While global warming may be a reality, it does not make the winters seem any shorter some years. By mid-February, the winter doldrums can set in, and a lack of snow actually can make those doldrums worse by revealing the dull shades of gray and lifeless brown for much longer than we care to see. For those of us living in the northwoods of Minnesota and Wisconsin (with a friendly shout out to you U.P.’ers, as well!), surviving the winter gray days requires creative ways of embracing them. Let me introduce you to an event which fully embraces the season — the “Book Across the Bay” ski race, which bridges the cities of Ashland and Washburn, Wisconsin.
In the winter of 2011, a friend of mine and I amazingly found ourselves with a Saturday free of work and/or family obligations, and set aside the day in February to travel to Washburn and Ashland to enjoy the event which is well-known in our neck of the woods. Race organizers recommend that you park your car near the finish line in Washburn, where a shuttle bus will take you to the starting line area in Ashland, just across one of Lake Superior’s bays.
Skis are lined up along the sides of the registration tent and starting line area where people congregate waiting for the race to begin at 6:00 p.m.
The race starts on Chequamegon Bay with the historic Hotel Chequamegon standing watch from Ashland’s shore. A massive pile of logs will soon turn into a festive bonfire.
Thin snowfall years can make for a rough trail across the bay — grooming machines were out creating lanes and trying to cut a classic track, but as you can see from the photo below, 2011 was a good year to bring out the rock . . .er, ice . . . skis if you had them.
As the bonfire is lit, the crowds grow both inside and outside of the warming tent, while the waiting skis and poles colorfully line the foreground.
The sunlight grows dimmer and the starting time of 6:00 draws closer. Fairies fly by with tulle tutus gracefully adorning ski pants.
Over 3,800 people participated in the 2011 race! Waiting for the signal to start, we could see the bonfires and ice lantern luminaries lighting our 10 kilometer racecourse.
Bonfires, decorations and treats provide interest and entertainment along the way. While some may come to actually race the 10 kilometer distance, many more were there to just enjoy what ended up being a beautiful evening. I would periodically step off the track to take photos at some of the bonfires marking the course — enjoying a s’more granola bar at one fire, a cup of hot chocolate at another, and then at another bonfire wayside receiving a strand of mardi gras beads!
Magically, fireworks appear above the finish line still somewhat in the distance. Oohs and aahs from skiers and snowshoers on the course create a joyous setting, as the colorful display reflects on the snow and ice in front of us. The finish line announcer reads names of the finishers as they complete the race and move toward the warming tent, where hot chili, hot drinks, beer and music are waiting.
Plenty of time to register for the 2013 race, scheduled for February 16! If I cannot get there this year, you can be sure I will again in the future — perhaps I will see you there?! Book Across the Bay was a great memory and a wonderful way to chase the winter doldrums away.
Ciao! ~ Kat
For race and registration information: Book Across the Bay ~ http://www.batb.org/