You've seen reports from Per and Rune about their Birkie adventures. Now it's time to hear Slyfield's story, of the Birkie, his other winter adventures, and his plans for the upcoming season. Thanks for sharing this fun story, Jim!
American Birkie, 2016:
Red and Silver Klister? Yea, so, what’s the big deal?
Or --- “Don’t throw me in that Briar Patch!”
Here’s the KISS version. See below for the rest of the story.
1. Good time with good people!
2. Weather and waxing conditions can be anything. 2016 was ‘just like home’, rather than 2014's wind chilled -22F.
3. My level of conditioning was ok, but I still need to lose 30#.
4. To better prepare, ski intervals up lots of moderately steep hills. Then do it again.
5. Go ski for five hours, non-stop, at race pace.
6. During the race, eat and drink a lot!
7. Bring fins and snorkel for crossing the lake.
8. Travel: The light-rail is a good way to get from Sea-Tac. Even with day-pack, ski bag, and duffel bag. Watch out for distracted drivers when you’re in the cross walk: Yes lady, your cell phone conversation is more important than my life...
9. The Birkie is a huge production. There’s a lot more going on than just ‘my’ ski race.
10. Big thank you’s to Per, Sandy, Joe, Cheri, and the rest of the crew.
History -- I’ve known about the American Birkebiner since it started. One of my college friends did it when she was 14. At the finish, she was told she was too young and not allowed to do the entire distance. To which Molly replied, “Well I finished, and I beat you!”
I finally got around to doing it for the first time in 2014. And it was epic! At the start the temperature, with wind chill, was -22F. Because it was my first Birkie, I got to start in the Ninth Wave. Behind the pack. As in way behind the pack… The good news was once we got the crowd half way sorted out, I passed people the entire race. The bad news was the uphill traffic jams. Early in the race, I wiggled in between the lines. Later, it was ‘get in line and trudge.’ The classic tracks were pretty beat up by the time I got on them. After the OO trail head, the skaters joined us. I felt badly for them as they were ankle deep in loose snow. They got a real work out. Only one skater passed me on a down hill. Nearly ran over a ski-skier going around the big open field just before Highway 77 – Oops, sorry... Fought my way into the wind across the lake and finally finished in 5:22::59. Ahead of 78% of all the other 9th waver’s and qualified for the 4th wave if I showed up within 3 years.
The best part of the day was sitting in the sun (and out of the wind) eating an ice cream cone, at 12F air temperature. Someone walked by and said, “you’ve got a lot of guts to do that…” OK, I’ll be back, and my goal was to eat an ice cream cone before 3pm.
2016 -- My second Birkie was just like home: 38F and drippy. Everyone else was freaking out about the wax. (Except Per and Rune.) I used my old 2002 vintage Fischer RCS’s as guinia pigs. I ironed in a thin layer of Chola Klister binder, let that harden, then some Red and Silver Klister. Went for a test ski and it was good. Went back and did the same wax job on my ‘race skis’. Madsush Nanosonic’s that Nat Brown gave me and I had used in the 2014 Birkie. (Nobody passed me on a down hill!) Went back to the trail to test them and noticed that the rubber snubber was missing from the bindings. OOPS. Skied around on them for a while, but decided to race on the Fischer’s anyway. Next time I travel, I’ll make sure the binding parts are all there.
But first, the race—I started in the 4th wave. But almost got left behind. I went to the wrong side of the start area to put my clothes bag on the truck. “These are the Korte trucks, the full Birkie trucks are on that side. “ Oh. -- Beat feet for the other side, got there just in time to put my bag on right truck, and dodge through all the 5th wavers who were all lined up in their marshaling area. “FOURTH WAVE, COMING THROUGH!”
