Jamie’s No Muss, No Fuss Birkie

Last year’s Birkie presented all kinds of obstacles just getting to the start on time and I barely made it with only 5 minutes to spare, no warm up ski or wax testing and Alex missed hers. This year, no bad driving, no near disasters, the Birkie solved the bus problems and instead of a foot of new snow which there was only an inch or two of new snow the whole trip and race went very well. 

Coming over the Birkie Bridge, last target in site (Birkie Photo)
After a quick visit with my cousin in the Twin Cities I headed off, sorry that Lisa wasn’t with me since she was recovering from her hip injury and Evan, who had bowed out this year since he was applying to grad schools.  The only excitement on the drive up was watching a guy in front of me veer once, twice and then finally on the 3rd time right off the road and down into the ditch on a dead flat, perfectly straight road.  Fortunately he didn’t roll over and when I ran down to check on him he was already on the phone seeking help.  I checked one more time with him and then moved on.  Perhaps he’d had a Wisconsinbreakfast beverage or three???  Snow was coming down pretty heavily as I rolled into town, not a bad thing as there really wasn’t a lot on the ground on the drive up, and checked out the new bridge we’d have to ski up that went up and over the main road, a new and final last hill onto Main St.  I managed to get out of the expo with my wallet intact but picked up a pair of One Way poles to deliver to one of the CSU Jrs from Geoff Hurwich, long-time CSU friend who gave us a great deal on One Way equipment this year.  Next up was some skiing and wax testing at the OO trail head before the rest of the drive north to the shores of The Big Sea Water, Gitche Gumee.  The skiing was very nice and verified that Toko blue was going to be just fine for kick.  After 45 min. of very pleasant and not so cold skiing I headed off toward Ashland, hard by the very frozen shores of Lake Superior.  When a lake that big (it holds 3 quadrillion gallons!) is frozen solid as far as you can see and people are driving their big trucks across the ice to their bob houses to fish you know you are in a place that gets cold, really cold, and stays cold.  Tom Simon, who’s brother lives in Ashland, invited me over for a carbo load dinner which made for a fun evening as stories started flying.  Tom’s family and most of both brothers families were skiing either the Kortolopett or the full Birkie which is so great and pretty typical of the Birkie.   The good food and great company made for a great and early evening. 

Birkie morning I awoke at 4:45 having spent half the night worried about the logistics of getting to the start on time.  I needn’t have worried.  I managed to down some coffee, instant oatmeal and a bagel and headed out the door for the drive to Cable, trying to cram more calories into my mouth to stave off any pending bonks.  No cars on the road in front of me all the way to Cable!  Awesome!  The short bus ride to the old and now closed Telemark Lodge went off without a hitch and I made the walk down to the start.  It was snowing and cold, but no wind this year.  So many people were already there!   I waited in line at the Avenue de Porta Potty then got down to business of testing my skis (perfect, no touch ups needed) and on to the start after dropping my bag and 5 chilly minutes in the pens.  Wave 1 start was a bit different from Wave 5 last year.  When the rope lifted in the 2nd corral I had to sprint with skis and poles in hand to the starting line.  No gentle jog this year to the front line.  I ended up 4 rows back and then let Alex’s old teammate Adam St. Pierre ahead.  5 min. later the banners lifted and off we went.  It was snowing pretty hard at this point and so we had half-filled tracks to contend with.  The half filled tracks meant leading was not the best tactic and pretty soon the peleton narrowed down to 2 and then 1 good track as we hit the first hills on the powerline.  My skis seemed a bit slick on the kick side of things and I had to work to make them work, but I was running up the backs of those in front of me on the downhills.  5 km in the snow stopped falling and my kick immediately improved as the track got skied in.  For many kilometers there was lots of jockeying for position.  I focused on staying smooth and not thrashing around as we went through the rollers, past the drummers and off into the woods.  There were 3 tracks, one completely unused, one that was slower and was used mostly for passing and one skied in track.  Not ideal with all these skiers trying to move up!  If I got gapped a bit on some of the uphills I could pull it back on the downhills.  So nice to just get in a tuck and let them run!  Once things settled down and a good group formed I started really having fun going back and forth and slowly catching and spitting out the back some of those over-eager starters who couldn’t maintain the pace.  Occasionally we’d get a glimpse of the skaters over on their trail as we rolled toward the high point of the course about 13 km in.  The feeds were crazed with skaters and classic skiers coming together, yelling out what you wanted, trying not to get GUs stuck to the bottom of your skis and of course, not crashing in to each other.  Mass confusion!  I made darned sure I got GU whenever I could and Gatorade or whatever.  No bonk…..

A bit before half way I was really getting in a good groove and skiing better and better while some of those with me started to flag a bit.  One guy was quick on the uphills but drove me nuts because he’d stand up too soon after a downhill and to avoid him I’d have to pop out of the track or run up his backside or switch tracks.  Just after OO the skate and classic trails come together for good and I made my move on a really nice long, fast downhill and left my group arrears.  I then managed to latch on to one of the elite women in a pink polka dot suit (rather easy to follow!) who was skiing really smoothly so I hopped in with her for several k, but while she was great uphill, on the downhills the Fat Man just had too much of an advantage and finally I went by and moved on.  Somewhere around this time I yelled to Terry as he skated by “Go CSU”.  We exchanged greetings and he slowly pulled away to have an excellent finish.  I was fighting off a few moments of tiredness here and there, so it was good to see Terry, but also on every downhill I’d recover.  My race was going well!  Wax was still good, I was focused on driving my legs up the hills and carrying every bit of speed possible on the downhills and staying hydrated at the feeds.  The last big steep uphill, Bitch Hill as it is fondly known, where there is always a crowd and you can do shots  (I would fall over dead if I ever tried that!) wasn’t too bad this year as I trudged up the long herringbone with the reward of a nice ride down afterwards!  I started the push to the finish and the last longish uphills where I started to poop out last year and get wobbly.  I stayed focused and went into full Vulture mode, hauling in a few people on the last of these and then focused on downhill speed to the lake.  I was flying down these last hills which was oh so nice, prepping myself for the big 2km push across Lake Hayward.  After last year’s cold wind sandblasting the left side of my face, it was almost pleasurable.  True, there still was a head wind (I believe that goes along with death and taxes), but there were nice solid tracks and I had a couple people to hunt down. Kick DPing my way along (why do so many people just DP??) I finally caught up to some guy and got a breather in his draft and we caught an elite woman for more drafting.  When I felt the wind start to subside as we neared town I moved over for the pass and went for one last target, who I caught just after the bridge onto Main St.  A nice little downhill off the bridge, some kick DP and I’d knocked off one more as I skied through the finish with Peter Graves announcing my name (and that I came from Geneva, Switzerland!) and finally paused.  I cajoled a kid to undo my skis for me since I couldn’t bend over very well, got my 2nd year finish pin and slowly, very slowly made my way to find my bag, to change and get hot soup and just sit for a while.   I wandered around town watching people finish and soaking up the crazy atmosphere but missed watching Lisa and Evan finish this year. 

I’d had a good, solid race, left nothing out there, my skis were great and I’d hit my goal of the M7 podium in 3rd.  With 1st and 2nd only a minute ahead and 4th and 5th only a minute behind it turns out the M7 age group was packed in much tighter than any other age group in the race!  And, we’d gotten really lucky with the weather.  Two days before the race the sprints were cancelled due to the extreme cold and the morning after it was -10F and windy when I woke.  A last hour ski at OO in immaculate conditions and then off to the airport and the flight home.  An excellent weekend adventure!

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