Changes of Plans

First of all: for the guessers, yes! You are right. I’m headed to Oslo! I will get there late on Sunday night and spend the next week watching and reporting on World Championships. I will miss the sprints (good luck Ida!) and pursuits (darn!), but there will still be plenty of action for me to catch: individual classic races, team sprints, relays, and the marathons, not to mention ski jumping and nordic combined races.

I can’t wait!

But first I have to race in a marathon. Could I have skipped the Birkie, headed to Oslo earlier, and screamed my head off for my teammate Ida when she’s racing in the sprint? Of course. But the Birkie is a pretty big deal. I might not be much of a marathoner, but you can’t miss the Birkie. It will be either my second-to-last race weekend of the season or, if the snow disappears from New England, my last race of the year. Not only could I not justify skipping the race, I didn’t want to!

So, I headed to Wisconsin.

Things got wild pretty much immediately. We left Craftsbury at 6:40 on a Wednesday morning. We were supposed to leave at 6:30, but we discovered that the air mattress we had set up in the back of the van for mid-ride naps had popped overnight, and we had to take it out, remove all the bags, and put the last row of seats back in.

Then, less than an hour later, we closed in on the Canadian border and realized that my teammate Matt didn’t have his passport.

It wasn’t that he didn’t have a passport. The problem was that he didn’t have the right one. After our trip to Ottawa, we hadn’t paid enough attention when we redistributed the passports, and he had Pepa’s. Matt is many things, but a 40-year-old Bulgarian woman he is not. So, we turned around and headed back towards home. Pepa met us in Irasburg to swap the documents and then we were on our way again. We lost about an hour of time.

We thought maybe that was the end of our bad luck, but boy were we wrong. We arrived in Madison, Wisconsin, about the same time as the hordes of teachers and other reasonable people protesting against Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to outlaw collective bargaining. While I saw more power to them – we checked out the protests and it was pretty awesome – unfortunately we were supposed to be ski racing on the block surrounding the capitol. With the thousands of protesters, it was a no-go.

It there had been snow in Madison, it wouldn’t have been a big deal – they could have moved the races to Elver Park, where we trained for a week last year. But, no snow, no go. The races were canceled.

Since there wasn’t any snow, we couldn’t train in Madison, so we had to say goodbye to Mimi and C.W. – the best hosts ever, it broke my heart to leave – and drive up to Birkie Country.

Unfortunately, Herm, the lady we are staying with outside of Hayward, wasn’t going to arrive until Tuesday. So in the meantime we rented a fishing cabin, which Ollie described as “looking as much like a trailer as a house can look without being a trailer”, 20 minutes outside of Cable. It wasn’t bad for me – I had a bed – but Ollie had a terrible pull-out couch. To top it all off, the shower was cold and there weren’t any dishtowels. Luckily, it was only for a few days, and I even managed to bake some bread in an iron pot (needless to say, there weren’t a lot of bread pans).

Now we’re back at Herm’s, which is a wonderful place to be, and I think we all breathed a sigh of relief. Hopefully our plans are done changing and we can focus on the big race which is coming up on Saturday!

Two Weeks in Wisconsin

Mine is not a "ski family", so it was rare that my parents would come to races in high school or college. But my dad has had some free time on his hands and has come to two races this year, which has been a real treat for me, and I am always so happy and relieved to see him (they have turned out to be bad races for me, so it's nice to see a sympathetic face). Here we are at the Stowe Eastern Cup/UVM Carnival. It was cold that day! Photo: Scottie Eliassen.

I have spent the last two weeks traveling around the Midwest. While the races that were the focus of the trip went extremely poorly for me, everything else about our journey was amazing.

The first highlight is that after a long day of driving, we landed in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where we stayed with my friend Hot Legs (a.k.a. Sean Prentiss). Sean took us to a great pub, and then teased us with an offer to drink PBR out of pink flamingo lawn ornaments. This was all a hoax as neither the PBR nor the flamingos appeared. It’s okay, though, I’ll still be friends with you, Sean. Don’t screw up next time though.

Hot Legs in action at GRUB. Photo: Jeremy Bjork.

Hot Legs in action at GRUB. Photo: Jeremy Bjork.