Got to the 4th wave area just in time to put on my skis and off we went! Worked my way through the slower skiers, as we went up the hill to the drum line. They had been banging away at it for a while and were not that energetic anymore. Into the trees and wound our way up the hills. I passed a number of the Wave 70 skiers. **You’ll still be skiing into your 70’s, right? Then all the Korte skiers took their turn back to the air field. We kept winding our way up the hills. There was a long gap between us and the preceding waves. Caught up with a young lady and her dad. She had just turned 18 and was allowed to do the long course. Dad should have been in the first or elite wave, but wanted to ski with his daughter. He was chatty, I was trying to ski a consistent pace, and not get distracted, too much. After a bit, he dropped back to stay with her. For quite a while, I had the woods to myself.
Every now and then the skate and Classic tracks came near each other. You could hear lots of cheering (jeering?) at some of the skate down hills. Sounds like the hoy palloi enjoy heckling the poor skill of the skaters dealing with the down hills, rather than encouraging the accomplishment of the noble Classic skiers…
At the check points, I made a point find the GU and eat at least one. Got several drinks of Heed and water, too. Banana chunks – ok. But, ‘Nilla wafers? Ahhh--Must be a Birkie cultural thing. Almost headed out on the Skate course. Get back on the CLASSIC course and get up the hill!
Worked on skiing efficiently. Balance, weight transfer, and glide. Things Einar told us a long time ago. Skiing conditions were ok, maybe a bit sluggish due to the mid-to-high 30F temperatures. It rained for a few minutes—OK, half an hour—from time to time.
Finally got to the OO feed station and the skaters joined us shortly thereafter. I was dismayed how fast they were overhauling us. The trail from OO tends down hill, but it’s still got plenty of climbing. I did ok compared to others on most down hills, but sat down in the middle of one of them. I realized I was getting low on gas, so I ate one of the GU’s I’d pinned to the inside of my bib. Also drank more of the Excellerade in my water-bottle butt pack. (Not in danger of freezing solid today!) I felt better by the time I got to Mosquito Brook, Took a double feed there anyway. Had a swig of chocolate milk. Afterwards, I worried that it would coagulate and I’d get sick, but had no issues. There are a series of climbs, a bit of a flat area, and then Bitch Hill. Not that big of a deal, as I had good grip and just chugged straight up. Most everyone else, Classic Skiers included, had to herringbone. The Nuns were mostly just hanging out. Maybe they were waiting for the 9th wavers to show up so they could start their “Sinners Repent!” routines.
On to the Gravel Pit and Fish Hatchery. We’re getting there, but not there yet. Undulating terrain. Maintain mental focus, stretch out each glide, and ski efficiently. Don’t let yourself get into a mental rut.
The ‘new’ hill was a long gradual climb. Kind of like going up Amabilis from The Road to the First Switchback, only a little longer. Easy down hill with swooping turns. Scamper across highway 77, and up and over that last hill. OK, we’re getting to the end, keep your head in the game, maintain your pace and finish this thing…
All I’ve got to do is get across this lake. Quartering into the wind. Slushy ice with some white stuff here and there. I tried to double pole, but didn’t get anywhere. Kick DP was not much better. Diagonal was ok when I really thought about firmly setting my wax. It was still slippery in the wet slop. Kept looking for patches of less than saturated snow in the water covered ice. The head wind did not help, either… (Rune’s description of crossing the lake was very articulate.) Finally got to the end of the lake, scampered up onto the road, and up and over the new bridge on Main Street. The last straight away is a gradual up hill up to the finish line. I kept up a good diagonal stride and finally to the end.
Glad to be done! Figured I was under 5 hours. Half an hour faster than last time. I was not nearly as tired as after 2014—when I was nearly anaerobic for 5 minutes after the finish. This time, still plenty tired, but felt like I paced myself better. Got my second Birkie pin! Whoo-hoo! (Translation: “That’s nice.”) Had a chocolate milk. Some nice girls gave me my complementary ski ties and Classic Birkie hat. Grabbed a few mini-Clif bars. Ate that with another chocolate milk. Then over to the baggage claim. More good news--there were still a butt load of 4th wave bags there. So I figured I did ok.
Eating and drinking throughout the race was very important.
