Posts from February 2015

Birkie Day!
Posted February 27, 2015

I was up a few minutes before the alarm. Couldn't sleep the last hour anyway. Everyone else was up soon as well. A little coffee got us fully awake and we headed down to an early breakfast. The Flatcreek Inn always has a Birkie skier's breakfast at 5 am on Birkie day. We enjoyed juice, pancakes, sausage, eggs with cheese and coffee.

Breakfast done we headed back to the room and made final preparation for a 5:45 am departure. We would drive to near the start line. Each of us started at different times. I was in Classic Wave 5 at 8:55, Steve was in Classic Wave 7 at 9:15 and Kyle was in Skate wave 6 at 9:20..We used the nearby porta potties and stayed warm in the car.

Around 8:20 we began the walk to the start area a couple of hundred yards away. It was an easy walk and we were joined by 10,000 other skiers all heading the same way. The Birkie folks called the trail "Birkie Fever Lane" and decorated it with a few signs. Here's a couple I stopped to photograph.

Now things were getting a little hectic. One more pit stop and a group photo. Then it was off into the start pens.

The time in the start pen passed quickly and I was off. My ski went really well. My skis were fast on the glide and they gripped well. I climbed the hills OK and seemed to fly down the trail. Some hills were really screamers.

There are food stations along the way. At each one I had an energy gel and some electrolyte drink. I picked up some speed beads at the second feed. The trail was fun to ski that day and relatively few skiers crashed. I passed the half way point in 2 3/4 hours. From there the course got a little easier for a while. I picked up speed. After the Gravel Pit feed station there's an undulating stretch that has few landmarks. Steve calls it the Valley of Death. I guess more than a few skiers bonk in there but I wasn't skiing beyond my ability and I felt pretty good.

The next feed station at Mosquito Brook marks a transition in the course. A big uphill right after the feed is quite tiring. A little flat and down then another big up called Bitch Hill comes next. After that there are 10 km to go, one last feed station and several more hills to climb. Finally with 3 km left the trail gets flat and crosses Lake Hayward.

Looking ahead I could see a long line of skiers crossing the lake. Crossing the lake seemed to take forever but I eventually made the other shore. After a quick ski along the Market Place Shopping Center I made the right turn onto Main Street and saw the bridge. One last hill to climb. As I began the ascent a skater just ahead fell. Fortunately he got up quickly. We crested the bridge together and zoomed down toward the finish line.

Crowds lined both sides of the street. Each one seemed to be ringing cowbells. Wow! I'm almost there. I crossed the finish line and saw Juliane. She had brought the van from the start and had our dry clothes close by. A few photos, a change of clothes and some refreshments helped me overcome the fatigue I felt at the finish line.

Kyle has finished her Kortelopet well and was there with Ian. The four of use waited for Steve to finish. Our wait was short. Steve skied in, got his finishing pin and posed for some photos. Then it was off to celebrate.

This was a fun Birkie. Most of them are. That's why I ski it. And, yes, I definitely plan to do it again next year. Here's a before and after photo of me taken by Juliane. I added my 36 year pin for fun.

And one last little sign of encouragement for those who finish.

Final Birkie Preparations!
Posted February 27, 2015

After visiting Main Street in Hayward we headed over to the Hayward School to big up our race bibs and check out the Birkie Ski Expo.

Upon returning to the Flatcreek Inn we hung the bibs in our window. We've done this for many years and it's always a great reminder that the race is almost here. The only thing left to do is prepare our skis and clothes for the big day.

We headed downtown to have dinner at Angler's. It was pretty quiet on Main Street. The street was now closed and covered with snow in preparation for the race. Every building was decorated in lights. It was a nice site but it made me nervous. The day after tomorrow I would ski 55 km (34 miles) to reach this spot. Trying not to think abut that I rested and hit the sack early. Tomorrow we would wax our skis.

All of the major cross country ski wax companies post a recommended wax for the Birkie. We planned on using Toko waxes for glide and Swix waxes for grip. The waxes we used are shown below.

Steve and I were skiing the classic technique. Our skis would be glide waxed in the front and rear sections only. We would then apply grip wax in the center section. Kyle was skating the Kortelopet and here skis would be glide waxed from tip to tail.

The glide area of each ski was brushed with a copper brush to remove any dust or dirt. We then ironed in Toko Low Fluoro Blue. After the ski base cooled we scraped and brushed to remove excess wax. This applications was followed by an application of Toko High Fluoro Blue. Once the skies were scraped and brushed the glide zones were all set.

Now for the grip wax. This was actually somewhat more complicated. We didn't want to stop and add grip wax during the race so we applied quite a few layers of wax. We first ironed in Swix VG 35. This is a binder wax that helps the rest of the wax layer adhere to the ski base.

