Not Just Another Birkie

by Phil Dunn

After 30 other full length Birkebeiners, I thought there would be
nothing new.
Think again, Phil.
In late October, after steadily declining in strength and
endurance, I was diagnosed with Leukemia. All I could do was sleep.
On chemotherapy right away, I asked my hematologist if I could ski
the Birkie. She told me she would do what she could.
After six weeks or so, I noticed some small improvements but
there was no snow until mid January and then it was cold. To say the
least, it made for very little and poor training but Birkebeiner skiers
don’t give up easily and I aspire to be one of them.
With my confidence running very low, I prepared a letter, which
I gave to Nicole to be read at the Viking feast, if I didn’t manage to
finish. It explained my condition, congratulated my Red Bid Friends –
“Long may you ski!,” and to the Birkebeiner Society, and all the
friends I have made through it, – Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!
Birkie morning, I was up before 6 a.m. and hadn’t had a nap in
four days, which doubled the number since diagnosis. Cathy was
very anxious and not hiding it well at all.
Brian Lucas greeted me warmly and asked how I was. When I
told him, he quickly instructed me to let the aid stations know how I
was and that he would tell the sweep to keep a special watch for me.
Oh Great! Now the sweep is after me and I haven’t even
Only a few kilometres into the 55K, a lady looked over at me
and exclaimed, “Phil!” It was Karen Vandermeer. She knew my health
situation and seemed pleased to see me. After a few kilometres of
skiing and chatting, I told her that I didn’t want to spoil her ski day.
She kindly replied she would ski along with me to set a pace, distract
me from my condition and keep an eye on me until I needed to drop
out or finished.
I was honoured.
When people asked me how I was, I just smiled and replied,

“I’m Happy!” which was true, even if it wasn’t the complete story.
A chuckle was earned as I came up to a bunch of volunteers
grumbling, “I want to talk to that doctor who didn’t say ‘No!’ to this,”
followed by a cheerful “… and thank her of course.”
In the end, Karen and I crossed the finish line at 7:54:05. I was
spent! Both my Cathy and Bill Vandermeer were standing at the finish
line to welcome and congratulate us.
It was awesome!
Then it was time for my Birkebeiner finish area tradition. I
turned to Cathy and, for the 31st time, stated, “I may never do
another one, but I am glad that I did this one.”
This time, however, I choked and almost cried. After many
years of racing as hard as I could go, it was a celebration just to
finish. It wasn’t so much a celebration of just another Birkie as it was
a celebration of life itself, – as if there is a difference?
I texted Nicole with instructions to shred the letter.

Letter to Joe

by Phil Dunn


July 13, 2015

(Nephew) Joe Milne
Fellow Haakon Haakonson Recipient
#1 Frozen Land, Canada

Dear Joe,

I’ve seen many, many doctors this year, some of them very specialized, and they all agree that I am going to die. Well, more on that later.

With this in mind, I want to tell you how much I have enjoyed X-C skiing with you and I want you to know that I really appreciate it.  We have skied a lot of Birkebeiners in common.  As you can imagine, I will always want to do “one more” Birkebeiner.  This is where I have a favour to ask of you. If I have gone on to better ski trails in the sky, and am unable to make it to the next Birkie start line on my own (or some other Birke in the future), I want you to put my ashes in your pack and take me along.  You remember the Pack part of the Birkebeiner don’t you? That’s the part that makes it a full Birkebeiner.  Anyway, I think we could make history together and have a Win – Win situation for the two of us. On the selfish side of things, I get one more Birkebeiner and in all likelihood, go down in history, with another first in Birkieland, you too for that matter.  After all, we all know that babies have been carried in the Birkie but no adults to the best of my knowledge.  We could be the first. Furthermore, on my giving side, I only want to ride along in the Backpack. This way you can officially cross the finish line ahead of me and claim once-and-for-all that you have beaten your aged, old uncle.

By the way, none of this “Fair Weather Crap!” If the Birkie goes – We Go!

You know that I would do the same for you if the situation were reversed.

Knowing that Milne is of Scottish, not Norwegian origin, I recognize that any registration costs could be an issue. Don’t worry I have checked with your aunt and she assures me that the registration fee could be covered by my estate. Maybe even yours, but that you will have to negotiate with your aunt, whom as far as I know, has no Scottish heritage so your chances seem pretty good.

Being charitable, I have decided to let you decide if I need to be carried over the Norwegian and American Birkies or not.

Oh yah, I started with the fact that all my doctors agree that I am going to die.  Well, that’s true but none of them, so far, are saying when, or even of what.

I hope you have a Great Birkebeiner! See you there.

Sincerely yours,

Old Uncle Phil

Fast Trax saves the day

by Brad Hardstaff

During the 2010 Birkie, a few cm of early morning snow made for a last-minute waxing nightmare. To make things even more challenging, I was among the first 200 or so skiers forced to scramble over the Elk Island fence before the massive gate was unlocked. One of my skis was damaged in the ensuing mayhem. At the first rest station, a kind volunteer wielding a screwdriver tried to tighten the binding, which was rapidly coming loose. But alas, just a few km later, the screws gave way and the binding almost lifted right off the ski. I glided to a stop on my remaining good ski and stepped off the track, thinking I was done for the day.

Suddenly, a total stranger magically appeared from the edge of the forest, shouting something like, “Here! Take my skis! I’ve thrown my back out and I can’t finish! Give me your skis and keep going!”

Flabbergasted, I said “But… who are you? And how will I find you?” He said something like, “Name’s Jack. Get to the finish line and look for someone in a Fast Trax outfit. Good luck!” Further resistance seemed futile, so I thanked him profusely, handed over my skis, stepped into his and double-polled back into the race.

I immediately discovered that the stranger’s high-end skis were extremely well-waxed and very fast, with way less kick grip than I was used to. So despite adding more grip wax at the next couple of stops, I ended up mostly trying to double-poll the rest of the 55 km course. Eventually I reached the finish line and sure enough, spotted an attractive woman in a spandex Fast Trax suit. Greeting her, I asked “Do you know a guy named Jack?”  “Yes”, she replied with a smile. “He’s my husband!” I thanked her and handed over Jack’s skis. She said to come by Fast Trax in a few days to pick up my skis.

A week or so later, I rolled into Fast Trax and for the first time, was properly introduced to Jack Cook, the owner. We spent an enjoyable few minutes reminiscing about the race, which was by then affectionately known as “Waxageddon.” When Jack eventually gave back my skis, I immediately noticed they were like new. The binding was remounted and both skis were cleaned and re-waxed. Despite my objections, Jack very kindly refused to let me pay any money whatsoever for the excellent work.

Needless to say, I have been sending everyone I know to Fast Trax ever since!