Time sure does fly when you’re having fun! After a bunch of travel the past couple days, some holiday preparations and family arrivals, Wednesday really snuck up on me. As I was going to bed last night I remembered that yesterday was, in fact, Wednesday, and I had missed my weekly Wednesday Birkie countdown! My deepest apologies, but here is week O, one day late!
Many people refer to OO as simply the half way point in the Birkie race- yet in reality it is simultaneously so much more, and also less, than that. OO actually sits at 22.5K for the skate race (under half way), and at 26.2K (still not half way in the 54K classic Birkie). But even Wikipedia has dubbed OO the “unofficial half way point,” so it’s not your fault if you assumed OO fell exactly at 25K.
In the larger sense, throughout my years spent at our cabin in Cable, I’ve discovered that OO also isn’t just a close-to-halfway-point on the Birkie trail. It is a hub of activity, with amazing single track for running and mountain biking, its own very fun set of ski trails host to all kinds and abilities (and some wild high school racing!), and an excellent meeting spot (thanks to the wonderful cabin and warming area) for activities of all kind. To demonstrate OO’s significance to me, I’ve rummaged through my memory and selected three instances where OO became more than just a point on the map.
In the summer I often would come home from college (and this year from training in Vermont) for a week in the summer to de-load and de-stress. Every time my mom and I would block off a morning so we could do our favorite workout starting at OO. My mom would drop me off at the OO trailhead, and I would begin a winding 13 mile single track run up and down and through the Birkie trail, ending my workout at Mosquito Brook. After dropping me off at OO, my mom would drive to Mosquito Brook, ditch the car, and take to her mountain bike and ride the trails there. While the workout was simple, it always forced me to be very attentive to the “now,” focusing on each step so as not to fall. I have travelled many wonderful places for training and racing, but the single track run from OO to Mosquito Brook is far and away my favorite summer training.
I learned how to mountain bike at the OO trailhead. After a lot of hesitation and trepidation (I had never considered myself a biker), I gave into the hype and hopped on a mountain bike. I was initially terrified. I refused to clip in both feet, and spent the first half hour on the verge of frustrated tears. I kept running into trees, getting stuck on uphills, and absolutely panicking anytime a slight decline loomed. My mom was dropping me, telling me to just relax and go with the flow. After one particularly harsh topple sideways, I was ready to quit when my mom asked me what I had to lose at this point. Bloodied and bruised with hot tears in my eyes, I realized at this point I didn’t really have anything to lose. So I hopped back on my bike one more time, and just sent it. I felt like I was flying. With mountain biking, as with many things in life, less truly is more. I turned my bike with a newfound lightness and utilized some feather touch braking, letting the OO single track guide me around. I came flying down the final decline into the OO trailhead with a massive smile on my muddy face, and am now an addict to the mountain bike sensation (if you’ve ever mountain biked, you know what I’m talking about). While I’m not very good, I still put myself on a bike in search of that floating sensation. And that first day on OO still remains one of my prouder athletic accomplishments, even though it has nothing to do with medals.
For me, OO has always been a favorite ski stop due to the sheer number of people you know and meet on the varied and vast trail system. Further, OO has always been a source of inspiration for my training. I remember distinctly one occasion on which I was doing some pre-Christmas intervals around one of the smaller loops at OO. I was skiing around threshold pace when I sensed someone had hopped in right behind me. While trying to maintain my speed, I tried to slyly sneak a peak behind me. It turns out I not only had to look behind, but also down. There was a small boy-my best guess is 10 years old-who had decided to follow me step for step up, down, and around the course. He had his head down and was hammering, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever been more inspired during intervals. We finished the rest of the loop together, and I turned around to say hello. He looked up at me, breathing hard, said “Thanks!,” and then skied off. And I think moments like that are what make the Birkie trails, and more specifically OO, so special. It’s a place where all ages and abilities intersect working towards the same goals. I’d like to think I helped that little boy just as much as he helped me. OO isn’t just a marker on the map, but really a magnification of what the Birkie is and stands for.
And with that, I’m actually headed to OO today! My sister is racing in the Houghton races this weekend, and we are making a pit stop at our cabin on the way. Thanks for checking in, and next week there will be a double P post- An interview with executive director Ben Popp and some more insight on the permanent start!