Friday, March 30, 2018

The Greatest Sho on Sno (Ya Kno)

After a bust Birkie 2017 cancellation, this year was looking good with decent snow and arctic temps in Northern Wisconsin for most of the winter.  The journey to Cheeseland begins Friday just over a week before Birkie race day.  With Carson and Lucy in college now, the ski bag was relatively lightly packed with 5 pairs of skis and poles and Kyler’s boots plus ample fleece padding, no sweat.  The 3 hour flight to Minneapolis was smooth as was our 4 hour drive to stop number one at Sue’s sister Marcia and husband Leif’s house in Richland Center, including of course a quick stop for fresh cheese curds. 

           We wake up to a normal 10F February Wisconsin morning as opposed to last year’s surreal temps in the mid 60’s.  After a fun crust ski on the local golf course we head out to the farm for lunch.  The farm is almost 300 acres of restoration agriculture home to Sue’s niece Maureen, husband Peter and daughter Tilia.  We are greeted by them, a herd of cows, 4 dogs, their 7 puppies, a herd of sheep and some chickens roaming in the background.  We enjoy a hearty all organic lunch and head back to Marcia and Leif’s to relax, snack on cheese curds and enjoy some Olympic viewing before the whole gang arrives for yet another full course meal. 
Sunday morning is another crust ski around the local fairways followed by a stack of fresh pancakes.  Then it’s time to pack up and head over to my parents in Middleton, which is a quick hour plus hop away.  We re-stock on cheese curds and arrive just in time to go out for a nice Mexican dinner celebrating my Mom’s birthday, followed by more Olympic viewing.  Monday the temps are now warming above freezing and we ski on the remains of the local man-made loop in Madison.  The tiny loops on transformed snow make us feel right at home.  We visit Sue’s parents at the new home they are moving into and also stop in to see our friends the Barfords who now live in Madison.  Add in the obligatory Olympic viewing for a full day.  Tuesday we hit the lanes for some regular big ball bowling, not the odd New England candlepin nonsense.  I will brag a bit that I rolled a 195 on our second game including a competition crushing 5 strikes in a row.  Unfortunately from a cross training perspective, bowling doesn’t exactly translate to 50K’s of xc skiing.  Maybe the IOC will add the Bowlathlon, big balls transitioning to skinny skis, to the next Winter Olympics.  Wednesday arrives quickly and it’s time to pack up and head North to stop number three on our Midwest tour.

A scenic 5 hour drive to the North including another cheese curd re-fueling, and we arrive at the “Fox Den” house on Teal Lake in Hayward Wisconsin.  The snowpack rises as we travel, a comforting sight compared to last year’s brown dearth of snow.  Sue’s parents are already settled in and we enjoy one chill evening before Birkie fever rises.  Thursday am Sue and I finally put our skis onto Birkie trail snow, the temperature just rising out of the single digits.  We are nearly alone on the snowy highway of a trail, and it’s hard to image it full of skiers stacked 3 by 3 as far as you can see.  We meet Sue’s parents at the Angry Minnow Brew Pub where Birkie fever runs hot.  Nordic styles from around the country are on display and the taps flow as steady as the stories.  Next stop is the Birkie Expo to get our numbers and check out the expo, which is a complete logjam.  After waiting in the traffic to park and waiting in line to get our numbers we finally escape with our schwag and just enough time to grab coffee, transfer Kyler to Sue’s parents and turn the car back South to pick up Carson in Eau Claire.  Another 4 hour drive complete, we arrive with Carson back at the Fox Den where Leif, daughter Maureen and her daughter TIlia have also settled in.  Next to arrive is Lars, then Marcia, Anika and her baby Layla.  The Fox Den is full up and it’s time to wax up Kyler and Carson for the Korte 29K tomorrow morning.  A few Sam’s and a few layers of Swix VR40/VR45 later our day is complete, whew.

