A Very Long, Very Hard Day -- Jim's Birkie Report
We don't always (ever?) fly to the finish line with a fist pump and a glowing smile of triumph. Sometimes a race is just a very long, very hard day, and all we can do is try to muster up every single ounce of mental toughness and fortitude we can find. That's what happened to Jim Felty at this year's American Birkie; after a skater crashed into him in his last Birkie, injuring him and knocking him out of the race, it was important to him to finish this year, and by golly, he did. His experience is inspiring to all of us who struggle -- thank you for letting me share your story, Jim!
Well, that was awful, ugly, tough, challenging, over-whelming and very disappointing. Yesterday was my 9th American Birkie (18th overall) and I set a new personal worst. In fact, had Jeremy [his son] not been along for this trip, I would have called it a day at the first aid station...it was just one of those days. So here is my sort of recap.
It was freaking cold at 2 degrees at the start but honestly did not feel all that bad due to adrenaline and protection from the wind. I didn't really sleep well the previous two nights for some odd reason; perhaps it was just stress from wanting to "slay the dragon" and memory of my injuries from my last time here in 2019. Not an excuse, just a thing.
I had skied the Korte open track 30K [three days before] with Jeremy on my Atomic skin skis and they were amazing...so when push came to shove and all the new snow followed with even more fresh snow just prior to the gun, I went with my Madshus skins, and with the fresh snow and cold temps, I had crap glide and essentially no grip...this was a shock, as my skis were prepared and so was I.
I started in the back of wave 3 so as to not go out hard and on the very first gradual hill out of the starting area, I had nothing to kick...I was hoping things would improve as the day heated up...#NOPE. The climbs up to Bodeker Hill (high point) were no joke and I think I spent the vast majority of my grind doing the herring bone...and not at all in a good way. Once there, Jeremy met me with a fresh set of clothing for my torso...which was amazing because I was frozen to the bone. I felt so much better putting on the fresh base layers. By now, I realized that finishing was going to be a challenge. I told Jeremy to meet me at Double OO and I would then decide to press on or go home. Meeting him at Double OO was nice and I took a solid break and decided, screw it; the hardest part is behind me, let's just eat this elephant one bite at a time and get over B hill and press on towards the lake.
At Gravel Pit, it was almost exactly the same as during the collision, skaters blasting through and classic crowded up trying to get nourishment. I stayed way left to avoid any issues, stopped and spoke with the doctor and thanked them for helping me out in the past. From here on it was really a grind...the lake was absolutely awful, with a head wind, super slow tracks and freaking cold temps again, this time caused by the head winds...
Finally up and over the international bridge and down to the finish line where a medical worker helped me with my skis and asked me if I was all right...best quote of the year: "You all right?" "Yeah, I'm fine, just exhausted." "Well, nothing personal, but you look like shit; can I get you something to drink?" For the record, that was the best chocolate milk I've ever had.
So another one is in the books. I had expected to go well under 5 hours and instead went well over 6...get eXCited, more time on skis for the money. I think in the future, I will do it the other way around and do the Birkie on open track Wednesday and the Korte on Friday.
I blew it on the wax, but got it right finishing the Korte with Jeremy in his first trip to the Northwoods...and he loved it...so, I guess I'll keep going back and suffer a little more each time.
PS. This race meant a ton to me and I needed to finish for my mental health. I also needed to continue to impress on our children that sometimes you just have to stick with it no matter how the cards are dealt. Jeremy was critical to my finish...he kept popping up all over the course and was supremely supportive. I guess the good news on this is, I won't be closing the gap on Rune anytime soon.