"#$%&'()%&) )))))))"*$%&'( A pair of famed designers trade the rat race for a Badger state of mind by KATIE FORAN-McHALE // photos by EVAN BENNER
enture one block past the charming, whimsical Williamson Street on Madison’s east side and you’ll find a less lively one. With an empty field, dying grass and a view limited to an unsightly building and train tracks, the 1200 block of East Wilson Street is aesthetically jarring. But tucked away in this block are two renowned designers who traded in their chic studio in Manhattan for a storefront overlooking an ugly white building. Rick Shaver and Lee Melahn have been featured in !e New York Times, House Beautiful, Elle Décor, O at Home, Veranda and New York Spaces, to name a few. You can even find a Shaver Melahn Studios desk and bed in the private residence of Bill and Hillary Clinton. After nearly 30 years of establishing a stellar reputation in one of the biggest design capitals of the world, the two are just getting their feet wet in a mid-sized Midwestern city. “We are still the new kids on the block,” Melahn said.
EAST COAST TO EAST WILSON
Shaver and Melahn made names for themselves in New York City but had smaller suburban upbringings. “Lee was born in Madison, I was born in a small town in Georgia,” Shaver said, with a hint of a Southern drawl. “It is not like we grew up on Park Avenue.” But despite their familiarity with the lifestyle of smaller communities, Shaver and Melahn had concerns about making the switch from the Big Apple to the Badger State. “When you work in New York, there is a level of sophistication that you get to with every client, even if the client is spending the bare minimum,” Shaver said. “And we didn’t know what to expect here.” In Manhattan, all the necessities — food, entertainment, supplies for design — were either mere blocks away or easily attainable by a short subway ride. Here, in Madison, car rides slow down their daily lives, as well as their accessibility to supplies. Melahn often has to drive to Chicago — three hours from Madison — for fabric. Even with a new clientele, Shaver and Melahn still know what they want to accomplish in their designs — individualized attention
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Shaver and Melahn made little adjustments to the storefront, but left much of the structure the same to honor the architecture of the house.
to achieve personal comfort. “We did not have one style … it is getting to know you, the client, and how you live, and how your family lives, and what your needs are, and design to that,” Shaver said. And with the shift from the hustle and bustle of the big city to the laid-back feel of a much smaller one, Shaver and Melahn evolved their studio with it, changing their moniker from Shaver Melahn Studios to Pleasant Living. “We wanted a slower lifestyle ourselves because New York was a rat race,” Shaver said.
Customers can view a selection of Shaver and Melahn’s designed furniture and gift items, which beautifully decorate their east side storefront.
Design has always been a passion for both Shaver and Melahn. !ey each moved to New York City with lofty aspirations and soon found each other. “It was the ’70s,” Shaver said. “… Across the dance floor,” Melahn added. “Leave it at that. !e era of Studio 54,” Shaver smiled. Together they started an industrial show business in 1981, designing visuals for events and sales meetings for large corporations, including Sony, AT&T and Johnson & Johnson. Melahn earned his undergraduate degree in architecture from the University of Illinois and received a master’s degree in landscape architecture from the UW-Madison, but always had interest in interior design as well. Shaver went back to school !"##$%$!"#$%&'(&)*!%+$%$&'()
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in New York to study interior and furniture design and started picking up clients immediately. Together they traveled to conferences around the world, from Arizona to Hawaii to Rome, finding clients along the way. But after Sept. 11, 2001, many corporations stopped flying out their sales forces and remained reliant on video conferencing. “!e whole industry sort of died out,” Shaver said. With more time and resources available for the two to focus on interior and furniture design, the pair started their own furniture line under the name “Shaver Melahn Studios” and showed at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, which proved to be a surefire spark in their presence as designers. “!e first year, we had a business advisor who said, ‘Give yourself five years, and you’ll get into a showroom, and things will start.’” Shaver said. “We got a showroom the first year, and by the fifth year, we had seven or eight.” From there, success was imminent. Shaver was drawing clients from places like Santa Barbara, Florida, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Milwaukee. After years of prosperity, business took a downturn alongside the economy in 2008. “People were really starting to hold back,” Shaver said. “We’d been talking about downsizing anyway because it was really costing a lot to keep all these showrooms running.” Although they were given the real estate and a sales force, the showrooms weren’t owned by Shaver and Melahn. !ey had to keep things looking fresh and supply new furniture every time they came up with something new, racking up an annual bill of $40,000 to $60,000 to keep each showroom going. With the economy tanking, Melahn’s desire to take care of his mother and the couple’s wish to relocate before their daughter started high school, they made the move to Madison.
