Sunday, March 22, 2015

Terry's Balmy Post-Snowmageddon Birkie 2015

The trip begins with the pre-trip planning and packing for a family of 5 heading to the sub-zero tundra land of cheeseheads to ski the Birkie 51K, Junior Birkie 3K and Prince Haakon 12K races.  The ski bag is the special challenge with 7 pairs of skis, 6 pairs of poles, 5 fleece for padding… everything but the partridge in a pear tree.  “And it all weighs just under 50 pounds!”  You can guess who get to schlep that jousting ram around the airport along with my overstuffed backpack and another 50lb bag.  We manage to get out of dodge on Friday before the President’s Day storm and land in balmy 24F Minneapolis.  The temperature of course drops immediately, and Saturday’s am ski with my brother in law Leif is -4F with a blasting wind, brrrr, and we were happy to return with all appendages frost free.  After the ski is a full on family baby shower for our Niece Maureen for the ladies and a trip to the Surly Brew Pub for the gents.  We round out the day with a leisurely 4 and half hour drive to my parent’s in Middleton Wisconsin with a healthy dose of Culvers fried cheese curds en route.  Are we tapering yet?
Sunday with my parents is an am run (-2F), followed by church, followed by brunch, followed by an evening at the Zor Shrine Circus in Madison.  Day 2 of the Birkie taper in the books with more fried cheese curds topped off with a cotton candy chaser.  Monday is actually relaxing with a single digit ski (8F) at a golf course in Middleton and time to hang out with my parents.  Sue and I even sneak out for dinner in the big city of Madison.   Tuesday the temp hits double digits (10F) on our am ski after which we go out to lunch for my Mom’s birthday.  Yes, more fried cheese curds, and we burn them off with some big ball bowling.  Wednesday  arrives before we know it, and it’s time to re-pack and head 5 hours North to Hayward Wisconsin, home of the Birkie and Muskie fishing capital of the world.  No where else will you find a 2 story Muskie  monument that you can climb up into and get a view out of open toothy mouth.
We had all settled in for the ride and were making excellent time when Kyler announced he needed a stop.  This is nothing surprising since he seems to have to pee every other exit ,until Carson remarks, he looks like he might throw up!  Now this adds a layer of urgency, and I immediately scan ahead for the next…, blaaarcck, comes from back seat where all 3 kids are.  Carson does a pro job of helping Kyler puke mostly in a plastic bag.  We get off in the highway, find a place to deposit our “goodie bag” and work on detailing our ride.  Thankfully, Kyler seems to have rallied after the yiff and grabs some snacks for the road.   We roll on undaunted until Spooner just minutes away from destination, when Kyler’s rally cap falls off.  I get to mop up the bright orange nacho cheese doritos and sprite regurgitated on the floor of the bathroom in the Spooner McDonalds.  Ah the joys of parenthood!  At long last we pull into our Birkie cabin du jour just South of Hayward, which is a lovely modern and roomy house on Sand Lake.  Sue’s parents and her sister Marcia are already here to greet us, another taper day in the books fer sure.
            Thursday starts off REALLY cold, -25F, and after much debate we decide to do a late morning ski (only -10F), before our traditional lunch at the Angry Minnow brew pub after which we head to the Birkie expo.  Kyler and I ski a preview of the Junior Birkie course in Hayward to round out the afternoon.  This was more entertaining than expected as we passed the stragglers in the Barkie Birkie dog ski race.  That evening Leif and cousin Lars arrive, and our merry group is complete.
            Friday breaks sub-zero again, and after another nippy (-8F) but short ski we head into Hayward for race number 1, Kyler’s Junior Birkie.  This isn’t your happy go lucky Barnebirkie crowd of 1,000 munchkins just looking to get to the finish line cookies and cocoa.  These kids are mini Bjorns, decked out in team lycra and ready to drop the hammer.  At the gun someone stamps on Kyler’s pole pulling it and his glove off.  He retrieves his gear and forges on to have a pretty decent race, passing more than a few kids.  And I thought Weston was a tough crowd.  The rest of the day is pretty much spent tag team waxing with Leif for the big day tomorrow.  The forecast is temps 10-15F with a chance of light snow and light winds, the balmiest Birkie in recent memory.  It’s no banana belt, but I’ll gladly take it.  We pig out, hang out and hit the pillows early dreaming of gliding effortlessly over hill after rolling hill on the Birkie trail, frictionless plane, as we used to say back in the day.
            My alarm beeps, and I start coffee and a bagel in the pre-race, pre-dawn darkness.  I shovel down a bagel with cream cheese, orange juice and oatmeal with maples syrup knowing 51 cold K’s will take all the calories I can stuff in.   The full Birkie crew, Leif, Marcia, Sue and I pile into the Subaru, click on the radio to the official Birkie station WJOB (Doubleyah Jay Ohh Bee) and point North to Hayward.  It’s always relaxing and homey to hear the nice, super-perky lady radio announcer on WJOB at five O whatever am in the dark morning.  “It’s gonna be a nice and toasty 10 above zeroh at the start taday with just a chance a sum snoh flurries when things are getting goin.”   Birkie Fever, the Birkie Rag and other hit singles get us to Hayward.  The next leg of the journey is the still pitch dark, bumpy, nausea inducing, claustrophobic bus ride to the start at Cable, some 45 minutes away.  Sue and I manage to get the rear wheel seat, which only adds to the butt jarring.   The fresh air, sunlight and booming announcements as we exit the bus are a welcome relief.  Sue and I stake out some space in a warming tent, knock down some GU chomps and gear up.  15 minutes to race time I enter staging corral number 1, 10 minutes to race time all 7-800 us run into staging corral number 2 and 5 minutes to race time the mad dash sprint into the start corral happens and we can finally put our skis on.   !0,9,8,…1 Go!  Finally the wait is over and it’s time to race!
            My plan was to TRY and ski smarter and relaxed at the start this year, so I lined up in about row 4 instead of the more pumped up rows 2 or 3.  It was snowing pretty good at the start, definitely more than flurries, so the skiing was pretty easy and not too fast.  We hit the first power line hills and I was pleasantly surprised at the sound, whoosh, whoosh, instead of the skreeeaak, skreeaak, fingernail on dashboard sound of skis on sub-zero Styrofoam snow.  I concentrated on my skiing and just holding my space instead of trying to race or pass anyone and hit the 10K mark in 40:28.  This was not fast, but the hills seemed pretty soft and the fresh snow wasn’t helping.  I crested fire tower hill, the top of the course at 13K or so feeling like I didn’t red-line, so hopefully I banked something for later.  On the very first faster downhill 2 guys go down in front of me in the soft snow, amateur hour already!  I manage to snake by both, the second guy sliding backwards and upside down, totally turtled.
            I hit my 20K split in 37:47, much faster thanks to the post-peak down hills, so far so good but a lot can happen in 30K.  My skis were as good or better than my company, and I started passing skiers who left it all on the first few climbs.  At snowmobile hill, (the last high speed downhill just before halfway where the sledders line up behind a cooler or two to watch us “forest fairies” crash on tired legs), one UW Badger suited kid spins around and I watch him fly off the corner backwards, bad idea, but it generates a huge cheer from the sled heads.  The conditions were virtually perfect, and I was glad to have something in the tank to enjoy the trail, passing OO road at roughly halfway and continuing to occasionally pick off a skier or two.  31K came so fast I missed my 30K split. (11K in 38:35).  Now I was feeling like all systems were go after slamming Powergel number 2.  I was so in the race zone, I hardly heard the “Hey Terry!” from off to my left, when Jamie Doucett gave me a shout out from the classic trail which had merged back with the skate trail.  (Jamie as you know from his story smoked the classic Birkie for an age group podium.)  I starting leaning on the gas and pushed over each roller at just under red-line, recovering on the backside.  41K (36:58) came quickly and I could smell the smoking bonfires of the partiers at the foot of pre-Bitch Hill hill.  I was offered a shot-ski (3, probably Yagermeister, shots mounted on a classic wooden ski), but I was in full on hunting mode and couldn’t be convinced.  Once over Bitch Hill, every skier I saw had a target on their back, and it was game on approaching the last few Ks on the lake.  I hit the lake with a full head of steam and tucked in behind a pair of skiers as we turned into the wind heading for home.  Then we all get passed by a barrel chested dude sporting a full beard and bare forearms (not kidding) going full bore.  I jump on for a ride and really need to bury it to stay on this guy, even in the draft.  We (he with me in tow) click past skier after skier across the lake, then thank goodness just squeeze by 2 Founders (slooowww) at the pinch exit off the lake onto the trucked in sugar snow.  We hit the last “hill” (bridge over Highway 66) passing one last group (including Brett Rutledge) with 500 meters to go.  Barrel beard bare arm dude powers ahead seeing the finish line, but I’m not too far back and thank him for the pull after the race (last 10K 32:50!).  He told me he was making up for time lost in a collision at the last aid station and it was ok especially since I was a Birchlegger (ie. Oldster who wouldn’t out sprint him).  That kind of hit me, I had just finished Birkie number 20 and actually earned the Birchleggings bib on my back (purple with a gold number), cool.
            I collected my 20 year pin, changed, located my kids and Lars with Sue’s parents, then Sue (top 100 women finish post-knee surgery!), then Leif, Leif’s brother and Marcia.  In line for a post-race beverage in the celebration tent just steps away from the finish, the guy ahead of me says “This’ll be the best tastin beer ya have all year!”.  Doncha kno he’s right on dah money!  We all rendezvous back at the cabin. After much refreshment, stories and poring over results, the early morning catches up and carries us off to sleep.  One more Birkie notch in the belt and in the books.
            The next morning is always bittersweet filled with packing, cleaning sketchy plans for next year and finally goodbyes.  As we land back in snowy Boston, the whole Birkie experience seems like some arctic dream, but this year’s solid finish did teach me some lessons. 

