“Good call,” was the common response from our fellow skiers upon learning of our decision to switch from the full 51K Noquemanon Ski Marathon to the 25K Half Noque, both of which were held last Saturday, January 24. The truth is my brother-in-law, Adam, and I altered our registration nearly two weeks earlier, well before seeing the scary weather forecast for race day. We simply hadn’t been skiing enough to tackle the long course, never mind the conditions.
Still, we felt smarter than fit the day before we left central Wisconsin for the event in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Checking www.weather.com, we could see wind chills of minus 17 degrees predicted for Marquette about the time our race was set to start. I wondered aloud how cold it would have to get before a Nordic ski race in the U.P. would be cancelled. The consensus: much colder than minus 17.
Adam and I and our spouses, but sans our three kids, made our way north without incident. At the Superior Dome in Marquette we picked up a waxing recommendations cheat sheet. Granted, classic skis are easier to wax for cold weather. So from our cobbled together kits we confidently picked Swix green and Toko mint for grip and Fast Wax blue and teal for glide. In the end, the two hours we spent ironing in, scraping and brushing a couple layers of each wax would be slightly more time than we would spend racing. We occupied the hotel wax room until 11:30 p.m. knowing our race didn’t start until 11:45 a.m. the next day.
Because Adam and I had skied the full and half Noques in years past, we knew the advantages and disadvantages of each. While the first half of the full marathon is packed with hills that rival those on the Birkie Trail, at least the Birchview School in Ishpeming offers warm shelter until the gun goes off. In contrast, we knew that the halfway point on the Noquemanon Trail, where we’d be starting, was a township road accessible only by bus from the Dome.
(Back at the hotel well after the race, we met a couple skiers who had reported to the start of the full marathon before the sun came up. Spooked by how cold it was, they made their way to the start of the half Noque. While they said they felt guilty and wimpy for doing so, they looked relieved.)
The drivers of three of the school buses parked at the 25K start and kept the engines running so we skiers, packed in like sardines (if each sardine came with a pair of skis and poles), could stay warm before our waves were called. Adam and I timed it right. We left ourselves just enough time to hit the port-a-potties, rid ourselves of extra layers and apply petroleum jelly to our exposed faces to ward off wind burn.
The short course was a dream. Did I mention it snowed about six inches the day before? You never would have known it. The trail was packed and tracks set perfectly. And in the “heat” of the day, we warmed up quickly and stayed warm all the way to the finish. How cold did it get? We’re still not sure, but assume it was in the high single digits above zero by the end.
Along the way we caught glimpses of open water far out on Lake Superior under a cloudless blue sky. What little wind we were exposed to shook the snow from bare branches and only added to the picturesque day in the Northwoods.
Best of all was what greeted us at the dome: hot soup, hot showers, masseuses, family and friends. All surrounded by a small city that embraces this event every year. We ate great food and drank good beer (blessed be The Vierling) and caught a show (the Oscar-worthy Slumdog Millionaire).
Amidst the hundreds of good people who put on the Noquemanon, we had another great weekend.