Several posts ago, I wrote about training to ski the Kortelopet, a 29 km ski race that takes place alongside the world-class Birkebeiner in Hayward, WI. I’d trained dutifully, regularly skiing both medium-length and longer-length distances to build my endurance. Thus, when race week rolled around I felt ready and totally prepared… right up until I didn’t.
It was late Wednesday evening before the race weekend and I was checking the details of my registration: finding my wave, my wave time, figuring out parking, timing, etc. According to the email, I was scheduled to start in Wave 7 at 10:00 AM. Okie-dokie, I thought, That sounds doable. I continued browsing the site, verifying the relevant details and as I did so, noticed that the Kortelopet ran only four waves, not seven. I returned to the registration email and read: “Birkie 50k Skate.” I felt my stomach drop several floors. What?
Never had I intended on skiing the Birkie and somehow my registration was dead wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I scanned the email, looking for contact information–a phone number, an email–anything that would allow me to connect with someone who could correct the error. I found both and wrote a hasty email and left shaky message that communicated the problem. I looked at my phone; the time read 11:38 PM. Right. Nobody was going to contact me today.
I went to bed, slept fitfully, woke early (and yo, I’m not a morning person), then waited for a reasonable time to make yet another phone call. At 7:45 AM, my phone rang. It was Colleen from the registration office, returning my phone call. I re-explained the situation and she confirmed what I’d feared last night.
“There’s nothing we can do at this point,” she said. I exhaled softly, saying “Okay. Is there anyway I can ski the Korte anyway, even unofficially?” She didn’t say yes, but she didn’t say no either, and then she ended the conversation saying, “You do what you need to do.”
Ah, yes. The non-answer answer.
It was Thursday. The Korte was on Friday, the Birkie on Saturday. I decided to head to over to pick up the registration packet, so if I decided to show up to ski the Korte on Friday at least I’d have a bib, even if it was the wrong one. Bib pick-up required a photo ID and a copy of the registration email. Easy-peasy. But then my stomach dropped again. Last week, I’d left my purse–with all forms of photo ID–at the kiddos’ charter school. Not a big deal under normal circumstances, but the school–located in Hayward–was closed both Thursday and Friday due to the races and I had no way to retrieve my purse until the following Monday. I let out a strangled moan. No, no, no, no!
It was either laugh or cry at this point, and while I didn’t cry, my laughter definitely tended toward the piteous, self-deprecating sort. What would it take to get another ID? Could I get another ID in time? Then I remembered my expired passport. It had my photo and the photo looked like me, though my face was rounder then, and with no fine lines.
With my kids in tow, I made my way to the EXPO, following the people streaming into the building. A man asked to see my registration email and photo ID. I handed him my phone and my expired passport. “This is the first passport I’ve seen” was the comment. I giggled nervously, stupidly. He let me pass and I navigated to the table that held the materials for Wave 7 of the Birkie.
Friday morning came. I’d decided to show up to ski the Korte, determining that the worst thing that could happen would be they wouldn’t let me start the race. In that case, I would ski what I could of the Birkie race and consider it both a win and a reminder to pay better attention to important details.
They let me on the bus to the race’s start. My stomach continued to flip and flop around like a fish out of water. I was on the bus to the start, but would they let me race? Finally, it was time for Wave 4 to enter the starting pen. I slipped off my heavy jacket, and in doing so, revealed my Birkie bib. It was yellow, signifying my wave placement, and with a white middle, signifying the race I was supposed to ski: the Birkie. Most racers were wearing a forest green bib with a mustard yellow middle. Even in the mass of people, I stuck out like a sore thumb… and then I saw another skier wearing a yellow bib with a white middle! Relief flooded me. Maybe other Birkie racers were skiing the Kortelopet!
A minute or so before Wave 4 left the starting pen, a woman in bright orange jersey emblazoned with “Volunteer” approached me, “I need to take your bib, ma’m.” Apologetically, she informed that I could ski the race, though I’d be denied water, food, and support at the aid stations; that, and I wouldn’t receive an official time or be credited with skiing the race. I could live with all of the above.
The gun went off and a surge of skis, poles, and bodies moved towards the start line. I was among them. I was skiing the Kortelopet! The kilometers ticked by quickly and easily. Before I knew it, I was approaching the first aid station. I decided that I’d ask for water but steeled myself for a denial. A grizzled, bundled man wearing insulated bibs called, “Water! Energy! Water! Energy!” I pulled up on my skies. “Water, please.” Without hesitation, he handed me a cup of tepid water.
In life, we prepare for things. We train for things. And often those preparations are important and necessary to success. Sometimes though, things go awry (and maybe we’re to blame and maybe we’re not). All we can do is show up, do what we we’ve resolved to do, and hope that someone hands us a much-needed cup of water along the way.