February Goodness: Volunteering

I can hardly believe February is nearly over! So many good things to report, and many I missed writing about because I was busy living them…

What an amazing event! And I have gotten to volunteer to help with it, in a very small way, for the third consecutive year. The American Birkiebeiner is the largest cross country ski race in North America and the third largest in the world, and it was created by a visionary man who lived right here in Hayward, my home town.

Part of my amazement is the way the race has adapted to pandemic times and become even more available to sports enthusiasts all over the world. The Birkie went virtual. There were still over 8,000 skiers participating this 47th year of the race but half of them were not here in person. Yesterday I got to watch some of them as they passed the Fire Tower Aid Station. Unlike other years, they had to bring their own water containers and food, but we dispensed water and electrolyte drink and watched out for those who might need medical attention.

Our cozy aid station with drink systems in place. Challenge was to keep the hoses from freezing.
Volunteer and Birkie employee, keeping the fire going.

It was a perfect skiing day with temperatures getting into the 30’s and barely any wind. Many skiers remarked about the snow being just right. What they complained about were all the hills. There are few places that have the kind of hilly, glacial terrain found in the 43 K forested trail of the Birkie, so skiers have a challenge to prepare for it. I talked to one man who thought he had prepared but was seriously considering cutting his distance in half after reaching our aid station.

Most skiers would expect to be skiing down hills like this, but not in the Birkie, no, no, no. Every “down” is partnered with an “up”.

What did I and the others on our team do? We set up the aid station with water hoses, touch-less dispensing systems for water and drink, got the fires burning for those needing to warm up (but seriously, there were people with shorts and T-shirts in this race and they still thought they were hot) and served as the cheering audience. No spectators were allowed this year. I mixed up several batches of Noom in the 10 gallon coolers, answered questions (like “how much farther do I have to go?”) and held ski poles while people filled their drink bottles.

It was a great day to be outside. We started at 7:30 am and were done by 2 pm when most of yesterday’s skate skiers had passed our station. As I watched some of the last stragglers wearily climbing Fire Tower Hill, I remembered my Grand Canyon experience, and was glad I was going home in my truck and not skiing another 12 K out in the forest wilderness of north Wisconsin.

These were the elite, early wave skiers. The later ones did not power up this hill with the same energy.

I will probably never ski the whole Birkie Trail – it’s not on my list – but I would like to hike the whole thing. Maybe this summer will be the right time to do it. Tell me if you want to come along. It will be epic, in one way or another, I promise.

February Goodness: Getting Outside!

After over two weeks of -20 degrees F. and even lower!!

Well, you know I live in northwestern Wisconsin where it’s cold and snowy. Many people wonder how we endure this long, frigid and dark season and the answer is, we get used to it. After the first month or so, we can go outside and have fun even when the temp is below zero. Actually, it’s not uncommon to see someone in shorts and flip flops, all it takes is a warm streak of 20 to 30 degrees F. And yes, it’s usually in Walmart that you see these people, but they are not the weirdest ones there by any means.

This is as close to taking a selfie as I can manage while on skis.

We dress for the weather. Today I went out to ski for my exercise. I have nine extra articles of protective clothing and shoes that I wear so it takes me a few minutes to get all geared up. Ski boots for my feet, snow pants and gaiters for my legs, head band for the ears and cap over that for the rest of my head, neck protector that I can pull up if my face gets cold, jacket of course, and gloves or mittens. I am usually sweating under all these layers.

I literally start at my side garage door and ski through the development to get out to the meadow where my paths are. It’s extremely convenient, although I am always hoping no one is watching as I ski past the other condos. There are many trails near by that are groomed regularly with machines and they get a lot of traffic. Those are nice if I have the time to drive but most of the time I stay at home and make my own trails.

Making my trails is something I’ve come to enjoy. There’s a lot of freedom in doing it that way. Skiing is a lot faster than walking in snowshoes and I can go anywhere I want to go. Breaking the trail is slow, but the second time over it’s much faster. I take the widest circle around our property and then do a lot of criss-crossing to add variety. I have no trouble getting in two or three miles that way.

Isn’t this snow so clean and beautiful?!

I’m still in beginner stages and spend a lot of time looking down at my skis to make sure I’m in the track (if there is one). Somehow, it is easier to keep my balance when I’m focusing on the ground in front of me. Unfortunately, that means I sometimes run into low hanging branches that I don’t see until it’s too late. Today I did that again. I felt the branch as it loosened my hat and knocked my glasses crooked and for a few seconds I thought maybe I could correct things and stay upright, but no. My skis were too far ahead of me.

Falling is not the hard part, and doesn’t even feel dangerous. Getting up again is hard. I have learned, the hard way, to take at least one ski off when trying to get up. It still doesn’t look graceful, but it cuts down on the failed attempts.

It is really an un-natural state, this being on skis. It’s like having shoes that are over five feet long, and having arms that reach down to the ground. The “shoes” are so narrow that any tilt to the track, or a sudden sticky patch of snow, creates a challenge to my balance (an alternate way of saying I might fall down…) And the long arms (poles) seem to be life savers during those frequent off balance moments, but not at all helpful in getting up after a fall. They are one more thing that has to be retrieved from the ground after I’m standing again.

The mess under this tree branch tells the story…

One day last week a rather large dog came silently loping out from between two trees. I looked over at it briefly to assess whether it was going to eat me or be friendly, and again got a balance challenge. I think we were both equally alarmed when I landed in the snow with my skis crossed. It took me so long to get up that the dog got bored and wandered back where he came from. He appeared again today and clearly remembered me – probably wanting me to get down on his level again.

Now that I am learning so much (the hard way) about skiing I will probably continue to share these insights until the snow is gone. This week, for the third year in a row, I will be volunteering for the Birkiebeiner Ski Event. I expect that will be an adventure. The Covid Birkie is going to be way different than it has ever been and I will tell all about it in the next post!?

The Least Favored Soup

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.

The International Bridge which all skiers cross to reach the finish. It is erected over the main highway and covered with snow.

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.

The (least favored) vegetable soup

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’…

Catch Up

I put this first just to get your attention.  Read to the end for the story.
I put this first just to get your attention. Read to the end for the story.

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…

 

Before the feast - one of our two tables with Mom's birthday flowers as the centerpiece.
Before the feast – one of our two tables with Mom’s birthday flowers as the centerpiece.

During the feast.  Way too much food, but this is one of the things we remember about Thanksgiving, right?
During the feast. Way too much food, but this is one of the things we remember about Thanksgiving, right?

After the feast.  My Dad doesn't cook.  Thankfully, he does take dish washing and clean up as his main responsibility.  Go Dad!
After the feast. My Dad doesn’t cook. Thankfully, he does take dish washing and clean up as his main responsibility. Go Dad!

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. 

Brother Bob and Jullia and yes the backdrop is REAL and REALLY COLD.
Brother Bob and Jullia and yes the backdrop is REAL and REALLY COLD.

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.

Skis on Julie
Skis on Julie

Snowshoes on Mary Pat
Snowshoes on Mary Pat

Snow on trees
Snow on trees

Happy snow people...
Happy snow people…

Best place to come after skiing!
Best place to come after skiing!