Our annual adventure to Cheeseland began on February 19th this year. We spent our pre-race taper week in Madison buying condiments (not for our skis!) from the National Mustard Museum, observing the democratic process in action at the state’s capital (the labor bill protests), sharpening our poling skills at an indoor mini-golf course and taking a few lessons in physics(tangents, downhill speed , windspeed etc) at the UW physics museum. Of course, we managed to cheeseload at multiple locations in Madtown.
After all this fun and a few dicey, icy skis (in nearly sans snow southern WI) we settled in for the drive. We elected to rent a “standard” SUV for 5 people, 7 pairs of skis, several large suitcases, 2 boxes of bagels, a case of beer, several containers of mustard and other fun sundries. Our 7 year old nearly got a case of wryneck on the trip since the ski bag had to rest on his head for the duration.
We survived with a McDonalds stop, snacks from Grandma McNatt, ½ a movie on the laptop before the computer battery ran out and a few punches and words between the children. The adventure had just begun! I called my mother to tell her we were about 45 minutes from Hayward and her voice belied concern. Another icy driveway, the car stuck and an older, small rental house(it sounded large enough-the Birch Bark LODGE!!) had her worried. By the time our crew arrived, the sander had made the driveway passible and the house was actually doable(for 7 people-what about 13 family members and 2 dogs!)
We had a mellow night and an icy ski on the lake with Carson. On Thursday was the main event-the Barnebirkie. Imagine 1100 children, mass start, quick left hand turn, multiple race distances, cookies and hot chocolate, 4x as many adults watching and cheering and you can just picture the scene! What a blast! Lucy and Carson completed 5k and didn’t flatten any little kids. Kyler finished the 3k with a sprint.
Following lunch, we made our way to the sterile, brightly lit expo in the gymnasium of the local middle school. Gone was the Telemark Lodge experience with the famous cozy fireplace and historic decorations and framed photos of past-Birkie winners. The lodge is in foreclosure and it’s future uncertain, so the charmless gymnasium had to do.
The rest of the family slowly began to arrive-first, my sister Marcia and her husband, Leif Carlson and their dog Freya. Then at about 11:30 PM, my nieces, Anika and Maureen and Maureen’s boyfriend, Peter and their dog, Theya. And yes, I have not embellished the names! These people were meant to ski! The final member of the group, Lars Carlson arrived from college on Friday night at 8:00 PM, in time for the pre-race family planning debacle!(and pre-race banter/finish time speculation) How did you train this year? Hula Hooping(my nephew)
Friday, brought colder temps, a nice ski at OO, and Terry and Leif with the mega-wax session. The eating and drinking began in earnest with birthday cake, good Iowa whiskey and plenty of snackeroos(courtesy Grandma Keeney-my mother). Pre-race meeting with this group is always a source of intense discussion. Multiple race start times make it complicated. This was Peter’s first bibbed, chipped timed athletic event ever so he was in Classic wave 7, skiing 54K having clicked into skis for the first time in his life earlier this winter! We agreed to drive 2 vehicles to the start in Cable, make the late wave starters try to stay warm in the sub-zero temps and have the finish line support (my parents and our 3 kids) drive their own vehicle to Hayward.
Race morning always comes too early and this was no exception. Darkness and “was that really –20 on the thermometer!” Cars started, skis in, poles in, bibs and chips on and we’re ready to go!! Pre-race Birkie songs serenaded us on the hour-long drive. New songs are “composed” each year with 2011 featuring the sleeper “Sleep tight, frostbite on my window tonight”! No lie, go to Birkie.com and listen for yourself. Not only is it too mellow but frostbite on a window –is not even possible. These people spend too much time in REALLY cold weather. Read on for more frostbite stories….
Leif seems to have bad fortune and this year was no exception- last year he forgot his mashed potato feed bottle, but this year was more devastating-he had his classic poles!! Too late, already in the bus and no time for a trip back. Everyone seemed calm except it was SUPER cold! My fingers were already numb on the walk to the start. Somebody forgot the heaters in the “warming” tents! Toes were unhappy also. Then, came the news-we are at a legal temp- 10 degrees below zero, we will start the race on time! One thermometer I saw at the start was clearly south of that. I was happy to start however, as at least skiing you might start to warm up. I had a very relaxed pre-race experience, except 2 or 3 times thinking I had misplaced my skis! This is a very possible occurrence as we heard over the loud speaker several times “would someone please return a pair of Solomon skis and poles to the start line!”
A final Starbuck’s double-shot slug, gulps of weak Heed and I was ready to go. Not much drama in the early K’s. Just don’t break a pole or lose a basket(my nephew had to swim back against the school of skiers to retrieve his). I was so happy to see the hills at Power Line(3k) so I could finally warm up. I was skiing along, keeping an eye on orange man and grey man and keeping up on all the downhills, anxious to begin pushing the climbs. My race strategy was to wait until the “B”-b_tch hill at 42K and then push to the finish. Looks like the “B” hill men in drag were also protesting, as there was no one there-no drums, no dressed-up men, no pins, no hoopla! I didn’t even know it was “B” hill. I was second-guessing myself and thinking the hill came later, and I should continue to conserve. By 45K and the open field, big downhill to the lake, I knew we had passed it and I should really hit it. At about 10k to go, I had caught up to a girl in a black cat suit, so we continued out cat and mouse racing. She clearly wanted to lead across the snowy, headwind lake so I tucked in behind, tried to pass a few times but she pushed on. At 1k to go, I made my leap forward and cranked down Main Street to the end. That was so much fun! Black Cat and I congratulated each other on a nice race and then I realized just how cold I was. Mittens frozen to my grips, frost all over my eyebrows and hair. I found the family, congratulated Terry on a great finish(2:32.59) and began the slow and painful process of changing clothes in the “warming tent” Imagine taking off cold, wet clothes and putting on colder but sort of dry clothes! 7 degrees at the finish-2nd coldest Birike ever. Inside the Celebration tent, the temp was not much warmer. A fan blew what felt like cold air! I pulled out my annual post-race full size 3 Musketeer bar and almost broke a tooth trying to eat it. Terry’s post-race beer was slush-now that is cold! Whiskey would have been a better choice. We checked our race results and Terry was 262 and I finished 104 woman in 3:03. Next year-top 100 goal for me and Terry –top 200 men?
The rest of the family raced in-Leif in 3:07 with the combo classic poles/ skate skis(new style), Lars(college freshman and first full-length Birkie in 3:15 and Marcia and Maureen had some quality mother-daughter bonding for 3:31! Now, the rest of the crew waited for our Rookie Birkie Classic skier to finish. He was all smiles and goo-frozen beard in 5:16 and signing up for next year already(the Birkie-easy, this family is the real challenge) College Freshman Anika opted for the Korteloppet(a challenging 23k ski) and picked up multiple pins and beads along the way, but declined the offer of Yagermeister on the lake until she is of legal age!(at least that is what she told us)
A final family meal at the Play-mor snowmobile bar in “middle of nowhere” WI- full of burgers, beers and stories. My sister came home with a frostbit ear but otherwise we all survived. A few stories of hypothermia reminded us that it was a tough day for some. Frostbit eyeballs-is that possible?
The next day we had another marathon- 6 hour drive to Milwaukee and a delayed flight home, but we can’t wait until next year! Sign me up ASAP!