My friend Walt is a marathoner and I am a semi-reluctant runner of a 5K race each year. We are in our 50s and have come to cross country skiing late in life. Several years ago Walt heard about the Birkie and we decided to try it out in 2003.
Though Walt is a considerably faster skier than me, he stayed with me for the first part of the race that year until we realized we weren’t on track to make the cut-off at Mosquito Brook and I urged Walt to go ahead. He made it the cut-off and continued to finish; I continued to ski and eventually was picked up by one the Snowmobile Valkyries—those Nordic deities who carry wounded warriors to Valhalla. (“I want to go on—there are still some skiers behind me” “No, they’ve all been picked up”)
Since then Walt has skied 8 Birkies and I have completed 3 including this year.
Our journey to Hayward was complicated this year by work—I’m sure this is a familiar theme for most skiers! Walt and I are classical musicians by profession. I had on opera performance on Friday night. I made a few attempts to wriggle out it, find a substitute or take a personal day. Nothing was falling into place and my conscience began to bug me: this is not just a job, but a performance I agreed long ago to play. So Walt picked me up after the performance leaving Chicago at 11:50 PM to drive to Hayward hoping to catch one of the school buses to Cable. It’s 420 miles.
Pushed some speed limits across Illinois and past Madison. Light traffic and good roads, no flashing lights to be seen. Didn’t drink any water in the car to avoid unnecessary rest stops. When we got to off 90 road conditions were not so good – icy and hard-packed snow. Mph went down to 30-40. Ended up behind a snow plow on 53 at 30 mph for several miles coming into Hayward. Arrived at the parking lot at 6:15 and grabbed our stuff and made it onto one of the buses. Neither one of us had gotten more than 5 minutes of sleep.
We changed into our race clothes in the warming tent and ate some peanut butter sandwiches and the pre-race adrenaline started to kick in. Walt was in Wave 6 and I was Wave 7 Classical so just a bit of hanging around in the frigid morning air. By 9:15 we were both moving and warming up.
Considering all that the race went better than we had feared. We accomplished our goal—to finish the race on no sleep. Walt’s time was 40 minutes longer than last year—mine was 6 minutes longer than 2012. This was my first year on waxable skis and I’m sure I would have been a lot slower on waxless.