“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing…”
The story of Birkie Week is that COVID-19 has killed over one half million Americans. The tally does not include those permanently crippled by the disease. Those of us fortunate enough to race should count our blessings, remembering those less fortunate.
“When we left off”: I had completed the Birkie Tour and was headed South, for a couple of nights, to obtain my initial inoculation. Administration of inoculations by the Mississippi National Guard could not have been smoother.
I intended to return through Minneapolis and ski the City of Lakes Loppet. The Arctic cold that descended upon the Northwoods changed everything. Two nights became eleven nights. It was not longer by the skin of my teeth: An ice storm hit Eastern Arkansas and Eastern Missouri through which I drove and, on its heels, a snowstorm hit Illinois and Southern Wisconsin through which I additionally drove after which a massive snow and ice storm descended upon the Southland. I would have lost another six or seven days of training had I not left exactly when I did.
The parking lots of the Arkansas and Missouri Welcome Centers were covered in verre glacé, but bridges on I-55 were consistently clear. The only problem encountered was the leading edge of the snowstorm, for one hour, driving through Illinois. Winds were high, but only 1/8 inch of snow fell. It was to the stressful to traverse the nation, south to north, not knowing what would be found — I carried five days worth of food, in case I took refuge in a hotel for an extended period, during a pandemic, remembering the Boy Scout Motto: “Be Prepared”.
I laughed the following day — the last truly cold day of the extended cold front: it was -33 degrees Fahrenheit when I retired on the first night — when I went to ski: I put on my classic boots, grabbed my classic skis, and took poles: Yes, not poles are created equal: I shortened my outing, double poling with skate poles. Since then, I skied over the distance of a half-marathon, daily, as penance.
All of us are blessed that the cold came and went before the Birkie. The races might have been cancelled if temperatures were Siberian. (I donned shorts on 70 degrees-plus days while in Mississippi, reminding myself, although unable to train on snow, I would not ski long and might contract a cough if in the Northwoods).
Conditions are optimal. Fresh snow falls as I write.
Skiers should count their blessings for good conditions and the Birkie staff’s staging races when many events were cancelled.
Please respect efforts made on our behalf and keep appropriate distances, protecting other skiers and staff from infection. This cannot be a superspreader event, impugning the extraordinary efforts of those snatching victory from the jaws.
Charts in The New York Times indicate Sawyer County, Wisconsin to be a “VERY HIGH RISK” area. Please do not be so filled with hubris and moxie that everlasting opprobrium is visited upon the American Birkebeiner for staging races.
Finish times will not impact next Winter’s starting positions, so please act responsibly, allowing the American Birkebeiner organization to be the paragon of good judgment and the paradigm for how to do it right.
Everyone will find fun — Enjoy the pleasure provided!
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!