Friday, February 28, 2014

Birkie 2014, snow, snow and more snow, car stuck and another ER visit!

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.

Leif Goatee
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!!
Sue McNatt

The McNatt Clan

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Brrrrrrrrrkie

One of the good quotes I read about the Birkie came from this year’s men’s winner, a 2010 German Olympian, who noted that you have many lives in a ski marathon.  Multiple races too.  The first race Lisa and I had was getting out of Logan for the flight to Minneapolis.  Thankfully, our plane left almost on time even though there was a raging blizzard winding down in Minneapolis that was dumping a foot of snow.  A nice bumpy landing in wind-whipped snow and a texted question from Alex a few rows back on the plane (how do you stop a plane on an icy runway without sliding off?) and we’d won Race #1.  After an excellent night’s sleep at a hotel near the airport, Lisa and I picked up a nice ride, an all-wheel drive Suburu wagon for race #2, getting to Hayward and Ashland.  As we ventured out on the highway at a nice reasonable post-rush hour time we found it covered with a sheet of ice.  And I mean ice, all shiny and slippery and rutted.  Our max speed heading out of town was…. maybe 40……on straight stretches……going uphill…….with no cars in front of us.   Cars in the median to the right, trucks spun out to the left, tractor trails jack-knifed here and there……white knuckles on the steering wheel.  What, no salt?  No sand?  Really?  I mean I’m used to crappy driving but I think this set the record.  Minnesota and Wisconsin were clearly caught with their collective pants down, butt crack well displayed.  Wow, it was bad.   All the way to Hayward, normally about a 3 hr drive, was just ice glaring back at me challenging me and a fierce wind blowing snow up over the berm on the side of Rte 63 and drifting across the road.  Ha, but patience is a virtue and eventually we pulled into Hayward.  Race #2 down.  Race #3, bib pickup:  with everyone else in the same slippery boat on the roads, we arrived to pick up numbers with a much smaller crowd than last year.  Consider this race totally won!  We zipped in, grabbed our bibs and even had a little time and space to chat with masters stalwarts Alec Smith, Russ Keene, Elmer Ream and Bob Fitzpatrick (the founder of CSU jrs before it was CSU).  George Atkinson, however, had lost his first race……he was stuck in Phoenix until the next day due to his flight cancellation.  Next on the agenda was getting out on the trail for a ski.  Reportedly the Birkie Trail was closed so they could pack down the snow for the race and let it set up, but we headed up to the half way point at the OO road crossing and sure enough there cars in the lot and skiing to be had.  We fired the explosive bolts on our luggage and unpacked the skis in the wind and cold and got going before freezing to death, but once in the woods it was nice trackless skiing on trails that had been groomed earlier in the day.  My Toko blue stick worked just fine and I was able to scope out a couple Ks of trail I missed last year because I had to drop out at OO due to a stomach bug.  In the gathering darkness we headed off for Ashland to meet up with Evan, who was driving up from Madison.  A long day on the road.  In Ashland I laid eyes on Lake Superior for the first time, frozen solid. 

Next morning we got up at the Crack O’ Dawn, grabbed a quick breakfast and headed out toward Cable.  Race #4 was well in hand when we hit the back of the first group of cars driving way too slow, even on the icy road.  With nice long straights, I was able to pass 4 cars at once and proceed at a more reasonable pace.  My patience was ebbing quickly!  The anxiety of making it to the start is always an issue, and these roads didn’t help.  Then came the wait to get into the parking lot, then the wait to get on a bus and then an interminable 2 mile bus ride.  What was going on?  The clock was ticking and I had a bad feeling I might lose the race to the starting line.  We sat on the bus slowly making its way to the Telemark Lodge.  One poor guy was in Wave 1 – his race to the start was now lost.  Most of us had come with the anxiety of simply making it to the start on time.  That and holding (or not) your bladder through these torturous bus rides.  Finally, the bus door opened and we all let the Wave 1 skiers off first.  Lisa, Evan and I said our “good lucks” and I ran for the tent, slipped on my boots, grabbed gloves, muff, number, etc. and headed for the start, running and walking along with hundreds of others.  Tick tock, tick tock.  The porta john lines weren’t as long at the start, so I pulled in quckly, than ran with my bag to the bag truck drop off and then for the starting pens.  I’d made it!  Whoooo hooo, 5 min. to spare.  I’d barely won the race to the start!  Of course, I hadn’t tried my wax (I went with the Toko suggestion) and my warmup was my jog down to the start.  I headed for the front row, Wave 3 skate took off and we ran for the starting line carrying our skis.  Phew, I’d made it.  Now for an interminable 5 min. wait standing in the first row with the temp at about 8F and a whipping wind in our face.  Talk about cold! 