Pre-Birkie Don’ts:
-          Don’t do any sub-zero skis longer than 60 minutes.
-          Don’t worry about sleeping enough the night before the race, it never happens.
-          Don’t make any trips to the ER
-          Don’t have too many pitchers at the Angry Minnow
-          Don’t catch a taper erasing cold
-          Don’t bonk with 20K left to ski
-          Don’t hammer the first and most uphill 13K of the race
Pre-Birkie Do’s:
-          See as many family members as possible
-          Drive at least 500 miles
-          Eat fried cheese curds at will
-          Enjoy the skiing during the race, it only comes once a year

See yah next year!


McNatt Race Stats

25th      U12     Kyler McNatt   Needham, MA USA    17:56.9            3.5K Junior Birkie

Bib #
 City, State, County
33 M 0-99
 Needham, MA USA
12k Prince Haakon
11 F 0-99
 Needham, MA USA
12k Prince Haakon
12 F 45-49
 Needham, MA USA
51k Birkebeiner Skate
41 M 50-54
 Needham, MA USA
51k Birkebeiner Skate
(Compare this to 2014 - 3:43.1 - 686 Overall – 611 Men – ouch!)

1 comment:

Walter Rhein said...

Nice work! The Birkie is always a beast and this year there was a little more snow than they predicted. Those are some fast times though!

Let me know if you want to read "Beyond Birkie Fever" and I'll get you a review copy. Read more about it here: