by Kerem Hanci – Since moving to Los Angeles in 1995, I usually enjoy the view of snow from my chair next to the fireplace. I like to watch winter sports, but I can’t say I’m a participant. So when an opportunity came to visit Cable-Hayward, Wisconsin in the middle of winter,
I was eager to go, as I knew it would be a different kind of trip where I could truly enjoy the cold and the snow. Little did I know, this was going to be a record-setting cold, prompting Wisconsin Governor to declare a state of emergency due to low windchill temperatures.
The severe cold did not stop life in these little towns. Being foreign to this kind of weather, which I would easily cite as an excuse not to go to work or school or both in Los Angeles, it was fascinating to see how everyone was driving on ice as if it were a dry, warm spring day, how most businesses were open, and how the town continued to gear up for their yearly big event, The American Birkebeiner.
The American Birkebeiner, also known as The Birkie, was found by the late Tony Wise in 1973, and he patterned the ski marathon after the Norwegian Birkebeiner Rennet, which has been held since 1932. Mr. Wise’s Norwegian heritage was the main reason for him to look into staring Wisconsin’s version of a race that honors and re-creates a historic event of 1206, when two warrior soldiers, so called “Birkebeiners” because of the birch-bark leggings they wore, skied infant Prince Haakon to safety during the Norwegian civil war.
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The American Birkebeiner attracts tens of thousands of people each year. Participants are capped at 10,000, with over 20,000 spectators and supporters lining up to watch the 50K (31 miles) event for skaters and 55K (34 miles) event for skiers. The day before the Birkie, there is also the Kortelopet Classic and Skate 29K (18 miles). 3,000 individuals compete at this shorter race.
You may wonder how on earth thousands of people race at once. Well, they don’t. The Birkie race releases the competitors in waves where the more experienced and faster athletes, start at the first wave. If you are new at Birkie and you do not have any other competition time in your records, you would start with the last wave.
When the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation’s Director of Marketing and Communications Nancy Knutson gave us a passionate presentation of the history of the race, I was impressed by the spectacular scope of the work and planning the towns of Hayward and Cable are putting towards it each year. Not only do the entire region’s residents participate in one shape or form to the organization, the Birkie also attracts thousands of volunteers.
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The Birkie ends in the snow covered Main Street, Hayward and in order to ensure the safety of the skiers without cutting off the traffic on US Highway 63, the organization assembles the American Birkebeiner International Bridge each year.
Although skiing is a big part of the Birkie weekend, you don’t have to be a skier to have fun with the family. You can join the thousands of spectators and enjoy the snow with the family from the side of the trail watching the athletes or you can opt to experience all that Hayward-Cable has to offer at any given time during the winter months.
The well groomed trails offer fat-tire biking, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing. Ice-fishing and snow-shoeing are also great fun outdoor activities you can enjoy with the family. And, I should say, as a “summer child”, I was utterly excited and impressed when I snow-shoed on frozen Lake Owen.
If you are not into snow at all, check out the Birkie Trail Run in the beginning of Autumn. All the winter trails are also open during the rest of the year for great hiking and biking opportunities.
You can also enjoy fishing , boating, and swimming on the lakes in the warmer months. Over all, Hayward-Cable area offers a vast array of activities for all outdoor families!
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Kerem Hanci is an avid traveler and a professional photographer. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, his daughter, and his two cats.