Last weekend, I was christened a Nordic warrior.
I didn’t feel like a Nordic warrior, mind you, although I’d have welcomed a trip to Valhalla to deliver me from the agony and humiliation that I endured in the Glacier Glide cross-country ski race.
Hosted by the Glacier Nordic Club, the race took place on Jan. 7 at the Whitefish Lake Golf Course, as it has since 1983, a 40-year tradition that draws the region’s top skiers. For several weeks leading up to the Glide, an event poster promoting the storied contest begged the question: Are you a Nordic Warrior?
Yes, I am. Thank you for asking.
But I didn’t feel like a Nordic warrior.
So, to prove my mettle as an honorary Northman, I registered for the “Pursuit Viking Challenge,” which involves completing two races in two separate disciplines — the 10K Classic and 10K Skate — and then calculating the overall combined time for the top three winners.
Adding depth to this year’s field was a special incentive: The men’s and women’s winners of the Pursuit Viking Challenge earn free entries into the 2024 American Birkebeiner 50K, the largest cross-country skiing race in North America and the filet of the non-Scandinavian ski-marathon circuit.
Steeped in history, the Birkie runs from Cable, Wisconsin, to Hayward, Wisconsin, and commemorates an important event in the annals of Norway’s infighting during a civil war that spanned much of the 12th and 13th centuries. In 1206, a pair of Birkebeiner party soldiers smuggled the illegitimate son of Norway’s King from Lilehammer to Trondheim, ferrying the nation’s rightful successor to safety on skis.
In the Norwegian Birkie, participants still carry a 7.7-pound pack to symbolize the weight of the young child-prince, and the Birkebeiner soldiers have become a Norwegian symbol of courage, perseverance and character in the face of adversity.
Still, even after answering the challenge and registering on the Friday before the race, and even after spending hours trying to remember the right combination of waxes to execute proper classic technique, I didn’t feel like a Nordic warrior.
I didn’t feel it at the start of the race as I penguin-walked to the back of the field, nor in the middle of the race when the course’s abrasive snow ripped off all my kick wax and I was overcome by the nightmarish sensation of running at full speed while going nowhere, a la Scooby Doo (a wax tech later explained that I should have ironed in a paper-thin layer of purple klister as a base binder). I certainly didn’t feel like a Nordic warrior when a 67-year-old woman named Dusty gracefully double-poled past me, her shock of gray curls emitting a comet tail of vapor, nor when I skied off course through a crowd of spectators clanging cowbells, their eyes widening and their clanging fading out as they realized I was heading straight toward them.
When it came time for the race’s freestyle, or skate, segment, a discipline with which I’m more comfortable racing, my hip flexors were so tight that I was tempted to bid everyone a Norwegian goodbye and slink away.
Instead, I met the challenge and, with the races finally behind me and the chili feed and awards ceremony underway, I began to accept the warm glow of satisfaction that welled up inside me.
So that’s what it feels like to be a Nordic warrior.
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