Winter’s Last Stand, pt. 2 (2014 American Birkenbeier)

We pick up where we left off – with Mike Schaefer bringing the winter race season to it’s climactic conclusion at the Birkie!

For those of you new to the sport of cross country skiiing, there’s a great backgroun article on the race online: http://sports.yahoo.com/news/american-birkebeiner-racers-show-olympic-level-willpower-overcoming-course–frigid-conditions-004929691.html

Here’s Mike:

I picked a good year to just “tour” the Birkie instead of racing it. We welcomed newbies Ray Huang (Spin Road Team) and Drs Matt and Cristal Schaeffer (Oberlin, OH) and the camaraderie was the highlight of my weekend. We spent our first night at my sister’s home. We waxed skis and told old stories so Ray would know what to expect.

Little did we know, the weather would make this the toughest Birkie ever! The course got over 12 inches of new snow on the day before the race, and our drive across Wisconsin took twice as long as usual. We got word during the drive that our rental cabin was inaccessible (downed trees and a stuck snowplow)! So, in the middle of the blizzard we had scramble for a place to stay! After a few dozen phone calls we were able to squeeze into the home/cabins of other skier friends from both Ohio and Wisconsin. (With 10,000 skiers and even more spectators there was NO vacancy anywhere!). Meanwhile the temps dropped to -2F and the winds kept blowing HARD!

In the morning we learned that the huge warming tent at the race start area had collapsed under the snow, so we just trudged out onto the wind-blown tundra that serves as the start venue. I changed boots in a port-a-john and then kept skiing for 30min just to stay warm. But things got better!

The sun came out, and my wax job proved to be perfect. My dad’s old skis were running as well as ever, and the course was incredibly scenic: heavy snow on the evergreens against a bright blue sky! And as it turned out, we would have plenty of time to enjoy it!

I started in the middle of my assigned wave, and the first few climbs got congested as people were already getting bogged down in the soft tracks. Instead of trying to charge ahead, though, I just relaxed and joked around with the nearby skiers trying to ease everyone’s nerves. I knew it would be a long day, so I stopped for some cookies and an extra cup of warm energy drink at each aid station. When the largest climbs got really tough, I rewarded myself with a brief pause at each scenic vista. I still skied pretty well, just hard enough to cramp-up a little by about 40k. But then I slowed a bit and kept them at bay over the infamous “Bitch Hill” at 44k (and I learned that it doesn’t hurt nearly as much if you just walk up it instead of run!).

With 10k left, I decided to ski faster, just to get the race over with. I knew there was beer and bratwurst waiting at the finish (after all) and nothing was gonna stand between me and that bratwurst! Unfortunately there was a brisk headwind blowing, and the lake-crossing before the finish was arguably the most difficult 3k I have ever skied! But it wouldn’t be “The Birkie” without just a little suffering!

Mike crossing the line at the 2014 Birkie!

Mike crossing the line at the 2014 Birkie!

As usual, our whole crew skied courageously! The beer tasted great, and the party in Hayward was just getting started when my sister collected her special “ten-year finisher” award (Congrats Bethany!) However, with no good place to stay and a long snowy drive in front of us, we decided to head south and we closed another Birkie chapter… But then, there’s always next year! Maybe I’ll actually do some real training for the next one, but this “touring thing” was an awful lot of fun!

Way to go guys!!

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One Response

  1. Nice recap! I can’t imagine working through all those obstacles! Especially when it was that cold. Nice work! And congrats to Bethany!

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