On Thursday, Feb. 24th and Friday, Feb. 25th, the Hayward (Wisconsin) Middle School had more people in it than the Madison, Wisconsin State House, by far. And all 20,000 of them were in a lot better mood than the Madison crowd. They were there to participate in The American Birkebeiner, the largest cross country skiing event in North America. On Saturday morning, 8500 of them would ignore the -2 degree cold, step into the bindings of their freshly waxed skis, ski to their assigned starting area and wait for the starting gun, the signal to begin an all day celebration of their sport and the heritage of the Birkebeiner, who, 800 years ago, spawned the event with their unselfish acts of heroism. The rest of the 20,000, plus thousands more would congregate at strategic points along the 34 mile course and offer the skiers food, water, gatorade and a cacophony of cheers and cow bells and drums and high school bands. Some would dress in the costume of 13th century Norway and others would dress just for warmth. Whatever their activity, there was no mistaking that it was a party built around an event, some skiing to win, others to be able to say that they finished the Birkie.
The organization and preparation of the American Birkebeiner is unparalleled. For sheer logistics,it's on a par with events like the Boston Marathon or the Head of the Charles Regatta - simply an amazing act of dedication by countless individuals working in harmony for a common goal, another successful Birkie. Thanks, Birkie.
Monday, February 28, 2011
Thursday, February 17, 2011
With the American Birkebeiner only 10 days away, the preparation pace is nearing full throttle. Skiers are tapering their workouts, preparing their skis and psyching up. Vendors are moving merchandise to the expo. Trail groomers and officials are praying that the warm spell passes. A little fresh snow the middle of next week would help. The Birkie is important to Northern Wisconsin and to skiers everywhere and it gets a lot of media attention, especially in Sawyer County. Kathy Hanson, a reporter for the Sawyer County Record wrote this:
Anyone who has skied the American Birkebeiner has a story to tell. Jeff Foltz has skied the Birkie five times, and he has written his story in his new book: “Birkebeiner—A Story of Motherhood and War.”
Foltz’s story is not about himself. It is about a mother’s timeless and primal compulsion to protect her child. It’s a fictional account of an historical event that brings skiers and racers and their attendant fans to Hayward every year to celebrate the largest Nordic ski marathon in North America — the Birkebeiner.
Foltz writes about Inga, the wife of the Birkebeiner leader King Haakon, who realizes that the Crozier army will kill her two-year-old son, Haakon, the young prince who will someday take the throne.
King Haakon asks two armed soldiers to carry his son through the perilous valleys and over the mountains to safety. They must ski to get there. Inga will not allow her son to make the journey without her, so they all ski for eight tortuous days, carrying the prince all the way, to Nidaros.
Foltz said the inspiration to write this story happened the first time he skied the Birkie and saw the portrait — two medieval soldiers on skis carrying a baby — hanging in the coliseum at Telemark Lodge, “I said to myself, ‘These guys are not baby sitters. What’s the story here?’ When I returned from the Birkie, I began to research. One thing led to another and about a year later I went to Norway.”
Foltz, a skilled Nordic skier, skied terrain in Norway that would have been similar to that which the story’s main characters would have experienced.
“By that time I was hooked — inextricably mired in the story,” he said.
He went on to do research with Cornell University’s Nordic History Library, the Oslo National Library and the Holmenkollen Ski Museum in Oslo. Ultimately, his book became his creative thesis at the University of Southern Maine’s nationally ranked Master of Fine Arts, The Stonecoast Creative Writing Program.
Foltz wasn’t always a writer. He said that after college he joined the Sears retail management program, then left to join a financial services business where he spent over two decades, starting out by selling life insurance.
“Life insurance is perhaps the only career where one can experience more rejection than trying to get published,” Foltz said.
Foltz will not ski the Birkie this year, although he does not rule it out in the future.
“What an exciting, unique event — I’d love to do it again one of these days, (but) the book has cut into my training time this winter, and I haven’t spent nearly as much time on my skinny boards as I’d like,” said Foltz.
Of the five Birkie races that Foltz has skied he likes to tell the story of the one he skied “unconscious.”
“I skied in wave 2 and had my sights set on breaking three hours. As I approached 12K, I had begun to catch a few Wave 1 stragglers, so traffic was still tight,” he said.
Foltz said he was skiing well and confident of a downhill turn that was coming up, when the next thing he remembers is a spectator helping him to his knees. His dark glasses were shattered and the trail came in and out of focus.
He said he got up and skied off and didn’t remember another moment until he reached the fire tower at 17K.
He said that his right side of his forehead hurt and he had trouble seeing with his right eye, which had blood and marshmallow puffiness.
“When I crossed the finish line, a couple of volunteers took me to first aid and they patched me up, but there are, forever, 20 minutes missing from my life,” Foltz said. That was still his second fastest Birkie, he said.
Foltz has great memories of all his Birkie races, and of Telemark, where he said he discovered his book, tested his wax and wondered how on earth 8,500 skiers could all be in one event.
Foltz will be at The Rivers Eatery and Redbery Books in Cable on Wednesday, Feb. 23 at 6:30 p.m. where he will do a reading from his book, answer questions and sign books. He will also be signing books at the Birkie Expo, located at the Hayward Middle School, on Thursday and Friday, February 24-25, with a portion of the sales going to the Birkie.
Foltz lives in Camden, Maine with his wife Sue. They have three grown children and seven grandchildren.
For more information about his book visit birkebeinerthenovel.com or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
I've been reading Cross Country Skier Magazine for decades (or at least as long a sit's been around), so I feel honored to have my novel featured in this month's issue. Perhaps I'll run into Ron Bergin at the Birkie and be able to thank him personally. Most XC skiers, I imagine, feel a certain gratitude toward him or the magazine for it's influence on our sport and, perhaps, on your personal efforts in skiing. I'll be at the Birkie Expo on Feb. 24th and 25th and at Redbery Books (Rivers Eatery) on the evening of Feb.23rd, signing copies of Birkebeiner. I'd love to hear your personal anecdotes about Cross Country Skier Magazine. I'll try to compile them in a future blog and pass them on to Ron. See you at the Birkie.