Every Birkie is Different.
Hayward WI. 2016
I think I am safe in concluding that a racer’s experience in the American Birkebeiner is different from that in all other races. It may even be unique among all other Birkies the skier has participated in. This time the factors to contend with included a temperature swing of over 50 degrees in the five days preceding the race, drastically changing snow characteristics, an unexpected four-inch powder snowfall that rapidly warmed in the sun and turned to ice in one’s kick zone, and uncertain information about what we would be skiing on come race day.
It seemed from the start that skaters would have excellent conditions, with good firm glide, but among those of us in the Classic Birkie the possibilities seemed endless. Those who trekked to the temples of the wax companies gurus returned shaking their heads, concluding that no one knew what the appropriate kick wax should be, and those sources that promised early updates as the race got closer didn’t come through. In addition there was a new ski on the market that promised fantastic results, available from Fischer, Madshus, and a couple of other manufacturers. These skis have patches of mohair under the foot and early tests among the lucky few were very positive. I’m sure there were dozens of panicked skiers who plunked down $500 for a surer kick in the last few days. Some lucky ones had acquired these new items before leaving home. For the rest of us, this was news. Neither Rune nor I were aware of their existence even.
So we headed back to our Snoqualmie Pass experiences with rapidly changing wet snow and klister conditions. Wisconsin skiers are much more comfortable with hard wax and talk of klister or the idea of mixing klisters makes many of them shaky. The forecast for race day had remained relatively unchanged for well over a week: cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid to high 30s. And the mild weather would set in as of Thursday night. All that turned out to be accurate. We went back to what we knew and had used before.
We were fortunate to be staying with our friends Joe and Cheri Hoida, where an emissary from the ski shop Milsluker’n in Oslo was also a guest. And Tore Saupstad tested and evaluated results and ended up with what Rune and I both agreed on: Rode Multigrade klister with Rode Rossa Special mixed in. Tore phoned in his conclusions to headquarters in Oslo and those were relayed to other Norwegian skiers under the Milsluker’n banner who were staying elsewhere in the Hayward area. You can imagine the psychic energy in all of this. We were fairly certain the combination would work and for the most part it was right for all who used it. I had a little trouble with icing in the race, but with a small scraper that was easily taken care of underway.
Sandy and I arrived in Minneapolis on Friday the 12th and spent a week in Hayward, skiing some and enjoying the company of many friends from our time in Green Bay. What lingered in the background for us was a nagging feeling that we both had colds brewing, and sure enough, when the weekend arrived so did the colds. Sandy was a day ahead of me and had to conclude during the night before the race that it would be foolish to ski. I felt well enough to ski, but I had to make a pact with myself that my effort should match my condition. A fancy way of saying that if I didn’t hold back a little, there was no way I would finish the race. Like last year I started in the early wave called The Spirit of 35, to honor us who were among the 35 participants in the first Birkie in 1973.
Only two of us from that group were on the starting line, plus those who have completed the most Birkies, for a total of 35 or so skiers. About half of that wave skated so we parted company after a few hundred meters, and like last year I found myself alone in front of the classic skiers. This year, however, rather that being completely alone for an hour, I had company with Mitch Mode, a friend from Rinelander, WI. We skied together for about for about 15 kilometers, until the elite wave, including Rune, passed us and I didn’t see Mitch after that. He finished about fifteen minutes ahead of me, and won the 65-69 age class. I won the 70-74 class for the third year in a row, which surprised me, since I tried to dial my effort back a bit. I was certainly glad to see Cheri and Sandy at the finish, and get inside to warm up.
We spent the rest of the weekend packing skis, clothes, and closing up the fabulous Hoida house, and on Monday we drove to Green Bay. If a thin snow cover at a local trail system holds up we plan to participate in a 15 k skate race on Saturday, and fly home on Sunday. Yesterday afternoon we went out to look at the trail conditions and the new 4k lighting system that has just been installed. These are trails we know well, since I was involved designing their layout and getting permission from the county to build them back in the 70s and 80s and they were completed with the help of countless ski volunteers. But the trip to the trails yesterday had a different purpose: Joe and Cheri, with the help of other friends had convinced the county that one of the last trails I laid out before moving back to Seattle on 1990 should be named “Per’s Loop”, and signed accordingly. They showed me one of the new trail signs already installed.
That was a surprise that stunned me. I had no idea. I just wanted places to ski when we lived in Green Bay. I can’t believe our friends’ generosity.