Birkie Fever & English 101
By Justin Easter
1. A portable case for holding arrows.
2. A case full of arrows.
3. A collection or store; arsenal:
Intransitive verb (one that can not be followed directly by a subject)
1. To shake with a slight, rapid, tremulous movement
Once upon a time I used the term quiver in reference to the bag full of skis I carried to races. There were skis for warm snow, warm snow with high moisture content, cold snow, very cold snow, cold wet snow, warmish coldish snow, dry snow, warm dry snow, cold dry snow, snow with bark from birch trees, and snow with leaves from an oak tree, in addition to one trusty pair of race skis. I was spoiled with a quiver of skis.
This year I am using the intransitive verb form of the word when I think of Birkie Fever. I quiver at the thought of Bitch Hill. I've skied a few times this winter. In fact, I can count on two hands the number of times I have put on my skis this year.
The truth is, I had great expectations for my return to the trail between Cable and Hayward. I thought of last winter living in Madison, WI and it seemed as if I would have ample opportunities to train for the Birkie. The snow was deep from December until well past March 1st in 2011. In contrast, this year there has been a perpetual feeling of spring. I'm not the only one suffering - I saw some birds trying to nest the other day. They have more to lose from this deceptive winter. This little side note about the birds doesn't do anything for my concern of the pain I'm preparing to experience on Saturday morning. I can only hope the post-race party hasn't started at the Sawmill when I get around to finishing.
Andy Gerlach asked me to write about the Birkie as a feature for the Pre-Birkie SkiPost. I thought about all the antidotal things that I could write, some of the wisdom I might still have tucked away, or even any words of encouragement I could pass along in an article. The truth is, I don't have any of that for the avid skier these days. I've moved away from skiing in the sense that I don't make my living coaching or racing, although I do volunteer my time as a Technical Delegate for a few races.
I can, however, still share some of my experiences from the American Birkebeiner. The first year I ever raced was the first year I was on the Factory Team , this was 2004. Back then it was the Subaru Factory Team and I was fresh out of college. I had raced several 20km races in college, one 30km race at US Nationals, and one 50km (classic) at a frigid classic marathon a few weeks before the Birkie. I'll never forget the days leading up to the Birkie that first time. Dave Sewart, now the Head Coach at University of Denver, looked at me with a very serious look in his eye and said, "This is the hardest 10km you will ever race, and then you have to survive for another 43km." I think I peed a little in my windbriefs that day. Rather than interpret this as a warning to go out slow, I charged like a Spartan Warrior from the line. By Bitch Hill I was a blubbering mess. Seriously, I was crying. I had peed my pants the day before and I was a grown man crying the next day. I should have hated the Birkie! There was not a person on course who felt more self-pity at that moment in time. I even recall spilling honey on my gloves and pole from a Honey Stinger packet at one of our feed stations, and then licking my pole to get some energy to get up little hills.
The following year was 2005, and I was determined to change strategy. There was no way I was going to win this race, but I figured I might be able to reclaim some of my pride from the year before. I started out more conservitively, took feeds often, and remember looking at the scantly-tracked snow on Bitch Hill. At that point I thought to myself, "Wow, I think I might be having a really great race!" That year I managed to finish 8th overall.
The next year was a reminder of the learning experience I seemed to forget in that first attempt. I made a gun-slinging attempt at the lead pack in 2006 only to be humbled again. The last year was a shortened version of the Birkie in 2007. In that campaign, my last year racing until now, I was in the mix for a long time, but had an unfortunate encounter between another skier's ski and my pole. Not to say I was in the mix to win, but I would have reveled in the chance to try. It's all water under the bridge, because I have the stories to tell.
This year I jumped at the chance to help Andy Gerlach again at the expo. I'll sign autographs, but I doubt anyone would want my signature (unless you're going to steal my credit card and try to buy a round of beers - please don't do that). Instead I'll be helping him at the START Wax tent. It will be fun because I'll have a chance to see some old friends and embrace the energy of Birkie Fever in person once again. We can't all win, and it's often hard to set goals for this event with so many factors at play. We can, however, have great experiences, and come back the next year with a story or two. This is why I love the Birkie.
I wish I could say that I'll see you at Telemark, but I guess the Expo is somewhere in Hayward. I hope I toe a line near Telemark Lodge in future editions of the Birkie, but it seems likely there will be some changes there as well. I hate to think some greedy land owner would charge something akin to three year's salary to cross a section of their land (see article here: http://www.birkie.com/news_article/show/126724), but I guess that's a sign of the times. No matter what happens, I still consider The Birkie one of the greatest races I've ever been to, and I hope you stop by and say hello to Andy and me at the Expo. For a long time we have tried to share stories with you, and bring you information that we hope help you enjoy the sport we love so much. Stop by and share your stories with us. We'll see you at the Sawmill, and if you're lucky I'll buy you a pickled turkey gizzard. Oh, that's another story to share, but only after the kids are in bed.