Birkie Saturday awaits
‘Weather’ it’s an obsession is hard to know
BY MITCH MODE
Special to the Star Journal
I pay attention to the weather forecast. Year round, I check it. I need to know what I’ll be dealing with on a canoe trip in the spring or a bike ride in the summer; need to know if it’ll be raining or not on a day off in the fall (rainy day; go duck hunting. Nice day; take the dogs out for grouse). I need to know if the time on the deer stand will be in bitter cold or a too-warm November thaw. I need all that information, need it every week of the year.
I really need it come winter. I watch for snow; good snow means good skiing. I need to see what the temperature will be on my days off when the ski trails beckon, laid out like a silk ribbon to kick and glide. I need to know if I’ll be skiing at zero degrees or 20 or 30 degrees. I need that information.
But at no time do I pay attention to the weather as much as the next 10 days, the days that lead up to the last Saturday in February which in most folks’ world is known as the 24th, but in my world is the day of the American Birkebeiner. The race is never easy; distance and the hills make that a certainty. But weather – weather alone can be the wild card that can make it or break it. Bad weather can tip the scales and send a difficult race spiraling down into unbearable.
Skiing is made or broken by the weather. Period.
I’m checking the weather morning, noon and night. Checking it in between as well. Looking at the forecasts, not just one or two but as many as I can bring up. Sally calls it obsessive. I think that’s harsh. I have a high level of interest, I will give it that. When does one cross the line: High interest versus obsession?
“That’s how I am with the weather before the Birkie: Like a dog with a toy that it will not put down until it no longer matters.”
I know, as certainly as I write this, that it doesn’t make a bit of difference, looking at the forecast. It’ll be what it will be. I’ve done a lot of Birkies. I’ve started at 15 below zero; I’ve started in thawing temps over 30 degrees. I’ve skied in falling snow, skied under crystal clear skies, skied in drizzle, skied in bitter cold and wind. I’ve skied it and I’ll ski it as long as I can and I know, know with certainty that the forecast this week will be tossed to the winds of February by next Friday.
I pay attention anyway. Interest? Obsession? Who am I to say?
Last year was like watching a train wreck unfold in slow motion. Temperatures rose into the thirties, rose like a specter in the February sky, like a dark cloud, like despair and hopelessness of the dark times of human condition. The thaw battled the freeze as if forces of tyranny were battling the rebel forces. Oh, wait, maybe that was that Jedi movie. I watched it all on weather pages.
We drove up on Thursday and the ground sported scabrous patches of dirt and precious little snow. Watching the forecasts did not change things. In the end, the snow went away and they canceled the race.
Couple years ago I watched a smudge of multi-hued colors come from the west in the weather maps. You need snow cover, that goes without saying, but you don’t want new snow too close to race day; it slows the tracks a lot and every skier works extra hard.
We watched in fascination at the late week weather forecasts and the huge storm rolled it. A blizzard whopped the area and 18 inches of snow fell through Friday. We looked at the forecast for signs of hope. There were no signs of hope that week. The heavy snow was followed by bitter cold and wind and that race was a matter of hanging on for dear life. The weather reports told all
So, I watch the weather now, watch it intently and, okay, maybe, obsessively. I skied distance on Sunday with the temperature in the teens and made mental notes on how the skis worked. I checked the weather Monday morning; warming this week and I’ve got the day off on Wednesday and I’ll ski then and see how the skis work in the thaw. I’ll file that information away. Then I’ll check the weather because by then the early forecast for Birkie Saturday should show up and even though it’s ten days out and not very reliable I’ll watch it like a hawk.
I should know better. I should be more realistic. The weather that counts will come next Wednesday, a few days before the race. That weather will determine what we’ll have on Saturday. There is really no reason to watch the long term forecasts.
I’ll do it anyway. I’ll do it morning, noon and night, first thing when I get up, last thing at night. I’ll fret about it, worry it like my dogs worry their stuffed toy; gnawing at it, going at it every which way, never putting it down until the stuffing comes out. That’s how I am with the weather before the Birkie: Like a dog with a toy that it will not put down until it no longer matters. I’m like that dog, worrying, fretting.
I’ll plan what wax I’ll use for each range of temperature. I’ll prep skis at home, waxing them tenderly with care, working out scenarios based of that days forecast. I’ll put out of my mind the fact I did not do enough work to ski it fast and that it’ll be an effort to finish.
I’ll pack the gear, check the list I’ve built over the years. I’ll be as ready as I can. At a certain point, that’s all one can do.
And I’ll check the weather forecast, morning, noon and night. Obsessively. Until I wake on that morning and walk to the start.
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