The 2007 Birkie was a race for only the top 200 men and 50 women. For the rest of us it was a 25 kilometer untimed tour. Disappointment aside, the Birkie crew did what they could to salvage a potential cancellation. Monday was in the 40’s, Tuesday was in the 40’s, Wednesday topped 50 and start area thru to McNaughton Road was lost. We were just leaving Minocqua, having declined to ski the boiler plate there, when we got a call on the cell phone that a decision on the Birkie would not be made until 9 PM Friday night. It was the ultimate “bummer”. We called our condo-mates that had not left yet and gave them the news. Only seven of our ten would eventually make it to the Birkie.
We arrived at Hayward around 3 PM just in time to watch the sprints, do some shopping, take in New Moon and my annual visit with Pierre Harvey, drive to Telemark, pick up our bibs (minus the transponders), cruise through the Expo and finally have dinner in the bar upstairs. Then was on to the condo and some well deserved rest – we had started driving at 6:00 AM that morning after having spent 30 minutes trying get out of the driveway on ice that formed overnight.
Friday morning we collectively decided to ski the Birkie course whether the race was cancelled or not and left the condo to ski at Telemark at the proposed start time of 10:30 AM. It soon became apparent why the Birkie staff was having second thoughts. What was still snow was more ice and definitely qualified as boilerplate, unskiable really. We did check out the Junior Birkie course a couple of times between races and then headed off to the golf course for some really nice crust skiing, even scared up several deer. NMU’s ladies were just coming out of the woods as we started in. Later we dropped in at the Ski Demo, but by 1 PM the ski selection was minimal – they were all out on loan. We headed of to Hayward for some more shopping and lunch at Coop’s pizza. I scored their last Erdinger Hefeweizen Dunkel. Normally I don’t drink the day before a race but what the heck – probably no race anyway. Half wrong, we learned that the top 200 men and 50 women would be racing and the rest of us would be touring.
It worked out well for waxing, as I was mellower, the ladies I had to wax for were mellower, and the wax room had cleared out by the time I set up shop. This was playing out to be a fairly relaxing trip. I finished waxing three pairs of skis in about 2 hours and made it over to the condo just in time for dinner. After cleanup and cherished conversation with old friends it was off to bed. The only snag for tomorrow was “how long would it take to get the transponder” the next morning.
We left an hour and a half before the start and bumped into the line almost at the Telemark Lodge door. Computers down. After about 20 minutes the computers were back up and the line really moved quickly. Who cares if we make the start of the race, eh! We just missed the men, but saw the ladies go off, waited for the Waves 4-6 start time, walked to the start line, calmly put on our skis and began skiing of to “OO” in a blissful quiet that was surreal. Here we were skiing in deep, dry, dirty, grassy, rocky, corn – Birkie sugar trucked in from parking lots or who knows where and it was fast. There were no cannons, no clicking of poles, no shouting, no rabid fans, just an overcast dim tunnel of snow that went on for 3-4 k’s (all trucked in) all the way to Powerline Hill. We were indeed out for a tour.
I skied with my wife, Carole, until the classic trail split off and then found her again when it came back together. The drummer on top of the Powerline were exceptional this year, or maybe I just had time to notice. Tommy Brian skied the whole way with his wife, Susan, (they both skated) and he stopped to play the drums, well drums and the power line tower. Carole split off again and I skied to the next food stop, waited about ten minutes, got cold and left.
The hills seemed a whole lot easier. The down hills were icy but not too bad when they were straight. I had time to talk with people around me, stop if I wanted too and enjoy the scenery. I skied up on the Schaeffer brothers, dressed as the Birkebeiners this year, and stopped to request a quaff of mead, but alas, poor Yorick, they had none. The Bitches even moved to another hill not wanting to miss the Birkie.
Some of the down hills were pretty well shaved and getting around the turns was a wild ride. I can understand why the Birkie officials didn’t want 7,000 skiers racing. I skied the Birkie in 1983 and 1984 when it was classical and boilerplate. I loved it, even made the top 200, but they also had more injuries in each of those years, than the entire history of the Birkie combined, and that was with 3,500 Birkebeiners. I just tried to ski the hills under control, stopped once and kept up a steady pace.
Primed for “00” hill, I made it to the top nicely and expected an easy glide into the finish and my 30 year pin. The Valkyries had one more surprise for we valiant Birkie warriors. What would have been 22.5K wound off through the forest to become something more than 25 K. “A cruel and unusual punishment”, I heard a fellow skier whine. “Doesn’t he know there is no whining in skiing”, I thought, this is a tour. Smigiel would be happy to get bonus k’s. Or is whining what ski racing is all about. I missed the wax, wished I had trained more this year, I had surgery last week, they could have, should have, might have ……. Finally, I heard Tony Hartmann’s familiar voice, “Here comes Ernie Brumbaugh from Rockford, Michigan.” I’m done, stopped the heart rate monitor – 2:11 with stops and average heart rate 149. I still had a level two workout. The Birkie Hills never really let you rest.
We change clothes, eat some soup, and wait for Carole. She is a bit late having stopped with a doctor she was skiing with, to come to the aid of a skier that had broken his leg and hip. Ah, a “Good Samaritan” Birkie. I’ve had a few of those too. Like the time I saw Betsy Youngman a half k from the start with a broken pole. I gave her mine thinking that the Fischer Team pole guys were at the end of Main Street. They weren’t, I skied past the first aid station calling for a pole and no one answered. I later learned the pole station was indeed there and I skied back a half a k to get a pole that was too long for me. The Fischer guys had left my pole there but no one made the connection. Betsy took the lead for a while but finished second that year. It was a good tradeoff.
We waited for a bus, drove back to Telemark Lodge, climbed into the Mini-Van and drove to the condo. Not tired, turned on the sauna, started munching and finally went to dinner, shouldn’t have and took a handful of Tums before bed. You can’t eat like the Birkie when you only do the Birkie-Lite and then tour it at that.
Still, 5,000 of 6,700 registrants skied the Birkie Tour, and that is an amazing number. Skiers were still awarded a Birkie completion, but was that enough to keep that many people in town, when a winter storm was threatening. I know we went to bed thinking there never would be a storm. Wrong, seven inches in the morning and we drove in snowy, sometimes blizzard conditions for the next seven hours.
Enough of my story though. Remember that climb up “OO” hill? I read the newspaper the next day and learned that John Bauer had jumped the lead pack on that hill, reached the top first and was later caught not too many k’s from the finish. My first thought was, “Did he know about the lengthened race?” Subsequently I learned that he did not know. Be that as it may the race ended with Zach Simon finishing first in 1:09:05, Patrick Weaver in second, and Eli Enman, third. John Bauer was seventh 15 seconds back. Katie Whitcomb won the women’s race in 1:18:02, with Matina Stursova 7 seconds back and Abby Larson another second behind. The controversy continues to rage over the course change at Birkie headquarters.
Michigan Cup skiers included Hugh Pritchard, 1:15:46, Tom Wood, 1:17:38, Jon Mommaerts, 1:18:46, Andy Weddle, 1:18:50, Luke Menet, 1:20:12, Denny Paull, 1:20:21, Stephen Smigiel, 1:20:51 and Greg Worsnop, 1:24:11. Vicki Asmus finished eighth in 1:20:06.
All in all, it was a new way to ski the Birkie, definitely enjoyable and a lot less stressful and a whole lot less painful. I learned, maybe, how the ski the up hills under control, had a chance to thank the volunteers, appreciated the scenery and talked with more skiers. Birkie Lite was a good ONETIME experience. Next year give me, PLEASE, give me back the real Birkie.