From there we drove to Madison, where we stayed with the parents of a college friend. They had a fantastic house and took very good care of us, in some instances refusing to let us cook for ourselves. Mimi made us multiple delicious meals, and we were blessed with a big comfy bed for each of us and a television to watch the Olympics – which was exciting! At no other time do you ever get to see nordic skiing, biathlon, or nordic combined on TV, so we made the most of it.

The races in Madison were a new experience for all of us. The first race was criterion-style, with 8 (for the women) or 12 (for the men) laps of a 0.75k loop around half a city block. I can’t deny that it was cool to be skiing right next to the impressive-looking Capitol building, with spectators cheering from the sidewalks. But it didn’t feel like a ski race – not enough terrain! The frustrations of the weekend were typified by Tim’s very questionable disqualification from Saturday’s race. Enough said.

The other highlight of the Madison trip was that two of my best friends from high school happen to live there. In between the qualification and heats of Sunday’s sprint, I met up with Julia Schwartzman and Bethany Schimmel in a very hip coffee shop less than a block from the race course. While a cup of coffee might not have been the best snack in between races, it was fantastic to get to see them after such a long time.

Next, we drove to Spring Brook, a tiny town in northern Wisconsin. We stayed at a cabin owned by Ollie’s grandmother’s college roommate, who was very cool. Despite being 86 years old, “Herm” still skied more than us on several occasions, tromping through the woods with her spaniel, Scooter. The cabin was lovely and relaxing, and I don’t think we could have asked for a nicer place to stay, or a nicer lady to stay with.

Why were we up in the land of lakes/great north woods? The Birkie! We were fairly overwhelmed with the scale of the race and the rabid midwesterners for whom the event is something of a cult. But on race day, everything lived up to the hype. We were bussed to the Telemark Lodge, and got to soak in the atmosphere of what is surely the largest collection of ski racers in one place on the continent… as well as their midwestern accents. The governor of Wisconsin fired the gun to start us, confirming what a big deal the Birkie is out there.

The course was excellent, the snow was great, and it was fun. Going up the first really steep hill, we were flanked by native Americans from a local tribe playing drums, which was amazing. There were hundreds of spectators out on the course, which was impressive considering that it is point-to-point and there aren’t a ton of easy ways to get to the trail. Cheering was especially loud on “bitch hill”, which isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds. The closer we got to the end, the more spectators we found. The last 3k are across a big lake, where people had driven their cars out onto the ice and in some cases were grilling up food (which smelled delicious to me!). At the end of the lake, you pop up onto the road and go around a block before you are spit out onto Main Street, which is, as Brayton Osgood said, “a tunnel of noise”. There were spectators three or four people deep lining both sides of the street, and they were cheering wildly. It was exhilarating, if anything can be after 50 kilometers of skiing!

The whole experience was great, and gave me a taste of what it might be like to race in one of the bigger races in Europe, where people actually like to watch skiing. That isn’t something that happens in the U.S. – the Birkie might be the only race in North America where you can feel that magic. I am definitely ready for a return trip next year!

After napping all afternoon, we got ready for the afterparty at the Sawmill, which lived up to its reputation. I was happy to see so many friends who had raced that day: Dartmouth teammates Courtney Robinson, Audrey Weber, Brett Palm, Pavel Sotskov, Carolyn Bramante, Kristina Trygstad-Saari, as well as plenty of other friends. There was a live band, and life was good.

The next morning, I woke up the boys and they went to sleep in the van while I drove the first three hours. I had meant to leave at 6, but my watch was off somehow, so I woke them up just before 5, although I didn’t realize it until we stopped for breakfast. That would explain why they were so grumpy and I was so tired… We decided to drive through the night to get back to Vermont. With an air mattress in the back of the van, we were able to take turns napping, which meant that the drive wasn’t that difficult. When we arrived home at 6:30 on Monday morning, we made french toast and bacon, and ate it giddily while laughing at absolutely everything. It was a mess. Luckily, we went to bed until lunchtime, and we all seem to have recovered.

It’s good to be home, but the trip was a lot of fun and I’m left with fond memories of the midwest. Thanks to everyone who hosted us, you were awesome!