After arriving in Wisconsin, Shaver and Melahn were uncertain about their future. “We had no plan, and we didn’t really know if we were going to work again,” Shaver said. But by June of this year, they were back in business. First on the to-do list was finding a
storefront, which came in the form of the house on Wilson Street — even Shaver describes it as “off the beaten track.” With minor adjustments, they fixed up the house to make it “industrial glam,” with precious items juxtaposed against wild, rough fixtures. “We wanted to bring a New York vibe but also honor the architecture of this building, of Madison and of Wisconsin,” Shaver said. Neutral colors with upscale furniture — one room’s desk is a version of the one that sits in the Clinton residence — mixed with glass decorations add to the comforting ambiance. !e store, open since June, now provides design consultation, decorations and has limited furniture for sale. !e couple is all about mixing styles for the sake of comfort. !ey see “comfort” as an elusively subjective term, different for their clients and for themselves. Shaver is most comfortable in spaces he is able to lounge, while Melahn envisions a huge, white bathroom, done mostly in marble, complete with a beautiful chandelier and meditation room.
LOSING NEVERLAND, FINDING STYLE
For Lynn Yde, something was missing in her home. Her 13-yearold son, Donald, lacked comfort in his bedroom. One wall was devoted to a life-sized mural of Captain Hook. !e middle of the room featured a map of Neverland, with one side housing a crocodile face that opened up and revealed a shelf holding his alarm clock. !e “Peter Pan” theme was well suited for a younger boy, but, unlike the story’s title character, Donald was starting to grow up. “[He] definitely grew out of it,” Lynn said. “I did not blame him for being embarrassed about it.” Shortly after Shaver and Melahn moved to Madison, Shaver took up a part-time position at an area Boston Store to network. !ere, he met Lynn, the store’s manager, and together they brainstormed ideas for a new room for Donald. Lynn described her son as liking “techie” things, with passions for music, radio stations and old-fashioned vinyl albums. Shaver sat down with Donald for a meeting to discuss what his dream room would look like. “Donald felt like he had a part in designing his room,” Lynn said.
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Left: Former New York City designers Rick Shaver and Lee Melahn juxtapose precious objects with the sturdy brick walls of their storefront. Center: Shaver and Melahn work at their new storefront in Madison at a desk from their furniture line. A replica of the desk exists at the private residence of Hillary and Bill Clinton. Right: The storefront’s walls are lined with shelves of design books and inspirations. Here Shaver and Melahn display a few of their own plans and designs.
!"#$%&'()*+&',-'.-/01*,*'+' &-02(&,(.+,*)3'.-/4-#,+$1*'#--/ “Comfort” and “style” are subjective and elusive terms, translating differently for every individual. But it would be hard to deny that these affordable furniture pieces could easily make any living room cozier.
SunQube Home Essentials San Jose Leatherette Convertible Sectional Storage Sleeper Sofa ($849 + free shipping from sears.com)
After the discussion, Shaver and Melahn decided to go with another themed room. A definite upgrade for both Donald and Lynn from “Peter Pan,” Shaver and Melahn constructed a makeshift sound studio. One wall is now painted a deep red — for theatrics, the shade is titled “Show Stopper” — matching Donald’s elevated bed, which Lynn painted. Another wall imitates the ripples of acoustic foam. Shaver had Donald choose his 10 favorite albums, whose covers are now framed. Economically priced steel and metal shelves from Target, giving the appearance of industrial shelving, holds his stereo equipment and speakers. A giant movie reel and a big spotlight are suspended from the ceiling. “What I think would be really difficult is to get what your son wants and what the parent wants incorporated. Rick was able to pull it off,” Lynn said.
This sofa would add to any living room with its sleek design and detailed stitching, a definite sanctuary for unwinding and relaxing. But it serves additional purposes – it can easily be converted to a comfortable bed, and it provides large storage areas underneath.