We are greeted by around 5 inches of fresh snow Friday morning, so some quick shoveling work is needed to send Sue on her way with our Korte skiers Marcia, Carson and Kyler.  Leif and I continue the shoveling, push out one stuck car, shovel more, push the same car out once more and finally get some breakfast.  I guess this will be my Birkie pre-race tune up with a full day lined up.  Sue arrives back at Fox Den and we book back out to the Korte course to catch Kyler at around 19K at Mosquito Brook.  We park, jog to the course, cheer from the snowy sideline along with many other cowbell wielding spectators as Kyler skis by.  Then it’s a dash back to the car drive to the finish line parking and jog to the finish stuffing in a lunch sandwich en route.  The finish is in full celebration mode with people and cowbells everywhere.  Kyler slows in the last K’s, but finishes with a flourish followed by Carson and Marcia who started in later waves.  We all pack up and return to the Fox Den where the pre-Birkie wax marathon.  (Layers of Toko LF Moly, HF Red, HF Blue/Red mixed and pure flour ironed in)  I wrap up the waxing just in time to watch the sun slowly setting over Teal Lake followed by pasta, pre-race packing and finally bed.

Race morning arrives pre-dawn after a fitful night for all with munchkin noises and pre-race restlessness.  The only thing I loathe more than crowds are too early mornings, which the Birkie always brings along with my third peeve, uncomfortable bus rides.  Some among us are perky morning people, not me, but the greatest sho on sno awaits us.  Leif, Sue and I drive out with the temp hovering around 0F and ghostly bands of hoar frost fog floating in the valleys.  The way too chipper doubya oh jay be (WOJB 88.9 FM) morning gal greets us with “plenty a sno and just the best day fer thohs Birkie skiers!”.  We park in the shuttle bus lot, bundle into the nearest school bus and emerge in Cable at the start line of the Birkie.  We check out the “warming” tent and building for any space, but the masses are descending wave by bus wave.  We manage to find some hot chocolate, a slot near a table to lean on and down our final energy foods.  After a quick picture, race time is fast approaching and we part ways.  I strip down to race gear really hoping that the temp rises out of the single digits and throw my race bag into the wave 1 truck.  I’m behind schedule and race over to my wave 1 corral 3 late, jog directly into corral 2, join the mad sprint into the final start corral and somehow get myself into the 4-6th row of around 700 rabid skiers.  I think my experience in Boston traffic helped here.  The announcer counts down 10,9,8… and FINALLY it’s
time to ski!

