Editor’s note: while this post is being written about a BirkieGuide.com sponsor, it is neither at their behest, and all of the copy is written by BirkieGuide contributors (i.e., me).
When the Great Bear Chase emailed to sponsor BirkieGuide.com (see their ad over there on the right?), I responded that we’d be glad to have them do so, and that we really enjoyed the race. I’ve skied the Bear Chase twice, and both have been memorable, for different reasons. The GBC is held in the very snow Keweenaw in the UP of Michigan. It’s a long drive from the Twin Cities, but the snow is generally great, it’s a low-key vibe and most importantly there is a pasty feed at the finish. That’s right, the feed at the race is pasties. This can not be understated, as Tony’s Pasties are fantastic.
In any case, the race in 2003 was memorable as it is the only race I’ve ever dropped out of. The Bear Chase had been canceled the year before because of dozens of trees knocked across the course by strong winds. The race in ’03 dawned as windy as the year before, but with a frozen lake and no icing, the winds blew straight out of Manitoba. Temperatures at race time were -6, winds were gusting past 40 mph, and the wind chill during the race never broke -30.
I had on all my clothing, but was still underdressed. Stories abound of skiers stuffing hats in their pants and similar tactics. A friend had frostbite which didn’t heal for weeks. Gels handed out by the race volunteers were frozen. At 32k, as I climbed a hill and didn’t warm up on scratchy, blown snow, I stopped at a feed. I never stop at feeds. And when the volunteer put a wool coat over my shoulders I declared, “I’m done. Put me in a car.”
He told me I’d make the right choice. He said he wished he had a mirror to show skiers how bad their frostbite was and get them off the course. I learned an important lesson that day: if the race organizers are encouraging you to ski a shorter race and waiving change fees, there’s a reason. It was my only chance to ski a 50k (college races were held during the Birkie weekend and other marathons) and I’d never skied that distance, and felt that—as a even scrawnier, stubborn 18-year-old—I had something to prove. I proved that when faced with adversity and frostbite, I can make a somewhat coherent decision.
In 2008, I had a less-than-stellar Birkie. I neglected to hydrate the day before and blew up after the Power Lines, going from 211th place at the 4.5k marker to 382nd at OO before I drank a lot of water and finished in 339th—well out of the Elite Wave (I’d started in the first wave). Two weeks later, I was excited to ski a marathon and prove that the Birkie had been a fluke.
That year the race was skied in mild temperatures with a good track and sun. I had a fine race, skiing with a small chase group and picking off skiers who fell off the lead skiers, and finished with skiers who’d all skied in the Elite Wave two weeks before. And I got to eat pasties.
So, go to the Great Bear Chase. It’s a fine race, there’s 40 inches of snow on the ground up there, and you get a pasty at the end. I mean, that’s reason enough.