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Playing Birkie hookey at Tower Ridge Recreation Area

It was supposed to be the week of the cross-country ski marathon. I even had a hashtag. Two countries, two prestigious races in a matter of a week’s time and an epic road trip. The plan was to ski the Gatineau Loppet in Gatineau, Québec on February 14 and then skip on over to the Birkie in Hayward, Wisconsin the following Saturday. In between I visited Montreal.

Gatineau Loppet start

The first wave of the Gatineau Loppet wave one for the fifty-one kilometer classic race

Read about how the road trip was supposed to unfold:

The Marathon road trip

The marathon road trip

The marathon road trip got off to a tired start. I drove all night to Gatineau, which was my first mistake. Then the Gatineau Loppet was extremely cold and with a fresh coat of snow very slow. On top of this, more incompetence on my part. I never got my skis adequately waxed. I put on a few layers of kick wax and hoped it would do the job. It did not.

Gatineau Loppet finish

I finished the Gatineau Loppet although it was a lot tougher than it should have been

Read my first hand account of skiing the Gatineau Loppet — Gatineau Loppet winter frostbite adventure

Failure to get skis waxed

After the Gatineau Loppet, I knew I needed to wax the skis before the Birkie. I was going to do it in Gatineau, but I was busy ice skating and hitting Nordik Spas, so it did not get done there. Then I thought I might do it in Montreal. Then I got busy ice skating, ice fishing, and generally just enjoying the beautiful city. I then had an 18 hour drive to Wisconsin. I figured I could get them waxed in Hayward.

Gatineau Nordik Spa

As you can tell, I was too busy in Gatineau to take care of those skis

The 18 hour drive turned into more like 20 as most of the driving was over single lane roads. I got into Hayward around 5:30 p.m. on Friday night. I picked up my bib and then tried to beg the SWIX people to wax my skis, but they were done taking skis after waxing nearly 600 that day. Then I went to the New Moon Ski and Bike Shop in Hayward hoping they could do a last minute job. Alas, they were pretty much closing down as well.

Road trip

Treacherous road conditions near Munising, Michigan

I toss in the towel

The forecast for the Birkie was more snow, so I knew it was going to be another slow race. I just said the hell with it. I really had no interest in doing another Birkie under such conditions with slow skis. My goal for this year was to break five hours, but I knew that was not going to happen for a multitude of reasons. Due to a lack of snow in the Chicago area, I had not had a chance to ski as much as I wanted to, plus the fresh snow, and lack of a good wax job. Plus, I was freaking exhausted from over 30 plus hours of driving in the past week along with a lot of activity and travel.

American Birkebeiner

No Birkie this year

I drove out of the store intent on going to the middle school to check in for a sleeping assignment, but instead i just kept driving out of town.  Next thing I know I was going south on 53 towards home. I booked a room in Eau Claire. I felt a little bit like a loser for skipping the Birkie and not completely my goal, which even had a hashtag for God’s sake, but looking back on it I have no regrets. Actually, I have many regrets. I should have taken care of the wax problem even before the trip began, but I have no regrets on top of the many I already had.

Cross-country skiing Tower Ridge Recreation Area

The next morning I slept in. When I awoke, thousands of skiers were plodding their way through slow powder while I enjoyed a powdered donut at the hotel continental breakfast. While many Birkie skiers were climbing crazy steep hills, I stepped into the hot tub.

hot tub

The #RTmarathon ended here and at the Tower Ridge Recreation Area

I did eventually get the skis out and hit Tower Ridge Recreation Area. I had a great time skiing almost the whole trail system. I was virtually alone. This can happen when 10,000 Nordic skiers converge on a place to ski a race that you are 100 miles away from.

Tower Ridge Recreation Area

Tower Ridge Recreation Area cross-country skiing

Eau Claire did not get any snow. It was actually a little thin on the snow front, but I did not care. It had enough snow to allow me to power around the Tower Ridge Recreation Area and allow me to forget my incomplete hashtag. I did not keep the time of how fast I skied the trail system. It was pure cross-country skiing for the sake of enjoying the activity. I stopped and took many pictures.