Immediately after double poling out of our single tracked lanes and out onto the course, people start trying to skate with no space and the gumby piles begin.  I get stuck navigating around one that’s too close for comfort, but I can see at least 2 other mini globs of tangled skiers a safe enough distance away.  Trying to win the Birkie in the first K of 50 from wave 1 is just not an Einstein move.  Gradually we climb the rolling powerline hills and the skis feel good, not cheater rocket skis like our local Toko rep, but Lake Wobegon skis, as in above average.  The trail narrows as we glide deeper into the woods, and I fall in line with the flow of skiers snaking South to Hayward.  We top out after 13K on fire tower hill, the highest point on the trail, if only it were a smooth gradual slope to the finish. 
After a couple short roller downhills, we hit snowmobiler curve, a fast fall away left hander lined by the locals on their machines to witness the carnage.  The new snow has been “groomed” into inside and outside lanes.  I start with the inside, but carry too much speed and switch outside which throws my skis around a bit and leads to a bit of flailing.  The sled heads start whooping with excitement, but groan when I manage to pull it all back together.  No worries, 5 seconds after I navigate the corner a huge cheer goes up behind me as another one bites the dust or powder in this case.  The course constantly undulates up and down until the big aid station at highway OO, which hits at 28K or so.  I’m feeling the effort of the opening hills and slam my first gel hoping I didn’t wait too long.
The K’s after OO are truly mostly downhill without all the rolling and body willing it is a great time to roll out some faster splits.  Luckily the gel hits the spot along with the remnants of my Gatorade, and I have some energy.  I can feel my toes and fingers, I have plenty of space on the trail, there is fuel in the tank and the sun is shining on the sparkling new snow.  Wow, my new happy place, but the bliss is short lived with 14K to go or so when the final set of hills hits.  I get another gel down the hatch before hitting the late climbs.
Hill #1 dubbed pre-bitch hill is also the home of the next sled head gathering.  The music is blaring, the sled heads are partying hard and I’m offered a beer, a turn at the shot ski and even a bite of a sandwich.  I opt to abstain, so I can get over the next 3 hills without yakking.  Hill #2 is bitch hill, which used to be staffed by large Wisconsin men in drag (scary!), but now has a preacher and nuns handing out the obligatory bhill beads and pins.  As he forgives us for our swearing he asks for an amen, “AMEN” and hallelujah “HALLELUJAH” I chime in.  Anything to get the heck over this beepin steep incline.  I approach the 3rd hill, son of a bitch, and actually feel like I can push it, not.   I put the “hammer” down for about one third of the hill and the tank is suddenly empty.   The last cheese curd flames out in the engine, and I have to quickly switch to auxiliary power.  Luckily, the last hill, Duffy hill, is the baby of the 4, and I hold my own knowing that the finish is less than 5K away.
Coming down Duffy hill onto Hayward Lake is a Birkie homecoming with only 3K to go.  I work hard to stay with my small group, but the quads are now spent and pre-crampy.  Pushing hard feels like a giant 9 volt battery is bumping on my legs, so again I bring it down a notch with the finish almost in sight.  I manage to scale the last Birkie bridge mini-hill over the highway and V2 (not pretty) to the finish of Birkie number 22, whew!  Even though I didn’t suffer the bonk this year, the tank was empty.
After the race I change up, meet the crew including Kyler and Sue’s parents and cheer Sue and Leif to the finish line.  Sue had a decidedly better race than me, and Leif had a less fun race with limited training this year.  Regardless, the deed is done and we can kick back to our home for the moment at the Fox Den for a full celebration and re-cap.  Morning arrives and it’s already time to pack up once again.  Before I can fully process this adventure, we are sitting comfortably on a plane jetting back to Boston with yet another Birkie in the books.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Craftsbury Spring Fling and Relay

It was a glorious late March weekend at Craftsbury and well attended by CSU enjoying the warm March sunshine, great ski conditions and muddy parking lots.  With the Super Tour Finals also taking place there was a whole lot of racing going on, with the added fun of our Olympic athletes there en masse.  It was fun to see former CSU Jrs. racing in the Tour including Cory Stock, Julia Kern and Lewis Nottonson.  On Saturday was the Spring Fling at either 12.5 or 25 km and on Sunday NENSA club relays with a Jr. entry and a Masters entry (Flourinated Bacon) from CSU.  Results of the races can be found HERE.

A photo dump from the weekend of whomever I managed to catch out on the trails and apologies for not catching everyone.  Lots more photos at:

Team Fluorinated Bacon

Fluorinated Bacon 

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Birkie - Perfect Conditions Are So Nice

Having opted for the Gatineau in 2016 and with the cancelation of the Birkie last year, it was time for Lisa and I to go back to the Birkie to preserve our Wave placements.  As we continued to lose snow at home and have summer-time temperatures I got more excited seeing that the forecast for Wisconsin looked cold and snowy.  I got a bit concerned when Toko put out their first wax recommendation on Tuesday indicating that a klister base would be needed, which necessitated prepping my klister skis as well.  Turns out I needn’t have bothered.  Flying in to Minneapolis on Thursday it was nice to see that snow was covering everything.  Things were looking up!  After collecting our stuff and finding a rental car into which we could stuff the giant wheelie ski bag I’d borrowed from Rob, we headed off to get in a nice hour ski at Theodore Wirth Park in the City.  There was a nice layer of ice with just enough powder on top for decent classic skiing, while Lisa skated.  Then on to our hotel in Stillwater.  We headed into town for dinner and had our first Its a Small World event of the weekend as we bumped into Joe Miller and family in the restaurant, Katie preparing for her 1st Birkie (Katie’s story can be found HERE).  Joe organizes the J2 team for Mass.  During dinner snow started to fall in earnest, with 5” predicted.  Conditions were improving fast for skiing and getting bad for driving so we were happy we were staying nearby.  

