Saturday, February 28, 2015

Per's Birkie: Wherein the cheese stands alone


Seriously?  You can go to the American Birkebeiner, with 7,000 other skiers, and ski ALONE for the first hour?  You can if you're Per, in the first wave and in the very front of that wave, breaking track all by himself.  Amazing story, and it's right here:

An unexpected experience in the Birkie 
I have participated in the American Birkebeiner on and off since the first race in 1973 for a total of 27 races.  The number of participants has increased from 35 in the first one to a total over 10,000 in all the events this year.  Three years ago the organizers decide to include all racers who participated in the first race, Founders and non-Founders, and those who have completed the most Birkies in a special class called ‘The Spirit of 35”.  For the past two races those with a “Spirit of 35” bib started 10 minutes before all other racers.  That is quite an honor.  A total of 37 skiers including two Founders toed the starting line last Saturday.  Ernie St. Germaine is the only skier who has completed every single Birkebeiner.  Several of the others have only missed one race.  Lots of race experience in this group!  Twenty-two of the group skated and sixteen skied classic.  I was among the classic skiers. 
We were met at the starting line by an unexpected snowfall, which partially covered the perfectly groomed trails.  That added both beauty and extra work to the morning.  As we moved into the classic course we saw that the tracks were not skied in prior to the race and the two or three inches of fluffy snow slowed the speed in the tracks.  
After 1 kilometer I found myself breaking trail in front of the classic pack, and after 4-5 kilometers I could not see another skier.  I approached the Power Line drummers as the first racer to come by.  They quickly hustled into formation and started their beat.  At the next hilltop along the roller coaster Power Line I could see the first food station and as soon as they spotted me groups of volunteers ran to the drink tables to pick up cups of Energy and water.  As their first customer of the morning I was offered at least fifty cups of drink, from both sides.  I took two and skied on.  Then I skied into the woods and continued to break trail.  
What was strange to me was that as a participant in North America’s largest ski race, I spent the first hour of the race totally alone, skiing in unused tracks.  It was eerily quiet and peaceful.  Until Kilometer 12 I only met a photographer on the trail and he took a picture of me, which illustrates my isolation. 


After that I had company, and then some.  The Elite classic wave swept over me, in squadrons of 10-15 racers and later the fastest of Wave 1 caught me and the procession continued until I found myself skiing with racers close to my own speed, where I stayed until the end of the race.  I was plenty tired after breaking trail for an hour at the beginning and had to back off some in order to finish standing up.  I was happy with my time, but even more pleased by the unexpected experience of being totally alone in a huge race.  What a thrill. 
But I allowed myself one more delight right before the end of the race:  I decided to take the ramp off the new bridge in Downtown Hayward in alpine style, and completed 4-5 parallel turns onto Main Street.  That was fun and maybe a little cocky.  I was rewarded by applause from people along the street.

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