And I thought that this edition of the McNatt/Keeney/Carlson Birkie was going to be mellow! How wrong I was! Our trip began quite calmly, a flight out on Valentine’s day morning. We left a little late, but arrived in Minneapolis with plenty of time to catch a 10k sunset ski on the frozen tundra of Cedar Lake, Brownie Lake and the Bog as it is affectionately known by the locals. We can ski right out Marcia’s front door on 30k of beautifully groomed corduroy, all complimentary of the fine city of Minneapolis. After an awesome meal of homemade pasta, a good night’s rest and a total pump up watching the women’s 4X5k Olympic Relay race, we headed out for another up-tempo ski with the entire family. This was my ? 5th time on skate skis post op(menisectomy Jan 8th) and certainly the highest my heart rate has climbed in nearly one full year(since Birkie 2013). At the end of January I conceded that a switch to the 23K Korte was a wise decision. I felt ok ,but still conservative especially on the hills, but hammered it in with Terry across Cedar Lake because a “snow shower” was dumping 4-5 inches of snow and the headwind fierce. A foreshadow of Birkie conditions?
We took our time packing and eating lunch before making the drive to Madtown. The snow had stopped, it was a Sat afternoon and we figured that the traffic would be light!?!Wrong again! Did they plow the roads at all? A missed exit and we ended up in a traffic jam near the Mall Of America. It seems that all of Minneapolis was going shopping, eating or watching a movie that afternoon. Terry kept the rental car on the road while many others failed.( 12 or so in the ditch or fender bendered!)
5 hours later and a bit late for dinner, we pulled into Terry’s parent’s condo. It snowed most of the way. We did a lot of cheese eating, bowling and card playing. The snow conditions were awesome in Madison so we skied nearly every day. One day in a near blizzard, the next on super soft conditions (another foreshadow of what was to come) and Carson and I snuck in one last ski on ice before the drive to Birkieland!
Remarkably, the drive to Hayward was clear, sunny and fast. Things were beginning to calm down. My parents, Dennis and Betty, had already arrived at our spacious 6 bedroom, 4 bath “cabin” and prepared snacks and drinks in anticipation of our arrival. We unpacked and then my Dad announced, “there is going to be a BLIZZARD on Thursday”. I looked at him with disbelief as even that morning the Hayward forecast called for 2-4 inches. He also informed me that Leif, Marcia, Lars and the dog, Freya were arriving that night in order to “beat the storm!” Rumors of a cancelled Barnebirkie were circulated and disruption of our annual eating and drinking fest at the Angry Minnow were suggested. Well, we awoke to nary a flake and even a bit of sun. Terry, Leif, Marcia, Carson and I did another up-tempo ski(now my 9th time skate skiing) from 00. Loaded up Kyler and the crew for the Barnie and watched the sky for signs of the Blizzard of a Century! A few flakes came down during the Barnie and then abruptly stopped. Kyler skied 3k and finished around 10th kid. This after being involved in a pile up with a teenager(who should have been skiing the Korte) and also losing then finding his sunglasses!
A few cookies and we exited the tent quickly in order to hoof it to the Angry Minnow for awesome fried cheese curds and beer! Still no snow, was it all a bluff? Headed into the very crowded Expo where Carson and Lucy needed passports to obtain their Prince Haakon 12k bibs to confirm their identity. We didn’t even need these going through airport security!! Leaving the expo near the Beef Jerky van party blaring dance music, we saw the first heavy flakes begin to drop. Quickly it became slow driving. My nieces, Anika and Maureen were driving up that night and we were all getting anxious.
We headed home to start checking on their progress, making dinner etc. They called to report their speed, about 35 MPH on the highway. A 5 hour drive was now 9 hours and Mo wouldn’t let them stop to even pee!! After Hayward, cell phones were super spotty. Leif checked the drive into our place and soon suspected they were stuck. About a mile out, their car sans snow tires, skidded out on an uphill and had to be pushed into a driveway by friendly Wisconsin passerbys! Leif retrieved the girls with Terry’s help and we settled in for an interesting night while the wind howled and the snow fell, lights flickered on and off, we lost the satellite for the Olympic coverage and bam…Carson fell off a top bunk bed in a dark windowless room. Carson and I spent the night on and off icing his wrist and medicating until I could assess the damage in the morning. Several calls and multiple assessments and we made an appt for urgent care at 1:40 PM, 2 hours ahead with PLENTY of time to get the cars out. Wrong…no plowing of our road until 5:00 PM and a botched exit attempt left the Subaru stuck in the 12-15 inches of new snow. We hoofed the mile to my niece’s car, pushed and shoveled her out and drove as fast as we could to arrive only 8 minutes late! Closer than most of the Birkie skiers would arrive to their wave start the next morning. A fractured distal radius(forearm), a splint and a no go for the Prince Haakon was the diagnoses and treatment plan.
