|Family tradition...daddy with daughters before the Birkie|
Well, the Birkie is always an adventure, and this year didn't disappoint. This whole weekend went by in such a blur that I'm having trouble keeping everything straight! Let's go back to about Wednesday when the report was that the Birkie trail was firm and hard like a concrete highway ready to float us all to Hayward like being carried on a feather made of clouds.
Oh...then snowpocalypse hit and dumped 18 inches of fresh powder on top of everything!
I'd been spending the week getting over one of those colds that makes you hallucinate and attempt to iron things like avocados and grapefruit into the bases of your skis. I'd been drinking so much orange juice that my teeth had rotted away to withered pegs that looked like they'd been carved out of driftwood. Every time I coughed, I assured myself that it would be the last one and that I would be good to go on Saturday.
Zulma got the day off work on Friday, and after spending 2 hours digging a path down my five foot long driveway so I could get the car out, I got a message from my mom.
"The power just went out at my house."
Part of the Birkie tradition was that my family comes up to stay at my mom's house (or "Grandma's House" as Sofia calls it), so I was bummed that there would be no power.
"Oh, and they haven't plowed the driveway yet." Mom continued.
For a while there, we flirted with the idea of having my wife and kids stay home. That way I could just go to Hayward and find a bed somewhere and do the race. But it didn't take me long to say...to heck with that idea! I wanted my family along! I wanted to take a picture with my two daughters on Birkie morning! So, we loaded up the car and headed out hoping that the road would be plowed and the power restored before we got to Spooner. If it wasn't, my contingency plan was to just drive back to Chippewa Falls and leave in the morning.
We headed out at about noon, only to find the highways covered with ice about an inch thick. If you went a touch over 40 mph, the back end of the car spun out to the left or right (whichever was more inconvenient).
I was kind of excited to get to Hayward, because I'd gotten this message from Martin Koukal:
I know Martin from the Inca trail, read this if you haven't.
Anyway, I was looking forward to getting to Hayward and hanging with Martin and Emalea Landgraf when all of a sudden my car started to whinny like a dying horse. For a second there, I thought the muffler that Jeff Wolf had fixed for me was falling apart, but I quickly discarded that idea because whenever Jeff Wolf fixes something it stays fixed.
"I think you have a flat tire," Zulma said.
We'd just pulled into Trego so I pulled over into the gas station.
|What? You cant' just throw a patch on this so I can be on my way?|
So there I was stuck in my disabled car in sub freezing conditions with my beautiful wife and children thinking, "man...what have I gotten us into!" That was the first moment that weekend when I thought I might not be able to finish the Birkie that year...it wouldn't be the last time I would think that!
Well, after a millisecond of self-pity I realized that we were fortunate that the tire went flat next to a gas station so I didn't have to call for back up out on the highway somewhere (it would have been lethal with the roads as bad as they were). We called up Neal and he was there in about 15 minutes with a hydraulic jack and a box of tools. The tire had rusted in place, however, and we couldn't get it off no matter how hard we kicked it. But then Adam Rogge showed up (he was on his way to get his Bib), and he said, "I have a piece of wood in my truck!" So he smashed the wheel a couple times with the block of wood and off it popped!
The wife and kids piled into the F-150 and I drove the disabled Smashmobile with the donut wheel back to my mom's house that still didn't have power or a plowed driveway...but there was a fire in the fireplace so that allayed some of my concerns. I left the Subaru by the side of the road and we 4 wheeled up to the house...got the girls under a roof, and the Birkie was back on!
By this time it was getting late, and Martin was sinking into "race attack" thinking mode. Also, I was just ready to get to Hayward, get my bib, and go back to bed. After the typical battle to prove my identity (they always assume I'm a ringer who is going to win the race from the 4th wave, so I need 6 photo ID's), I headed home. In the parking lot I got a message from Zulma.
"The power is back on, yupiiiiii!"
So that was one less thing to worry about.
For a little while I sat up worrying about my car getting smashed by a plow because it was more or less in the middle of a public road. But meh...who cares? (that's one of the advantages of driving a POS...peace of mind about what happens to it)
By the time we went to bed, I was looking forward to getting on the ski trail where I could RELAX!
Well, Birkie morning came and we all awakened to a text from the Birkie office that read:
"Yeah...ummm, overnight, the hospitality tent collapsed, we're trying to get it set back up, but we don't know if we'll be able to. So dress accordingly...tee-hee!"
I decided to come prepared:
I was also going to bring a hatchet to break into Telemark if I needed to, but I couldn't find mine. Too bad we didn't have Jeff Wolf there to jimmy the lock...we needed Jeff Wolf at this Birkie!
The tent was one more little hitch to worry about later, first we had to do the typical fun of driving up to the start and getting on the bus.
When we got to Telemark, there was one tent up...the smaller tent up by the lodge. It had a bunch of chairs in there, but most of those were spoken for and people were very territorial about their chairs. I went up to a group of three people who had four chairs (one they were using to hold their bags).
"Hello," I said, "can we borrow that chair you're not using so we can put our ski boots on?"
"No, actually, this chair is for our friend who is coming shortly."
A thousand grizzly scenarios flashed behind my eyes mostly involving limbs, blood, and bits of fold-up chairs flying in all directions. Chuckling madly, I backed away. But after that little run-in with selfishness, I settled in and started having a good time.
