Monday, January 31, 2011

St. Mary's 10K Nordic Ski Race - January 30, 2011

I participated in the St. Mary's 10K Nordic Skate Race yesterday.  Pictured with me to the left are Megan and Ryan Ping the winners of the overall Women's and Men's races.  Ryan is the brother of Garrett Ping who I skied with at the The Fridtjof Nansen Ski Race on January 16, 2011.  Both Megan and Ryan were members of the CXC Ski Master's Team last year and also have skied the American Birkebeiner seven times.

The conditions were great with temperatures around -4 C, a slight wind from the north, and as I have found each time I have skied on the St. Mary's Trails, excellent grooming.  A big thanks to Gary Borash the Outdoor Leadership Coordinator at Saint Mary's University for his leadership and organization of the race.  As can be seen from the race poster there was also a 10K Classic race held earlier in the day.

I had fast skis and felt fortunate as I had not re-waxed them from last week at the Birkie Tour where temperatures were between -20 and -16 C.  The reason I had not is because I have been under the weather for the last few days and was not sure if I was going to ski the race until the morning.  I still have something going on as I sneezed the whole way back from Winona to La Crosse but felt it was still worth getting outside and enjoying a wonderful Midwest winter day.  I am feeling a lot better today as the bug I had was probably moving into the respiratory phase yesterday anyhow or so I rationalize.

My Garmin did not record the course as I must not have hit the start button as I thought I had.  My official time was 54:58 for the 10K course which was a double loop around the main trails at St. Mary's.  To show you how fast the elite skiers are, they were finishing when I was near the turn for the second loop!  Garrett was with a group of four that finished very close together and well ahead of the rest of the field.  He was 4th overall.  Ryan's time was 25:43, Megan's 28:32, and Garrett's 25:51.

I still can not get over the beauty of La Crosse and the surrounding areas.  The drive up to Winona, Minnesota along the Mississippi is very scenic even on an overcast day like yesterday.  I did not have time to take pictures of the many folks who were out enjoying ice fishing.  I certainly can understand going out and fishing but not driving my vehicle out on the ice, especially on a river where there can be a strong current underneath.  But I am not an ice fishing or even regular fishing expert.

Finally, I wanted to provide a picture of the overall winners of the St. Mary's 10K Freestyle Race without the trail sweeper.  Congratulations Ryan and Megan!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

BirkieTour II - January 22, 2011

Tim Burke and I participated in the BirkieTour II held on the American Birkebeiner Trail this past Saturday.  It was extremely cold with the temperature at -20 C at the start and -16 C at the end so dressing properly and having the right wax were challenges.  Both Tim and I were fine with both and then having a nice sunny day helped too!  The picture to the left was taken at the Fire Tower Turn Around about 10K into the tour.

The course was changed a few days before the tour so instead of starting at Telemark Lodge and ending at either Highway 00 for the short course and Hatchery Park for the long course the tour started at Highway 00.  See map at the left of the 20 K short course which went north on the Birkie Trail to Fire Tower Hill, the highest part of the trail, and then turned around and came back to Highway 00 on the new Birkie Classic Trail.  The trail was in great shape but because of such cold temperatures the snow was very slow.  I had perfectly waxed skis, however, so no complaints except with the change in courses, we were on some of the highest hills of the entire Birkie Trail the entire time.

I had wanted to go on and do the longer 42 K but with the cold was feeling the start of some frostbite on my face and then both of our toes were getting very cold too!  The map and stats for the tour are found at my Garmin which showed the course at 19.5 K.  Since this was a tour and not a race we stopped often to take in the beauty of the trail and especially the Classic Trail which we don't get to ski on very often.  Total time was 2:18:09.

Over 640 skiers pre-registered for this second annual event and with the cold temperatures the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation was afraid it would keep people away.  Instead there were 50 new registrations on Friday night and Saturday morning.  The foundation also reported that skiers from as far away as Tennessee, Florida, Texas, and California in the United States and from Scotland, Russia and Canada participated in the event.  While that seems like a lot of skiers for a race it was much smaller than the American Birkebeiner race in February which attracts over 9,000 skiers for the various events.  What both Tim and I liked is that with the many up and downhills the course was not skied in with ruts that usually happen in the Birkie Race due to so many skiers.  Tim is pictured to the left at the Fire Tower turnaround.  I wanted to take more pictures but my hands got way too cold and it took me 2-3 K to get the feeling back in my finger tips.

After the tour Tim and I drove into Cable, Wisconsin and ate a late lunch / early dinner at The Rivers Eatery which is located in The Ideal Market.  Garrett Ping, who I skied with last weekend in Eau Claire recommended the restaurant and this will be sure to become a regular place for Birkie week too.  Wonderful stone oven pizza, salad, and plenty of good micro craft beer on tap all in a very nice atmosphere.  After lunch we visited John Kotar and his family at his cabin in Cable.  John is the founder of the Birchleggings Club and is a member of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation Board of Directors.  He did not participate in the BirkieTour but did get out for a couple of hours of skiing in the early afternoon because of the cold.

