The Birkebeiner is the largest cross country ski race in the U.S., and one of the largest races in the world. Over 7,000 skiers from all over the world converge in northwest Wisconsin for a 50 kilometer race (Actually there are several races going on at the same time: the 50 km skating style race, the 54km classic style race, and the 23km kortelopet—in both styles). Why so long? What’s it about? Some history may help here.
Håkon Håkonssøn’s Saga:
The Birkebeiner race gets its name from the Birkebeiners, a group of legendary Norwegian warriors and peasants. The Birkebeiners went into battle with birch bark wrapped around their shins instead of armor, so they were called “Birchleggers,” or Birkebeiners. About 800 years ago, in 1206, the Baglers (rich aristocrats and false bishops) wanted to seize power by killing the very young Prince Håkon. The Birkebeiners decided to move Prince Håkon, and his mother, Inga of Varteig, to the north, to Nidaros—their stronghold, where they could better protect him. They made this long journey over the mountains on skis. For this epic journey, the small band of Birkebeiners recruited two skiing aces to help them with the journey: Torstein Skevla (TOR-stine SHEV-la) and Skervald Skrukka (SHER-vol SKRU-ka). Torstein was like a full-back, large and powerful, with a serious red beard. Skervald was blond and lithe, sinewy and clean-shaven. Aside: the astute reader may correctly infer that I resemble Skervald. These two were the best skiers in Norway, and with their help, they guided the small band of Birkebeiners to Nidaros. In time, Prince Håkon grew to become one of the most powerful kings in Norway’s history, bringing peace, unity, and prosperity to his country. The Birkebeiner race is a modern-day commemoration of the difficult journey to save the young prince. One Birkebeiner race is held in Norway and the other in Wisconsin. I’ve heard that some skiers carry an 8 lb. pack to replicate the weight of Prince Håkon. But seriously, I think that an 18 month old baby would weigh more than that. Anyway, I want to give a shout-out to my source for this information and for the wonderful pic that begins this part of my story. I’ve summarized Lise Lunge-Larsen’s The Race of the Birkebeiners, with illustrations by Mary Azarian. I heartily recommend this book to those who are within the age range of 4-8. Actually, I recommend it to people outside of that range too.
Back inside my head as I race toward the halfway point:
These historical/mythological bits of information are swimming in my head as I struggle to the midway point. As ghosts of Torstein and Skervald keep clouding my vision, I fight the hills and plunge down the steep hills as if the Baglers are about to attack my shins. What hurts the most? My back. Since I have not worked on the technique of getting up this particular type of hill (too frequent, too steep), I make it up as I go along. Inefficient, wallowing, crazed, barking, slobbering. My legs hurt too, but not like my lower back: it’s like someone has replaced my back muscles with sand and chicken wire.
………… Do you like what you are reading? Want more? Well, read on.
SORRY READERS! I have taken down the rest of this entry because I am expanding the Birkie story and sending it out to small presses for publication. Let me know if you are interesting in a copy of such a book: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sean – thank you for Part II, we’re (me mostly) sitting here absolutely looking forward to 2010 Birkie, and how you’ll feel so much better about it in a years time. Or so I hope, else my sides won’t be able to contain themselves. Thank you again, can’t wait for Part III. Smiling ear to ear…Jeff.