Jayden Recliner Bella Velvet by NewCo ($569 from stacksandstacks.com) For a solitary repose, lean back in this functional yet elegant recliner. With soft but supportive foam padding and luxurious velvet upholstery, the armchair can be used as both a recliner and a glider, bringing traditional charm and undeniable comfort to any living space.
As Shaver and Melahn find their footing in a new market, their philosophy remains the same: a desire to have their designs reflect the lifestyles and tastes of their clients, free of constraining labels often presented by specific styles. Although Shaver’s instructors encouraged him to create a “signature style,” his interests were and are far too varied to pinpoint. He’d be just as happy living in or designing an arts and crafts bungalow as a sleek glass house, a hut on the beach or a stately Georgian mansion. After all, he said, “You can’t have a song with just one note.” C
Bombay Lafayette Storage Ottoman ($169.99 from bedbathandbeyond.com) Purposeful and versatile, this ottoman can be used for seating, inside storage or an extra surface. The dark brown ottoman comes with large and small serving trays.
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!"##$%&##"'% !"##$#"%()*$#+ Central Waters Brewery commits to sustainability by BETH PICKHARD
ucked away in Amherst, a village of 1,000 in central Wisconsin, a group of individuals are putting values before profits at Central Waters Brewery. It’s a small business in a small town, but Central Waters sees itself as a model for other corporations by using its modest income to invest in sustainable methods. “I think that’s what really makes us different,” Paul Graham, president of Central Waters Brewery, says. “It’s never, ‘What’s the return on investment?’
or ‘How am I going to make money on this?’ For us, it’s an ethical question on should we do this, and when the answer is ‘yes,’ you just do it.” Graham, a 35-year-old with brown hair and scruff on his chin and cheeks, wears simple wire-framed glasses, a Tshirt, stained denim jeans and a faded brown hat with “Central Waters Brewery” embroidery. Graham was hired as a brewer a few months after Central Waters opened in 1998. At 24 years old, he and a partner bought the brewery in 2001. Central Waters struggled to keep afloat during its early years, Graham says. A geography graduate of UW-Stevens Point, Graham doesn’t consider himself a businessman. He jokes about balancing sustainability with earnings. “I probably qualified for food stamps for about eight years, just had too much pride,” Graham says as his laughter fills the room. “[There were] a lot of years where we were not making money.”
NOT BUSINESS AS USUAL
Central Waters uses specially-designed oak barrels to age beers like Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout.
Graham says he is selfeducated in the brewing process. He and his college friends practiced home brewing together, and about half of the Central Waters staff is former classmates. In all, Graham and his business partner, Anello Mollica, work with 11 other staff members. “We’re team-oriented here,” Graham says. “We’re not all individu-
als working on a packaging line. We’re a group of people trying to put out a quality product.” Employees perform quality-control testing of bottled beer during a full staff meeting every Friday. Workers taste and smell the beer for flatness and bacterial growth. “We’re in this for a labor of love,” Graham says of his staff ’s commitment to sustainability. “We’re not hippies. We’re green-minded people.”
Behind the brewery sits 1,000 square feet of solar panels. They produce energy to heat the building and offset natural gas usage in the brewing process. Graham hopes new panels will produce an average of 20,000 watts — about 25 percent — of Central Waters’ electricity needs. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources awarded Central Waters with Tier 1 status in Wisconsin’s Green Tier program in May 2011 for their strides toward sustainability. “Brewing beer’s the easy part,” Graham says of Central Waters’ constant commitment to creating a green product.
BUYING FROM NEIGHBORS
Central Waters invests in the local community by supporting agricultural operations near the brewery. Graham says, to him, sustainable means “an ongoing relationship with suppliers.” “We’ll pay more to a farmer down the road to grow it organically, but we know that farmer, at the end of the year, has to put a new roof on his barn,” Graham says. “If he can’t afford to do that be-
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Central Waters recently added more solar panels to its existing 1,000 square feet. In May 2011, Central Waters was awarded Tier 1 Status in Wisconsin’s Green Tier Program because of its sustainability efforts.