Birkie morning, super cold, super windy, super dark and super early!
I am not sure how we did it, but for once, we beat the rush! A 5:58 AM departure from our North of Hayward Cabin(on Spider Lake), a drive down snow covered 00, got us to the Como lot with the top 5 %(and 1st wave) of vehicles and on one of the very first busses. Weird! Where was everybody? A collapsed tent at the start line meant no porta lines there, but also nowhere to get warm. Then, I heard some whispering and peeked under the banned tent flap to see about 10 skiers hunkering down next to a heat blower. They put up their fingers to quiet me and I told them I would find my husband and be back. They made me promise not to tell anyone else like it was some kind of sting operation. And this from old dudes in ear flap hats!! Hysterical…
Usual start position on the right about 3 rows back, but I had no idea how I was going to feel. 10 training skis ,the longest around 12k but I was getting stronger every day. I had a goal to place in my age group in the Korte and ski around 1:25 or faster. The first K was agonizingly slow. The next 4K were even slower. The snow was already like mashed potatoes for Wave 2. I kept thinking about my sister in Wave 4 and how tough that would be. At this point, I was VERY happy that I was in the Korte. The 2 courses split at 9k and I had a feeling that the conditions could only get better. I didn’t take a peek at my watch until 6k. I double taked when I saw the 31 minutes that showed on the face. For several minutes I pondered the thought that I had started my watch 5 minutes early, but it was true! Over 5 minutes per K.
I did spy some familiar flowery tights on a woman I had skied with last year,so I thought I was with the correct group of skiers. Without any Weston races this year, I was rusty skiing in a group and had to apologize for crowding a male skier while ascending a hill, breathing super hard. Other than that, pretty routine lines on the Power line hills. Everybody was slogging up slowly in the deep snow.
We turned off at 9k and I almost yelled with joy! Immediately, my skis started flying. I was passed by a Wave 2 woman and one man. I managed to latch onto the 2nd one and we cruised through a number of wave 1 Korte men and women. On the downhills, the classic skiers seem to glide away from us. The final 5k and I knew I could finish this one, so I powered ahead of my skiing partner. I didn’t want to have anything left at the end of this race. My first skate race since the Costume race of one year ago and my 2nd race of any kind for the entire year(the Vasaloppet classic was my first).
I sped down the final hill, made the turn and hammered into a head wind for the final little uphill. This was tough but NOTHING compared with the lake finish stories from the Birkie skiers. I was met by Kyler, Carson with his splint and my parents, battling the elements of the day to cheer me in. I changed up and heard their near miss story for Lucy to start her wave. She made it by 2 minutes!
We watched Lucy fly in. She was disappointed in her slow time but was only 5 minutes off of last year. Pretty good! We jammed in the car, managed to find Maricia’s Subaru among the large snow drifts in the Como lot and hoofed it down to the finish in Hayward. More traffic! Will it ever end.? Despite what seemed like several hours on the road, we jogged over to the finish and saw Leif hobbling in, kick double pole with one leg(his adductor/groin on one side had given out completely). He had the world’s strangest icicle hanging off his chin! See photo. There is a Birkie icicle contest and I hope he enters it! Terry found us and we heard his race story. I will let him tell it in his own words. Not exactly his conditions but he was happy to be done and drinking a Surley.
We waited a bit more, took the handwarmer handouts from a Christian group and Marcia triumphantly skied down the straightaway. She looked pretty spent, but was smiling by the time she greeted us. We saw many super, duper tired folks this year. A quick peak at my race results and I had managed to win my age group for the Korte. Back to the full length Birkie for me next year. And my knee felt terrific! There are so many more chances for memorable and hysterical moments in a 50K. I am starting my training now!!
Back to the cabin on Spider Lake and we consumed lots and lots of calories and exchanged race stories. In Boston by Sunday PM and a new cast for Carson on Monday!
Always an adventure!!
|The McNatt Clan|