American Birkebeiner

24. The American Birkiebeiner, 2000: The Highway Less Bladed

by Ken Hundert, Birchlegger, Toronto, Canada

The night before Birkie 2000, I was on my way to Lakewoods Restaurant for pasta and pasta, with water and water and water.  A radio bulletin announced the race had been cancelled.  Ugh; this meant that treasured kick wax information earned by my experienced milling at the New Moon ski shop combined with erratic training would not culminate in the completion of my 5th Birkie.

The usual 5:45 am Birkie breakfast at the Hummingbird B&B, in Grandview, was changed to 8:00 am.  I wore my Birkie bib to the table. Smiles.  The fruit bowl was passed around, along with ideas of what to do with 51 kilometres worth of energy; ideas included a tail gate party at Como parking lot or driving to Telemark or Double OO to see how rake, rilled skis would perform.  I mused, “If the roads are dry, I am going to roller-blade the Birkie.”  The heavy rains of Friday and the intense fog late into Friday night had me thinking about blading conditions. One of the clear symptoms of Birkie Fever is incessant thinking about weather conditions.  My fever was being fed.

I drove south on Highway 63 South to Cable.  The owner of a cafe graciously allowed me to park for a few hours.

The highway was dry.  It was a Young Rascals’ kinda mornin’.  I put a fresh wrap of hockey tape on the basketless tips of my blading poles; the tape technique not only allows for great pavement grip (comparable to klister for skis) but is also gentle and quiet, compared to graphite tips.

“Wave 1 is off”, I whispered.  I double poled, with a smile as wide as the Telemark fireplace.   Cars with disappointed skiers and subscribers of Silent Sports magazine rolled down their windows and gave a “thumbs up,” while non-subscribers honked.  A woman stopped on the opposite shoulder and asked if she could take my picture; I said, “You will have to talk with my agent.”  More cars slowed, stopped and took my picture.  I felt like a bear on the side of the road.  Journalists from Madison, Minneapolis and Duluth stopped to ask me questions and to take pictures.  I’m thinking, Andy Warhol!

I rolled into the bar at Seeley, for water:  no oranges or smiles at this feed station.  I felt like I had walked into a party to which I was not invited; clearly not Silent Sports magazine subscribers.  But I got water.

Approaching Hayward,  I felt disoriented.  Along the way, I heard a Food Loppet was happening in Hayward.  An excited man said, “they are waiting for you by The Birkie Headquarters!”  I made a U-turn on Main Street and after a few strides, I heard a roar, well, some clapping.  The greeting was definitely louder than the eighteen people who were usually hanging around, when I finished previous Birkies.

Cherie Morgan, executive director of the Birkebeiner, greeted me and I was introduced to the Foodloppers.  She gave me the winner’s garland and flowers.  I’m thinking Wide World of Sports and what the winners do; well, they first turn their skis to show the manufacturer of their skis.  I took the microphone and began my winner’s speech, “I would like to first thank my sponsors, the owner of the café by Cable and 63 and the innkeeper of the Hummingbird Bed and Breakfast, Judy Stowe”; someone started to play music and like the Academy Awards I figured my time was up.

See you next year at the Birkie but don’t expect to see me in Wave 1, unless the race is cancelled.

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