In the morning I gave the plows time to clean things up before we started up the road for Hayward to pick up bibs and keep a tight hold on our wallets at the expo.  We arrived in Hayward, grabbed our bibs and talked waxing with Ian at Toko (now on their 3rd iteration wax report), kept our bank account intact and went looking for a place to ski.  The OO trailhead, where the Korteloppet starts now, was still closed so on to Birkie Ridge.  We fired the explosive bolts on ski and clothing bags and got ready to ski in 6” of fresh, ungroomed powder.  Not so good for wax testing.  On the trail I met at least 6 people I knew from work, from Craftsbury Masters Camp, Bob Burnham’s friend from Dartmouth, etc.  Crazy!  Not wanting to trash ourselves we skied an easy hour up toward the Birkie trail and back down and then on to Ashland for the night.  
Lisa tests the 6" of fresh powder at Birkie Ridge

Bus to the start
Up before the crack of dawn, slam down as many calories as possible quickly and on the road as the sky lightens in a beautiful purple, orange hue as we dodge hay bales that have randomly fallen off a truck.  A couple miles later we come across said truck with a loaded trailer jackknifed and on its side.  The driver waves us on, first obstacle cleared.  We park in the Como lot, board a bus in short order and arrive at the new Birkie start area with over an hour to race time.  The temperatures are about 10 degrees colder than predicted so its about 2F.  Skis are waxed pretty warm as its supposed to warm up to the 30s.  A little wax testing confirms I need to cover my warm Rode waxes with some Toko Blue to speed things up.  But I’ve got monster kick and the blue helps speed the skis up a lot.  A snack, last minute clothing adjustments in the completely packed indoor space, kiss Lisa and wish her a good race (she starts in Wave 3, about 30 min. later), a last short warmup ski, toss my bag on the truck and its off to the start corral to freeze for a couple minutes before the start of Wave I.  Announcements, the National Anthem, more announcements, let’s go!  The elite waves finally go off and we run for the front, skis in hand.  I slot myself into the 4th row, mount up and 5 min. later we are off!  The new start area is well protected from wind but now instead of a nice, relaxed flat couple kms we head immediately up hill, narrowing to 6 tracks for a while and then 3.  I have to be careful about going too hard as I feel a bit winded, then into some rollers and out onto the power line where I start to recover.  Rolling up and down the power line hills, my kick is excellent and I don’t seem to be giving away speed to anyone.  I settle in, climb past the cacophony of drummers and chanters cheering in our ears and back into the blessed silence of the woods on the classic-only trail, only our breathing and a soft swoosh from the skis on the new powder snow.  A good group forms up, but with one annoying kid who can run uphill faster than many of us, but then he never tucks on the downhills and I run up the backs of his skis.  So annoying!  Besides No Tuck there is another young kid, Monster, who has just about the worst technique ever but again, he runs uphill pretty fast and I can’t shake him.  About 10 km in I’m feeling pretty good and start to enjoy the truly spectacular conditions as we roll along heading for the high point of the course around 13 km or so.  The snow is great, my skis are working well, the sun is out, the woods are sparkling with new powder, it's no longer 2 degrees and the soft snow in the trees occasionally spills down into the woods with a puff of wind, little falling glitter sparkles.  It is a good day for a ski race!  

Wave 1 Classic start - I'm up there on the left somewhere (Jim Netz photo)

