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

No comments: