2022: American Birkebeiner

My primary goal for the 2021 edition involved skiing both the 29 km Kortelopet and the 55 km Birkie on back to back days – as a tangible metric of improved fitness derived from a healthy lifestyle. I got to check that off but owing to the pandemic as well as communal commitments, I had completed the Kortelopet virtually at Swedetown on Thursday and then traveled to complete my maiden Birkie along the official – albeit modified to be an out and back – course in the ABSF trail system on Friday. The primary goal for the 2022 edition remained almost the same as 2021: ski the Korte and the Birkie on back to back days with correct form, terrain-appropriate technique, situation-appropriate strategy, ease and peace. The result would be a tangible metric of regained fitness derived from a healthy-ish lifestyle after a rolled ankle injury in 2021 June significantly impacted how I trained and raced rest of the 2021 Summer and 2021 Fall. It’d also be an opportunity to put the lessons learned over 2021 Fall and 2021-22 Winter thus far into practice on what is unequivocally the grandest stage for cross country skiing in our country.

The winter thus far

Asking for and accepting help on top of the unending, unexpected, unsolicited and unrewarded acts of kindness from my ever growing nordic skiing family – existing and new members alike – helped improve my XC skiing experience quite a bit during the 2021-22 winter. Metrics-wise and as of leaving town for Birkie Land on Thursday of race week, I had skied 600-ish kilometers (420-ish classic and 170-ish skate) over approximately 75 hours with about 9,500 meters of elevation gain. The volume was probably a couple hundred kilometers shy for what I had planned for Birkie weekend. But a non-negligible chunk of that volume (kilometers, hours and elevation) were spent on improving form and technique in classic as well as skate styles – once again a courtesy of the aforementioned unending, unexpected, unsolicited and unrewarded acts of kindness from my nordic skiing family.

Mother Nature has been blessing our region with an abundance of quality snow throughout this winter and groomers of our local trail systems (Boundary Road, Chassell, Copper Harbor, Churning Rapids, Eagle Harbor, End of The Road, Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, Maasto Hiihto, Michigan Tech and Swedetown) have been doing their magic on a regular basis. As a result, there has been no shortage of trails to ski on. Had everything gone according to the plan, I’d have skied back to back long to long-ish outings each weekend (definition of long and long-ish changing with each passing week) to build gradually towards the Birkie weekend. While that didn’t pan out exactly as I had planned, a lot of other things went in my favor. Like the year before, I signed up on the very first day of early bird registration window (April 1-7, 2021). Unlike last year, I got to build my friendship with ABSF trails built in a region with glacial topography – especially the 26 km segment from the main trailhead to OO along the Classic route – ahead of the Birkie weekend. One of those build my friendship with and appreciate the trails outing was serene, almost entirely solo and had PRISTINE conditions – pleasant weather, fresh tracks and corduroy almost all the way!

As far as tuning the race preparation (packing, logistics, travel, unpacking, etc.) was concerned, I got to participate in a handful of real and spectacular events in the Yoop, Wisconsin and Minnesota: SISU Ski Fest in Ironwood, Wolf Tracks Rendezvous in Minocqua, North End Classic in Cable, Pre-Birkie in Seeley and Vasaloppet in Mora in the weeks leading up to this weekend. In the process, I learned some more about ski preparation and thanks to the old souls in my life, I even got to explore the new to me rabbit hole of kick/grip waxing! The final four events were done as a pair of back to back events on back to back weekends to work through various logistics between events – a pair of Birkie weekend dress rehearsals so to say. The events themselves were great and so was my experience in every one of them!

Once upon a time in Norway

Around the year 1200, two rival groups - the Baglers and the Birkebeiners - shared the identical goal of controlling the entire country. King Sverre's death in 1202 meant some decrease in the power of the Birkebeiners. The Birkebeiners were named as such by the Baglers and was originally intended to be offensive (or a slur) - referring to their leggings of birch bark, indicating that they were poor and incapable. King Sverre's successor (King Håkon Sverresson) died only two years later, leaving his son Håkon Håkonsson as the ultimate target for the Baglers to get rid of as the contender to the throne.

In 1206, the Birkebeiners set off on a dangerous voyage through treacherous mountains and forests, taking the then two-year-old Håkon Håkonsson to safety in Trondheim. Norwegian history credits the Birkebeiners' bravery with preserving the life of the boy who later became King Håkon Håkonsson IV. He united Norway, after thousand years of civil war in 1240, led the country into its golden age during the Middle Ages and, forever changed Northern Europe's history through his reign.

The name, Birkebeiner, carries a sense of pride, strength and endurance. It's something thousands of people, participating in the historical races every year - Birkebeinerrennet since 1932, American Birkebeiner since 1973 and Canadian Birkie since 1987 - keep striving for.

 

The Week of Weeks, The Birkie Week

As has been a tradition of mine, the week of weeks, Birkie Week (or just The Week), dutifully began with a reading/review of The Race of the Birkebeiners. It’s a children’s book that Christine had borrowed me back in 2016 but summarizes the events that led to the origin of this race really well. ABSF folks kept the participants in the loop with relevant updates in the months, weeks and days leading up to the weekend. Included in these updates – particularly applicable under the current circumstances – were the policies regarding COVID-19 (including on-site testing facility at no cost, if need be) and the use of fluorinated waxes (including random testing and sanctions for all skiers if found to be in violation as well as elite skiers needing to check their skis in ahead of the start time).

Adding to the ABSF’s COVID-19 policy, our family of friends traveling to and staying together over the weekend had our own procedures to keep ourselves as well as everyone around us safe. In a nutshell, the residence would be a mask-free zone but we’d wear one at the expo, on the bus ride to the start and while looking for Brett Favre (it’s pronounced Brett Favor, by the way) doppelgängers in downtown Hayward. I took the at home COVID-19 antigen test and got a final tune-up from my healthcare system on Wednesday. I tested negative for COVID-19 and as with most other people heading to Cable/Hayward area this weekend, I tested very positive for Birkie Fever!!

This winter afforded me the opportunity to explore the new to me rabbit hole of kick waxing. As a result, I found Bill McKibben’s take on waxing (as detailed in his book, Long Distance) even more appealing this time:

It (Waxing) acquires a religious ritual aspect – applying mysterious ointments in semi-mystical sequences, then scraping them all away leaving … nothing. Nothing visible anyway. It’s a kind of prayer.

I started cleaning and preparing my skis on Monday evening and completed the process by Wednesday evening. Taking what MikeY had taught me over the past several winters as well as recent discussions with Peter into account, I guesstimated the first couple verses of the gliding prayer correctly. Toko and further discussions with Ian provided rest of the verses as well as some clarification I sought. Learning from the dress rehearsal experiences, I saved the last verse of gliding prayer as well as the entirety of gripping prayer until the last possible moment. Having rehearsed travel logistics over two of the past three weekends, packing for this trip took minimal time and effort but wasn’t done until early Thursday morning.

Kim and I left Houghton around 9:30 am on Thursday. An easy drive on a sun-kissed day with pit stops in Ashland (Black Cat Coffeehouse for a quick and healthy bite to eat), Cable (Redbery Books to chat with Maureen and acquire a few more copies of the children’s book) and Hayward (New Moon Ski and Bike Shop) got us to downtown Birkie Hayward by 2 pm. We went through the expo at Hayward High School and picked up our race packets. A quick perusal of a few essential booths and chatting with friends I hadn’t seen in quite some time wrapped up our expo formalities. Unloading stuff and getting situated at the cabin didn’t take long either. We (Christine, DJ, Kim, Stephen and myself) cooked and shared a meal around 7 pm, and called it a night around 9 pm.

 

Kortelopet (29 km, Classic)

Friday morning came at a very relaxed pace after a full night of good sleep. Christine and Stephen were kind enough to take their morning stroll on Lake Hayward and bring back valuable information about the course conditions. It helped send the final layer of gliding prayer into the skis – in the form of a thin Toko High Performance Liquid Paraffin Wax spray and polish the surface about 45 minutes later. After a hearty breakfast and getting suited up, we left the cabin around 8:45 am. Christine and Stephen drove us (DJ, Kim and myself) to the Birkie Ridge Trailhead. The lines to get on the bus weren’t long and there were plenty of buses. The ABSF think-tank and volunteers had crafted a nifty way to load more people on time while keeping the lines as short as possible and as a result, we arrived at the OO Trailhead by 9:35 am.

Salomon S/Race Skin 196
Glide zone
Base cleaner Star Glide Wax Cleaner
Toko Steel Brush
Star Glide Wax Cleaner
Base layer Toko Performance SP Black
Wax Toko Performance SP Blue
Toko High Performance SP Blue + Toko X-Cold Powder ironed together
Toko High Performance LP Blue
Structure -
Top finish -
Grip zone
Base cleaner Swix Skin Cleaner
Toko High Performance LP Blue

On my way to the main warm-up tent near the starting area, I had the opportunity to catch up with one of my friends, Jess, and she introduced me to one of her friends, Jessie‘s dad. After completing conversations with them that included on- and off-trail topics, I made my way into the tent to spend the final few minutes wrapping up final preparations – taking off extra layers and booting up. As has been the tradition in most of the ski events this winter, I also got to chat with Coach Nancy Bauer as I was dropping my bag off. DJ and I lined up in the first of the starting pens by 10:30 am, and moved up to the starting line well in time for the 10:40 am scheduled start.

The primary goal for this Korte was to ski with good form, terrain-appropriate technique, situation-appropriate strategy, ease and peace. Maybe a sign of growing up and maturity or something like that, I didn’t give into or get carried away by what others around me were doing. I believe I held good form but I didn’t have the necessary confidence to stay in the classic tracks long enough to complete the long and sweeping curves – especially when a I couldn’t see a portion of the long and sweeping curve. I frequently got myself out of the tracks and used the skate deck to navigate such portions and execute the step turn at speed most of the time. This (step turning at speed) and getting into and out of the tracks at speed were something Coaches Nancy and Jyneen had taught me (and emphasized their value over and over again) during the CXC Clinic as part of the Turkey Birkie Festival over 2021 Thanksgiving.

I stopped at every aid station and consumed copious amounts of water/energy drink as well as hydrogel approximately every 10k – to recover on the go for the next day. Chatting with fellow skiers (big kids as well as those in the U20 category), taking turns to follow and lead to be one another’s rabbit made the kilometer markers (or what was left of them) go by with very little effort. And so was seeing the family of friends after Becker Law Link Bridge (Alayna and Jan; I had run and walked across this bridge during its inauguration last Summer but this was my first time skiing across it), on Lake Hayward (Christine, Jim, Rob, Shannon, Stephen and Christine’s parents), and along Main Street (Alayna, Liz, Peter, Amy and Craig). The official finish time was 2:21:00 – good for 111/983 overall, 74/549 in gender and 5/37 in my age group.

29 km (18.02 mi), 2:21:00, 4:51 min/km (7:49 min/mile), 12.36 kmph (7.68 mph)
Garmin Forerunner 945 and WP GPX Maps plugin for WordPress

Weather conditions
hh:mm, temperature (what was and what it felt like), wind, humidity and sky
Start 10:39, 13/6 F, 5 mph N, 57% humidity, Overcast clouds
Middle 11:50, 16/4 F, 9 mph SSW, 62% humidity, Scattered clouds
End 13:01, 18/10 F, 6 mph N, 49% humidity, Clear sky
Air quality 47, PM2.5

Lap by lap analysis
Goal: 29 km in 2:18:59 (4:47 min/km or 7:42 min/mi)
Distance
km
Lap Time
m:ss
Lap Elevation
meters
Total Time
h:mm:ss
Total Elevation
meters
Avg Pace
min/km
Projected
Finish Time

h:mm:ss
Differential
Goal Time

h:mm:ss
1.00 5:17 29 9 0:05:17 29 9 5:16 2:32:00 0:13:01
2.00 4:50 17 23 0:10:07 46 32 5:03 2:26:00 0:07:01
3.00 4:01 10 30 0:14:08 56 62 4:42 2:16:00 0:02:59
4.00 4:26 13 28 0:18:34 69 90 4:38 2:14:00 0:04:59
5.00 4:15 11 28 0:22:49 80 118 4:33 2:11:00 0:07:59
6.00 5:37 35 19 0:28:26 115 137 4:44 2:17:00 0:01:59
7.00 4:31 7 18 0:32:57 122 155 4:42 2:16:00 0:02:59
8.00 4:31 11 24 0:37:28 133 179 4:41 2:15:00 0:03:59
9.00 5:24 28 24 0:42:52 161 203 4:45 2:17:00 0:01:59
10.00 4:37 20 27 0:47:29 181 230 4:44 2:17:00 0:01:59
11.00 5:30 19 21 0:52:59 200 251 4:48 2:19:00 0:00:01
12.00 4:56 26 25 0:57:55 226 276 4:49 2:19:00 0:00:01
13.00 4:58 19 16 1:02:53 245 292 4:50 2:20:00 0:01:01
14.00 4:53 16 15 1:07:46 261 307 4:50 2:20:00 0:01:01
15.00 4:12 2 34 1:11:58 263 341 4:47 2:18:00 0:00:59
16.00 6:40 37 2 1:18:38 300 343 4:54 2:22:00 0:03:01
17.00 4:31 12 25 1:23:09 312 368 4:53 2:21:00 0:02:01
18.00 5:43 30 16 1:28:52 342 384 4:56 2:23:00 0:04:01
19.00 3:43 6 38 1:32:35 348 422 4:52 2:21:00 0:02:01
20.00 5:09 25 24 1:37:44 373 446 4:53 2:21:00 0:02:01
21.00 6:26 26 20 1:44:10 399 466 4:57 2:23:00 0:04:01
22.00 5:54 36 12 1:50:04 435 478 5:00 2:25:00 0:06:01
23.00 4:50 13 37 1:54:54 448 515 4:59 2:24:00 0:05:01
24.00 5:24 27 23 2:00:18 475 538 5:00 2:25:00 0:06:01
25.00 3:59 7 38 2:04:17 482 576 4:58 2:24:00 0:05:01
26.00 5:05 2 9 2:09:22 484 585 4:58 2:24:00 0:05:01
27.00 5:19 1 2 2:14:41 485 587 4:59 2:24:00 0:05:01
28.00 5:39 8 5 2:20:20 493 592 5:00 2:25:00 0:06:01
28.23 1:12 3 0 2:21:32 496 592 5:00 2:25:00 0:06:01
The final cumulative time, 2:21:32, may not match the official time (2:21:00.0) owing to rounding errors. Starting my watch a few seconds before the start and stopping it a few seconds after crossing the finish line can be an additional reason for this discrepancy. The overall distance, 28.23 km, may not match the designated event distance (29 km) owing to idiosyncrasies associated with GPS data collection OR the aforementioned early start/late stop reasons, and in some rare cases, incorrectly measured courses or DNFs. As a result, the cumulative pace and the projected finish time might not match the official values as well.

The goal time in the above lap by lap analysis is just a programmatic necessity and as such, the differential goal time doesn’t have much significance. 2:18:59.4 was my official finish time from 2020 Korte – when I had raced hard. I understand that comparing one ski outing to another – whether they are just a day apart or a year apart – doesn’t make much sense. But as a marker of process and progress – skiing with correct form, mostly terrain-appropriate technique, situation-appropriate strategy, ease and peace in 2022 got me within 2-ish minutes of what was a hard race effort in 2020 on certifiably faster conditions.

A short walk led me to the bag pickup area and changing tent. It took some time to get out of the sweaty and wet clothes into relatively warmer clothes (thanks be to Christine for sharing her double bagging idea from 2016!) but a few spoonfuls of hearty veggie soup in my belly (and a 6-pack of special batch from Athletic Brewing Company in my bag) kept me warm (and grounded). A fellow skier that I got to ski with for several kilometers offered me a can of beer – I saved it for a good day down the road to get me through #BirkieHangover that’s sure to hit me hard. DJ, Kim and I walked to a previously agreed upon meeting location on Main Street, and Christine and Stephen drove us back to the cabin.

I didn’t hydrate nearly as well as I should have (or had planned) after the Korte but consumed enough healthy food (a bowl of leftover Thai Curry with rice) to continue the recovery process. Steph and I shared the very spacious and well-equipped waxing facility at the Samuel C. Johnson Family Outdoor Center at OO Trailhead – a courtesy of New Moon Ski and Bike Shop if I understood the plaque correctly – with a few other skiers while prepping her skate skis and applying the binder on my fully waxable classics for the next day. We (Christine, DJ, Jim, Kim, Rob, Shannon, Stephen and myself) cooked and shared a meal around 6:45 pm, and after watching a bit of Olympic reruns and a Space Pants session, we called it a night around 9 pm.

 

Birkebeiner (55 km, Classic)

Saturday morning too came at a relaxed pace after another night of good sleep. Like the day before, we saved sending the final layer of gliding prayer (yet again in the form of a thin Toko High Performance Liquid Paraffin Wax spray and polish the surface about 30 minutes later) into our skis until we had reliable information about overnight snowfall (if any) and course conditions, and the entirety of gripping prayer into my waxable classics. After a hearty breakfast and getting suited up, We left the cabin around 7:15 am, and DJ drove us (Jim, Stephen and myself) to the Birkie Ridge Trailhead while the Birkie Fever and other event- appropriate tunes played on the public radio. Like the day before, the lines to get on the bus weren’t long and there were plenty of buses. We were yet again a beneficiary of ABSF’s nifty way to load more people on time while keeping the lines as short as possible. We arrived at the ABSF main trailhead by 8:10 am and had plenty of time before our respective scheduled start times.

I got to briefly chat with Kristina on my walk to the start area and with Jan, Mr. Baic, Sam, Mark and more just outside the start area. If not for a nudge from Jan to change into my ski boots and Stephen pointing out that wave #2 classic skiers were about to enter the staging area, I would have been late for the show. Keeping up with the tradition of this winter, I got to see and chat with Coach Nancy Bauer just as I entered the area! First of the two pens also brought me in contact with Gabe (someone I had only known through Strava), Ken (a member of the Murderers’ Row age group that I had met two weeks ago) and Julie (another member of the Murderer’s Row age group that I had known for a couple winters).

Salomon RC7 196
Glide zone
Base cleaner Star Glide Wax Cleaner
Toko Steel Brush
Star Glide Wax Cleaner
Base layer Toko Performance SP Black
Wax Toko Performance SP Blue
Toko High Performance SP Blue + Toko X-Cold Powder ironed together
Toko High Performance LP Blue
Structure -
Top finish -
Grip zone
Base cleaner Iron with single ply toilet paper and 5-in-1 tool
Toko HC3 Wax Remover
Binder Swix sandpaper block to roughen the base
Toko Nordic Base Wax Green ironed in, corked and cooled
Wax 7x Toko Blue corked in between layers

Learning from the recent Pre-Birkie and Vasaloppet USA experience, I made skiing with good form, terrain-appropriate technique, ease and peace the primary goal for Birkie as well AND not push the matters. And I’d be content with the time I got as a result. For the second day in a row, I didn’t give into or get carried away by what others around me were doing. By holding good form and terrain-appropriate technique, the average pace for 5k chunks got better for a while … in spite of stopping at every aid station along the way to stay hydrated with generous helpings of water and energy drink. The angelic volunteers at every one of those aid stations graciously fed pieces of banana into my mouth with motherly kindness!

Along the way, I found Bjorn at the first aid stations and exchanged the rabbit role with a handful of other fellow skiers over the next many kilometers. I caught up to and skied with the ceremonial Birkie warriors (Beth and Jon Oestreich, and Mike Cavanaugh – all haling from Wausau area and I knew them from other prior ski outings/events). Until the Classic and Skate courses merged at the OO Trailhead (about 26 km from the start and about 29 km to the finish), my confidence to stay in the classic tracks long enough to complete the long and sweeping curves was still low as it was the day before. But like the day before, I did get out of and into the tracks with ease and at speed (thanks to Coaches Nancy and Jyneen!). I saw Bjorn once again with about 20k to go – he seemed to get extra wheels as mine seemed to be slowly coming off.

But it (i.e., the feeling of wheels coming off) was probably the best of things that could have happened to me at that point. I stopped at the Gravel Pit aid station longer than usual and had a bunch of cookies to supplement the calories from hydrogel. Shortly after that came the realization that if I didn’t make gravity my friend, I’d have a harder time finishing the course. It made me grow (or acquire out of thin air – it sounds more mystical) the necessary confidence to stay in the tracks long enough to complete those long and sweeping curves, and gain those few extra feet along the course for no extra expenditure of seemingly dwindling resources. Chatting with fellow skiers (energetic ones as well as the ones suffering and striders as well as skaters across a wide spectrum of age and experience) and drawing in some energy from the spectators definitely helped make those kilometers quite enjoyable (at least so in hindsight).

In a series of responses prior to the event, Ian (from Toko) had made time amidst his uber-busy schedule to help me get my kick wax right for this event. I had very recent familiarity with every hill over the final 29k of the Birkie course but that didn’t make climbing them a second time any less easier. If not for Ian’s kindness AND if I had gotten the kick wax wrong, I’d have had a very very hard time (and unquestionably a very miserable experience) especially while climbing every single hill all along the 55k course. Instead, I got to be in the tracks for most of them while several others around me were slipping and sliding.

55 km (34.18 mi), 5:18:22, 5:47 min/km (9:19 min/mile), 10.36 kmph (6.44 mph)
Garmin Forerunner 945 and WP GPX Maps plugin for WordPress

Weather conditions
hh:mm, temperature (what was and what it felt like), wind, humidity and sky
Start 08:59, 7/-6 F, 12 mph SW, 78% humidity, Overcast clouds
Middle 11:39, 24/11 F, 15 mph SW, 46% humidity, Clear sky
End 14:18, 31/21 F, 14 mph WSW, 82% humidity, Few clouds
Air quality 56, PM2.5

Lap by lap analysis
Goal: 55 km in 4:35:00 (5:00 min/km or 8:02 min/mi)
Distance
km
Lap Time
m:ss
Lap Elevation
meters
Total Time
h:mm:ss
Total Elevation
meters
Avg Pace
min/km
Projected
Finish Time

h:mm:ss
Differential
Goal Time

h:mm:ss
1.00 6:12 36 5 0:06:12 36 5 6:12 5:41:00 1:06:00
2.00 5:13 25 14 0:11:25 61 19 5:42 5:13:00 0:38:00
3.00 4:39 30 33 0:16:04 91 52 5:21 4:54:00 0:19:00
4.00 5:51 34 12 0:21:55 125 64 5:28 5:00:00 0:25:00
5.00 5:14 34 32 0:27:09 159 96 5:25 4:57:00 0:22:00
6.00 5:17 24 20 0:32:26 183 116 5:24 4:57:00 0:22:00
7.00 5:20 20 17 0:37:46 203 133 5:23 4:56:00 0:21:00
8.00 4:59 12 24 0:42:45 215 157 5:20 4:53:00 0:18:00
9.00 5:50 25 25 0:48:35 240 182 5:23 4:56:00 0:21:00
10.00 5:00 36 37 0:53:35 276 219 5:21 4:54:00 0:19:00
11.00 5:36 36 27 0:59:11 312 246 5:22 4:55:00 0:20:00
12.00 5:09 32 31 1:04:20 344 277 5:21 4:54:00 0:19:00
13.00 5:48 25 7 1:10:08 369 284 5:23 4:56:00 0:21:00
14.00 6:12 34 20 1:16:20 403 304 5:27 4:59:00 0:24:00
15.00 5:35 15 35 1:21:55 418 339 5:27 4:59:00 0:24:00
16.00 5:28 22 17 1:27:23 440 356 5:27 4:59:00 0:24:00
17.00 4:33 12 29 1:31:56 452 385 5:24 4:57:00 0:22:00
18.00 3:46 17 51 1:35:42 469 436 5:19 4:52:00 0:17:00
19.00 5:41 27 23 1:41:23 496 459 5:20 4:53:00 0:18:00
20.00 6:37 42 16 1:48:00 538 475 5:24 4:57:00 0:22:00
21.00 6:09 10 14 1:54:09 548 489 5:26 4:58:00 0:23:00
22.00 5:03 12 18 1:59:12 560 507 5:25 4:57:00 0:22:00
23.00 5:08 6 9 2:04:20 566 516 5:24 4:57:00 0:22:00
24.00 4:52 22 41 2:09:12 588 557 5:23 4:56:00 0:21:00
25.00 5:40 28 30 2:14:52 616 587 5:23 4:56:00 0:21:00
26.00 8:35 35 13 2:23:27 651 600 5:31 5:03:00 0:28:00
27.00 5:40 16 16 2:29:07 667 616 5:31 5:03:00 0:28:00
28.00 5:23 24 23 2:34:30 691 639 5:31 5:03:00 0:28:00
29.00 4:35 14 30 2:39:05 705 669 5:29 5:01:00 0:26:00
30.00 5:19 12 21 2:44:24 717 690 5:28 5:00:00 0:25:00
31.00 4:59 20 37 2:49:23 737 727 5:27 4:59:00 0:24:00
32.00 6:02 27 23 2:55:25 764 750 5:28 5:00:00 0:25:00
33.00 5:32 17 22 3:00:57 781 772 5:29 5:01:00 0:26:00
34.00 5:35 20 25 3:06:32 801 797 5:29 5:01:00 0:26:00
35.00 8:53 32 29 3:15:25 833 826 5:35 5:07:00 0:32:00
36.00 5:58 23 25 3:21:23 856 851 5:35 5:07:00 0:32:00
37.00 5:51 23 29 3:27:14 879 880 5:36 5:08:00 0:33:00
38.00 6:10 29 27 3:33:24 908 907 5:36 5:08:00 0:33:00
39.00 6:08 23 19 3:39:32 931 926 5:37 5:08:00 0:33:00
40.00 5:09 14 22 3:44:41 945 948 5:37 5:08:00 0:33:00
41.00 4:47 5 26 3:49:28 950 974 5:35 5:07:00 0:32:00
42.00 8:28 30 9 3:57:56 980 983 5:39 5:10:00 0:35:00
43.00 5:35 17 20 4:03:31 997 1003 5:39 5:10:00 0:35:00
44.00 7:52 37 14 4:11:23 1034 1017 5:42 5:13:00 0:38:00
45.00 4:14 5 36 4:15:37 1039 1053 5:40 5:11:00 0:36:00
46.00 5:58 19 28 4:21:35 1058 1081 5:41 5:12:00 0:37:00
47.00 7:17 13 29 4:28:52 1071 1110 5:43 5:14:00 0:39:00
48.00 9:23 53 5 4:38:15 1124 1115 5:47 5:18:00 0:43:00
49.00 4:54 7 43 4:43:09 1131 1158 5:46 5:17:00 0:42:00
50.00 8:28 38 12 4:51:37 1169 1170 5:49 5:19:00 0:44:00
51.00 4:04 10 53 4:55:41 1179 1223 5:47 5:18:00 0:43:00
52.00 5:49 6 12 5:01:30 1185 1235 5:47 5:18:00 0:43:00
53.00 7:04 4 7 5:08:34 1189 1242 5:49 5:19:00 0:44:00
54.00 6:58 8 5 5:15:32 1197 1247 5:50 5:20:00 0:45:00
54.48 3:27 9 5 5:18:59 1206 1252 5:51 5:21:00 0:46:00
The final cumulative time, 5:18:59, may not match the official time (5:18:22.0) owing to rounding errors. Starting my watch a few seconds before the start and stopping it a few seconds after crossing the finish line can be an additional reason for this discrepancy. The overall distance, 54.48 km, may not match the designated event distance (55 km) owing to idiosyncrasies associated with GPS data collection OR the aforementioned early start/late stop reasons, and in some rare cases, incorrectly measured courses or DNFs. As a result, the cumulative pace and the projected finish time might not match the official values as well.