cause of the commodities market, it’s not sustainable.” The barley Central Waters places in its vats during the brewing process comes from Wisconsin, but only a small portion of its hops are harvested in state. Disease killed off most Wisconsin hops production in the 1920s. Today, most hops are produced in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. A founder of the Midwest Hops and Barley Co-op, Graham wants to bring hops production back to Wisconsin. Graham says hops, in particular, require an investment because they are hard to grow and don’t mature for the first three years. The co-op provides funds for farmers to begin the risky process of growing hops for beer. “What we’re really trying to do is build that sustainable relationship in a local economy,” Graham says. !"##$%$!"#$%&'(&)*!%+$%$&'()
Despite helping to bring hops back to Wisconsin, Graham remains focused on beer production. “I’m a brewer,” he says. Central Waters is not in the brewing business for the profits and would rather use funds to assist local farmers.
Central Waters continues to search for new technologies to aid in its longterm sustainability efforts. Although costly for small-scale businesses, the brewery is considering adding windmills. “Most corporations don’t think that way these days,” Graham says. “Everybody is about short term.” “If I can afford to do it, anybody can,” Graham says. “There’s no joke, if little old Central Waters can do this stuff, there’s no reason anybody else can’t.” C
To save water in the bottling process, Central Waters plans to install a more efficient packaging machine.
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!"#$!%&'()*+) S AV I N G L A N G U AG E TO
S A V E A C U LT U R E by GAYLE COTTRILL
any nouns describe the function of the object when translated to their deeper meanings.
“tape recorder” [*(-#"($&)"+1] = “it catches/gathers the words”
“refrigerator”23$&-,1%!/%+*/-('52 = “the place where you keep things cool”
“chair” [(",%1*-(/0+*/-('] “window”23/16/%(*(/0#%52 = “the thing that you sit/squat on” = “a hole in the wall”
n Oneida, relatives and friends are verbs instead of nouns.
“my mother” [!"60/+] = “she who mothers me”
“friend” [(%#0!'10#] = “be friend” and is always a two-way relationship
here is a cultural component to nearly every word in Oneida. Simple words like colors, numbers and other basic nouns express more than one visual.
“red” [!",*-#./%(0('] comes from the word for “blood” [!",*-#./1('] “blue”23!04)$('52and “sky”23!04)$('5 are synonymous
hat is often lost in simple translations is the imagery associated with each word. If you think about “medicine” in English, you’ll probably envision pills or cough syrup. However, the imagery of the Oneida word [onúhkwa!t] is of plants, nature’s medicinal remedies.
ike many American Indian tribes of the United States, the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin is working to revitalize their native language. Since the 1930s, scholars and historians have worked to preserve the language through dictionaries and archived stories. !e lack of native Oneida language speakers has made it difficult to revitalize the language entirely. !e complexity of the language has also presented challenges to teaching and recording it — there are unique and unusual rules of Oneida that make direct English translation difficult. Today, many people who are learning Oneida as a second language are doing so to ensure the language and culture that accompanies it do not disappear. !is cultural education helps teach others from both inside and outside the tribal community about challenges faced by the Oneida Nation. Read more about these efforts to save the Oneida language and culture at curbonline.com.
The Oneida language … -has 15 letters and 13 symbols -includes whispered sounds -is part of the Iroquoian language family -does not have swear words
The Oneida celebrate various ceremonies at a community longhouse. To foster language and cultural revitalization, the ceremonies are conducted in Oneida.
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! "#$" #%& ! "' () #'" # Exploring the beauty and personality of the Great River Road by KAITLYN SCHNELL
very city has its story – a courageous founding, a famous citizen, a popular attraction. But along Wisconsin’s western border, despite the diverse town narratives, stories are forever linked by the pumping artery that connects them all: the Great River Road. !is Mississippi River roadway has a 250-mile section that travels along Wisconsin’s western border, winding through 33 unique river towns. Travelers can follow U.S. Highway 35 for most of the trip and drink in views of the river as they speed through limestone bluffs and wooded areas. On a crisp, fall Sunday, my mom and I packed up the car for a 120-mile day trip from Wyalusing to Fountain City, not quite knowing what to expect from this largely unnoticed Wisconsin tourist destination. I had often forgotten the Mississippi River borders Wisconsin and had never even been to that side of the state before. My background research uncovered claims that the Great River Road is the best scenic drive in the Midwest, with overlooks, historic markers and locks and dams. I also found it is Wisconsin’s only officially designated National Scenic Byway. !e program is a grassroots effort created to help acknowledge, preserve and enhance chosen roads throughout the United States. Twothirds of the journey was spent cruising past wildlife refuges, parklands or natural areas.
