2022 Birkie … early weather speculation

It’s less than four weeks to Birkie (are you excited?) and so far, all systems are go. While we won’t speculate on the status of omicron (hopefully down) we will look at the long term weather prognostications. So far it’s been a cold January in Birkieland, but relatively dry. There have been eight days in January at -20 or below, so the lake is properly frozen. Snowcover is ample but not deep, so the big issue would be a large-scale warmup later in February.

Right now, this looks unlikely. There appears to be another cold wave coming down the central part of the country, and although it won’t be as severe as last year (at least not in Texas) it will bring some more -20s to the Northwoods. (Sidebar: here’s a potential explanation for these later-season cold snaps.) The NCEP weekly forecasts suggest colder than normal temperatures in the greater Birkieland area throughout the month. All of this can change, of course, but in The Year Which Shall Not Be Mentioned (2017) this was right around the time we started to see very warm temperatures appear on the long range forecasts.

The main worry would be that after a prolonged cold snap warm weather might replace it. While there is no model support suggesting that (yet) often these cold snaps are followed by warm periods (like last year late February into March, which was particularly warm). It will be something to keep an eye on as we get closer in.

Watch this space for annual updates and of course the podcast!

No unofficial guide this year—see the Birkie Page (and send us your voice!)

As the Birkie-covid situation changes by the minute, we suggest you follow the official Birkie website for all your Birkie race needs: in person, virtual and other FAQs.

Stay tuned to the Cowbell Fever podcast, and participate! As you ski your Birkie this year, whether in person or virtually, record yourself. Make a short audio recording (instructions below) with your name, where you’re from, where you’re skiing your Birkie, and how it went. Record for a few seconds or a few minutes, and send it to info@birkieguide.com and we’ll compile it into a podcast. It will be like the annual Main Street podcast, except without Main Street involved.

How do you do this? If you have an iPhone (or iPad), the best bet is to use the Voice Memo app which is installed on your phone. Hold the device (without headphones is best, using the built-in microphone) about a foot from your mouth, and hit record. There’s no native app for Google devices, but this app seems to work well when we record podcasts.

Questions? Reach out. The more content, the more I get to stitch it together into podcast. And if I get enough, I might even sneak in a lost file of me, perhaps after a couple of Leinies and a shot of Aquavit, from last year.

Also, remember, BirkieGuide can be fed beer money here.

See you in 2022!

Birkie Update clif notes

We watched the Birkie update, and took some notes, to give you a very abbreviated version of the presentation.There are a lot of visitors coming, but not a lot of medical capacity. Follow all safety protocols: ski on the right day, get a negative test, stay in your bubble, self-sufficiency, and avoid indoor spaces (get takeout!). The Unofficial Guide:

  • Birkie continues to encourage virtual option for everyone. (Your trusted blogger/podcaster had an Elite Saturday start and was excited to “race” but decided it’s definitely not worth the risk.)
  • Virtual race updates:
    • One third of skiers are skiing the race virtually (this is up from 20% at the last meeting).
    • Now Feb 20 to Feb 28. You can switch by the 27th.
    • Now offering a bunch of different sport options, not just skiing! You can bike, run row, ski-erg or swim it.
    • There are 32 venue partners across the country, but you can ski (or not ski) it anywhere.
    • You can ski whatever technique you want (skate, classic, run, swim), but ski it in one continuous race period.
  • Birkie Trail updates:
    • Open until Feb 21, so you can ski your virtual race on the trail through Saturday, Feb 21.
    • Closed thereafter north of OO, but open and groomed south of OO. Park at Mosquito Brook or Fish Hatchery. If you ski from Fish Hatchery to OO and back, that’s >43km, so it’s a Virtual Birkie.
    • Race course:
      • Out on skate, back on classic.
      • KM markers will count down from 44.
      • Skate days; no classic tracks. Classic days: no skating, number of tracks will depend on conditions.
  • Health updates for in-person participants to avoid spread in the Cable-Hayward area:
    • Get a covid test within 5 days of your race day
    • Don’t come if you have a positive test or show any symptoms
    • Don’t come if you’ve had covid within the last 90 days (the virtual race is fine)
    • Only ski on the day you are registered to ski
    • The goal is to limit skier-medical interaction
      • Plan to finish your race. If you think you might drop out, don’t ski.
      • As such, adverse weather may cause cancellations on a day-by-day basis.
      • If your day is canceled, you’ll have extra time to complete it virtually.
  • In-person race information:
    • Pre-race:
      • The radio will be broadcasting on 87.9. Do not rely on your cell phone as coverage may be limited.
      • Enter parking from Telemark Road. Allow an hour before your race to get to the start. There won’t be much more to do than sit in your car once you’re there. You can start after your assigned time.
      • No warm areas, or warm-up ski areas, available; you may run in the parking lot, or warm up on the trail. No wax testing at the start.
      • Port-o-johns in parking lot
      • Do not drop any clothes at the start, they will not be returned. No gear bags, no lost-and-found. There will be “ski tie donation boxes” at the start.
    • During the race:
      • Wear a mask before and after the race, as well as at the start, finish and aid stations
      • Aid stations: free-flowing liquid, no food, no cups. Bring your own water bottle. Maybe best, carry all your own water. Assume the water will be warm enough not to freeze at the aid stations, but expect to have to stop to get any aid.
      • No spectators, but there will be live tracking on the Birkie website and in the Birkie app.
      • The events will be timed, but the time will not count for anything.
      • If you think you might not make the cutoff times, remember that the virtual option has longer cutoff times. You can turn back earlier but won’t receive credit for your race.
    • Post-race:
      • Get in your car and drive home.
      • If you’re hungry, get takeout.
      • Buy some brats and Leinies and New Glarus and throw the beer in the fridge while you cook the brats up at home.
      • Record (on your phone, using the Voice Memo app on your iphone or a voice recording app on another device) your virtual experience and send it to me (info@birkieguide.com), so I cam put it in the virtual Main Street podcast! Or for the full experience, set up a zoom with me and we’ll record it in person.

