I returned to Mississippi for my initial inoculation on Wednesday, February 3rd. The process, administered by the National Guard, was flawless.
I participated in the Seeley Hills Classic and Birkie Tour before departing. Arctic temperatures following find me far away, among mid-50’s highs rather than subzero temperatures in which I would ski neither far nor long. I enjoy the sweet aftertaste of recent events. Thankfully they were on the warmest days for awhile.
Quoting Tom Perry’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream”:
“It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down
I had the radio on, I was drivin’
Trees flew by, me and Del were singin’ ‘Little Runaway’
I was flyin’”
Beautiful day: check
Sun beat down: check
Trees flew by: check
Flying: no: The sun meant soft snow on Sunday when weather forecasts predicting grey skies and mid-20’s, both days, proved inaccurate: It was sunny, at least 32 degrees, maybe 35.
Seeley Hills Classic — Saturday January 30th
The Seeley Hills Classic started and finished at OO; seemingly better terrain than from Cable — with less parking.
Racebibs were delivered face-to-face. Mine was missing. I had my iPhone and read the registration number to the person, resolving the omission. The lesson learned is to have that number when obtaining race materials.
The delay put me behind other skiers. The lesson learned is to do anything possible to self-isolate during epidemic and pandemic mass start events: Please think about one’s Birkie priority: Is it finishing farther forward, when times will not impact future start positions, or distancing from aerosolized droplets?
The most affecting aspect of Wisconsin, as a Son of the South, is that people speak: When I shop at the Marketplace or Walgreen’s, cashiers engage one as if a friend or neighbor. That occurred during the Seeley Hills Classic and Birkie Tour. I am infinitely happier around engaged individuals than those suggesting that one is a nonentity.
One fellow jumped ahead of me, no more than 6 inches from my skis, when the track on the right was unoccupied, as were those on the left side of the loipe. I moved to the other side of the loipe, overtook him within 1/2 kilometer, and stayed ahead for the remainder of the race. Empathy and manners matter on skis: Never do on skis what would not be done driving, such as entering lanes without room to maneuver.
Concluding: 1). Begin thinking about pandemic priorities: SPEED or SAFETY? No one else can decide which means more, although please remember that distance between skiers is common courtesy: Don’t leave others in one’s slipstream. An individual ought not suffer risk, to which he or she never consented, because of another’s thoughtlessness. 2). An elegant endpoint at the southern end of the track would elevate the Seeley Hills Classic.
Birkie Tour — Sunday January 31st
The 2021 Birkie Tour served as trial run for the 2021 American Birkebeiner. It was a textbook case of conducting sporting events safely during a pandemic.
Masks were mandatory until departing. Two lanes of traffic were funneled into the parking area. Each vehicle stopped for racebibs and refreshments. No food was distributed at “feed stations”. Beverages were offered — participants carrying drinking vessels.
Saturday and Sunday‘s racebibs were pinned onto one’s kit. 1970’s technology is incompatible with clothing having waterproof and windproof membrane. My racebib was pinned to my pack. Others were on trousers or unworn. Obsolete technology needs updating.
Sunday’s weather forecast to be 25-27. It was 32, maybe 35. Suggested cloudy skies were sunny. Snow was soft and slow — anything except fast.
Skiers were kind, outgoing, and fun. Virtually everyone spoke. Meeting of minds telegraphed common purpose, that everyone was in it together and would complete it together. “Looking great!” and “Way to go!” were uplifting. In-depth discussion was elucidating: What I miss most during confinement is meeting new people and hearing their stories.
Most constant was Kimberly Mathews. She skied the Birkie Tour with a broken wrist and one pole for 45-kilometers and shared that she completed the 2019 American Birkebeiner, 10 1/2 weeks after bilateral knee replacement. We periodically interacted with her equally companionable friend Joan Sachs. The three of us skied together, Monday. Relationships developed during competitions are delightful.
The racecourse has several climbs, none impossible but anticipate accordingly.
Bulls in china shop degraded set track absent need to do so. The track is wide. DO NOT SKI ACROSS SET TRACK, destroying it and filling it with snow. You may never care. Yet observers will question your character and competence.
Good food awaited participants afterwards. It was almost better eaten driving home — instead of inside, adding length to the day — so don’t fear anticlimax.
Pandemic notwithstanding, the Birkie endures.
“Gentlemen, start your engines”: It will be a memorable marathon.
About the Author
Jay Wiener has filled more than 20 Worldloppet passports and has completed more Worldloppet events than any other US citizen. This year, despite, or possibly because of, multiple setbacks, we can find thoughtfulness and inspiration in Jay’s travels. Enjoy!