With a lazy Sunday to burn and the travel bug in our veins, we drove west to our first stop.
the man asked us. My mom and I looked at each other. “Cave?” we asked. “Yeah, Treasure Cave,” he answered, and informed us about a flight of stairs leading to a small cavern for adventurous hikers. We grasped the opportunity to be a little daring, walked down through a stone arch dubbed “!e Keyhole” and climbed the steep wooden staircase to investigate the limestone sanctuary. We were alone, and it felt like a secret only mom and I knew. Wyalusing — which means “home of the warrior” in the language of the MunseeDelaware Native American tribe — includes 2,674 acres of outdoorsman bliss. Visitors can camp, hike, picnic, enjoy scenic overlooks, bird watch, bike, cross-country ski and fish. We only had time for a little hiking and sightseeing, but vowed to come back again soon for more. With our sights set on Prairie du Chien, we loaded up on pamphlets in the visitors’ center before forging northward.
I TOWERED ABOVE THE NETWORK OF TREES AND WATER, FEELING ASHAMED OF MY LOW EXPECTATIONS. HOW HAD I LIVED IN WISCONSIN MY WHOLE LIFE NOT KNOWING THIS EXISTED? WYALUSING POPULATION: 370
We rolled into Wyalusing State Park, situated high above the junction of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers. I figured it would be like any other campground, with a campsite here and there amongst the trees. We parked the car and strolled down a leaf-ridden path in the direction of Point Lookout. Sprawled before me was a panorama: a maze of islands, channels and sloughs. A bridge stretched across the river, the ends disappearing into the auburn-colored forests. I towered above the network of trees and water feeling ashamed of my low expectations. How had I lived in Wisconsin my whole life not knowing this existed? We continued following the path along the ridge and ran into a couple hiking along the overlook. “Do you know how far the cave goes in?”
PRAIRIE DU CHIEN POPULATION: 5,911
I shuffled through the pamphlets I picked up: a Valley Fish & Cheese pamphlet extolling “the finest smoked fish in the world,” a Cycle Southwest Wisconsin pamphlet “featuring 28 bicycle loops throughout Southwest Wisconsin’s Driftless Region” and Shihata’s Orchard pamphlet with
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The Great River Road extends 250 miles along the Mississippi River and takes travelers through 33 towns, some of the oldest in the state. Upper right: Wyalusing State Park is home to 500foot high bluffs that overlook the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers; lower right: Sunny the Sunfish welcomes visitors to Onalaska, the Sunfish Capital of the World.
an image of the sun shining on a slope of apple trees amid the morning fog. As the oldest community on the Upper Mississippi opened up before us, I noted the flat city landscape nestled between the surrounding stone hills. !e 21st century had definitely reached the historic neighborhood, with a Culver’s, car dealership, McDonald’s and Hardees. But modernity couldn’t mar this historical landscape. Case in point: the Mississippi River Sculpture Park. With more than two dozen life-size bronze statues by sculptor Florence Bird, the artwork depicts 12,000 years of human history from a Mastadon Hunter to a Riverboat Captain. As we pushed north and caught the last views of Prairie du Chien in the rearview mirror, I gazed at the red barns, silos and rustic homes nestled into the rock hills and pondered the stories behind each one. I noticed the road ran parallel not only with the river, but also a snaking railroad. !e three modes of transportation swerved in chorus past swamps, boat landings and piles of crunchy fallen leaves smelling crisp and earthy. I watched the piles growing taller as more leaves fell to the ground like a soft snow.
GENOA POPULATION: 253
With the “let’s go fishing” motto on the welcome sign, I wasn’t surprised to see the prominent display of Genoa National Fish Hatchery. Visitors can learn about game fish stocking and restoration of sturgeon !"##$%$!"#$%&'(&)*!%+$%$&'()
and coaster brook trout. It piqued my interest, but still we traveled on.
