A Special American Birkebeiner
by Per Johnsen
And one more photo, a little bonus eye candy ...
It seemed strange to drive through Wisconsin in February and see almost no snow. Bare farm fields, and snow fences with nothing to do. As we neared Hayward we could see a few inches of snow cover in the woods, hardly encouraging. The race organizers had insisted that there was adequate cover and not to fear. The grooming crew had worked tirelessly to pack down every flake that fell on the trail this winter, and a week before the race the course was declared to be in “good shape”. During the two weeks prior to the race, faced with temperatures in the mid to upper 30s, they shoveled and moved snow onto the south-facing hills to preserve the cover. The weather person at one of the Duluth TV station said that, on average, 80 inches of snow have fallen by the 20th of February. This year the total was 19 inches. Then the snow gods smiled and the trail received 5-6 inches of dense powder on Tuesday before the race and the machines were out that night to knock the air out of it (combing, they called it), and the next day it was packed in, and the trail was just fine.
A couple of weeks before the Birkie I received a letter telling me that Board had decided that I would race in a red bib from now on. There were 35 racers in the first Birkie in 1973 and as one of those I would wear a bib with the inscription: “The Spirit of 35”. Until now only the Founders, those who skied all of the first ten races have worn red bibs. I had missed the third one. Only three of the original twelve Founders are still skiing the Birkie. So the Board looked for others who were in the first race, plus those who have completed the most races in order to add 35 red bibs. I have the results of the first race, and I may be the only other first race participant they found among the entries. That was quite an honor and I received lots of friendly comments during the race because of the bib.
Race Day. The forecast that we had listened to all week was exactly right. The morning was cold with flurries, followed by clearing and sun. The temperatures were in the low teens before the start and the mid twenties in early afternoon. We had waxed for glide according to the recommendations of Webskis Guru, Bert. A concoction of four different glide products that he guaranteed would give the best glide. In my case, it was perfect. I had the best glide of anyone around me. I even had better glide than the skaters after the two trails joined at 31 km. The kick consisted of a very thin layer of spray Toko Green klister, and then repeated layers of Toko Green binder and Toko Blue and Red kick wax. I may have had 15 thin layers in all. It worked perfectly. I never slipped. Since Sandy would be a little longer on the trail and the temperatures would be a little higher, I put a little Toko Yellow under the Blue and Red. She said her grip was also just fine. A couple of years ago the kick wax of the day was only Toko Green Binder, in many layers, shorter and shorter. The kick recommendations came from our friend Dave Ford. It must have worked for him also, since he won his age group by a whopping 13 minutes.