Once the binder was ironed in we ironed in a layer of a soft wax (V30) to act as a cushion. This helps the remaining wax layers grip the packed snow in the ski tracks. Finally we added 4 layers of Swix VR 30. We thought that would be the wax of the day. But the weatherman played a little trick on us. Instead of getting cooler overnight before the race, the temperatures rose some and it began to snow. The new snow and warmer temps required a slightly softer grip wax. We corked in a few layers of VR 40 to accommodate the warmer conditions.

We are ready for the race. After watching a little hockey on TV we hit the sack around 8 pm in preparation for getting up at 4:15 the next morning.

A Cold Week of Skiing Before the Birkie
Posted February 20, 2015

This week began with a healthy blizzard in Houghton, Michigan. We hunkered down in our hotel for a day. Once the weather cleared we headed to the Swedetown Trails near Calumet, Michigan.

The sky was clear and the sun shone bright. The snow was deep and the trails were immaculately groomed. Juliane, Steve and I skied the Valley and Greenstone trails before lunch. After lunch Steve and I did some Birkie prep by skiing the Valley, Greenstone, Mama Bear, Baby Bear and Papa Bear trails. The 2+ hour ski was a good one!

After two Great days exploring the trails at Swedetown we headed south to Eagle River, Wisconsin. We enjoyed two wonderful days visiting with LaNora Kleerup of Eagle River Nordic and some nice skiing on the Anvil Trails. These "old school" trails feature an 8 foot width two classic tracks and little or no room for skating. I've skied there many times back in the day and it was fun to visit there again.

Approximately two kilometers in from the trailhead is a small shelter. For many decades skiers and hikers have fed the bird there and the have become quite tame. All I had to do is hold out my hand and a red breasted nuthatch and two chickadees came to investigate. They were very disappointed though because I had no food for them.

On Wednesday, after a last look at Butternut Lake from LaNora's home, we left the Eagle River area and headed for Hayward, Wisconsin. The Flatcreek Inn would be our home base for the Birkebeiner Ski Race.

Arriving in Hayward we got our first glimpse of the temporary ski bridge over Hwy 63. This will be the last hill on the Birkie race course. The photo below shows the bridge in its final stage of installation just before traffic was allowed to pass underneath.

By Thursday morning the bridge was complete and Main Street in Hayward was covered in snow in preparation for the big race on Saturday. The temperatures remained cold though. It was -25 on Thursday morning and still below zero on Friday morning. The race is tomorrow and snow and cold is in the forecast.

We plan on resting Friday and completing our ski preparation. Check back next week to see how the race went.

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Birkie Trip - Skiing the UP
Posted February 13, 2015

I awoke at 2:00 am last Tuesday morning, had a quick breakfast. Nancy had to get me to the Great Falls airport before 5 for my flight to Minneapolis, Minnesota. The flight left early and arrived in Minneapolis at the beginning of a nifty little ice storm. The windows on the plane iced over as we hit the runway. "Not good," I thought. But all went well and a half hour later Steve and Juliane met me at baggage claim.

A few hours later we were in Hayward, WI. Steve and I skied for a couple of hours near where the Birkie trail crosses OO before heading for the Flatcreek Inn for the night. Juliane joined us the following morning for another short ski at OO.

After lunch we drove to Ironwood, Michigan. We skied the ABR trails on a cold and windy Wednesday afternoon and Thursday. The snow was deep and beautiful.

Friday saw us on the road again heading for Houghton, Michigan. Blowing snow with poor visibility required a change in plans. Instead of skiing the Swedetown trails we spent a very snowy hour on the Nara trails right near downtown Houghton. It was snowing hard and the tracks were buried but the forest was again beautiful.

After skiing we spotted some of the many snow sculptures done by students at Michigan Tech University. This one is the London Bridge and Big Ben.

We plan on spending two more days skiing near Houghton before heading toward Eagle River, Wisconsin.

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Still Seems Like Spring - So I Headed to West Yellowstone
Posted February 6, 2015

Snow conditions in northern Montana are deteriorating with the warm weather. So Nancy, Jen and I headed down south to West Yellowstone for three days of great skiing.

Saturday was a sunny day with temps to 34. Conditions were firm and fast. I got in a good 90 minute ski. I worked on my diagonal stride, uphill diagonal and double poling. In the warmer conditions the snow was still cool so Swix VR 45 worked well for grip. Always check the condition of the snow in addition to the air temperature before deciding what grip wax to use.

Sunday had mixed sun and snow in the afternoon. This really improved the trail system. Cooler weather also. As the day wound down the snow came. Here's Nancy and I heading back to the trailhead.

3-4 inches of snow fell over night and the snow stopped in time for the groomers to work their magic. Monday morning saw great fresh groomed powder on the trails. A nice way to end the trip.

As I write this post the Birkie is just two weeks away. Ski conditions have been difficult this year and my training has suffered. While dryland drills, pushups and riding a stationary bike all help, they cannot replace quality on-snow time. How will this impact my Birkie? Time will tell. My trip to Wisconsin starts Tuesday. I'll be skiing with Steve and Juliane Bantz in some nice ski areas. Then the Birkie is February 21. I'll try to keep you posted on how my trip goes at least once or twice a week.