ONALASKA POPULATION: 17,736
!e city on the shores of the 7,700-acre Lake Onalaska is known for its boating, bird watching and fishing. It is called the Sunfish Capital of the World, and we realized how seriously the residents took that title when we saw their mascot “Sunny the Sunfish” towering 12 feet high and 20 feet long at a wayside next to the Mississippi. We found out Sunny is the guest of honor at Onalaska’s annual Sunfish Days, and my mom angled the car in several positions while ordering me to snap pictures from every direction.
FOUNTAIN CITY POPULATION: 859
We arrived at our last destination tired but content. Seven Hawks Vineyard and Wine Tasting appeared like a sign from God congratulating us on our long journey. Seven Hawks is part of the Great River Road Wine Trail that runs through Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa and offers travelers locally produced wines while voyaging along the byway. After wetting our tongues with several samples and purchasing a bottle of 2009 LaCrescent Reserve white wine, my wine-
loving mom was in heaven. We chatted with employee Chris Hermann about Fountain City’s unique character. He mentioned great fine dining, bars with delicious food, quirky shops — including one called !e Cat-Tail for cats and their owners — and odd tourist attractions, like Rock in a House, which is just as its name suggests. Hermann said that the distinctive landscape tends to lure in tourists from all around the area. “You don’t get the feeling that you get around here in a lot of other towns,” he said. “You have the real nice bluffs with the river right here, and it’s very uncommon.” After a quick look around in !e CatTail, we hopped in the car for the ride back home. I then realized one day-trip couldn’t uncover all there was to explore on the Great River Road. But for a travel-hungry mother-daughter duo, we were happy to spend the time we did just driving along the road in suspense of what each community would offer. I watched the river slowly vanish out of view, and had a deep respect for the never-ending working artery that carried recreation, commerce, transportation, ecology and history to the people of the Great River Road. !is was truly one of Wisconsin’s hidden treasures. C Care to explore the Great River Road? Check out more stops at curbonline.com
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!"#$"%& %(%# &' Cross-country skiers narrow the gap between pastime and obsession by HANNAH SHEPARD photos by BRETT MORGAN & DARLENE PROIS
esse Coenen is currently saving his money for some top-notch wax. His closet boasts a collection of 11 ski bibs, each with a personalized story stapled inside. He is already planning the day he’ll start growing out his beard. And this year, as is his tradition, Coenen transformed the outgoing message on his answering machine into a countdown clock: “Hey! You’ve reached Jesse. I just want you to realize, and be certain, because this is awfully important. !e Birkie is in 158 days. GET READY.” ***** !e Birkebeiner, affectionately nicknamed “!e Birkie” by its passionate participants, is the largest cross-country ski marathon in North America. It spans 54 kilometers from Cable, Wis., to Hayward, Wis., and attracts 20,000 spectators, as well as 9,400 skiers of all experience levels. Although the American Birkebeiner will celebrate its 39th anniversary this February, the race actually commemorates a trip made in 1206 by Norwegian rebels. !ese soldiers skied to safety with the rightful infant heir to the Norwegian throne on their backs. To honor this journey, three volunteers dressed in traditional Norwegian apparel — fur-lined boots, helmets with horns, wooden skis — are always among the 6,000 Birkie skiers. !e fur-clad heroes, called “Birkie Warriors,” carry a baby doll strapped on their backs for most of the race to symbolize the young prince. Near the end, they trade the doll in for a real baby and carry him to the finish line. For those who live the “Birkie Life,” it is difficult to imagine that these rituals might seem foreign to the un-
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About 9,400 skiers participate in the Birkebeiner every year, the largest cross-country race in North America; left: hot breath plus cold air equals frosty beardcicles for many men at the Birkie.
fortunate souls who weren’t born in northern Wisconsin. !eir friends all participate in the Birkie, as do their children, spouses and even their dogs. For them, the Birkie is a lifestyle, and its traditions make it remarkable. ***** Peter Coenen, Jesse’s brother, truly devotes himself to living the Birkie Life. Although he is a UWMadison student in the middle of medical school, he manages to focus the rest of his life around the Birkie. “It’s not just an event, it’s a lifestyle,” he says. “!e Birkie is the most important day of the year for me. It drives everything else that I do. School, work, the Birkie is off to the side motivating me in whatever I do.” !e two brothers grew up about a mile from crosscountry ski trails in Iola, Wis. Nordic skiing and the Birkie have always been a part of their lives. Jesse calls it his “healthy obsession.” Although the brothers skied together at several Birkies, they say there isn’t much competition between them. In fact, the brothers hardly talk at all during the race. !at is, of course, unless they’re talking about “beardcicles.” If a skier has enough facial hair and it’s cold enough, the moisture he breathes out will stick to his beard and cover his face in a frosty layer. Jesse admits that although he generally doesn’t talk to other skiers during the race, a good, traditional beardcicle is worth a comment.