Skiing through the OO road crossing at nearly half way (Skinnyski Photo)
I chase Monster all the way to the high point of the course and on one hill the old coach in me just can’t help himself and I surgest Monster stand up on the uphills or he’ll break his back and take a shorter quicker double pole.  He thanks me, I think, and on the long, fast descent off the top of the course I seem to finally drop Monster and No-Tuck for good.  The long downhill provides a much need rest which brings us to what i think is the nicest section of the Birkie course with lots of rolling terrain with nice downhills, allowing a good rhythm of climbing, tucking down and then as far up the next hill as possible.  Occasionally there are glimpses of the skaters over on their course and I hear somewhere along here the hoots and hollers of the snowmobilers watching the skaters negotiate Snowmobile Corner.  They don’t bother with the classic skiers I guess.  We fall into the steady rhythm of climbing and tucking and knock off a couple of feeds, which are pandemonium with classic skiers entering on the left, skaters on the right and everyone yelling for water or feed, or GUs, missing their drink, slowing down, stepping on your skis.  It’s nuts!  But the volunteers are awesome and get us what we need.  I keep an eagle eye out to not get a GU package stuck to my wax, then back in the tracks as the courses again diverge.  There is no road less traveled in these snowy woods.  A while later I hear a lot of commotion ahead and suddenly we are at the OO road crossing, almost half-way.  I’m feeling pretty good and hear Pat Garrison yelling encouragement.  A km further some guy had fallen and was struggling with something and sure enough, he was removing a GU package from his wax.  A couple k’s later the two courses join with 2 classic tracks on the left and the very wide skate lane on the right.  Since the Korteloppet was run from OO to the finish the day before and this section got a second groom, it was solid and fast and fun!  I now fell in with a bunch of guys as we went back and forth.  And, wouldn’t you know it, Monster was back and looking just as awful but still scampering up the hills.  A couple of us discussed that for a bit, noting how technique was the only saving grace on some days for us old farts.  I was starting to feel some fatigue and wanted to see those kilometer markers ticking down as fast as possible,  pleased when they finally got down in the teens.  Somewhere in here a former Dartmouth skier caught up and we chatted a bit and he asked about Bob Burnham and moved on and I noted a remarkable resemblance in skiing styles.

I started looking for the last of the big hills, the first with the boisterous crowd and the shot ski, then Bitch Hill, which I trudged up, but better than many, my wax still giving buckets of kick.  Some guy was telling horrible jokes.  Topping the hill I enjoyed the nice long, fast ride down, hitting my highest speed of the day.  Through the last feed, which I completely missed as the trail split around some trees and I was on the wrong side and on to the last two climbs, sneaky little bastards that Terry McNatt reminded me of last week, long and gradual and if you were fresh would not be too difficult, but toasted at 50 km they are just plain draining and at the top of the second two skaters discussed just how hard it was.  I reached for my unused water bottle since I’d missed the feed and it was frozen, fumbled it and it now resides in Wisconsin.  Darn, it was a good one too.  I should have grabbed one of my emergency Gu’s here, but didn’t.  Now the long and fast downhills to the Lake, eager to get this thing done.  At a little wooden bridge I caught up to Monster again looking rather wobbly and taking the left turn off the bridge he toppled  over, completely cooked at last and I made the pass, for good this time.  Popping down onto the lake there was a good track and - wait for it - a tailwind!!  My increasingly hazy vision narrowed and I double-poled on, no one really to chase in sight on the interminable crossing.  Finally, up onto the shore, a left turn toward town, Max Garrison cheering me on as I tried unsteadily to stride, up and over the International Bridge and down onto Main St.  Don’t fall here in front of the crowds!  And finally the finish line.  Chocolate milk never tasted so good.  My third Birkie was in the books on a glorious day for skiing. 

Main St, Hayward

Lisa at the finish

Lisa not looking too weary after 50k

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

James Kitch, JNs Sprint National Champion!

Sprint Heats for MU18

Updated on 3/7/2018 at 3:05:19 PM
Class: MU18 -  1.4 km Final A Heat Number: 36    
Rnk Bib Name              Affiliation        Time 
  1  11 KITCH, James      NE Cambridge Spo 2:47.2 
  2   3 OGDEN, Ben        NE Stratton Moun 2:47.3 
  3   4 SCHOONMAKER, Jame FW Auburn Ski Cl 2:47.9 
  4  10 WITKOWSKI, Adam   NE Stratton Moun 2:48.9 
  5   5 SONNESYN, Anders  MW Wayzata Nordi 2:49.0 
  6  13 BURT, Gregory     NE Green Mountai 2:53.5