Stowed my skis on one of the racks and went into the gym to change clothes. Found a few feet of floor space to change everything from the belly button up. Should have put in a pair of dry sox and shoes, but the wind pants Elizabeth gave me worked well once I got out side. More good news—my Fischer’s were still where I left them. The food tent lines were out to the parking lot. So I wandered over to the church that was giving out popcorn and hot chocolate.
Went across the street—through the final 50m of the race to find the Web Skis “Hospitality Suite”. Really just a vacant store front where we could hang out. Kevin and crew had a bunch of pizza, beer, stew, and other goodies. Went out and cheered on the others as they came through.
I never did get around to an ice cream cone. (Maybe next time.)
Social, travel, and other topics.
Home hosting -- I am most grateful to Joe and Cheri for opening their home to us. Thank you! Staying with them, with Per & Sandy, Brian (Green Bay), Tore (NOR), and Sven (Volvo), along with Joe and Cheri’s friends Bud, Marianne, and their son —made for a much more enjoyable week than staying in a low-budget motel in Spooner like last time. If any of you, or friends, need a place to stay in the Seattle area, please consider “Jim and Elizabeth’s B&B”.
The Birkie Trail system is the “Gold Standard” as far as I am concerned regarding XC ski trails. It is available in the summer for trail runs and mountain biking races. Or just go do your thing, as long as you don’t make a mess. There were ‘fat-bikes’ on it after the race, but they stayed off it during the warm weather. There is a very extensive Mountain Bike trail system that crosses the main Birkie Trail in several places. Lots of sign posts with no dogs, no snowshoes, and no motorized vehicles. The community has put a lot into this resource and I can only hope that the people living in the area make use of it. There are also several recreational and/or retirement home developments in the area. How far would you drive to ski/bike/run/hike/what ever on the trail on other than one day a year?
Travel -- I shopped around a bunch trying to find a better deal on air fare and rental cars. Alaskan had reasonable prices and ok schedule. Never mind the red-eye getting into MLS at 0500 on Tuesday morning. The hatchback I’d requested was not available so Avis gave me a mini-van for the week. I only drove it to Mosquito Brook and back to MLS. It sat from Tuesday to Monday. Got back to SEA-TAC on Monday, about 5:30pm. Shuttle Express quoted me $45. OUCH. So I took the Light Rail “Screech” to Westlake center. Convenient and only $3.00. Realized that I’d just missed a bus connection that would have dropped me off 250 meters from our home in Kirkland. So I hung out for about an hour to catch the last bus to the Kirkland area. ($2.00) Finally got to the Totem Lake Park and Ride, about 2 miles south of our home. The bus lady said she was continuing north, but I found out too late that it was on the wrong side of 405. Nearly got run over in the cross walk by a driver more intent on her cell phone conversation. Elizabeth picked me up at Safeway, we were home about 8:30pm.
Weather, snow conditions, and waxing choices – We had some snow early in the week. Went out on Tuesday late afternoon on VF50 and 55. Kinda slippery at first, but started to ice up later as the temperatures cooled as the sun went down. Wednesday was similar. We didn’t ski as much as I liked, due to the Birke Trail being closed to save the snow we had and for the grooming crews to do their thing. Several wind storms covered the existing snow with dead leaves and pine needles. You can guess what that really likes Klister… Friday, there were a lot of people in a panic state, but like I said, “Red and Silver Klister? What’s the big deal?” I did a short test ski on the Mosquito Brook development trails and it was fine. Plenty of grip on uphills. It stayed on for the entire race– with a collection of needles and leaf fragments. I think the detritus was the cause of most of my sluggishness. Skis had a moderately aggressive grind from several years ago. We went over the base with my Toko riller. With the wet conditions, my skis were not as fast as I liked, but I did not have many other classic skiers go past me on down hills. The skaters had a better day for glide.
