In part two of ‘Birkie Camp,’ local ski enthusiast and longtime Birkie participant Ken Schoville gives his account of this year’s American Birkebeiner
Well, that was fun. Let’s see, over 12-14 inches of new snow in the 24-hour period before the start of the race, collapsed warming tents at the start and likewise at the finish, headwinds across Lake Hayward that caused whiteout conditions, and attending transportation issues causing panic, personal delays, consternation and heartbreak.
With the wind chill in the “geez, don’t even bring it up” range and temperatures in the single digits, a Birkie skier looking for a bit of a challenge to spice up life, one couldn’t ask for more; well worth the price of admission.
Of course if you’re the new Executive Director of the American Birkebeiner, as Phillips native Ben Popp is, well, welcome to the big leagues, Ben.
I’m thinking he may be a bit sleep-deprived as he tries to clear his mind of the cell phone rays that invaded his brain the last few days. I personally hope the studies are not true as he passed the initial test with flying colors and I’d like to see him back under gentler, more stable conditions. A bit of a bonus from the board might be in order, or at least a few days off to sleep.
Speaking of bonuses, the groomers kept five Pisten Bulleys going non-stop, calling in retired head groomer Bill Pierce to sub in while the guys caught some shut-eye, but like the Bucks, I bet they wished for a deeper bench.
All in all, a commendable effort as that much snow is tough to knock the air out of, flatten, till, age, and create the generally expected hard-as-rocks tracks and skate deck.
Didn’t happen, but there was no whining from most of the crowd as they were happy to have made the start with snow-packed, ice-covered roads, hastily plowed parking lots, and generally sluggish traffic as everyone gingerly tested out advanced winter driving skills and tire capabilities.
Just getting out of the rough and narrowly plowed drives and parking lots required the kind of teamwork and navigational help found when a 40-foot rig is backing out of a downtown Chicago industrial site.
As mentioned, the start area was a stripped-down version of the usual full-bannered, sponsorship-festooned, hoopla photo op that most experienced skiers have come to expect. But that was OK as skiers were thinking more about whether they’d made the right choice in wind brief selection on the last undergarment shopping spree, rather than if the Star Spangled Banner singer had hit the right notes or had forgotten the words.
The layered look was very much in vogue as skiers factored in wind chill to the survival formula, paying special attention to head wear, heavy gloves or mittens, and whatever would make the 32-mile glide down to Hayward comfortable, or at the very least liveable.
Even the big dogs had to respect the weather. Three-peat woman’s skate champ, Caitlin Gregg, dressed for the occasion with a delightful green moleskin covering both nose and cheeks.
Wind chill does count, and the faster you go the lower the numbers. That fashion statement was copied by many in various hues as each skier had critical dressing decisions to make that may have over-ruled the all-important wax underfoot.
Using Gregg’s winning time of 2:40:57.4 and comparing that to her course record of 2:15:26.0 set in 2011, you can tell that things were slow.
This year, for a change of pace, a German skier by the name of Thomas Reichelt defeated the typical three Italians nipping at his heels in 2:14:29.9. A nice effort for the amusement of the Main Street crowd in Hayward and off the record by about 15 minutes.
The average skier probably had to add a good half hour to full hour to what was a long, slow day for many. Of course, that observation didn’t apply to all and there were some very fit gliders who thought the day was just dandy, the type of conditions they’d been waiting on for years.
Saturday night after the Birkie is a bit like Deer Camp after the opener. Some are drained by the day and need an early bedtime to put things back in order. However, most like a celebratory libation or two before a special recovery meal with friends.
A few of the hale and hearty survivors find a local Wisconsin center for entertainment and social camaraderie and dance the night away; a few, either young of heart or young of legs.
And like all good things, Birkie 2014 drew to a close as traffic was heavy heading out of the area in all compass directions.
Conditions may not have been the best, but most survived and the tales to be told will be unequaled for quite a few years.
The word “epic” was on the minds of many as they went home to begin another work week and to plan for next year.
Did you miss part one of "Birkie Camp?" If so, you can find it here.