The Least Favored Soup
They kept coming, wave after wave of people carrying backpacks, looking a bit dazed, numb. They were hungry and they needed food, warm liquid, salt, calories. They had just skied 29K in below freezing temperatures. This was the Kortelopet and Prince Haakon races of the American Birkebeiner. https://www.birkie.com/ski/events/kortelopet/
Our small town hosts this winter event every year in February, unless there is no snow or the temperatures are deadly, rare situations. The number of people in town goes from the usual 2500 to 40,000 for the two days of races. It’s a pretty big deal for people who like snow. It takes nearly the whole town volunteering to pull it off. This is my second year of helping in the food tent, where all the skiers congregate after crossing the finish line.
My brother is one of the race chiefs, heading up the serving of food and all the volunteers who help him. The menu is simple – soup, bread, bananas, cookies and drinks. The challenge is doing it in a tent, set up on a vacant lot where everything you need has to be brought in by someone. All the soup arrives frozen in gallon bags and has to be thawed before being warmed to serving temperature. It takes a crew of several men to keep filling the warming tanks, opening the bags and emptying them into the cooking pots, then transferring the hot soup to the serving tables inside the tent. All this is done outside.
“I ski the Birkie every year just for the chicken soup,” one man tells me. I don’t believe him, but the soup is really good. Volunteers inside the tent ladle it into serving cups as fast as they can for hours. Chicken noodle soup is the favorite but there is a choice. The tomato vegetable soup was my station and it is also a good one, perhaps a bit more nutritious too. However the chick/noodle is favored two to one.
I’m guessing that the pots are filled with about seven or eight gallons of soup at a time. I emptied seven of them – I can’t even imagine how many servings that was. It helped that I was tall. Scooping into the pot is easy when it’s full but as the level goes down, it gets more difficult to reach the bottom, and messy, especially when doing it fast.
It was cold in the tent before we started serving the first finishers. The wind would lift the tarps and blow cups and table coverings off our tables. The ground also is frozen and cold, which is why we stand on rubber mats. After we got really busy I forgot all about my feet feeling like frozen blocks of ice. Watching the people come in, young ones, elder ones, men, women from all over the world, all I could think was “why would they want to be this cold and still call it fun?”
We fed over 3,000 today, and this was the smaller of the races. Tomorrow’s crowd will be twice as many. I hope to be there again, serving up the least favored soup, just sayin’…
Over a week at home since a wonderful trip up north and I still have not had time to write down the memories and reflect on them. It was our Thanksgiving trip and since I think we would all agree that it doesn’t make sense to limit being thankful to one day of the year, I’m thankful again today! Thanks to Florida daughter Julie, who shared the trip with us and to all our hosts and fellow celebrants in Hayward. I love you Mom and Dad, Denny and Mary Pat, Evan, Claire, Scruffy and Socks, Bob and Ozzie, Gary, Jamie, Eduardo, Jonathan and the Madison sisters Michelle, Judith and Susan. It might better be done with pictures so here goes…
And for the second year in a row, the snow fell heavily. We spent time in the woods, skiing, snowshoeing, and driving the unplowed fire lanes in Brother Bob’s four wheel drive truck. You cannot imagine how beautiful it was unless you live in the north and see it for yourself.
The skiing style is cross country, which is not to say that there aren’t hills, you just have no lift to pull you up them. An international ski event, the American Birkebeiner, is held in the Hayward area on this beautiful, well maintained trail – 26 miles through forest and field. We spent some time on a small section of it and warmed up afterward in the shelter, and then, of course, it was time for latte’s and hot chocolate at the Mooselip Cafe. You saw the moose himself in the opening picture.