Last month a group of six skiers from Bozeman, Montana travelled to Sweden to participate in the famed Vasaloppet. Tomas Gedeon provided this account.
The morning starts early – the buses leave Mora for 90 km distant Salen between 4:30 and 5:00 – there must have been more then a hundred buses for the hour and half ride to the start. The last 10 km is completely clogged and we arrive at the start at 7 am. There are never enough port-a-potties so there are people everywhere relieving themselves in the bushes and down the bank of the river. There are three TV helicopters circling around — capturing footage for the live five hour broadcast on Swedish national TV. There are 16,000 people starting the race – half the city of Bozeman.
The gang from Bozeman at the strat of the 2008 Vasaloppet
The race is 90 km long – about 55 miles. Every 10-11 km there is an aid station – always in a small village, with brass band playing, announcer commenting on people coming through (I was called out twice – “Thomas from Amerika, seems like here for the first time” – he must have guessed from my high bib number, “but we hope not for the last time”).
The best thing they serve is “Blobar”-blueberry soup – I had three cups at every station. They also serve sports drink and bagels. There are waxing stations with huge lines of people hoping for some miracle wax – I know better, and keep plugging along.
After 45 km the course descends a little bit from the mountains and the snow changes to a wet mush with icy tracks. The tracks were fast, but it was difficult to pass people, as you need to step out of track to pass, but once you do, you are in a painfully slow wet sand.
The last 20 km seem like I am almost home – by then I abandoned thoughts of passing people and just looked forward to getting done.
The finish is in the town of Mora. The tracks wind through a big park with a skating ring, and then across a bridge into town. There are thousands of people cheering and staying out until late evening to support those at the end. After you cross finish line there is an impressive organization, which takes your skis and puts you on the continuously running buses to a soccer field where you find your bag of warm-up clothes. Then you march to huge communal showers. These consist of two basketball courts where you dump your stuff and then head to five shower rooms, which are crammed with about 50 people each, sharing showers and, luckily for me, soap and shampoo. It is quite a close encounter with humanity.
After the shower it is a time for a meal – it is served in the hockey rink, on the ice covered with carpets. Rice, salad, turkey, low alcohol beer, bread and cheese – good stuff.
Then buses back to your skis, another building where diplomas are printed and then time to watch people still streaming in – silent, determined, hundreds of them.
By now it is getting dark. The last 10 km has lights on, but they close the tracks at that last aid station at 6:30 pm – the final skier arrives at 7:45 – almost 12 hours on skis. There were about 11,000 finishers – the other 5,000 either did not show up or did not make a prescribed time cut at one of the aid stations. I passed about 3,500 people, finished in 8 hours and 6 minutes somewhere around 5800th place.
I make the half an hour walk home and talk with the people we stayed with. Niils and Anika have done the Vasa 6 and 8 times respectively and they volunteered for 20 years. For Mora there is time before Vasaloppet and after – 3000 volunteers are needed to put the race on. In the evening all of us gather for a beer and share war stories – all of us finished in times ranging from 7 to 9 and half hours.
It was a long day and a great experience.