American Birkebeiner

Perks of traveling alone to Birkieland

by Epp Paal, Worldloppet CEO

-Traveling to a Worldloppet race is for many skiers more difficult than skiing the race itself. It means that good planning is important, but sometimes you just do not have time for it, or you rely too much on your travel mates. If possible, I prefer to travel in a small company as it is a good way to get closer with your friends. But being alone has also its values, then you discover a lot about yourself. To my first American Birkie in 2012, I went alone.

The first challenge appeared already after renting a car. The GPS a friend lent me did not have the US map installed. Ok, let’s drive to the first gas station and buy a map. (I still have that map and it has been traveling with me to all the Birkies I visited afterwards). It was late afternoon and dark outside, so reading map and road signs in Minneapolis took me to several detours.

Lesson two: make sure to learn at the car rental how to switch the radio on, or better, have a friend in the car who can sing! I was jetlagged and needed some entertainment to keep my eyes open but the radio refused to cooperate. So, I started singing by myself. Finally, all songs sounded the same and I had to make stops and run around the car to stay awake.

Third obstacle was my European phone which refused to call in the US. As my host Ned lived in a deep forest in Cable, the map I bought was not helpful. Solution: find a local bar and ask for help. Ned, not a regular of this establishment, was not surprized „Welcome to the US, I was waiting to get your call from the bar“.

The forth surprize was waiting on my way back to the airport at 5 am at Cable petrol station. The tank was empty, and I was in a hurry but the card reader asked for a postal code to proceed with payment. No zip code – no gas. I tried with all the cards I had but nothing worked. In this moment, you need a friend to jell together against all the stupid automatic vendors of the World. Unexpectedly, another car showed up at this early hour and I proposed a deal: cash in exchange for a card payment. The local guy filled up my car and said „ I will not take your money. You are a guest in my country and you needed help. Have a safe trip back home!“

I was speechless of his kindness that morning. After several visits to Birkie I am not surprized anymore, this is the way they are – simple and kind. Birkie itself was of course a blast, which is the reason I have been there for many times now. The pure ski nation is living in these Northwoods. And my host – the Zuelsdorff family is quite representative of this spirit.

If you are a master getting into trouble, you also have to be a master getting out of trouble. Keep you antennas up and good people will come your way 🙂

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