The banners go up and Wave 5 classic was off!  Now the real race began and it wasn’t long before it was just me and two other guys skiing through the blown in tracks heading for the woods.  The first couple K would be my warmup, so I tried not to worry about hanging with those two dudes.  I needn’t have worried as they were dispatched within several Ks.  The powerline came into view where the back of Wave 4 was starting down, somewhat timidly, the first downhills and herringboning up the first uphills.  My skis were rockets compared to those around me and I had good, solid kick, so now the fun could begin.  With hundreds of people in front of you, patience is necessary.  Don’t thrash your way up the hills trying to pass people and blowing the energy budget……better to use your ski speed and do it on the downhills.  It becomes so fun to blow by people on every downhill, especially when you stay in a tuck where others have stood up to start double-poling.    The further into the race we got the more comments I got.  “Hey Wave 5, good race!”, “Wow, Wave 5, you are having a great race”.  When I get behind someone, waiting for a gap to slip over to another track some people told me to hop in ahead of them and pass.  Wow, gotta love these Midwesterners!  Steadily I moved through all of Wave 4, most of Wave 3 and started working on Wave 2.  The feeds become essential and I took lots of fluids and GU whenever I could get one.  I was worried about bonking and at 25k my right tricep was cramping and I had wayyyyy too far to go.  No dropping out this year!  A GU seems to resolve the cramping and on we go, leaving the pandemonium of the feed behind.  Just after OO the skate and classic trails come together and now it seems you are never alone.  The skaters hop in the tracks on some of the downhills, but still I overtake them.  My skis are my friends today!  The skaters struggle up the mashed potato hills while herringbone and striding seem easier.  I’m sooooo happy I’m not skating in all this soft snow!  But I’m starting to suffer at 40km and those short but steep uphills are getting to be a challenge.  I look for long downhills where I can just tuck and fly.  Bitch Hill comes and I plod up as spectators are making a racket on the top (spectators out in the woods, really?  Awesome!)  On toward the lake.  A Craftsbury guy skates by and we chat a bit, classic and skate together.  Some other guy recognizes the CSU Blue and we wish each other luck as he moves on.  Finally we come to the Fish Hatchery and I can feel the gaskets starting to pop in my body.  The wheels are getting a bit wobbly on the last major uphill in the race, but a couple nice long downhills allows some recovery and then we pop down on the lake.  The last few Ks to go!  At a  tent some guy (who???) yells my name and CSU and hands me a small cup of Jagermeister.  I bring it up to drink and think better of that!  The wind on the lake, which I haven’t noticed since I first reached the woods, starts gnawing at the left side of my face.  The lake is misery….blown in tracks and I can hardly move double poling, so I resort to kick DP and actually striding.   The skaters aren’t faring any better.  Someone noted that the lake was the longest uphill in the race.  We gradually bend to the right, but the wind remains gnawing my face.  My eyes are tearing up from the wind and freezing, I can’t feel my cheek and still the tracks suck. Finally after 2k of that nonsense we come to the end and a 1000 m to go sign.  I scramble up the embankment and someone yells encouragement to CSU. The Blue Suit is well known!   I almost fall over looking over to see who it is.  Better focus......  Main St at last and the crowds and the noise are kind of intoxicating!  I try hard to ski through to the finish and not look too wasted. And then its over.  Fatigue but a smile.  I had a good race that was really fun on a beautiful, cold winter day in Wisconsin. Doesn't get much better than that! A woman very kindly helps me by removing my skis, I get my medal for my first Birkie finish and go to retrieve warm, dry clothes and get some hot soup.  My god that was good soup!   A while later Evan finishes the skate race, very tired from skiing in the soft snow, and as I head back to the finish to look for Lisa I hear her name announced as she skis in, finishing her first 50k ski marathon, still standing, with a smile on her face.   

The Doucetts had all made it in pretty good shape.  
Lisa at the end of the Birkie
Alex's story can be found HERE

Monday, February 17, 2014

Holderness Classic

The annual Cheri Walsh race at Holderness was a day very different from the day before at Waterville.  Temps had dropped way down into the teens, the sun was brilliant and the wind was whipping.  The wax team arrived bright and very early and set up shop in the lee of the Holderness gym and mostly out of the wind.  Wax testers Rob, Alex, Jamie and Kathy got started figuring out what to use and the day was underway.  The CSU wax crew started banging out skis, kids started warming up, the food table was piled high with all manner of good stuff and the races got under way.  With all the new snow, the Holderness course promised the best classic conditions in many years.  Races started with BKSL events and some of those little kids can ski!  Sign them up!  Most of the gang from yesterday were entered for the classic race give or take, but no Masters racers.  CSU ended up having a great day with Julia Kern dropping the hammer and her face mask on lap two to win the women's 10km.  Lots of skiers improved on their performance of the day before, notably Will Rhatigan moving from 18th to 8th, Rebecca having an excellent 10th, Rosie having a great race and Gavin and Jacob having solid races on the men's side among a few of the results.  Results can be found HERE.

Photos are below.  I was too busy waxing to see the J2s race, unfortunately.

Waterville Valley JNQ

Its been a longggggg time since Waterville Valley has held a JNQ race, so it was nice to return for a race that was so much closer to home.  The current management has some things to learn about putting on a quality race, such as groom early enough to allow the course to set up and do at least 2 offset passes with the groomer so that the middle isn't totally soft.  And, it was a bit weird to have the start and finish in different places.  With all the lovely new snow though, it was some nice skiing.  The course had two long climbs and two long downhills, so it was a different sort of pacing challenge compared to Trapps or Holderness with their unrelenting ups and downs.   CSU was, of course, there in force, including a few EMBKSLers and a few masters skiers including newly minted Master skier Alex Jospe, complete with tiara, Rob, Brett Rutledge and Doug Jansen.  Results are HERE.  A photo dump: