Every year some 40 000 cross country skiers in Sweden, USA and Japan commemorate the marathon of one Swedish king-to-be. The majority take part in Sweden's Vasaloppet, which is the world's best-known ski race.
The trail is studded with blueberry soup [which was actually quite good - warm and very invigorating] and drink stands and all participants are invited to a hearty dinner after they have reached the goal line and collected their coveted Vasaloppet pins.
The historic background
The very first "Vasalopp" that took place in January 1521. At this time Sweden was occupied by the Danes and the young nobleman Gustav Eriksson Vasa had spoken at the Mora church in an attempt to rally his compatriots to take up arms against Kristian "the Tyrant". He was however not successful and decided to flee on skis to, Norway. The Dalecarlians subsequently had a change of heart and sent two of their fastest skiers, Lars and Engelbrekt, after him.
Eventually Gustav Vasa was able to liberate the country from the Danes with the help of a Dala peasant army and the "nation builder" went on to become King of Sweden 1523-1560. Historians are still unsure whether Gustav Vasa actually fled from Mora to Sälen, because the only source of information, is a propaganda chronicle that glorifies the great liberator's life.
In 1521 it took Lars and Engelbrekt one and a half day to catch up with Gustav Vasa in Sälen close to the Norwegian border.
The Minnesota Vasalopp
"There is a fine small city in Sweden," ventured Israel Israelson from Dalecarlia when a new Minnesota settlement needed a name. The suggestion was taken up and Mora, Sweden got a sister city and namesake in the USA. When the Minnesota residents wanted to strengthen the ties between the two cities, they decided to adopt the Swedish cross country ski race. Just like at the Swedish counterpart, the trails are studded with blueberry soup and drink stands. The home-stretch and finish line are set right in the centre of the city, just as in Sweden. No fewer than 2 000 skiers take part in what has become Minnesota's largest ski race.
Vasaloppet USA offers a 58k, a 35k and a 13k race. The 35k and 58k races split shortly after a mass start [just like the Ironman swim start, only people don't swim over you, there are skis and poles with razor sharp carbon tips flailing about. I'm exaggerating... a little...] north of the little town of Mora. The 58k race gives you the opportunity to ski one of the longest one-day marathon races in the USA. The first North American male and female finishers in the 58k race receive a free trip to Sweden to compete in the following year's Swedish Vasaloppet. [I did not win this trip, just in case you were wondering...]
This is a community event staged by over 700 volunteers, many of them Swedish descendants. It is a free-style race. This means that various skiing techniques including the "skating" style are allowed. [that's what kind of skis we used].
Next week's American Birkebeiner attracts some 8 000 skiers and some 35 000 spectators. The thirteenth century legend behind this race is the story of an invading force threatening to kidnap Norway's infant prince. Two Viking warriors (called Birkebeiner for their birch bark leggings) skied the baby, who was later to become King Haakon Haakonson, to safety. It is this fifty-five kilometer trail that forms the race.
The mass start line.
Jeff, Laura and me at the finish line. Our time was 2:06 and we did the 30K (it was shortened due to lack of snow). The winner was back in 1:15. Wasn't sure I was actually gonna mention that, but... ;-)
After we ate at the all-skiers "feed", we stopped by a store called The Crazy Ladies House... where insanity meets dignity. There were life-size stuffed ladies all over the place.
Jeff ponders what this lady is doing to this tree.
These poor ladies were hanging in this tree...
And this lady was riding her bike in the snow, so Laura and I joined her but we never found out where she was going.
Jeff ---- don't do it. The sign says, " Lucky winners will get their name in the newspaper for all their friends and family to see. Won't Mama be so proud?"
So my race recap is just that we had a great time, and we didn't even fall down once. It was a completely flat course, so we averaged 7:30's per mile. Faster than we ever run, so that's good to know.
Next weekend is the American Birkebeiner - the grandaddy of x/c ski races. It's really, really hilly and is 31.7 miles, so it's almost twice as long as the Mora. I feel like I'm ready. I wasn't sore even a little after the Mora, so I've got the mental confidence to get myself to the start line.
If I get some better pictures, I'll post them. Otherwise, as Boomer says, "stay tuned"....