We stayed at the Lenroot Lodge in Seeley, Wisconsin and with the change in the BirkieTour couse we were very close to the start on Highway Double 00.  The lodge is owned by the same folks as the Sawmill Saloon, which is a mainstay of Seeley and a restaurant we have eaten at every year that we have been up for the American Birkebeiner ski race.  The Lenroot has very reasonable rates with nice rooms with a loft.  My only complaint is that the temperature could not be controlled so it was quite warm in the room.  All in all a great weekend with a one of my Birkie Buddies!  Tim will be meeting Mike Tarnow, our other Birkie Buddy, next weekend at the Noqueman Ski Marathon in Marquette, Michigan.  Too far for me to drive from La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Fridtjof Nansen Ski Race - January 16, 2011

Yesterday I participated in The Fridtjof Nansen Ski Race at the Tower Ridge Ski Trails north of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  It was a cold, clear, and crisp day with the temperature at the start at -14C and only warming up to -11C.  The Tower Ridge Ski Trails are very well maintained, wide, and perfect for skate skiing for both beginners and advanced skiers.  In fact there were junior and kids races as the trails only have a few steep hills with mostly flat and rolling terrain.  All are very scenic though the woods.  The picture to the left was taken just after I finished the race near the wonderful warming chalet that is located at the trails too.

I was curious about the name of the race and after only getting bits of information on the website and through asking people I did some research and found information at the Nobel Peace Prize website which I use here. The race is named after Fridtjof Nansen who was a Norwegian that was born in Oslo in 1861.  Growing up he became expert in skating, tumbling, and swimming, but it was his expertise in skiing that was to play such a large role in his life.  In school Nansen excelled in the sciences and in drawing and, upon entering the University of Oslo in 1881, decided to major in zoology. In the next fifteen years he united his athletic ability, his scientific interests, his yearning for adventure, and even his talent for drawing in a series of brilliant achievements that brought him international fame.

For a long time Nansen had been evolving a plan to cross Greenland, whose interior had never been explored. He decided to cross from the uninhabited east to the inhabited west.  The party of six survived temperatures of -45° C, climbed to 9,000 feet above sea level, mastered dangerous ice, exhaustion, and privation to emerge on the west coast early in October of 1888 after a trip of about two months, bringing with them important information about the interior.

Additionally, Nansen and one companion, with thirty days' rations for twenty-eight dogs, three sledges, two kayaks, and a hundred days' rations for themselves, had set out in March of 1895 on a 400-mile dash to the North Pole. In twenty-three days they traveled 140 miles over oceans of tumbled ice, getting closer to the Pole than anyone had previously been.

Nansen went on to work on several humanitarian projects including working with prisoners of war after WWI, directing relief for millions of Russians dying in the famine of 1921-1922, repatriating refugees from Greece and Turkey for the League of Nations, and in assisting to save the Armenian people from extinction.  He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 and died in 1930.

I drove up to the race with Garrett Ping who is a Chiropractor from Winona, Minnesota.  Garrett is an elite skier who has done several American Birkebeiner and other regional ski races.  He is also a road cyclist which is where I got to know him, through a post he had made on the listserv that he was going up to the race.  Garrett had never done the Fridtjof Nansen Ski Race either.  He is pictured to the left in red with Brant Wesolek.  Garrett came in second place overall with a time of 43:38.7 or only 4 tenths of a second behind Brant.  Garrett and Brant's best placement overall in the Birkie is 99th and 45th respectively.

My time was quite a bit behind the leaders but, like all the races I do, my main purpose is to have fun and just ski!  I had waxed a bit warm so my skis were sluggish but when things don't work out just right I just take in the beautiful scenery, work on technique, and be thankful that I am enjoying such a beautiful winter day in Wisconsin!

The race was advertised at 15.6 K but we were told that it was just over 14 K at the beginning of the race because of grooming in one of the areas.   My Garmin showed 14.69 K and my time was 1:26:18.  The map of the race is to the left.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Skiing at St. Mary's - January 9, 2011

Over the New Year's weekend we had a warm-up in the Midwest with rain and temperatures sometimes reaching into the 40's.  While we did not loose all of our snow it turned it very hard once the temperatures went back below freezing which made it difficult for skiing.  We have had a few more inches of snow but the skiing in La Crosse is still a bit challenging.  Saint Mary's University in Winona, however, has excellent grooming equipment and trails that are dedicated to skiing so they are not trampled over like the Hixon Forest trails.  This is quite a challenge to the volunteer Hixon Groomers here as there are a lot of walkers and snowshoeing.  The picture to the left is of St. Mary's in the distance taken from one of the trails.

 I was able to download the trail map off the St. Mary's website.  There are 16.7 kilometers of trails and what the map does not show is the elevation which is very nice as the trails are in the bluffs along the western side of the Mississippi River.   My Garmin map provides a much better map of the elevation.  My total distance was 14.62K.

It was not my best day today as I thought I was coming down with some type of stomach aliment last night but felt better in the morning.  I was very slow at first but picked up as I went along.  Also I had waxed for the high temperature of about -9 C but it did not warm up until much later.  When I started it was -14 C so I can use the excuse of my wax not being quite right too!

The picture to the left is of a nice wide section of the trail that has double tracks for classic and a nice wide area for skating.  Most of the trail system is single tracked with a skate lane but all of the trails are well groomed and taken care of which, with the hills, makes this a great spot to go for Birkie Training.  St. Mary's asks for a $2.00 donation which is very reasonable given the condition of the trail system.