Sunday, March 6, 2011

38th American Birkebeiner 50K Nordic Ski Race - February 26, 2011

I participated in my 24th American Birkebeiner Nordic Ski Race on Saturday, February 26th.  Tim Burke, Mike Tarnow, and I have been coming to the race for 26 years now with each of us missing a few races and then all of us in 2000 when the race was cancelled for the first time.  We have chronicled our time at the Birkie on our website at Birkie Web and now our Facebook page called Birkie Web Today.  We have even done a few podcasts and had an article published in the Sawyer County Record on our Birkie Axioms as well as put up several photographs of this winter event that has been held for 38 years now.

The picture to the left is of Princess Finnley (AKA Prince Haakon) who I met in the warming hut at Double OO in Seeley, Wisconsin after skiing in my traditional Wednesday 18K ski over the hilliest part of the course from the North Trail Head in Cable, Wisconsin.  This year I had a nice fall on one of the steeper hills practicing weight shifting and balance.  Of course my spin on the story, is that as a Birchlegger, I was protecting the Prince!

This picture is of Tim, Mike, and I at the starting line tent.  Mike skied in Wave 2 and Tim and I were in Wave 6.  Mike has been as high as Wave 1 and Tim and I Wave 4.  Tim and I have been coming to the Birkie since 1986 and Mike joined us three years later.  We all met in Michigan and only Mike still lives in Traverse City.  Tim is now in Superior, Wisconsin and I have lived and worked all over country and am now in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Mike was the only smart one with the moleskin as I ended up being pulled off to one of the First Aid Stations because of a nice case of frostbite on my nose.  Tim fared better with his beard but it was fully ice covered at the end.  None of our times were great but, as always, the Birkie is much more than just your time and rushing through one of the most beautiful trails in North America.

We come up to the Birkie for a week and this is the first year since I lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan where I was able to get plenty of snow time in with three other ski races / tours and then just going out skiing both here in La Crosse and at Saint Mary's University in Winona, Minnesota.  We have stayed at a number of places including the Pilot Fish Inn for 14 years, a cabin on Lake Namakagon for 6 years, and this year in a larger cabin on Lower Clam Lake.  We are further away from the start but with age we have come to appreciate additional amenities, such as more than one bathroom especially on race morning after all the carbo loading!  Although even the Carbo Loading has become out of favor rather than just replenishing during the race.  The picture is of the Cascade Cabin which sits on Lower Clam Lake at the mouth of the Clam River.  Very soothing sounds of the water which are most likely even more pronounced in the summer.

Another nice feature of our new cabin is that we have a full basement that has an unfinished area where we can wax our skis easily, a full-size game room with bar, and a washer and dryer.  In this picture Tim is getting his skis ready for the Book Across the Bay race which is held the Saturday before the Birkie.  The race starts in Ashland, Wisconsin at twilight and goes across the ice on the Chequamegon Bay to Washburn, Wisconsin lighted by luminaries.  We did the race for the first time last year and had a great time as the conditions were really fast and it was not too cold. This year, however, we decided not to ski the race because with the big warm-up that happened the week before most of the snow had melted into the ice and even with the best the race crew could do, it seemed way to treacherous and risky and ripe for a nasty fall onto hard ice.

Instead we spent some time touring around Ashland including The Music Center where Tim and I jammed respectively on the guitar and drums working out the Book Across The Bay Blues.  We had a late lunch / early dinner at the Deep Water Grille and South Shore Brewery where they have great food and beer.  We also were able to watch the start from an overlook and the size of the race was indeed much smaller than last year which was sad.  We all agreed that conditions with this race can be tricky as it could also be very cold and windy too.  All in all a very nice non-skiing afternoon, however.

Mike did not have his best Birkie Week.  First he had to travel back to Grand Rapids for a client who was in a federal bankruptcy hearing.  Mike provided the real estate appraisal.  Second, and most important, his mother has been in poor health and had worked on her own end of life plans, which Mike and his sister and brother fully agreed with.  We thought he may not be back when he went back for business but he was able to fly back in to Minneapolis Thursday in the late afternoon so as to pick up his bib at the Hayward Middle School.  Mike got the bad news Friday afternoon that she had peacefully passed.  There were no Saturday flights, so what was probably best for Mike anyhow, he was able to ski the race.  First thing Sunday morning we had to get him to the airport early so he could catch an earlier flight to Detroit though.