See you, hopefully, on Main Street in 2022.

Mini Weather Speculation

Most years at this time I am thick in the middle of weather speculating. Looking at long-range forecasts. Prognosticating. Making things up.

This year? There’s a five day window for the Birkie. Lots of us (me included) are skiing virtually. And the weather looks good: a cold, hard base and no big warmups in sight.

One interesting note is the bend-but-don’t-break characteristics of the past two Januarys. The last two Januarys have seen temperatures 7 and 8 degrees above normal in Duluth (which has a longer record than Hayward, but is similar) but rather than some cold days which melt a lot of snow and then some cold snaps, the weather was mostly just pleasant.

This isn’t exactly normal. The Northwoods are home to large temperature swings, yet in Hayward the temperature during the first half of the month 2 to 36. No deep freeze, but minimal melting. It got colder later in the month (one night dropped to -16) but no day failed to hit 10 all month, while no day rose above 36. You can’t melt much snow at 36 in January.

This is similar to last January. The temperature never passed 34 in January of 2020, but it did go above freezing several days. In fact, high temperatures the past two years have only been 4 or 5 degrees above normal, with lows 10 degrees higher. In fact, since 1998, there have only been 10 Januarys without a day above 40; the past two years both qualify despite being well above average.

February, of course, is off to a different start, and not in a bad, 1998-style way (with all but one day above freezing that month in Hayward, and somehow the Birkie still sort of ran). The temperature hasn’t been above 0 since the 5th, and it looks like a solid two weeks below 10, with several days staying below zero. Good to get that out of the system now, especially with the mostly self-supported race. The latter two weeks look milder, but I don’t see anything on the horizon to melt or wash away the snow.

But, stay tuned for occasional updates.

New Podcast: Trail Running Skiers

New Cowbell Fever podcast posted, with some of the fastest skiers running in the White Mountains in New Hampshire, Jess Marion and Jordan Field, and Anne Hart, a former Birkie Ambassador (and, oh, yeah, Olympian) who joins to talk more about running and the Birkie. Find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, or find an .mp3 here.

Support the podcast on Patreon! And check out the SkiWise App!

If you’re interested, here is some information about the trails we’re talking about:

Fastest Known Times (links there to Jess and Jordan’s Strava tracks):

Presi Traverse (18 miles, 8500 feet of climb)

Pemi Loop (29 miles, 9100 feet of climb)

Hut Traverse (45 miles, 16,000 feet of climb)

Jessie’s (different Jessie, yes, that Jessie) blog post about the Presi Traverse (with Annie) and Pemi Loop this past summer.

Virtual Deadline

Today’s Birkie deadline is that it is the last day to switch to Virtual and be assured that you will receive your bib on time. For people worried about travel, exposure, or public health, it certainly makes to try the virtual option this year. I gave up a slot in the Saturday Elite Wave, where I would almost feel like racing. Yes, I will miss the event immensely, but prioritizing my health and the health of the community is probably more important.

But that leaves the virtual option, which can be done anywhere! The Birkie is partnering with some ski areas to come up with appropriately-lengthed routes, but there’s always SkiWise to find trails near you.

If you switch by today, you are guaranteed to get your race packet delivered before “race day” so you can wear your bib proudly as you ski around your home trails and get ready for 2022.

What’s up for 2021?

So, that happened.

