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The road trip, stars and frozen majesty of upper central Wisconsin.
The sauna heat in the midst of a subzero morning.  
The people, including some special Estonians.  

These are the elements that characterized this year’s Stokeyard Outfitters excursion to the iconic American Birkebeiner.

First – road trip. To go off for 48 hours and be immersed in such an event with all the comforts of home – espresso, a comfortable bed, a fat tire mountain bike and the capacity to be alone – is a sublime privilege.

Second – nature. When away from light pollution and in the clear coolness of a Winter night, the sky becomes as entertaining as anything the urban corridor can conjure.  The mountain bike trail at the Fish Hatchery in Hayward at sunrise glimmered.  I heard anecdotally that this year’s Birkie was as beautiful as it gets.  Blue skies and the crisp, groomed trail resulted in many personal records. Nature was on display for the many thousands gathered on this beautiful Birkie morning.

Third – Sauna! Stokeyard Outfitters was invited by the Birkie organizers to provide their event participants with a Recovery Zone experience. The sauna was hot (220 degrees) when the first participants crossed the finish line in just over 2 hours. 

Racers showing perfect form and Sauna etiquette.

And then the Estonians showed up. All eleven that were entered in the race! They heat their hamstrings on the bench and melted into the sauna. Later they brought me a gift – a bottle of Vana Tallinn Estonian Spiced Rum.

From direct observation, the Europeans made a bee line to the sauna, shedding layers as they approached.  The Americans were more reserved and wanted to know what was happening, what was allowed. It was a small anecdotal view into how sauna is second nature for the Finns, Estonians, and Russians. They knew exactly what to do and asked for no permission.

Sunny Estonian squints outside Sauna

Finally, the solo nature of the road trip with a sauna in tow makes such things as mountain biking in the frigid pre-dawn even more amazing; for me it was a profound joy. I rode twice while on this excursion and took sauna immediately after one ride as the stove was heating up for the Estonians, as it turns out! Turns out you don’t need to ski, to Win, Win, Win!

230 degrees of pure rejuvenation