Although beardcicles are a planned event for many men at the Birkie, one glance around the race reveals several participating dogs achieving the look quite effortlessly. ***** Jennifer Sereno, elite skier and veteran Birkie participant, classifies Birkie Fever as the anxious feeling that skiers begin to detect months before the race. Sereno is proof that Birkie Fever can affect even the most seasoned skiers. “Birkie Fever doesn’t really set in until the snow falls. !at’s when you start feeling the cold chills and the night sweats. You wake up thinking about the race, and then you start looking at the calendar,” Sereno says.
EVERY COLD BIRKIE MORNING, FAMILIES WAKE UP, CHOKE DOWN SOME OATMEAL, EAT SOME BANANAS FOR THOSE IMPENDING LEG CRAMPS, WAX THEIR SKIS, PILE INTO THEIR SALTSMEARED MINI VANS AND ENJOY THEIR LAST MOMENTS OF ARTIFICIAL HEAT. Jesse insists he enjoys it. He readily admits that his countdown voicemail is a symptom of Birkie Fever. Like many Birkie regulars, he begins thinking about new skis, trips to practice trails and fancier ski wax almost as soon as the first snowflake falls. “!at’s another oddity about Wisconsin,” Sereno says of Birkiebeiner skiers affected by Birkie Fever, “!ey don’t want to spend more than four or five dollars on a hamburger — they bristle at that — but they’ll spend a lot of money on a nice pair of skis and some expensive wax.”
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explore Tradition drives the Birkebeiner. Every cold Birkie morning, families wake up, choke down some oatmeal, eat some bananas for those impending leg cramps, wax their skis, pile into their salt-smeared mini vans and enjoy their last moments of artificial heat. !ey will spend the next 12 hours convincing their bodies that a thin layer of polyester and two flimsy handwarmers are enough to block the freezing wind. Once the participants accept frostbite as a potential outcome of this 54-kilometer expedition, they must wrap their minds around the fact that many skiers end up racing alone in uninterrupted whiteness. If they squint hard enough, they might catch a colorful glimpse of another skier’s bib, but even this is unlikely. Katie Roberts, a firsttime Birkie participant, says this isolation can sometimes add to the physical exhaustion. “!ere was definitely a time halfway through where I was like, ‘Am I going to finish this? Are my fingers black? Are they going to fall off?’ It’s definitely a mental thing.” Of course, the skiers are not always as alone as they think. In fact, several snowmobile paths cross the Birkie ski path. Some fun-seeking spectators like to park their snowmobiles near particularly challenging turns and watch the skiers wipe out. Peter says these onlookers sometimes hold up numbers to rate how spectacularly a skier falls. ***** !e Birkie is not just for experienced cross-country skiers. It hosts events for kids, families, and even dogs. Above all, Birkie participants want to spread the word about the underdog sport that is cross-
country skiing, and they want to include everyone in the event. “It’s such a healthy sport and supports such a healthy lifestyle that it can only be beneficial if more people get involved,” Peter says. !e Birkie is a community with traditions and rituals that have endured for 38 years. For some participants, it’s a yearly reunion. !ey catch up, ski the race and grab a beer afterward. Anyone who participated in the Birkie in the past has only one goal: to go back and do it again. C A young skier participates in the Barnebirkie, a race designed for kids ages 3 to 13.
./$012$*34.256 22,0 0 0
skis and poles
4,0 0 0
20,0 0 0
98,0 0 0 cups
1,5 0 0
gallons of sport drink
5,0 0 0
gallons of water
2,0 0 0
Six costumed skiers share “The Giant Ski” race down Main Street in Hayward, Wis.
kilometers of trail
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