Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Birkie Fever, I'm a True Believer ...

... or, how much fun can one person squeeze into five days?




"That number does a number on you.

Because it stands for the whole journey. Because it reminds you that you had the courage to click “submit” on that online entry form. Because you trained and trained and trained and told friends and traveled and woke up at an ungodly early hour on race day and took that last minute nervous pee in the filthy port-a-potty and had butterflies at the start line and then flew on pure adrenaline and out-rode yourself. Because you did it.

Because it’s more than just a number."  Brian Miller


I've done four Norwegian Birkebeiners and four Swedish Vasaloppets, and traveling to Europe is always wonderful, but you know one of the cool things about doing a big ski marathon right here in America?  So many of my friends were there!  Usually I travel alone, but this time, I saw Scott and Avery and their adorable little smiler at the Seattle airport, I sat next to Brent on the flight to Minneapolis, I found Steinar at the Minneapolis airport, I chatted with TJ at the expo,  I ate dinner with Sam and Berit at the Blast from the Past, I saw Brian and the legendary Marty Hall (Marty!) at the start line, I got to watch Rune blast off in the elite classic wave in a burst of power, and I even got to meet Travis, with whom I have emailed but have never met in person, at the airport on the way home.  So fun!

There were so many highlights to my visit.  I went to a Timberwolves game with Super Tony in Minneapolis on Wednesday night, which was a huge thrill.  He got us seats just two rows up from the court, near the middle, and from that vantage point, the players are enormous and strong and fierce and fast and graceful and athletic.  It was basketball like I have never seen it!  Tony wore his Sonics jersey and hat, so all evening long, players and fans alike were fist bumping him and asking when we were going to get a team back in Seattle.  And after the game, we got to spend some time chatting with the amazing and talented Luke Ridnour, whom Tony has known since he was a kid in Blaine.  What a fabulous evening!

Second highlight: I was invited to stay with Joe and Cheri at their gorgeous home right on the Birkie trail, in Mosquito Brook.  Per and Sandy were there, too, along with other skier friends of theirs.  Joe and Cheri were sick and spent a good part of the time sequestered in their bedroom, but even so, they managed to be wonderfully warm and gracious, and their friends were funny and welcoming, even though they took advantage of my Birkie virginity by feeding me some pretty tall tales.  We ate delicious meals, we told stories, we waxed skis and listened to tunes.  Brian even took me to the New Mooon ski shop, just because I wanted to see what it was like to be in a store devoted only to skiing.  It was pretty cool!  Joe and Cheri have passes that allowed them to drive us right to the start line, instead of taking the bus, and I felt like a princess, sitting warm and snug in their car, changing my clothes twenty times, watching the elite skiers pick up their skis from the Gear West waxing truck, and dancing along to the Birkie Fever song, which only played about a million times while I was there.  I got out to watch the elite skiers take off -- go, Rune! -- then ducked back into the car to wait for my start.

The race itself was everything I had been told it would be: a million never-ending uphills, fast downhills, big swooping corners, friendly skiers (I stepped in front of a faster skier, then quickly stepped back and said sorry; he said, "Darlin', we're going to ski all the way to Hayward together; it's not a problem!"), and even friendlier volunteers (when I accidentally dropped a cup and bent to pick it up, the volunteer said, "Honey, don't even try to pick it up -- I've got it!").  My skis were lightning fast, thanks to Per's expert high fluoro wax application the day before, and my kick was perfect all day, with ten thin layers of Swix Blue Extra mixed with a couple thin layers of Toko green for durability.

The only thing I couldn't be prepared for was the snow conditions.  It had been bone-cracking cold in the week before the race, which dried out the snow, and then it snowed eight inches the day before, and then it snowed some more on race day afternoon.  Even though there were five groomers out there all night, the snow was too soft and dry to hold its shape, and it very quickly turned into a sea of sugar.  Plus, back in the ninth wave where I was, the dear little ninth wave Kortie skiers, so timid and fearful, herringboned up everything and snowplowed slowly and carefully down everything, effectively wiping out any possible hint of a track.  So there was nothing for me to do but herringbone up most of the uphills, more herringboning than I've probably done in the last five years, torqueing the little stabilizing muscles in my ankles and hips so much that they started pinging at me near the end of the race, warning me that they. were. not. happy.  My fitness level was fine, though; I felt great all day long, and was able to put on a burst of speed once we finally got to the lake and the tracks reappeared; what a joy that was, to fly along the lake and down Main Street to the finish line as fast as I could move my legs and arms!  One of the snowmobilers sitting alongside the trail said, "Now YOU are having fun!" and indeed I was.  My time was nothing impressive, especially compared to all my elite and first wave friends, but I'm told it's fast enough to move me into the seventh wave next time.  Goodbye, little timid ninth wave skiers!

After the race and the sauna and the delicious dinner at Joe and Cheri's, I headed to Mike and Jane's for wine and warm and mellow conversation and delicious sleep and, the next morning, another ski on the freshly re-groomed trail.  It was an easy recovery ski for Mike, a little bit more of a huff and puff for me, but such a pure joy to be out there in the perfect tracks!  Afterward, Mike and I wandered through the ski demos, then he showed me his various roller ski routes, and now I understand the kind of training that gets you to first place in your age group, which is where Mike finished.  Let no one tell you that Wisconsin is flat; he has found some awesome challenging hills to roller ski, and I was busy trying to figure out which of my local routes would be comparable.  It was great to get to spend some time with them; they were so kind and welcoming to me!

And then Tony came back and we drove to Minneapolis and our flights home.  Long car drives are great opportunities for conversation, and I absorbed all of his good information about training and nutrition and racing, plus his funny stories about traveling and gliding and family.  I am very lucky to have friends who are so good at the sport I love, and even better, are so willing to share what they know with me.

And that's the end of the adventure.  Will I be on the start line next year?  You'd better believe it; I have Birkie Fever!


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