JAILBREAK! The announcer can’t get to zero before the Bjorn wannabes break off the line. The course includes a 90 degree left followed by a 3 skier wide road crossing 100 meters from the start, so I can’t really blame them.
Our kids escaped any serious breakage and injury, with only one pole to the forehead for Kyler which barely left a mark and no blood. The sunny, mid-20 F conditions only fostered a festive atmosphere. You know you’re in Wisconsin when Dad is sporting a mullet, camouflage and a Miller Lite tall boy, while cheering on their young racer. Livin the high life!
Next on the agenda was our traditional post-Barnie brunch surrounded by trophy bass, walleye and 10 point bucks. Then off to the expo, which was relocated to the middle school with Telemark Lodge on the ropes, hopefully temporarily. Finally, we return to the cabin to relax and herald the arrival of Sue’s sister’s family with the last car rolling in around 11:00. Good night and one more day before the Birkie.
Friday before the race breaks cold and breezy, -12F, damn! It looks like another freeze your parts off race for tomorrow, with a bit of added fresh windblown snow to temper the speed. We go for a nippy am ski where Sue ends up testing and buying a pair of skis I scoped out on the net. The trail is FIRM, but not as slow as expected, which is the one encouraging tidbit for tomorrow. Then it’s lunch, waxing, beer, more waxing, Iowa whiskey, final waxing and then dinner, chocolate wine, a birthday cake for our daughter Lucy, logistics planning and bed. Jees what happened to our pre-race down day!
Race morning breaks way too early after a fitful sleep anxious about the wicked cold conditions awaiting us. The temp sits at around -12F again, damn! I focus on stuffing in calories and coffee in time to do the 45 min drive, 15 min bus ride, 10 min icy walk to the starting zone in Cable. After a “warm up” ski, I end up donning the CSU vest as an extra layer, slam a GU and head to the corrals. After running the gauntlet of 2 corral opening sprints, picture ~800 men sprinting 50 meters in their ski boots holding high their skis and especially poles.
I finally line up in the 2nd row ready for the gun. At some point the announcer garbled something about -10 and a legal start temp, but lets just say it was beeping cold with a light but steady headwind in the fields. Finally, a shivering wave 1 is sent off towards Hayward.
Doh! Have these dingle heads ever done a mass start before? After maybe 5 double poles twinkle toes face plants right in front of me.
Meanwhile in the middle of the pack more mayhem as butter fingers lost his pole and is single poling BACKWARDS to retrieve it! I veer completely off the groomed trail around TT, which luckily is solid crust with some fluff snow on top. A bit more festivity as glamour boy is skiing backwards on the course into oncoming traffic to fetch his fallen sunglasses sparkling in the middle of the trail.
We hit the first climbs on the power line hills and it is deafening. I don’t mean people yelling, since everyone is in huff and puff breathing mode. I mean the squeaky, chalky snow being stomped on by hundreds of expensive, skinny blackboards. It was actually very loud skiing up steep hills with squeaky snow being assaulted all around. The good news was my hands were coming back to life, which was also the bad news as they quickly went from numb to tingly to a million pins and needles. Ayah! The other good news is that my skis are running faster than most on the cold snow. The only part of me that is still cold are my kneecaps of all things, so what do I do on a wimpy uphill trying to weave through slower traffic? Take my only slow mo face plant and punch both knees into the crust for good measure. Double Ayah! Ayah!
I sink into a nice rhythm of staying with groups on the uphills and picking of places on each downhill hitting 10K in ~31 minutes, mostly uphill. The second 10K falls in just under 31 min just working on skiing well and staying warm. The next 10K is hit in around 30 min, mostly downhill, but still skiing within myself and grabbing all feeds offered. I’m still rolling and manage to just barely get my final GU out of it’s wrapper, which now has almost solidified in the cold. I stick it to the roof of my mouth like a wad of saltwater taffy and suck it down as it melts. 40K comes in just over 31 min, consistent, but now the fatigue is settling in. Bitch hill arrives at 42K, but where the heck are the bitches? No cross dressing?, no mardi gras beads?, no bitch hill pinning? It’s like Christmas without Santa, Noah without an ark. It just ain’t right. The sans-bitch hill must have irked me enough to gun it home, since my last 10K was sub-30 min. I ended up racing home with a U23 kid skiing for the new moon ski shop and followed his moon bum across the last lake kilometers and up main street to the finish in 2:32:59. Birkie number 16 in the bank.
I quickly congratulate him for out sprinting me easily, followed by a volunteer taking one look at his white sploched face, “You have frostbite!” Back to reality. After a quick reunion with Sue’s parents and my kids I duck into the changing tent. The changing tent, which is definitely NOT the warming tent was a mixture of men with their hands on their, ears, face, eyes and yes, down below the belt. Amid the sighs and groans I vaguely hear the classic “I should have worn wind briefs!!” lament followed by another less common reply “ My balls are so big my
We wait for Sue and some of her family to finish, more shivery hugs, then it’s time to grab some chow and head out while the kids are still speaking to us. After a less than hearty lunch of soup, snickers, Gatorade and a slushy Leiney we all trek up to the traditional snowmobile bar Play-Mor for monster bionic burgers and baskets of fries.
I think only Sue’s brother in law Leif had a sub-par race after a swollen knee forced him to train classical all winter. Plus, he even skied the Birkie with his classic poles, oops! On the trip home we traveled with the Providence basketball team with one very big, very tall dude proudly wearing the classic wedge o cheese head home.
A classic footnote to another Birkie adventure.