I think it's the hour before the Birkie at Telemark which is my favorite time of the year. The big day is on hand, and you just hang out with your buds and turn your nervous energy into inappropriate humor. Here I am hanging with Ben, Rick and Starr.
We hung out and were able to chat with Tommy K, Kevin, and Wilkie before deciding to head down to the start area and see how bad the tent was. When we got down there, we found out...yeah...they didn't really get the tent back up. Somebody spray painted "Keep Out" on the side (which most of the skiers surprisingly obeyed)...I went in though, here's what it looked like inside:
I think next year they need to install four or five telephone poles that are permanent and then just throw the tent up over them during Birkie week. I thought it looked a little dangerous in there, so I hung close to the door.
I hung around in here chatting with Dallas, Doran and Randy sharing last minute bits of advice before lining up at the cold...cold start line.
To put things in perspective, I was actually under the impression that I was fit this year. I did the 42k race at Sisu in something like 2:55, I was 3:19 at Badger State and 3:02 at the Pre-Birkie. It seemed like I was on pace to do a good Birkie...I'd put in the work at least.
Last year I'd had a good run and moved up a wave doing something in the 3:40 range. The only thing different this year was the beard!
Much to the chagrin of my wife, I'd started growing the beard back in December. It got a little long and then the forecast called for all those -20 days and...well...you just don't shave a beard when it is going to be -20.
So that beard kept getting longer and longer and I thought, "well, the Birkie is only two more weeks" even though it got to the point where I couldn't breathe or eat without getting a lung/mouthful of hair.
Anyway, the race started and I took off like a piston, mainly because I was freezing and I wanted to warm up. I think for the first hundred yards or so, I was the 2nd or 3rd guy in Wave 4. It was awesome!
Then the deep, powdered snow hit.
Oh...my...god...this Birkie was BRUTAL!
That snowpocalypse I mentioned before had left the trail in RUINS! I think they got it more or less shaped up for the elite skiers, but for all of us miserable wretches in the later waves it was chopped to BITS! By the time I was through the power lines, I was already looking like this (animated .gif follows...if you can't see this in your email, go to the Cyclova page and check it out):
I kept hoping it would get easier and it didn't.
Sometimes the trail hardens up when you get into the woods.
Sometimes it firms up when you get to the point where the Korteloppet skiers turn off.
The trail was brutal, powder, trudge-fest misery where you had to push to go downhill and plead to go up. By the time I got to "OO" I looked like this (another .gif):
As I skied along, thousands, or millions of beardless men and women went flying by, the wind resistance sliding off their face like water off a duck.
While I was pulled down...down...down into the blackest, darkest nether regions.
My quick calculations revealed that I'd be lucky to finish in under 6 hours, which was about as long as it took me to do the race the first time I ever skied it. Absolutely ridiculous! A couple of times the thought of quitting flickered through my mind, but when that happened I thought of my mom who was doing her 27th (I think) Birkie on two reconstructed ACLs. She wears knee braces on both legs, and I knew SHE wasn't going to pull out, so how could I?
At the Gravel pit aid station I spent so much time eating that my hands froze into ice blocks. A little further down the trail, I stopped and windmilled my arms and managed to get circulation to return to the tips of the fingers. After that, I didn't lift my arms up so high to pole. Mikunda said that your hands get cold when you hold them above your heart, and I think he was right. My technique was terrible and sloppy, but it was just trudge, trudge, survival mode anyway so it didn't matter.
On the last hill, I saw a couple of people standing next to Dave Landgraf's memorial and I asked them if they knew who he was. They said they did. That's such an appropriate place for a memorial to Dave. You're so shot and emotional at the end of the Birkie that it brings tears to your eyes, and it's nice to think of him there.
At the last aid station, they gave me a Red Bull which was awesome, and that got me over the last set of hills, but I was NOT looking forward to crossing the lake. There was a full-on headwind (of course). However, the wind had blown the snow off the trail, and I was actually able to SKI for the first time in the whole race!
I got into Hayward, and the trail was again HARD on mainstreet, so I could ski, and it felt good to cross the line and FINISH. By then the clock had ticked to five and a half hours, but whatever. I got my pin. Another Birkie for the books.
As I was changing, I ran into Ben and Starr, as well as Adam, Tyler, Janelle, Lisa and Rick. Everybody was glad to be done. I was kind of giggly. It was wonderful to see everybody (it always is), I felt an extra amount of camaraderie after this extremely hard Birkie. Dry clothing on, I felt human again. We went over to a Coffee shop and Mullin bought me a tripple, extra-chocolate, heath, carmel-fudge, expresso, mocha-chino, extravaganza, with whipped cream and a chocolate covered coffee bean on top. It was so thick I could hardly pour it, but it was the exact calorie count I needed to start the car up and wait for my mom and Neal to finish. They did so in about a half hour, and we all decided to head home, shower up, and call it good.
It's mildly disappointing to not have skiied all that fast, but hey, we all made it through the weekend despite storms, accidents, bad road conditions, and--well, quite frankly--everything possible that could go wrong.
This was a challenging Birkie.
But it makes for a good story, and with the afterglow of nostalgia, you love and cherish every moment of experiences like these! Bring on the 2015 Birkie! Catch some Birkie Fever!