On Sunday, the day after the race, it was cold and nice. If we’d had the race Sunday, we’d all have been a lot faster. And I’m sure the crash crews would have had plenty of customers. Skied south, up and over Bitch Hill. Talked to a mom and two Jr High aged kids. She had done the full Birkie, the kids did the Korte. They were checking out the ‘hard’ parts of the course. But from the kids’ smiles, I think they wanted to do it in reverse so they could tuck the face—straight down! I skied south a few more K’s. Then headed back to Joe and Cheri’s. Picked up a pocket full of GU wrappers. I chickened out and did a series of snowplow turns returning north on the face.
Other stuff— We all have criteria for ‘how did it go?’ Here’s the time and place results from www.birkie.com
Finish Line Results.
637 out of 1981 in 55k Birkebeiner Classic. (32%)
Gender Overall Place:
553 out of 1547 in 55k Birkebeiner Classic Men (36%)
Age Group Place:
65 out of 244 in Men 55 to 59 (27%)
5:20 per K
I’m pretty happy with the numbers, but am always asking myself what should I do to ski faster? The biggest thing I could do is lose 30# by not eating so much. Well, that has not happened, yet. I also need to work out in a systematic and appropriate manner. I can do better here, too. But I have started a weight lifting program that shows promise to improve the strength aspects of my strength to weight ratio. (Thanks Gene!) I also like swimming, riding my bike, and running. Need to get on my roller skis more this summer. Do some hikes, kayaking, and yard work. Maybe I’ll finally get around to doing some Randonneur events? Who wants to come along?
Other 2016 races -- This winter I also did the Boulder Mountain Tour, our Ozbaldy and several of the WBA’s Biathlons at Stevens Pass.
The Boulder Mountain Tour is a 35Km Skate race in Sun Valley, ID. A real class act of a race. But kinda pricy for what you get. I finished in just over 2 hours. This put me at just behind 50% of all finishers. At least they held it this year. It looks like the race organizers learned some lessons after last year’s race cancellation, their failure of communications with the racers, and the organizer’s perceived preference of taking our money over showing us a good time. This year, they comped us for last year’s cancellation and they had an option to enter your phone number and they would text you if there were race cancellations, delays, or other important info. Good swag, too: A very high quality hat and nice gym bag.
KSC Ozbaldy 50Km Skate. I felt pretty good, kept a reasonable pace, and only slowed down a couple minutes per lap. I made it a point to eat a GU on the way out and another on the way back on the road. Took two drinks both ways, coming and going, too. I wore my water bottle with Excellerade and drank most of it. Had 4 GU’s pinned to the inside of my bib, but did not use them. Best part of the day was changing into dry sox and our post-race chilli feed.
Made it to several of the WBA’s events at Stevens Pass. Felt pretty good skiing, and shot ok most of the time. In one race I hit all 5 prone targets in both prone bouts. YEA! Missed a bunch in another. OHHH… Standing was good and bad, too. At the local level, it’s still a skier’s race, so get back on the course and get going!
The last race of the season was an Individual format. We only skied 12.5Km, vice the IBU/Olympic standard 20Km. But we still shot the regulation 20 shots, with one minute per miss added to your time. You can ski a long way in :20 minutes! Prone sucked (missed 8/10) But I came back and only missed one on each of the two Standing bouts for :10 added to my time. I can do better. I still out-shot most everyone. I still need to ski faster…
Race organization and staffing: I still prefer our Kongsberger “Club” races put on by volunteers. Our goal is to provide a good quality ski-race experience for the racers. Rather than the commercial ‘business’ approach of the Birkie and BMT. But then again, if you’re going to have a cast of thousands, you’ll need to pay people to put in the time and expertise needed to organize and conduct a large race of 10,000 participants. (Think STP on skis…)
We’ve got a bunch of KSC summer events— Parking lot clean up on 21 May, Mountain Bike tour on 4-5 June, hikes, and plenty to do around the cabin, too. Contact Frank if you want to help eradicate noxious and invasive weeds.
Next winter, I am looking at our KSC races, the Canadian Birke, and maybe a trip to West Yellowstone?
Anyone else want to come along? Let’s do it!
PS: It is almost May Day. Maybe I should break down and come to grips with dealing with the saddest day of the year: Putting summer wax on my skis….