I passed the second checkpoint after 24 kilometres, with a good feeling and still feeling quite energetic. But that was before I hit the hills before the next checkpoint, Risberg, at 35 kilometres.
Suddenly the surrounding terrain was no longer upright. The trees seemed to be growing at a slight angle, making me wonder what had happened. The answer is easy: I had reached the Risberg hills! It is an almost 5-kilometer-long uphill battle and whatever energy level I had before starting the climb, it had slowly but surely been depleted, making sure there is nothing left when I finally reached the checkpoint. It didn’t make me feel better knowing that Jörgen Brink, the one I was staying 1 kilometre behind, had already finished the race in a new record time and I still had 55 kilometres to go. But what could I do? There was only the rest of the race to go and I headed out for Evertsberg, just past the half-way mark and the start of the downhill part where I could finally ski and rest at the same time.
Passing the sign saying 30 kilometres to go was some kind of feeling. Two-thirds of the race done and no major ailments or blisters so far. It was an almost euphoric feeling and I heard several skiers around me give a deep sigh of relief, or maybe it was just another hard breath trying to feed oxygen to tired muscles. But I preferred to think of it in a positive way. Just 30 km to go! And at just about the same time I saw Swiss flags stuck in the snow on both sides of the track. I knew I had been skiing quite far, but Switzerland??? It turned out that one of the many team stations along the way was serving Swiss skiers and with the Swiss International Air Lines design on my ski suit they quickly pulled me in and made sure I got enough to drink and eat so I could finish the race. Seraina Boner, who finished third in the women’s race, passed I while ago they told me, quite a while ago actually. But they cheered me on, lying about me not looking tired at all, wished me luck for the remaining part and sent me off with a piece of an orange and a banana in my hand. It wasn’t like the excellent in flight service on a regular SWISS flight, but at this point I couldn’t care less. It was still Swiss hospitality at its best!
The last third of the race covered mixed terrain, sometimes downhill, which always vanished too fast, and sometimes uphill, which always ….. well you get the point. By now I took every chance to eat and drink whatever I could and as the sun slowly made its way below the tree tops I pushed harder and harder, at least it felt that way, towards the goal. Passing the last checkpoint at Eldris, 9 kilometres from Mora, was a victory in itself, because then I knew I was going to make it. The sound of the speaker system coming from somewhere far in the woods as I approached the finish helped me to find extra energy, not to mention the feeling I experienced as I turned into the final stretch leading up to the famous sign above the finish line. I passed it some six and a half hours later than the winner of the race, but in my own eyes I was a winner as well. I had just conquered the longest ski race in the world!
So if SWISS were to ever create a frequent skier program, it would have to be named “(S)miles & more”, at least for skiers wanting to collect miles during the Vasaloppet race. There are many miles to collect and there are many smiles along the way as well. Not to mention the many extremely tired, but still smiling skiers who made their way beneath the sign saying “I fädrens spår för framtids segrar” – “In the footsteps of our forefathers for the victories of tomorrow”. I had my victory!