After a nice Classic Nordic ski from the Fish Hatchery Trailhead and lunch in Hayward on Monday, Mike drove to the airport in Minneapolis.  Tim and I decided to make a visit to the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation office before heading back to Clam Lake.  We had interviewed both Cherie Morgan and Ned Zuelsdorff in previous Birkie Web Today podcasts so Cherie arranged for a very nice impromptu tour of their offices before the onslaught of skiers later in the week.  Both are delightful people that are totally dedicated to making the American Birkebeiner not only into the largest and most enjoyable Nordic Ski Event in the United States for skiers but in creating a world class winter festival with all kinds of expanded and new activities for everyone, including this year, both skijoring and Big Ski races.  Pictured from left to right are Cherie, Tim, Ned, and Ed.

On Tuesday, Mike had arranged for Tim and I to take a ski lesson from Steve Morales, who is the founder of the New Moon Ski Shop, Nordic ski instrutor, and Birkie Veteran.  I think Mike was sick of pounding technique tips into us and knew that Steve would be much more patient.  It was a delightful sunny afternoon skiing from the Mosquito Brook Trailhead and listening to and watching Steve.  Both Tim and I were working on weight transfer and balance on downhills and general poling styles.  In the picture to the left are Tim, Steve, John Bauer, and me.  John is a three time US Olympic Team skier who happened to be skiing by when we were taking our lesson.

On Wednesday it has become my tradition to ski from the North Trailhead in Cable to Double OO, which is about 18K over the hilliest part of the trail.  Since I have lived mainly where there was not skiing it was even more important to have some snow time like this.  As noted above I had fallen on one of the hills but continued on with a scraped up face.  I ran into John Torinus, who after talking about skiing and retirement, informed me that he was the founder and chairman of the Serigraph Company in West Bend, Wisconsin which is north of Milwaukee.  John has also authored a book titled The Company That Solved Health Care, which he told me about after finding out that I worked as the Director of the MedLink AIR Critical Care Transport program at Gundersen Lutheran Health System.  He knows Dr. Jeff Thompson, our CEO.

John is 72 and never wants to retire since he likes to be active both mentally and physically and if you are doing what you love, I would have to agree.  He took this picture of me coming up a slight hill around the 16K marker.  Since getting back to La Crosse I have ordered John's book and look forward to reading it.

On Thursday the Elite Sprints are held on Main Street in Hayward.  This picture shows a member of the Russian Team who had a large contingent of skiers at the race.  The participating skiers go head to head in heats that go back and forth on Main.  The skiers go all out as can be seen from the video below from the Sawyer County Record.

Driving back on to Clam Lake we go through an Elk Protection Area and were lucky on Thursday to catch a small herd on the side of Wisconsin Route 77 south of Clam Lake.  Beautiful animals and I found out from one of our pilots, Jake Jacobson at MedLink AIR, that the heard, that originated in the Rockies, numbers about 100 which is behind what the planners had wished for.  Bears and Wolfs have been a problem that Elk further south in the United States have not had to experience, let alone the colder weather.

On Friday I caught up with Prince Haakon (AKA Princess Finnley) again with her mom, Ann, in downtown hayward watching the skijoring and Big Ski events.  She seemed to be enjoying her Norwegian Costume and hanging out with both her mom and grandmother, Gretchen Lingren, who is a Birkie skier that was playing Inga of Vartieg.

For Race Day on Saturday we probably got over to the start a bit too early but we wanted to make sure we could get a parking space at the lot on the road to Telemark Lodge.  Temperatures were very cold at -25C and not warming up much more than -15C. There was also a southwest wind that you felt sometimes in the open areas as the trail generally goes from northeast to southwest.  Besides the frostbite I felt very comfortable in my SportHill ski suit that with layering underneath is great for almost all conditions.

The upload from my Garmin is shown at the bottom and, as can be seen, I lost some time with my first aid stop and I am sure with my slow times at the feed stations.  But, as can be seen from the write-up on the inspiration for this blog, there is nothing wrong with auto pausing!

This picture is of Tim and I at the finish line on Main Street in Hayward.  As you can see it was quite cold!  In all the times we have skied the Birkie this was the first time we finished together catching up with each other before Lake Hayward.

I have also included three videos from the race.  The first is at the midpoint of the race from SkinnySki, the second from 10 Foot Back at the finish, and finally the third the Trailer from the Birkie 2011 Video.

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