Seeing Kim as I entered the blistery Lake Hayward and DJ a few hundred meters later offered another much needed boost of energy. The final few hundred meters past the International Bridge along the Main Street were spent reflecting on the generosity and kindness of many friends, coaches and mentors over the years that helped me get to this point. The official finish time was 5:18:22 – good for 842/1642 overall, 661/1231 in gender and 74/120 in my age group.

The same short walk from the finish area to the bag pickup and changing tents seemed a lot longer afterwards. But I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to chat once again with Coach Nancy Bauer (she is a TBA – not only she volunteered at the start but she was volunteering again at the finish line!). As I walked out with Christine, I also got to see Coach Jyneen Thatcher (she too is a TBA and was volunteering at the finish chute exit). Stephen kindly carried the skis and poles to the bag pickup, and it was great to catch up with Ruth, Sam, Dave and Jay (all elites, and the boys had finished their races hours before I came through; Ruth was crewing for them) along the way.

Changing out of cold and sweaty clothes into relatively warmer ones took much longer than the day before. The warmer weather and sunshine probably played a good trick on most of us and I didn’t need any helpings of the warm veggie soup to stay warm afterwards. While waiting to regroup, I got to chat with Scott and his mothership for a bit. Checking on how many of my friends did wasn’t an option as the tracking app was undeniably overloaded with thousands of requests from skiers and their families. But it didn’t keep us from congratulating some of the fellow skiers – especially the ones with a medal around their necks OR a big number patch on their bib OR interesting outfits – on our way to the same meeting location on Main Street. DJ and Kim drove us all back to the cabin.

My post-Birkie recovery process started with a few PBJ sandwiches at the cabin. We (Christine, DJ, Jim, Kim, Rob, Shannon, Stephen and myself) shared a celebratory serving of Aquavit (it obviously had to have a Norwegian heritage just like the event we all had completed), and the cooked and shared a meal around 7 pm. After watching a bit more of Olympic reruns and the elite women and men duke it out on Lake Hayward and Main Street (it’d be worthwhile for anyone to watch the footage, and learn/appreciate trail etiquette from the masterclass put on by the ever so graceful Caitlin Gregg just before she crossed the Becker Law Link Bridge over Hwy 77) as well as a Space Pants session, we called it a night around 10:30 pm.

 

The days after

Sunday morning came at a very relaxed pace but most of us had some variant of Jimmy Legs throughout the night. We all watched Team USA during the 4 x 5k Mixed Relay at the FIS Junior and U23 World Ski Championships in Lygna, Norway. The commentary was in Norwegian – in spite of just having completed Korte/Birkie and in spite of having had a shot of Aquavit just the night before, we didn’t understand a word of it. But it was good to cheer on our team and one of our very own – Anabel Needham – who anchored the relay for Team USA!