Tower Ridge Recreation Area

Cross country skiing Tower Ridge Recreation Area near Eau Claire, Wisconsin

Tower Ridge Recreation Area

Tower Ridge Recreation Area Scenic View

As the sun set on this Birkie day, instead of partying in Hayward I was watching a sunset in Tower Ridge Recreation Area. I then put my skis away and headed back to my hotel room at Eau Claire. On the way I grabbed some spotted cow and ordered a pizza.  While I was waiting for deliver, I soaked my slightly sore body in the hot tub and thought how miserable I would have felt if I skied six hours as fast as I could. I did miss the tradition and the people at the Birkie, but I was at peace with my choice.

Tower Ridge Recreation Area

Tower Ridge Recreation Area

Tower Ridge Recreation Area

Sunsets on a day that I thought would be my 4th Birkie, but instead is quite different but enjoyable

My goal for next year is to learn the art of waxing skis. Wax on will be my motto next year.

Adventure on!

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8 Responses to Playing Birkie hookey at Tower Ridge Recreation Area

  1. Amanda S March 12, 2015 at 3:43 am #

    I skied both races last year and drove with a detour to the sea caves. It’s tough, and I too was distracted by ice skating in Ottawa.
    I met a 70 year old woman from Norway at my post-race meal after Gatineau who skied both the classic and skate races as well as the Birkie the next week. I hope I can be that awesome when I’m that age.
    Unfortunately my attempt at three Worldloppet stamps was thwarted last year due to the cancelation of the Norwegian race 🙁
    (I found your blog from the Gatineau Loppet’s Facebook page and enjoy your stories!)

    • Traveling Ted March 12, 2015 at 12:32 pm #

      Thanks Amanda,

      I just wish this story had a more adventurous ending, but you live and learn. I will be back next year and perhaps I will add Norway to my list.

      Congrats on doing both last year. That is awesome. Amazing that a 70 year old can do three Worldloppet races in one week. I hope I can still do that at 50.

      That sucks that your race last year was canceled. Were you able to cancel your whole Norway trip or did you go all the way out there and then have it canceled?

      • Amanda S March 12, 2015 at 3:17 pm #

        The Norwegian race was canceled the morning of the race (wah waaaaaaah), but I had two weeks of skiing and touring Norway.
        However, skiing in Norway is amazing!!! Ski from town to town on groomed ski trails (pretty sure there are more groomed trails than roads), stopping at cafés along the trail for coffee and waffles. You can even take the subway to Holmenkol in Oslo for skiing in the city! I’ll be back to try again sometime.
        Give me a shout if you ski the Birkie next year. Next year will be number 10 for me!

        • Traveling Ted March 13, 2015 at 10:17 am #

          I have heard about skiing in Norway. Sounds incredible. I should be back at the Birkie next year. I don’t plan on being lame anymore 🙂 That is awesome you will be going for number 10. I will definitely reach out.

  2. Walter Rhein March 12, 2015 at 9:34 pm #

    Great article! I ski at Tower Ridge all the time. It’s a bit on the flat side, but a great trail system nonetheless. Let me know if you want a review copy of my novel “Beyond Birkie Fever.” I think you’ll enjoy it. If you do, just send me an email and I’ll get you one. Read more about it here: http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Birkie-Fever-Walter-Rhein/dp/1492879347/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1314120830

    • Traveling Ted March 15, 2015 at 9:32 pm #

      Hi Walter,

      I would love to read it. I will send you an email. Thank you!

  3. Ray January 11, 2016 at 2:11 am #

    As long as you enjoyed your time cross-country skiing the trail, then that is all that matters! Hope you get a second chance to ski in this race again!

    • Traveling Ted January 12, 2016 at 4:17 am #

      I have completed the race three times, and this year will be my fourth. I will not be skipping it this year.

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