The Birkie happened (it probably shouldn’t have), and the fat bike happened, and then, pandemic. The Birkie has run a couple of smaller races this fall, and done so successfully, but since the covid rates have spiked, especially in Wisconsin, and while the race is going forward on all (well, most) cylinders, there will be a lot of changes.

On the one hand, thousands of people have still signed up for the race. That allows the Birkie to maintain their trail and programming going forward. That is important for the long term operations for the race and organization. It’s almost like the Birkie is something that people value highly! Plus, it’s an outdoor even, socially distanced (an arm plus a ski pole is six feet at least) and most people wear face coverings anyway.

In addition, because the race can be spread over the trail and the whole day and multiple days, the Birkie will probably be the largest single athletic event to take place during the pandemic in the United States. The Elite skiers will be finished with the race long before the last skiers start.

But will it be a race? Sort of. It will have waves, and times, and for the tip-top skiers might have a mass start, but the times won’t matter for wave placement, and with limited resources available on-course, skiers are asked to ski with precaution. And ski virtually if they have any medical conditions, and given various travel restrictions, the large contingent of out-of-towners should consider skiing closer to home. It’s a good day to stay safe, while still getting a pin, hat, and most importantly, completion credit towards your Birchlegger bib.

What about this site? Most of this site is based on a normal event. That will probably stay. In the next few weeks we will be working on a 2021 event page, but deferring mostly to the Birkie. Yes, we’ll obsess over weather, but less-so over traffic and lodging and logistics, since it will be so different.

The podcast will continue! There are a couple of queued episodes which need to be produced, and several others. We’ll probably have more frequent updates with Birkie race officials, in order to keep people up-to-date through the podcast. And hopefully a bunch of other fun episodes as well.

Unfortunately, without a Main Street finish there will be no Main Street podcast, but we will ask for people to send in autio clips from their race to stitch together.

Stay safe, keep ‘er movin’ and check back soon.

BirkieGuide in the time of COVID-19: Cowbell Fever

Your podcaster, hard at work. Photo credit: Lincoln Benedict. Brought to you by New Glarus.

Your podcaster, hard at work. Photo credit: Lincoln Benedict. Brought to you by New Glarus.

So, what are we doing here?

First, let’s all thank our deity of choice (or not!) that the Birkie wasn’t canceled. Maybe it should have been (how bad was the coronavirus in mid-February anyway?) but we had a perfect day and a great race. And the Birkie office doesn’t have to make a tough call. Sure, skiing is probably decent social distancing. But the expo? The feeds? Main Street? Good luck.

Now, the podcast had plans. First I decided that since I am (was?) running the Boston Marathon, I would talk to other Birkie skiers doing the same. I ran some code, expecting half a dozen or so who do the double, et voila, there were 35. Two thirds of whom wanted to be on the podcast. Which was going to be a logistical nightmare, so a small silver lining is that now there might be a podcast of “how I would have trained for Boston after the Birkie if it hadn’t been canceled.”

Then, the podcast had media credentials for the World Cup in Minneapolis. And a ticket purchased. What’s better than watching a day of some of the best skiers in the world? Watching them while talking to people about the Birkie. Well, that, of course, is not happening.

So what is happening? Well, we got a great podcast coming up with Team Gregg, who went off the week after the Birkie and skied the Vasaloppet: 90km of classic skiing. In Sweden. With a one-year-old in tow. (I’m impressed.) And we have 150 minutes of audio from the Birkie and with social distancing and no long runs required, plenty of time to edit it (probably into three episodes). Oh, and we have a friend who is going to play for us a new theme song of Norwegian fiddle tunes, with the request that it include cowbell.

Oh, yeah, and a new podcast name:

Cowbell Fever

I swear, I came up with this before coronavirus. I’d tell people about the podcast, and say it was the “BirkieGuide.com Podcast” which is descriptive, but drunk in the din of the Angler, is that Birkie Guy? Birkie Dime? But everyone can figure out cowbell and fever, since that’s pretty much what we all get in February. So, yeah, Cowbell Fever. The name should change, but the feed will stay the same. So enjoy the rebranding.

Oh, and, I figured I’d set up a patreon. What is a patreon? It is a way for people to give creators of Internet content cash money in exchange for that free, free content. I don’t expect anyone to do so! If none of you sign up for the patreon, there won’t be any fewer podcasts or information on the website. But if you do, uh, I’ll give you a shout out on the podcast as a supporter, and then probably buy a bunch of novelty cowbells (as long as there is, like, more than three people who sign up) so that next year on Main Street you can be sure to make yourself heard loud and clear. And beer. We can always buy beer.

So, Cowbell Fever. Because it’s not quite Birkie Fever, but it’s way better than coronavirus.

Be well, do good work, keep in touch … and see you on the podcast airwaves soon.