We took our time in packing up our belongings and nearly restoring the cabin to its state prior to our arrival. We all headed out around 9:30 am, and Kim and I stopped at the Backroads Coffee as well as the Birkie office (to say hello to Ronda, Birkie’s Director of Volunteer & Membership Services) before heading out of Hayward. We stopped at the Sunday Ski Demo – held at the main trailhead in Cable. The only “injury” from the Birkie outing was a blister – courtesy of using a pair of not yet fully broken in pair of boots. With that “injury” in mind and not wanting to incur a fatigue-induced injury that could potentially derail rest of the winter (or worse, the calendar year), I opted not to ski – either using my own skis or one of the new fancier ones from any number of manufacturers. 

Instead, I spent all my time chatting and catching up with friends, mentors and coaches – Amy and Craig, Andre, Dan, Jan, Jeremy, HenryJenna and Zach, Marybeth and Matt, Coach Steve Thatcher and Tom. Matt and his Pioneer Midwest team had brought their flex pressure mapping device. Matt was kind enough to put my fleet of skis (just three pairs but I’ve always wanted to use that phrase – fleet of skis) through the drill. He explained that while I fit one of the skis (waxable classics) really well now, I have some work to do to get the best out of the other two. He also took more time to explain why I had done how I had done on those skis in the recent past – combination of that device and his analysis is like a window into my skiing history! Kim and I left the trailhead around noon and after a quick stop at the Velo Cafe, we started our journey back to da Yoop. We stopped a handful of times along the way and made it safely to Houghton around 5:45 pm.

The 2022 edition of Birkie Fever marked restoration of some sense of normalcy – as normal as normal can be under current circumstances. It had a lot of the usuals that I have grown fond of: figuring out the logistics (or being a part of an email chain while others figured out the logistics), traveling with friends, staying together, cooking shared meals, eating together, attending the expo, the long short lines and bus rides, immaculate trail conditions that barely showed any signs of subnivean entities in spite of voluminous snowfall and winds in days leading up to the weekend (bless those groomers and the tireless hours they spent at witching hours), skiing the traditional course, cheering on and getting cheered on, vociferous Main Street crowd and finish, making new friends, and reconnecting with the ever expanding members of my nordic skiing family.

The 2022 edition also had a few things missing: a portion of the usual Keweenaw contingent (Andi, Betty and Scott, Carrie and Dr. Bob, Greg, Sue and the little Handlers), Father Birkie and other Bs on the B Hill, and my sitzmarks anywhere along the course. I didn’t cross paths with several who were there (Caitlin, Chandra and Erich, Kristen and Tom, Heidi and Don, and Kate) for one reason or another. The only missing thing from this list that neither I (nor anyone who skied, especially those who skied after me) was the missing sitzmark!

As noted in the very beginning, I gratefully cherished the opportunity to put the lessons learned over the past many winters into practice on what is unequivocally the grandest stage for cross country skiing in our country. To have had such a stage for the longest single cross country ski outing of my life so far (irrespective of style) made it that much more special for me! I plan on treating the successful completion of this project/event without any injury as a a tangible metric of regained fitness and a  baseline moving forward. This project wouldn’t have been completed without help from many in my nordic skiing family and I am eternally grateful to every one of them. Catching up with Steph and reviewing the recorded version of the live stream (of Korte and Birkie), it was a beautiful sight to see so many of my elites, friends and heroes push through their respective pain caves and will their bodies across the finish line on Main Street. I have much to learn from many of them! 

As has been a practice this winter, I kept up with the tradition of taking an at home COVID-19 antigen test after returning home, and the result was negative. I am looking forward to the full blown version of Birkie Hangover and using reminder of the winter to work on improving form, technique, and skiing with ease and peace.

Carpe Skiem!

 


Thanks be to

the rejections and opportunities life has brought my way, event folks (organizers, sponsors, volunteers, timers, law enforcement officials, photographers, fellow participants and spectators), and the family of good friends in and outside of my community for all the unexpected, undeserved and unrewarded acts of kindness and constant encouragement as well as offerings of constructive criticism to improve myself as a human and an athlete. I am eternally grateful to all those who let me train with them, who shared their invaluable experiences with me, who helped keep my mind, body and soul in good health, who helped me stay the course during the training cycle, who continued to teach me the value of work-life balance, and who cheered me on from home or along the course.

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